Powermonkey Extreme solar charger review.

Powermonkey Extreme

Powermonkey Extreme

Last summer I trekked across the Spanish Pyrenees for two months of pure bliss. Decided to try an idea, to keep track of it on an ongoing blog during the trek. (You can read the entries on this blog). To do that, I took with me an i-phone 5, a folding keyboard, a small but very powerful camera and to power it all, the above mentioned Powermonkey Extreme solar charger. I did not take any other chargers in order to save weight so I put all of my chips on the Powermonkey. I was not disappointed.

It all comes in a well organised case.

It all comes in a well organised case.

This is a British developed system made by Powertraveller, comprising of a folding solar panel and a battery. You charge the battery with the solar panel (or from the mains) and then charge your toys from that battery. It has two ports, for 5v and 12v which makes it remarkably versatile. I’ve used it before on a photoshoot in the Alps and it charged my Nikon D800 SLR without trouble. It comes with a very extensive adaptor bundle and cables but you will need to buy a battery charger for specific camera batteries to work with it. All easily available in the open market. It all comes in a nice protective case. Very clear instructions for use and set up are also included. The whole thing weights just over 1/2 kg, depending on what adapters you are using, which is very acceptable.

The solar panel folds in half for storage and is made of rugged plastic. It has an elastic velcro strap to attach it to rucksacks, tents or anywhere you need. There are slots that can be used for that purpose as well. At the bottom, next to the USB socket, there is a green light showing that the panel is creating a charge.

Solar panel open

Solar panel open

Solar panel folded, showing the velcro strap

Solar panel folded, showing the velcro strap

The battery is coated in protective rubber and again, is very rugged. It has a backlit info window that shows the charge and also, when the battery is charging. It has a slide touch pad to switch the unit on or off. There are two charging ports, one USB for 5v and a socket type for 12v. The unit is charged through a separate port on the other side. It is waterproof when stored but needs a waterproof kit to keep it that way when charging. That would be for Marine use only as it is useless to try and charge the battery on a rainy day anyway.

The Battery

The Battery

The information window

The information window

In use

I charged the battery to 100% from the mains before I left. That gave me approximately 5 charges for my i-phone or alternatively about 3 charges for the camera. That kept me going for the first two weeks. Using the solar panel, I managed to charge the battery to around 60% of capacity and that is probably close to the max that the panel can do as it is not as powerful as the mains. Doesn’t matter, that was more than enough to keep me going and having all the gadgets charged when I needed them as it is a large capacity battery.

The charging ports

The charging ports

There were plenty of sunny days up there on the mountains and I took advantage of that. I would set up the charger on breaks or attach the panel to the top of my rucksack to charge the battery while walking. Both methods worked very well. Given the fairly small size of the solar panels, I found them very effective. On a days walk they would charge the battery to around 30% which in itself was enough for one full charge of all my gear. Another days walk and I would get it to the max of about 60% if I chose to do so. That should give a fair idea how effective this system is and in my opinion, very effective as I managed to do exactly what I set out to do. Write and upload a running blog during my trek, with photos.

The battery charge port

The battery charge port

To sum it up, your demands from this system may vary but I think you can safely say that it is a very capable one. For someone like me, who likes to camp in the wild and be as independent as possible, this is godsend. It is rugged, built for outdoor use, dependable and easy to set up. I never found it wanting and it kept my gear reliably powered for my two month trek and my Alpine photo shoot before that. This one will definitely be coming with me on future adventures.

Kudos to Powertraveller for building a versatile, dependable and very portable solar powered charging system.


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Old faithful. Gravity Dropper Classic seat post review.

Gravity Dropper Classic

Gravity Dropper Classic

Dropper seat posts have become standard equipment on almost every trail bike worth its salt, but the trailblazer for it all was the Gravity Dropper. I got mine about 5-6 years ago and am not looking back. Time to put my two cents worth on record.

