Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

July 23, 2016

Colorado Trail gear list

by backpackingbongos

I have to admit that selecting gear for the Colorado Trail (CT) has been a bit of a Challenge. I’m away from home for eight weeks so am packing not only for the trail, but the time that I’ll spend either end and in towns along the way. The weather in the Colorado Rockies is notoriously unpredictable, a different proposition from say the High Sierra. In the lower elevations at the start of the trail temperatures are currently in the low to mid thirties centigrade. As I climb higher they should be much more manageable and in the low twenties centigrade. I will be spending most of my time above 10,000ft which means that nights can be on the chilly side, perhaps as low as freezing in some areas. I’ll be finishing in mid September which is definitely Fall (the Aspens are meant to be spectacular) which means the possibility of the odd snow fall at elevation. The main weather pattern however will be almost daily thunderstorms as August is the Monsoon season. These can be potentially life threatening if in the wrong place at the wrong time due to frequent lightning strikes. Temperatures can also plummet very quickly with large volumes of rain or hail and strong winds.

Basically I need to be able to cope with pretty much any and every weather condition!

I don’t, never have, and never will consider myself a lightweight backpacker. This trip is as much about enjoying camp each night as well as the actual walking. If I can comfortably carry my pack I’m happy! I was reading a CT trail journal last night where a young lad with a tiny base weight said that he would not talk to three other hikers on the trail as they were ‘traditional’ backpackers………….

Anyway, this is what I will be taking:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 15.01.51 Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 15.02.11 Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 15.02.26 Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 15.02.39 Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 15.02.57

Packing:

Montane Grand Tour 55 – This is probably the most comfortable pack that I have ever owned. It fits my back well, is reasonably light and has enough capacity to hold a weeks worth of food on top of my kit.

I like to keep everything organised so I have a selection of waterproof stuff sacks, plus a pack cover to keep the rain off. I’m a new convert to pack covers as it stops my rucksack gradually getting heavier during prolonged rain. Possibly overkill but I’m happy to carry that extra 100 grammes.

It is important that all my food and toiletries are bear proof whilst I am sleeping, I plan to ensure that these are not kept inside my tent. I have purchased a bear proof bag (Ursack) that will be tied to a tree a short distance from camp. Inside everything will be in odour proof Opsaks which I will purchase from REI in Denver. I don’t want to be losing my food a few days walk from town!

Shelter:

Hilleberg Enan – This is my current favourite tent for use outside of the winter months. It’s light, can be pitched in a couple of minutes and has a small footprint. I much prefer a full tent with inner to a tarp or mid. I have made a footprint out of Tyvek as I suspect that many of my pitches will be on bare earth, especially at established camping spots.

Sleeping:

PHD Minx + MLD Spirit Quilt – The PHD Minix is a hybrid bag with a synthetic base and down upper, it has no zip. It’s very warm and comfortable for its weight. It won’t however be suitable for temps close to freezing as I tend to sleep cold. Therefore to boost it I will be taking along the lightest MLD Spirit Quilt. As I am only taking light insulated clothing this can also double as camp wear if worn cape style. It will also keep condensation off my down bag when camping in cold and damp forests.

Thermarest X-therm – Warm and very comfortable for the weight, as long as I don’t get a puncture!

Clothing packed and worn:

All the clothes that I am taking with me are designed so that they can all be worn together if the temperature really dips. I don’t have a main insulation piece as such, the quilt will serve that purpose in camp.

My sleep wear is head to toe Merino, both for its warmth and also for its anti-stink properties. There is nothing better than having a set of clean and dry clothes to change into for camp and sleeping.

During the day I will either wear a lightweight pair of shorts or the Montane Terra Pack Pants, which are the lightest in the range. The long-sleeved Rab Aeon t-shirt is very light and comfortable in the heat and dries quickly if I need to wash it between towns.

X-socks weigh next to nothing and I feel are the best things to wear in trail shoes. Their light weight means that I can wear one pair and carry two. They get a bit crunchy after a couple of days so will need a rinse between towns.

