In recent months I’ve found myself drifting steadily into the realms of the “gram weenie”…becoming more and more interested in how I can improve and upgrade my wild camping kit to shed weight but still have an enjoyable and comfortable experience on the hill. I’ll go into more detail in the future but for now, I’m reflecting back upon where this all started. It wasn’t very long ago but an awful lot has changed in a very short period of time.
Apart from a few years of hiatus after I got married, I’ve been hill walking since my early teens. I really love it. Any weather, any location (apart from maybe Skiddaw!) I get a huge buzz from putting miles under my boots. This passion has almost exclusively been restricted to day walks though…I did a few wild camps as a teenager and a couple of nights along the Ridgeway in the early 1990’s but mostly I would pitch a big tent on a site and make the most of the hot showers and local pubs.
Then I began to experience problems with social anxiety and pubs or large gatherings became very daunting and uncomfortable. Coincidentally, at around the same time, I started to watch YouTube videos by Dean Read. Now I’d known Dean for a while prior to this but only as passing acquaintances on Twitter and AudioBoo and I hadn’t realised that he was making these vids. Without wanting to sound too mushy, what he was doing was inspiring and really got me thinking. Maybe this was the future for me? Still getting into the hills but without the pressure of a boozy night with the lads to follow. Not only that but the thought of experiencing the hills in a whole new way was very appealing.
So I was on a mission…I wanted to do this but how? There was no way that any of my site camping gear was going to fit in a rucksack! This wasn’t going to be cheap and as a full time stay-at-home dad, my funds were limited. So some tough decisions needed to be made and I eventually sold some very cherished “toys” from lapsed hobbies and pastimes. Things that I was hanging on to with a promise to use them again one day but in reality would probably never see light again! These sacrifices gave me a fairly decent budget.
When buying anything, I tend to get a bit obsessed…endlessly reading and watching reviews, comparing products in detail, just to make sure that I’m making the right choice. I really wanted to avoid buying too much budget gear but also couldn’t afford to go high end. It should have been a stressful process trying to divvy up the pot in such a way that I wasn’t going to fall foul of the “buy cheap, buy twice” curse. For me though, it was great fun and I spent weeks studying reviews and asking questions with a steady stream of new shiny things arriving at my door. This was happening and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I wanted longevity more than anything…I was aware of what items weighed but it really wasn’t a priority. So on the 12th July 2014, with almost 20 kilos, stuffed into my new Osprey Kestrel 68, I set off from Edale to my first solo wild camp on Grindslow Knoll. Despite a far from favourable forecast, I just couldn’t hold off any longer. I could have waited a week and gone out with someone more experienced to hold my hand but I had all of this shiny kit and I was eager to put it to use. I figured that Grindslow would be perfect…if the weather got too rough (there was a possibility of lightning!) I could get off the hill and back to Edale very quickly.
I had the Luxe Mini Peak II pitched very quickly, although I did struggle to get the back corners tight…something that I never really got to grips with on that shelter. The wind was increasing and I could see the storm moving in from the west. I’m not too proud to say that I was nervous. In fact, if I’m honest, I almost bailed out! Another check of my pegging points gave me a bit of confidence and I settled down to cook my first meal on a Primus EtaPacklite stove…babbling away to my video camera as I did so, somehow gaining comfort from speaking to an imaginary audience in the gathering darkness and increasing rain.
For the next few hours, I took a battering…relentless rain and huge gusts of wind. From the door of my shelter, I could see nothing but darkness…no lights from the valley below, no head torches flickering from further along the southern edge of Kinder Scout…just darkness and the realisation that I was totally alone! The storm was now in full rage and each gust had me preparing for a collapsed tent. I hadn’t seam sealed the fly sheet and the heavy rain being slammed onto the back wall was starting to seep through…only a couple of small trickles but still a worry. Wanting to sleep but thinking that I really should leave my sleeping bag and as much gear as possible, in my rucksack. I had to be ready to GTFO and I was convinced that was going to be necessary. I sought comfort from the video camera again…talking seemed to calm me down. Distracting me from the uncertainty. All I could do was wait and hope that this brand new, untested shelter was going to hold up.
Eventually the gales began to subside and I started to relax. Tentatively laying out my Karrimor self inflating mat and lofting my Snugpack Elite 4 sleeping bag, though still not sure that I was going to be able to sleep. I must have slept but not for long before another storm arrived…not as long lasting but just as violent as the first. I lay there listening to it with a new found confidence in my little tent. It hadn’t moved at all…reaching under the flysheet, all of the pegs were still in place and guys were still tight. So the fear was gone and replaced by a sort of exhausted elation. I felt great as the wind subsided and I drifted back off to the land of nod.
My alarm was set for just before sunrise but as I fumbled to silence it and unzip the door, it was clear that my first morning wasn’t going to be graced by any great views! Conditions were very calm now but Kinder was shrouded in thick clag. That didn’t matter though…it was peaceful. Stark and welcome contrast to what I’d been through, I just sat for a while gazing into the swirling cloud, almost certainly with a daft grin on my face! Would I have wanted a calm night and a lovely sunrise? I suppose I would if you’d asked me before but I think that I gained an awful lot more from having a rough one.
Strong coffee and a pan of porridge set me up for the walk back…after squeezing all of my kit back into the rucksack (most of it unused!) I looked back as I dropped below the cloud base…nothing to see, not even a hint of a silhouette to show where I’d spent the night. Even though I had walked up high in those conditions many times before…to realise that I’d been up there, out of site and totally alone felt amazing. I may have only been 45 mins from my car but it felt like i had been miles away.
The exhilaration that I was feeling, totally justified the efforts of recent weeks…the loss of some really treasured possessions, the hours of research and waiting in for delivery drivers to bring yet more pressies. I knew that I had found a new passion though I never thought that I would get so deeply immersed in the world of wild camping.
I’ve had some great adventures since then. I’ve made new friends and acquaintances. I’ve learned so much along the way.
That stormy night on Kinder had been just the beginning…