Two things up front. One, I love this post. Two, I am not sponsored by them, bought my own.

With that out of the way I’ll get on. My post is the original Classic with 4 inches of travel with three positions. A drop of 1 inch and then the rest 3 inches. I ride in the first drop all the time, raise the saddle 1 inch on steep uphills and drop it 3 inches in technical and fast. While not officially recommended, I have ridden this way from the beginning and have had no problems because of it.

Saddle lowered

Saddle lowered

This post has improved the fun factor on all trails tenfold. I do not use it only for technical sections but all the time, when the trail gets fast and twisty, down and jumpy or just fast, I find that lowering the saddle makes the trail more fun. On the uphills, the UP position as I described earlier, helps control the bike, when it gets really steep.

This is probably one of the most reliable post out there but ironically, I decided to finally review this one because it cracked.

I weight between 75 kg to 82 kg, depending how honest I feel, which is about normal weight for a seat post like this. Still, you would expect that this kind of failure would be a game over but I don’t think so. This was not a catastrophic one, it did not just break away. The post stopped working properly, i.e. the saddle was not coming back up which surprised me since it had worked flawlessly for about 6 years. On inspection, I noticed that the upper shaft was a little bent and on closer inspection, I discovered a crack. To put this into perspective, given how easy it is to service and repair this post, and a fantastic service, this is not a problem. For comparison, my friends have gone through about 3 different posts for the time I have ridden this one, so yes, I consider 5 to 6 years of consistently flawless operation reliable.

The inner workings are very simple and effective. Basically a shaft inside a tube with a spring and a magnetic trigger mechanism. It is extremely simple to service and can be done in minutes at home. Fixing mine took about 20 minutes once I got the parts in the post. My routine is to clean and grease the post when it starts to feel a bit rough and replace the cable when it gets stiffer to operate. The only thing that can cause the post to misbehave is the locking ring holding the shaft mechanism. This can loosen a bit during use and throw the trigger mechanism out of alignment. I found that a bit of blue locktite on the threads solves this. Do not use red locktite though, as that is too strong.

Saddle lever

Saddle lever

Saddle lever

Saddle lever

The saddle lever fits nicely under the bar for a 1×10 or 1×11 set up. You need to order a specific lever position with your post. Like the post, the lever is a simple affair that works very well. The cable connection bolts are at the lever so the cable ends there.



Other features that I like are: – The stationary cable. The trigger mechanism is in the lower post and does not move with the saddle preventing potential rubbing with the bike or the rear wheel. and as I mentioned above. – The three positions and the options it gives me. -It is supported by a good website with plenty of information to help maintain it and extensive supply of parts. – The service is excellent and fast.

The only thing I do not like is: – It came with one size and needs shims to fit. But that is history as they have started to make it in different sizes now.

When comparing to the posts in the market today, this one looks a bit like a relic but that is just skin deep. Under the skin, this is a simple and effective design that does what it’s supposed to do and does it well and consistently. So, if you can get around the looks and the little bit of clunkiness, this is still one of the best dropper posts out there, which explains the fact that it is still out there.

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GR 11 Pyrenees. Some final thoughts.

A gathering thunder storm at Pico Piedrafita.

A gathering thunder storm at Pico Piedrafita.

Its been a while since I returned from my Pyrenees trek and I have arrived at some perspective about it all. Now’s a good time to put my thought in writing, for myself and for any of you who might want to do this great trail.

Sunset over the Sierra d'Alano.

Sunset over the Sierra d’Alano.

This was probably the most beautiful long range trek I have ever done, and I’ve done a few. I think it is one of the best designed trails. It takes you through the most varied terrain and stays high where the views are. On the other hand, the macro routing of the trail is a bit lacking. There are places where the marking is terrible and you really need to know how to use a map, and, In places, the trail is incredibly steep where they should have zig zagged it. That being said.it does not take away anything from the grandeur of this trail and is all part of long range trekking. This one should definitely be on every trekkers bucket list.

