Night on a bare mountain*

(…*with apologies to Mussorgsky.)

Recovery from back pain takes time. I know this all too well, but my current and seemingly minor symptoms have been hanging around for seven months and progress has been snail-like.

Recently, things have been bit better and I thought it high time to give my geriatric muscles a bit of a work out. This was going to be a pretty minor excursion, but I was keen to sleep out again: somewhere high, somewhere quiet and with a view.

The royal wedding helped my cause. While most people’s attention was focussed on the happy couple, I hoped that Lakeland would be relatively quiet. Staveley, sleepy at the best of times, was a ghost town when I left the train late afternoon.

The plan was to enjoy a gentle stroll up the Kentmere valley, climb the Garburn Pass and then walk the ridge until I lost the light and found a decent spot to camp.

Although the fell tops were clear, and there was little prospect of rain, a heavy north-easterly was going to be challenging according to the mountain forecast. A heavy blanket of haze visible from the valley floor confirmed the forecast – plenty of dust blowing around.

It was great to follow the River Kent, though. I stopped regularly staring into pools with the hope for seeing some trout. Occasionally, the excitable conditions up high made their way to the quiet fields and secluded farmsteads. Trees jerked violently in the wind, their new leaves hissed and the footpath was littered with their broken limbs: branches snatched from trunk sockets.

I was a little concerned about camping opportunities on the ridge, but I had my bivy rather than tent so was relatively confident about finding sufficient shelter in the lee of a slope.

Kentmere was quiet and sheltered. Castle Crag and its neighbouring gnarled knuckles of rock diverted sharp gusts from the pretty village. I found the path to the right of the farm at Kentmere Hall and climbed the pass. A climber with boulder mat overtook me looking for a quiet evening of searching for handholds. He advised me to look for the sheep to find a suitable spot to bed down for the night.

I reached the top of the pass, – very familiar ground – and started along the ridge. Reaching Yoke, I received a sharp, first-hand account of conditions. The wind was very strong and, as promised, buffeting made progress tricky.

Now late evening, I started looking for a suitable bedroom. The back of Yoke looked promising but I pressed on to Ill Bell and spent half an hour scouting. Thinking of retracing my steps, I found a nice ,flattish spot which had clearly been used before given the makeshift windbreak that had been constructed. Although not entirely sheltered, the spot afforded a decent view of Windermere and, to the left, a view all the way to Kendal.

I quickly unrolled the bag and put some water on to boil.

I watched a lovely sunset while eating some MOD ravioli – a gift from a serviceman friend, not light but delicious! Cooking in the lee of the stone ‘wall’ was manageable, although my Caldera’s alcohol stove did blow out on a couple of occasions… the first time this has happened in use. I tried, in vain, to capture the scene using my camera phone having left my old compact at home.

I had a couple of drams (Bailie Nicol Jarvie for those interested) and watched the lights come on in Windermere and Kendal. Although thin cloud raced not too far above my head, stars soon came into view beyond and I spotted familiar constellations.

With the sun gone, the north-easterly gained a sharp edge and I snuggled into my sleeping bag. The fabric of my Big Agnes Three Wire Bivy snapped and crackled in the wind and sleep was fitful at best. I did sleep, though, as glances at my watch confirmed that hours had passed when it only felt like minutes.

I awoke to find the sky lightening in the east. I got out of the bag and heated more water for an ‘all-day breakfast,’ another MOD treat. It was 5.30am and I watched a beautiful sunrise. Before eating, I star jumped for a few minutes to get the blood flowing and to loosen any back stiffness I may have acquired on the NeoAir overnight.

I felt surprisingly good and, rolling up my sleeping gear and de constructing the unofficial stonewall windbreak , enjoyed a very early morning trek towards High Street with a view to completing the Kentmere Round.

Froswick was quickly negotiated but conditions were very difficult on the ascent to the broad ridge. Leaning into the wind and walking poles set, I made painfully slow progress. I tried to get lower and my back protested under the effort.

I chickened out and retraced my steps. A night camping out and still being able to walk in the morning was enough… mission accomplished. Discretion would be the better part of valour this time.

Dropping back to the Garburn Pass, I bumped into another backpacker who was in the final days of an epic trek following the old Westmorland boundary. He raised an eyebrow when I told him where I’d bedded down for the night… I was slightly jealous of his journey and wondered if I’d manage this kind of trip again.

Bidding each other a fond farewell, I made my way down the pass and followed paths on the opposite side of the Kentmere valley to complete a circuit of sorts.

My back was very stiff now and I could sense the lack of balance in my hips, but I was in no real pain. All good signs for next time…

13 thoughts on “Night on a bare mountain*

  1. I enjoyed reading your post and will be checking out your blog more often in future. I’m very tempted to get a bivi bag and start wild camping (not wild camped before!): even more so having just read this!
    I hope your back gets better quickly – it doesn’t sound like fun

    1. Thanks for dropping by and the comment. Bivying is great fun… If you haven’t seen it, pick up a copy of Ronald Turnbull’s Book of the Bivvy for an irreverent take on nights in the bag. Re the back, it’s a waiting game : (

  2. Hi David, thanks for your kind words. This trip really whetted my appetite again (not that it needed it really!) Looking forward to the day when everything’s working properly…

  3. Excellent – felt like I was there with you. Shame you didn’t have a compact with you for more pics. In conditions like you encountered a bivvy is ideal with it’s low profile – but then again a full on geodesic tent would have been more comfortable – if it stood! LOL

  4. You’re right Terry: the bivy is a challenge at times, particularly when the heavens open. However, I do prefer it for overnight trips now. The Big Agnes has plenty of room for my bits and bobs in the hood area while the low profile and relative simplicity are a real plus at times. I bought it in the States as the prices over here are ridiculous. Still wouldn’t be my choice for multi-day excursions (and I wished it wasn’t orange).

    Yes, I was cursing myself for not bringing the compact… would have shot a bit of (very amateur!) video too as it was pretty wild up there!

  5. You should save up and get a Solar Comp 1, mate 😉 More room, strong etc.

    It’s been brill weather for bivvies of late – but I’ve been stuck at home with work.

  6. I had a look at the Solar Comp online. Interesting. Would need to see one in the flesh and try it for size. It would also have to be very good to steer me away from my Akto (and get me to part with cash for another tent 🙂

  7. This is my first visit to your blog, very enjoyable. It has ben many years since I have been up in the lakes and your tale has brought back fond memories. Also hats off to you for getting out and about with a bad back, I know of many who would just sit at home and moan about it. I will look forward to dropping back in to hear more of your wanders.

  8. Hi Owl,

    Thanks for dropping by and I’m glad you liked the post. The back is a constant frustration and I’d be a lying if I were to give the impression that I have a positive attitiude all of the time. However, it’s good for my ‘mental health’ to get out as much as possible, even if my physio wouldn’t neccessarily approve…

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