Friday, 30 April 2010

Buttermere and Blackbeck

Apologies for the delay in getting this out. Despite two weeks holiday over Easter, raising a toddler is reasonably time consuming and I’ve also had to sleep....
We set out as usual from Martyn’s place of work. It adds a little time to the journey, but it means he doesn’t have to travel by train to get to me and we do tend to arrive a little earlier than we would do. I always end up driving first, but I think Martyn’s got wise to it now-he’s realised that the second half of the journey involves me sinking a couple of Guinnesses, but there is usually payback meted out when we pitch the tents-more of that later!
I’ve never gone through Honister pass before. I’d had half an idea just to chance the closure in the snows on my last trip, but quickly became clear how much of a deluded idiot I would have been had I gone for it-it was impressively steep. As we drove we kept an eye out for flat spots just off the side of the road. We’d decided not to walk as it was so late and to have a swift pint instead. Unfortunately, hostelries seemed few and far between. We eventually pulled up at the Bridge Hotel. Inside, it was virtually empty. I managed to overhear one of the more repulsive jokes I’ve heard in my life and we settled down for a pint. The first went down nicely and I decided to have another only for the barman to inform me that last orders should have been called-at quarter to eleven? The place was not busy, but surely last orders at quarter to eleven on a Friday night is just cruel! Slightly disgruntled we left and drove to our campsite just up the road. We knew it was a bit cheeky, but had seen several campervans on the way up and figured one tiny tent and a tarp shouldn’t cause too many problems. We were setting up by the light of the headlights when a pickup pulled up beside my car. I had images of locals climbing out clutching pick axe handles and approaching in a manner reminiscent of the scene from Easy Rider. I wondered which one of us was going to be Jack Nicholson! After a couple of moments, however, it just drove away. I think the farmer just wanted to check us out to ensure we weren’t yobs. Clearly not. We sat on the bonnet of the car and supped on the extra ration of whisky I had brought and listening to the stereo (nice and quietly!).
Here’s where karma kicked in. Turns out I had made a few rookie mistakes when pitching my tarp (recommended for experts only on the Mountain Laurel site) Firstly, I had assumed the rain which we did not have when settling down would be the rain we would continue not to have. Secondly, I had chosen a site which looked, but which was not flat. Thirdly, I had taken no account of the wind direction. So my tarp was pitched in a half pyramid, with the opening downhill and into the wind. The rain was approaching and reached us in the early hours of the morning. I woke to the sound of the rain and had a quick feel around outside the bivvy. It soon became clear that the side of the bivvy was getting wet and I had slid out from the cover of the tarp. I scooted myself back under the tarp and tried to ignore it. Unfortunately the angle of the slope ensured I gradually slid back out. When I was at the back of the tarp, I was reasonably sure I would be ok, but because the bivvy is water resistant and not proof I did need to make a decision. I had a few choices:
1. To lower the pole, tighten the guys and hope I kept far enough back to avoid the rain.
2. To re pitch the tarp so the opening was up hill and hope the rain didn’t change direction
3. To move the guys around to different loops so I could re-pitch in a low A-frame that would keep me dry pretty much no matter what.
There was no contest. I got up, picked up the whole bivvy, walked two or three metres and went to sleep in the car, leaving the tarp where it was. Hardcore it was not.
This gave me a moral quandary. The quandary was this: You set yourself up on the internet and call yourself minimalgear-you spout off about how little your pack weighs and how you’ve got some fantastic cuben fibre gear that performs at least as well as the really heavy stuff all the other people are carrying. Then, for the second trip in a row, you spend the night in a car. Of course you control the content of the blog. That means that you can edit out the first night and just put in the good stuff…
The problem is that just having a blog feels like setting myself up as an expert, which I’m not. I’m just someone following a (at times) steep learning curve. I have a reasonable amount of experience but when it comes down to it, I’m just someone who wants to experiment with my hiking and camping gear and record that experience so maybe others can learn something. Because that’s the nature of blogs as far as I can tell-regular people sharing their experiences. I do fall into the trap of seeing bloggers as experts though, and I’m sure others do-it’s the same with people who review gear. I don’t want others to see what I do as the way to do things-it’s just the way I want to do things.
Martyn, of course, had had a very comfortable night in his traditional tent! Although, if I was still pushing the ultralight agenda, I would also have been okay, had I used the Gatewood cape. I felt a lot better after I brewed a coffee with a reasonable shot of whisky in it. I sat and read the papers in the car from about 6.30 until 8 when Martyn woke up. The views down the valley were fantastic and we lingered over breakfast. Martyn was experimenting with an Ant-Gravity gear pepsi can stove I’d given him in my ongoing input to his gear choices. He was pretty happy with the results and decided to leave his gas stove behind which he’d brought as a back-up. Also left behind were the ice-axes and crampons. Despite the fell-top assessors advice, the fells looked fairly naked, and while I was disappointed, it did mean a decent reduction in weight.
It was a quick and easy walk down to Buttermere once we finally got going. There was a fine rain coming down, but the cloud base was not too low and visibility was pretty good. We’d been eyeing up a scramble but it was going to be way too greasy in the wet. We settled for some off road faffing and a spot of water collection. Once we got onto it, the path was well constructed and our pace was good. We reached Dubs Hut in a reasonable time and poked our noses in. There’s a sign on the door saying it’s available to hire but I can’t imagine a less inviting venue. There’s no chimney, no furniture apart from a low stone bench which is too narrow to sleep on and the floor was half covered with dampness from (I presume) a leaky roof. I’d be interested to know how much they charge, although it does look like they’re extending it. I’d been thinking about a snack stop in there but I settled for a Snickers, walking around outside rather than spend any more time in the hut. We pushed on towards Great Gable. The rain had picked up now, and visibility dropped. The walk was across a fairly featureless seeming plateau and the going got a bit tough. Not for any physical reason, just because I wasn’t enjoying it. There was no real reason for this, and I’ve been up in the hills in similar weather and really relished the adversity. I just kept wondering why I was up here when I could be spending time with Solomon and Steph. It could have been tiredness, dehydration or just a parting gift from the previous night’s drinking. The solitude of the hill is good for inner contemplation but it can be a little isolating. Of course the real reason for it was because I wasn’t on the hill at all- mentally I was back home and that’s often not good. The final pull up to Windy Gap was steep and my knee began giving me some hassle, which hasn’t happened for a while. We sat down and I had a drink and something to eat. Then we bagged Green Gable. Me and Martyn aren’t usually peak baggers, but Martyn’s decided that he wants to try to get to know this particular area in some depth, rather than just walking up random mountains, and it’s quite a nice idea. And once we were at the top, all of a sudden my mood lifted and we began riffing on the mountain names, just being stupid and laughing our arses off.
We decided to take the easy route down towards BlackSail and have a bit of lunch there. And as we descended I was whistling and skipping along. Then the Sun came out. Streams were covered in snow, with bridges and pot-holes where it had melted. There was a feeling of spring in the air and by the time we arrived at Blacksail, summer had almost arrived. It was easy to ignore the extensive felling that had taken place all through the area. The sun beat down and it was nice to have a seat with a back-always a luxury when you’re hiking.

1 comment:

The Dude Abides said...

Great read and couldn't agree more with the notion of being in the hills but mentally still at home. I've done that a couple times now.

We had great weather when me and Paul were up there early in March and pretty much pitched on the same spot.

Glad you and Martyn enjoyed the trip in the end.