A night in a high Pennine freezer

by backpackingbongos

It was late when I got back last night after spotting a good weather window and popping out for a quick two day backpack.

The Scarp1 was pitched high on the Pennines on Sunday night, bang on the 750 metre contour.

A trip report will be forthcoming later on this week, but in the meantime here are some observations that I made in the absence of a warm and cosy house.

1.  Camping in snow when the thermometer is well below freezing is cold.  Yes I know that sounds a bit obvious but it is something that is very easy to overlook when sitting on a comfy sofa planning a trip.  There is the ‘Ooooh its a bit chilly’ when waiting for a bus, which is a bit different from spending two days in sub-zero temperatures.  The ground is as hard as iron and you weep as tent pegs refuse to penetrate the earth, water for cooking and drinking does not remain in a liquid state for more than a few minutes, and your boots freeze.  Then don’t even thinking about putting a wet pan lid on the floor……..

2.  The days are short at this time of year.  Again sitting at home it is easy to be a bit gung-ho with the route planning.  Suddenly it was 3.30pm and I was still miles from my planned destination for the night.  There were mine shafts in the area, not best for nocturnal meanderings.  Actually it was a blessing in disguise as my planned camp for the night was at 890 metres.  It was even colder and the ground more frozen up there!

3.  The nights are very long at this time of year.  There I go stating the obvious once again but 3.30pm is frankly too early to go to bed.  My body clock declares that to be lunch time.  Take a very good book and spend the evening looking at your watch as time refuses to move.  Even with all that time at my disposal I still overslept…………

4.  Don’t camp within sight of a man-sized ‘Currick’ as it gives you a bit of a fright when you pop out of the tent after dark!


14 Comments to “A night in a high Pennine freezer”

  1. James, it may be obvious, but it is worth stating for any one who has not been out this time of the year. Time really drags, I find this the most difficult issue, along with the water freezing !

  2. Ipod, watch a movie and listen to some tunes. No problems till dawn. I like the long nights. Cold is relative to how much warm gear you take.

  3. Mark, I think that it is trying to learn to ‘switch off’ that I need to work on during the long winter nights! I did the hot drink, doze, read a bit, doze, cook dinner, doze, read a bit, have a hot drink then turn in for the night.

    Then need a pee!

    Martin I had the warm gear but I think it is the mental adjustment needed on a long cold winters night. I was looking forward to good music but forgot to charge my iphone before leaving home. Duh!

  4. What’s all this about ipods and films for chrissakes. Being in a freezing tent on your own in the afternoon with a long expanse of empty evening ahead of you provides the perfect opportunity for turning your gaze inwards and contemplating the ultimate meaningless of your existence as the long dark night stretches on for seeming eternity… Only joking, yep a good book is just the job!

    Well done for starting the New Year as we all hope you mean to continue. And yes, let’s get that backpack sorted at some point Mr Boulter.

  5. I don’t know – James, Mick & Gayle were all out there in the freezing cold and they all had lovely warm homes and comfy beds only a few hours away! Absolutely mad, I tell you…

  6. Certainly something for me to think about. I have got my first proper solo winter trip planned in a couple of weeks. Dartmoor not Pennines so hopefully not as cold. A good book and Radio 4 are planned for the evening. Luckily I got “A long trek home” for Christmas after reading Martin’s review.

  7. I’m with Martin – I always have the iPhone with me, loaded with music and a series or two. Lie to Me is a favourite…

    That said, you’re right. What may seem obvious with the 20/20 vision of hindsight is not always obvious in advance of a mission. We’re off out this weekend for 3 days and nights with some nice test kit as well. The forecast in the Lakes is gale force wind, more snow, -5C (windchill -13C) with cloud and rain when not snowing. Also, some bright spells – four seasons in a 3 day period – joy. Still, should make for some drama.

