Monday, 5 November 2012

Wild camping (near to) Kinder Scout...1/11/12

Sunset over Edale Valley.
So, it's not very often you can have your first wild camping experience. Only the once in fact. Of all the 'first time's for new wild campers however; mine had an extra added twist that I'm pretty sure not many people would have experienced on the event of theirs. It was surreal to say the least!
So, I started off with the train into Edale as I usually do. I arrived in high spirits after midday, excited and eager to enjoy my inevitable nervousness in spending the night on my own in the middle of nowhere. Having walked the area a fair few times now, I was confident in knowing my way. The thought of spending the night on my own up there though did get my adrenaline going. The temperature wasn't bad at all, and the weather was fairly clear. I was intending to camp up near Kinder Scout's summit around the area of Crowden Tower/Woolpacks/Pym Chair, and I was torn between heading up Jacob's Ladder and walking back eastward, or to walk up Grindslow Knoll and head west. Because I hadn'y yet walked Jacobs Ladder, or even along the Pennine way in that direction - I decided upon that route.

Crowden Clough.
There were a few more walkers around but not many, even despite the moderate weather for a November day. The lack of people around and the decent weather allowed my to start out with a fast pace and cover a good distance quickly. I ended up walking into Crowden Clough to explore the woodland with the extra time I had created. I bottled up some stream water (just incase) having already emptied a small bottle on my train journey and the walk so far. This proved to have been a very good idea later that evening, with the events that transpired! I also took the opportunity to take some birch bark from surrounding birch trees to trial as tinder later on when the time came to set up my solid fuel stove. After a while, I realised that I had spent a little too long enjoying the woodland with a cup of tea - so I got going again.

It took me a bit of time to get up Jacob's Ladder - I'd worked alot during the week and my legs started to let me know just how much I'd done that week. Again, I came across a few walkers - a family with a couple of young teenagers actually. It seemed to be a trend across the day, and all the kids seemed to be having a good time which is refreshing to see. Far too much time is spent sat down in front of a television or games console these days. Appreciating what we've all got, for free nonetheless, should be higher on the agenda of more people.

The time had got to around 3pm, and the light had started to escape at a quickening pace. Id checked the approximate time of sunset that evening to be around 4.30pm, and so I did need to move if I wanted my first attempt at pitching my 1 man tent with the added benefit of daylight. When I reached the top of Jacobs's ladder, the views were so much different to those I've had from such a height on previous walks. The fading light cast a sinister character on the hills and moors that I hadnt seen before. The "Dark Peak" definitely lives to its name in many ways. 

I've commented before on how rapidly the weather can change up in the peaks, and I was given a very vivid demonstration of that fact within two minutes of reaching the top of the ladder, and the video above. Dark, thick fog descended faster than Jimmy Saville's reputation. Within five minutes, it was damn hard to see more than about twenty feet away. Such a sudden change in visibility urged me to reach for my map for the first time of the day, to check just how far away I was from where I intended to camp. By the time I'd finished checking - visibility had gone down to about fifteen feet. Compass out and map in hand, firm mental image of the view across to Pym Chair and Crowden Tower from fifteen minutes ago; I headed into the mire. I lost the path within two minutes. A quick retrace of my steps, and I found it again, and made sure I watched where I was bloody going rather than laughing to myself at how funny it was that this had happened on my first time on my own. I found my way with ease, then; to Pym Chair. What I found proved to humble me, especially after I'd wandered into the fog so under-intimidated. 


I stumbled across a family; a mum and dad, their two kids, two dogs, and an uncle. The dad shouted me over asking if I could help him with exactly where they were on the map. So I explained where we were, how far away things were etc. Then he asked if I could spare any water. It turned out that I'd just walked straight past his brother, the uncle, who was so very ill. He looked grey. He was shaking uncontrollably. The dad said that he'd just completely ran out of energy and started to go faint as the fog came down, and deteriorated since. He could barely move, couldnt stand up or raise his head. I gave him my last bottle of clean (non stream) water and we tried to get him to drink some slowly as he felt dehydrated. I tried to get him to eat some chocolate. Something, anything. But he just wasnt up to it. Im not a nurse, but I guessed he might be going into hypothermic shock or similar. The dad rang mountain rescue and reported it, asking for help, to which they told him they'd be up in around an hour. The dad suggested that I carry on, and that they'd be ok from there on. Worried that I might get a bollocking from mountain rescue, I decided to go. I didnt stop thinking about that chap though. I don't feel like there was anything else I could have done, though. They all appreciated my help reading the map, and for the water, and calming the situation down. I got out of the way, eastward and started to hurridly set up. It was about to get dark at that point, and with mountain rescue on their way - I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I kept coming out from my sheltered spot, and checking over towards Jacobs ladder for mountain rescue, and finally I saw flashing lights at the top of the path. Relief that they guy was going to receive help, and that a helicopter wasn't about to happen upon me trying to stay hidden, I finished setting up my tent with my headlamp on.

