Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Here it is in all it's glory and I hope people don't find it too boring!
The Night Before the Big Day
Although I'd been pretty much packing for a week prior to the trip, I knew it would still be a rush on Thursday because I had to go to a work do that night straight from work. I don't know about you guys but Thursday's have found a place in my heart as the new Friday, so any chance for a beer is hard to resist! I knew I had to be disciplined so I'd planned on leaving the pub at around 8pm (thinking this might stretch to 9) and I'd be home and merrily packing by 9.30. As it turned out it went even better than that, since Charlotte had to prepare for a visit from Prince Charles on Friday so would pick me up on the way home at 8pm. Thank God she did that because I doubt I would have got out of there upright!
When I got in I basically spent 2 hours running about the house like a real twerp trying to sort out my bag, checking the list and generally doing a really good job of looking like I had no idea what I was doing. I think I was panicking because in the back of my mind I knew I'd be alone and didn't want to leave anything to chance.
I got a fairly late night considering I was after a good sleep but I dropped off with a feeling of nervous anticipation mixed with the sheer excitement of being in the hills. The beer seemed to keep any intelligent thoughts at bay.
Friday - The Big Day
I woke at 6.15am with a bit of groggy head on and it took a few moments for me to realise what day it was. When I finally realised I couldn't wait to get out of bed but my instincts had kicked in (thank God) and I was calm trying to work out what I needed to do before I left.
I left Coventry for Conistion at about 7.15, chose the toll road route and headed for Ambleside as the first stop. I hadn't planned to stop there but noticed that the sun was out to burn me so had a forced visit to get some suntan lotion. I decided I liked Ambleside despite its silly one way system and vowed to return on Saturday to check out a few outdoorsy shops.
Ten minutes later I found myself looking for free roadside parking in Coniston but at just before 12 on a bright sunny day, this was always a misguided plan. I paid my £6 for 24 hours at the car park opposite the Tourist Information centre and headed for the Crown! My plan was to set off into the hills at 1pm so I relaxed with a roast ham Bloomer and a cold pint (a decision I would regret later) whilst sitting in the glorious sun. I watched people come and go and I was surprised at how few people there were around considering the weather. Two mancs caught my attention, mainly because they ordered to bottles of Blossom Hill Chardonay and seemed set for the hills with a large rucksack, a net of kindling wood and a rather large Pit bull terrier! Had I brought all the wrong gear after all!
I finished off my pint and by 12.45 was at my car liberally applying walking boots and sun cream. I headed off towards the main road north west out of Coniston to pick up my route, passing the local sports centre and a sign advertising the Coniston Music Festival. Leaving behind the fears that I'd miss an appearance from the Kings of Leon that night, I found the road and bumped into the guys from the pub. They were headed out along the same road and whilst we chatted briefly about the music festival, I was of course hoping they weren't headed for Grey Friars for a night of Chardonnay and a fire!
I made the same mistake as usual and practically jogged out of Coniston, quickly realising that I couldn't keep that punishing pace in the heat soon enough. The shade of the trees along the cycle path (parallel to Yewdale Beck) was welcome as I adjusted the Litespeed's various straps - quickly finding comfort. I found myself at the bridge below High Tilberthwaite before I knew it and the trail began where the path ended. The track ascends fairly sharply after the white slate farmhouse but the views west across to Holm Fell seemed to distract enough that I tripped on a rock. At this point I was feeling great about being out and the fears I had about going alone had been quashed. I was a little worried about water because I was needing to drink far more than I expected but I reached the stream before the ascent of Above Beck Fells and refilled, taking in a few melted Jaffa Cakes for energy. By this point I was sweating and lookin at the map and then up at the ascent I was about to make via Lads Stones - I quickly realised this was not going to be an easy walk and that beer was now a mistake!
