Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Coniston Round

I'm certainly getting lazier when it comes to walking. It's not that I don't enjoy the walking, but the amount of it I do on any trip seems to be reducing. I could get all defensive about it and claim that I enjoy the camping more and to a certain extent that's true. Certainly there's at least a 60/40 split in enjoment levels but the fact of it is that I'm not up for flogging myself on. I'm lazy. It's supposed to be a holiday, and for me, a holiday means sitting around eating and drinking. So when Martyn suggested that we stay for at least one more in the Sun Inn in Coniston and I knew I was probably already more drunk than I should be for setting up a tarp, it didn't take much persuasion.
It had all started a long while back. The trip had been planned and cancelled twice before. The weather report couldn't make up it's mind whether it was going to be gale force winds and sub zero temperatures or actually fairly reasonable for the time of year. I wasn't too bothered. It meant I got several chances to repack my bag to try to accomodate the whims of the met office and, properly supported with some decent booze, packing my bag is one of the great pleasures in my life.

In the end I decided on a reasonably minimal kit, using only my Enlightened Quilt supplementad by my down trousers and my down inner jacket.

As it turned out, this was ideal and it all fitted into my new Z packs zero pack-just under 4 kg for the lot including food water and booze.

We decided on Coniston as we hadn't explored the area at all before. The Coniston round looked like a nice walk and as Martyn is also of the opinion that a reasonable length of walk is a day hike split into two days it seemed like a winner. Generally on the second morning we get up about 6ish and do about an hour's walking to get back early for our other halves. It does limit us in the walking we can do especially as we are limited to circular walks. Another must is a decent pub no more than an hour's walk from our first night's camp. Which is how we ended up in the Sun Inn. They had some decent beer and there were people to rip the piss out of, including ale snobs trying to humiliate the barman and a extremely well spoken racist trotting out 1950's stereotypes. In the end it was him that got us out of there plus the fact that we had no money left.

It was an easy walk up to the YHA, despite stubbing our toes on every other step. We tried for a few spots but gave up in the end and pitched on the river bank in full view of the hostel. We weren't sure of the legality but decided to ignore it. It was obvious we weren't party louts out to make a mess and the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to move on. I'd managed to get hold of a second hand Six moon Lunar Solo for Martyn in excellent condition. He'd had it as his Christmas present but it was a bit of a gamble. A tent is a very personal thing and I knew he was attached to his MSR microzoid. I was hoping that the 500g knocked of his baseweight plus the ability to sit upright combined with sizeable amount of extra floorspace would win him over. Trouble was, the Lunar Solo has a reputation of being a bit of a bugger to pitch taut and a first pitch drunk and in the dark was risky. Luckily my practice with the Gatewood Cape which is a similar design secured a decent pitch- certainly it was better than my tarp which I had to have three goes at before I was happy. We sat around drinking for a bit while a stream of pub goers returned to the Hostel. None of them batted an eyelid at us, if indeed, they noticed us at all.

I woke early as usual. My internal clock has been buggered by work so that I find it hard to sleep much past half six. Martyn has no such problem and alone, with a somewhat tender head, I decided stick to my usual hiking strategy which is to sit and watch the view with a whisky coffee. When we were travelling in Croatia we arrived to catch an early bus at 5 am to find all the bus drivers sat around with coffees and big glasses of brandy. If it's good enough for people about to embark on a seven hour trip precipitous roads with eye watering hairpin bends, then it's good enough for me. Martyn concurred and popped a beer when he emerged. We sat for a while enjoying the sun and only got around to moving when the level of families already walking told us that we were way past an early start.

It was maybe this relaxed approach that meant we headed up the wrong valley. We had two options- hop over the High Fell ridge to get to the right valley or just head up to the top of the valley towards Wetherlam and turn left. Of course Martyn opted for the eye watering clamber over the ridge, so pretty soon we had sweated out all of the booze anyway. We quickly gained the top of Swirl How and felt like we deserved some lunch. There was a brisk wind, but hunkered down we could get the full benefit of the sun. We were making exceptionally poor progress- it was all very nice.

Back up on the ridge, the wind was very brisk. I broke out my secret weapon- a fleece T-hirt I'd got from Matalan for three quid. It provided just the right amount of warmth underneath my Tachyon anorak, and the hood made a nice difference to my comfort as well. Thus it was at half two in the afternoon I made a running descent towards Blind Tarn, out camp spot for the night. We briefly debated heading back to the Sun Inn instead but decided against it. It was a very nice spot and, just a few hundred metres away from the hordes on the ridge, it felt pretty isolated. I had a doze and then we chatted and ate.

I slept pretty well, except for the fact that the bivvy kept sliding out from unedr the tarp. There was a brief shower about four and then we got up and headed back. I've made a promise to myself to find somewhere a bit more off the beaten track for the next trip. Our last couple of trips have been swarmed with other walkers which is all very well but it is nice to get a bit of solitude. All the gear performed well apart from the sliding issue. Of course, the elements didn't really give anything a thrashing, but that's why I chose the gear I did. The zero carried very nicely, despite Martyn's comments that it looked a bit homemade and plasticky. I barely noticed it was there even with a couple of beers topping up the weight. The only thing I would change would be the two gram pegs I took- too short (just) for the caldera and no holding power.


The Dude Abides said...

Nice relaxed trip you guys had by all accounts.

I sometimes feel the same about the walking but I never have the balls to pitch early and just chill. That was the beauty of Scotland a couple of years back, where we could pitch early and leave whenever we liked.

Couple of questions (and yes I'm too lazy to go back and find out from previous posts!) What's your bivy and sleeping mat combo and what is the new tarp? I'm desperate to make my own ultra-light bivy with some material I've found in Germany and then make the move to tarps - for the summer at least! If I can get my mate Paul to agree I reckon we could both hunka down under a trailstar? Real romantic!

The Dude Abides said...

P.S. Forgot to say Blind Tarn is a nice spot hey? Great views in the morning to Coniston and in the evening you get the lights on the coast with the relatively sheltered bowl around the tarn. Remember sinking a few rums up there one night!

minimalgear said...

Blind tarn was excellent. The bivy is a Titanium Goat bivy and the mat is a neoair. There should be enough room in there for most light sleeping bags with the neoair. The tarp is the Mountain Laurel poncho tarp. The Trailstar when it's pitched tight to the ground is really not a big step up from a tent, but you also have the option to open it right up if you want- its a really nice option.