(Lake)Ibon d'Estanes.

(Lake)Ibon d’Estanes.

Alone or with someone.

I started the trail with a good friend. He was injured during the trek and I continued on my own. Either way, I’d say it is a very personal thing. I can do both. If you go with a friend, you better be very good friends, like I am with Danny, otherwise it will probably not work. You are going to be together for a long time, under sometimes difficult conditions. There will be arguments, as we had, but they have to be resolved. Some compromise is always called for but having good company is priceless.

A couple of points to ponder. One; have separate tents, as it will give you some privacy and a place of your own at nights. Going in one tent is all right for shorter stints but will get difficult on a long range trek. Two; plan well for the trek together. Make sure you are on the same page as to what is expected of the whole experience and how to go about it, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart somewhere along the way.

Horses grazing at Ibon d'Anayet.

Horses grazing at Ibon d’Anayet.

Going alone is fine by me as well as I truly enjoy the solitude, also, the compromises are smaller and you can basically do what you want, in other words, true freedom. Besides, along a trek like this, you will meet other trekkers so you do no need tot go to extremes on the solitude thing. As there are a lot of villages and refuges on the way, this one is pretty much ideal for a solo trek as the risks are kept at an acceptable minimum.

A couple of points here too. One; be sure that you can deal with emergencies as being alone, any small mishap can turn serious and Two; your navigational and outdoor skills better be very good, getting lost in the mountains is not an option.

Wild camping or refuges.

Base camp for Mt Posets.

Base camp for Mt Posets.

If you ask me, I’ll opt for wild camping every time. There is nothing like roaming the trail without having a deadline. Picking the best spots for the night and being completely self sufficient gives you some real freedom. The downside is weight (some more on this next, in the gear section). The GR 11 is a great trail for wild camping. Pure camping is not allowed in most places but you can make an overnight bivy anywhere along the trail and this trail has some spectacular places for that.

Morning before the climb to the Cuello de Tebarrai pass.

Morning before the climb to the Cuello de Tebarrai pass.

My routine was to make a one day stop in a Camping site once every ten days or so. Rest days are essential on this trail as it is physically demanding and you should factor them in even if you are using the refuges.

Early morning in the woods.

Early morning in the woods.


A couple of general points about gear. One; (this one is probably preaching to the converted). Never go on a long range trek with new, untested gear. This means every item of your gear, from boots, clothes to pack, tent and equipment. Snags will happen but if some gear is not comfortable of does not fit, it could ruin the whole trek. Danny had a new backpack which he had not tried before because of time restraints and it took a couple of weeks to get it comfortable, wasted time.

At (lake) Ibon Azul Alto after the Cuello de Tebarrai pass.

At (lake) Ibon Azul Alto after the Cuello de Tebarrai pass.

Two; Weight. By the end of my trail I knew I was carrying too much weight. I did not weight my bag but I know now that I can shave quite a lot of weight off it. There’s a lot of ultralight gear out there but I would keep a balance between weight and reliability. The main thing to do is; I’ve decided to switch from a tent to a tarp system which will save a lot of weight and is a bit more open, giving a better experience of sleeping out. It will mean a new learning curve but I am definitely taking it on for my next trek. Another area where I will be saving weight is in choosing what to take. Only what is absolutely necessary. I was carrying a mini tripod all the way and never used it. That’s one kilo of penance. That stays home and some more useless stuff. I expect my next trail to be with a much lighter load, without compromising on wild camping.

A couple of early morning hikers on their way to Mt Posets

A couple of early morning hikers on their way to Mt Posets

Finally, if you decide to do this trek in one go, which I recommend, do not give yourself a rigid deadline. I bought a one way ticket to the beginning of the trek and gave myself all the time needed to finish it with as many detours as I wanted. The GR 11 has many options: Hopping on the Hight Route, Climbing some summits along the way and different variations to the trail. It is best to leave as many of these options open by not having a rigid deadline. It is easy to get a ticket back to wherever you are going at the end of the trail.

