Quite literally, in fact…
It was a struggle to get everything in my new Golite Jam, but I really wanted to avoid going up a rucksack size to my Lowe Alpine Khumbu 65:80 for what is a relatively short trip. So the Jam really was jam packed and bulging. I was also pushing the boundaries of the recommended weight limit. But heigh ho, I decided to go with it anyway. It turned out to be a good test of its capabilities.
London was grey and damp as I passed through but as the train headed north it seemed to brighten, even revealing a patch of blue sky. I changed trains at Preston and settled down for the best part of the journey – the final scenic run into the mountains. As is my wont, I gazed left towards the Coniston fells and the Langdale Pikes, and right to the foothills of the Far Eastern fells, the excitement building from this exercise, as always.
Off the train at Windermere, and with the jaunty and confident moves of a seasoned local I was at the right bus stop in seconds. I flashed my PlusBus ticket and without breaking stride picked up the latest timetable leaflet, which are always in a basket towards the front of the bus. I sat down and amused myself during the journey watching the newcomers try to work out where their destination was, some missing their stop and others jumping too early. I timed my alightment perfectly, moving towards the door and arriving just as the bus turned the corner into Kelsick Road. In a bound I was off, and heading through a back street for the gear shops.
The BBC forecast for Ambleside, let alone the “proper” mountain forecast was for night time temperatures of about zero, and already I was feeling cold. A dash to Gaynors and a back and forth shuttle between there and the Climbers Shop yielded a lightweight packable down jacket, something I’d considered getting for ages, but lacking the justification. On this trip I was to more than justify it. The weights were pretty similar, but I went for the cheaper Berghaus model in Gaynors rather than the £60 more expensive Montane option from the Climbers Shop. I made the shop assistant prove its packability before I handed over the dosh though! Saved me looking a complete tit trying to stuff it in.
I emptied a couple of bottle of water into my Camelbak to see me to my overnight pitch and boarded a 599 to Grasmere. Another stunning show of bus route knowledge and I alighted, geared up and strode up the Easedale Road past both youth hostels and heading for the path up to the correspondingly named tarn. A dull and cloudy sky oversaw proceedings, and it was cool enough that I kept my softshell on the whole way. With plenty of time, I didn’t worry too much about pace or stopping frequently to admire the view.
The last time I was on this path, it was six years ago and I was heading in the other direction after a great day of Wainwright bagging in the Langdale Pikes turned into a navigational disaster. That day a wrong line off Sergeant Man where the path became indistinct saw me take a stupidly steep line down to what I thought was Stickle Tarn, but which later turned out to be Easedale Tarn. Realising I’d missed my last bus from NDG, and that I wasn’t even in the right valley, I sat by the side of Easedale Tarn and took stock of the situation, the lapping waters of the tarn gradually soothing my worries.
Of course today, no such problems, and with better navigation skills and better knowledge of the fells around me, this was never going to happen. I arrived at the tarn and spent a few moments taking it in – something I was a little too stressed to do on my first visit. I looked around the right of the tarn to the spot I had sat that day, and a faint smile turned the corners of my mouth. Although being there had resulted from a major problem, this had been my first proper tarn, and it had kicked off my love of these many and varied mountain lakes. A fact I was celebrating by my return and by my planned wild camp spots this weekend. I took some photos of the tarn and looking back to Helm Crag and Grasmere, and carried on up.
Now the ground steepened as it started to get to more serious terrain. I slogged my way up, passing a handful of people heading down for the day, reminding of my first thoughts of wild camping which I’d had on the fell to my immediate left, Blea Rigg. On the last day of my June 2008 trip, I’d been making my way down in the late afternoon over Blea Rigg (ironically my original planned route on that fateful day in 2006 when I’d gone so horribly wrong) and passed someone heading up laden with camping gear. Where were they camping ? That had set my mind racing, and on that descent I’d found myself starting to look out for the sort of spots you might choose for a camp. And I’ve been doing that spotting ever since – it’s just taken me another 4 years to actually use one.
The path gradient eased slightly as I drew level with the top of Eagle Crag (not the fell, just a crag on Blea Rigg), and I stepped aside to let a couple of guys (HumperLumper aka Richard and Dave) pass. They stopped to chat and they told me about the forum they had met through. Twenty minutes or so passed, as quite easily happens. Eventually they escaped to Grasmere and a warm B&B, whilst I stepped off on a faint path around the west of Belles Knott to arrive at Codale Tarn, my chosen spot for my inaugural wild camp.
Just at the near corner of the tarn, immediately to the left of the path, a flattish platform rose above the tarn, showing plenty of evidence of previous overnight use, even down to the remains of a camp fire (tut, tut). The spot was too good to pass up, and as it was 6:30 I didn’t expect much in the way of people going past – after all Codale Tarn isn’t really on the way to anywhere. So I plumped for the spot and installed myself. Up went Monica just as I found I’d chosen the breeziest spot, and accompanied by some spitting rain. Oh well, I stuck with it.
Next thing was photographic evidence of the loss of my wild camping cherry. I took Monica’s picture from several angles as she posed for the camera. Then I headed up Belles Knott to look down on the pitch and also to get views back to Grasmere.
Now for water. I headed down hill in search of a reasonably clear and flowing stream. Ultimately what I found quite clearly came from the tarn originally, but it was flowing well and looked clear. Indeed it was probably the clearest looking water I found on the trip. Back to the tent with my prize and on went dinner – Tees Valley Beef Bolognese from Look What We Found (LWWF). With instructions for microwave (ok my rucksack was heavy and full, but I did draw the line at major white goods) or for emptying and heating in a pan, I opted for the unpublished third way of sitting the pack in boiling water, hoping the heat would permeate without the ink on the pack outer running into the water. Especially as the spent water was destined for coffee. But then again coffee is good for disguising both the colour and taste of other things.
The LWWF disappeared quickly, having done an acceptable, although not fabulous, job of heating up, and then it was dessert time – Bird’s Instant Custard. I’d taken a pack and divided it into 3 roughly equal portions at home, placing each into a separate zip lock bag. More boiling tarn water went into the bag and I frantically stirred the resulting gloop out of the bag’s crevices to achieve the best approximation of edible custard under the circumstances.
By now 3 fellow campers had walked past and headed around the tarn to the diagonally opposite point. Clearly seasoned campers, their tents were up in a flash and they were troughing dinner before I knew it. So I had company for my first night, but they were far enough away that although I could see them, I couldn’t hear them.
It was getting dark and the breeze wasn’t letting up, so I retired to the scarp for the night. Apex soft shell trousers off (mistake) and into the sleeping bag in just my double base layers, before long the new down jacket was in there with me, then other clothes to attempt to keep the legs warm. As I lay there trying to get to sleep, the wind played melodies on the tent poles, accompanied by the tapping of the loose ends of the straps that secure the crossing poles, and I thought “it’s going to be a long night”.