  8. I took advantage of the same weather window and did a two day trip in Mallerstang (High Seat, Hugh Seat, Swarth Fell and Wild Boar Fell). This walk is detailed in a Cicerone Backpacker’s Britain Northern England book as “a walk for the connoisseur of mountain walking”. My girlfriend suggested this meant it would be boggy, rough and very quiet. In reality, the cold weather assisted by completely taming all the boggy bits, I enjoyed the few bits of rough walking that there were and I got some perverse pleasure by walking for nearly two days and meeting only one other walker. Although I was at a slightly lower level than you I suffered the same problem as you as regards water freezing very quickly and then having difficulty easily sourcing more as any static water near the tops was completely frozen solid and there was not much easily convenient flowing water nearby. As regards the long night in the tent with no electronic creature comforts it has made me appreciate all the people and things I have at home a little more.
    I guess if you mentioned 890 metres and the Pennines you may have been in the vicinity of Cross Fell. I stayed at Greg’s Hut near there two Xmas’s ago and was lucky enough for my arrival to coincide with a full load of firewood being there, a recent Trail mag, TGO mag and a lightweight topshelf ‘mens’ magazine. I found that all these things together greatly improved my outdoor winter camping experience.

  9. Pete, thinking too much is definately something I was trying to avoid during that long long night! We will have to bounce some weekend dates around for that backpack. Find a location equal distance from both of us and head for that?

    It is madness Alan. And then there is the challenge when I give up two weeks holiday when I could go somewhere sunny and walk through bogs instead!

    A good book where you can loose yourself is the way to go Ben. I hope that you enjoy Dartmoor, a place that I don’t know that well. Must get down there this year.

    I hope that you enjoy your trip to the lakes Maz, it looks like a real mixed bag of weather. New kit to test is also nice!

    Hi Mike, that is a grand walk and one that I have not done for ages, must go back and revisit. Its all the better for the isolation and lack of established paths for a lot of it. I was near cross fell, camped just below the summit of Great Dun Fell, went up Cross fell in the morning. A real bleak place! Cooked lunch in Gregs hut which was cold and dank. You were lucky to have all the creature comforts when you visited!

  10. James,

    As said – aye, you may well be stating the bleedin’ obvious. But it is those details folk who are new to it are not aware of. Heck! Even I forget sometimes! Especially with regards to water freezin over.

    Personally, I enjoy the long nights. I take nothing with me except some beer 😉

    The time flies for me as I’m wrapped up warm wandering around in the dark taking in the night time views. Love it.

    Bed early – long sleep for me. Love it.

    But things like the concrete cold ground, cold air, hydration bladders freezing over, fuel under-performing (or not at all), batteries packing in – yep, all these details come to light when camped up high (or low) in winter. Unzipping the tent door and bits of frost sprinkling upon you….or packing ya tent up and the fly folds like paper…..

    Great! You got me itching to get out now! 🙂

  11. I’d add to Terry’s checklist, the winter gale – forecast or not – shaking to bejaysus out of your tent, thus denying you any sleep at all on that already interminable, dark night.

    Re our international (I know, but it’s only a matter of time) backpacking convention – a roughly equidistant location sounds good. Towards the end of Feb could be good for me, how’s about you?

  12. Amazing how much the weather has gone cold again…I was on Wild Boar Fell between Xmas and New Year and camped – itt was very mild, way above freezing and had to remove layers during the night.There was hardly any snow left and what was there was melting fast…

  13. Well done, James. I was on the sofa in Alan’s style, planning some fair weather backpacking, but with you in spirit. I think I’d have taken the test match for nocturnal company…

  14. I know that I was stating the obvious Terry, its just that I needed to remember these things myself. It was also written a little bit tongue in cheek! I need to do the wondering around in the dark bit, usually I am lazy once the tent is pitch as I get in and have a nice rest and get the boots off!

    Pete we will have to do some emailing of dates to work out what is good, the end of Feb could well be good for me, I will check the old diary.

    Hi James, the weather is a bit of a yoyo at the moment. Wild Boar fell is a great hill, I bet that it has a bit of a dusting of snow up there now.

    Now that you have got the Challenge route sorted Martin, what is you first backpack of the year going to be?

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