Those trail shoes are Salomon XA Pro’s, a good compromise between a flimsy trail runner and a stiff walking shoe. They are the beefiest shoes that I have worn for a while so I hope that they last the distance. I recently did a 50 mile backpack in them and remained blister free, I hope that remains the case! I am taking a couple of pairs of spare insoles to mix and match due to different thickness and cushioning. When its hot I have a thin 3mm pair to give extra room in the shoes.

Tilley Outback – I am a new convert to Tilley hats. It’s really comfy, keeps the sun off my head and neck and means I don’t need to put my hood up in light rain.

A bog standard 100 weight micro fleece is about as versatile as it gets, warm when wet and easy to wash. A very light down gillet pairs well with it.

When in Sarek I found that my Rab Cirrus windproof was a lifesaver to keep the mozzies off me. I’m not a fan of insect repellant and I found that it prevented my arms, neck and back being bitten, especially when sitting in camp. Apparently there are some big horseflies this year on some sections of the CT!

Underwear is always Merino for me, it keeps smelling fresher for longer than any other material!

Cooking and drinking:

I had been intending to take the Flatcat Gear Bobcat alcohol stove which is very light and with fuel being readily available in the States. However there are lots of fire bans in place in Colorado which means that any stove without a shut off valve is illegal. These fire bans come and go and it can be difficult to know if you are about to head into an area with a ban. Therefore I am going to go with My Jetboil Minimo. This is much heavier but is a joy to use with water brought to a boil in a couple of minutes. It will roughly be a week between resupply points which means that it will use less fuel than the Bobcat over that time. Therefore weight wise they pretty much cancel each other out. It just means that I will have to be on the ball with regards to purchasing fuel.

For water I will have a couple of fizzy pop bottles for water attached to the shoulder straps of my pack. The rest will be carried in 2x 2lt Platypus’ in my pack. I think the longest stretch without water is about twenty miles. During the day I will filter using the Sawyer Mini, whilst in the evening I will bulk purify using Aqua Mira. All water MUST be either filtered or chemically treated!

Survival:

It has taken a while to decide what to take in terms of guidebooks and maps for navigation on the trail. Some people say that the trail is easy to follow and you don’t really need to take anything. I do however like a good map and like to see where I am in relation to the landscape around me. Therefore I will be taking four paper maps that include all but the first three days of the trail. As a backup I have the Guthook iPhone app which has mapping and will show where I am on the trail via GPS. Most importantly I have the Colorado Trail Data book which tells me where water sources are located, resupply points etc. All this paper weighs nearly half a kilo but I feel that it will enhance my hike.

My first aid kit is pretty comprehensive and put together myself. It should be sufficient to deal with the usual cuts, burns and blisters.

I’m taking along a Spot2, both to let my wife know that I am OK each day but also incase I need to call for rescue. It will also be used to track my location on a map which I will set up through Social Hiking.

Hygiene:

When hiking for days in hot weather it is important to keep certain parts of your body as clean as possible, otherwise chaffing can really spoil your day. It can be much more painful than blisters. The plan is to have a wash each day so I am taking a cloth and a small travel towel. Dr Bonners liquid soap goes a long way so I will take a small bottle along. It’s also good for washing clothes. Lanacane anti-chaffing gel keeps everything gliding along smoothly!

Gadgets:

My iphone will be my lifeline for keeping in touch with home and the outside world, although a signal will be unlikely in the mountains. It’s unlocked so I will purchase a SIM card once I arrive in Denver. I can phone home through WhatsApp when I get Wifi in towns. It will also be my back up camera as it takes pretty decent photos.

Sony RX100 iii – This is a cracking little camera which takes good quality photos whilst remaining small and light enough to fit in a hip belt pocket in my pack. I’ll be shooting in RAW as this will give me more control over how to process the photos when I get home. I’m taking a spare battery which will hopefully mean that I’ll have enough juice between towns.

Kindle – The joy of backpacking is spending lazy afternoons and evenings reading!

