April 15, 2014

Four Hundred Thousand

by backpackingbongos

Some time today the blog ticked over the 400,000th page view.  That lucky person can claim a free kiss from Reuben the Mountain Staffy if they wish.  I must warn you that he uses his tongue.

In celebration here is a 2004 photo of my now wife and I on the Summit of the Stok La pass in Ladakh (India).  Getting up there is still my biggest achievement in terms of hiking.  At 4,900 metres (16,076 feet) it is a hundred metres higher than Mont Blanc. Breathtaking in just about every way.  A shame about the daft head attire and facial expression though!

India 089

April 13, 2014

A nearly Black Hill slackpack

by backpackingbongos

I had not taken into account the Friday afternoon traffic, therefore it was gone 4.00pm when I pulled into the car park at Crowden. As I was getting my kit together I have to say that I was a little perturbed by the pile of broken glass behind my car.  A popular spot next to the busy A628 meant that it was not the most salubrious place to leave a vehicle overnight.

The campsite was filling with weekend visitors as we passed by, a queue developing at the barrier by reception.  We left the organised ranks of caravans and started the climb towards the disused quarry above Brockholes wood.  A guy returning back to the campsite said that he was envious that I was going to spend the night on the moor.  With blue skies and light winds I was glad that I was.

The last people I would see that day were passed as we started along the track that contours above Crowden Little Brook.  This really is a delightful walk into surprisingly wild country, considering the main Sheffield to Manchester road is nearby.  The path stays level for much of the length, providing an easy promenade into the the hidden depths of the valley.

P1060921

P1060924

The path eventually turns into a sheep trod as it approaches Wiggin Clough.  I had originally planned to continue up to the summit of Black Hill.  However I really could not be arsed.  We sat by the stream for a while for a snack (well I had a snack whilst Reuben watched intently).   A change of plan then saw us climb steep slopes above the clough.

P1060925

It was a rough slosh across Siddens, the hillside being littered with an aircraft wreck.  It was surprising just how far the debris was scattered. Overhead planes were making their descent to Manchester Airport, spoiling any feeling of remoteness.

I had a spot in mind in which to pitch the tent, so we headed across trackless ground to the head of Crowden Great Brook.

P1060928

I located a great flat, tussock free spot to pitch on.  It was about as hidden from prying eyes as its possible to be.  I reckon that you could camp there for a week and not be spotted.  I’m not saying where it is, get out a map and match the photos to the contours.  A good way to boost map reading skills.

I was very keen not to have to drop all the way down into the main valley to fill up my water bottles.  I ended up finding a boggy hollow and skimmed reasonably clear water off the top.  It was well worth carrying a water filter which soon made it palatable.

Once again I had brought my large and heavy Voyager tent, a comfy palace for myself and Reuben.  After darkness I climbed the nearby rocky outcrop and failed to get a good enough mobile signal to call my wife.  However it was good to stand there in the darkness, the outlines of the surrounding hills just about visible.  Back at the tent I only managed to read for half hour before falling asleep.

P1060930

I must have felt relaxed as I did not wake until 9.00am and it was 11.30am before I had packed up.  A cold wind hinted at rain later that day. We climbed to the twin rocky outcrops to take in the fantastic view.  I had been tempted to pitch up there but was glad that I had not as the wind would have been too brisk for a comfortable camp.

P1060936

P1060943

We headed up the valley for a short distance before crossing the stream and heading south on the Pennine Way.  Here I met a nice couple and their terrier which had its own tiny panniers.  Its barking and lunging turned out to be a way of attracting Reuben as she soon offered him her rear end.  This offer passed unnoticed by my innocent dog.

P1060944

Above Laddow Rocks we headed west to the undefined summit of Black Chew Head, an easy bag to add to my list of Dewey hills. Laddow Rocks however are rather impressive, leading the eye towards the brooding hulk of Bleaklow.

P1060948

We simply followed the Pennine Way back to Crowden, passing this sign that almost tempted me to see if the nearby bogs were dangerous.

P1060951

I was relieved to find the car where I had left it with all its windows intact.

April 7, 2014

A last minute night on Kinder Scout

by backpackingbongos

The plan had been to head to the Yorkshire Dales with Martin, however a bug laid him low.  I decided that it would be good to save the route for another time.  Maps were dug out and Kinder Scout caught my eye, its been a while since I have walked there.  After an email to Chrissie and a Twitter exchange with Yuri I got mine and Reuben’s bags packed.

I have needed a new pair of waterproof trousers for a while now, so took the opportunity to pop into Outside in Hathersage on the way up.  It was Reuben’s first time in an outdoor shop and he was more exited than I was.  It is difficult having a browse when you have a dog straining at the leash.  The best bit came when I needed to go into the changing rooms to try something on.  I handed Reuben over to one of the shop assistants, coming out to find him on his back with his belly in the air and getting a big fuss from other customers.

Yuri was picked up from Chinley station and we headed to Chrissie’s house in Hayfield just in time for lunch and coffee.  I don’t think that Chrissie really appreciates just how lucky she is being able to walk up Kinder Scout from her back door.  The approach through the village and then along Kinder Road is a bit of a slog but we were soon at the reservoir.  A warm and sunny day but plagued by a haze that really limited the views.

