Peak District wildcamping bikepack

An opportunity arose at the weekend to get out. I say ‘opportunity’, but this bikepack in the Dark Peak was complicated by my current state of moving house. Bike bags had been packed, sleeping bags and bivvy bags were neatly stowed in marked cardboard boxes, camp stove fuel and water bladder were stored God-knows-where.

An hour or so crashing around in the workshop later and I cobbled together some kit for the trip. With the weather sultry in Glossopdale, I opted for a tarp – a first-time outing for this simple shelter.

I strapped the bags to my ECR and pushed off at 5pm. While the heat of day hung heavily in the air, the sun had started its descent to the horizon and the evening light gave the Derbyshire hills definition, perspective and texture. The trails were agreeably quiet too.

I picked up the Pennine Bridleway and headed due-Edale over Lantern Pike towards Mount Famine. Feeling a little reckless, I turned the handlebars towards Jacobs Ladder and ended up pushing most of the way – underlining the heft of my bike and my hopeless skills as mountain biker.

Edale was full of weekenders enjoying the evening. The village’s Spoonfest had swelled numbers, but campsites would have always been full in this balmy weather. As a consequence, some enterprising folk had negotiated their own impromptu campgrounds on farmers’ fields further down the valley. The atmosphere was heavy with the fug of barbecues.

I didn’t delay.

I was headed for the banks of Ladybower north of Bamford where I hoped to find a helpful spot to rig the tarp and watch night fall. Pushing along the reservoir track I found a nice ‘beach’ and the branches of low trees provided perfect anchorage for my tarp ridgeline. Despite being my first outing, the tarp was ready in a couple of minutes. I rolled out my bivvy and sorted the bed for the night. A brew soon followed and I watched the light fade and the traffic illuminating the Snake Road – a mere whisper on the far bank.

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ECR miles

The last couple of weekends I’ve been getting the miles in on the ECR ahead of my trip to Scotland in May. Importantly, these have been largely off road miles and with luggage to a lesser or greater degree.

Last weekend saw me out with those fine folk from Keep Pedalling and a couple of other customers, among them Tim from Life in the Cycle Lane. We bimbled around the byways of the South Pennines on our passé geared machines while our hosts chewed up the trail on single speeds. It was the workout I needed and a salutary reminder that my fitness is not quite where it should be. Read Tim’s account here. Continue reading

Photo post: Edale, Jacob’s Ladder and The Woolpacks

I had the opportunity to head out with our Vango Force 10 at the weekend. The accessibility of Edale proved too tempting to resist and we pitched at Fieldhead. This campsite seems stuck in a time warp – the facilities no more appealing than the first time I poorly pitched my old, heavy backpacking tent on its muddy fields – yet its location remains a major plus.

Saturday saw us climbing Jacob’s Ladder and picking a route through the Woolpacks before clambering down the boulders of Grindsbrook Clough. I promised my other half ‘proper’ Dark Peak and the Dark Peak didn’t disappoint – although a slip on our descent and bruised behind did prompt questions about my ‘classic’ circuit.

Heading out on the Pennine Way
Heading out on the Pennine Way

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Birthday bimble in the Dark Peak

To mark my 40th birthday this week it seemed appropriate to go for a wander at the weekend. In the interests of blogging symmetry, I opted for another long-ish walk home from Edale. The weather was pretty grim and I had some real trouble with the boots I was wearing. I’ll have a grumble about these along with other kit observations at a later date. For now, here are some pics…

Leaving Edale and the rain stopped, for five minutes.

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Hair-brained bike packing – an Edale circuit

Quiet moments during the working week – usually when I’m stuck on a train – see the mind wandering to weekend adventures. Those jaunts are visualised through an imaginary rose tinted filter. The weather is always fine, the trails are empty, I feel fit, and the pitch is always perfect.

The latest addition to this idealised canon was a bike-packing trip into the Dark Peak and back again. In the interest of self-powered purity, I’d cycle from my doorstep over rough trails tracking bruised, broad hills, returning the following day. Assuming my progress was good, I’d camp somewhere high and star gaze.

With the weather set fair, plans were made to head to Edale via the Pennine Bridleway, along the Derwent Valley over the tops to Langsett before a blast along the Woodhead and home. I knew some of the terrain would be a challenge, but I’d take my time and all would be well. Ha! Fool!

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Edale ‘figure 8’ – Kit thoughts

Go Lite Shangrila/Big Agnes Bivvy Bag combo

After a couple of false starts, this was the inaugural trip for my new shelter combo. First impressions are good… I like the way it packs into two reasonably small stuff sacks as this enables me to pack my Go Lite Pinnacle more effectively, giving this minimalist pack some ‘structure’ .

