Sunday, September 1, 2019

Objects of life #4 - Haston Vallot rucksack

Karrimor Haston Vallot Rucksack
Unless you're a mountaineer - and even then, you'd have to be one of a certain age -  I very much doubt you could name, let alone recognise the significance of, the rucksack in the picture above. For most folk it would be something that's stored in the loft, deprived of light until tipped or car-booted for few quid at best. And yet, in its time, the Haston Vallot was quite the thing, as was the climber, after whom it's named.

I bought mine in June 1980, at the start of the long summer break from university. My parents had recently separated: my mother moving to a tiny flat; my father not really an option to stay with. With nowhere to else go, and some inspiration from the Backpacker's Handbook, I decided to walk from Coast to Coast. And so began a path that, in a sense, I'm following still.

The man in the shop said it was definitely the one to buy. I remember being sceptical: it was expensive, and most rucksacks in those days had metal frames and multiple pockets. This was different, he explained, an alpiniste style which didn't use a structured chassis - the hip belt and straps would do the work, and what's more, if I progressed from walking to climbing, I'd already have the right equipment...

Ten minutes later and I owned my first piece of mountaineering gear.  I bought a sleeping mat too - and a Trangia stove that's still going strong. Somewhera along the way I acquired a tent and sleeping bag; they weighed a tonne, but they saw me from Whitehaven to Robin Hood's bay and afterwards most of the Pennine Way.

In the late Seventies, Karrimor was the UK's leading rucksack brand. They were known for good quality, innovative designs. The model I bought was named after Dougal Haston, the first Britain to succeed on the direct route of the Eiger's north face. His bold style was an inspiration for a generation of mountaineers pioneering alpine style ascents in the Himalaya and beyond. My memory tells me that he designed the outer loop which stows the belt and stops it from snagging if you haul the pack up a cliff - but I can't be sure and suspect I'm getting a bit geeky... What's more relevant is that by the early Eighties all packs looked a little like this, and the sacks we use today owe their heritage to these early designs.

Austria 1983
Returning to my purchase, after that first summer it transitioned with me from walking to climbing, just as the salesman said.  I took it to the Alps, on hut tours in Austria, and for years it carried my rock gear round the crags of Northumberland. It's a regular presence in my photo albums of those years - like a hidden clue, of the sort a TV detective would spot.

And if they ever came looking, they'd not take long to find it - for I never got round to storing my sack in the loft.  In fact, I used it this week to go camping with my eldest son, retracing a walk over the Preseli Hills that we'd first made eleven years ago. He was a teenager then, and the story of that trip became the title piece of my book Counting Steps. It seemed appropriate for our return, though my nostalgic mumblings cut little ice as I fumbled with stiff zips and broken buckles - but that's another story, for another book maybe.

Sadly, Karrimor are no longer in business - they went bust in 2003, though the trademark limps after purchase by Sports Direct. Dougal Haston is gone too; he died skiing in Leysin, not far as it happens from my house in France. But I reckon my old sack has a few years in it yet - there's evidently a repair shop in Lancashire that can sort those zips, and despite the odd creaky joint, I can still smile as I shoulder the weight - and the memories - it holds.

Summit of Mount Serles, Stubai Alps

1 comment:

  1. I can always build you a new one or overhaul your original.