Sunday 24 January 2010

Day 2: Winter Wild Camp - Yewbarrow

As fully expected I didn't sleep very well. I occasionally dropped off for periods of time but soon got bored of checking my watch to confirm how much sleep I wasn't getting and put the Ipod on at about 4am. I still can't believe Big Aggie remained standing with the strength of some of the gusts, which often felt as though someone was throwing themselves into the side of the tent! My perseverance eventually paid off though and I dropped off whilst listening to the Futureheads and I woke again around 7am as it got brighter outside.

A quick inspection of the inner tent revealed that the snow wall we'd built had kept most of the spindrift out but annoyingly the sleeping bags were quite damp from condensation. Clearly the wall had been too efficient and cooking inside the tent hadn't helped either. Moisture or not though, my sleeping bag was still lofting and warm which I guess is a testament to the Pertex Quantum fabric.

Paul woke and then dozed back off so I checked the Silva ADC to see what the conditions had been like over night. Resting in the mesh pouch above the door, the lowest temperature recorded had been sometime around 4am at -5.3 and I was quite surprised at this considering how little frost there was on the fly. My water hadn't frozen but then I had wrapped it in my spare socks the night before. Snow had now joined the regular gusts of wind so getting out of the tent wasn't a priority except that I was desperate to pee. Peering outside from my bed I was faced with heavy sleet and whiteout conditions - perfect. Pauls Orikaso cup was almost in danger but the kind of guy I am I held on and soaked it up with a Double Decker for Breakfast.

Eventually Paul came around (probably because the smell of food is like smelling salts to him) and we both recounted our thoughts at various points during the night when we felt we'd be blown off the mountain. The forecast for today wasn't great to say the least: Increasingly strong winds and wet for most of the day. On top of that, visibility up here was zilch too so our loose plan of walking across to Steeple, Pillar and then down Wasdale Head via the Black Sail Pass was pretty pointless. We made a hot chocolate and packed away as best we could inside the tent.

I'd brought along my Neoair mat despite the temperatures as I wanted to test it in colder conditions. I paired it with an almost full-length MYOG folding closed cell pad for extra insulation and this doubled as a nice thick pad for the Gossamer Gear Gorilla. I have to say it worked a treat and I never felt cold through the mat the entire night. Its a combo I'd use again in those conditions without a second thought.

Frozen laces were tied and I ventured out into the howling gale to un-peg whilst Paul got the better end of the deal by unclipping the inner from inside the fly. I intended on getting that photo that had escaped me the night before but the camera refused to turn on and I was pretty sure it was water damage - Good work Marcus.

The bags were almost buried in sleet and snow by the time we'd packed away the tent so we wasted no time in getting ourselves loaded up and heading back the way we'd came. For winter, my pack felt very light indeed, despite the additional weight of food, extra clothing and Microspikes it just seemed as though I had nothing in it! Following our footprints from the night before, we trudged along in the cloud back to Bull Crag where the slight drop in elevation gave significantly better visibility. Still absolutely gutted that we'd got no real photos of the tent pitched, I reluctantly tried my camera again and oddly the lens popped out and it sprang into action.

paul_bull_crag Paul showing just one of many configurations of the Spidy Buff!

Though not stunning, these pictures still bring a smile to face as I remember us just standing there taking it all in. This point is still quite exposed and the wind was whipping along at head height and making us feel a little unstable. We fired off some pictures and continued to head down in search of some respite.

above_great_doorMe with Buff in Balaclava mode, demonstrating how one can freeze ones hand off whilst waiting for Paul to click the shutter!

Not wanting to push my luck I put the Ixus away and decided to have a little bash at using my new Veho Muvu video camera. I was bought this for Christmas by my good old friend Jim, who saw its lightweight compact credentials and knew we had to be together! I clipped it to the sternum strap of my bag and recorded a few minutes of us descending in the snow - just for fun.

Soon, we were low enough to be sheltered by the wind as we approached the stone wall above Dropping Crag. We procrastinated about making a tea since we were early but the sleet had turned to rain at this altitude so we both took turns at guessing our return time at the car park and set off again. I had etched 11.18am in the snow and Paul 11.38.

wastwater_from_yewbarrow Wastwater eventually coming into view

From here its mainly scree until the slope joins the path and we had fun skidding and sliding our way down like a pair of twerps. It wasn't long from there to the stile and we were soon thigh crunching our way down following the fence to the car park.

