Coron

I think Coron is my favourite place in the Philippines so far and we haven’t even seen the good bits yet. The people are friendly, there’s some great wreck diving (to be experienced tomorrow), there’s actually some OK street food available around the market, costs are pretty low (550php = $13.75 for double room, shared bathroom), but there’s still the basic facilities that make life easier such as pharmacy, ATM (still to be found) and a selection of bars and restaurants in walking distance. It doesn’t feel too touristy, and the tourists who are here are generally like-minded divers.

On the downside, our overwater guesthouse (on stilts and shakes occasionally) was very hot and also noisy due to the dogs last night.. Then the thunder which was constant from around 5am until midday.. So we didn’t sleep at all well.. It rained from the early hours until around 2pm so we decided not to dive today – the time spent on the surface would have been uncomfortable.. So we slept in instead.

At least we made some good use of the afternoon studying our manuals for our enriched air nitrox course. We’ll complete this certification tomorrow – it’s a useful capability particularly for wreck diving, which allows us to dive with air mixtures with a larger percentage of oxygen than normal air – and hence a lower percentage of nitrogen. This reduces the rate at which nitrogen dissolves in our blood at depth and so allows us to stay at depth for longer without getting a dangerous amount of dissolved nitrogen that would lead to decompression sickness. This means that we can spend much longer on a wreck at 30 metres instead of just 20mins – which would be the absolute limit with normal air (and if we start diving to 40m as we might wish to do on the Coolidge in a few months – it will increase our bottom time above 8 minutes – very short with air!). Also we can do our second dives sooner, and for longer. There are some technicalities to understand, but our dive computers make everything so much easier than it would have been 10 years ago – nitrox has become so mainstream largely due to that.

So, we are pretty excited about tomorrow, to take a look at some of the remains of the Japanese fleet sunk by an American attack on 24th Sept 1944.

Donsol

Yesterday we flew to Manila from the small Caticlan airport just the other side of the narrow channel separating Boracay from the mainland. A week in Boracay was enough to recover and if we’d spent much longer we probably would have started getting bored. The check-in at Caticlan was quite amusing as their computer systems were down and they were very disorganised at checking people in manually (“airphil express” was the airline). When it got to our turn, it took 30 mins to check just the two of us in.

We kept our heads down in Manila, we stayed in a new budget hotel called “tune” and just went out to the shopping mall for dinner. Then today we flew to Legaspi, which is the nearest airport to Donsol. The public transport to Donsol was crammed (16 people in a minivan), but it only cost $2 per person for the 1 hour drive.

We’re here for the whale sharks and a spot of diving – and there isn’t much else to do here, despite the locals’ efforts to make fireflies and anything else they can think of major tourist attraction. It’s a small town with only one restaurant/hotel in the main town and a few resorts outside of town. But it’s nice to be in a place where people are friendly and say hi to you in a nice way and not just because they want your money!

We booked a “whaleshark interaction” for tomorrow – which means snorkelling with a whaleshark if we can find one. Can’t wait!

Then perhaps we will do a day’s diving – manta bowl sounds interesting, but you’re not allowed to go after the whalesharks with scuba gear on here.

We’re back on the backpackers budget after our week of splurge on Boracay, but 1000 pesos ($23) here buys us a nice little fan bungalow with a proper bathroom/hot shower – clean and relatively bug-free – not quite as great value as Thailand or Cambodia but pretty good.

The estuary at Donsol with the Mayon Volcano (near Legaspi) in the background

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Review: Powergorilla by Powertraveller

Overview

The PowerGorilla forms the core component of my power-on-the-go strategy (see the page on our Kit List for details of the full setup), so it’s critical that it meets the power requirements for many different devices and performs well. I chose it for its flexibility and storage performance and it has definitely met my expectations in those areas. I’ve used it for over a year now – most seriously tested on our 18 days of trekking and peak climbing in Nepal.

Powergorilla charging from backpack flexible solar panel, powering iPhone and camera battery charger, at Island Peak Base Camp

Design and Features

Powergorilla excels in terms of flexibility of power input and output voltages. Output voltages can be selected from the single button on the front of the unit from the following options: USB 5V, 8.4V, 9.5V, 12V, 16V, 19V or 24V. It’s very easy to use. Furthermore it’s possible to both power a device from the USB 5V output at the same time as powering a device from the multi-voltage output at a different voltage – so I can charge my phone at the same time as a laptop. Powertraveller sells a number of standard power adaptor tips (I bought one for my laptop) or it’s possible to make up your own if necessary (I soldered a tip for my Li-Ion battery charger onto an appropriate cable – just make sure you get the polarity correct).

