Category Archives: Backpacking

Vango Tempest 300 Review

Summary first, explanation later!

I really like this tent, I’d give it 4 out of 5. If I gave ratings.

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I have had a long history of avoiding Vango tents. The first backpacking tent I ever bought was an Equinox 200. I took it out for a test run; a pole snapped and I discovered that the TBS straps had been stitched the wrong way around -so they locked in the wrong direction!

I sent it back to the shop who returned it to Vango for repairs. It came back ‘repaired’ I discovered that they had done nothing and it was still as useless as before. I got my money back and bought a Terra Nova Solar 2. This tent was £100 more, 2kg lighter and still in great shape today, 18 years later!

This experience and sleeping in other people’s Vangos over the years kept me away from the brand.

 

Recently I bought equipment for my school’s outdoor education program. I needed the full works from tents to maps to boots.

I was wary of Vango for the reasons outlined above but I had seen a lot of people were giving them good reviews. The Tempest 300 is on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award recommended kit list.

I took the plunge and bought some for the school.

I wanted to try the tent so I could iron out any niggles or pitching problems before handing them over to students so I took one from the store on a camping trip with my two children to Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan in Scotland.

The tent went up easily, I skimmed through the instructions in the bag -they seemed fairly sensible and straightforward: Three poles, colour-coded to pole sleeves on the fly. In common with all tunnels, peg one end, pull taut, peg the other end and the guy.

The tent pitched quickly and all in one. The porch groundsheet clipped in and pegged out. Once the tent was up I tightened the peg adjusters and then the TBS2 Tension Bands which prevent sideways  movement of the poles adding stiffness.

Over the next three days we experienced bursts of heavy rain and prolonged winds with strong gusts. The tent took everything in its stride. I always left the top of the porch door open and rain never got in. A breeze blew through the tent from the open vent at the back and out of the top vent and porch meaning that there was never a drop of condensation on the inside of the fly -this is a pretty rate thing in these conditions in my experience.

The tent is marketed as a 3 person tent. We used it with three people but two of them were under ten years old. The tent definitely would not fit three full-length (180cm) Thermarests inside, they’d overlap. We used two of these and a ‘body shape’ Neoair and they just about fit. The porch was fairly generous. We had waterproofs, wellies and a stove and plenty of room to move, put on or take off the waterproofs (one person at a time) in the closed porch. It would have been considerable more cramped with three large backpacks stowed in there. When it is used by the school the space should be OK. Three teenagers will take up a little less room (except for their kit, which will be strewn everywhere!).

 

Overall I was very impressed with the tent. We had plenty of room, it was definitely strong enough for the wild West-coast Scottish weather and pitched easily. I’m glad I chose that model.

 

Things I liked:

  • Enough headroom and ‘foot room’
  • Colour-coded, alloy poles (I HATE fibreglass poles! Nasty, bendy rubbish)
  • Easy, all-in-one pitching with no faffy adjustments needed
  • The list price is reasonable for the quality of tent. (And different retailers discount heavily)
  • Good ventilation (Which could be reduced if needed by closing the rear vent)
  • Sturdy design put up with wind and heavy rain
  • Little touches like the loop on the porch door zip made it easy to grab
  • Plenty of pockets inside

Things that could be better:

  • Not a ‘Three MAN’ tent (I’m 1.88m tall -three of me wouldn’t fit) Three teenagers would be OK or Two men would have luxury

 

 

 

Ennerdale

(March 2015)

Time for another backpacking weekend and another two Quality Mountain Days. I had a long planned trip to Ennerdale in the North-Western Lake District in mind, part of the area I’d not visited before.

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On Friday I rushed home from work, threw the ready-to-go backpack into the car and set off for the three hour drive to Cumbria.

Keswick is about 2 hours from home and Ennerdale isn’t that far from Keswick, on a map. In terms of Lakeland roads it’s another hour.

The plan was to spend Friday night in the Youth Hostel before setting off, up onto the ridge along the Northern edge of the valley, along to the head of the valley and Great Gable and back along the Southern side, finding somewhere to spend the Saturday night.

I parked the car at the car park in the forest and walked the mile or so to the youth hostel in darkness. I soon discovered I was not alone…

The road had a large number of frogs hopping about and so it became necessary to use my torch to prevent me standing on them. Although I never saw what it was,  there was also company in the forest to my side. I’d hear the crack of branches and movement within the trees. Despite casting my torch I never saw what was in there.

Arriving at the youth hostel I was greeted by the friendly warden. A Dutchman. We chatted briefly and I tried to impress with the six or so words of Dutch I know. I settled into the shared lounge with a couple of beers and my maps.

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The next morning I took advantage of a cooked breakfast before heading out into the hills.I only had to follow the low level track a short way before a break in the trees allowed me easy access to the hills above. I paused for a while on the summit of Red Pike (755m) and took photos and checked the map. From here my route followed the ridge to the south east towards Haystacks, the final resting place of Alfred Wainwright.

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Haystacks was crowded, the first time I’d seen more than a single person since I left the youth hostel a few hours earlier.I found a comfortable rock and made my lunch. Tuna and cheese wraps, pretty standard backpacking food for me.

My plan for the afternoon was to continue onward to Green and Great Gable before moving towards Kirk fell and a bed for the evening.

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The crowds thinned out again as I walked away from Haystacks. The weather was superb, beautiful blue skies and not cold at all.

I’d never been on Great Gable before and had heard several people extol its virtues. I thought it was okay but nothing amazing. I preferred Kirk Fell, or more accurately the views from it.

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There was not a breath of wind and so I decided to pitch my tent in an exposed place on Kirk Fell. It was a four season tent so even if the wind picked up I was confident I’d survive. The spot I chose offered me amazing views of the Scafells.

The night sky was beautifully clear and so I spent a long time out of my tent just looking at the stars and at the head torches I could see on Scafell Pike. Eventually it was too cold to stay out to I retreated to the warmth of my tent and sleeping bag.

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The next morning was just as still and clear as the previous and  I enjoyed the views while I made breakfast.

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Frosty camp site

After a light breakfast I packed up and continued on towards Pillar and the descent back to the valley and my car.

 

 

My stove collection

I’ve recently added another stove to my little collection. When I began backpacking, about 18 years ago my gear was budget brand and heavy. Through the years I have upgraded and changed. The first stove I had was a solid fuel ‘hexy’ stove which cost about £4 with several fuel tablets. I still have and occasionally use that stove. Soon after I moved to a gas stove, a Coleman I think with extendable pot supports. It worked well and still does but it rarely sees daylight these days.