Over Beck was still showing signs of having frozen on top, though this was slowly melting as the warmer water gushed underneath. The car came into view from the muddy track to the NT car park and an official clock time of 11.23am - Paul was buying the first drinks!

frozen_over_beck Over Beck slowly thawing out from the recent freeze

It was shame to be back at the car so soon but we'd had quite an adventure and it wasn't over yet. We drove straight to the NT campsite and set up the tent. We parked the car and headed straight off to the Wasdale Head Inn. What? We had gear to dry out! The fire was roaring at the pub and we got all of our wet gear out to dry over the empty tables. Paul got the drinks in and we relaxed over a Lamb Henry and a few more drinks, only interrupting proceedings for a nose around the Barn Door Shop!

We headed back into the pub for a few more samples where I had the steak and ale pie for tea and Paul ordered another Lamb Henry! As the evening went on things got busier with winter tourists and not to mention locals who had flocked down to meet the new Landlord. We chatted with two Dutch guys who'd attempted Great Gable earlier that day, only to be sent scarpering by the gale force winds. The previous nights events had clearly got the better of us though and our card games were eventually cut short so we could head back to bed - it was only 8.30!

Despite our lower position the wind was whipping through the site and I was woken by the pegs tearing free from the frozen ground at about 3am. It was raining hard and it took all of my will to get out and fix it. Lying there I could hear the gusts coming whistling up before slamming into the tent like a train. It was incredible. By morning things were marginally better but we both agreed we'd chosen the best night for Yewbarrow and one we won't forget in a hurry.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Winter Wild Camp - Yewbarrow

Well, we’re back from a crazy few days in the Lakes. Plans were changed, timings went out the window and generally things didn’t turn out as we had originally planned – It was bloody brilliant!

As always with our trips, we don’t have the luxury of choosing to follow the weather. A date is booked and we deal with whatever we get from the Gods as best we can. This time it was no different and our idea had been to head up to Wasdale on Thursday night from work , set up the tent on a hill and return on Saturday afternoon – which is what we did. The timetable of events in between is where there were a few……amendments!

Here in the Midlands we’d had a fair old bit of snow and ice and as usual the whole world ground to a halt. Paul and I had both been keeping a close eye on the forecast for the Lakes and it didn’t look too inviting. We ditched the idea of heading up Kirk Fell and somehow ended up with Yewbarrow instead on the basis that it is a hill we have at least frequented its ridge line once before! If the conditions were crap when we got there we’d either posh camp it at the NT site or consider pitching somewhere below the west face of Yewbarrow by Over Beck.

This report is split into two as in "creating the atmostphere" it got a bit out of hand so get a cup a tea, a beer or preferably a good whisky and read on.....

Evening 1 - Thurs 14th January

We set off from work at 3pm and arrived at the NT car park south of Yewbarrow at about 8.30pm. The roads up were clear and although there was evidence of snow around, it seemed as though we might have just missed the low level chaos.

The bags were raised to our backs and we set off in almost complete darkness to see where the snowline would start. It was great to have the bag on for the first time since the Scotland trip last Sept, despite how unfit I seem to have gotten over the Christmas period – “Another mince pie sir?” “Yes please”.

It wasn’t too cold at this level but I could imagine what conditions would be like up top. In the darkness it was impossible to make out the snow line as we crossed the first stile and onto the steep grassy slope. We passed two walkers coming down with 3 dogs, all of which were wearing flashing LED harnesses and quite excited to see us coming their way. The walkers on the other hand seemed just a bit confused at us passing in the opposite direction.

Eagerness meant we thundered to the next stile over the stone wall and here the first signs of the snow appeared on the path. We carried on to where the path splits at Dropping Crag and breaks west in the direction of Over Beck. Here we decided to advance higher up until such time as we thought the ice or snow threatened our ascent.

From here there is a path starting at Dropping Crag, skirting around to the left of Great Door and up to Bull Crag – except we couldn’t make it out what with the darkness and the snow! The Black Diamond Ion head torch was probably a bit out of its depth on this type of terrain but we pressed on cautiously as best we could. Below to our left, I identified what I thought to be the path, the detour to reach it though wasn’t that enticing so we continued on the steeper, more direct ascent. As we got higher, there were more sections of very deep snow, in places half way up my thigh - this was what we’d came for!

