Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Days 2 and 3: The Pre-Walk Daunder Finishes (me off)

It was a lazy start to the second day of the walk. The schismers had to head down Tongue Gill to our camp spot so we brewed up and chatted in the spring sun as we waited for them. By 9.15 am all 14 of us were in the same place at the same time for almost the first time on the walk, and this number simply emphasised the obvious, that it was far better that we split into smaller groups. As we headed to Seatoller some members of the party decided that more hills (or, for some, any hills), would be a bad idea.
The schism temporarily healed, Mick makes a speech explaining why it would be much better to abandon the day's walk and head to a pub for fish finger sandwiches
So at Seatoller we schismed again, and half of us headed into the fabulozy Combe Gill and then along the delightful path up Thornythwaite Fell and on to Glaramara. About 30 minutes before the top Johnboy, who had been walking near me, suddenly changed gear, arriving at the summit an hour before I did. I know that Einstein and the laws of physics would tell you that would be impossible but I am simply telling you what actually happened.  And, in case you are wondering, by the time we were on the top our fellow Daunderers were eating the largest platefuls of fish finger sandwiches that ever came out of the North Sea at the pub in Rosthwaite.

    Andy, Jaimie, Robin and Johnboy heading up Thornythwaite Fell above Combe Gill

Happy Bunny on Thornythwaite Fell
The path to Allen Crags is also full of loveliness and the sun shone, and the views were sharp and clear and wonderful and the fells were at their absolute best and we generally revelled in the walk, despite hitting the busyness of the Esk Hause to Angle Tarn path. Then on down by Angle Tarn Beck into Langstrath. If you haven't walked Langstrath this is, for the Lakes, a long, long valley. I first came down this way in March 1973 and found it tiring as a fit 16 year old. Now I'm far less fit but know what to expect when I walk this valley. Thus, if loins are girded at Angle Tarn it does not feel as bad as it did all those years ago.  Even better, as we put our tents up on the campsite at Stonethwaite Judith, who had taken the shorter route, raced around collecting our water bottles and generally looking after the more weary amongst us. Then it was bar snack time.
On Allen Crags

Stonethwaite Campsite
Which takes us to Sunday and another delightful path, but this time low down through Borrowdale and back to Braithwaite. We managed to stick together almost to Grange, when a tea shop with tables in the sun proved too much of a temptation to those amongst us who understood the true meaning of a Daunder.  The group I was in pootled on ahead, stopping only when we came to a handily placed ice cream van below Catbells. My fellow walkers were so enjoying the walk itself that despite the route going right past the Swinside Inn we just carried on. But a pub, right next to the route?  We never saw the laggards again. I believe they are all still alive and I suspect their legs were rather less stiff than mine were the following day. 
Johnboy naively looks to the hills whilst Al and Phil discuss the locations of pubs and cafes

One of the prettiest views in England: Derwent Water, Skiddaw, Blencathra and Keswick
Some of those who made my three days so enjoyable

Stats: Day 2 - 19.4 km, 1020m ascent, 8 hours 30 minutes
          Day 3 - 14.0 km, 336m ascent, 4 hours 30 minutes

Pre-Walk Daunder: Early days and even earlier schisms

A gratuitous shot of some cuben fibre that I own (taken before the herd of cats arrived at Braithwaite campsite)

Thursday and Friday

I had arranged for us (fourteen in all, to my horror, thanks to some string pulling) to meet at the Scotgate Campsite in Braithwaite near Keswick for the first night of the Pre-Walk Daunder. There is a pub close at hand and an excellent café on site. So I had passed the first test.

I failed the second test, though. Friday morning came and the hills were shrouded in clag.  A very heavy, wetting drizzle as we took our tents down drove us into the café as soon as packs were packed.  Al and Phil huddled at a table, consulting a map, whispering.

“We aren’t really planning to go up Robinson and along the ridge in this are we?” asked Al of me, smiling. I wasn't certain if this was a question, a suggestion or an instruction. Al is perfectly capable of doing a male version of that Mrs Thatcher thing. You know the one. The smile of Marilyn Monroe, the eyes of Caligula.

The idea that I had once had in my head that my role had been simply to plan a possible route and book the table at the pub was dissolving rapidly. It seemed my responsibilities had been extended to that of cat herder. “We can decide at Little Town,” I announced, pretending to be in charge. “Well I’ve already decided”, said a small bearded chap eating a pie and holding a dog lead. “I’m going up the valley.” The schism had begun and we hadn’t even set foot outside.