Powergen 1200 – This small power pack will enable the iPhone 6s plus to be charged about three times. I can also use it to charge the kindle if needs be. When in towns I have a folding Mubi plug with both UK and US adaptors, plus cables to charge everything.

The only thing to add to all this lot once in the US is up to a weeks food at a time, a canister of gas and a couple of litres of water…………

 

July 20, 2016

The Dales south to north – a Monsoon backpack pt2

by backpackingbongos

The Yorkshire Dales had vanished overnight. In its place had been left a ghostly world of damp swirling mist and heavy dew laden grass. It was not the most pleasant of experiences pulling on damp clothes and sodden footwear. My dry tent clothes were carefully wrapped and packed away, I was already looking forward to getting changed later than evening.

The track named Gilbert Lane runs north for several miles across open moorland, almost due north to Wensleydale. It was deathly silent as we made our way through the mist, bar the odd cry of a Curlew.

The miles were quick to the large village of Bainbridge where we made a beeline to the nearest cafe. Unfortunately cafes in tourist places turn out to be tea rooms, which mean smaller portions for high prices. We bagged a table and had lunch number one whilst my feet steamed with socks failing to dry.

IMG_1621

Rain was threatening again as we set off back into the hills. To get to the evenings planned camp we had to cross the moors that separate Wensleydale from Swaledale. A walled track led us steadily upwards before it deposited us in the middle of a field full of cattle.

IMG_1623

The bridleway then became the figment of a cartographers imagination so we left the invisible line and climbed steep slopes up into the cloud.

DSC00089

DSC00091

IMG_1626

It became wet once more so in full waterproofs we trudged through the mist towards the top of Oxnop common, where we found a ruined mine building to shelter in for a while. It was pretty damp and miserable on the summit.

IMG_1631

DSC00094

It was with some relief that we descended below the clouds at exactly the spot where I had planned. That was more down to technology than skill to be honest. Waterproofs came off and were quickly put on again, it was a real chore wearing them whilst so warm and humid.

We squelched through the hamlet of Ivelet and found a well hidden pitch on the moors above. To be honest we could have pitched anywhere and remained invisible in the mist and low cloud. It was another unpleasantly warm and humid night, the tent quickly getting wet with condensation. I was very thankful for those dry clothes.

IMG_1639

With no wind the only noise on the moors the next morning were the birds, including the strange drumming sound of a snipe. We were up and packed early again, heading for the landrover track that contours high above the River Swale. The sun was gradually winning its battle with the clouds, the scenery finally revealing itself.

DSC00096

The view along upper Swaledale to Keld and beyond is an impressive one. Nine Standards filled the horizon and we knew that we would have to climb over its high shoulder before we could descend to Kirkby Stephen and journeys end.

DSC00097

Whilst descending Swinner Gill we faced the tide of Coast to Coasters who must have set off from Keld that morning. It was a real international procession.

DSC00101

As we reached the outskirts of Keld, a familiar figure with two dogs waved at us from the hillside above. It turned out to be Chrissie’s husband Geoff, who I am disappointed to report did not have ice-cold cans of pop or any form of treat to share with us. I just got my face licked by a labrador instead.

DSC00106

The remote farm of Ravenseat in Whitsun Dale was a hive of activity, with Coast to Coasters streaming in and out. The baggage transfer companies must be making a fortune as most only sported small day sacks. We shared a table with a couple of Americans whilst Chrissie demolished a cream tea with much vigour. The farm has been on the telly box a lot recently with the shepherdess saying the word ‘ewe’ numerous times in an exaggerated Yorkshire accent.

With rumbles of thunder in the distance we made our way along the Coast to Coast path up onto the plateau of Nine Standards. After spotting a funnel cloud we were ready to leg it to lower ground if the storm got any closer. It was a long and very boggy trudge.

