Back in July 2022, my four friends (Aaron, Robin, Pete and Robert) and I visited the Old Man Of Coniston for our annual mountain trip. This was to be the smallest mountain we’d trek – we’d hiked the highest points in the UK and Ireland with a few others thrown in to this point – but we weren’t going to underestimate this ascent in any way. Plus, this trip had the added bonus of us wildcamping for the first time.In order to prepare for our adventure, we’d taken advice from experienced wildcampers and watched a number of YouTube videos. My friends’ shelters included a tent and bivvy sacks. I decided on a poncho tarp latched to a hiking pole secured by tent pegs and bungee cord for my shelter; I felt that this would be lightweight and adequate enough. I practiced building my shelter a few times in my back garden, so by the time we hit Cumbria I was reasonably confident I’d be okay.
As there was a small gang of us making the journey, it was easy for us to spread our collective load between us. What’s App group chats saw us comparing weights of camping stoves and torches to gain a good understanding of the lightest items to carry. This meant that we had room to take a few little extras for the big sleep outside: the idea to waking up to sizzling bacon on a mountainside was appealing!
FIRST STOP: THE PUB!
So, come the big day, we piled our rucksacks into the car, having made sure we’d done one final itinerary check beforehand. We left our base camp at a mobile home park in Millom around midday as the lure of the mountains called to us once again. And after a hefty, long Sunday lunch at The Ship Inn just outside of Coniston, the hike began at 3pm.
We started along a B-road before beginning to climb up through farm fields. Aaron was our navigator for the day with his trusted compass skills, and before long he’d led us to the main path that’d take us to the mountain peak. If it had been down to me to set our direction, I think I’d have taken us to Carlisle!
I liked this trek a lot: for the most part, the valley rose up alongside the path, so there were hardly any steep drops that would send my head in a spin. You see, I have a fear of heights, and I never know how I’m going to be on a mountain until I get there; on Scafell Pike in 2016, for instance, I’d turned up full of beans, only for my head to give out halfway up as I feared for my life looking down on the valley below. So, to be leading from the front and engaging in banter most of the way up the Old Man was a joy to me.
FROM PEAK TO SLEEP
One of our pre-hike worries had been the weight of our packs slowing us down. Yet, we reached the peak of the mountain with only a few minor mumbles and strap adjustments. The weather had also been favourable despite the threat of rain. Mind you, the pints that had been downed in the pub prior to the footslog were beginning to take their toll on a few members of our group at this point.
The map was spread out as we hunted out our sleep spot : Blind Tarn. This leg of the journey involved descending the Old Man on its other side, bounding across boggy fields and a rushing river before taking on more boggy fields and a final ascent to our destination.
After becoming lost a few times, we’d made it. By now, it was 9pm, and energy levels were sapping. I whipped off my boots and socks, and enjoyed the cool waters of the tarn soothing my aching feet. Taking in the scenery and the isolation, we all cooed in unison as to the rugged beauty of the location.
Then, it was time to build the shelter once more. We ate quickly and soon bedded down, too zapped of energy to talk much.
Blind Tarn is framed by steep rock faces on three sides, so we thought we had adequate enough protection from the elements As rain crept in at 1am, we were stirred from our slumbers. By 1.30am, I was having to hastily reconstruct my build amid a howling gale. The bungee cord had twanged off in a random direction causing the hiking pole to collapse. With the help of my friends, we were able to secure my tarp with more tent pegs and rocks by all four corners before it got blown away like an unwanted rag.
I slid between the tarp and the ground sheet, and huddled under my sleeping bag. By 3am, and unable to sleep, I heard Robin’s teeth chattering; he declared that he’d had enough. I called it time too as, by now, water had flooded my sleeping bag via the gap in the poncho tarp for the hood. Reluctantly, and feeling extremely gutted and soaked, Robin and I packed hastily, and headed back to the car.
Still, at least we got to see a sunrise before reaching the warmth of the car. Aaron, Pete and Robert joined us a few hours later having battled the night out, and returned my missing bungee cord to me!
FOR THE FUTURE
In her book Extreme Sleeps, Phoebe Smith shows how a bad first experience wildcamping should never put you off. In fact, the author is so adept at wildcamping by the end of the book that it’s almost a way of live for her.
On the way back to the car that morning, Robin and I were reflective in this vain rather than dismissive of future wildcamping adventures. We want to stick at it to gain more experience of immersing ourselves in nature in this way.
And we know one way to make our next sleep in the wilderness much better: TO USE A BLINKING TENT!!!!