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?