DSC00107

IMG_1643

We missed out the summit itself, instead picking up a track over Hartley Fell and down to Ladthwaite. The rain finally put in an appearance and after walking through wet waist-high meadows there was no point in putting on waterproof trousers. The only memorable moment on the navigational challenging field paths to Nateby was a near death experience with a herd of frisky cows. They came charging at us at full pelt whilst we were far away from the safety of a fence. We stood our ground and shouted whilst waving our hiking poles, thankfully they changed course at the last moment.

It was all worth it though when we finally reached the best tea van in Yorkshire for a large slice of much-needed cake.

July 4, 2016

The Dales south to north – a Monsoon backpack pt1

by backpackingbongos

The last of the light was fading as I parked the van high on the moors near the Tan Hill Inn. I had set off from Nottingham in shorts and t-shirt but I found the breeze soon whipped away any semblance of warmth. To the north, banks of cloud were rising and falling over the high escarpment, a wave of white covering the distant A66, muffling the sound of traffic. I made up the bed in the Doblo and lay there with the side door open watching the cloud lap upon the moorland shore.

I had hoped for an impressive cloud inversion in the morning but it was not to be. Instead it was a world of murk as I packed away the bed and pointed the Doblo in the direction of Kirkby Stephen train station.

You would have thought that no one had ever seen anyone brew coffee and eat a bowl of bran flakes outside a railway station before. It probably is not the done thing. I had plenty of time to relax and sort myself out before catching a train south to Settle. The aim for this long weekend was to meet Chrissie in Settle and then walk back through the Dales to Kirkby Stephen. A good leg stretcher and preparation for the Colorado Trail.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 16.13.33

83 kilometres with 2700 metres ascent over four days.

Chrissie and I started from the very busy Settle station and within minutes had stopped at a cafe to pick up cold drinks and lunch. There was not a cloud in the sky as we toiled up the steep track that would take us onto the limestone plateau. Even early in the day the heat was punishing.

DSC00051

A path led us to the south of the impressive Warrendale Knotts and Attermire Scar, however it was far too hot to even contemplate exploring this area of limestone cliffs and caves.

DSC00054

DSC00055

There was a minor bit of excitement where it looked like a cow had got itself tangled in a wire fence. We dumped our rucksacks and bravely approached the hefty bovine beast ready to use our trekking poles for defence if we needed to. As we got close the cow simply walked away. It was all a ploy to make us look silly.

The Yorkshire Dales in early June is a riot of yellow with all the meadows in full bloom. It’s a stunning sight, although not the best when you suffer from hayfever.

DSC00059

When trekking in limestone country in hot and dry weather you need to bring along someone with a large and effective water filter. Chrissie fitted the bill nicely in this respect and we were soon drinking cool and clear water from Malham Tarn. It meant that I could leave the nasty chemicals in my pack.

DSC00061

The honeypot area of the tarn was left behind as we climbed past Middle House Farm and onto the old track of Monk’s Road. the idea was to follow it for a while and then pitch at a spot where I had my fingers crossed there would be a trickle of water.

DSC00067

Sadly the trickle had dried up leaving just the odd puddle. Chrissie’s super filter made short work of this and we found a grassy pitch nearby with great views over Cowside Beck. The grass was fragrant with herbs, the most pleasantly scented pitch I have ever had.

The sky began to darken, haze slowly blotting out the views. It was close and muggy and I kept my fingers crossed that it would not storm.

DSC00069

DSC00071

A light rain fell during the night and the humidity was ramped up to what felt like one hundred percent. My sleeping bag had remained unzipped throughout the night. Early the next morning wet tents were packed away and we walked back up to the Monk’s Road which was followed down to Arncliffe.

DSC00074

DSC00077

It was too early for the pub so we sat at a picnic table on the village green and ate snacks whilst a soft rain fell. Even standing still I felt like I was suffocating in my waterproofs. Neither of us was looking forward to the long climb over Old Cote Moor.

As if reading our minds the weather gods looked down at our discomfort and punished us the best way that they could by giving us a heavy downpour. I was soaked inside and outside my hard shell as we crested the moor and dropped down into Wharfedale.