We walked along a pleasant level path by the beck and onto a country lane in the beautiful Newlands Valley. I turned left up another lane, which would take us upwards and on to a path along the lower edge of Catbells.  This lane was therefore the start of two long legs on the route shaped like a narrow-based triangle.  All followed.  Well all except Al and Phil. They had seen a tea shop sign pointing along the narrow base of the triangle.  It meant they could cut a corner, not climb the first hill and have tea and cake. Well I suppose we had been walking for 30 minutes. The schism was growing.
Daunderers at lovely Little Town Church and School Room
We got to Little Town Church.  High Snab Bank, heading towards Robinson, was in the distance, looking steep, claggy, wet and windy. The schism grew.  I was tempted to join the valley huggers. But no. I had planned the route. The weather was not that bad. It would clear. Half the group headed up. Half headed along.

There are a few rocky steps on High Snab Bank. Short but steep scrambles.  I stopped and stowed my poles so that I could safely overcome these obstacles. I was just behind Johnboy. He had been carrying both his poles horizontally in one hand all morning and he didn’t bother stowing them as he approached the rock. As I was heaving myself up using hands, feet and knees I looked up. Johnboy was walking up the rock, hands in pockets and looking at the views all around as he did so. I looked back. No it wasn’t me. Robin, and Gerry were also using every hand that they possessed and Andy, Jaimie and Emma had taken another path to skirt sections of the scramble.
Summit of Hindscarth. That's Andy third from left, not a smurf
The drizzle had now stopped but the wind had increased significantly on the ridge.  Breaks in the cloud gave magnificent views back as we walked over Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head.

As we dropped down towards Dale Head Tarn we knew that if we camped at our original planned spot above Wilson’s Bield on the way towards High Spy we would be in for a wild night. We could see seven tents below us at the tarn – the schism group had come to the same decision, but a couple of hours earlier. We arrived, but had already decided that as they would have taken the best spots, and given the general bleakness and blowyness of the day we would make them suffer for their choice of a short day. We would deprive them of our company. That’d learn them.  Dale Head Tarn is, in any case, a notorious spot for wild campers who are in the know. It is so popular, and has just a few obvious places to pitch, that what can look like an idyllic place in the sun is actually just a huge mass of human excrement under a thin layer of grass and peat, and the outflow stream is marginally less clean than a London Sewer.
Our rather squished camp spot just above the intake wall
So we headed on, covering a couple of km of the planned next day’s walk, down Tongue Gill to a lovely sheltered location that Robin knew.  I was glad to arrive.  The day had been plenty long enough for me.  But the evening sun broke through and Gerry went round with a Platy bag containing Rusty Nails and all was well in our little world.

Andy seen through his bug netting

Stats: 18.3km distance, 1158 m ascent, 7 hours 50 minutes

Marching Orders

A pub in Lincolnshire

Empty pint glasses and Ordnance Survey maps cover the table.

Peer of the Realm (PotR):  “So. Another fine TGO Challenge route put to bed. Tell me again, though. Why did you invite that oik to walk with us?”

String Puller-in-Chief (SPiC):  “It’s a social service. The man needs help. And I suppose he just might come in useful at some stage.”

PotR: “But the fella is a cad. Couldn’t be bothered to drive from Wales to Lincolnshire to help. We’ve done all this route planning ourselves. He’s a bounder, sir, make no mistake.”

SPiC: “You have him all wrong. He is actually a veryvery nice man. But let’s be realistic. He doesn’t know his Trossachs from his Pentlands.  It was better we just got on with it.” 

PotR: “Anyway, that’s the easy bit. Now we need to sort the Pre-Walk Daunder.”

SPiC: “Indeed. And didn't I just say he might come in useful.  We need a fall guy. …..”

A telephone conversation the following day

Puppet (aka Fellbound, for it is he): “I’m feeling guilty that I left the TGOC route planning to you guys. What can I do to help?”

SPiC: “Well there is one tiny little thing. You couldn’t plan the Pre-Walk Daunder could you?”

Puppet, aloud: “Yes of course, no problem.”

Puppet, silently: “Shit”.

SpiC: “You sure that’s ok?”

Puppet: “Sure. As I said. No problem.”