Moving from gas to liquid fuel

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I began to get fed up with gas stoves because when its cold, they don’t work very well. When the gas can is getting empty, they don’t work very well. When its windy, they don’t work very well. I bought an MSR dragonfly for my overseas backpacking trips. Its lot heavier than any gas stove but I liked it because it works superbly in almost all conditions -I once had difficulty priming it on a hot day in the Spanish Pyrenees, but other than that no problems. I also like the fact you can see how much fuel you have left so running out isn’t as much of a worry. This was my main stove for the majority of my backpacking trips.

 

Going lighter, going back to gas

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I began to re-evaluate my pack and its contents and decided I couldn’t justify the weight and space taken up by the dragonfly and its fuel bottle. The smallest, lightest stove I could find without paying silly money was an MSR pocket rocket. The reviews were positive and the stove is tiny.

The Pocket Rocket is a really good stove, its powerful and gets water to a boil in a decent time and it weighs only a few grams. I had moved from using a pan in my cookset to a titanium mug to save weight. A 100g gas can, lighter and several drink sachets fit nicely inside the mug leaving only the stove itself outside making my new and improved (solo) cookset a heck of a lot lighter and smaller than the petrol stove, fuel bottle and pan it replaced.

The stove is a fairly basic style and as such suffers the same problems as most other stoves (wind and gas pressure). This means I have ended up with a collection of part-filled gas cans!

Adding weight, solving problems

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After another trip frustrated by wind increasing boil times to annoying levels -and being unable to cook in the tent porch I started to research ‘stove systems’ (MSR Windburner, MSR Reactor, JetBoil etc). They were all faster to boil and much more fuel efficient so the added weight of the heat exchanger was balanced by the better fuel use.

After reading a load of reviews and having a long-term love of the brand I settled on the MSR Windburner. My third MSR stove!

I’ve only been able to test it a couple of times and deliberately sited the stove in the breeze. The first time I used it I was amazed, I poured in enough water to make a coffee and it had boiled within thirty seconds. I’ve used it again to make coffee and with enough water left over for instant noodles. Again, the boil time was superb (I wasn’t geeky enough to time it!).

(Disclaimer: I’m not paid by MSR and I’ve bought all these things myself. That said, if MSR would like to give me free things they should feel free to do so…)

Pros and Cons

Basic gas stove:

Pros: Lightweight. Dead easy to use. Small pack size. Cheap

Cons: Best used out of the wind. Almost useless in really cold weather

 

Liquid fuel stove:

Pros: Super-powerful. One fuel bottle lasts a very long time (great if you need to cook for a group or boil all your water)

Cons: Heavy. Slow to set up. Takes up a lot of pack space. Expensive

 

Gas stove system:

Pros: Fast! More gas-efficient than the ‘normal type’. Continues to perform as the can empties.

Cons: Heavier and bigger than the smallest ‘normal’ gas stoves. Expensive

 

Hadrian’s Wall -West

Last week I began the Hadrian’s Wall Path long distance trail with a friend and my two children (aged 6 and 9). The path runs across Northern England following the route of a Roman wall which was built about 2000 years ago to keep the Scots and Picts out of the Roman empire. For several miles sections of the original wall remain, although due to centuries of pilfering stones, not intact.

The route is 84 miles long from Bowness-on-Solway in the West to Wallsend in the East. The route covers urban, rolling pasture and wild uplands along its length.

We began our journey at the Western end hoping to finish off in familiar surroundings of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a train back home to Bradford. The original plan was to cover about 10-11 miles per day and cover the whole trail in the eight days we had available. Two days into the route we revised our plan and aimed to do the first half at a more leisurely pace. We finished with a train to Newcastle from Bardon Mill (A few miles south of the path). Hadrian map

It became apparent within the first two days that our pace wouldn’t allow us to complete the route in the time we had available.

We re-planned with an aim of about 10km (6 miles) per day with plenty of time for resting and enjoying the views.

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This trip was Sophie’s (6 year old) first backpacking trip. Edward (9 year old) has been backpacking twice before and Mark has completed the Dales Way with me, but many years ago. All four of us carried a pack. Sophie’s contained her water bottle, sandals, sleeping bag and cuddly toy. Edward had sleeping bag, mat, clothes, sandals and water bottle. Mark and I shared out the rest including a tent each and two large bags of food to last several days.

The first two days of walking weren’t through the most inspiring bits of the country. Some of it was pleasant enough but there were a lot of diversions and footpath closures which meant many miles on roads and tired feet. After Carlisle things improved as more of the route was through fields and countryside.

The kids were enjoying themselves but wondered where the wall was. The western parts were never brick wall, they were earth mounds and ditches with wooden defenses atop them. It wasn’t until we reached Banks on the third day we actually saw ‘wall’ in the form of Hare Hill.

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This raised spirits immeasurably and we really felt that the walk was beginning at this point. Soon, our second section of wall was found with a ruined fort just after Banks, towards Bankshead and the camping barn we hoped to stay in – we were keen on showering.

Unfortunately there was no answer at the farm where the camping barn was so after a while spent waiting near the farm we retraced our steps back into Banks and to a campsite.

After Banks the wall seemed to be an almost constant feature with many mile castles and forts to keep us company.

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The countryside became more remote-feeling from this point, like we’d taken steps closer to wilderness. The ground was more rugged with craggy hills and rougher grasses rather than cultivated farm land.

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The ups and downs began to take their toll on smaller legs and the pace dropped appreciably. We were all glad to reach Greenhead and our bed for the night. The map showed a campsite which had been long abandoned. The youth hostel had thankfully been taken into private ownership by the local hotel and was still open. We were glad of the shower and accommodation that didn’t need building. To complete our evening of relaxation we went to the hotel for a delicious and reasonably priced meal. £10 for a main course – The chicken and haggis was superb. The sticky toffee pudding that followed it excellent too! We retired to our beds full and happy.

The next morning we visited the ruins of Thirlwall castle and then the Roman Army Museum.

Up to this point we had been very fortunate with the weather. Winds had been gentle, rain absent and nights mild. Throughout the next day the rain came down. Not especially heavy rain, but constant rain. We were heading for Once brewed and our final night under canvas. When we arrived the ground was sodden and everything we touched turned to mud. Once again we availed ourselves of the local facilities and ate in the Twice Brewed Inn.

After a night of rain and mud we ate the last of the breakfast food we had brought, packed up one final time and walked out to Bardon Mill via the Vindolanda Roman Fort.DSC04769.JPG

Our timing was, by chance, excellent and within fifteen minutes we were on a train heading for Newcastle.

Notes about the trail

As mentioned above the Western end isn’t the best. I think I were to do this trail again I’d begin at Carlisle. Its a lot easier to get to and the walking is better East of there. Many of the villages you pass through aren’t big enough to support a local shop or pub, this is bad if you’re looking to resupply or eat meals as you go. What we did find though is that a lot of the villages have honesty boxes containing soft drinks and snacks so light refreshment is possible as you go.

