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.


James Boulter said...

A great post! Sounds like a night that you will remember for a while to come. It can be quite an experience laying in your sleeping bag waiting for that next gust to possibly flatten the tent!

Shuttleworth said...

Great story :)

So, did you put the CCF mat on top of the NeoAir, or under it?

Marcus said...

Thanks James. It was a great chance to get some winter times tucked in the belt and I really do want to head back soon. Not sure when though.

Shuttleworth, I put it under the mat just to protect it from the direct cold from the ground. I like the comfort of the Neoair so not sure I'd want it on top - even though I've heard that is warmer.

minimalgear said...

Good stuff!

Alan Sloman said...

Great write-up. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

One Foot in the Clouds said...

Nothing beats a post walk pint or three... great read

Nigel Gray said...

Sounds/looks like a fun trip as usual! if you were talking to a couple of guys from Holland were you speaking double-dutch?!?

Marcus said...

cheers for all the comments guys.

Nigel - I think I might have let out a giggle at that - might have to go and have a little word with myself!

GeoffC said...

Mornings like that are a good test for your depitching routine, often accompanied by some colourful language I find!.
That descent of Yewbarrow is not pleasant even in good conditions as I recall, steep and badly eroded.