Wild Camping in the Lake District. Part 2 / by Neil Alexander

Such as spend their lives in cities, and their time in crowds will here meet with objects that will enlarge the mind, by contemplation, and raise it from nature to nature’s first cause. Whoever takes a walk into these scenes must return penetrated with a sense of the creator’s power in heaping mountains upon mountains, and enthroning rocks upon rocks. And such exhibitions of sublime and beautiful objects cannot but excite at once both rapture and reverence. Thomas West, 1778

Such as spend their lives in cities, and their time in crowds will here meet with objects that will enlarge the mind, by contemplation, and raise it from nature to nature’s first cause. Whoever takes a walk into these scenes must return penetrated with a sense of the creator’s power in heaping mountains upon mountains, and enthroning rocks upon rocks. And such exhibitions of sublime and beautiful objects cannot but excite at once both rapture and reverence. Thomas West, 1778

If you’ve not been following me on my most recent journey up to the natural wonder that is the Lake District, then I suggest you swing by part one here first.

Whilst I dried off and warmed up over a really average breakfast at the Wetherspoons in Keswick, I pondered my plans for the coming evening. My pre- trip planning had centred around two possible hikes and pitches for my tent for the night based upon the locations for sunset and then sunrise the next day. The first option was up and around the Langdale Pikes and the other was up to Swirl How. As I sat in the warmth watching the rain relentlessly pouring down outside, I fired up TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) on my iPad and did some more research. I concluded, whilst chewing on a lukewarm fry up, that Swirl How would be a better bet but having climbed neither of these routes, I was entirely reliant on my boy scout map reading skills. 

I arrived at the top of Wrynose Pass about 1:30 in the afternoon and parked up. The horizontal rain was still hitting hard. I ummed and ahhed for a while in the warmth of the car and made myself a brew. Finally plucking up the courage to head out. I figured that I couldn't bottle it now without at least giving it a try.

So once again, waterproofed up to the max, I set off. From what I’d read, the first part was probably going to be the trickiest for me. On a sunny day in June, a 4 year old would probably have scampered off into the distance, but carrying a 30kg rucksack in horizontal rain, I was forced to take my time. The rocks were very slippy and on more than one occasion I startled myself with the feeling of toppling backwards. And it would’ve been a long and rather painful descent, probably headfirst.

Great Carrs Air Crash Memorial
Halifax LL505 came to grief on Great Carrs in the Lake District on the night of 22nd October 1944 whilst on a night navigation exercise from Topcliffe in Yorkshire. Its crew; seven Canadians and one Scot, encountered very thick cloud whilst over the north-west of England, they circled the aircraft hoping the cloud would clear but this made them even more lost. The pilot then descended so the navigator could get a visual fix on the ground but by this stage it was flying too low in the heart of the Lakes. In a few seconds the aircraft hit the top of Great Carrs and crashed killing all on board. The wreckage partly caught fire but was almost intact when found by rescuers. As the RAF crash team could not remove it from the site because of its size and location it was broken into movable sized pieces and, because if left where it was then other aircraft flying overhead would report it, it was pushed off the side of the mountain into Broad Slack, where much of it remains today.

About half way up to the first cairn a chap on his own caught me up and we had a brief chat. He was unsure as to the weather on the tops, but was hoping with altitude it would clear. Me too but at that point I was having some serious misgivings. Two thoughts powered me on; the thought of climbing back down the way I’d come in these conditions terrified me,  and I couldn’t bear living with myself if I didn’t give it more of an effort. So I climbed on and on. Regularly consulting the GPS on my phone I knew I was on the right track. Foolhardy I may have been but I was not going to get lost. After passing a group of four gents on their way down, who either thought I was mad or stupid, or maybe both, I was caught up once again by another chap on his own. Even though by this stage, we really had to be stood right next to each other and shouting at the tops of our voices to be heard, we did manage to have a lengthy conversation. It’s great to hear how much this fantastic piece of countryside, to which we’re all free to ramble across as we please, brings so much pleasure and enjoyment to others, no matter what the conditions. In Phoebe Smith’s book on wild camping, which inspired me to make this trip, she details how on arriving at the wee bothy on the top of Ben Nevis, she was horrified to find it littered with rubbish - 2 bin bags full in fact that she single handedly brought down off the mountain. I am pleased to recant that all I came across were a few bits of discarded toilet roll from place to place, but I am sorry to say, that no, I could not bring myself to collect it up. I was having a hard enough time as it was.  