Places we stayed, ate and drank

Day 1: The highland laddie inn a brief stop for a drink

We slept at the Roman Wall Lodges this was a small campsite with a couple of camping lodges. We could use the (excellent) facilities in the chalet. This campsite was five minutes walk from the pub, the Drovers Rest in Monkhill. Food was served here and it looked good but we had eaten in camp.

Day 2: Cakes and ale Cafe a brief stop for, umm, cake and ale.

Our stop this night was at Stonewalls farm campsite in Laversdale. This was a basic farm site but it had a handy shed containing a kettle and microwave.

Day 3: Reading room cafe, Walton another short stop for cake and a drink. Lovely little cafe next to the village hall.

We made use of an ‘honesty box’ for a coke which was conveniently half way up the hill on the way to Banks.

The night’s accommodation was a campsite in Banks (can’t find a link. Its signposted at a house on the side of the road near the village green) We had hoped to stay in the camping barn but couldn’t make contact when we arrived.

Day 4: Birdoswald fort for a drink and a cake. House of Meg tearoom lunch stop. We opted for the ‘all-day’ breakfast. (Served until 1pm). All very tasty except the sausages which were disappointing and cheap. The pub nearest the cafe was shut at lunchtimes but about half a mile away the Samson Inn was open and on the route.

Our overnight accommodation was at Greenhead Youth Hostel (Independently owned). This gave us our first shower of the trip. We ate dinner in the hotel too. Good ale and food with reasonable prices. £10 for chicken breast with haggis -delicious.

We’d expected to stay in the campsite marked on the map but it no longer exists.

Day 5:  We had an early lunch in the Roman Army museum cafe at Walltown before continuing on our way to camp at once brewed at Winshields farm. The farm had a tearoom, served breakfast and had a camping barn. We didn’t have opportunity to test these.

Not really looking forward to a pasta n sauce dinner sat in a soaking wet tent we went to the twice brewed inn. The inn offered a range of ales and good food. It also had accommodation.

Day 6: Vindolanda this was our final visit on the way to the train. Nice little cafe in the museum.

 

Backpacking with young children

I thought it might be useful to anyone else considering this sort of undertaking to offer information and suggestions about taking little’uns on multi-day walks.

  • Mileage: We found that a plan for 2kmh was about right – this includes rests and meal breaks
  • Pack weight: As light as you can! – throughout the trip as my pack got lighter due to food consumption I moved things from theirs to mine to make it easier on them.
  • Bed: All of us had a Thermarest type mattress -yes, Karrimats are lighter and probably character building but I wanted peaceful sleep all round!
  • Sleeping bags: We used lightweight summer bags and both kids also slept in onesies – these were only used in the tent to keep them clean.
  • Footwear: The kids wore walking boots with proper walking socks. We all had sandals for in-camp use.
  • Warm wear: Both kids had a fleece jumper and would wear waterproofs as a walking warm layer (Remember: they cool down much easier/faster than adults so wore more clothes as a general rule).
  • Water: Make sure they drink it! -We took one of those super concentrated squash bottles where a tiny squirt makes a glass of squash.

They liked to have their own packs because they felt like part of the team, they could also keep their own snacks and water bottles. Edward used an old pack of mine and Sophie used her school bag. As a walking backpack it wasn’t ideal as the straps were too close together at the shoulders which meant she needed a hood or similar to stop the straps rubbing her neck. I used this pack because it’s pink and she likes it! Sometimes giving in to their irrationalities is worthwhile to keep them happy. Both children took a small soft toy for bed time and a book each.

During the day they took turns (sometimes argued about) at being the leader and going first. The trail is superbly well way-marked with the national trail acorn emblem so route finding was never an issue.

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Sophie as group leader finding the acorns.

Clothing

In order to keep pack weights down we had to be flexible with clothing choices and not to squeamish about repeat-wearing pants!

The waterproof trousers and jackets doubled as a warm layer for the kids along with their jumpers. Edward wore his precious football shirts as his wicking baselayer, Sophie had to make do with standard T shirts. Shorts paired with waterproof trousers make a comfortable and practical set of legwear keeping the wind out but not too sweaty.

On an evening, as soon as the tents were up the boots came off to dry/air and the sandals went on to let hot feet breathe.

Food

Meals: Obviously you know your kids and what they like. Food is fuel on the trail so its important they eat plenty

Breakfast: We had ‘red’ Alpen (the one with sugar in) mixed with full fat milk powder. Just adding hot or cold water made a delicious, creamy breakfast

Lunches: Tortillas (decent shelf life) with Primula squirty cheese or John West Tuna sachets in a variety of flavours

Dinners: A variety of things including: Uncle Ben’s microwave rice packets (add a little water to prevent burning) mixed with a ‘Look What We Found’ Chili con Carne’ (Three rice and one chili to get plenty of carbs) Good old pasta n sauce, Cheap Ramen noodles (BBQ beef flavour) and the best meal… Ainsley Harriot flavoured cous cous, chorizo (chorizo almost always makes it into my pack because its delicious, keeps well without a fridge and its delicious!) and dried apricots.

Snacks and trail food: A bag of dried fruit and nuts, bags of ‘Percy pigs’ gummy sweets, marshmallows (also added to hot chocolate), jelly cubes.

When we could we’d pop into cafes and have a drink and some cake to keep morale up and support the local economy!

 

 

 

 

Sub-zero summer in the Cairngorms

Lairig Ghru I spent an unseasonably cold August Bank holiday wandering the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. I’ve been there before, twice. But in winter and from the Northern side where all the skiing is. I’d never really ventured far beyond a few km from the ski station car park. As this part of Scotland is 6 hours away from home by car I need to have a long weekend at least to make a visit feasible. On Thursday morning I loaded the car and set off up the M6 and over the border. By 5pm I was getting out of the car in the Linn of Dee car park and swatting away the infamous midges.

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Mar lodge estate forest

I quickly applied some insect repellent, steeling myself for the airborne plague I would undoubtedly suffer for the next few days. Its rare I get from parking the car to getting on the trail as quickly as I did that day but I didn’t fancy getting eaten before leaving the car park.

My route began with a few hundred metres down a forestry track to the edge of the woodland. Out here on the open moor there were no flies, I suspect the breeze had grounded them all. Stopping to put on my gaiters I surveyed my intended route. Uphill, through calf-deep heather towards a little hill called Carn an ‘Ic Duibhe. Halfway up the hill was a long and apparently recently erected double fence. The fence had little signs along it at intervals. The signs said ‘Caution! Electric Fence’. Hazard number one. There was a sufficient gap at the bottom of the fence to squeeze through without my pack on. I through my walking poles over lay down on my back and shuffled through taking great care to avoid the wires. Reaching back through I pulled on my backpack. Once on the other side I was free to continue my journey.