There was no path on the map to the top, nor an obvious track so I made a few corrections to my route to the top. The grass ended where the scree started and I began to really find my sense of adventure. There were no difficult technical sections in real terms but with a heavy pack and in the heat I felt I'd conquered the world when I reached the top! I regained some composure at Weatherlam Tarn, puffed my inhalers and carried on. I began seeing people along the way and a couple asked me the way back into Coniston and I suddenly felt liberated to be out in the hills again for the night.
I made steady progress along the track descending Weatherlam down to Poison Band where, to the south, Levers Water was shimmering in the shafts of light breaking through the dark clouds that had begun to form. I couldn't help but think that Levers Water would make a nice wild camp and no doubt it probably has on many an occasion.
I decided I would stop here for a brew before the ascent of Swirl How and broke out the stove and my Orikaso cup. I was making perfect time, and didn't need to rush to get to Grey Friars so I took in the scenery for a while and was really taken by how amazing it was to have the hills almost to myself. I took the chance to reflect on my pack and my new walking boots. The pack was very comfortable to carry, easy to access I had no issues with comfort at all. I'd love to say that my boots felt heavenly too but by this point my feet were hot and the base of heel had began to feel a little sore. I wasn't sure if this was a blister forming at this stage so decided to wait and see once I'd set up camp later.
After my rest I found that the ascent of Swirl How was very pleasant. A mix of easy rocky ledges and scree kept me entertained and I'd noticed that the wind had now picked up and the temperature was far more tolerable. I could see that MWIS had its forecast correct - there would be rain within a few hours if not sooner! My pace took on a slight urgency as I curved north to Great Carrs. I had a real pang of sorrow as I viewed the memorial to the Canadian victims of the plane crash in 1944, near to the summit. I suppose it was because its not everyday you come across aircraft wreckage from WW2.
I took in the views from the summit for a few minutes and consulted the map - looking for the spring where I hoped to pick up water. I had a real hang up about not being able to get any and spending the night hungry and thirsty - fears which now seem silly. Right then it was a big deal and perhaps I was feeling the insecurity of being alone more than I thought. I headed to the short plateau in between Great Carrs and Grey Friars and I decided it was GPS time to find this spring. As I approached I could here the faint trickle of water and as I popped the PDA back in my pocket I took a confident stride with my left foot and sunk knee deep into a bog. I initially panicked as I felt the cold water soak into my trousers and trickle into my boot. I was gutted and luckily nobody was around to hear my foul language! I was disappointed with myself for making the error, especially at this stage and continued on feeling like a real amateur. Luckily it had clearly been raining the day or night before because the water:peat ratio was high and I was easily able to retrieve my leg without any trouble. From that point I tested every step until I found an outlet to fill my water bottles. I remember at that point feeling relieved and almost like I was home free. All I had to do was make Grey Friars and find a reasonable spot to camp.
By the time I'd ascended back to the path the wind was picking up from the North East and I was in pitch finding mode all the way up Grey Friars. I found myself talking my way through various potential camping spots and weighing up the pros and cons - like a lunatic! By chance I spotted what looked like a perfect spot and so long as the fluffy grass didn't hold a mass of water I'd be camping. I couldn't believe my luck, the grassy patch was clear of rocks and was soft, long grass and fairly level too. The view was a good semi-panoramic view from the south west right round to the north east. Importantly though I had high sided crags to the east to block most of the north easterly wind - or at least it was at that time!
I began to smell the rain in the air and I unpacked the tent with gusto! I had great ideas of taking some pictures showing the various stages for a review later but that was not going to be. It went up like a dream, it was a pleasure and the only adjustment required was to the webbing straps in the four corners where the fly seemed a little too far forward. I dived in inside as the wind changed direction to blow in from the south and the rain pelted the flysheet!
