Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Lakes in February

I'd already published this trip report from last February on the TGO forum but I've got some video that i wasn't able to post. I thought it might be interesting for people who hadn't read it as it was one of the first times I began making conscious gear choices based on the expected conditions rather than just reducing weight or taking a lot of equipment 'just in case'.
I had been looking for the opportunity to test out all my new toys for a while and the heavy snowfalls gave me interesting conditions to test the gear. I played around with different packing configurations during the week before deciding on my kit list. I took both my sleeping bags to layer up, a five season multi-mat and a torso length section of GG eggbox foam. I had tried including a Thermarest 3/4 instead, but the weight difference made me decide on the GG despite the fact that it would have to be carried on the outside of the pack. In the event, it didn't bother me as much as I had thought it might. For warm wear I took my down sweater, some merino long johns and at the last moment threw in my minim ultra vest. Having looked at the weather I decided against taking any waterproofs and instead took pertex trousers and top-my down sweater can shrug off snow and if anything unexpected came up I could wear the Gatewood cape. The pertex was an excellent choice- I put them on, supplemented by a microfleece and they stayed on until I got back to the car the next day. On uphills the long front zip on the Rab tob vented well and every time we stopped and the cold hit, they blocked the wind fantastically. This meant a lot less removing and replacing of layers. On downhills, I added the minim vest. Shelter was the Gatewood cape and evrything was carried in my jam sack. After packing I weighed everything on my (not terribly accurate) and it came out at 6.5 kg including food, fuel, water, ice axe, crampons and 300ml of whisky (winter essential!). We set out at an ungodly hour and arrived at Wasdale at 10.30, just in time to nab the last parking space. After a bit of faffing and taking of team photos we headed towards Lord's Rake. The plan was fairly fluid but we wanted to have a crack at a bit of steep snow and the Rake had been recommended as a good introduction. We were all up to speed with our winter skills and wanted to take them a bit further. My pack felt good on, especially once I strapped on the crampons and began carrying the ice axe. The Rake was in excellent condition, and fairly untouched except for a few snowed over footsteps. There was plenty of exposure but nothing technical and we all agreed it was one of the highlights of the weekend. The original plan had been to head over to Sprinkling tarn to camp, but we had already spent longer than we thought climbing the Rake and now I made the classic mistake of looking at the objective rather than the map. I descended through the wrong gully and ended up on a short slope with a nasty looking cliff at the bottom. I was heading down to check out the possibilities and thought to myself that I'd better hold my axe in the self arrest position when I slipped and began sliding. I picked up speed remarkably quickly but managed to stop myself after a few feet. There was an anxious moment where I thought the axe wouldn't bite and was a bit shaken when I got up. Lesson learnt, we descended down the right gully and headed towards Great Moss.
It was clear that we weren't going to make it to sprinkling tarn now so we began to look for a dry spot. There was plenty of bogs and tufts but we finally found a spot on a small knoll. The wind had picked up and I was a little worried about the Gatewood cape. My brother in Law had a KWay 2 man wedge that I could have squeezed into but I wanted to test my capabilities. I rigged an extra guy at the back using my ice axe which had the benefit of giving me a bit of extra headroom and I settled down to cook my supper. I was very impressed with the cladera cone. It was the first time I had used it but despite the wind and the icy water it still boiled enough for a coffee and my meal in a very short amount of time. The wind was making the lightweight aluminium pole on the cape flex quite alarmingly. I closed the door and it improved matters but I would have been much happier with a trekking pole there instead. I still felt safe enough to leave the tent to go and hunch up in the bottom of Martyn's tent to drink whisky and munch on my homemede jerky. I don't think the other's were convinced. Ben commented that no meat should crunch!We decided to settle down at about nine, but exiting the tent we saw that the whole valley was bathed in the most incredible moonlight. I spent a few freezing minutes trying to capture the scene before getting into the bag. The wind had dropped and the thermometer in my tent registered -5.
I was warm during the night. I wore all of my day clothes and my minim vest. i used my down jacket as a pillow. Occasionally my backside got cold when i curled up so I placed my sit mat between it and the sleeping bag which worked well. I was pressed up against the side of the tent and because I was pitched on a slope I kept slding down so my feet were pressed on the bottom.You really need to sleep dead centre in the cape to avoid touching the sides. When I woke up there was some ice on the fly but not a lot, which was good because I hadn't vented the tent at all. I had kept my mouth inside the sleeping bag which may have reduced condensation. There was some ice on the foot of my bag but luckily, the night had been so dry I could just brush it off and my bag remained dry.We set off up the tongue after a relaxed breakfast. We were making time because we wanted to get driving before the predicted snow arrived. After avoiding snow patches as much as possible we finally gave in and strapped on our crampons. We saw a lot of people on the Sunday, conditions were just about perfect. After a a quick spin past Sprinkling tarn we descended back through Wasdale and returned to the car just in time to catch the first of the snow showers as we drove back.Overall on this trip I was really pleased with the weight of my kit and the way it worked. Last winter my pack weighed closer to 10kg without axe, crampons or 2 sleeping bags. I felt that each element worked together and different elements could be combined to reduce weight. I didn't use my long johns or spare socks but I was glad I had them as there was still the possibility of putting my foot through a bog and getting wet as happened to Martyn. Realistically I could have got away without the vest but it did give me a bit more flexibility. The caldera cone was great. I took 250ml of meths and only used about 1/4 of it for 2 hot meals and a few cuppas. The Gatewood cape worked really well. I would have felt safer with a trekking pole but I think that I was being a little paranoid and at 400g for a shelter it's hard to beat. Finally I was really happy with the kahtoolas combined with my hedgehog mids. I kicked a fair amount of steps in the shoes and my toes were fine. I could have done with a little pair of debris gaiters to keep the snow out.


Keith said...

6.5 K's in the snow, that impresses me! Don't know if I could be happy sleeping in a poncho though ;)

minimalgear said...

Is that what it was? I'm not very good with distance! It's better to think of the Gatewood as something more akin to a mini hex when it's in tent mode- it was definitely up to the conditions we got that weekend. Things have definitely improved with the addition of the trekking pole though!

The Dude Abides said...

Ahh there's my fix of winter wild camping for this week!

I can't wait to get out in the snow again but its going to be after Christmas I expect now what with other commitments.

Enjoyed the video too.