After a few minutes however, the inevitable came the RAF helicopter! Fantastic! I absolutely crapped myself. I didn't know which would be worse, being found and reported to mountain rangers/given a good bollocking by them for even just being there - or being mistaken for the casualty and the RAF trying to extract me. OR, a combination of both! Im sure it's a punishable offence to waste the time of emergency services? So, I did the only thing I thought I could do. I stayed completely still under/in and around the sheltered bit of rock I had pitched my tent under. Hoping not to be seen. Every time the helicopter flew over with its search light scanning the terrain, I couldn't help but say to myself "shit, shit, shit, shit...". They circled a few times.... flew over me, the turned around and headed back towards me, the search light coming within feet of me and my tent. I have no idea how, but they just didn't seem to see me. Surely if they had, they'd hover and look at me even for just a minute to make sure I wasn't who they were looking for. They must have had thermal imaging cameras too? So I must be a damn good evader! The helicopter circled around for around half an hour before it got to the party, even then it seemed to hover over them for a long time. It had to have been at least an hour or two before I could stand up without fear of being 'caught'. That was the best piss I've ever had, after waiting in sheer panic and hiding from a searching RAF helicopter on the middle of the moors with only one other group of people around!

After the excitement (if you can call it that) had died down, I decided to cook myself something to eat and boil myself some water for a cup of tea. My birch bark tinder took a spark instantly, and my wax cotton balls didn't fail me for solid fuel. I had boiling water within five minutes. The hot food and tea warmed me up a lot, as the temperature had gone below freezing already. I was starting to really enjoy sitting in the silence and looking up at the myriad of stars above. So many more than I've ever seen in any night sky before. Soon after, came the moon rise. Which was an absolutely surreal experience. Its hard to explain how it felt to watch and experience. I definitely recommend trying to catch one if you ever get the opportunity. Seeing the pale white light cast such a glow on the landscape is something else. I sat around for a couple of hours, thinking alot to myself and meditated for a while. I managed to catch a glimpse of a firework display in the distance, strange that you're never too far from civilisation - even up on the moors that seem so desolate in the dark.

I headed into my tent and into my sleeping bag. It was the first time I'd tested my sleeping gear. Cheap, but it proved to be very effective. A Gelert solo tent, Gelert x-treme lite 3/4 self inflating mat, and a Karrimor 3 season sleeping bag. Even in just my underwear, I never once felt cold through the night despite the temperature going below freezing. Before I went to sleep, i spent some time texting Sophia and spoke to her on the phone. Strange how something like a solo camping trip made me realise again how much she means to me, and how much I love her. It was odd spending the night away from her for the first time in almost 3 years.

I slept well, and got up at about 6am so that I could pack away early to avoid being seen camping. I had a good nights sleep, and now I eagerly awaited the sunrise. It's probably my favourite time of day overall. The spot I had camped in set me up for some amazing views as the sun rose.

Sunrise over Crowden Tower.
As the sun crept up over the eastern horizon, the views took my breath away. All I could do was stand and watch, I couldn't think of words to describe it. Even an internal monologue was too difficult for me to get out. The whole trip was worth it, just for the sunrise, and it's the whole reason that I will be going again. It's something that seemed very personal, as if it was only for my eyes - having not seen many people the day before or anyone yet that morning. Knowing I was the only one within my immediate vicinity, time seemed to stand still to allow me to soak it all in. It was purely magical. Very spiritual at the same time. It made me feel so rejuvinated.

If there is any reason that you should go wild camping - this is definitely it. Despite almost being caught while evading an RAF helicopter, this made the trip something that I will remember forever. You need to get out and try this for yourself, but let yourself be warned - bad things can happen to you up there, I saw it myself. Be prepared, know the area, and check the weather. So get out, and get on it!