Some hikers climbing out of the Ordesa Canyon.

Some hikers climbing out of the Ordesa Canyon.

However you decide to do the trail, do it. As I said before, this is one magnificent trail and should not be missed.

And heres my parting shot for this blog.

Rain clouds on the Spanish French border.

Rain clouds on the Spanish French border.




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GR11 Pyrenees Entry 9

Wednesday 10th of August and I’m sipping coffee at Banuyls sur Mer on the Meditarenian .

Friday 17th of June, Irun, starting on the Atlantic. Quite a contrast, isn’t it. I have finished the walking part of my journey and am just starting the process of moving it all to memory. Probably the best part as I let it all sink in and get to explore the meaning of it all. Here’s a few highlights from the journey.

Mt. Posets, the highest point in the trek. Also the second highest mountain in the Pyrenees, only about 30m lower than the highest mountain. Doesn’t really count, does it.

Gentler hills from the start of the trek in the Basque Country.

Danny, still on the trek, before the injury. He is home now recuperating from a knee surgery. His injury was serious, a large tear in the meniscus in his knee which they repaired. I will be seeing Danny on the trails when he recovers.

Some birds on a wire

Some horses on a ridge.  (Couldn’t find a drunk in a midnight choir).

And some views from the journey. As I said, the walking part is over but this will not be the last blog. As promised at the beginning, I will be posting about all the toys I used to help me on the trek for all you gear guys and galls out there, and maybe post some thoughts I have had..

Pulling Tarzan out of the jungle now and heading to Paris for a couple of days of rest to meet my better half and to pull the Jungle out of Lord Greystock.

Keep following for whatever comes next and here’s a few more parting shots.

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GR 11 Pyrenees Entry 8

Self portrait at Col Marker, the famous marker no; 500. There is a tradition getting started here.

A closer look at the marker revealed a hidden film canister at the base stones. There’s a roll of paper and a pencil inside for puttin down your name and date of visit. Just starting and I was among the first. Hope you all will take this up.

Spent the night on the border by the marker on top of the world. Had dinner in France and Breakfast in Spain. Living the life.

Been moving on through Andorra and am leaving the Alpine terrain behind. The view is getting a bit gentler but the vistas are still spectacular.

Found this cozy bothy just before Andora and shared it for a night with some likeminded travellers. It looks like a tin can from the outside but is very comfortable inside. My parting shots will be from the lake below and the great sunset we had there. Moving on.

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GR 11 Pyrenees Entry 7

My home for one night. There’s something to be said for chugging a tent on your back up all these mountains, you get to pick your homestead and sometimes they are stunning.

Moving on eastward and am starting to run across more fellow travellers on this trail as I’m meeting the Trekkers that started at the Med, not to mention all the ones overtaking me from the west. Sometimes they whiz by me so fast I get turned around, but most of the time we have a nice chat, compare experiences (and gear of course) and they move on, as I am moving slow, on purpose. I’m taking all of this in and it is grand.

Bagged another peak, Mt. Montardo at 2833m. The views, as usual are stunning but the crowd were different. Mt. Posets was a bit of a technical climb so the crowd there were mostly climbers. Here the ascent is easy so people brought their dogs. The views are still Pyrenees though.

I am just getting to Andorra in a couple of days and am moving through what some would call the foothills and there are some idyllic villages on the way, some partly deserted and some completely so, but still beautiful.

It looks like there is some ordnance in place here about building style to preserve the unique look of the area and it works.

Moving on. I’ll fill you all in after Andorra. Here’s my parting shot for today.

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GR 11 Pyrenees. Entry 6

Mt. Posets, 3369m + this guy. No, it’s not me, never was any good at acrobatics. Took the southern route, GR 11-2 so I could climb this second highest peak in the Pyrenees, magnificent views, and as you can see in the background, France is in the clouds, while here in Spain, it does not rain in the plains, all sunny.