DSC00080

DSC00081

DSC00083

Chrissie said that there was an excellent cafe in Starbottom but it failed to materialise, I hid my inner tantrum well. Instead we were the first people to visit the rather frosty pub where we dripped all over the floor and squelched to a seat by a window. It stopped raining for the full hour that we were inside. Pints of sugary coke and a big bowl of chips lifted the spirits.

The Monsoon rains hit us on the outskirts of Buckden, just as we has started climbing again. It was heavier than any rain in the UK has the right to be. I consoled myself with the fact that I was not as miserable as Chrissie looked.

IMG_1615

With the power of Google maps I had located an idyllic looking campsite on the moors above Cray. A nice grassy swarth next to a meandering stream. Google maps however failed to show the thistles which covered every inch of the close-cropped turf. We therefore filled up our water bottles and tramped back up hill to a more exposed pitch.

DSC00084

It was good to change out of sopping wet clothing into my tent outfit, it’s good for morale to know that dry clothes await in the bottom of my pack. Another very warm and humid night followed, with barely a breath of wind to keep the condensation at bay. I wasn’t looking forward to putting wet clothes back on the following day.

Part 2 will follow shortly (ish).

You can read Chrissie’s version of events here.

July 1, 2016

A foot in two countries – backpacking the English / Welsh border

by backpackingbongos

Planning a route for a hot and sunny late May Bank holiday can reduce a misanthropic backpacker to a mild state of panic. The roads would be at a standstill and the hills an awful tangle of humanity. I managed to hatch a cunning plan which involved leaving really early on a Sunday morning and doing a round of what I hoped would be a group of forgotten hills. It worked and by the time I got back to the car all hot and bothered the following day it was late enough to avoid the Monday homebound rush.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 16.23.06

49 kilometres with 1520 metres of ascent over two days.

The River Teme runs through Lloyney, but before this trip I would have been hard pushed to point out either on a map. Lloyney is a one horse village and the pub was not going to open until the following day. What it lacks in facilities it makes up for in easy access to a long undulating ridge of moor and pasture leading to the Beacon Hills. After a steep climb in bright sunshine I was able to enjoy a high level yomp along gorse covered grassland. The heat of the day was building and distant views were shrouded by haze, but on the hills a breeze kept me cool.

DSC00010

DSC00011

DSC00012

The area surrounding Beacon hill is a lump of high undulating moorland. It gives extensive views and is unmolested by anything but sheep and buzzards. The grassy tracks enable you to almost float along.

DSC00013

DSC00015

DSC00017

The major disappointment of the day came when a footpath through the heather failed to materialise. For half an hour I cursed the Ordnance Survey as I lurched through the deep and tough vegetation, my shoes snagging and socks being covered in prickly heather.

DSC00019

DSC00021

A lane led me down to the village of Beguildy where I was looking forward to getting refreshments in the pub. Although a Bank holiday they had decided that they would close at 2pm and not reopen until 6pm. That was not much help to a thirsty backpacker with a rapidly emptying water bottle.

I was aiming for the Kerry Ridgeway for the night. The problem with devising your own backpacking route is that it is not always possible to join up all those green dots, especially away from the mountains. It was a long road bash to get to the River Clun. Thankfully the tangle of minor roads in this area means that there is very little traffic.

DSC00024

I was getting tired so instead of climbing up onto the nature reserve at Rhos Fiddle I followed another lane towards the Ridgeway. As I left it and entered a forest I noticed all the bird feeders hanging from the trees. I was just about to pass a ramshackle caravan when I heard a shout in Welsh. The owner of the caravan came over to say hello and we spent a good half hour chatting. He was what you could call a ‘proper character’, living alone in his seventies, totally off grid and away from the world. I had to force myself away in the end or I would have been there for the whole weekend, the encounter left me with a smile on my face.

To the south of the Ridgeway is a large area of high unenclosed grassland, perfect for sheep but perhaps not ideal for a stealthy wild camp.

