Archive for June, 2009

June 25, 2009

Hiking in Ireland

by backpackingbongos

On Saturday we set off in the campervan for a two week trip to Ireland.  Completely new territory for me to explore with some fantastic looking mountains to get my boots muddy on.  A few days in the Wicklow mountains, where if the weather is good I plan to climb the munro Lugnaquilla as well as visit the tourist spot of Glendalough with its stunning scenery.  We will then head west to Connemara where there is an endless supply of really rough and wild mountains including the Twelve Pins.  Finally we will head through County Mayo to Achill Island which looks to be the highlight of the trip with loads of sandy beaches and Irelands highest sea cliffs at over 2000ft.

I may even indulge in a pint or two of Guiness and we will be going to see Lisa Hannigan in Galway city, she has got the voice and face of an angel!

The Twelve Pins


Croaghaun Mountain at 668m with its cliffs falling directly into the sea


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June 22, 2009

Wolfscote, Narrowdale, Wetton and Ecton Hills

by backpackingbongos

Taking advantage of the long daylight hours, I had a nice lie in on Saturday and a good cooked breakfast before setting off late morning for the Peak district.  One of the few good things about living in Nottingham is that it is easy to escape into some great countryside, so within an hour I was shouldering my rucksack in the Hulme End car park.

These days I find it difficult when looking at a map of the Peaks to get the stirrings of excitement that I used to, as the whole area is now over familiar to me.  I had pretty much run out of new areas to explore until the shaded open access areas appeared on a new OS map I purchased.  Most of the Dark peak was already covered by open access which I have over the years walked to death.  However there are loads of small parcels of land in the White Peak that have yet to see my boots.  Many of these are within the limestone dales for which the Peaks are famous, extending right to the field boundary walls.  You can do great walks along the boundary walls with very steep, sometimes vertical drops into the dales to your side.  Maps don’t really do justice to how dramatic the landscape can be when peering down.  There are also a few isolated peaks rising above the plateau, although figuring out how to reach them without trespassing can be a bit of a challenge!  A big positive is that most visitors to the Peak District all seem to be following the same routes in the same guide books.  This means that you can often have these parcels of open access land to yourself.  The downside is that there can sometimes be a few obstacles such as cliffs, barbed wire fences or bulls to find your way around.  It can be frustrating to find yourself so near to a right of way or country lane and not figure out how to reach it, but I like a challenge when out in the countryside!

10.8 miles with 790 metres of ascent

We left the car park and shortly joined the Manifold way before crossing the river and heading across the meadows.  It had been raining when we arrived so the mixture of thigh deep grass and flowers soon had our legs soaking wet.  I could feel trickles of water running down my legs into my boots whilst picturing my gaiters laying on the spare room floor.  A mixture of paths and lanes led to the picturesque Beresford Dale with its gentle curves.


As Beresford dale becomes Wolfscote Dale a track leads steeply to the left and joins a minor road to Wolfscote Grange where I played ‘I want to live there’ in my head.  Shortly afterwards my map indicates open access and the barbed wire ends so it was over the fence and very steeply up to the top of Wolfscote Hill.  The summit reminded me of the Yorkshire Dales with its rocky limesone outcrops, which provided shelter from the wind and rain whilst we had lunch.  Great views but alas no photos due to the rain.  Steeply back down to the lane and then a dilema, we could see that open access land for Wolfscote Dale was only two fields away.  It was this or descend back to the valley floor and climb up to the rim.  Well what would you do?  One quick trespass later and we were treated to a stunning view into the depths of the dale and the procession of people along the bottom.  Without even the hint of a path we walked along the grassy rim and followed an ever narrowing ridge to where Wolfscote meets Biggin Dale.


Unfortunately there was a bit of a cliff in the way of the valley floor, which meant some clambering around and using bottoms as well as boots to get down.  A rocky tower provided a superb birds eye view point of the dale.  Our bottoms also brushed a lovely smelling flowering herb, smelt like sage – anyone know what it is?



