Saturday, May 23

Lake District: 3 Tarns Wildcamp: Mon May 18th

I was woken at 2 a.m. to rain hammering on the flysheet, wind howling, & random shuddering of the inner tent. I lay for some time listening. Well it was somewhat hard to ignore.

Years past, in these sort of ferocious conditions, I would have been up & packing whatever I could salvage before heading down to the comparatively better sheltered valley.

But with the benefit of experience & a trust in selected quality gear tailored for high level fellside wildcamping I wasn't immediately concerned.

I lay there listening to the storm, weighing up the comparative risks of tried and tested gear against the dangers of a night time evacuation in undoubtedly foul conditions.

Was I in immediate danger? Not really - I was dry, warm & well sheltered. But as the storm continued I had to remind myself of the real risk - my own attitude to what was happening.

Concern - reasonable and natural.

Panic - unacceptable and probably dangerous.

Complacency or over-confidence - Ah, now that one required a little more objective reflection.

After many solo trips my level of self reliance, weighing risk & benefit, is higher than many I would think. But it is all too easy to try to mould natural phenomena to fit ones own mental state. And in the intense storm, smug complacency could be lethal. Especially as I mentally reviewed my chosen pitch & remembered the 200-300m drop not 20m away.

Time for a response. Positive action to assess the situation.

First call - the state of the tent.

A lull in the rain.

I grabbed my headtorch from its usual position hanging from the tent apex and switching it on looked around the inner tent. No obvious leaks, but a lot of condensation.

As I moved to unzip the flysheet I could see most the cooking gear covered in water droplets. Hard to tell if that was also condensation or water being forced through flysheet weak spots.

Muscles still slow from the previous days exercise I stood outside the tent; A strange sight clad only in underwear, merino top, trail shoes and a head torch. What the heck - I could guarantee there was no-one else around to enjoy this spectacle.

I circled the tent checking the position of each peg, and guy rope. Except for my feet making an unexpected splashing sound as I moved around the head of the tent there was no change in the pegging. The new pegs, bought a few months ago for this very sort of situation, were firmly bedded in as though I’d just pitched the tent. The Akto, as I’d suspected, was standing up to the storm with fine aplomb.

I slipped back into my sleeping bag, a little colder than before, but with caution satisfied. I rechecked that the skirt of the inner tent's groundsheet was properly positioned in case the localised flooding became worse, and with a mental shrug I slid easily back into sleep.

7 a.m. Light. The storm still blowing, but with less ferocity than before. A quick peak under the fly showed near zero visibility as the rainclouds hid the landscape. The nearby tarn surface chopped with waves.

Brew-up, dressed and packed, all without unzipping the flysheet. The joy of the Akto is a large enough vestibule, and adjustable upper vent, that means cooking in the dry is a simple task, with a degree of sensible precaution.

Predictably the inside of the tent was damp, but only from condensation. I could still see my breath, the temperature at 7 deg C, the same as the previous evening.

Finally, again full kitted in full foul weather gear, the flysheet was unzipped and I stepped into the maelstrom quickly taking down the tent and packing it away. The tops of the pegs at tent head, I noted, 3-5 inches under water.

During my exploration of the previous evening I'd mentally marked the exit route to head back up the slope of Yoke. Head already bowed down to avoid the stinging rain; Aware of the need for careful assessment of the ground ahead, now likely to be rain saturated & boggy.

But before I left I turned for a moment to look at the dry sheltered spot I'd slept in. An enlarging pool of water slowly rising towards it. Better a little damp, but sheltered, rather than a fine view ending with an involuntary flying lesson.

The descent back to Garburn Road was uneventful. Hands quickly turned red from wind chill until I hid them behind my back. It wasn't until I was part way down the rocky, water bountiful track, did I finally find some limited shelter from the incessant wind and rain. What a difference to the last time I walked down this way, then dehydrated and mentally bemoaning the total lack of water sources. No such problem today.

Visibility started to improve as I approached Troutbeck. By the time I'd crossed the main road and walked over the bridge with its swollen rain fuelled torrent below, the rain had finally stopped. I walked along the road up towards Troutbeck Post Office (GR: 406 026) past hedgerows of bluebells and long, long, stretches of white flowered wild garlic with their strong distinctive smell.

I finally stopped for a break outside the P.O. to take-on some snacks and fluid.

As I tarried a couple of small walking parties passed by. One stopped to pass the time of day as he packed away his waterproof. 'Too hot for that today' he reflected. Optimistic bugger, I quietly thought, realising I’d been wearing the Paramo almost non stop since stepping off the train on Friday afternoon.

But, as often is the way in a valley climate, his optimism was rewarded. Turning up Robin Lane the wind started to drop, and the sun appeared. By the time I'd reached the rich splendour of Skelghyll Wood (GR: 383 029) the weather was all smiles and winks. The woodland tracks, as I’d discovered on a previous visit, confusing in places, but the surroundings full of wild flowers, birdsong and the noise of varied water courses all seeking the quickest way downhill. It’s a beautiful spot for a few hours meander, and probably rarely visited except by Amblesiders who are aware of its richness.

The finally stretch of path. Steep, wet, debris filled and unstable. Careful John - it wouldn’t do to tumble on the last few steps of the journey.

Finally the YHA, and the usual negotiation for accommodation. 'Rooms not ready until 2pm'. Instead I found a cubby-hole shower and peeling off my walking gear let the warm water spray wash away the sweat and grime of the last few days. Managing to inadvertently head butt the edge of the shower door in the limited space, leaving an impressive cut. Ouch!

And then?

Well what else to do - the gear shops of Ambleside. Which I have to say seem to have multiplied slightly, but have lost their edge in offering interesting equipment at a price that I’d be willing to pay. Lots of outdoor gear with well known High Street/Designer brand names. Very little innovation. Few bargains at this end of the season.

Back at the YHA I chatted with a couple of room mates who'd camped the night before at a site near Keswick. In the sheltered valley their tent, despite a recent reproof, had leaked under the intensity of the downpour and has been relegated to the campsite's rubbish bin in disgust.

The last 24 hours had been a real test of experience, gear choice, and it's use. Happily all coming together on this occasion.

But even as I write these words a week later I truly understand how the situation could have quickly escalated into a less positive outcome.

Was I wrong to camp on the crag? Possibly.

Did I take suitable precautions? Definitely.

Have a learnt anything? Well its ok to be concerned, as long as its based on a realistic assessment of the situation. The things that are within one's control have to be managed and applied properly. Things beyond control must be truthfully measured and a risk/ability response made.

But in the end self reliance means an ownership of ones own actions. That requires a self-awareness of skills and limitations.

Easy to say, harder to deliver.

As I lay storm battered inside the man-made safe cocoon of my tent during the night one phrase kept returning. 'If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger'

Personally I prefer not to test the 'kill you bit' of that twee catchism.

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Comments:
Thanks, John, an enjoyable read. On my next visit to the Lakes, I think I'll take a leaf out of your book and string together some places I want to camp rather than fitting them in between places I want to walk.

Most of the time it's right to stay put. Modern kit is more robust than we give it credit for. If the tent collapses in a storm, you'll still basically be dry. Flooding, though is a different matter!
 
Its good to get a more reflective view on the conitions as opposed to just the the walk.

My last trip and reading about yours makes me realise I need to get out more on my own. I think you learn more about the process, yourself and whatsmore I don't know about you but I enjoy my own company more than I give myself credit for.
 
Some can, some can;t. I just reckon I'm lucky enough to be able to enjoy solo
 
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