That’s me under all that gear. It’s mid July but I was freezing my keester off up there. Parked the tent about 1000m below and climbed light for a change. Nice to have a light pack. I was climbing to a pass the other day with all my gear when this mountain runner whizzed past me on a training run. I was still on my way up when he came down with a smile on his face and a new personal record of 10 minutes. Took me one hour to make it up to that pass. How annoying.

Had to cross a large snow field that was still frozen as the sun had not hit it yet. Just my Iuck that there was a large group ahead of me opening a path in the snow with all the snow gear. The way down was more funn as the sun had softened the snow and I could glissade down.

Been having some stormy days here lately, mainly the famous afternoon and night thunderstorms. The last one overcame my tents defences so I’m recuperating now after the climb and the storms at the Aneto camping. Hopped down to Benasque, a couple of klicks down the road and got some silicone sealant to bolster those tent defences. And while there, had the joy of visiting an old fashioned village barber. I just had the usual zero machine cut but he managed to make it a real treat. A pro. I’m about midway through this great mountain range and hope to see more. Here’s my parting shot and hope you will keep following.

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GR 11 Pyrenees entry 5

A couple of Finns climbing behind me to the highest pass in the GR 11 trek, Cuello de Tebarrai at 2765 metres. There has been a lot of snow this winter and the snow field reached all the way to the lake below. Not a problem though as there was no ice.

Unfortunately Danny injured his knee badly and had to be Helivacked out to get medical care.

We tented at the lake and had an early start when the injury happened and just made our way to the Respomuso refuge below where we got help and a helicopter to fly him out. Here’s to a full and speedy recovery to Danny.

The trail is getting truly into the wilderness now with magnificent Bivvy sites, the above at lake Ibon d’Anayet, with a great view of Pic du Midi d’Ossau on the French side.

We started early in the season so we are getting some snow and a lot  of snow melt, making a lot of the rivers overflow, meaning getting our feet wet. Good thing we brought sandals.

I am now on my own, moving through some of the most dramatic views of the high Pyrenees. Just taking a day off to rest, re-stock and do my laundry and will be moving on to The Ordesa Canyon area.

Here’s a parting shot of the highest pass on the trek taken from the Respomuso refuge. Danny, get well and keep following me here. See you soon.

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GR-11 Pyrenees entry 4

Pena Ezkaurri 2047m, our first summit. The trail passes the summit but the way up is too steep for full packs, so we did the traditional route in the valley, camped and went up with a daypack. Beautiful.

The place is full of cairns and a magnificent view to the higher Pyrenees

As we are moving higher, we also had our first sign of snow. We are now at Albergue Aysa in the ski resort Puerto de Sonport resting our weary bones after a fantastic trail heading east.

Really getting into it now and the Med is starting to look more and more real as days go by. ‘The GR 11 Trail’ book by Brian Johnson has been a great help in planning as we go. While we are not using his stages, the book has plenty of information to help us on our way.

Moving on tomorrow and the future is higher mountains and passes. Stay tuned.

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GR-11 Pyrenees entry 3

We are moving from the Basque hills to the more rugged alpine mountains. I’m at Isaba, another idyllic Basque village at the very geographical border between the hill country and the mountains. As the going is getting tougher, we are making a rest stop in style, at Hostal Lola. Hot showers and a buffet breakfast, a nice departure from the tent and porridge.

We have been moving steadily east now along the route and have had some difficult weather, cold and misty, testing our orienteering skills to the hilt. We passed.

It is clearing now, giving us some spectacular views of clouds sliding over mountain ridges as they are blocking the rain from the north protecting our trail.

We have been taking full advantage of the villages on the way in our camping but as we at moving on, it looks as it will be more wild camping ahead. We’re well prepared and I’m hoping for some good photo opportunities.

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