Thursday 22 January 2009

Mud and flood

Flooded New Forest track
New Forest camp

Having new toys to play with and suffering from a dose of itchy feet I headed off to the New Forest for a couple of days. My plan was to travel down on the Monday morning and return Wednesday afternoon. After some time spent rootling around the net I found that I could travel down by train for around five pounds more than if I went by coach. It meant a single ticket each way. No problem. A coach run would have meant changing at Southampton and travelling on by local transport. The train would take me direct to Brockenhurst. An added bonus was that I would gain some three hours of time. Monday morning was stressful. A problem on the tube meant that the buses where all full. Standing at the bus stop watching bus after bus go past totally full meant my stress levels where hitting the red line. A normal bus journey of fifteen minutes maximum took an hour. A frantic dash on to the platform just as the train was about to leave. Fortunately the conductor saw me and I piled in through his door just as the train got under way. Close, too close for comfort. Was in Brockenhurst by late morning. Originally I had been planning on nipping down through the village and having a cup of coffee on the way. Instead I headed straight out. From the station I made my way down Mill Lane. Ominously it was flooded in places. A couple of times I had to scramble up the bank as traffic inched their way through pushing bow waves of water before them. A van driver apologised as water lapped over my boots. Crossing the road I found the wood partially flooded. The path I was following was muddy, very. Coming around by Perrywood Ivy enclosure it was a matter of keeping to the main gravelled tracks leading through New Copse and Frame Heath enclosures and on to Rowbarrow. Halfpenny Green was practically impassible. A chap on a mountain bike tried it and went in deep. Poor chap, he almost fell off his bike. As it was he had to get off and with water swirling around his knees he pushed his bike back to slightly less flooded ground. That decided me. A quick check of the map and I headed over to Woodfidley. Once again I hit floods and had to do some tricky manoeuvring to get through them. Time was getting on and I stopped in Denny Lodge enclosure. This time around I was trying out a new system. For many long years I have been a ground dweller. Suddenly I had the mad idea of trying out tree dwelling. Thanks to some generous help from one of the bushcraft community, (P. I am most grateful.) I had acquired a hammock and after a bit of financial juggling also managed a tarp. It takes time to pick up on new skills and setting up camp on the Monday evening was quite an experience. The tarp is some nine foot square and just getting that up, faffing around with lengths of cord and so on was an experience on its own. The hammock was to prove a little more difficult. By the time I finished it was almost totally dark. Quickly I got the stove burning. Damp wood meant a tad smoky fire to start with but it was soon blazing away. There had been a few showers during the day but nothing much. Supper over, it was time to experiment with the hammock. When I had first, gingerly sat on it, I was unceremoniously pitched on to the ground. After that I was more careful on how I sat down. For insulation I slipped my coat, waterproof trousers and sit mat in to the sleeve provided in the base of the hammock. Getting in to the hammock was not that difficult. Initially it swayed a bit and I reached out with one hand pressing down on the rucksack to steady things up. The problems occurred when I attempted to shimmy in to the sleeping bag. The hammock quivered like an over excited jelly. A short, rapid sort of swinging movement. Something I had never considered was motion sickness. However, I felt very nauseous, queasy, quite a nasty experience. Having to get up during the night for the loo was a repeat performance. Thinking it over my solution would be to get a sleeping bag with a full length zip. The up side of things was that once I had settled down it was comfortable and cozy. A dog fox barked close by, owls hooted back and forward, the forest night shift coming on duty. The only discordant note was the train horn sounding on the railway close by.Tuesday morning I headed back down and over the railway by railway cottages and then over to Rans wood and Furzey Lodge. From there down to Beaulieu. Fortunately there was a few footpaths that where not marked on the map. It saved a bit of road walking. Treated myself to a coffee and baked potato and studied the map. It would have been nice to continue on down to Bucklers Hard. However, to head back from there would have involved to much road walking