As it is now the final day in October there is a lot to catch up on from the 2016 so I thought I’d best start at the very beginning, all the way back in January.
January seems like a very, very long time ago. Not just because it is, not just because of how much I’ve done and achieved since then, but because of how I felt back then. I was fresh off the back of Christmas. I didn’t want last Christmas, the thought of it looming just stressed me out. I didn’t want to see anybody, I just wanted to stay in some sort of cocoon. The usual winter ‘sads’ seemed to be highlighted by the fresh clouds of insecurity which had started in November and I was about to start with some really attractive anxiety in February. So yes, January is a very long time ago.
Way back in the summer of last, when me and BG were chatting each other up via POF (a horrendous place) he asked if I had ever considered wild camping. Obviously having been trapped in a ‘Stepford Wife marriage’ I can’t say I had ever had the opportunity to do so. However, as adaptable as I am I decided I was up for a ‘proper adventure’ in the Lake District in the depths of deepest darkest January.
After buying most of Go Outdoors (I had a trolley, who uses a trolley in Go Outdoors?) and lots of packet rice, packet chilli, endless snack bars, peanut M&Ms I was loaded with a backpack that was bigger and weighed more than me.
We parked up at Seathwaite and it was damp, misty and cold. Perfect. That wasn’t sarcasm either. Winter weather, less people. We headed off and for the next four hours got further and further away from civilisation. We followed the path until we turned right and hiked up the pass (Windy Gap) between Green Gable and Great Gable. It was here that we hit the snow line (yes!) and saw the last people we would see again for another 48 hours.
Once we were over the pass it started to get dark so we camped quite high up and beside a stream that sounded more like a raging river and from 5pm until 8am the next day it rained. It rained and rained. It’s a strange feeling that there is nobody else around you and that you are miles from anybody. And you sleep forever.
Waking up in a valley surrounded by mountains in the middle of winter is not something that anybody I have ever known can say they have done. And since this wild camp back in January the wild camps have only got more epic (see future posts).
BG is a mountaineering, ice-climbing adventurer. Back in January I was none of these things. I asked for a ‘proper adventure’ and I was about to get one.
We headed further down into the valley so that we could climb up Pillar. Having conquered Helvellyn at the end of the previous summer which was a nice, but strenuous plod and naively believing that English mountains are these gentle, pretty but giant hills I was about to learn that sometimes they could be unfriendly.
I had just been commenting how warm and comfortable I was in my new outdoor stuff, and how I really was having THE. BEST. TIME.
Then we lost the path. Then the wind got up so that it was doing that awful-high-pitched-howl and so that it knocked me and my giant over sized backpack off my feet. A nice gentle plod up a nice English mountain suddenly became an exposed and slippery (death) scramble up what felt to me at the time, a near vertical face. Dramatic, I know, and I’ve since done much scarier stuff, but at the time I was not having much fun. I kept slipping and decided that I was about to fall off the side of the mountain. This ‘real nice English mountain’ was suddenly a real bitch and at one point I did say that ‘I don’t think that this is working out for me’.
Luckily the mountaineering, ice-climbing adventurer managed to stop me acting like a fanny and got me to the top of the (death) scramble. And then it just got eerie up there. Low cloud/mist made it feel very lonely and unsafe even though the rest of the path was on a giant plateau. I was cold and my feet felt wet. After running after BG to the summit and eating a very squashed ham and cheese wrap we started heading back down into the valley and not via the (death) scramble.
I will admit as it was getting dark and cold I was feeling pretty miserable. By the time we pitched the tent it was pitch dark and the wind had really got up. We camped near the Black Sail Hut which was closed for winter. I struggled to get warm that evening but the packet chilli was the best thing I had ever eaten and we slept on and off for about 12 hours.
Waking up again surrounded by mountains topped with snow and knowing that you’re the only people for miles is a very special experience despite the challenges from the day before. And the long walk back rewarded us with some really beautiful scenery. Once we had done the long walk back up the valley towards Windy Gap we stopped for coffee as the snow was gently falling. There was no wind, it was not cold, it was silent. It was peaceful and felt a million miles from everything.
We continued up the pass beyond the cloud and mist where we hit the snowline and the sunniest January day. It looked like the Alps. Well, it did until I went to the Alps. All of the challenges from the day before seemed to be forgotten and this was the reward. The view from the top of Green Gable was absolutely stunning. It was real winter in some real mountains that aren’t just ‘gentle English mountains’. Lesson learnt.
Despite the challenges of being out of my comfort zone during the previous day this trip was one of the best experiences I have ever had. There are no stresses of modern life, the factors that make you worry don’t exist for that short time that you are away from civilisation. All that matters are the basics of staying warm and having enough food. And not falling off the mountain!
It was a fantastic start to what was about to become an amazing year. This was only the beginning.