I decided that now was the time to don the Kahtoola Microspikes and our chosen route was now so steep it was almost impossible to find even the smallest patch of level ground to do it. This was the first time I’d worn them out of the box and they went on like a dream. I stowed the poles in the pack and we made a push up a particularly tight gully (one neither of us could remember from last time) filled with about 3-4 feet of snow. Paul was leading and, as he approached the top, he stopped suddenly and recoiled. Through the wind I could barely make out the words but I got the gist that beyond the wall of snow was a sheer drop! A little disoriented, Paul was adamant that the tall rock to the right of the gully was the summit but, something just didn’t feel right and my earlier sighting of the path spurred me to get the GPS out. As I waited for the red circle to highlight our position in ViewRanger Paul clambered to (what he thought) would soon be the  false summit cairn – in fact it turned out to the needle type peak at the top of Dropping Crag!

I was happier once Paul had eased himself back down and with our wits now firmly about us we set about crossing to intersect the path on the map. The visibility now was pretty much zero and all the head torches were doing was lighting up the thick mist along the way. It’s something that's very hard to describe and "eerie" just doesn't cut it!

Fortunately the Microspikes gave enough confidence to continue on the trickier sections until we got ourselves firmly on the path. The problem with the path at this height is the exposure to the wind, and things felt pretty grim considering we’d been going at it non-stop since we’d parked......almost 3 hours ago! We were now about 200m from the first cairn, which isn’t the true summit, but at the time it was a good mental milestone to stop and work out our options.

Now, for reasons that are still not clear to me, at the cairn Paul was suddenly suggesting a mass evacuation of the hill and it looked like he meant it! Despite our current situation, this was ever more bewildering as (unbeknown to him) he'd been spurring me on and quashing my earlier doubts as we hit the steeper sections in ridiculous visibility. He couldn't seriously mean that - could he? I mean, we'd just tentatively battled all the way up for the last 3 hours and at any one of the many stops we could have, some might say should have, turned back and pitched our tent somewhere a little less challenging! I could see in Paul’s watery red eyes and blotchy skin that this was a rash reaction to to a severe drop in moral, probably due to the strong, biting wind that just seemed to pierce through the skin and freeze the muscles beneath. Paul was clearly concerned about the how deep the snow was and how long the tent might stand up in the wind. Having attempted to kick down to ground level and even at this exposed spot it was around a foot deep and quite tough work to get down to it. Tired, hungry and a little demoralised he was starting to feel as though we'd made the wrong decision.

Stood with our backs leaning into the buffeting wind, my instinct kicked in and things got better immediately. We weren't complete and utter twerps, we'd gone in search of winter, we'd checked the forecast and we'd packed for the conditions. The best thing we could do was pitch, get out of the wind, get some food and drinks inside and the world would be a better place. With this new mission in mind and down jacket on Paul was back to his usual self and we set about finding a safe, flat spot to put Big Aggie. Finding a spot on the snow wasn't a problem (aside from the atrocious visibility) but getting the pegs in was and all down to the distance from the groundsheet on the snow to the frozen ground where the peg point needed to be. With some vigorous excavation we both managed to get our respective sides pegged and the fly on, all the time being jostled by the wind. The spin drift was already getting up inside the fly at the rear so we built a snow wall to channel the wind around - which worked a treat.

I got the camera out to take the obligatory picture of the tent but the mist won that battle and I ended up with these - Bummer!

pitch_yewbarrow "I'm sure I left the tent around here somewhere...."

With the tent up and spirits raised it was all of a sudden all part of the adventure we'd been seeking all these months. The tent wasn't taught and we had no view but none of that mattered once we'd got our gear out and sleeping bags lofting. Strange how that happens...

paul_yewbarrow "Ahh there it is"!!!

Life inside the tent was very different and I used the Silva ADC to take a few measurements. The outside temperature was 2 below and the wind chill made that feel like -11. Inside it was a tropical -0.7 so we'd be living the dream in our sleeping bags! I got the new Caldera Keg system out (courtesy of my mum) and we boiled water for my MX3 dehydrated meal, Paul's chorizo couscous and a brew. The stove performed flawlessly on the snow, though I was glad I'd tested it in my garden during the really cold snap we'd had a few weeks back. 650ml of water boiled in freezing conditions in just under 9 minutes and all on 25ml of meths - I couldn't believe it.

The tent was taking a battering and Aggie wasn't able to stand as solid as she usually does as a result of our rather spontaneous and make-shift pitch It was going to be a night filled with flapping sil-nylon and incremental mesh-on-face moments but it didn't matter to us - we were warm, fed, safe and most of all, tired.