SPiC (in cod German accent):  “Gut. Now. You vil submit all ze details to me. I vil vet vem. You vil ven put vem into operation. You vil not fail me, vil you. No vat was not a qvestion. Vat was a statement.  Ve last man who failed me is now buried in concrete below a vind turbine in the North-Vest Highlands. Ve do not tolerate failure.  Relax, David. Only joking. But don't mess up. Seriously. Don't mess up.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

New Heights of Incompetence

Happy chappy on Kinder Edge
When did it all go so horribly wrong? I think it started the moment I thought I was going blind.

I should have known better. The weather forecast for the next fortnight had looked reasonable when I had suggested a wild camp to Geoff.  Despite him being known for having a modicum of common sense he agreed.  Weather forecasts always gradually get worse when I plan to be in the hills, and being an observant sort of chap I couldn't help but notice, a week or so later, as I drove along the M67 near Manchester, that the outside lane was closed because it was full of snow and that my windscreen wipers were working overtime to keep the sleet off the windscreen. If I had been planning to go out on my own I could have turned round and headed home to the log burner. But Geoff was waiting for me, desperate for my company.  I'd show him. I'm no wimp. Well I could at least try to fool him.

So after the Crowther's had kindly provided me with lunch, and Pebbles the Boxer had tried to kill me with love,  Geoff and I set out for a shortish afternoon walk, heading in the direction of Kinder Downfall. The walking was pleasant, if you ignored the slippery, oozy mud that we were sliding through. Every step left me feeling I was about to go A over T.  But I didn't.

We arrived at the spot where Geoff had planned to camp, and pretty pleasant it was too, with excellent views of the Downfall, through the gloom and mist.  More snow was clearly imminent, and I raced to pitch Daphne, the Z Packs Duplex, behind a large lump of gritstone.  Geoff was putting up his tent a few yards away, with no fuss and achieving a lovely taught pitch.  Whilst he was busy my mind went walkabout.  I had earlier jumped at his suggestion of me taking the spot behind the boulder, without realising it was one of those places that seemed almost horizontal at the time it was chosen, but one which would gradually tip towards the vertical, and would leave me and my sleeping mat in a heap at one end of the tent every few minutes throughout the night. But that was for later.

Daphne was almost up when I realised that the position of the boulder would stop me getting in a couple of key guy lines. Which is pretty incompetent. I should have taken the poor girl down and started again from scratch, but Geoff might have seen. A man has his reputation to consider. Couldn't have sniggering coming from the next tent, could I? So I fiddled around with the two trekking poles, both of which are needed to support Daphne. I released the flicklock on one of the poles so I could jiggle it into a new position, and a couple of pegs and guys were also moved. I then re-tensioned the pole. But I couldn't understand why Daphne looked so forlorn when she was up, and why the doors (no zips to save weight) did not overlap as they were so cunningly designed to do.  It was only the following morning that I realised that after that particular bit of faffing with guys and poles I had set one trekking pole 10 cm lower than the other.  Her normal graceful lines were missing. She looked a sorry mess.
Daphne the Z Packs Duplex looking almost as if she had been pitched correctly
I got my gear into the tent as the sleet and snow arrived. As I went to untie my boots to follow the gear into the dry everything became a blur. Literally. I was going blind!  What was happening? Was I having a stroke, perhaps, after all the stress and effort of the last few minutes? I put my hand down to steady myself and then felt one of the lenses from my spectacles lying on the ground. So I was not going blind, which was something of a relief. My next thought was to wonder how I would survive the following few hours to bedtime in a tiny tent, unable to read my book. Then I remembered I had a 70 mile drive the following day, impossible without glasses. "Oh fiddlesticks", I said. After a pathetic conversation with Geoff, he came to the rescue with some insulating tape and repaired them for me. He was then my hero - but in a very manly sort of way, obviously.
You'd never guess from this picture that she was pitched on a 45 degree slope. Or so it felt at 2.00am
There being no streams I walked back down to Mermaid Pool which we had passed earlier and collected the dirtiest water I had ever had to use on the hill. But the Sawyer filter would sort it. And it did. At first. I filtered a mugful. I got out the Sidewinder and meths burner. My Torjet lighter then gave up the ghost. No problem. I'm not incompetent. I carry a spare lighter. That didn't work either. Box of matches? Of course. I was a Boy Scout. Always prepared. I had those as well. And they were special waterproof matches, bought and brought for a rainy day.