Safely at the bottom we joined the crowds and headed a short distance down the dale before crossing the river and heading up the other side on the Gypsy bank path.  I grumbled something about wishing I was fitter as I tried to get more air in my lungs.  Another great view of where Wolfcote become Dove Dale.


The plan had been to climb Gratton hill but from the field path it did not look too impressive and to be honest we could not really be bothered.  We pressed on and passed a YHA camping barn on the way up to Narrowdale hill.  Some more beautiful meadows soaked our legs again and the cows posed for some photos.



Descending from the summit the access land ran out and we were faced by a high drystone wall.  A bit of backtracking and a steep descent took us down to a narrow unfenced road.  We were faced by the short but very steep slope of Wetton hill, the hills here are not very high but they make you work your muscles.  From the top we watched two DofE groups converge on the path below, as usual with absolutely massive packs.  Two of them had bright orange pack covers and from up here it looked like they were carrying canoes on their backs.

The climb to Ecton hill passed though a small hidden valley nestling Broad Ecton farm, I played fantasy house buying again in my head.


On the way down from the trig I did not pay full attention to the map and ended up on a path descending in the wrong direction.  Glad that I did as woodland gave way to a meadow carpeted in Orchids, one of which I have never seen before.  Anyone know what it is?


The sun finally came out as we got back to the van…………………………………..

June 18, 2009

A new modified Akto

by backpackingbongos

After my moan about my experiences with my Laser Comp tent, Geoff from vg-backpacking offered to sell me his Akto which he does not use any more.  An internal battle then commenced in my head as I was already the proud owner of one.  However my old one is now over 10 years old and its age is beginning to show a bit, it does not have the upper vent and is on the heavy side at nearly 1800 grammes.  My gear hording tendencies won!

I spent this evening happily trying to pitch a tent on a bit of grass no bigger than a ten pence piece with the neighbours watching.  Although essentially the same as my old model this one felt like a different tent.  For a start it is nearly 300 grammes lighter which I put down to the difference in materials used in the flysheet.  In the old tent the fly is much thicker and has more of a matt finish to it, whilst the newer model has a slicker feel.  The door toggle appears to hold the door open much better as it is at least twice the size, and the guys are much thinner with a different locking mechanism.  Hopefully the upper vent will go some way towards helping with reducing condensation.

The best bit is the modification that Geoff had done to the inner.  He had the rectangular ends replaced with mesh to help with airflow within the inner tent.  Time will tell how much of a difference it will make to condensation but I like the idea of fresh air entering through the ends of the tent.  If I am sealed up in a tent I tend to feel a bit stuffy and claustrophobic and end up having to leave the inner door open, no good if there are midges about.  This should hopefully solve this problem for me.  A better description of this mod can be found here.

Cheers Geoff!

June 13, 2009

Laser Competition – some critical thoughts

by backpackingbongos

My camping experience last weekend shed some major doubts in my mind on the Laser Comps capabilities in bad weather.  You can read my post on the trip here.  Whilst camping the first night the weather was much worse than anticipated.  Although the comp did not actually collapse the noise that it made whilst flapping in the wind was so loud that I barely slept the entire night, this then impacted on my enjoyment of the rest of the weekend as I was totally knackered from lack of sleep.  On the second night I discovered that the pole that supports the end of the tent had ripped away from the ground sheet of the inner leaving a hole.  Now this is something that perhaps happened whilst tensioning the pole guy rather than storm damage.  If this is the case then the fault was down to poor construction as stitching should not fail whilst tensioning a tent to get a taut pitch, especially in a tent such as the Comp where correct tensioning is essential in getting a perfect pitch.


As my sewing skills are not up to much I will get in contact with Terra Nova to see if they will repair it for me under guarantee.  I have had the tent since August 2006 so fingers crossed they will not refuse.

Now I do have a confession to make – I never really fully bonded with my Laser Competition tent.