This flexibility enables me to use the unit to charge all of the following:
- 5V: iPhone x 2
- 12V: Universal Battery Charger for AA/AAA and Li-Ion camera batteries
- 19V: Asus Netbook

The unit can accept a charging voltage between 15 and 25V – further enhancing its flexibility – you don’t have to use the supplied AC adaptor – you can just use your laptop AC adaptor (or even better, a universal AC/DC/Auto/Air adaptor) – so you only carry one AC adaptor for all your charging needs (I ditched the AC adaptors for the Universal Battery Charger, Laptop and iPhones to reduce weight and bulk).

The design of the unit itself is a simple rectangular “brick” measuring 220 x 130 x 15mm and weighing quite a reasonable 631g. It comes with a neoprene protective cover and is easy to pack or slide down the back of a rucksack.

Performance

At the time of purchase in Nov 2010, this was the most powerful portable (sub 1kg) battery pack on the market, delivering 21000mah of storage at 5V (105 Watt-Hour Wh). Competitive products out there such as the Energizer XP18000 (90Wh) deliver less, and whilst there are some higher capacity options on the market now – such as the Hyperjuice (150Wh option for $350) – these are more expensive and more bulky (and less flexible, Hyperjuice is just designed for MacBooks). Powergorilla provides a good sweet-spot compromise between portability for long-term travel, and energy storage performance for use over a number of weeks.

In terms of charge performance, unscientifically I “reckon” that the powergorilla will charge both of our iPhones every day for 10 days when under heavy usage (say, 60% charge delivered to each iphone each day) – given the iPhones 1400mah battery size, this equates to around 16800 mah of charge delivered to the devices, an acceptable efficiency for a 21000mah battery pack. With careful usage, I reckon the powergorilla could keep two phones going for 3-6 weeks. Likewise, I reckon the pack can almost recharge my laptop twice from 20% to 100% (the laptop has a 56Wh battery) – which is again an acceptable efficiency and an excellent performance for 631g unit.

Charging efficiency is more difficult to gauge – you don’t care when charging from AC, it only matters when on solar. Charging from a 10W panel for 6-8 hours a day in the Himalayas via a universal DC adaptor appeared to store enough charge to deliver 60% charges to both iPhones each day.

The powergorilla handled the extreme cold in the Himalayas pretty well, all things considered, but it was important to have the solar panel to top up each day.

Durability and Reliability

The first Powergorilla that I received in Nov 2010 was Dead on Arrival. Powertraveller support replaced the item, which then worked flawlessly for over a year (only occasional usage one a month or so when travelling), until February 2012 – when after 3 months of heavy usage the pack died suddenly. All credit to powertraveller support – they sent a replacement to me in Singapore no questions asked (and covered the cost of shipping to Singapore), but it was a big hassle to not have it working just when I really needed it in a remote part of Indonesia. Reliability is essential for a travel product like this, because failure when in a remote part of the world could be extremely painful – and especially when it’s the central core of all your power storage and conversion as I use it. A rating of 1.0 has been upgraded to 3.0 due to the good support and hope that they have fixed the issues in subsequent product revisions.

Physically the unit seems pretty durable and the construction solid – the rubber grip and the neoprene case provide some protection – no probems here.

Price

The powergorilla is priced at RRP 150 GBP (235 USD) – but available at some retailers from around 120 GBP. This is expensive for a battery pack – but good value for a product which can charge all of your travel electronics and provide such a high capacity.

Conclusion

Excellent flexibility, performance, portability and good value – but reliability issues need to be fixed. Highly recommended (as long as my 3rd unit doesn’t die in the next 6 months of travel!)

Review Summary: PowerGorilla by Powertraveller
Design and Featureswww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Exceptional flexibility, easy to use and sensible design
Performancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Excellent power storage and charge performance for the weight/size
Durability & Reliabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Reliability problems but replacements provided and supported well by Powertraveller
Pricewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Expensive but good value given the flexibility and excellent storage performance
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Excellent flexibility, performance, portability and good value - but reliability issues need to be fixed.

 

 
PowerGorilla in use at Island Peak Base Camp – Island Peak in the background (20,305 ft)

Website redesign

I decided to redesign the website because the old theme was so slow and there were many small annoyances that I never got around to fixing. Let me know if there’s anything that is still not working so I can fix it!

Soon we will add a product reviews section to review all the kit we’ve travelled with for the last 4 months.

Boracay

Updated local phone number in Philippines: +639196393541

We were totally exhausted by the time we got here last night – I had had only about 30 mins of napping sleep in the last 42 hours.. so we slept for 12 hrs until around 11am. The last legs of the journey didn’t really help with a 1.5hr bus ride, followed by waiting for nearly an hour for a ferry (last ferry of the night I think), followed by a 10-15 min trike ride (similar to the moto tuk-tuks we used on Lanta, not the safest form of transport).. so we didn’t get in to our place until nearly 11.30pm.

