A couple of months ago, Jason and I agreed to repeat and remix last years February wildcamp. A couple of weeks ago, we agreed on the Peak District. Splitting the Edale Skyline is an obvious choice for our first Peak District wildcamp.
As wildcamping isn't as tolerated in the peak district as in other national parks, we followed the 'arrive late, leave early' mantra planning to camp in the shelter of the Woller Knoll wood. As it turns out, the wood was less generous with shelter than we thought...
We had arranged that I pick Jason up early afternoon, and a quick morning phone call about gas and wayfarer meals suggested all was well. However, I received a text from Jason maybe an hour before I was planning to drive over from work; family circumstances looked like we'd have to postpone. A couple of hours and another phone call later and things we back on again - I left Leamington around 2pm, picked up Jason and headed towards Hope.
On arrival, we had a quick dinner at the Old Hall Hotel , where we quickly dispatched grub and couple of pints of IPA. Back to the car to finalise gear, get the cold weather clothes and boots / gaiters on and then... back to the pub for a cheeky whisky - to keep us warm;-)
We finally left the pub around 7pm, walking up Brinks Rd towards Hope Cross and our planned camping spot at Wooler Knoll. All was going well for the first part of the climb - whilst in the shelter of trees along Brinks Rd, the forecast strong winds didn't reveal themselves, and the clear sky with clearly visible stars suggested a cold, still and peaceful wildcamp.
Unfortunately, once out on the open hill the winds started and as we arrived at the Hope Cross saddle, they were causing concern and even trouble walking. We made a beeline to the woods, but 20 minutes of walking around failed to present a decent pitch. We struggled to find flat ground, and the little we did was out of the shelter of trees.
As we started to walk towards Crookstone Knoll, our 2nd choice of camping spot, we noticed a corner meeting of two drystone walls which appeared to provide shelter from the strengthening south-westerly wind; so much so that the grass wasn't moving at all. Unfortunately, this perceived shelter was either an optical illusion or wishful thinking as the night was miles from peaceful.
We hopped over the wall and then pitched the tents. It's been nearly a year since I've pitched my Terra Nova Laser Competition so it was never going to be the quickest pitch considering the wind. However, I must have packed it strangely as the inner and fly were twisted and became quite difficult to straighten out. After 20 minutes of wrestling, and thanks to a little help, I managed to secure it. Jason had no trouble in getting his tent up, and had started to brew up whilst I lofted my down bag, inflated the mattress and so on.
On completion, I sat with Jason for a while, drinking whisky until heavy rain started to fall at 10:30pm. Unfortunately, the whisky didn't boost my confidence in the tent's ability to cope with such strong wind and I bedded down quite pessimistically.
I usually sleep well in tents, but my concerns coupled with being a little cold prevented me from sleeping well. I kept waking ever twenty minutes or so following strong gusts of wind. I had two loo trips, and both times I took the opportunity to check the guy ropes, pegs, and fastenings to ensure the tent was okay - they were. It was only after this second recce at around 4am that I felt confident the tent would make it through what was left of the night. With peace of mind, I managed to get a couple of hours of decent(ish) sleep, finally getting up just after 6am.
Following our 'arrive late, depart early' mantra, I got straight out of my sleeping bag, tidied things into appropriate stuff sacks, and repacked my rucksack. The tent was packed by about 6:30am although this was made more difficult as, due to the complications when pitching it, I'd inadvertently positioned both ends of the single pole in small cow pats. I quickly and efficiently redistributed the cow shit from the tent to my trousers via my hands. The alcohol gel and wipes may have disinfected it, but I had brown hands all day. #LessonLearnt
Jason packed up, and we decided to enjoy porridge and hot drinks at the foot of Crookstone Knoll. Fuelled up, we made quick work of the first hill, then Ringing Roger and the top of Grindsbrook Clough whilst being surprised how little the rain had affected the peaty ground. Maybe my nemesis, Brown Knoll, would be kind to us.
After Grindsbrook, we got onto Kinder proper. The Woolpacks and other large stone formations embedded in peat bogs proved difficult, and the scrambling started to fatigue my hill-unfit legs.
This difficult walking continued along the edge of Kinder Scout, and down to Brown Knoll. The extended paved stones towards Brown Knoll suggested the whole notorious bog might have been paved which left me with mixed emotions; I would be grateful for an easy crossing today, but I did feel slightly sad that the challenge of Brown Knoll might be no more. These emotions soon stopped as the paving stopped at a stile just before the Knoll.
The next 3 miles took us 2 hours due to peat bogs, peat hags, sphagnum moss and heather bashing. It dampened any remaining spring in my legs, and my ankles started to hurt due to the uneven and unpredictable foot falls. We even stopped for some hot food half way across, just to give us a break.
The tough ground conditions, added to the required climbing up Rushup Edge were tough and we were glad for the easier flat walking on the edge. All that was left was the triple of Mam Tor, Back Tor and Losehill - a popular single day walk, but just the last third of today's epic for us. The paving combined with constant climbing or descending concentrated our focus on painful feet, and legs. Fatigue even had us singing, and talking nonsense.
After another hour or so, we were glad to arrive at the Losehill summit cairn, in my opinion the best spot to see the whole Edale skyline panorama. It's impressive to see how far humans can walk in a day. By this time the wind was fairly strong, and we decided not to camp Saturday night, but to return to our homes. What remained was an excruciating, and seemingly never ended descent across muddy fields back to Hope. My quads really did hurt, and stiles ever 100 yards or so definitely didn't help.
Back at Hope around 4:30pm, we returned to the Old Hall Hotel for protein, and a cheeky IPA, before driving back to Burton upon Trent.
With my focus on mountain biking, I haven't done much hill walking over the last couple of years. With weaker legs and shoulders, combined with this challenging route, I really appreciate the low weight, and packability of my gear selection. My dry pack weight of 17lb wasn't bad considering I generally kept warm in fairly harsh weather conditions. I also really liked the security of fitting all my gear in the 45 litre pack - I really don't like strapping too much to the sides as it reduced stability, and causes difficulty when scrambing between rocks.
I really appreciated the relative comfort of my tent compared to the tarp / bivvy combination. I was pessimistic of my tents abilities in strong winds. I know I shouldn't be; it's a very able tent supporting Steve Perry's winter munro round a few years back. It's also survived strong winds in Patterdale, and on High Street before. What doesn't help is watching it flex in the wind; I understand this movement is what enables it to survive but it just doesn't bolster confidence. Surviving Friday night, and seeing the Alpkit y-beams not even move has given me more confidence though.
Best of all, although both knees are a little tender today, neither played up at all yesterday. Having had all the ITBS problems in my right knee, and patella tendonitis in the left, I really did think this challenge would be a little foolhardy for unprepared legs. Running gears and a higher cadence for the entirety of 2013 seems to have solved my tendonitis, and I firmly attribute my lack of ITBS with previous osteopathy by John Williams at the Atlas Pain Clinic and conscientious use of foam rollers. My previous one wore out, and I've recently upgraded to an Escape Roller which, whilst incredibly painful to use, reduces pain in the long term.
I recorded the Saturday segment of our journey on Strava, and have uploaded a photoset on Flickr.