and also it probably would have meant a long day. In the end I headed up to Hill Top and by dint of some muddy tracks and careful map reading I came around by Hartford House and then through the woods to North Gate. A bit of road walking brought me down to Wood Lane, a track. A four four was coming out of the gate and the driver waved me through and climbed out of his vehicle and locked the gate after me. Thinking no more of it I ambled on my way. Part way up the lane though I found there had been recent logging operations. Oh my, mud! The track was churned in to a quagmire. Thick, glutinous, cloying, clinging clay. It was a total morass. Briefly I tried walking through the wood, more mud, and water logged. It was truly a land of mud and flood. Yikes, by the time I got through to Furzey Lodge I was slathered well and truly in muck. It was as I was coming through the gate at the lodge that I saw a notice on the gate. Briefly it stated that the lane was private and there was no public access. Ah well, no harm done. Briefly I followed the track I had come down in the morning. At Moon Hill though I headed on through Frame wood and down to Rowbarrow where I set up camp for the night. Setting up camp was easier the second time around. This time I also cut a stick and rammed it in to the ground so that I could grab it and use it as a stabilizer if the motion got too much. Settling down for the night, I was just dozing off, when a high pitched cry momentarily startled me. Trying a slightly different configuration with the tarp I had strung it with the back down fairly low and the front raised. another cry, a sharp high pitched whistling bark is maybe the best way to describe it, almost a scream. A muntjac deer and very close as well. Suddenly I realised, he was actually standing at the front edge of the tarp staring at me. Oh my, for such a tiny deer, much the same size as a large dog, he was extremely vocal. Unusual for a muntjac, they are normally shy retiring and solitary creatures. Mind, they can be very territorial. Maybe he was uncertain as to what I was, or was just establishing his territorial rights but he barked at me again and stamped his foot. Hardly breathing, I lay still, watching him, his small frame clearly silhouetted against the clear night sky. Finally he moved away giving a few more of those high pitched cries. It is easy to see how stories of haunted woods can come about. It is moments like that that makes things worth while. A privilege. By morning there had been a light frost, everything calm and still. With time in hand, it was only about four miles directly back to Brockenhurst and my train was not until 14 45, I took a more circuitous route. Firstly back through Frame Heath enclosure and then up to Stubby Copse enclosure. Fine moderate walking. Forestry work in Parkhill enclosure saw me having to deviate a few times. If nothing else it was handy to help brush up on map reading skills. Ramnor and Pignal Inclosures came and went. The buzz of a chain saw echoing through the trees. Unfortunately there was little in the way of wild life to be seen. The only signs I had seen where a few fresh deer tracks and their droppings. Finally I exited the forest at Standing Hat and headed over to Brockenhurst. My first priority was to nip in the public loo and change out of my mud covered trousers and boots. People had already given me few second glances as I entered the village. Being so self conscious and knowing that I probably looked as wild and disheveled as I felt meant that I was eager to get out of my filthy gear. Mind, my rucksack also had its share of mud on it too. A cup of coffee and a leisurely stroll up through the village and around to the railway station. Overall a pleasant couple of days out. Checking out a few ideas on the net in regard to sleeping bags. One had been to upgrade my summer bag by having a baffle fitted and a full length zip. The quotes I got where for well over a hundred pounds. Quilts where something else that crossed my mind. Some people, rather than use sleeping bags use specially adapted quilts. This struck me as a viable option until I started looking at prices. Two to three hundred pounds plus. Army surplus sleeping bags? Big, bulky, heavy and only with short zips. Finally I returned to looking at sleeping bags. Bearing in mind that I was considering more in the way of winter usage. There is one bag that really fits the bill. An Alpkit. Their price is good at a hundred pounds. The problem now is, how on earth do I raise that sort of cash? At present I have a 60 ltr Osprey rucksack up for sale at twenty pounds. No interest as of yet. Does anyone out there want any odd jobs done? My proposed Scottish trip next week is on hold until February. These will be lean times.

