A Quick Mountain Fix

I am far from original when I post on social media another “todays office” picture.  I am lucky to work in the parts of this country I work in across the north west.  But…. and you saw that coming I am sure, It does tend to be the same parts!  So mid way through the silly season (April to July) I hatched a plan to get some hill time for myself as a solo mission…. between work, holiday, parenting, my wife’s work and life and stuff we narrowed it down to a window over two days in early August.  So that was that then.

My plan was to bag a few Wainwrights in an area of the Lake District I did not really know.  What with the weather we have been enjoying this summer, one could almost say I was getting quite excited! some hill time, a wild camp, more hill time and a pass to enjoy them. Brilliant!

I decided on the Northern Fells, beyond Skiddaw Forest/Blencathra. I had not been up beyond there before and decided that nine of these hills/mountains could be strung together in an approximate 30 km route.  Over two days this would be ideal.  Whats more having finally got my entry in for the ROC Mountain Marathon, I could use this as  training and so treated it as a “fast & light” exercise the aim being to achieve a gentle run, practice some micro nav and do all that carrying a mountain marathon kit list on my back.

The afternoon of August 3rd arrived and once I’d tagged my wife on the parenting front I set off, slightly later than planned up the A65 to avoid any M6 Friday northbound problems.  I found road works instead!  Eventually arriving on the road out of Mosedale where I figured there would be somewhere to park – there was (thank you Google Earth), plenty of spots fortunately.  I set off at 17.00 (I’d hoped for 3.30-4.00 ish) in gentle drizzle, warm, but you could see that the visibility would be limited on the tops.

The first objective was Carrock Fell (663m). I’d planned a fell runners line straight out of the valley, anticipating an element of bushwhacking – it being the height of summer and the ferns at their deepest. what I hadn’t anticipated was the density of the heather, the amount of gorse and the scree banks peppering the sides of the fell.  Although steep, the angle in fell shoes is not intimidating (go Mudclaw 300’s!) but what was tricky was the combination of loose surface, prickly bushes and impenetrable shrubbery!  I’d clocked a path on the map and decided to follow that up, the path ended on the map, usually they carry on in the real world on the ground… this one may as well have met a brick wall! I couldn’t get round the gorse and scree combination, so  I retreated back to the road thinking I would just jog the 2.5km on tarmac to the actual right of way up Carrock Fell, unless I spotted a clearer way through the undergrowth, which I eventually did. Phew.  By now the weather was lifting and I was fortunate to get a shot like this:

Two thirds of the way up Carrock Fell

Carrock Fell has a real charm to it.  With old earthworks and stone formations on top (‘fort’ on the map), it is also right at the edge of the park and offers great views over the less hilly parts of Cumbria to the east.

Pleased to have finally bagged the first hill of the day an embarrassing two hours hours after I set out, I hatched a plan that the next hill  – High Pike (658m)- would likely be the last today, aiming too have topped out on this an hour later or so at 8 pm.  After the top of that hill, I would then find somewhere to pitch up for the night.  That gave me plenty of time to find a good pitch, get water and feed myself in day light. I had a couple of locations in mind looking at the map, but had given myself plenty of time to choose. Site selection really is the difference between a good nights sleep and a poor one when wild camping. By now the visibility had dropped again and the mist was down, making progress slower but to be honest much more fun!  I had to proper navigate!  Great Mountain Marathon practice, using aiming off, hand rails, catching features and timing I got to a misty High Pike at 20.01.  Perfect timing!

Although I enjoyed getting to this one in the conditions, I bet the views on a clear day would be amazing. One to re-visit.

My first choice on the map wild camp spot was just off off the Cumbria Way by a gil which looked like it might offer both fast flowing water and several flatter areas.  Off I set in to the gloom…. it was not long before I noticed this:

look carefully!

 

A building?  I checked the map – yep definitely – a tiny one – marked on the map but not one I had noticed, choosing the breadth of Cumbria Way and a sheepfold and water course or two to navigate by. Well a building may provide shelter from the wind, it was on the track so I knew I was destined to check it out.  As I got closer I saw the door was open and it dawned on me it was one of the Lakes Bothys.  A bothy being a simple shelter designed to offer a roof and walls for the night for free,to whomever needed it.  Some are literally just that, four walls and a roof, others are quite stunning with open fires or stoves, tables and chairs.  Now this was a game changer! Never mind wild camping  when there is a bothy on the menu!

I got closer to…

And a voice loomed out of the dark – “alright mate” Rather making me jump, but in I bowled to say hello to the occupant.  First thing I noticed was he was the dead spitting image of an old mate of mine (Duncan) he even sounded like him weirdly. We got chatting – he didn’t seem like an axe murderer (I couldn’t see an axe) and said he would be grateful for the company as he was on a through hike – self supported – of all the Wainwrights (that’s 214  hills!) as his holiday.  That was my decision made – anyone doing that in one go would be well worth the conversation, so I decided to sack off the tent and go for water to then return and spend the night in the bothy.  And what a top decision that was to be!