DSC00025

In the end I found a lovely pitch hidden in a steep grassy side valley, a tiny clear stream bubbling alongside. It was a bit of a treat pitching on soft grass rather than rough moorland. I spent a peaceful undisturbed night, the only negative being the sheer amount of slugs that covered all my gear when I woke.

DSC00026

DSC00031

In the morning it was a short walk to the Kerry Ridgeway where the wide track gave easy level walking and the hilltop position gave extensive views.

One of the highlights of the weekend came for me as I reached the edge of an unnamed valley. With the scenery exploding with green under blue skies and a warm sun it was a perfect place to stop and relax.

DSC00034

I soon picked up the Offa’s Dyke long distance path that took me back to the car in an arrow straight line. The problem with this is that on this part of the trail it does not respect the contours. It is an endless procession of ups and downs, some as steep as any mountain path. In the heat it became rather tiresome, especially after I had to start rationing my water.

DSC00038

DSC00044

DSC00050

For mile after mile it was up and down, up and down, before finally the River Teme was at my feet. I was glad to get back to the red-hot and stuffy car and a change of clothes. I apologise to the person whose house I got changed outside. I was grateful for the warm bottle of water that was waiting for me in the boot.

June 20, 2016

When the Helm Wind blows – a North Pennine backpack

by backpackingbongos

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 16.59.52

52 Kilometres with 1370 metres of ascent over three days.

Dufton is one of my favourite English villages, well it is on a quiet Friday when the place appeared to be deserted. Two days later on a Sunday afternoon it had been transformed into a large leafy car park, albeit more salubrious than Nottingham’s park and ride.

It had been a pleasant late spring morning whilst crossing the A66, however it was very windy in Dufton considering its sheltered position. The trees all in full leaf were making quite a racket as I shouldered my pack and walked along the road to the signpost for the Pennine Way. A local asked where I was heading and I said Cross Fell. He replied saying that the Helm Wind was blowing with the summit of Cross Fell being covered in a large cap of cloud. The helm wind is the only named wind in the UK, which happens when a strong north-easterly blows down the south-west slope of the Cross Fell Escarpment. He said that it was likely to continue for the rest of the day.

IMG_1412

I soon turned off the Pennine Way to pick up a track that contoured round the shoulder of Dufton Pike, a conical mini mountain. There I left the security of the track to descend to Great Rundale Beck before the long and steep climb to the summit of Brownber Hill. Next to the beck I found a small wire cage / trap containing a dead crow. It was like a very small Larson trap but I could not figure how it was meant to work. I left it alone and wheezed my way up the hill. When I was half way up a quad bike approached the trap, removed the crow then placed the trap on the back of the quad bike before driving off. I have to admit that I am a suspicious kind of guy when it comes to this sort of activity.

I squelched across the summit of Brownber Hill before taking a diagonal ascent across pathless moor to intersect the Pennine Way near Knock Hush.

IMG_1417

Despite it being mid May I was absolutely freezing by the time I reached the large cairn of Knock Old Man. I was glad to shelter behind its solid walls for a while. The wind was so cold that my face was frozen into a grimace. I even had to don gloves for the first time in months (I very rarely feel the need to wear gloves).

IMG_1423

The walk across the close cropped grass summits of Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell and then Little Dun Fell was less than pleasant in the very cold and blustery conditions. The cloud would temporarily lift from the summits giving views across the high and wild expanse of moors to the east.

IMG_1425

I found shelter on Little Dun Fell and hunkered down for another snack, working out whether I could be bothered to climb Cross Fell. The cloud had finally lifted but I was shivering, the coldest that I have been whilst on the hills for a long time. Therefore I descended to Crowdundle Head and took the bridleway that contoured high above the infant River Tees.

IMG_1428

From the map I thought that the bridleway would be easy to follow, however it quickly disappeared and I found myself contouring too far and too high. By then I was feeling really cold and was keen to dress in down clothing and get into my sleeping bag. I descended a bit and found a flat spot close to water on which to pitch the Hilleberg Enan. The sun was beginning to set as I crawled shivering inside. Once in my sleeping bag and after a cup of coffee and some soup I felt much better. It turned out to be a very enjoyable camp in just about the remotest spot in the Pennines.

