Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Microadventure- Winter Camping in the Lake District

I love those weekends when you feel that on Sunday night, you have become a different person to what you were like on Friday. It doesn't happen every weekend but it almost always is the case when I go and do something just outside of my comfort zone. If you have a big adventure where you travel for months, you will most definitely feel changed in a way. But actually, a weekend away can give you just the same feeling. You can find it a train ride or couple of hours drive away from where you live and you can push your comfort zone just as much. Your Monday morning commute seems a lot more bearable after that sort of weekend and you go in with a twinkle in your eye and an adventure in your cheeks. 

I wanted to start doing more winter based adventures in the hills in the UK and experience winter conditions. I have always had respect for the British hills in the winter -  it may not be the Himalayas but don't get fooled as it can get pretty hairy up there! I did a winter skills course last year which was really useful and gave me the basics and the confidence to know what to look out for in order to stay safe in those sort of conditions. As always, there are risks involved but you can minimize them by putting measures in place and doing things within your experience level. The last thing left to do to start this new adventure was to just set a weekend, pack my tent and walking gear and give one of my buddies - Natalya, a call. A few ideas later, direction Lake District was decided. 

                                     This is why they call it 'The Lake District '

The weather forecast wasn't looking that promising during the week. 100 miles/hour winds were forecasted at dawn which would make walking up high pretty impossible. We had to change plans constantly to accommodate the weather because it is the environment which is in control rather than you!

The final plan was to park the car somewhere by Kirkstone Pass and set off on a circular walk, stay overnight and get back to the car the following day. I had that feeling in the belly,  which is a mixture of excitement and fear of unknown. As soon as we started walking, I realized that we have struck a goldmine with the conditions. This was a true winter wonderland, one that winter mountaineers and climbers patiently wait for and drop everything when it finally arrives. Snow was deep, visibility was decent and the wind on the ground was bearable. 

                                                              Winter has come! 

The hills seem so much more imposing in the winter than they do in the summer. As you are ascending up towards the peaks, you notice the landscape changing. Colour disappears and whiteness engulfs you on the ground and in the air.  The lowland forest slowly comes to an end and is replaced by moorlands. Gates get sparser and sparser until you see the only large man-made feature left-  fence marking a boundary. Soon enough, there is only the occasional cairn (if you are lucky) to shine like a torch showing you a glimpse of where you need to go next.   The weather changes proportionally with the landscape. There are the fine days when no matter how high you go, the skies are clear and you see the hills in their full beauty. But often you get more and more acquainted with the ever changeable weather, every few meters of elevation which you gain.  Forrest and moorlands make you stop and take photos and soak up your surroundings.  But as you go up, the wind picks up and your face is unprotected, receiving the full scale of the elements. Rain, wind, hail and snow all touch your face but don’t leave any marks apart from red cheeks and a memory in your mind. You don’t want to stop for photos at this time but it is exactly this moment which I love to memorize (not at the expense of hypothermia of course!). Because there is always the two sides of the adventure coin - you have to experience them both and to disregard one of them would not do your trip justice.  

                     Sleet, rain, wind and snow is a really good substitute for a blusher :) 

When you reach the tops, the weather completes the picture of this barren but beautiful landscape which is so typical of the British Hills. There is nowhere to hide and your only shelter is the small cairn marking the top which has seen many people and sheep huddled behind its small protective walls.  You have a sip of tea and start thinking about the next leg of your journey-whatever that might be. 

                                   Winter Wonderland- but the view has to be earned first 

Our original plan was to walk to a bothy and stay there overnight, but because of the heavy snow (and probably taking too many photos), our progress was slower than we thought. We had to make decisions. Should we pitch the tent somewhere sheltered just before the sun goes down or should we go on and navigate deep snowy peaks in the dark so that we can get the fire roaring in the bothy? Not wanting an “epic” on our first winter adventure, we decided to pitch the tent instead. One of the things that I have learned on the winter skills course is that it is often your commitment that can get you into trouble. You wake up at 5 am, drive somewhere for 3 hours, have a goal you want to achieve, but the reality is that you are pushing it and the conditions or circumstances are not that favourable. What do you do? Commitment is so important as it is that which gets you through difficult things-you sometimes need to get your head down and crack on. But on the other hand, you can get blinded by your goal to the point that you start to cut corners because you have decided that the goal is what you want to do regardless of what is happening around you. There is a fine line between not giving up and learning to let go of your plan and living to tell the tale. 

                                                   Breaking the trail with no one around 

The decision to pitch up was made.  Winter walking attracts relatively few people compared to summer roaming, and winter nights see even fewer souls out after dark.  We camped low so that we could escape the winds. You easily forget how dark it can get when there are no city lights illuminating the sky. I have never seen the sky so clear as on that night. Millions of stars were gazing down at us. Looking up made me feel strangely sleepy. I wish I could have continued looking up and count all of them, but my warm sleeping bag was waiting. I sleep well in the tent. Somehow, the sounds of the outdoors are like a lullaby to me. Wind and rain are soothing me into a deep sleep first, followed by a spell of isolated animal noises breaking the silence and my sleep of the night. When the birds start to sing, you cannot ignore it and you know it's time to get up. It seems so natural to mirror a night cycle like this. 

                                                 Nat enjoying a pre-sunrise tea 

If you know the sensation of not wanting to get out of your warm bed in the winter, multiply it by 20 and imagine that not only you have to leave the cocoon of warmth and step out into the elements, but your boots are soaking wet and your waterproofs are so damp than they stick to you like a chewing gum. You wake up in a puddle of water which is caused by condensation because the tent has frozen overnight. After a copious amount of tea and some self-talk, you can't stretch this out any longer and you bite the bullet and go for it. Actually a lot of the time, the discomfort only lasts a little while and you realize that it is often the idea of something rather than the thing itself which you find uncomfortable. - Read as '' Dom's opportunity for personal growth''. 

                                    '' It's hard to be angry when the walking is so good'' 

The thing is, it is difficult to be in a mood simply because you turn around a corner and suddenly you have a life-affirming view. Everything is covered in white. I didn’t realize that there were that many shades of white out there! It’s eerie and inviting and soon enough wet feet are forgotten and you get into the rhythm of walking. All you need to do all day is just walk. No meetings, social media, to do lists. Just walk. It is strangely therapeutic, like your mind doesn't have to stretch to accommodate all of the juggling and multitasking that we have to do day to day. The problems you have to deal with are when you are going to stop for a cup of tea, and what to do with your frozen backpacks. 

                           Frozen backpacks - learning how to deal with new winter challenges 

When it is time to get down of the hill, you get all of the changing landscapes in reverse. Cairns, boundaries, moorlands, forests. And then an unbelievable pop of colour greets you from every corner of your view. Everything seems as if it is somehow put into high definition after you have been surrounded by mostly shades of white. And that is exactly what happens with perspective. Suddenly your life pops out at you and you see things in a different light as if you were seeing and noticing them for the first time. Nat said that she felt like were were two hobbits trotting through the Shire ending up in Mordor on the way. I thought that was quite fitting. Only that, you need to experience Mordor to fully appreciate the Shire again. 

              We often look at things but we don't see them properly until we have some perspective

Not bad for a weekend away hey? I am not sure why I was postponing winter walking for so long. I think I often have the tendency to overthink things. I am ready for this? I am going to be safe? I am a big fan of preparing and minimising risks by learning skills, but at some point, you just going to have to go for it and find out for yourself. That is an adventure after all!


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