We were ready to hit the hills!
In June 2010 my brother Dave and I decided to take advantage of the most settled spell of dry weather the region had seen for years and spend four days or so backpacking through our home area of the Lake District.
As we would be on the hill for four or five days, the choice of clothing and kit was all important.
The camping equipment itself was fairly straight forward in its selection (tent, sleeping bags etc.) and although some ultra lightweight fanatics may consider taking a camping stove and camp kettle an unnecessary luxury, for us, it’s all about enjoying the time on the fell and a brew up is an absolute must!
So, with the home comforts sorted and food supplies bought, what clothes to wear and pack as spares?
Some garments basically chose themselves. Certainly the inclusion of Microgrid Stowaway fleece tops was a “no brainer”, neither of us ever seems to venture out on a hill walk or indeed any sort of trip without taking one of these along. Cool Silver trunks and Liner socks are the first vital links in creating an efficient layering system, get that wrong and the rest of the layers are compromised. So as well as those and sturdy boots and socks our kit lists looked like this:
We both took a couple of Rohan Buffs each ( one of the most versatile bits of kit ever!) and baseball caps to fend off the hot sun.
With rucksacks packed and a fairly rough route plan decided we were ready to hit the hills!
Our first day began with a bus trip down to the village of Coniston in the south Lakes. If there remains any doubt about the true identity of “The Stig” from BBC’s Top gear programme, then I suggest he may be found driving a bus through the Lake District! To say the driver didn’t hang around would be a massive understatement! Having arrived in Coniston and rewarded ourselves for surviving this far with a cold drink and chocolate from the village store, we set off up the horribly steep tarmac road that leads up to the fell gate and to the start of the Walna Scar road. This was not the most pleasant of starts to the route, but was the quickest way out onto the open fell.
The Coniston fells are where I first ventured up onto the hills as a lad so as we toiled up the relentless tarmac I was able to point out some old favourite routes in an attempt to distract us from the job in hand. Once the fell gate is reached, the track known as the Walna Scar road leads across the fell side and up and over into the Duddon valley. From the col south of Brown Pike our route unfolded ahead of us. We dropped down into the valley and found the perfect spot to stop for a brew and lunch beside the beck at Seathwaite bridge.
Suitably refreshed and feet revitalised in the cool water, we set off along the narrow, winding road gradually gaining height along the way. Turning off the road after a couple of kilometres, we took a path through the plantation that goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of Dunnerdale Forest. Although this wasn’t too long a stretch, the oppressive heat and airless atmosphere made it seem a real drudge. However our hard work was repaid when we broke out onto open fell once again and found the most glorious of wild camp spots on the southwest flank of Harter Fell. With the tent pitched, coffee brewed and a huge pan of pasta on the stove, all that was left to do was sit and drink in the magnificent panorama that spread before us. What better place to be on mid summers night?
The next morning we broke camp and headed down into Eskdale and the village of Boot. Our route from there led us up and across Eskdale Moor to Burnthwaite Tarn and then down into Wasdale.
We had agreed before we set off that the trip was never going to become a “route march”, so having dropped into the valley we chose to take advantage of the National Trust camp site and not push on to a wild camp spot. Having pitched the tent (and brewed up of course) a quick rinse out of socks and trunks saw the travel clothes line employed and then down to some serious lounging about! No trip to Wasdale is complete without visiting the Wasdale Head Inn so early that evening we wandered up there to enjoy a good pub meal and a beer. Not wanting to surface the following morning feeling the worse for wear, we returned back to camp before temptation got the better of us (no honestly we did!).
Day three presented us with the longest steep section of the route with our path taking us across the steep, rocky flank of Great Gable. This path climbs steadily over a distance of about three kilometres to Styhead Pass, a meeting place of several popular paths. Fortunately for us, the day had dawned much cooler and overcast so the climb up was quite comfortable. As we reached Styhead the last vestiges of the morning’s hill fog cleared as we took our lunch in the grandest of surroundings. From here a decision had to be made regarding our onward route. We could take any of several paths down into Borrowdale, cut across into fells south west of Honister pass, or find a wild camp in the high fell surrounding our current position. We had checked the fell weather forecast before leaving Wasdale and ascertained that a break in the fine spell was expected. With this in mind we decided to drop down into Borrowdale and find a camping spot in the valley.
Our choice proved to be a prudent one as just minutes after pitching the tent, a thunderstorm rolled in and the heavens opened! Once the deluge had passed we took a wander along the winding valley paths and then popped into the pub for a quick beer before bedtime.
The following morning saw the start of our last days walk. It was also to be the easiest of days as we had only to take the path that follows the course of the river Derwent and then skirts along Derwentwater’s west bank. From there we would cut through Portinscale and back into Keswick.
As we followed our path home we reflected on the route and distance we had covered (approximately fifty miles in total). We had been determined that the walk should never become a chore and that we would take the time to enjoy the stunning landscape that we would be travelling through. Sometimes, especially on single day outings, it’s all too easy to focus on reaching a summit or notching up so many miles rather than just enjoying being out on the fell. When spending several days out walking and camping the time can be taken to really appreciate everything around you. And also to seriously test the kit that is being used.
It’s always the little details that make the big differences with hill walking kit. Seams rubbing under heavy rucksack straps for example, can make a walk a painful experience. Clothing unsuitable for the climatic conditions could be very problematic indeed. The list of potential pitfalls is endless really. As we were wearing the same clothes for four days in hot conditions, everything had to breathe well and wick away moisture efficiently. As we were able to rinse some stuff out while camped, the simple fact of it all being very quick drying meant that we were able to set off feeling more comfortable the next day. High or total sunguard ratings also ensured that alongside sunscreen, we were amply protected from harmful rays. Secure pocketing meant that all the little bits and pieces needed when camping out ( lighter, multi-tool etc.) were easily at hand. All of these are seemingly simple considerations, but get them wrong and the full enjoyment of being out on the hill can soon become a trial!
After all, enjoyment is what it is meant to be what its all about isn’t it?
So, all our kit, and ourselves, came through with flying colours. But that was in perfect (if you like baking sunshine that is) weather conditions. What challenges would an October trip up to the Highlands of Scotland present?
Pinnacle jacket at the ready I think!
Thanks to Neil, Dave and Christeen Rohan Keswick