The only reason why I have continued using it over the years is because it is so light, it really has made a difference to my pack weight.  So in that respect it has been great.  However I have never really enjoyed actually sleeping in it.  Firstly it can be a real bugger to pitch and if you don’t get it right it will be a mass of baggy material.  I have spent many a breezy night with its material slapping me a across the face with each gust of wind.  Secondly I find the inner to be just on the bareable side of claustrophobic.  Being fairly tall I find that the inner tent is just a little bit close to my face for comfort.  I have also had great problems with condensation when using the comp as there is no real practical way of venting it without leaving the fly door open, which I often do if it is not raining.  When totally sealed I find that condensation forms on the inner tent above my head and torso, this then dampens my down bag when I sit up.  This got so bad that I brought a lightweight bivvy bag to use inside, this helps but them negates the benefits of using a lightweight tent in the first place!  Finally after a wet condensation filled night I want to disconect the inner from the outer to stop the inner tent from getting wet whilst packing.  This is really fiddly to do with the end poles being conected to both fly and inner tent (well not on mine now!).  I therefore end up stuffing the whole lot into my sack meaning I have a wet inner tent when packing the next night.

On the positive side the headroom in the Comp is great in the centre of the tent, I can fully sit up without slouching.  The porch is also huge for a tent of its size, much bigger than the Akto

For years and years (since 1999) I have used a Hilleberg Akto tent that has always performed superbly and has never let me down.  The only negative has been with the weight, I have an old model that weights in at 1.8kg.  It has stood up to winds that were so strong that I could barely stand and monsoon strength rain storms.  Hundreds of nights on the hills and it is still going strong (ok the pole is now a bit of a weird shape due to a rather lively gust of wind).  It is about time that I got reaquanted with it, a bit more weight in the sack but at least I can go back to camping on mountain summits without a worry.

But saying that I have had my eye on a Scarp1……………………………………………

June 10, 2009

A challenging Lakes backpack – around Lingcove Beck

by backpackingbongos

I had managed to build up a bit of lieu time at work so I downed tools (well a pen) at lunch time and was in Richards car being driven to the lakes by 2.00pm.  This meant that we were able to miss most of the usual Friday rush hour madness and were entering the lakes in a downpoar by 6.00pm.  A weekend seems that much longer if you can be on the hills an extra night.

We parked in a small layby just past Cockley Beck on the Hardknott pass road and took straight to the hill.  There was no time to get the legs and muscles working properly as we headed up the steep slopes of Dod pike.  The rain had passed leaving the view down into the Duddon valley sparkling green.  The plan had been to pitch just behind the summit of Dod Pike but it was too boggy, so after collecting water it was heads down climbing towards Border End.

After a bit of searching we found two sheltered grassy shelves between Border end and Hard Knott fell and pitched the tents.  The weather now was stunning as the sun started to slowly sink towards the horizon.  We headed to the summit of Border End to phone respective partners and take in the grand view.  The Scafell peaks had clouds streaming down them like a waterfall and the sun lit up the sea on the horizon.  The wind however had a real bite to it, sitting there it felt more like 4.00pm on a February afternoon than a late June evening.  We soon went back to the tents to cook dinner and get comfy for the night.


Spot the tents……..




As I was getting comfortable in my tent the strong breeze started to transform itself into a strong wind, I was glad that I had found a pitch mostly sheltered from it.  As I lay there the wind got stronger and stronger seeming to come from all directions at once, the Laser Comp tent flapping away noisily.  I just could not get myself to sleep as the noise was too loud to relax.  It did not get properly dark and at 2.00am I stuck my head outside to see a clear starry night with a bright moon.  The wind died down a bit later and I drifted into a disturbed sleep.

A couple of hours later I was awoken by a storm raging outside the tent, wind and rain hammering on the flysheet.  I stuck my head out of the door and could see through a parting of the clouds that Scafell had a good dusting of snow on its summit.  I lay there cold for hours unable to sleep in my summer sleeping bag until it was time to get up.  A dash to Richards tent revealed that he was getting more of a battering than I was, the wind had managed to turn the pole cover on his tent inside out!  He had spent the whole night with damp tent pressed on his face.