Pitching was straightforward, even without the guide of the hexagonal groundsheet. I fastened my two walking poles together with the Backpacking Light pole connector (see below), and adjusted the height to mid breast bone (I’d judged this against the pole supplied with the shelter).

Then, I simply marked the centre position of the rig with a peg and measured the remainder by approximating a series of triangles, in effect (view the method here).

A bit a fiddling, and the Shangrila was drum tight.

I positioned the Big Agnes, unrolled the remainder of my sleep system and placed my stove and various bits and bobs to hand.

So, the good: The Shangrila gives great views though that large door and, if positioned correctly and the weather behaves, you can lie with the door open in rain and stay perfectly dry due to its size. The room is fantastic, and you can pack a sack in comfort if breaking down in a storm, leaving the shelter until last.

It rained quite heavily during the night along with a gusting wind, and I experienced no leaks or any problems of wind-blown rain getting through vents or under the side of the shelter. The tent dried very quickly too, even on this initially damp December day.

The bivvy bag kept everything dry and well shielded from any slight condensation drip (more of that later). The e-vent fabric is superb and it breathed very well (my down bag was completely dry in the morning) although the temperature differential between inside and outside the bag no doubt helped the fabric work to its full potential (Things may be different on a warm, muggy summer’s evening, although the bag does have a large net-protected vent).

The not so good: The Shangrila will benefit from having bungee cord attached to the mid-way points along each side to improve pegging stability and prevent ‘flapping’. Any lack of tension in the fly can get worse through the night as temperatures fall and the fabric slackens. These additional guys will help keep this in check.

The lack of a two-way zip is irksome, although now remedied on the 2010 model.

The pegs are a bit hard on the hands, although these will be replaced with a set if Ti stakes.

I believe the shelter would benefit from a half ground sheet, as supplied by backpackinglight.co.uk, for keeping kit mud free. I’ll either buy one of these or take scissors and sewing machine to the full sheet I bought with the shelter.

The shelter is cold and draughty compared to a proper two-skin tent. This is not a problem when allied to a bivvy bag, but is worth bearing in mind.

The shelter does suffer from condensation as you might expect, but most runs down the steep walls to the ground. In strong winds, though, you may get a bit of a shower inside. The extra guys will help combat this, though, and it’s not a great problem when using a bivvy.

The Big Agnes bag is fine for winter trips but I feel is overkill for the summer. The hood is designed for the supplied poles, too, and can be a bit fiddly when left ‘slack’. I’ll keep on using it but would really like to replace it with one of the Mountain Laurel Designs bags for summer use.
Backpacking Light trekking pole connector

This worked superbly! I had initial reservations as the joined poles were not particularly rigid, but the shelter held true in some pretty squally, albeit valley floor, conditions.

I demonstrated the gadget to someone on the site while breaking camp and they thought it was a genius idea!

There’s an additional bonus too… by making use of a strap on the upper walking pole when in situ, you have a handy ‘airer loft’ which holds your socks next to the tent vents. Admittedly, this is the focal point for warm, moist air leaving the tent. However, if there is a good breeze, and the vents do their work, the socks will be drier in the morning… mine certainly were, even in December.

Kalenji running tights

I’ve just started wearing these as I’ve grown weary of overly baggy trekking trousers. Without going into too much detail, I also sweat rather a lot in the summer and have struggled to find underwear that ‘manages’ this moisture and avoids a large damp patch around my backside.

Not only is this unsightly, it can be the start of friction sores etc on an extended trip.

A close-fitting set up helps considerably, if you can get over your legs being ‘on show’, as it were.

These tights are from Decathlon and, allied to their running shorts, are proving to be a great combo. The tights feature vent fabric in all the right places, which actually works, and they are long enough for me, despite having a 36-inch inside leg… happy days.

They may not wear too well, as occasional rubbing caused by the action of using walking poles is starting to take its toll on the flat seams at the hips. I do miss pockets, too, although am adjusting my habits slowly!

I think twenty quid is good value for such a thoughtfully-designed product.

North Face Hedgehogs

Just a quick update… I moved away from these last year to some HiTec boots and, although these are a great alternative, nothing seems to fit my feet better than these trail shoes.

I’ve had them for more than three years now and they leak pretty badly. I’m not too fussed, because they dry fairly quickly too.

The Virbam sole has worn really well and the EVA mid section is still providing support and cushioning.

I am thinking of going for some Prophecy shoes next, as they are essentially the Hedgehogs without a liner. This all hinges on my ability to tolerate very wet rather than damp feet year round. Perhaps the solution will be Prophecy in the summer and Hedgehogs in the winter, save for when it is really snowy.