Puffing and panting up the heathery hillside I was feeling decidedly unfit. I hadn’t been backpacking for a few months and had put on about half a stone whilst on holiday. Coupled with the heaviest pack I’d had all year and the toughest terrain I wondered about the wisdom of my plans. After a couple of hours walking I reached my intended stop for the night, a sheltered area just below the summit of Sgor Mor (813m). I’d seen an area on the map just lower than the summit and on the Southern side. I’d hoped it would be protected from the Northerly wind which was blowing in. It is amazing just how much difference a couple of metres makes. Down at my tent it was calm and not too cold. Outside the shelter of the hillock it was breezy and cold.IMG_0365

I prepared my kit for the night and sorted out what I’d have for dinner. It made sense to have the heaviest food first so it was stuffed ricotta and spinach tortellini with meatballs in a tomato sauce. Pudding was a Mars bar.

I popped my head out of the tent to look around and saw a group of deer about 20m from me. As soon as they realised I was there they bounded away over the hill and were never seen again.

I’d brought the harmonica I’d been given for my birthday so I could continue my practicing while I was away. Checking there was no one about to be upset the noise of my terrible playing I played through a few short tunes that I’d learned from my ‘harmonica for beginners book’.

Bed time comes early on backpacking trips so I was into my sleeping bag not long after 9pm.

Luibeg Burn During the night it rained and so in the morning I had to put away the tent wet. This isn’t so bad if you’re going home but not great if you need to use it again. I checked the map and set off over the brow of the hill Northwards. Today’s target was Ben Macdui, the highest mountain in the Cairngorms and the second highest in the UK.

The reason I chose to head over the tops towards Ben Macdui was that in the weeks prior to my visit a ‘once in 200 hundred years’ flood had knocked out at least one of the footbridges over the river flowing from Glen Derry. Large parts of the footpath had also been damaged.

The route from my campsite to Ben Macdui took me down into Glen Lui towards a bridge over the river. The latest information I’d found on the net was that this bridge was still extant. I could see the water level was still high in the burn but the bridge was still there. I stopped to fill my water bottle from a stream, no large flocks of sheep or people here. The river flowing quickly and clearly over a stony base. -It ticked all the boxes to be drunk without treatment of any sort. As I proceded up Glen Lui I needed to re-cross the river to get on to the hill Sron Riach. My recently purchased map (OL403, 2011 edition) showed a footbridge at NO012951 but I could not find it anywhere. There was no sign of a bridge washed away or damaged by floods either. (Later I noticed on the older version of the map (2004 edition) the bridge is not marked at this point. I wondered if it was an Ordnance Survey ‘fingerprint’ to identify copying).

Fording the stream with the help of my walking poles I was on my way again, climbing into the mist. There was no footpath from Sron Riach to Ben Macdui either on the ground or the map so I followed the edge over a tricky boulder field to the stream running SW from the mountain. Following this stream to its source I got onto a clear track to the summit.

The summit of Ben Macdui has many stone wind shelters, (perhaps a clue to the prevailing weather up there) a trig point and a view point stone. I could see very little from the summit, certainly none of the peaks listed on the view point stone. After a short while I retraced my steps towards the ruin and the path. I’d taken a bearing from the ruin to the summit on the way up in case I couldn’t see it on the way back. I’m glad I did because with all the wind shelters the summit looks similar in all directions when its misty.

Descending towards Loch Etchachan I met a walker coming the other way. We stopped and chatted for a while. He was in shirt sleeves and feeling warm, he expressed surprise and my fastened up coat, hat and gloves. He said he was staying at the bothy below the loch. I had intended to camp near the loch but as I was cold and the weather was not expected to improve I decided to give the bothy a try.

Loch Etchachan

The Hutchinson Memorial Hut (Coire Etchachan Bothy) is a simple stone hut recently refurbished by the Mountain Bothy Association. It has a small entry porch with space to hang a few coats, leave boots and some backpacks and a larger room with a bench along one side and a stove.  Bothies are free for anyone to use and are very popular. This was my first night in a UK bothy but I have stayed in similar huts in the Picos, Pyrenees and Sierra de Gredos in Spain.

At the same time as I arrived at the Bothy a young French couple arrived from the opposite direction. Already inside was a German chap whom I’d expected as the man I’d met on the mountain mentioned he was there. We got chatting and worked out how many people were likely to stay in the small hut and thinking at least some of us will need to camp. I didn’t mind the thought of camping but I was looking forward to be able to sit and cook indoors.

Eventually there were 7 people and 2 dogs at the bothy, this would have made it more than cosy. The man who’d brought the dogs and the German pitched their tents outside leaving 5 of us to sleep in the hut. We all cooked and ate inside and spent the evening chatting about mountains, veganism, Scottish independence and a variety of other topics. The conversation was helped along by a hip flask of Jura I’d brought along, just for this sort of occasion. Bed time came early and with three of us on the floor and two on the bench we said good night.

Huthcinson Bothy

The next morning dawned cloudy and cold but not raining and after breakfast I headed back up to Loch Etchachan. Three of the others took the opposite direction, back towards Braemar.

I climbed up to the Loch feeling heavy and unfit, but happy after my enjoyable evening in the bothy. I crossed the stream as it left the loch and headed Northwest towards Loch A’an.

The wind picked up and the rain started and got heavy. I stopped to don waterproof gear and carried on into the wind, descending to the Western edge of Loch A’an. I’d been told that I might see reindeer near to the loch so I kept my eyes open to see them. I saw no reindeer but I did see a couple of tents pitched on the loch shore near to a sandy beach. A beautiful spot, I made a note of it for future use.

My path on the other side of the loch was a steep track up the side of a cascading stream. I stopped to remove the waterproofs before beginning the climb and set off. I made surprisingly good progress up the 250m or so climb to the flat ground at the top. Looking back over the loch to where I’d come from I remembered why I was there. I love being in wild places, hardly a sign of the modern world. For a while even the weather seemed kind. It didn’t last.

Waterproofs back on I continued along the path towards the summit of Cairngorm itself. The heaviness returned. I felt slow and unfit once more. Eventually I reached the summit which was marked by a large cairn and a radio transmitter. I took shelter on the southern side of the cairn and made myself some lunch. I had to remove my gloves to prepare my food and by the time I had got them back on they were numb and losing mobility.

I wasn’t having the most fun being SO COLD IN AUGUST and thought about my options. I knew the weather wasn’t going to be brilliant but this felt like Winter and I wasn’t quite equipped for that. I had cold weather gear but I was missing my thick down jacket and winter gloves.