A wee drop of some pre-prepared White Russians (a surprise for Paul) and we were lying on our backs, toasty and dozing whilst dragging out the last drop of conversation. It was around 1.30am when Paul’s subtle snoring let me know he was out cold for the night. Stupidly I'd left my ear plugs in my bag (now in the porch) and I couldn't drop off through all of the wind noise so I had no choice but to wait. I continued to lie there replaying our barmy evening in my head. Where were the feelings of trepidation and fear, the dissonance, the doubt? I think I might have left those in the porch with the earplugs too because this was living and we were winter wild camping!

Sunday 10 January 2010

Short and Sweet in the Yorkshire Dales

I’m not well travelled in the Yorkshire Dales for either business or pleasure so when I was offered a chance to do a bit of both (in loose terms of course) I wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

The folks at the Charles Bathurst Inn enticed us up with a free short break to enjoy the local walking and hospitality - in return I would give a frank and honest review of my experience on this blog. I sometimes love Social Media!

Now, cards on the table, none of this review has been edited or seen by anyone other than me before I clicked the button, but bear in mind the accommodation and food were provided free of charge so do with that what you will!

So as I said before, I’m not familiar with the Dales in general and the only trip I’ve done in the vicinity in a walking sense was the Three Peaks walk last March. Charl holidayed as a child in the Dales and has spent time in hired cottages so is already very fond of the area. The invite was an ideal opportunity for me to make the most of some luxury whilst actually doing some walking with Charlotte for the first time in ages!

The old coaching Inn is nestled in the picture postcard valley of Arkengarthdale so to take advantage of the great weather and walking we set off early on Sunday morning. Oddly for me the weather was cool and sunny and the drive up felt a lot shorter than it was. To be honest there was a lot resting on this from a personal view as Charl is always banging on about the Yorkshire Dales and I always step in and turn the topic to the Lakes instead! It turned into a sort of unspoken competition between my beloved Lakes and Charl’s Dales!

We parked in the small pay and display car park in Langthwaite with a loose plan of walking up onto Booze Moor via Slei Gill. It made a change to be out with Charl and with no times to keep to as such, we were in no rush and to top it the weather was glorious for November.

arkle_beck_bridge The bridge over Arkle Beck at Langthwaite

We crossed the small bridge and took a right turn to join the path east along Arkle Beck. The landscapes and small villages remind me of those quaint TV adverts and it dawned on me that its a very different place to the Lakes and has a strange charm that’s difficult to describe. Wallace and Gromit just didn’t do it justice!

Like a lot of the Dales this area was once all about the mining and its evident in the scars across the landscape. The hillsides all around Slei Gill tell tales of how it was once worked hard whilst mother nature slowly takes it back.

fremington_slei_gill Fremington Edge from the track 

The route we took up to the moor was easy but I was already thinking of ways I could work this into a two day backpack! Moorland has always had a strange beauty for me that’s hard not to like – despite is hard weathered face – and Charl is besotted with it no matter what. She didn’t moan once so I knew she was preoccupied (just a little joke Charl)!

up_slei_gill The pits at Slei Gill

We passed by the falls along the boggy track and let a local photographer pass us whilst we rolled up our trouser legs. He was as thrilled as we were about the weather and I cursed not bringing my SLR and tripod as he trudged on up with a full Lowepro backpack with tripod strapped to the back. Photographers envy is a sin so I said a Hail Mary as penance and carried on up enjoying the views. Soon the old derelict water house came into view and we were then forced to cross the river to keep to the track. It was very water logged in places but we worked around it, often shaken up by the grouse that seemed to enjoy taking off in our faces and frantically flapping and squawking to get away to safer ground. Clearly I’m not the only one setting up camp on the paths!

As is customary for November the sun sank low early on and gave the moorland that opened out in front of us an increasingly red hue.

It wasn't long before the Booze Moor Hut came into view with the vivid colours of the moors leading the way like natures red carpet.

grouse_butts_booze A brooding sky over Booze Moor

We picked our way between the heather and grasses trying not to lose our shoes in bouncy boggy ground that felt as though it would give way at any point. Gradually as we appraoched the hut things hardened out and it we had another chance to just stand and take in the 360 degree views.

I was eager to check out the hut which seemed to be open and was just filled with long wooden tables and a few chairs. Today was stunning and easy but the but would be a God send if conditions weren't as friendly.

We crossed over the landrover track and sat in a small dug out area to eat our sandwiches and milkshakes - Enid Blyton style, with a view to match!

fell_end_moor Booze Moor hut and Fell End Moor from our sheltered snack stop

I was really pleased we'd made the effort and we'd been duly rewarded. It was great to be out enjoying it Charl too and I'll now be working hard on her for a wild camp this spring.

