There’s now only three sleeps left until I load up my camel, plant my feet firmly on the Silk Road and head to the Far East. Well, the “Far East” of the Lake District, that is. And I’ve started gathering some gear…
As anyone who read my previous post will have gathered, I’ve been a bad boy and lashed out on some new toys. So I’m heading “east” with loads of new stuff to try out and get used to. And a fair bit of stuff that I’ve not had long and so am still bedding in. Surely this isn’t just gratuitous spending on gear ? There must be a purpose ?
Well yes there is a purpose, and you catch me mid-transition from someone who walks B&B to B&B or hostel to hostel into someone who camps wild for the majority of a walking trip. Whilst I’m not new to camping, I am still fairly new to wild camping, and add to that the fact that before late last year I hadn’t walked and camped for the best part of 4 years. So some of my gear is looking a bit antiquated, gear has become a lot lighter in that time, and the gear that I bought first time around was decidedly, ahem, “cost effective”. Essentially the money I’m saving on accommodation is being invested in new kit, and I’m treating myself to the best.
The transition started last year when I added a record, for me, 40 Wainwrights to my bag – in the year that I was 40 myself. (So yes all the new gear is probably part mid-life crisis too!). Those 40 Wainwrights took my total to 158 and with only 56 to go, and it dawned on me that I would soon have to face a problem that I’d been putting off addressing – 29 of my 56 are in the Far Eastern Fells. “So what?”, I can almost hear people asking, grinding their teeth at the thought that I’m probably making a drama out of nothing. Let me explain.
I’m trying to do the Wainwrights without using a car: an objective I decided upon when I looked back at how many I’d accidentally done that way (virtually of all them). This is a natural effect of the fact that I walk alone for the most part and Essex to the Lakes is a bit too far to drive by myself. Not forgetting that as I work in London, we only really need one car and my wife mainly uses it. So walking trips are usually under my own steam and using public transport. This isn’t a problem in most of the Lakes. A base anywhere along the Keswick-Ambleside-Windermere axis can put you within striking range of most of the fells, although you might need to change buses. But this doesn’t work in the Far Eastern fells.
The FE fells are served by two north-south bus routes – one each side of what is a vast sprawling area. A bus (number 108/508 depending on day and time of year) can deposit me anywhere along the A592 making an attack from Patterdale possible. Similarly the 106 between Penrith and Shap provides an opportunity to attack from the east, if I’m prepared for a lengthy walk in/out. Of course I could walk in from Windermere or Staveley to Kentmere but that also seriously hampers the length of walk possible. Places like Haweswater, Kentmere and Longsleddale aren’t accessible in practice for a day walk.
That means the only realistic way of doing these fells is to stay there overnight. Other than along the main A592 there’s in effect no accommodation other than a camping barn in Kentmere. Neither of these are a good base for a full exploration and they also don’t work trekking between them. So the only way to do it is to carry my accommodation. Gulp.
This realisation came upon me last autumn and I slowly got used to the idea that some wild camping was going to be needed. Gradually the idea became comfortable and I planned a short trip to try it out, which was a success. So now to set about solving the problem that started it all off…
Objectives of the trip
My Far East trip is primarily about bagging as many of those 29 Wainwrights as I can, but it’s also a good opportunity to train for my Coast to Coast walk on which I plan to wild camp in the remoter parts (my route differs from the traditional route and sees me walk from Ravenglass to the Pennines, up to Hadrian’s Wall and then across the Cheviots to Holy Island). With all of the new gear it’s also a good opportunity to rehearse gear choices and work on optimising my pack weight. My first go at wild camping didn’t involve any especially challenging weather, and so I’m expecting this to be a sterner test in that department too.
So to gear choices
On my Coast to Coast I’m expecting I’ll take my largest rucksack – a Lowe Alpine Khumbu 65:80 bought last year for my Cumbria Way walk. I simply don’t think I can get two weeks worth of stuff in my Golite Jam, largely because on that length of trip I’m going to want a few more luxuries. I am doing the walk on my own, you have to remember, and those luxuries assume a greater importance as a result. So it seems sensible to use the larger rucksack on this rehearsal trip. The first gear aim then, is to achieve a lighter weight in that bag than I carried on the Cumbria Way. That should be possible as the trip’s half the length. The Khumbu is over twice as heavy as the Jam, but much better set up for carrying weight, and my first go with the Jam saw me right on the edge of its recommended weight limit and it wasn’t comfortable. The Khumbu absorbs the weight much better, so may actually be more comfortable. At the very least I expect the additional comfort will negate the additional weight of the rucksack itself. Whatever pack I use, the real killer is going to be the food – as I’m going to carry rations for the full 5 days.
Tent will be Monica, my Scarp 1, which I’ve slept in 5 nights now but am still getting used to in terms of optimal pitching. The tent is a no-brainer. A look at the weather forecast and the crossing poles are coming too, despite the fact that I’m not keen on them.
Stove – my new Caldera Cone and Evernew 1L Pasta Pot combination. This is their first proper field test. I’d feel slightly happier with my Trangia if I’m confined to tent for cooking, though. But whether that’s worth an extra 600g I’m not sure.
Sleeping bag – undecided so far. At the moment I might be too warm in my new Cumulus Quantum, but it’s much lighter and packs smaller than my old bag.
Clothing – a Karrimor cycling base layer, topped with my usual walking shirt (for the pockets mainly) and my Haglofs Viper soft shell on the top half, with my “never be without” TNF Apex soft shell trousers down below. TNF Vindicator Mids on my plates of meat. Throw in a Berghaus hard shell and I’m sorted.
Electronics – my Olympus SZ30-MR camera which is small but powerful, although battery life is woeful at times. I’ll be blogging on my Samsung Galaxy Note and topping up juice using a Powermonkey Extreme. I also wear a GPS sports watch which I find really helps with my pace and in measuring my ascent progress.
I’ve scrapped the idea of walking in from Shap and gone instead for a more traditional approach from Ambleside. The rough itinerary is as follows:
Day 1 (Saturday): over Wansfell then down into Troutbeck before a climb up to Sour Howes and Sallows. If I’m feeling up for it, there’s also the option of taking in Troutbeck Tongue too. A wild camp somewhere near Sallows to position me with a head start for the next harder day.
Day 2 (sunday): the Yoke-Ill Bell-Froswick ridge, detouring onto Thornthwaite Crag before passing over High Street, then Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill, Arthur’s Pike and Bonscale Pike. I’ll find somewhere to camp at the northern end of the ridge.
Day 3 (Monday): A descent over Steel Knotts, then Hallin Fell, possibly Place Fell if there’s time, then up to Angletarn Pikes for an overnight stop. Ideally an out and back to Beda Fell too.
Day 4 (Tuesday): Up to Rest Dodd, out and back to The Nab then back over High Street and down the other side of the Kentmere Horseshoe – Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts. I’ll find a camp towards the end of the ridge, and maybe go up onto Hollow Moor.
Day 5 (Wednesday): Descend into Longsleddale and head to the end of the valley and climb up onto Branstree via Gatescarth Pass. Then out and back to Selside Pike before heading up onto Tarn Crag and Grey Crag. I’ll then drop down over the Outlying Fells for a camp positioned within a couple of hours walk of Shap – somewhere like Seat Robert.
Day 6 (Thursday); Drop down into Shap, get the bus to Penrith and go home.
Of course this is all subject to change depending on how I get on and, of course, on conditions. If it’s like most trips, they’ll be some replanning along the way. The beauty of this plan is that I end each day somewhere not too far from an emergency exit if needed due to conditions.
Now I just need to print the maps and start pulling my stuff together…