I slunk back to my tent to cook breakfast before packing up, I was thinking about asking Richard if he fancied heading back to the car and driving home!  The conditions were that of mid winter not June and I felt ill prepared for them.  After we packed Richard vocalised the same feelings and I was secretly a bit relieved.  We decided to head for the summit of Hard Knott to see if our moods would lift a bit, so off we staggered like drunks into the wind with freezing cold rain stinging our faces.  Further north the clouds parted a bit to reveal a very moody Scafell Pike with a tiny bit of snow still remaining from the night before.


Needing to get out of the wind we dropped down to Lingcove beck and found shelter by a big boulder where we got a stove on for a cup of tea.  Richard was keen to go home now, which strangely made me determined to want to stay.  Was there a strange type of psychology at play? Someone having a worse time than me seemed to perk me up a bit!  I suggested that we head onto the Great Moss to pitch the tents and see what the weather fancied doing, if it remained bad we could head home later, if it behaved itself we could walk onto the tops with lighter sacks.  A long descent to Lingcove Bridge put us off so instead we headed up Lingcove Beck to the head of the valley and found a great grassy patch next to the river.

When Richard started erecting his tent he realised that one of the poles at the end was missing.  It was not in his bag and we believe that it must have fallen out whilst packing a flapping mess of tent into its bag earlier on.  His tent took on a new shape that day!  I managed to get the tightest pitch I have ever managed which was nice until I looked inside and noticed the inner looked a bit odd.  No amount of rearranging pegs made any difference.  This is when I noticed that the pole at the end had ripped away from the inner tent, now that probably not meant to happen?  Things got worse whilst I was putting the pole cover on, I managed to pull the cord too much at one end and the cord disappeared from the other end.  Not sure if that is meant to happen either!  It then started raining really heavily whilst I sat on a rock with a tent peg trying to fish the cord back out.  If I was four years old I may have had a tantrum at that point!

To cut a long story short a text from my partner came through promising better weather, almost at the same time it stopped raining and it brightened up.  Enjoyment and mood levels lifted after lunch and we decided to leave the tents and head up Esk Pike via Pike de Beild Moss.  This was a great approach to the hill with no trace of a path.  Rocky outcrops providing scrambling opportunities whenever we fancied it.



There were many false summits until we came to the top of Esk Pike which strangely for a Lake District fell was empty.  In the distance we could see Helvellyn which still had patches of snow from the night before.  We were soon descending then climbing to the summit of Bowfell which has stunning views down the whole length of Lingcove Beck and Upper Eskdale.


The path down to Three Tarns was in a bit of a state and was obviously about to be repaired as there were huge bags of stone alongside it.  We picked up a faint path that descended to the head of Lingcove beck where we could see our tents in the fork of two streams.  Thankfully they had dried out and we set about unpacking the rest of our gear.


In contrast to the night before we had a calm, relaxing and peaceful night.  I felt really happy that we had not called it a day and gone home whilst I lay in my tent looking at the surrounding fells.

A bit of a late start in the morning soon led to a punishing climb straight up the steep slopes of the Crinkle Crags.  After a while we came to Rest Gill to fill our water bottles and decided to make the climb more interesting by scrambling directly up it.  There was an element of excitement as we did not really know what to expect, there was always the possibility of it getting too difficult and needing to make a hasty retreat.  Although entertaining it never got too difficult, the main danger was with loose mossy rocks.


We were soon on the summit of Long Top where we passed the first walkers of the whole weekend, maybe the weather forecast had put people off travelling to the Lakes?  I wanted to visit Little Stand so we descended south and crossed grassy trackless ground to reach its rocky summit with its collection of small tarns.  It would be a great place to wild camp with lots of little rocky knolls to pitch the tent behind.


We had not counted just how rough the descent down to Cockley Beck would be from the summit.  Although there is a bridleway marked on the map it most definitely does not exist on the ground.  We needed to constantly backtrack around cliffs and crags on steep bouldery ground.  Certainly the sort of terrain that makes twisting an ankle easy.  The plan had been that when we got to the car we would dump the sacks and then head back up to Border End to look for Richards missing pole.  However tiredness and the first spots of rain soon put an end to those thoughts…………………………………..