Waterproof but not windproof note. As you will be aware, matches blow out when it's windy.  After much "fiddlesticking", and about half an hour later, I had a cup of hot soup. Now for the dehydrated meal. Filter some more water. No chance. Nothing was getting through the Sawyer, no matter how hard I squeezed. I'd backwashed it and tested it before setting out. And now it was next to useless. "Fiddlesticks", said I, yet again.  I had about 600ml of tap water from home with me. I could go and ask Geoff for use of his super doopa, very posh MSR filter. A filter that works. But no, I thought, I can survive such a minor calamity for one night. I would make up the dehydrated meal with the tap water, and it would leave just enough for a brew in the morning.  I could forgo the Bird's Instant Custard I had planned for pudding, and could also miss the breakfast porridge.  I had chocolate and cereal bars instead.

I gave the Torjet a good talking to and it came back to life. Just. As I applied its feeble flame to the meths burner I knocked the pan of precious water over and lost half of it. I had another bout of saying fiddlesticks. Mountain House food can be awful at the best of times. I forced it down, only partially re-hydrated through not adding enough water. I took a slug of scotch from the hip flask. I thought of putting my boots on and taking some whisky over to Geoff. Then I thought "sod that, it's cold and horrid out there" and had another slug to cheer myself. It failed. I got out the Kindle. I'm currently reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  All I can say is that, as I lay there reading, I was thinking that those poverty stricken Les Miserables had it cushy compared to spending a night on a hillside with a knackered Sawyer water filter and two useless lighters.
The morning after: Geoff and Islay on Kinder Edge
Geoff on Kinder Edge
The good thing about being dehydrated is that I did not have to make use of Mr P Bottle very much in the night, and could have slept surprisingly well. Every half hour or so, however, I had to do that thing you do when you do not have a level pitch. You know the one. You gradually slide in your sleeping bag into a heap at the bottom of the tent. You are still on your sleeping mat, but three feet of it is climbing up the lower wall of the tent. You grasp the top edge of the mat. To move it you have to get all your weight off it. You don't want to roll on to the cold, hard floor of the tent. So you do this sort of horizontal leap about three inches into the air, getting all your weight off the mat, and in that split second before you land you tug the mat up the tent. You then drift off to sleep and repeat the process every 30 minutes for the next 9 hours.

I'm not that resilient these days, and can let small mishaps get me down, but as dawn dawned it dawned on me that the meths and the Torjets would light better if they were warm, so I put them into my sleeping bag and managed to brew up twice with the remaining water. And amazingly, as so often is the case, all became well with the world. Geoff came over to inspect Daphne. He was polite enough not to laugh, and almost seemed to believe me when I sang her praises and explained that she was simply having an off day and did not always look like that.
Out of the clag at Edale Cross looking back towards Kinder
Then we packed up and headed up a steepy bit into the clag and snow flurries. This steepy section felt remarkably easy, all things considered, which was a very good thing suggesting that I might be getting slightly fitter, and onto Kinder Edge, along to the Downfall, on to Kinder Low and then we dropped down to Edale Cross and back to the Crowther's. Most enjoyable. Islay had a lovely time. Geoff enjoyed himself. I think. And so did I. It's amazing how quickly you can forget the discomfort and set backs when the scenery and company are good. And to cap it all when we got back to his place the hero produced bacon. A whole frying pan full of it. And bread. And fresh coffee. And what more could a man want after such a day and night?

Thursday, 23 February 2017

TGO Challenge 2017 Gear List

Cooking stuff: Evernew 0.9l pot and 0.4l mug,  MSR Micro Rocket stove and Primus windshield, Platypus water containers and Pod dry bag for rubbish
Well as any fool knows, the key to a successful completion of the Challenge is not experience in backpacking or hill walking.  It is not a cunningly crafted route or the ability to navigate in the foggiest of fogs.  It is not strength of mind and being made of the right stuff.  It is not determined training, regularly lugging a heavy pack up high hills in the wind and rain from New Year to the end of April. Of course not.  It is about the possession of an accurate set of kitchen scales and the ability to create an Excel spreadsheet and to weigh your gear to the last gram.  It is a well known fact that all other Challengers want to know about you is what are you taking with you. 