P1060895

We headed directly up the quiet Sandy Heys path, which is a bit of a lung buster and thigh wobbler.  It leads unerringly direct to the summit plateau.  With time on our side we were able to take it easy however.

P1060896

P1060898

The plan had been to camp near the Kinder Downfall but despite the sunshine there was a very strong wind blowing from the east. Shelter was needed and we found a nice shelf below the western edge.  There was one problem with our chosen pitch though, there was not so much as a muddy puddle to filter water from.  Yuri assured me that it was a short walk to and from the spring near the downfall.  His definition of short does not relate to mine and it was a forty-five minute round trip to fill our water bottles.

It was a cracking place to spend the night, the lights of Manchester eventually revealing themselves through the haze.  Even in a sheltered spot the wind blew strongly and we all retired to our tents early.

Spot the three tents below.

P1060899

The morning brought bluer skies, although it was still very hazy.  The wind still had a chill but it was warm in my tent.  Being a short trip with Reuben I had lugged my original Voyager tent with me.  A proper old school bomb proof shelter which makes camping a joy.  Sadly it is a bit of a heavy beast.

We had a lazy morning, enjoying the sunshine on the first day of British Summertime.

P1060904

P1060905

We finally packed late morning and headed back up to the plateau.  Yuri decided that he would head north to Bleaklow and descend to Glossop to catch a bus home.  Chrissie, Dixie, Reuben and myself took the path towards Kinder Downfall.

P1060907

I have to say that it is one of those spots that always surprises me with just how impressive it is.  With Kinder Scout being so close to large urban centres it is easy to dismiss.  Usually the downfall is teeming with folk but for some reason it was nearly deserted. Perhaps people were out doing things for Mothers day.  With the temperatures rising we sat and soaked up the surroundings for a while.

P1060909

P1060910

P1060913

P1060915

We took the less frequented Three Knolls path down to the reservoir, although not before another sit in the sun, Reuben ever hopeful for a biscuit.

P1060919

An enjoyable night in the hills does not need to be big or epic.

April 3, 2014

Hot tenting on the moor of death

by backpackingbongos

I think that it is about two years since I have been backpacking with my mate Rae, who has been out of action due to a foot injury. She is keen to get back into the hills with a pack on her back.  Therefore I planned a short and sweet trip to the North Pennines. One of those trips where it is more about the camping than the walking.  My kind of trip as the walking sometimes gets in the way of a good slackpack.

With short walking days planned I thought that it would be a good opportunity to take the Kifaru Megatarp and wood burning stove. Nothing beats relaxing in a heated tent.

I escaped work after lunch on the Friday, picked Rae up and headed to the North Pennines, getting stuck in the usual weekend afternoon rush.

The plan for the first night was to park the car and walk a short distance up a remote valley to pitch for the night.  It was getting dark as we arrived at the small car park.  What had looked like snow on the other side of the reservoir ended up being a huge flock of gulls.  An impressive sight.

My pack was heavy with around 5kg of wood along with the stove itself.  We set off into the gloaming, eventually using our head torches once we left the security of the track.

Distances and obstacles can be exaggerated when you can’t see where you are going.  We sloshed through marshy ground and contoured along steep banks as we followed the river.  Finally we found a flat spot which we felt was far enough not to be discovered the following morning.

It was windy as we pitched, stony ground making it especially difficult to get a secure pitch with the large mass of material that makes up the Megatarp.  The wind soon brought rain with it so we retired to our respective shelters for the night.  With a badly pitched, flapping tarp with insecure peg placement I erred on the side of caution and decided not to set up the stove.  I felt that it was an accident waiting to happen.

With copious amounts of condensation (even with a large and very well ventilated shelter you still get it in certain conditions) during the wet and windy night I suffered the curse of not having an inner.  The wind would shake the walls leading to a very fine spray falling on me every now and then.  Luckily I had brought a lightweight bivy, meaning my bag stayed dry.

I woke at dawn, getting up to answer a call of nature.  I was totally surprised at the scene outside.

P1060848

It turned out that what I had thought was rain had in fact been snow.  I wandered around for a while taking photos, before the cold sent me back into my sleeping bag for another couple of hours.

Bright warm sunshine woke me up and it was nice to lay in my bag for a while, enjoying the feeling of warmth whilst outside there was snow. Rae was awake and cooking when I got up.  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.

P1060851

Unfortunately the sunshine was quickly replaced by a wall of thick cloud bringing along a stinging blizzard and strong winds.  The world became a swirling chaos of white, big flat snow flakes quickly covering ground that had melted in the sun.  That set the tone for the rest of the day.  Sunshine and big beefy wintry showers.

Packed up and on the way back to the car we were passed by a farmer on a quad bike towing a trailer full of collies.  He stopped at a gate and waited until we had passed through it.  He asked if it was our car parked and if we had spent the night on the moor.  We confirmed that it was and we had.  I expected a telling off but instead he told me about a shooting hut nearby that would have provided good shelter.  I had a feeling that he thought that it was a bit daft camping out in the snow.