I looked up the weather facts when I got home. When I was sat on Cairngorm it was 1.5°C. The wind was blowing at 25mph and above. This calculates to a wind chill factor of below -5°C!!

It seemed like I had three choices;

-Descend towards the ski stations and work my way around to the car at lower level. -Maybe through Glen Feshie. No. That’s too far and I don’t have all the route on my map.

-Stick to the plan and head West across the northern edge of the plateau, descending in to the Lairig Ghru. -This was a high level walk using the edge of the plateau as a ‘handrail’ until I could descend. I was confident in my ability to manage the walk but it didn’t seem like a ‘fun’ trip in the weather.

-Retrace my steps and get back to the bothy where I know I’d be warm again and could dry off -This looked like the most sensible option. I’d be walking with the wind behind me and descending out of it.

Right then. Back to the bothy it was. I packed up, wrapped up and set off. After less than 1km I’d reached the fork in the path; left to the bothy, straight on across the plateau.

At that moment the wind dropped, the rain stopped and the mist lifted. I could see the Northern coires ahead of me and took it as a sign to carry on and not retrace my steps. I pressed on, stopping a while later to remove my waterproof gear once again.

The walking felt easy, over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairn Lochan each footstep felt good. The views superb. I heard a helicopter below me and looked over the edge of the cliffs to see the search and rescue chopper hovering close to the rock walls before turning and flying away.

The mist returned and a little drizzle but thankfully the wind stayed away. As I approached Lurcher’s crag I looked down into the coire I saw a small herd of reindeer. Too far away to photograph but definitely reindeer.

I turned north and climbed over Lurcher’s crag looking for a path down off the plateau into the Lairig Ghru. The map showed it as indistinct and I saw no trace on the ground. I checked my distances from summits and points on the map, I was definitely in the right place. Scanning the hillside below I saw a path a little way below me but nothing close by. I made up my own route to join up with the path and made it with no trouble.

The descent was long and tedious. The path was rocky in places, boulder in others, long and occasionally steep. I was very pleased to get down to the river. I refilled my water bottle and set off South into the Lairig Ghru. Seven km to the South of me was another bothy, the Corrour bothy. I had no intention of trying to make it there as my feet were tiring and a bothy in the middle of the Lairig Ghru would be absolutely heaving on a bank holiday Saturday evening.

My map showed some potential camping spots a couple of km away, flat spots on the map -but would they be bogs? I needed a place which was flattish, levelish and with a little breeze to keep the midges down. The first potential spots turned out to be bogs but a spot a little further along, too small to see on the map turned out to fit the bill. It wasn’t the most level site (I spent the night sliding down the tent) but it was midge-free and close to water.

Ghru camp

The rain began again and the wind picked up. I spent the evening in a very damp tent. Dinner was Super Noodles (I’ve remembered why I gave up on them as camping food now) and a dehydrated stew which was better than the noodles. A spot of harmonica practice and then bed time again.IMG_0402

The next morning dawned cold and wet and I decided against getting a brew on in favour of a sharp exit. By seven o clock I was on my way to the car. I wanted to get back for about 1pm so I could arrive home before it was too late.

The first two kilometres took me 1 hour as my legs refused to move quickly over the boulders. After the terrain improved my speed picked up and soon I was striding along past Corrour bothy and greeting my first passer-by of the day.

 

I had chosen to follow the River Dee from its source to the car. This was because It looked good on the map and didn’t require me to cross any missing bridges.

The final section of my journey began at the Chests of Dee where the track turned into hard-packed land rover trail back to the car. The final five kilometres flew past but my feet felt worn by the end of them.

Chests of Dee

The journey complete I dived into the car before the midges realised I was there.

 

I’d spent three days wandering the cairngorms in the height of summer and had barely seen the legendary pests. It had been close to freezing though and occasionally below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell (part 2)

From Wild Boar Fell to Baugh Fell

We awoke quite early, the rising sun shining on the back of the tent warming us up nicely. With a mix of dozing and chatting we passed the time until about 8am when Edward finally persuaded me to get a brew on. Breakfast was a sort of Alpen Porage -I always pre-mix the Alpen with sugar and dried milk so it gets stirred into hot water as a quick, warming fix.
After breakfast, while I was doing the necessary camp chores Ed went off to play on the ‘beach’ next to the tent. Amazing how such a simple thing brings so much pleasure to a small boy.

 

leaving sand tarnA while later we were packed up and ready to leave. Retracing our steps to the summit plateau we headed across to the fence line which we followed West then South before descending to Uldale  Gill. The going was quite easy, not too boggy but still no paths. Definitely an area to test navigational skills in poor weather. We kept to the right hand bank (Northern) of the gill and contoured across the hillside before tracking around Grain Gill. We followed another fence line down Needlehouse Gill to the farmhouse access road where we stopped for a lunch break.

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After a 25 minute rest and a fill of tuna wraps, lumps of cheese and chorizo we were on our way again. We descended to the very young River Rawthey and followed it upstream to Slate gill where we searched for a way up onto Baugh Fell. Near the gill were old quarry workings which made access to the fell quite tricky, unless you fancied climbing crumbly rock faces. I didn’t think Ed’s mum would approve of such a route so we sought out an easier grassy slope. From the  top of Slate Gill we set off on a bearing of (more or less) South which would take us to West Baugh Fell Tarn -our expected home for the night. The walking was heavy going. Tussocky grass and patches of bog all on a reasonably steep hillside. After an hour (which felt like forever) Edward was getting tired and beginning to complain loudly. To distract him from his tired legs I’d ask him a question about Minecraft, a computer game he’s obsessed about. “Can you… …make cakes in Minecraft?” “Oh yes Dad, you can…” and so on for a while before remembering he was tired. “Are there… elephants in Minecraft?” Another period of forgetting the ache.

West Tarn cairn

Eventually, after a couple of false horizons, heads of two other people appeared over the hillside. The first people we’d seen since mid-afternoon the day before. They were a couple with a dog out for an afternoon’s wander on the moor. They hadn’t expected to see anyone else either. We chatted  a while about the emptiness of the fells and they expressed surprise that Ed was only six and carrying his own pack. We set up our tent on the shore of the lake while the couple enjoyed the view before setting off, leaving us the fell to ourselves. This time we’d set up the tent with the lake behind us. This was to allow views of the Howgills and of the sunrise and also to keep the porch sheltered from the breeze.

We spent the afternoon lazing in and around the tent, just chatting and playing top trumps (Transformers). An evening meal of roasted vegetable couscous with chorizo and dried apricots, instant soup and Jamaican ginger cake replenished our energy levels.

