landscape photographer

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? 

Wild Camping in the Lake District by Neil Alexander

Overlooking Alcock Tarn in the Lake District

The weekend just gone I was up in the Lake District again but with a slightly different plan than usual. I really do love it up here but sadly I just don’t make it up as often as I’d like.
I get so little time in this glorious corner of our wee Isles that I often tend to shoot from the side of the road but I’ll also happily walk a mile or two to make a photo.  I’ve never really been a massive fell walker. I’m not a Wainwright collector that’s for sure and in the past, it’s often felt like time spent walking is time not shooting, so I’ve tended to plan all my locations with ease of access in mind. That was until this weekend.

I’ve been reading Phoebe Smith’s Wild Camping experiences, in particular her 3 Peaks Sleeps Challenge for which she has this hair-brained scheme to hike up Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis and kip on the top. It’s a fascinating series of tales which leaves one thinking that she really is completely bonkers.But it did get me thinking. Surely my chances of getting better photos of the Lakes' peaks would be significantly improved were I to be  a) up much higher and b) in position for both the sun setting and rising the next morning.
In fact so inspired by her was I, that I spent days and days planning a trip high up into the wilderness to try and see if the photos I could make were significantly better than those I regularly make much lower down. I’m no stranger to camping. Did it regularly as a young ‘un and as a family we’re huge fans though mostly our gear is for fairly moderate weather.

A quick inventory of my gear showed that I had pretty much everything I’d need for a solo trip, save a much warmer sleeping bag and a pretty substantial rucksack to carry everything I’d need. But as I tried to “test” pack a couple of days before leaving, I started to get a bit panicky. My pack, containing my Vango Beta 250 two man tent, sleeping bag & matt, stove, food, water, torch, waterproofs, and some camera gear came in at just under 30kgs and felt extremely awkward on my back. And even then I was concerned that I hadn’t enough supplies.

Cloudy Easedale

I was to go for two nights but the closer it came to departure date, the worse the forecast got. This eased my apprehensions slightly. I decided that as this was to be my first “wild camp” I’d only spend one night actually under canvas and the other night in the car.

Leaving home just after midday on the Friday, I was in the car park for the climb to Alcock Tarn, my planned sunset location that evening, by mid-afternoon. I sat in the car for 30 minutes or so munching on sausage rolls and biscuits whilst the rain hammered down relentlessly. Once satiated I decided that I needed to get my backside out of the car and up the hill, whatever the weather - it would be better higher up, right? Donning full waterproofs and with water pouring off the rain cover on my Clik Elite backpack I hiked up the hill. Not a particularly difficult walk, I was up there inside an hour, which gave me a good couple of hours to decide on my composition for the upcoming setting of the sun. But it didn’t happen really. I eventually climbed up behind the tarn a bit and settled myself on a little mound surrounded by tall bracken and bold sheep. The banks of cloud just kept rolling on up the valley. One minute I could see right across it to the Pike of Blisco and the Tilberthwaite Fells, the next I could barely see the edge of the water just a few feet below me. The sun was only notable by it’s complete absence. Climbing back down the slippery stone path in utter darkness, my little Petzl head torch helping to keep me from falling on my touche, I wrote the evening off and vowed to move on to Saturday’s dawn location.

Autumnal Derwent Water shoreline

I headed over to Derwentwater, all my wet gear stuffed into the passenger footwell with the heater on full, my plan being to shoot some of the jetties over the smooth early morning water, and parked up for the night. Driving a car the size of my ageing Discovery does have it’s many advantages as well as many dis-advantges; Sainsburys car park can be a real pain in the bum, but it is plenty big enough for me to lie the back seats down and get a comfortable night’s sleep, even with the rain hammering down on the roof all night.

Awaking to the sound of my alarm at 6:30, I peered out into the gloom to find it still raining aplenty. But I didn’t came all this way just to be beaten by a few spots of water. Gearing up again in full waterproofs I headed out to the lake shore. But it just didn’t stop. It was relentless and whilst I’m comfortable using rain hoods or even shower caps to keep stuff dry in a mild drizzle, keeping everything, in fact anything, completely dry in such torrential conditions was just too much. When the water is pouring off your hood right into the camera’s viewfinder, it makes it a little tricky to make photos. So I didn’t really get any great shots that morning either.

Back to the car, dry off, and find somewhere warm and dry for breakfast.

Then, it was time to select my route for my wild camp.
More next week....

Prints from Laos and Vietnam now on sale by Neil Alexander

I've just popped some more prints up for sale. These are from a few years back but are some of my best sellers, and in fact, also some of my personal favourites. Laos is such a lovely and peaceful place. Surprising considering it's history during the Vietnam War but if you've never been, then you really ought to.

Monk's robe hanging out to dry, Luang Prabang, Laos

Monk's robe hanging out to dry, Luang Prabang, Laos

Boats in the Mekong River, Luang Prabang at sunset

Boats in the Mekong River, Luang Prabang at sunset

Woman holding red chillies, Can Cau market, Sapa,Vietnam

Woman holding red chillies, Can Cau market, Sapa,Vietnam

Prints start from £28 and everything comes with a 100% money back guarantee.