The tracks made for good mountain biking as a group of 5 thundered past the hut whooping and cheering to temporarily break the peace. It was getting cold in the wind so we packed up and got moving again heading west along the track to rejoin the dale. The sun was now shafting into the valley but the stiff wind was bitingly cold.

shafts_in_the_dale Late after sun shafting through the rain clouds closing in from the west.

We chose the slightly gentler ascent back to the dale via Booze where large rain drops began to hit with a disappointing regularity. As we approach the steep and winding lane running from Booze to Langthwaite we struggled to locate a stile in the stone wall. Eventually a helpful farmer stopped by in the his tractor and pointed us in the right direction. From here it was a thigh crunching descent through Langthwaite and eventually on to the bridge.

We swapped footwear and dived into the car as the rain hit hard and fast. We didn't have far to go the hotel from here, almost not worth driving in fact. We pulled into the car park, grabbed bags and ran into the entrance to be greeted by a log fire, a well supplied bar and friendly faces.

We were checked in to our room which was very tastefully decorated with a great view of the moors. We had been given a Superior Double for the night which is a world away from either the dark and wet drive back home or a windy night under canvass.

room_at_the_inn The room at the CB Inn - Not a tent peg in sight!

I was eager to try some local ales so we hit the bar and booked our table for our evening meal. There were a few locals enjoying the bar, which has two levels to allow pool and music in a section away from the restaurant and a residents lounge with sofas and an obligatory dart board!

The wine list is impressive and so was the menu with lots of local ingredients and very reasonable prices. Trying to choose from the all the well marketed dishes on the huge mirror over the fire was a nightmare and after deliberating at length we got their in the end by process of elimination! I had the Thai mussels and slow roasted pork, whilst Charl opted for the chicken liver pate and lambs liver and bacon.

I'd heard that the food was notably good but was still surprised at the quality and service we received in the restaurant. Its cosy and understated but with bags of character. It was clearly popular with the locals too who'd dropped by to eat after their charity sky dive for the Air Ambulance had been cancelled.

The Inn is clearly very good at catering to tourists and locals and on this Sunday night they were hosting the weekly pool tournament in the other room which attracted a fair few people of all ages. It was great to see that the business model relies as much on local spondoolies as it does on the tourists and they'd found a way of integrating the two without alienating either one. On this night for example they'd laid on some chilli and chips and Thai curry for the teams to enjoy - nice touch.

We finished off we a few more drinks before heading back to the room for a much needed sleep. We'd managed to cram so much into the day and I'd like try this approach more often, particularly over the winter months

After a great nights sleep we enjoyed the usual cereals and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast before thanking our hosts and heading back out into the incessant rain for some causal sight seeing. We had no plan but ended up heading to Reeth and then onto Redmire over Grinton Moor via the pass. It was wet, windy and bags of low cloud to top it off and we wouldn't have wanted it any other way! Redmire is a small village and Charl had holidayed with family here many years ago. Today it was quite and too early for a pub stop so we headed  over to Aysgarth Falls via Castle Bolton. These falls are impressive and seem to just come out of nowhere!

aysgarth_falls The peat stained falls at Aysgarth in Wensleydale

We decided that it could be avoided no longer and we made straight for the Wensleydale creamery over in Hawes. We spent an hour buying various incarnations of cheese and I just had to top it off with a Yorkshire cream tea! We watched the weather pass on by down the valley from our window seat and reluctantly decided to head back home around 2pm

We'd had it all, a walk, great hospitality, half a day of sightseeing and all weathers but snow! Overall a great little trip in the Dales and I'll be going back no doubt. There's plenty more I'd like to see and do so the Lakes will have to fight a bit more for my attention after all!

Saturday 2 January 2010

Yesterday’s The Past, Tomorrow’s The Future…So What Now?

Well I’m finally posting after radio silence since November – blimey!

As is the case with everyone in the run up to Christmas its been busy in the crazy world of Marcus to say the least but I hope to be back on normal duty.

Firstly then, I should say Happy New Year and all that jazz and I hope you all had a great Christmas.

On reflection 2009 was a great year for me in general but I guess my backpacking (though not as often as planned) made it particularly memorable. The Scotland coast to coast trip in September was another step forward in every way and I think over the year I’ve find my place in a lightweight approach.

Santa brought me a few gifts which I’ll be getting to use over the course of this year and the first trip will be in about two weeks time. Not sure where or when yet exactly but some winter wild camping is way over due!

Before then though I have a post I need to write up from back in November and some maps to spread out across the table…..