It was great when I sat and thought about it. I'd had the best of the weather, the tent was up and I was about to cook. I can say with certainty that I didn't feel lonely once the tent was up and I have no reasonable explanation why. I cooked and ate and posted to the blog before cleaning up and heading to the summit of Grey Friars for a view. The clouds were low in the valley and they rolled in and cleared again, with the rain coming thick and fast at regular intervals. I was sat in my tent away from the rain, contemplating some photos and a call to Paul, when I heard voices and I looked out to see two figures in the mist. They had clearly made Grey Friars and were probably trying to get their bearings. At the time the rock they stood on seemed a good distance away but later when it cleared it was more like 50m max! I can't say if they spotted my tent in the dip below them but they moved on in any case and I had the hill to myself again - bar a few sheep.
I settled down to some port and checked my blog for comments. I set my alarm for 6.00am and sent a text to my cousin to arrange to meet the following day. I dropped off around 10 and can admit to having a sense of achievement and I vowed there and then that I'd do this more often. Its a feeling I won't forget in a hurry and I can really see why a solo trip in the Cairngorms is appealing.
I woke several times during the night as the sound of rain made it past my earplugs and into my eardrum. This triggered a desperate need for the loo so out I went in my base layer and boxers cursing the whole time!
Day Two - Saturday
By 5.30 I was wide awake and the light put pay to any chance of a bit more of a kip. It had got quite cold over night and I slid out of my bag to find it that it still was! I opened to tent to find that the rain had gone and there was an inversion in the valley just to the north. What a privilege to have such a view with only the sounds of the morning to be heard for miles around.
I cooked porridge oats with fruit and sugar for breakfast and sat on the rocks overlooking the valley with a cup of tea. It was quite surreal but in the very best way. I packed away in no particular rush and said goodbye to what I think is now a benchmark of a pitch spot. I headed back down to the spring to find the ground even more boggy due to the previous nights rain - only this time I was ready! I left my pack on the higher ground and took my filter and bottles to be filled. This done I took the path running along the western slope to Great How Crags where I would meet my cousin Craig and his friends.
As it turned out they had arrived early and decided to the same route I did the day before so they were running late. In the end I walked back north along the ridge to Swirl How where I found them looking a little tired and taking on fluids! By this point the glorious morning sun had been blocked out by low cloud which swirled over the eastern side of the ridge and eventually engulfing the entire hill. We made our way to the Old Man of Coniston but we weren't going to see that view we all hoped for! We hung about for a bit but the fear of my car being clamped back in Coniston meant we were on a deadline. We descended via the beautifully clear Goat's Water only to find the mist cleared above and left Blue skies behind. There was talk of going back up for the view but clearly nobody was quite that serious about it! I wish I'd have had a dip in Goats Water though in hindsight - it would have been so refreshing in that heat.
We made our way back into Coniston, skirting the base of Little Arrow Moor and we all vowed we'd be back another day for that view. A car parking ticket was purchased for another hour and we ended the trip with a well earned pint and a burger - which I wasn't very impressed by - for the record!
In summary, my first solo backpack was pretty awesome and I feel inspired to get out again alone. I can see now that whilst going with a friend is a great experience, its completely different to a trip alone. I wouldn't say I found myself as such but I did find that part of me that likes solitude.
On reflection I would do that trip again and I dare say I might since Paul saw the picture of tent pitched on the hill and was adamant he needed that in his life! I'd love every minute if we did go back.....perhaps it would make a nice winter trip......
Saturday, 26 July 2008
Friday, 25 July 2008
Well, the port is working so I think its off to bed for me - I'm bloody shattered! All the best folks and thanks for the comments earlier Baz and Shutterworth. Zzzz
Now i'm just getting some food in and that aspirational pint before heading off. Needless to say Coniston is a great little place.
I've got this feeling i've forgotten something but what the hell is it?
My plan is to get there, sort out a place to park and go and fetch a cheeky pint and some food. Then its on. I've got a strange number of feelings right now and one of them is the loo! Update once I arrive. Onward!
Thursday, 24 July 2008
Friday, 18 July 2008
So I got in from work yesterday and began going over my kit list. I wanted to make sure I had everything and also to check the weights. I'd been discussing my back weight with some fellow bloggers in response to the post below (see comments) and I'd started to suddenly doubt the reliability of my measurements!