Kyle, as it happened lived in a town 20 minutes from me in Burnley and worked in the outdoors.  This meant he must work for Robinwood – yes he replied!  Which meant we would know some of the same people, which of course we did…. small world indeed.  Kyle was a great chap to natter to for the evening and when the time came to close the door and batten down for the night, the bothy decision was looking inspired… until 8 minutes past 2 in the morning when some voices could be heard outside:

” Oh look a bothy”, “yeah, thats Lingy Hut” “shall we look inside?”, “no we better not, in case there is someone in there and we wake them”

Too bloody late for that mate!

A bleary morning followed but the forecast better weather looked like it was on the way for the day.

the view from the window of Lingy Hut

Kyle was up and away early I took a more leisurely pace getting ready. To be fair poor sleep on top of a dodgy dehydrated meal I had ‘tried’ the night before and actually abandoned a few spoons in to it – it tasted and smelled chemically vile – had left me feeling a wee bit fragile….

A big part of the Bothy Code  is to leave the bothy better than you found it. So I made sure I gave the place a good sweep through and took some other peoples sweetie papers with me and by  7.30 am I was off to collect seven more Wainwrights and several connecting hills between them. The weather was drier for sure but the cloud base was low – about 550 to 600m so I was back on nav mode and moving well, fueled by Haribo, Babybel cheese, coffee and a cereal bar or two.

Next on the list was Knott (710m). The biggy of my plan and from here had it been clear I would have been able to see all the target hills for the day.  Never mind!

Tempting as it is to post a number of pictures of summit cairns surrounded by mist I shall resist…   The day passed quickly and I felt as though I was making good steady progress and feeling stronger than I thought I might  having not tackled this number of hills at pace in a while. From Knott, I headed to Great Sc Fell (651m) to Little Sca Fell then on to Brae Fell (586m) which looked lovely in and out of the mist, before climbing back up and over some gils toward Longlands Fell (483m) Lowthwaite Fell, Meal Fell (550m), Great Cock Up (526m) then ascending Burn Tod, over looking Frozen Fell targeting Little Calva and Great Calva (690m) to then descend back to the valley bottom and return to the van.

By Little Calva the weather was lifting and the sun was becoming el scorchio.  The last 90 minutes of my foray were very pretty but tough in the heat.  The whole area is one to visit again…. if only I could guarantee the views!

the top of Great Calva
looking back up to Great Calva following a never ending descent through acres of heather.
a welcome stream to cool tired legs and feet.

I got back tot he van just before 14.00. Perfect really as the van was still there and I had said I would be home around 16.00.

Cant wait for the next trip out – it was great and has reignited my desire to bag the Wainwrights.  118 done, 96 to go….

To contact me to discuss navigation training/coaching for walking or running or indeed any other hill skills you can contact me here.

Leave No Trace.

(bit long this one, 15 minute read time – not including clicking the links)

What do those words mean to you?  To me, they were an idea. Something to do with environmental impact/not dropping rubbish, possibly some sort of eco-fascism with a dash of tree hugging….. oh and an American idea.

I’d been broadly aware of the Leave No Trace ethos for some time now. “Take only memories, leave only foot prints” is a phrase most people with a passing curiosity on the outdoors will have come across I am sure – and it makes good sense! One does not have to travel too far from their own front door to see the impact ‘we’ have on the world around us. Sadly that impact is highlighted further once we arrive in a rural or semi rural area, even in a town park I am sure we have all grunted/tutted/sworn at the pile of fast food packaging dropped from a vehicle, 20 metres from a bin, or the cigarette ends that some smokers seem to believe is not rubbish.  Lets not start on dog poo bags just yet, for fear I may not be able to tell you about my LNT experience as I will just be ranting.

A conversation with a fellow freelancer whilst working on a DofE program in the Summer introduced the concept further, along with the knowledge that she and her partner had experience of delivering LNT training, including train the trainer type courses and that they have done this globally.  I parked all that information as being interesting and something to remember. It wasn’t until reading the Professional Mountaineer, (a trade publication)  that it popped back in to my head. Heidi Schwenk (the freelancer I had worked with and Seb Shingler had a feature in there on Leave No Trace and I read it with interest.  There was something about it that captured my curiosity and I could see it dovetailing nicely in to most areas of my work.  On further investigation, a Leave No Trace Trainers course was being run by Heidi and Seb – Lifetrek Adventures and that completing the course could count as CPD for Mountain Training.  Several years ago I decided as and when CPD type ‘things’ came along I would look at them as I need to (and want to!) continue my development  as an outdoors professional as ultimately that will benefit those I am working with and for.  So I signed up.  A little apprehensively, as is was still a cost in the “quiet season” and time away from the family and I was not at all sure what to expect (beyond eco-fascism and/or tree hugging).

