The aim of a wild camp is, surely, to find somewhere remote, allowing the participant to connect with their surroundings. On our relatively crowded islands, and certainly south of the border, this requires backpackers to aim high and increasingly off the beaten track.
However, factors governing the remoteness of a particular spot are not confined to location. This Easter, the unseasonable Arctic air stream which has dumped considerable snow on our usually wet land has had the advantage rendering the accessible inaccessible… inaccessible for those unprepared to put in a bit of effort.
On the week leading into Easter, I’d been keeping in touch with conditions in the Derwent Valley, that busiest of Dark Peak attractions. The snowfall had been so extensive, even the Fairholmes visitor centre was closed. With the cold persisting, my hope was that conditions would be tricky further up the valley and that my planned camp spot – the forested valley of the West End river -would be at peace.
The signs were not great leaving the train at Edale. The vale, at first glance, seemed distinctly snow free. But heading east and out of Jaggers Clough, progress became reassuringly tricky. Deep drifts of snow clogged the footpaths and breaking trail through woodland and down to the now open Snake road proved taxing.
The further east I travelled, the poorer conditions became underfoot. Now past Hagg Farm, and heading north in parallel to the Derwent Valley, one foot drifts became waist deep walls of snow. I had trail crampons in my pack, but the snow as soft and the ground easy. I persisted with heavy winter boots and trekking poles.
Dropping down to the valley, flurries of snow funnelled from the north. Although 4.30 pm on a Good Friday, the valley was deserted save for a Land Rover Defender breaking a path along the valley road. While the road was passable up to the Howden Dam, beyond it was blocked by firm, fluted ridges of snow. The further I walked, the less boot prints I counted… Although I could trace the narrow tramlines of a cross country skier.
Turning into the plantation, the boot prints vanished and the only marks in the snow were the hooves of sheep.
I walked up the valley and out of the trees scouting for good camp spots. One location was exceptional, although hardly inconspicuous. Failing to find anything better, I returned and dropped down from the trail finding a large flat spot next to the river covered with a sumptuous bed of moss.
I made a brew and evaluated the pitch.
Yep, really conspicuous, but I hadn’t seen anyone for the last hour. With the light falling, I pitched the Akto and made ready my bed for the night. With dinner done, I sat outside and watched the night develop. The bright star appeared in the northern sky and served as my focus as my eyes became accustomed to its neighbours.
Although I sat in a depression, my sheltered spot felt warmer than surrounding ground. I assumed this was protection against the easterly breeze which gave the branches voice above me.
Nevertheless, the cold ultimately won out and I retreated to my heavy winter bag for whisky. Leaving the door open, I fell asleep and awoke at 1am with a chilled nose. Time to turn in proper for an uncharacteristically good night’s sleep.
Light flooded the tent early and I was up before six and, after an early breakfast, hit the trail to gain the best of the light. Photography proved difficult with the conditions (not helped by forgetting my lens cloth) but the light describing long shadows on snow reminded me of the woods in Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra. The air might have been thicker in the humble Peak District, but the light and cold were equal.
I followed the path across the moor to Alport Castles. Reaching the great landslip I, perhaps foolhardily, practised glissading my and kicking steps on firm banks of snow. Finding the path to Alport Dale, I negotiated another sketchy section of snow before dropping down to the peaceful valley floor, more undiscovered country for me.
Crossing the Snake Road again, I forded the river and followed the path to Hope Cross. Here, the snow was the worst of the trip, some firm, some soft, all very deep. An hour and a half of punishing toil followed before regaining yesterday’s ground.
Making Edale once more, I collapsed at the station surprised at how difficult the conditions had been, but glad that they’d allowed me the best of wild camps.