From certain angles the tarn looked almost like an infinity pool. The area surrounding it was barely above the water and dropped away steeply. Looking out of the tent made it look like we were on top of the world.

 

Bed time came quite early as I wanted to get a decent early start the next day. We had a train to catch and more importantly, I wanted to get to the pub in time for lunch before the train.

Sunrise

The Sunday morning sunrise shone brightly through the open door of the tent waking me at about 5am. I took a photo, rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. Half sleeping, half shuffling around in my bed I finally gave up at 6.30 and made coffee. After the usual breakfast we packed and were on our way by 8am.

howgills mist

The clear skies had given away to patches of mist and a cloud inversion between us and the Howgills. By the time we set off it was compass work to get us to the trig point at Knoutberry Haw, a handy marker point on the fence line we would follow for the next few hours.

The terrain here was some of the most challenging yet and progress was slow. There were loads of large patches of bog, some of which were alarmingly deep -my walking poles went in an awfully long way! After about three miles of hard work and descent from the fell (and distracting Minecraft conversations) we came to the road. I’d promised Edward that at this point I’d lighten his backpack and he could eat the last remaining cereal bar. Promises kept, we set off towards the pub.

After  2 days of isolation we were all of a sudden back into the busy world. Packs of motorbikes whizzed past. Lycra-clad cyclists slightly-less-than-whizzed past -some looked downright knackered. I checked my watch, we had plenty of time for the extra mile to the Moorcock Inn. Edward was keen to get to the pub as he insisted he would have an adult portion. My wallet longed for the days where he’d be satisfied with a child’s portion. We arrived at the pub at 11:40 -twenty minutes before opening time. We took off our packs and sat at an outdoor table enjoying the sun and the views and wondering what we’d be eating.

At the end

The pub opened at 12pm on the dot and we were first inside. Half a coke, a pint of the local ale and a menu were ordered. We pored greedily over the delicious sounding choices, settling eventually for a pork and apple burger (Ed) and Lamb Koftas with feta cheese salad (me). We sank into some chairs by the window and relaxed, Edward happy to be finished walking.
The food arrived and was consumed rapidly. I enjoyed mine but was quite jealous of  the plump burger with large slab of local cheese which topped it.

Another round of drinks, the bill paid and we shouldered our packs for the final time.

We took the Pennine Bridleway back to the train station as it was slightly shorter and not along the road. I was surprised to find it as it was not marked on my recently purchased OS map of the area. We got to Garsdale station with about 20 minutes to spare, just a little while longer to enjoy the views.

 

This was my first visit to this area but it has whetted my appetite for more. I’ve not felt isolation like it anywhere in England. No people, no paths. Definitely my cup of tea.

 

Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell (part 1)

If Wordsworth wanted to ‘wander lonely as a cloud’ he’d be hard-pressed to manage it in the Lake District these days. A much better option would be to head to the far Eastern edge of Cumbria, in a place which is partly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The valley of Mallerstang is North East of Sedbergh, East of the Howgill fells and South of Kirkby Stephen. It is bordered by rugged fells and contains at least two ruined castles. There are suprisingly few visitors, despite it being clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps and not requiring teleportation to reach it. It has a train line and everything.

 

Ed fieldsEdward and I took took the train from Shipley at around 11am on Friday morning. By 12.30 we were in Kirkby Stephen at the Northern end of Mallerstang. We shouldered our packs, checked the maps and set off. Within 5 minutes Edward had stumbled, unused to carrying a pack. I removed some of the gear from his pack into mine and we were off again. We headed East towards the River Eden which flows through the valley, aiming to follow it towards Pendragon Castle.

The going was very easy, footpaths marked on the map were either farm tracks or trails of discoloured grass across fields.

 

Lammerside castleAfter a short while we came across the ruins of a castle that I’d not noticed on the map, Lammerside Castle. We had a poke about inside it -as had several sheep from the look of it. A few photos later we continued south towards Pendragon Castle which was doing a good job of not being seen. We arrived at the castle to see several signs declaring it closed for repairs and there was no access to it. Oh well, best get onto the fells then.

 

We retraced our steps a little way and began to climb up the valley side towards Wild Boar Fell. A farmer fixing his dry stone wall would be the last person we’d see until late the next afternoon.

 

The views around the valley were very good, nothing to dramatic or awe-inspiring, just good hill and moorland country, unspoiled by heavily worn paths or herds of walkers. The ground showed very little sign of walkers ever being there in the first place. As we ascended towards Little Fell (559m) and High Dolphinsty Edward began to tire. He’d not uttered a word of complaint so far despite walking for several hours and carrying a load of about 3kg. “Almost there” I said. Countless times. “Just a bit farther…”. The ground began to steepen as we climbed towards a rocky promontory called The Nab. It was a sharp rocky edge with steep cliffs below it -quite a different character to the rolling grassland we’d travelled across so far.

The nab

Our destination was a wild camp at Sand Tarn a little way to the West and below the summit of the Nab. We turned towards the trig point of Wild Boar Fell, every step Edward was getting more tired and a little grumpy. Immediately after passing the trig point the ground falls away and the tarn is clear to see. This had an amazing effect on Edward who was all of a sudden recharged and ready to go. We got down to the lake in no time and he’d already chosen a spot for our tent. Throughout the day we’d discussed what makes a good place for your tent (not a swamp, flat, not in the strong wind, good views). The tent was pitched a couple of metres from the lake shore close to the sandy beach at the end. As soon as the tent was up Ed was off circumnavigating the lake, all tiredness forgotten.

Sand tarnSand tarn campSand tarn beach

Favourite kit

As with, I guess, most of us who’ve been backpacking for several years the kit I use has changed a lot since I started. Some of my kit is pretty new but a number of pieces have been with me almost all the way. I thought I’d write a piece about why, year after year, they keep getting put into my backpack.

Tents.
My first backpacking tent lasted exactly one trip, broke, got returned to the manufacturer who failed to repair it so I got my money back.
After careful research in Trail magazine and TGO and feeling the merchandise in stores I decided to splash £300 on a Terra Nova Solar 2. I can’t honestly remember why I chose the Solar 2 over the Voyager but I imagine cost, weight and porch size were the key factors.
A close second was the Vaude Hogan but I found it too short (I’m 6’2″).

The Solar 2 has been with me on two of my three Picos de Europa trips, The Pyrenees and the Sierra de Gredos as well as many UK trips of up to a week. I’ve been out in hot Spanish summer conditions where I didn’t need the fly and in winter where I’ve needed to clear away the snow. In all these trips I’ve only had one problem with the tent withstanding the weather.
On the first Picos trip we were camped at Naranjo de Bulnes and a storm blew in, washing away the limited soil. The pegs came out and the porch began flapping about. We decided to pull down the tent and head to the refuge for the night.