Then we went out for a quick look at the beaches (our side of the island = windy, waves for wind surfing and kit surfing… other side 10 mins walk away = calm for sunbathing and swimming) and we went to the supermarkets to buy some provisions. It’s really nice to have a basic kitchen – we have a fridge, two gas hobs and an electric toaster oven plus all the necessary pans and dishes.. so we got breakfast items and had a basic brunch when we got back. Provisions are expensive here (e.g. milk is $2-$2.50 a litre.. UHT only. Cheese cost us $6), but restaurants can be relatively cheap (if we’re careful).. so it probably only makes sense to use the kitchen for breakfast and the odd other meal.. we still need to find the market area (D’Talipapa) to see if we can get fish and vegetables cheap enough to make it worth cooking a dinner in once or twice.. which we’d really look forward to as we haven’t done this for the last 3.5 months!

Stef is still feeling a bit rough from the last bout of food poisoning in Kathmandu (it made the long journey a bit unpleasant for her.. but at least she slept more than me).. so she is having a nap again now, but hopefully we can go out for a swim later.

The view from our apartment – you can just about see the sea at Bulabog beach

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Off to Boracay to recover

We are flying overnight to Hong Kong then we have a fun 12 hour layover there before our flight to Kalibo in the Philippines. Hopefully we will get some good nap time in the airport. From Kalibo it will take us about two hours to get to Boracay. We splashed out and booked a nice place with a living area and small kitchen for 8 nights so we can feel a bit more settled.. We haven’t spent more than 3 or 4 nights in one place for the last two months!

Then we will be travelling to three other spots in Philippines before moving on to China.

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 16

Namche (3440m) to Lukla

It was a tough long day and we got absolutely soaked to the skin by cold rain during the last hour of the walk up to Lukla. Good party that night though to make up for it.

Next morning we flew back to Kathmandu.. Spent the next few days eating, drinking, getting food poisoning and recovering.. Plus planning our time in the Philippines

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 15

Pangboche (3930m) to Namche (3440m) via Phungi Thanga (3250m)

We’ve now completed nearly 3000 metres of descent in 3 days, between Island Peak Summit and our stop for lunch today. My left knee is really beginning to feel that much pressure. By lunch tomorrow it will be 3580m descent over 4 days. The upside is that we feel really fit at these lower altitudes.

Plus, now we’re back in civilisation, we have 3G coverage and got to take our first shower in 2 weeks!

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 13

Summit Day – Island Peak base camp (5050m) to Island Peak Summit (6189m) and back

We did it!

Our wake-up call was at midnight. It took some time to get properly dressed for the cold temperatures, have some breakfast and get our kit together – we left camp at 0120.

The first 4 hours hiking was in darkness with head torches. There had been snow the previous evening, so we were hiking in snow from the start, although the weather was clear and calm by the time we left. It was difficult in the dark to understand where we were in the surrounding landscape as we climbed, except that it was steep. At around 0400 we passed the high camp that some groups use to spend a night on the mountain before summiting – it was little more than an 8ft ledge on the side of the mountain at 5600m. People usually can’t sleep well at this altitude so it is a little pointless, so our trek company no longer use this approach.

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About 4 hours in, the sun started to lighten the path but it would be another 60-90 minutes before the sun broke through to warm us!

By this time progress was painfully slow because of the thin air and steep slope – I could only take 8 or 10 steps before stopping for 30 seconds to get my breathing under control. If I pushed too hard, I started to feel nauseous. I really felt like those people you see climbing Everest with their painfully slow progress and laboured breathing. For sure this was our Everest! Stef was very very cold, I had totally numb toes and was worried about frostbite, constantly trying to clench my toes as hard as possible with every step.

We finally reach “crampon point” at 0530. I couldn’t even guess what the temperature was there, maybe -15C. We desperately needed the sun – we could see the sunrise splashed on the highest peaks and slowly descending towards us. It took us about 45 mins to get into our climbing gear – everything is so slow at that altitude and in that much cold. Taking our gloves off led to numb fingers within a minute or two, but was necessary for some of the tasks – we had to get into plastic climbing boots (even worse for the toes, as the boots were at ambient temperature), crampons, helmets and harnesses – plus we carried ice axes. Luckily for us, one of our porters (Moti) carried the heavy gear to crampon point for us – our own packs were about 8-10kg, but would have been over 20kg with all the climbing gear. Big thanks to Moti and Kesa (who carries it back down) for their help!