Being a real saddo, I put every bit of kit into a spreadsheet weeks ago with aim of keeping track of packing them and also the weight. Having reported that with the arrival of the Litespeed everything was looking peachy, but some valuable comments had made me suddenly doubt the final weight.
The spreadsheet at that time was showing 9.8kg had almost everything entered save for a few things I hadn't got around to weighing like my sit mat, my instant mash lunch, an Orikaso cup, my water bottles (not the water) and the Exped dry bags (which are yet to arrive). I've now weighted all of the gear and the list now looks like this:
|ITEM||Weight (g)||Qty||Total Weight (g)|
|Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 (inc supplied pegs)||1545||1||1545|
|Vango Nitestar Sleeping bag||1850||1||1850|
|MSR Miniworks Water Filter||456||1||456|
|Multimat self inflating mat||420||1||420|
|GPS + PDA||275||1||275|
|Alpkit Gamma Headtorch||118||1||118|
|F1 lite stove + Heineken pot/cozy + wind break + fire steel||235||1||235|
|North Face waterproof jacket||435||1||435|
|Waterproof over trousers||175||1||175|
|First aid kit||175||1||175|
|3 x Exped dry bags||119||1||119|
|Packet of Jaffa cakes||150||1||150|
|Fresh pasta + toping||250||1||250|
|Instant Mash Potato||55||1||55|
|100g gas canister||180||1||180|
Now, I agree that 10.3kg does seem rather low considering I'm carrying a 1.55kg tent and a 1.85kg sleeping bag but I can't see how it can be incorrect.
I've taken advise from a fellow blogger to ensure that my weights are roughly accurate by weighing an item I know to be a particular weight several times and then checking any variation. Shockingly the deviation each time is less than 2g and these are just cheap kitchen scales!
Accuracy aside for a moment, having packed this into my Litespeed and noticed how much more manageable and comfortable this weight is - I'm not too concerned with the actual weight. I know for example that I can get this weight (whatever it may be) lower than it is now by sharing the weight of the tent with my backpacking comrade, and my sleeping bag will soon be replaced by a lighter more packable down-filled version. Unsurprisingly, I'm a happy man.
This process has helped me in a big way, for example I've been concentrating on the obvious things which are easy, but notice the weight of my waterproof layer at 435g! I hadn't even considered how much an item like this can weigh.
I would recommend that anyone starting out in this activity or maybe just finding your way with the kit, try using a list like this. It's not ground breaking but I think it makes it far more visual in terms of what you are actual taking and how much it weighs. Additionally you can also see where you stand to make the best gain by replacing or substituting heavy kit. Amen!
Thursday, 17 July 2008
Bob and Rose from BPL sent out my Litespeed and it arrived yesterday. No sooner was my bike in the door than I was upstairs unwrapping it and packing my gear in. I'll do my own review on it once I've used it but I'm frankly weeing myself at how good it feels. I've got all my kit in it and I effectively test packed it last night to try it for comfort and generally get excited about how much lighter everything is since the Hay-on-Wye trip. Incontinence under control, I pulled it on, made some adjustments and lightweight life is good to say the least.
I'm currently filling it with more bulky items than it will ever hold again since I'm taking my heavy and bulky Vango sleeping bag and the full tent. Surprisingly there is still room for more food, clothes or whatever I like!
The pockets on the hip belt are a stroke of genius as most owners have already found and the little touches make all the difference. Having only one main zipped compartment makes you think a little more about your packing strategy but I already like this pack a lot!
For those who care I weighed every individual item last night and my trail weight all in (for this trip) is 9.8kg. Since this includes the whole tent (when I will normally be sharing it) food, water a 1.85kg sleeping bag - I'm pretty happy with that! As the autumn arrives I'll invest in a warmer, lighter down bag and lose around 850g from sharing the tent weight so things are looking up for the Dude.
