At the back end of 2014 an article, publicised through Twitter, caught my eye – and it would seem, the eyes of many other walkers and backpackers. The article was from Alistair Humphreys and it discussed the idea of getting out into the hills, for at least one night every month in 2015. He calls them MicroAdventures and they can be anything you want them to be, but the idea is you get out and about, have a bit of fun and sleep outdoors. More details on Al’s site here: A Year of MicroAdventures
I had big plans for last year – not really something I mentioned in these pages as I tend to make plans and then not follow through on them, but I had intended to spend many more long weekends on the hills, in lieu of a long distance path. The year started off well, with a four day saunter along the final stretch of the Pennine Way, followed quickly by a four day backpack around the Herriot Way. On my next trip out my knee exploded and the year died on its arse, almost before it had begun. That was the end of May and it wasn’t until the first week of December, following a knee operation that I finally managed a few tentative miles on low walks on Skye with my brother.
So Al’s MicroAdventure idea sounded great – a way of focussing the mind, planning a trip every month; perhaps going to places I haven’t camped before and opening up new areas to explore in more detail than is possible in a day walk. The idea had also tweaked the interest of my friend and backpacking companion Chris Pilgrim (www.pilgrimchris.com) and we agreed to try and have our adventures together. We use a shared Google calendar to plan the events and they are all scheduled in – one per month until the end of the year. The dates are in the diary, but the locations for each trip and the routes we plan to take are still to be decided.
We almost failed at the first hurdle; for various reasons we couldn’t do any other weekend than the 31st January/1st February and when that came round the weather looked rather dodgy; high winds, very low temperatures and plenty of snow and ice warnings. We switched locations; from the rather exposed and uncertain camping locations in the Shropshire Hills to the Yorkshire Dales. I chose Plover Hill, with its criss-crossing walls, on the basis that it offered us the best possible options in terms of shelter. Due to the time of year, we kept the length of the walk down and focussed on the camp.
We set out from Horton about 1pm on the Saturday, with glorious blue skies, shredded with high white cloud, which was moving a bit faster than I would have liked, but not quite as bad as we were expecting as we headed up the Pennine Way path towards Pen-y-Ghent. We met plenty of folk heading down off the hills, with one or two commenting on the loads we were carrying and many more with that ‘rather you than me’ look on their faces.
We skirted the lower slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, deciding not to climb the steep nose of the hill, not with the threat of ice and frozen snow on the exposed rocks that make up the scramble in the middle. Instead we headed for the steep path up the back of Plover Hill. The snow was a couple of inches deep along the route and once we left the well-used Three Peaks path we ended up following one single set of footprints, all the way to the fingerpost at the foot of the climb up to Plover Hill. The climb was steep and the wind became stronger as we ascended. The path was covered in deep snow, but it isn’t heavily used and the snow was easy to kick steps in, so we didn’t need spikes or axes for the short, tricky section.
On the summit the snow appeared to have been repeatedly melted, blasted by the wind and re-frozen, it looked like an ice lake, complete with ripples and tiny breakers on the wave tops. We skittered across to the wall on the very top. Chris took a wind speed reading with his new toy and reported 42mph, which meant a wind chill of about -20C. I was a bit worried at this, I must admit. My tent isn’t the best in the wind, despite my best efforts to modify it with additional guy ropes, so we set about finding the best spot to pitch. The summit of Plover Hill has about five walls – it’s actually quite odd, with two walls running parallel, about 15 yards apart – almost as if the original waller had too many stones and plenty of time on his hands. I had expected to find a quiet, sheltered spot no matter how windy it was and irrespective of the wind direction. It proved to be slightly more difficult than that.
The walls all had deep snow banks against them and the wind was whipping around all over the place. We couldn’t get close enough to a wall to secure full shelter and no single place seemed to be completely wind-free. We settled on the best compromise, between the two parallel walls, head onto a cross wall, in effect we pitched in the end of a cul-de-sac (or a wind tunnel as Chris described it later). It was bitingly cold and as the sun set behind Pen-y-Ghent, the temperature dropped further. We were soon inside our respective tents, shouting across to each other, straining to hear ourselves above the wind noise and the sound of flapping tent material (mostly mine if the truth be told).
I made a brew and had my evening meal. I got into my bag as soon as I could – we wouldn’t be spending any time sitting around outside watching the moon tonight. We were inside for the long haul. We’d stopped at Go Outdoors on the way to Horton and we’d picked up foam roll mats to put under our sleeping mats; they made a huge difference! I’d also spent some of my Christmas money on a new Exped DownMat and that was a revelation! I had no feeling of cold at all from the ground. I was warm in my bag pretty much all night, I was wearing a Merino base layer, top and bottom and my little Rab down jacket, but I was comfortable and warm. We’d both downloaded movies to watch, coincidentally, both of us had “American Sniper”, so we synchronised start times and watched the film ‘together’ in different tents.
The flapping tent prevented any prolonged sleep, but it wasn’t too bad. Chris reckoned the temp dropped to about -8C in the night and my tent certainly had a good layer of frost on the inside of the outer when I awoke. The steam from my kettle melted it and for a short while it was snowing inside my porch as I brewed up. Which was more than Chris was able to do as his water bottle had frozen in the night.
We were soon away and walked across to Pen-y-Ghent – again avoiding the packed ice and snow of the popular descent route as best we could, but Chris still managed to come a cropper and we had to patch up his bleeding knee before we finally made it back down into Horton, passing dozens of people on the way up to the hills. We sat and steamed gently, while we had a second breakfast in the Pen-y-Ghent cafe and ticked off our first MicroAdventure for 2015.
It’s not too late to join in – have a look at Al’s site for ideas and get out there, just be safe and don’t abuse the goodwill of the landowners who (mostly) tacitly allow wildcamping on their hills.