Things I like about the tent: its 2.5kg full weight. There are lighter tents but the space in the solar two, especially the porch, mean it’s really comfortable to stay in. Pitching is a cinch. My regular camping friend and I have it down so well we can do it after many beers and in the dark! We can easily fit two 70L packs in the porch and still have enough room to cook or get in/out.

My second backpacking tent was a Hilleberg Akto. When I began to backpack solo more frequently I wanted a smaller, lighter tent. Initially I borrowed the Akto from Hilleberg to review for a website I co-ran many years ago. After a while testing the Akto Hilleberg asked for it back but I loved the tent so much I bought it from them (better than paying postage back to Sweden!). My feedback to Hilleberg was very positive, with a few areas for improvement: the zip on the door was straight, a curve at the top or a hood would improve ventilation without letting in the weather. Although I can sit up in the Akto, a few more centimetres wouldn’t go amiss.
When they updated the tent I was pleased to see they’d added a canopy to the fly sheet door. They’d also made it a little lighter!

Things I like about the tent: It’s so easy to pitch. Even in poor weather it takes no time at all. The pack size and weight are really good. I generally stuff the poles separately to the fabric parts and it squishes up easily.  Living space is perfectly adequate for me and my kit. Nice big porch and plenty of sleeping room.

Stove.
Since my first trip to the Picos (2001) I’ve favoured a multi fuel stove. The one I use is an MSR Dragonfly. I chose this one because I sometimes like to do more than boil water so a controllable flame was very useful.  Over the years I’ve used unleaded petrol, white gas, kerosene, ‘essence C’ -which turned out to be a dry cleaning fluid and most recently turpentine. It burns them all very well and without much tinkering needed.
I’ve only had a problem with lighting the stove once. In the Pyrenees on a hot day we tried to light it to cook some couscous for lunch. Because it was so warm the fuel evaporated before we could light it to prime the stove. I’ve maintained it at home before long trips and made running repairs whilst away. The one problem I couldn’t fix was when a weld broke in Scotland. The stove was returned to MSR who repaired it free of charge under guarantee -I was very impressed as the stove was over ten years old at the time.

Things I like about the stove: Can run it on more or less any fuel I can find, field maintainable, variable flame -from candle to welding torch!

Penknife.
For years I’ve carried a Victorinox climber knife. Its got all the essential items, even the strange awl tool. It’s not the lightest knife or the most well equipped but for me it’s the best mix of useful tools.

Packs.
I have two packs in regular use, both Lowe Alpine. An Alpamayo 70+20L for big trips and an Alpine Attack 50L for the not so big trips. I always rated Lowe packs because they are superbly comfortable and the build quality excellent. The bigger pack is now about 14 years old and showing very little wear beyond a bit of scuffing. It’s not a lightweight pack by any definition -about 3kg empty. I’ve never needed more room than it offered and it’s a very comfortable carry, even with 25+ kg inside it. The Alpine bag is about ten years old and gets used as my day pack as well as for lighter backpacking trips. It’s big enough for a week long trip in summer conditions. One thing about it that I have never liked is the attachment of the floating lid. It always seems to slip down and not stay in one place (the floating lid on the Alpamayo stays put).

Things I like about the packs: Their volume is what it’s meant to be. They’re both plenty big enough. Very comfortable adjustable back systems on both bags. Really hard wearing fabric.

Two days from Coniston

Another weekend adventure. Its a hard life pursuing logbook days for ML (summer). I had decided that it was summer and packed accordingly. My backpack weight had gone down several kilos to about 11kg, fully laden. I’d changed to a lighter sleeping bag, left out the  waterproof trousers and gone as ultralight as possible on the cook kit. The weather forecast was for sunny days, with a gentle breeze -strengthening on the Sunday.

Tent

Near blind tarn

It had been a long week at work, an Ofsted inspection on the Wednesday and Thursday putting everything into overdrive. I was feeling very tired by Friday afternoon but had thankfully perked up when it came to depart. By 8.30 pm I was locking the car at the Walna Scar car park above Coniston. Shouldering my pack I set off along the old access track towards Blind Tarn, my home for the night. A few other people seemed not to have noticed the ‘no unauthorised vehicles beyond this point’ sign and had set up camp, caravans and all, a few hundred metres down the track. There was ample evidence of previous campers -fire rings could be spotted on the flat green borders to the road.

Before long I reached a large flat area which was bounded at the west by the hill up to Blind Tarn and to the north by Goats water and Dow Crag. After a brief search I found a sufficiently dry, flat patch for my tent. Within a couple of minutes the tent was pitched and I was moving in. The evening was still bright enough to see without a torch, despite it being heading for 9.30. Once I’d moved in I got out my tiny stove and heated some water for a hot chocolate. I had pitched the tent so that the porch opened away from the prevailing wind to shelter my stove. This also afforded me an excellent view of Blind Tarn Screes, my first stopping point for the next morning.

Naturally, the wind had completely reversed direction in the time between putting the first pegs in and unpacking my rucksack. I knew the wind wouldn’t get too strong and I couldn’t really be bothered to re-pitch the tent so I just left it. As the evening was so pleasant I took the opportunity to fiddle about with my camera, try to take some photographs using long exposures and remembering to use the mini-tripod I always carry and rarely use.

ghostly image

Messing about with long exposure

By half past ten I was tucked into my sleeping bag with the door of the tent closed against the breeze. By midnight I was awake again, feeling cold. I put on some clothes and fell back to sleep. By two thirty I was awake again. I really needed a thicker sleeping bag. I struggled with being chilly and dozed until about 5.30 when I decided that coffee and beginning the day was the best option. The moon shone brightly above the crags, no sign of the sun at this point.

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By half past six everything was packed away and I set off, first to the stream to collect some water then on to find Blind Tarn -a small tarn not visible from below, with no outflowing streams. A short climb later and the tarn was in sight, as was a fellow wild camper -a small tent perched near the shore of the lake. I took a few photos before scrambling up the screes onto the ridge. I’ve long wanted to be the first person to the summit of a mountain one day. Today wasn’t it. Ahead of me three walkers, catching up with me a fell runner. The weather forecast was proving to be spot-on. Not a breath of wind, clear skies and not too chilly. I followed the ridge northwards over Dow Crag, occasionally peering off the edge down gullies and over cliffs. After Dow Crag there is a short descent to Goats Hause before climbing again to Coniston Old Man (Or the Old Man of Coniston, if you prefer). By 8.30 I was on the summit of the Old Man, not another soul there with me. On this exposed summit the wind had picked up so I sheltered behind the summit cairn and looked down into the copper mines valley below.