Z Packs Duplex, lovely and spacious, very cuben fibre light, but single skinned not as toasty as the Scarp 1
Tarp Tent Scarp 1: My almost perfect shelter - except for the weight
So here is my starter for ten, with my current thoughts about what I shall be carrying in May.  The eagle eyed reader will spot that there are probable and possible columns.  The possible column generally relates to potential last minute changes which will depend on whether we have a particularly clement or inclement weather forecast.  Forecasts are, of course, notoriously unreliable in mountain areas and my probable column should see me okay in most conditions.  If there is still much lying snow or, better still, in the highly unlikely event that Scotland is sitting under a blocking anticyclone in the first week in May, then the items in the possible column may come into play.

TGOC 2017 Gear List
GG Mariposa
ULA Catalyst (1530gr incl pack cover) or Z Packs Arc Blast (590gr)
Z Packs CF Packliner
Shelter and Sleeping
Tarp Tent Scarp 1
Z Packs Duplex (685gr)
Tent pegs
Sleeping Bag Z Packs 20 degree
Rab Silk Liner
Sleep Socks - As Tucas Down Socks
Rohan Silver Core Zipped Base

Rab Meco Long Johns
Silk Liner Gloves - Lowe   Alpine
Klymit Pillow
Thermarest XTherm (large)
Tent J Cloth
Cook set

MSR Micro Rocket + stand and windshield
Ti Tri Inferno + Starlyte Burner (saves 120gr)
Evernew 0.9 litre pot
Evernew 0.4 litre mug
Sea to Summit long spoon (alloy)
Classic Swiss Army Knife
Water purifying tabs
J Cloth

Hydration in cf stuff sack:

Platypus 2 litre
Platypus 1 litre
Sawyer small water filter + medium pouch
First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit Dry Bag
Elasticated knee bandage
Tick remover
Safety Pins
Plasters and compeed
Wound Dressings
Micropore tape
Hayfever tablets
Gehwol Foot Cream
Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel
Sun screen
Wash Kit in dry bag
Mini toothbrush and paste
Dr Bronner's
Deodorant (tiny)
Towel - Lightload Mini *3
Contact lenses
T Roll
Hand Sanitiser
Ear plugs
Trowel (MSR Blizzard stake included with tent pegs)
P Bottle


Silva compass
Ortilieb map case + Map
Ortilieb A4 Case + Map printouts + 2 maps
Galaxy S7 Smartphone / GPS
Phone case
Phone charger
Camera charger lead
Power pack
Watch - Suunto Core


Camera - Lumix DMC TZ60 + case and spare battery


Batteries *3 (watch and headtorch)

Spot Gen 3 Messenger

Repair kit in cf bag
Dyneema cord
Duck Tape
Thermarest puncture kit
Shock cord
Tenacious tape / cf tape


Headtorch - Petzl E Lite
Midge head net
Notebook and pen
Reading glasses in case

Pacer Poles - Alloy
Black Diamond Trail Pro (if Duplex taken)
Multimat foam sit mat
Thermarest Inflatable Sit Mat (90gr)
Rail tickets

Trail Shoes Inov8 Roclite 295, +  Blue Superfeet insoles
Ecco Xpedition III Torre GTX Mid Boots. Micro spikes.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
X Socks Exped (2 pairs)
Bridgedale Merino Fusion Trekker (if boots worn)
Bridgedale Coolmax Liners (3 pairs)
Compression Socks
Under Armour Boxers
Helly Hansen Boxers
Trousers - Montane Terra
Rohan Ether trousers
Montane Prisms (348gr)
Rohan Merino Shirt


Berghaus Extrem 7000 Hoodie Mid Layer
Montane Prism Gillet
PhD Minimus Down Jacket + Hood
Montane Fleece Beanie
Montane Prism Gloves
Waterproof Overmits
Montane Litespeed windshirt
Rohan Elite Jacket
Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock (685gr) + Z Packs Death Jacket (200gr)
Berghaus Paclite Overtrousers
Hi Tec Zuuc Shoes
Total Base Carried
Total Worn
Food, Drink and Fuel
Meths (500gr)
Dehydrated food (3 days) main meals and deserts
Total other food (3 days):-
Soups (1 per day)
Tea bags (4 per day)
Drink choc (1 per day)
Condensed milk - tube
Nido full cream milk powder
Instant porridge (1.5 per day)
Cereal bars (3 per day)
Trail mix
Primula and wraps
Food bags

Nalgene Hip Flask (full)
Water (0.5l in Evian bottle)
Total Food, Drink, Fuel
Total Pack Weight