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On the final stretch! We can see the summit!! But it’s another 2 hours before we get there

With our gear fitted and attached together via “main rope”, we climbed up onto the glacier just as the sun hit us and began to warm us a little.. Then we got our first view of the summit – and we realised we could do it!

There were a number of crevasses in the lower part of the glacier that we had to weave around to find a point narrow enough to jump across. We had been taught how to do this so that the rope wouldn’t snag us as we jumped, and in the unlikely event that we fell, we would be held up by the others in the group (we had a climbing guide at the front and our trek guide, Netra, at the back – with just the two of us in the middle). The rest of the glacier hike was a relatively shallow climb, but again painfully slow because we were now approaching 6000m. It took us about 1.5hrs on the glacier to reach the fixed rope point.

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John took this picture of me from the edge of the summit

We then had a tough 150m extremely steep ascent up the ice face to a point on the left hand side of the summit (around 30m below). It probably averaged around 70 degrees of slope, but there were a few points where it went vertical or almost vertical for a few metres, at least once with sheer smooth ice. We had been taught how to use the zoomer and crampons to climb up, and there were a number of anchor points up the slope to swap ropes and have a rest. With the altitude, it took at least 1.5 to 2hrs to complete this part. As the sun was shining on us strongly now, the cold was no longer a problem and my toes had thawed out. We even removed 2 layers in an attempt to cool off! But the slight dry cough which I’d had for a day or two had quickly developed into a chesty, painful cough by the top of the climb, and I was wheezing when I breathed deeply. Stef was definitely stronger at this point and didn’t get any negative symptoms until we started the descent. Of course I was worried about some severe AMS symptom like HAPE, but we were so close to the summit and just had to continue to the top. Besides, the first treatment for AMS would be to descend, which we would do anyway very soon.

Getting to the top of the face was an incredible experience. Reaching the top we saw that we had climbed on top of a knife-edge ridge with the Island Peak glacier plateau beneath us on one side (and the big Ama Dablam mountain beyond), and on the other side it plunges straight down to the Lhotse Glacier over 1000m below – backed by the huge Lhotse mountain (8516m). It’s amazing to see that after all this effort to get to such a high point, there are still mountain peaks 2500m+ above us.

The final push to the summit wasn’t far, but took at least 30 mins because a previous group of 6 people were coming down on the fixed ropes from the summit while we were trying to go up. We had to wait for then at each anchor point so that we could pass by.

We finally reached the summit around 10am (I was in front of Stef so I waited for her a few feet from the top). It was incredibly satisfying and the views were remarkable – so many 6, 7 and 8000m peaks all around us. The face of Lhotse, just 3km away from us, towered above – so much so that I couldn’t fit the whole thing in frame for my panorama shots. We hugged and took pictures, but didn’t spend more than 10 minutes on the summit – the weather was perfect (sunny and luckily no wind) but could change at any moment. So we started the descent down the ridge to the fixed rope down the face.

We had to wait a while because of slow traffic on the ropes going down the face. At this point Stef started getting a bad headache, probably from the altitude, which persisted for the rest of the day. When it was our turn we started to abseil down, using a figure-eight belay – not exactly a foolproof method, but our training and practice the previous day kept us safe.

We then made as fast as possible off the glacier, as it was approaching midday and so increasing risk of shifting ice and crevasses opening up. We were totally exhausted by the time we got back to crampon point – we had spent all of our energy on the goal of reaching the summit and left little for the descent. So the descent was nearly as tough as the climb, and we finally got back to base camp at 1515.. Nearly 14 hours after we set off. We were exhausted, dehydrated and starving.. We forced ourselves to drink and eat something, then collapsed into our tent.

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Waiting to repell down the face to start the long haul back to base camp

It was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is what our rtw trip is about. And, I think it’ll stay that way – I think that expedition mountaineering is not really for us – we can save that kind of suffering for when it’s really required to achieve something long-lasting – not just 10 mins of the most incredible view ever.

Island Peak Summit 6189m, 20,305ft – Lhotse South Face in the Background

EBC and Island Peak Trek – Day 12

Rest day and mountain climbing training day at Island Peak Base Camp (5050m)

We didn’t sleep very well due to te extreme cold and uncomfortable thin mattress with stones underneath. The only good thing about camping here is the food, which is surprisingly good for camping-stove preparations in a small tent. We spent plenty of time resting and keeping warm in our tent, and in the afternoon we had the “climbing clinic”. We learn how to zoomer up steep inclines and abseil down again, plus fitting crampons and what to do when climbers are roped together on the shallow ice sections.

We have a wake-up call at midnight to start our climb at 1am, so we had an early dinner and now we’re in bed by 6.45pm – hope we can get some sleep!