 

stone arch

Mining ruins remain

The path down to the copper mines was a manufactured zig zag. Good in terms of preventing erosion but not the most inspiring. About half way down there is the rusting evidence of the industrial past; a toppled pylon, corroded cables and pipes sticking up from the ground like petrified metal worms. A man with a confused face and apparently no map asked me which way the summit was. I showed him and said it would be about another hour to the top. There were more people wandering the various tracks and trails near to the Youth Hostel.

I didn’t have an exact target for the day, just a vague plan of where I wanted to go -towards crinkle crags. To this end I followed the paths which would take me to Levers water reservoir. I sat at the shore of the lake and enjoyed a snack, the view and refilled my water bottle. As I set off again I met a man hoping to fish in the lake. Due to the breeze he needed to go to the far side or else all he’d catch would be the grass behind him. Instead of the obvious path towards Black Sails and Wetherlam I made my own way up over a rocky rib parallel to the main path. It was quite hard work in some places but not technically challenging. I reached the top and turned north east towards the summit of Wetherlam. There were about a dozen people coming down from the summit and when I got there about another forty or so passing by or stopped for lunch.

 

me near water

Enjoying the view

After a brief, 25 minute, lunch stop I was off again. Heading north east along Wetherlam edge towards Birk Fell. I followed this ridge to the end before descending into the Greenburn Beck valley. My legs were getting a little tired now as they’d gone up and down over several mountains and into two valleys. Checking the map I considered my options. North west was towards Pike of Blisco and Crinkle Crags. West was back along another ridge which would eventually curve back towards Wetherlam. I decided to continue on towards the North. A short while later I was climbing again up onto the ridge which lead eventually to the unfairly named Hell Gill. Before reaching this scary sounding hill I turned and descended again to the Wrynose pass, crossing the road and climbing once more. By 4pm I was walking next to Red Tarn, under Pike of Blisco, looking for a place to set up camp.

By this point my knees had made it clear that they would not support any notion of carrying on to Crinkle Crags. The wind had picked up now and it was blowing directly along the valley which meant I needed to find a sheltered spot. If the ground was flat, it was probably exposed. If it wasn’t exposed it was a marsh. After about an hour of testing potential spots I found a place just big enough for the tent and not a marsh and not in the full force of the wind.

I set up my tent, moved in and made a coffee. I watched the final people descend from the valley and I was alone again. As I had such an early start I spent the evening dozing in my tent before cooking dinner -dehydrated chicken tikka and more coffee. The backpacking meal was tasty enough, hot and filling. For dessert an Alpen bar and a Mars bar. I spent most of my time inside the tent where it was sun-warmed and out of the wind.

mountains

crinkle crags and friends

Prepared for another cold night I slept fully clothed. It helped but wasn’t the most comfortable night I’ve spent in a tent. By five the next morning I was wide-awake. By five thirty I’d had my coffee and was onto the porridge -strictly speaking, hot Alpen. By six I’d packed and was off to find water. Below me I found two ladies out bivying. You’re never quite as alone as you think in the wilds!

 

Today I was taking a more direct route back to the car. Much less ascent, descent and fewer kilometres. Back to the Wrynose pass and on up to Hell Gill. The wind was strong on the ridge and cold. I was glad to have my windshirt which I fastened up tight. I was concerned I might lose my hat and so tightened up the chin strap as far as I could while maintaining the ability to breathe. Following the ridge south of Hell Gill I came across a memorial to the crew of a crashed WWII plane. A Halifax bomber. I didn’t linger long it was feeling really cold and I wanted to descend to the sheltered side of the hill where I could warm up again.

remembering the victims of a crash

remembering the victims of a crash

South of the memorial the path began to descend on the leeward side of the hill and almost instantly it became much warmer. I realised I’d not seen a single person since the two ladies near my camp site.

Carrying on towards Brim Fell and Goat’s Water I could see groups of other walkers heading for the Old Man. I descended to Goat’s Water where two men were preparing to climb something on Dow Crag. There is a mountain rescue box at the base of the crag containing emergency equipment and a stretcher. There are several of these across the Lake District. This was the second I’ve seen.

 

The path from Goat’s Water soon joined the Walna Scar path that I’d walked in on the Friday night. Before long I was back at the car, glad to get my boots off and ready for home.

 

lake

But they were sheep, not goats

Pyrenees 2004: Barroude to Benasque

A short walk from the Barroude hut and we crossed the border into Spain once more. The weather was warm and clear and the paths easy to follow. We continued along the HRP down the mountainside  over 1000 vertical metres to a tiny village called Parzan. The best thing in Parzan was the cafe at the petrol station. We filled ourselves with chorizo baguettes and beer.

A hostal rural in the village cost €35 for the night for a room for the three of us. We booked in and immediately took turns in the shower, washing ourselves and our socks.

 

The next day we continued along the HRP towards the Lago de Urdizeto which turned out to be a busy, disappointing reservoir. The road to the lake was dusty, winding and steep. We didn’t stay long at the reservoir, we ate lunch and continued downhill to the refugio de Biados.

 

The last few kilometres of the walk were hard. We’d run out of water and the day was hot. The final climb to the refuge was exhausting. We arrived at the hut, collapsed to the ground then drank litres of water before finding the (very grumpy) warden and booking in for the night.

We got our first experience of a Pyrenean thunder storm that night. Flashes of lightning illuminating the dorm and thunder booming through the hills. Looking out of the window we saw bolts of lightning striking the Posets massif.

 

Our next destination was the Estos hut, only another 10km or so further on. The walk started in good weather but a storm broke as we approached a high pass. Quickly donning our waterproofs we moved as fast as we could over the ridge, through the closing thunder. Descending into the next valley the weather improved and the waterproofs put away.

Daz walked on ahead of us and was soon out of sight. Helen and I arrived at the hut after a few hours expecting to see him propping up the bar but there was no sign. We asked the staff ‘have you seen a bald Englishman?’ but they hadn’t. We bought cokes and sat on the verandah to enjoy the view. Way down below us a familiar figure appeared. It looked up towards us and we waved. Daz had missed the path and descended too low! We didn’t laugh too much when he arrived.

Another night in another hut and we were ready for our final day in the mountains. We took the GR11 path down the mountains to Benasque, described in the guidebook as ‘the fleshpots’. We didn’t see much evidence of that but there were several nice bars, a good campsite and a bus station.

benasque barWe spent and evening in an Asturian style Sidra (cider) bar. After several pitchers of Sidra we’d decided our next stop would be Portugal.

 

After a night on a commercial campsite we packed for the final time and went to the bus station and bought a ticket for Zaragoza, the nearest town of any size.