After this little episode and all of the positive comments from the post below, I'm feeling pretty good right now. What remains to be seen is if after acquiring large blisters within the first mile of walking I still have this stupid grin on my face....
Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Paul, my trusty backpacking/wild camping partner, was knocked of his bike whilst riding to work on Monday and picked up a broken collar bone to prove it. Luckily he's OK but this means Paul and I can't go to Coniston together on the 25th July, which is quite depressing to say the least. I know that Paul is feeling pretty low about it and I just hope his injury repairs without the usual complications with this type of break. It couldn't really be in a worse place for carrying a 10kg pack.
When I heard the news I'd pretty much resigned myself to a long wait for Paul to recover, so any notion of a summer backpacking trip was pretty much off the cards. I'm sure you can see where this is going but for those who don't know me very well yet, I've never been solo backpacking.....
I think the phrase " be careful what you wish for" is a probably very wise as I've been thinking about a solo trip recently but never really been so motivated by it to actually organise it. It seems the Gods deem me to be worthy of such a trip and its just a shame that they made Paul suffer so I can meet my destiny! Not one to argue with the Gods, I think I'm going to take my chance in Coniston and do the trip on my own.
Aside from the obvious cautionary considerations which are inherent with a solo trip, there is also a physical and psychological boundary to contend with. On the physical side, I'm now taking the whole weight of the 1.6kg tent, increasing my load by 850g. Not a lot of weight compared to my previous pack weights but its still a whole 850g and the additional bulk in the pack. I was looking forward to a smaller lighter load this trip and this is going to make a dent in that little wish! The good news is I will make a compromise on my alcoholic treats and replace a can or two of cider for a few shots of brandy instead. There is clearly a shift in the force - I'm passing up cider for pleasures like comfort and weight saving!
Although this might sound a little like I've had my (much treasured) genitals removed, I suspect that psychologically, I'll my find solo a bit challenging. On the one hand, I can feel the excitement at the thought of going alone and truly feeling like I'm the only one out there. On the other hand though whilst I know I enjoy my own company, I also know it takes some getting used to. I will be relying completely on my own resources and this thought is both inspiring and emptying! I've read a few accounts from people who have gone backpacking for days alone and have described the mental obstacles on the first few lonely miles. Of course I'm exaggerating here a little but I think it takes a bit of mental 'conditioning' to take the first solo steps - at least as a novice.
This aside, I'm wildly excited about going - even though this will be an altogether different experience than I'm used to. Good news is though I've got some new gear to test, a new route to navigate (in what looks to be a spectacular landscape) and best of all the reward is a room with a view.
As I've posted on A Little Bit About Not A Lot recently, I've learned some harsh lessons that have opened my eyes (and unfortunately my wallet) to the benefits of reducing the weight of my pack for the hills.
Along with the Seedhouse SL2 I now have a lighter 3/4 sleeping mat from Multimat and the hope is that soon my pack will be replaced by a Golite Litespeed - saving 1700g!
Although my pack won't be lightest around but, at the end of it all, I believe that a good estimate of my pack weight by the Coniston trip will be around 9kg - including food and water.
In a personally controversial decision I decided to weigh my Isofly stove, cooking pot, pot cosy, wind shield and a full meths fuel bottle to reassure myself that my stove decision suits both in terms of weight and suitability for the job. I'm not going to go back on my fondness of alcohol stoves (don't panic Tinny!), but I have thought about bringing my Coleman F1 Lite stove - just to see. Having weighed both, the difference is of course in the weight of the gas canister which for a 100g butane/propane mix comes in at 170g. The result is that I am going to bring the F1 lite with gas canister and my 750ml beer-can pot with wind shield to trial performance and gas use etc. I guess the biggest benefit being the speed of boil which for 400ml comes in at around 2.5 minutes depending on the wind and how full the gas canister is.
I'm nervous about my new Raichle boots but I think I'll be using them for this trip in any case. I've not worn them enough but they are going to need breaking in at some point so in what I know to be a foolish decision - I'm going to risk it.
