First Contact

We’ve probably all done it… especially on a winter walk… followed in someone else’s footprints that is. Sometimes for a long period. It’s happened to me three times this year already – but then we’ve had an inordinate amount of snow and conditions have been good enough to be out walking in it.

I followed a pair of boot prints for about 6 miles a few weeks ago. I picked them up as they left Dent Station and walked up the road. I followed them over Great Knoutberry and round Wold Fell and down to the road at Newby Gate. By the time we parted company I knew them as “Bigfoot” and “Berghaus”.

Tramping through a lonely landscape, the boot prints almost felt like company – I kept expecting to catch them up at some point – but I guess they must have been laid down the previous day because even when I could see a long way ahead I never caught sight of anyone.

I wanted to say hello. I wanted to meet the two people who had left their trace on the path before me and whom I had befriended through the medium of snow. But of course it never happens that way.

At least not until a couple of weeks later. I was walking up to a lonely trig point in the Dales – the snow was relatively fresh, only a couple of days old, sitting soft and powdery on top of previous weeks hard-packed downfalls. As I reached the trig point I met a set of boot prints coming up the hill from the same direction as I was walking. I followed them to the trig point where I could see the remains of a wild camp beside the pillar. A small ridge of snow built around the flat impression of the tent and a myriad of boot prints, which then headed off in the direction I intended to take.

Snow makes for difficult navigation sometimes – it covers paths, hides small streams and can make you uncertain. I felt like that now as I looked at the map and then what I thought was the corresponding path, downhill between dark, snow laden conifers. “Camper” as I had christened him had thought the same – this was the “path” down through the forest to the logging road. It was about 500 yards and would normally be easy to follow, but the snow had obliterated any trace of path – but the foot prints reassured me and I set off into the dark, enveloping trees.

I found the road of course, following the trail blazed by “Camper”, falling up to my waist in drifts, just as he had done but managing to avoid the hidden stream he’d not been aware of until he fell through the crust. At the road I followed his prints for another 4 miles until he eventually headed off left, and I right.

Another lonely encounter with a set of prints – another walking companion separated by time.

I log my trig points – there’s a website dedicated to them – I posted my log and mentioned the wild camper who’d been there the night before and to my amazement a couple of days later I got an email from him. We swapped a couple of friendly communications, commenting on the desolation of the forest and the uncertainty we’d felt about the path. It was great to finally “meet” someone whose prints I’d shared so much time with. First contact.

lonewalker

Fell-walker, trig-pointer, peak-bagger, Wainwright-er & Pennine Way author, with a passion for long paths, malt whisky, fast cars & Man City

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4 Responses

  1. lonewalker says:

    Paul, glad you enjoyed it – I spent about 3 weeks composing this post in my head on various walks – trying to put into words the feelings that were evoked when walking. Sometimes posts bubble away in the background until I know they’re ready 🙂

  2. How you put something as isolated as First Contact in to words is amazing, weve all been there 🙂 & to put into writing as good as this is great reading !

    Paul .

  3. Martin Rye says:

    Trig points are solid anchor points on a walk. Small world that you found out about the wild camper. I liked that post a lot and thanks for sharing.

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