IMG_1435

There was a big freeze during the night, my water bladders turning to lumps of ice. I was glad to wake up to blue skies, the rays of the sun soon warming my tent and melting the ice.

The walk down the upper River Tees was a delight, reminiscent of the Monadhliath in Scotland. This Part of the North Pennines is big open country, high moors intersected by a long, lonely and empty valleys. It felt like I followed the river for miles before I finally came upon the track that leads to the South River Tyne.

IMG_1438

IMG_1439

IMG_1440

With the Colorado Trail trip coming up later in the summer I was back in trail shoes after a year wearing leather boots. It can take a while getting used to the freedom you get, along with the need to be more careful with foot placement. The new pair of Inov-8 Race Ultra’s right out of the box proved to be very comfortable, it was like walking in slippers.

IMG_1416

After a short period of dry weather I was surprised at just how low some of the stream and rivers were. It’s something that I remember from previous summer trips to the North Pennines. It’s worth remembering if you are wild camping and relying on a particular water source. Many of the side streams had simply dried up.

IMG_1443

IMG_1444

The track above the north-eastern side of Cow Green reservoir gave swift walking after the long meandering amble alongside the River Tees. After only seeing a couple of people in twenty-four hours the car park at Cow Green came as a bit of a shock. It was pretty busy with people setting off along the tarmac track towards the Cow Green Dam. This is the Widdybank Fell Nature Reserve. The patches of grass amongst the heather was covered in vivid blue flowers which after some Googling happen to be Spring Gentians. The native population of this tiny little flower is confined to the Teesdale area. There were numerous people on their hands and knees taking photos.

IMG_1448

Once past the dam I left everyone behind and started the climb up the track to the remote farm at Birkdale. The Pennine Countryside does not get much better than this area. Falcon Clints provided a great backdrop under a blue sky with fluffy clouds lining up to the horizon.

IMG_1454

Unfortunately the beauty is spoilt after the farm where a new vehicle track has been built. This obliterates the old Pennine Way trail, the walking now reduced to a trudge along sharp stones that are uncomfortable underfoot. Built in the name of the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.

IMG_1455

It was a relief to leave the track behind when the Pennine Way finally descended west to the banks of Maize Beck. It was good to be back on a ‘soft’ path which took me to the bridge across the greatly diminished river. A little further on I found a flat grassy spot, prefect for a night of solitude.

IMG_1460

I awoke to another frosty dawn and I packed up again under blue skies. If you arrived without a map and compass and had not been to this area before you would be totally unaware of the spectacle that was about to come. Crossing almost flat and featureless moorland there is just a slight dip on the horizon to the west.

IMG_1464

Then all of a sudden the spectacle of High Cup Nick is upon you.

IMG_1466

IMG_1468

IMG_1473

It really is one of the most jaw dropping places in the Pennines, out of character with the surrounding landscape. I sat for a while at the head of the great chasm listening to a trickle of water making its way to the valley below.

Not many people appear to walk the south-eastern rim, instead using the Pennine way on the far side. I followed a narrow path, stopping frequently to glance back at the way I had come.

IMG_1474

I left the path after a while and contoured on a band of grassy limestone before dropping steeply down to Trundale Gill and a welcome spring of cold and clear water. A steep climb out of the Gill led me on a course to the shapely summit of Murton Pike.

IMG_1476

IMG_1477

IMG_1480

With a cold northerly breeze the views were exceptionally clear, the Lakeland fells standing proud above the patchwork of greens in the Eden Valley.

IMG_1483

A good track leads steeply down to Murton village from where I took a series of footpaths across fields back to Dufton. It was much longer than walking along the road but worth it for the views back to the high fells and a profusion of fragrant spring flowers.

IMG_1486

IMG_1487

IMG_1493

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,270 other followers