The only other gear change to note is I won't be bringing my 2ltr bladder for water. Instead I'm bringing a 1ltr nalgene bottle and a 500ml drinks bottle. The bladder just leaves a foul plastic taste and I think 1.5 litres of water to start the walk is enough. The drinks bottle is really light and 500ml is a good amount of water to take into the tent at night and use for tea breaks in the day etc...
I'll do a final weigh-on of the kit as I pack and post the official weight of the final load shortly. I'm guessing it will be around 9.5kg and (depending on how much lighter this 'feels' in comparison to previous pack weights of around 12 and 15kg) I may treat myself to a can of cider!
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Those of you who read the post about my discovery of 19 holes will remember that I had set about repairing the meticulously marked pin holes that I had discovered with the use of my bath. I have to say that although I was initially very surprised to find that many holes, I was confident that I had found most, if not all of the holes and I would restore Karma soon enough. It turns out my confidence was in fact naivety as when I checked on it's progress (having re-inflated it after the glue had set) I was met with a limp Robens once again. I tried to reassure myself, by holding it up and muttering that at least it wasn't as flat as last time - oh how wrong I was!
I decided that it was time to ditch the pleasantries and I half filled the bath, covered the mat in a thick water/washing-up liquid syrup and made a cup of tea. At that time I was expecting to find maybe 2-5 more holes that maybe I'd missed in my previous attempt, so when I was met with the image below, you can fill in the blanks as to my reaction!
I'm not an expert on such things, but my guess is that this is not the result of a few unfortunate moments on the hill. This picture from my mobile phone isn't that clear but if I said that there was around 200 tiny 'foaming' holes just on that section of mat, that would be an under-estimate.
I have no evidence to suggest that this was done on the hill because all the holes are on the side on which I lie and not the side coming into contact with the ground. My only guess (and it is a long shot) is that the damage was done whilst the mat was left inflated, top side up, in my loft. As odd as this sounds, we (sorry I - because Charl will not go into the loft) often find the odd dead wasp or two on the laminate flooring under the window. My guess is that they find their way in and are unable to find their way out (I know, I hear you - it's their own stupid fault). They must fly into the closed window a few hundred times attempting to escape, but when faced with the realisation that they are trapped forever, in a cruel act of revenge they decide to eat my self inflating mat! Not bad hey? - all those hours spent watching Columbo have paid off! Case closed.
I said a long goodbye to Robens and I watched them take him away in his wheeled coffin (my wheelie bin). This inevitably leaves me with no choice but to use my free Superlite Compact 25 from Multimat and just hope that I can live the shorter length.
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
So I'm back from my gallivants around
The driving was initially tiresome but it soon became just part of the holiday and in the end quite enjoyed it. It was hard not to - some of the roads we took in
The first image was taken around the highest point of the
We had an amazing time all in and would certainly like to try a hiking trip in France or Switzerland in the future - might have to start creeping around Charl now if I stand any chance of that!
So, in any case I'm back, refreshed and with a taste of freedom fresh in my mind (or mouth) its time to get organising my first summer wild camp with the new tent. Not exactly sure where to go yet since I suspect that the hills will be alive with the sound of tourists wherever I go! One thing is for sure though, driving for 4 hours now seems like a dream compared to the 10 hour days Charl and I spent in the car on occasion this holiday. I'm thinking a route around the Coniston Fells perhaps, but I need to research this with caution to avoid migrating tourists!
I read an article in Trail Magazine this month with particular interest, which introduced me to the benefits of dry bags when backpacking. I like the idea for the organisation benefits alone, but I realised it might also solve my problem of limited storage in the porch of the Seedhouse SL2. I could carry everything I need in a number of fold top dry bags, and leave whatever I don't need outside the tent, except for boots and the empty rucksack. I'm looking into this as its a cheap idea but I'm not sure on weight compromise. More come on this me thinks.