I am delighted to report the course was neither.  It has left me inspired and determined to spread the message, although as I write this I am still reflecting on what ‘my’ interpretation of that message is.  I plan on creating and delivering  LNT Awareness workshops next year.

So what is Leave No Trace?

The Leave No Trace Foundation is indeed an American idea, born from a number of educational and Government based agencies/organisations including the National Parks Service and Forest Service who have been developing the concept of minimising your impact in nature since the 1960’s.  The idea that our ‘consumer society’ has a negative impact on the world around us is not new  – in fact the first study which began to quantify the impact of carbon on the environment (‘Global Warming’) was in 1896! (Arrhenius).

The LNT vision is:

To sustain healthy, vibrant natural lands for all people to enjoy, now and into the future. Every person who ventures outside puts Leave No Trace practices into action.

Their mission is a seemingly simple one: To protect the outdoors by teaching  and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly.

What is not to like?!  Something that came across in spades during the weekend was that this is a concept, an ethos, an idea – but one with a high bar and a large number of small steps to take in order to ‘leave no trace’.  If everyone that accessed the countryside did just one thing in striving for leaving no trace – how would that impact on you, each other, your children in future generations?  This is basic stuff, the obvious ones like carry out your litter.  Better still don’t carry potential litter in in the first place!  Be conscious of path erosion – tread lightly and try not to contribute. How could your actions impact upon the enjoyment of others? Mobile on silent for example? or better still turn it off altogether and enjoy that tech free window in your day.  I found some of the ideas involved with LNT  naturally shared space and aims with mindfulness, well being and generally being considerate to those around. Again – what is not to like about an ethos like that?

The team, heading out of Trefriw.

The LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics capture all of this in seven principles:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

 Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
    • In popular areas:
      • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
      • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
    • In pristine areas:
      • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

 Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

 Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

 Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

 Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

 Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.
Some of the stunning scenery around Llyn Crafnant

So what did we do?

The two days were based on two low key walks around the Welsh village of Trefriw, in Snowdonia.  The walks themselves were simply vehicles to move us through a landscape in order we might see and realise some of the concepts and ethics being explored. Heidi and Seb used a good mixture of practical instruction, discussion (debate!) and some games/exercises to help each course delegate realise their own LNT ethos and shine light on the many ambiguities of human behavior.  One such game that sticks in the mind was we each had to find a piece of litter and then as a group order the rubbish in length of time it takes for each piece to break down in to non recognisable form/fully degraded. They used some flash cards to take the place of other pieces of litter, we found some wire, a tissue, a plastic bottle (of course), the head of a golf club (aluminium driver), sweet bag, carrier bag, some old wooden fence post. Among the flash cards added were fishing line and a glass bottle.  Where would you start? Which one will break down to nothing first, which one takes longest? Are any of those not litter?  What is litter? These were the basis for much discussion! The fact that struck me most on this was about plastic.  All the plastic that has ever been produced, has still not degraded yet and is out there. It will be for some time to come and yet we still produce more.

Creating the worlds best outdoors toilet, or cat hole so one might poo with a view….

We dug ‘cat holes’, looked at what constitutes man made vs natural, experimented with path erosion, considered impact on other people on the hill, the wildlife around, land management, positive impact, re-wilding, education and a whole heap of ideas aimed at supporting people to both protect the outdoors and help people enjoy it responsibly.

Another exercise gave me a phrase which will live long in my mind as it is a phrase that reflects my approach to working with people in the outdoors, it defines what I enjoy most about being out and about: the gift of discovery.  That moment where you get a jaw dropping view, find a small tarn, perhaps with island and are able to sit a while and enjoy the serenity, the run where you go somewhere you’ve never been before and see no one and nothing but the natural world, the hidden cave at the back of the crag, fresh in my mind from last nights run on Pendle a hill I know so well- a ‘new’ line downhill linking two familiar paths…. ALL these things we discover as we play out.  I ‘discovered’ them and relished that experience, so I keep doing it… looking for more new discoveries and finding them.  Why wouldn’t I, or any of us not want to pass that gift on?  Leave No Trace is all about passing that gift of discovery on to the next person.

My day to day aims are many and varied as I work & play outdoors, with groups of three year old’s to groups or individuals of seventy three years old, but all of those aims can be wrapped up and packaged under a broader heading:

I strive to inspire people to be inspired by and connect with the natural world around them.

So, added to my winter work list  is the following; to devise a Leave No Trace awareness course to promote and deliver next year as well as exploring how  I currently and how I could further incorporate LNT principles in to my work.

tread lightly.

More to follow in 2018…..