My tent pitched at Hell Gill Pike

After what seemed like an eternity bent double in the wind, I reached the summit. But by crikey it was blowy. There was no way I could pitch my tent here and expect it still to be intact by morning. I parted company with my most recent travelling companion, sought a spot of shelter behind some rocks and pondered my next move. By now it was around 4pm and sunset was due in under two hours.  Clearly my first night wild camping was not going to go quite according to plan. In anticipation of this though, I’d been on the lookout for suitable spots to shoot and make camp on the way up and had found quite a decent site about 1/2km back down by Hell Gill Pike. Forcing myself back to my feet and back into the wind I set off again.

Soon afterwards I found myself in a relatively sheltered spot where I thought my tent would be safe, I would be in a great spot for sunset and if my calculations were correct, I’d be able to see the rising sun from my tent door in the morning. The tent erection wasn’t as fraught in the wind as I feared it might be, helped as it was with the use of several rocks to prevent it flying off down the hillside whilst I tried to get poles and pegs and stuff in. Once up, I threw everything bar my camera gear in the tent and wandered over to the other side of the col, back into the wind, to see what I could see of the setting sun. The view was stunning, the orange glow of the sun was perfectly visible above the tops of the hills but just below the level of the cloud line. Perfect (Big smiley face!). I shot until the light show had finished and I could no longer feel my fingers though unfortunately it was simply too windy for long exposures which would have been my preference here.

My tent pitched at Hell Gill Pike

Feeling somewhat peckish it was time to make myself some dinner and settle in for the night. For about the first twenty minutes of sitting in my tent with my little head torch providing the only light, I could barely see a thing. After removing my waterproofs, the steam coming from my thermals was phenomenal. And once I’d set my JetBoil stove going, it was rather like being in a total white out. Dinner certainly wasn’t Michelin starred but it did the job. 

At some point during the night, I’d hoped that the clouds would lift for long enough to allow me to get the obligatory "tent in the hills with a starry background at night shot”. But the whole sleeping thing turned out to be a bit of a problem. I was paranoid that my tent was going to come detached from the ground and launch me and it down the 100m drop just feet from my tent door as the wind had by now picked up even more. The constant buffeting prevented sleep from coming until late by which time, a large proportion of my hip flask had been consumed. 

So my night's sleep could best be described as fitful! I poked my head out a couple of times but alas neither rain nor clouds had subsided. 

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?
E. M. Forster

As sunrise was due just before 8am, I set my alarm for 6:30 to allow me to get a tent shot and so I'd have time to make a coffee before things got lively. Upon waking  (for about the 34th time that night) I unzipped the tent and popped my head out. I was horrified to see the sky already turning a lovely pink. I looked at my watch again. It was only 6:30. Sunrise was 90 minutes away. What was going on? 

Without further ado, I threw on some clothes, sorry, lots of clothes, grabbed my camera gear and dived out the tent. Totally unprepared, and somewhat confused I shot as much as I could before the pink and orange disappeared along with any sign of the little yellow globe. Sunrise done and panic over, it finally dawned on me that the clocks had changed during the night and we were no longer on BST. How could I have overlooked the time change????

Metaphorically and physically kicking myself, I nailed some breakfast, JetBoiled some fresh coffee and began to break camp. Now I just had to attempt the climb back down that had had me petrified the day before. I'd drunk as much fluids as I could and eaten as much of the food I'd brought to lighten the load a little, and the first part of the hike down was a piece of cake, almost enjoyable. As I began to approach the part where the path split and I was due to head down, I overshot. Doubling back, somehow I ended up on a different path down and was back at the car before I knew it.   

The path back down from Swirl How

Elated that I'd actually done it and survived, I must have sat in the car for about an hour before firing up the Disco and pointing her homewards. What a blast I'd had, and thank you, thank you, thank you to Phoebe Smith for being such an inspiration.

Oh and the photos? Well Saturday night's images were definitely worth it. Sunday morning's not so much.

Have you ever tried camping in the wild?