Back at the car we sorted out our packs with food for that evening and drove off down the valley, heading into the hills above Teesdale.  A high level car park providing a springboard onto the moors without too much climbing.  It was a simple walk of less than five miles to our chosen spot.  My pack was still heavy with the wood I had failed to burn the night before.

P1060854

P1060856

Traversing rugged pathless ground Rae spotted an adder curled up sunning itself.  It took my eyes a while to pick it out as it was so well camouflaged.  I had not brought Reuben along for the weekend as dogs are banned from much of the CROW land in the North Pennines.  I was doubly glad he was not with us as he would have spotted it long before us.

A rough path along the boundary of the moor led to seven very unpleasant surprises.  A series of snares had been set up, the first almost tripping me over.  I’m not sure what they are designed for but a small dog could easily get trapped  These along with several pole traps over water courses made it very clear that any creature other than grouse were not welcome on this moor.  I’m not sure on the legality of the snares as they were free running (I have used the word were).  Legal or not the ethics of such things are another matter.  Not exactly a humane way of eradicating predators.

Just to make a point; the only living and breathing things we saw that day or the next whilst on the moors were grouse.  Hundreds of the stupid bloody things.  No raptors in the sky and none of the usual sounds of spring on the moors that you get at this time of year.  A sterile dead monoculture.

P1060860

Further along the moor of death the views opened out to the east, the North York Moors visible on the horizon.

P1060862

P1060863

We descended to one of my favourite wild camping spots in the area.  An oasis of green and nature amongst the sterile moors.  We forged a difficult route to a very secluded spot hidden deep up a valley.  With no wind, a burbling brook and birds singing in the trees it was paradise.

This time I had time to play around and get a perfect pitch.

P1060872

As darkness fell I set up the wood burning stove and piece by piece set fire to the bag of pre-sawn wood that I had lugged in.  The stove heated the tent nicely and we sat in front of it chatting for a while.

P1060873

Once the stove had gone out the temperature quickly dropped, a cold night following.  Thankfully there was little condensation and I did not wake to a morning shower.  We had a relaxed morning, enjoying the location and the sunshine.  Secure in the knowledge that it would be unlikely that anyone would pass by.

Pitched correctly the Megatarp is a well designed bombproof shelter.  Not one to pitch single-handed on a wet and windy moor though.

P1060881

P1060882

P1060883

Our route back to the car led up through pastures full of bird life before we once more entered the sterile monoculture of the moor.

P1060886

P1060889

Patches of heather were being burned, smoke rising from all directions as far as the eye could see.  A cairn gave us the chance to relax for a while in the sun, before the first in a series of wintry showers barrelled in.

P1060891

Dramatic skies accompanied us on the final couple of miles back to the car.

P1060893

April 1, 2014

Wild camping Ranger App

by backpackingbongos

I had the pleasure of testing a new app whilst out wild camping on Kinder Scout at the weekend.

One of the problems with wild camping within the Peak District National Park is that it’s prohibited.  The area is often patrolled by National Park Rangers, with the risk of them moving you on if caught.  Obviously this adds unwanted excitement to the whole thing. However a small company called Backpacking Solutions have come up with an innovative App for the iOS operating system (basically iPhone and iPad).  This enables you to track the Rangers in real time whilst they do their rounds.  This was initially done from a safety point of view, knowing where the nearest ranger is enables you to find help much quicker when needed.

The real time tracking operates from the radios that the rangers carry with them.  The radio waves are converted into GPS signals which can then be picked up by the app.  The user needs to have some form of Ordnance Survey mapping already installed, otherwise the information you get is useless.  The App itself is very simple, it places a red dot onto your map which shows the ranger location in real time.  As they move around they leave a breadcrumb trail which enables you to see the route that they have taken.  I really like this feature, however to benefit you need to leave the app running.  If you switch it off the breadcrumbs disappear and are not saved.  When the Rangers return to base and turn off their radio the red dot vanishes from the map.  In theory it’s pretty clever. How did it work out in use?

I turned on the app as we left Hayfield, this enabled it to start tracking the two rangers who were on duty that day.  As we reached the plateau we noticed that the breadcrumb trail from each of them was heading towards Edale and Hayfield respectively.  Roughly ten minutes after reaching base the red dots vanished.  The following day we were walking past Kinder Downfall when the App picked up two red dots moving towards us.  As they got closer we saw two red dots in real life also moving closer.  The reason why the dots are red became more apparent as the rangers passed us.  They were wearing red fleeces.  That made me chuckle to myself.

So far the app only covers the Kinder Scout and Bleaklow areas.  Beta testing is now finished and the app goes on general sale at the beginning of June.  I have no idea how to do a screenshot from a mobile phone, therefore have a look at the developers site here.  It will retail at £7.99.

Backpacking Solutions hope to have two more similar apps up and running by the end of the summer.  These will be called ‘Bothy Bore’ and ‘Angry Gamekeeper’.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,231 other followers