Mountain House Freeze Dried Food

I bought a couple of these in Scotland and used one for the first time over the weekend. They are very decent, if pricey at £5 a pop. I had spag bol which rehydrated quickly in the packet and tasted good. Just shy of 800 calories too for 150g of weight. More info here.

Edale ‘figure 8’

I didn’t want to drive at the weekend and I regretted my decision as soon as I left the house and jogged to the station to catch my first train.

As the crow flies, and the car drives, Edale is not that far from my home. On the train, it a little more demanding requiring a dogleg via Manchester. This is no great hardship on face value, but combined with the extravagance of an overnight stay, it a formidable challenge for Northern Rail’s ticketing permutations.

The helpful lady and my train station scratched her head, tapped a few more buttons and eventually came up with a fare… just north of £18. This seemed steep, but I reminded myself of not having to worry about having the second, post-walk pint in the Nags Head if I so desired. Castleton cement works

The next 20 mins were spent on the platform waiting for a delayed train to the city. I grew impatient, but reminded myself it was the weekend and whatever would be, would be.

I just had time to grab a coffee and clamber aboard the ‘rambler’ train. It rumbled through Mancy ‘burbs and then through New Mills. More walkers, suitably bedecked in gaiters and sturdy boots, climbed aboard and gave my trail shoes a curious look.

Many were red-cheeked members of a ramblers’ group and they alighted at Chinley.

The blackness of the Gowburn Tunnel soon passed and the train entered the vale of Edale. Out of habit I looked up to Kinder to see the cloud way above the plateau… a day of views.

I left the train and got on the move, heading up to Hollins Cross, and along the Great Ridge to Back Tor. Castleton cement works looked atmospheric illuminated in a shaft of sunlight while my shadow was cast long into the Vale on my left.

I met a jolly couple of guys on Lose Hill… they were clearly delighted to be out, and thankful of the inclement weather and me snapping a picture of them with the ridge trailing into the distance.

We exchanged pleasantries and offered our respective bests for the day.

I headed into Hope and then up the other side of the valley to the plantations of Woodlands Valley and the course of the old Roman Road. I dropped into the trees and took lungfulls of air heavily scented with pine. Now I had rhythm… I felt strong, the big pack felt comfortable and my trekking poles perfectly alternated with my footsteps.

Enjoying my lengthy and steep detour through the trees, I joined the scrambler bikes on the bridle way heading towards Crookstone Hill.

I headed north west and then west eyeing the easterly extremities of the Kinder Plateau. A steep path led to its rocky fringes and I found the path, occasionally having cause to clamber over granular gritstone. I looked back and could just see the still waters of Ladybower from this height.

Back over to the Great Ridge, and a low sun blazed in a blue sky. I felt it warm my face.

The path along Kinder was a joy… I’ve walked it many, many times in all weathers, but never tire of it.

I passed the YHA, reminding me of an aborted hostel backpacking trip some 18 years ago (something to with me losing my wallet in the Nags Head), and the spine of Ringing Roger came into view in the distance, my point of descent.

I dropped down to Edale, had a pint of Nag’s Black (excellent), checked I had my wallet this time and pitched at the campsite, the first part of my Edale figure 8 complete.

An excitable family chatted noisily in a fantastic and pricey tipi. They had a wood burning stove and I occasionaly got the comforting whiff of woodsmoke.

A cold night ended with rain on the fly at dawn. I zipped up the bivy and slept in. A view up the Vale of Edale above Hope

Later, the tent was bathed in light. I unzipped the fly and watched the sun appear over the Ridge. Coffee on and I started packing up. I was away quickly, pleased with the simple economy of my kit.

Scrambling over Ringing Roger again, I turned left and continued my path around the plateau. Sunday is always busy up here, and groups noisily chatted as they trudged over grit and sank into the peat.

The going was good until the Woolpacks when the usual Dark Peak diversions were required to avoid sinking up to my ears in the back stuff. Passing Edale Cross and on to Brown Knoll, the situation deteriorated, as did the weather. A vicious wind brought rain, a bit of hail and a rainbow to the south. I took a line 50 meters north east of the path and found easier ground.

Scrambling bikes noisily deepened the unsightly scar of the Chapel Gate. I remembered my Green Cross Code and carried on south to find the well-used path of Rushup Edge. Easier walking was accompanied by more folk.
I started to feel tired and the steps of Mam Tor seemed unreasonably tough. More chocolate needed.

Back to Hollins Cross, I dropped back down to the village and the Ramblers Inn for a so- so pre train pint… or was that two?

Back over to the Great Ridge, and a low sun blazed in a blue sky. I felt it warm my face.