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!


Alan Sloman said...

Brilliant report. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

What happened next? Did you et a good night's sleep? Did you murder the snoring Paul?

Northern Focus said...

I can handle noisy rain, I can handle flappy wind ... but snoring just does my head in! Arrrggghhhh!

Still, it's worth it for nights out in the snow :-)

James Boulter said...

Its looking like it might be an epic. Did the tent blow down, did you murder the snorer?

Marcus said...

Thanks Alan, more to come on day two a little later.

WP - I totally agree because its not often I can get one in the snow so it was worth it!

James - I know, I'm sorry I got a bit carried away and with the lack of photos I thought I'd go for it in text instead! It really was a great little trip even though it was quite short. Stealing another night up there soon might be required....

GeoffC said...

Driving to Wasdale and climbing Yewbarrow in the snow and dark wouldn't spring to my mind for a fun night, but it must have been a great feeling once snug inside the tent.
Not long ago I forgot to build that little wall of snow to keep out the spindrift, and in the morning the porch was literally full to the top.

Marcus said...

Hi Geoff. It certainly could have been easier but I have a tendency not to do things the easiest way.

By morning our snow wall was resting nicely on the fly which in turn was almost on my face but it did the trick for most of the night.

Anonymous said...

Looks like awesome conditions. Was disappointed the thaw has set in on my recent trip to Glencoe...

Nigel Gray said...

Brilliant! Wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, or what was coming next!! After our recent jaunt in the snow during the day, I would have said it would be difficult to imagine it at night, but your words painted such a picture!! My write-up is gonna sound so dull in comparison, I might not bother!!

Marcus said...

Hi Nigel,

Just get on and write it and stop looking for excuses! I need more snow encounters and I'm relying on your write up as one of my seedy hits!

minimalgear said...

Genius stuff-sounds eerily similar to my recent night attempt in Snowdonia with all the wallowing around in the dark and the snow.

Martin Rye said...

Adventure with a capital A. I don't think walking that high in the dark appeals to me, but well done for doing it.

Shuttleworth said...

Great write up Marcus, looking forward to part 2.

Anonymous said...

excellent stuff.....I'm impressed that the Big Aggie did well in those conditions. Trips like that one are to die for...they dont happen very often :)