Tuesday 6 January 2009


New years eve saw me heading across country to North Wales. Once again it was a meet up with a small group of people. This time I had even managed a lift. The idea was for a few of us to meet at the Minnffordd car park and head up the path to see the new year in by Llyn Cau. Five of us met at the car park at around seven in the evening. It was cold and little time was wasted in shouldering rucksacks and putting on head torches. The initial start up the path up to the Llyn was steep and then settled down to a steady plod. As we cleared the tree line the headlights of cars stabbed the darkness in the valley bottom far below. Pausing for breath I briefly wondered if anyone saw the beam of our head torches as we contoured the hillside. It would have been fun to walk in darkness, however, care was needed, water ice lay thick on parts of the path. The sky was clear with myriads of stars shining brightly. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we finally arrived. Tents went up swiftly on an area of fairly flat ground right next to the llyn. With the ground frozen tent pegs where a tad difficult to place. Down jackets where the order of the evening. Also, I had been requested to bring one of the wood burning stoves. There is something magical about sitting under a clear star lit moonlit sky, warmed by the flame of a real fire. At midnight Auld lang syne was duly sung, voices echoing around the rocky cym. Shortly after folk headed for bed. It was bliss to snuggle deep in to the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag. Thursday morning was a chilly start with a digital temperature read out of minus twelve. The Llyn had a layer of ice on its surface. Later there was mention of the temperature dropping even further. The plan was to leave the tents where they where and head up to Cadair Idris and then collect them on the way back. The morning was still and calm and as we progressed up through a break in the rocky crags to the ridge above the Llyn We broke out of the drifting mist and cloud cover to a wonderful cloud inversion. The scenery was awesome. Unfortunately my camera refused to work due to the cold conditions. We had a brief break on Craig Cym Amarch. Despite my water bottle being in the rucksack the water had semi frozen. Several groups of people all had the same idea of heading up to the summit of Cadair Idris. The views were spectacular. However, time was pressing. We had to return to Llyn Cau to pick up the tents and time was pressing. Heading down I began to develop a severe headache, something I am prone to. probably a combination of the flue I had the previous week and a touch of dehydration. All of us had problems with water freezing. Back at the tents I managed to thaw a little water and took some medication. Taking the tents down was interesting, they where well frozen. However, as we headed down towards the car park, I began to feel progressively worse.. Several times I had to stop and have a break. Possibly at one point I passed out. The others came back to see where I was and found me weaving slowly towards the car park. My original intention had been to get dropped off on the way across to Llanberis where the others where heading for. There was little option though but to join them at the climbing hut. Despite managing to down fluids I was still violently sick on the way. A couple mugs of tea and a seat by a hot coal fire saw me partially recovered. On the Friday I decided to rest and just potter, taking a walk from the climbers hut at Deiniolen. headed across toward Dinorwig and around to Llanberis. Picked up a few supplies I had been asked to get, had a mug of tea and a bite to eat in Pete's Eats. Deciding the seven miles or so that I had walked was enough, I opted for the lazy option of catching a local bus back toward the village. On the Saturday a few people had decided to go for the north ridge of Tryfan. a classified rock scramble and quite a strenuous one too. Feeling better, I thought I would give it a go. A good breakfast and copious amounts of tea seemed to be the order of the day. From the A5 by Llyn Ogwen The north face of Tryfan looks intimidating. There is no easy, warm up start. From the road it a case of heading straight up. The cold had us moving swiftly up the flight of large steps that lead to the first section of ascent. Breath rasping in the cold air, lungs heaving, limbs protesting at this assault. There is no one direct route up the ridge. It is a case of picking the best line and following it. often it was a case of directissimo.. Hands and feet working in unison. The route is a classified grade one scramble, in places though it is rated as grade two, depending on which way one goes. In all probability we did some of the grade two bits. An hour passes, two, three, time is of no concern at the moment. Arms reach high, hands searching for holds, bare fingers curl over a lovely jug handle of rock, knee raises high, toe of boot placed delicately on a nobble of rock, a heave and a pull, other foot searches for a purchase, pause, eyes searching for the next hold and the movement is repeated. A slow but steady rhythm leads ever on upwards. Picking a way up a steep rock chimney, glancing back down and wishing I had not. There is no actual ground, just a void. The exposure can be daunting. As we gain height so the rocks become even colder. My fingers grow cold but I am reluctant to put on my gloves, preferring to actually feel the rock beneath bare fingers. In that way I can feel the hand holds. The others where somewhere ahead of me but I was content to pick my own way up. A last steep piece up a narrow rock chimney and I was on North top. Some delicate shuffling over ice covered boulders to Far South top. A low, pale wintry sun in my eyes made things a little tricky. We had started late and now time was pressing, we wanted to be down before dark. After a short break we descended easy slopes to the Heather Terrace. A broad curving ledge that descends the side of the hill. Care had to be taken, in places the path was covered in thick layers of water ice. Crampons would have been no good, it would necessitate putting them on, cross the ice, stop remove them and continue to the next patch and repeat the process. Instead it just meant some delicate maneuvering to shuffle around them. Finally the valley floor was reached just as darkness fell. A weary walk back to the cars in the cold evening air and back to the hut for a welcome hot shower, a meal and loads of fluids. The others where indulging in mulled wine and and various other such beverages, being teetotal I stayed on soft drinks. Sunday morning and temperatures where still way down. Unfortunately we where heading back. It was tempting to fore go my lift and stay for another few days. Conditions where excellent, cold and clear, rivers and lakes totally frozen. The landscape white and pristine in the grip of the winter freeze. However, the sheer cost of coming back on public transport was far too expensive. it was a pity to have to leave.
Kit wise, I was using my heaviest rucksack, a macpac and in the event of things I was glad I did. It stands up to abuse well. Stove was an msr simmerlite, lighter than the whisperlite, a half litre fuel bottle. it proved beneficial, a few folk where struggling with gas and I brewed for them as well.My heavier valandre sleeping bag and boseman light cover. prolite three quarter sleeping mat. it is not best suited for cold conditions and I used newspaper underneath it. A Montane down jacket, a Patagonia thermal vest, Mountain equipment soft shell and a Montane waterproof. Paramo cascada trousers, also carried a berghaus soft shell pullover. Two pairs of gloves, two wooly hats, spare socks and one change of clothing, wash kit, first aid kit etc. Camp crampons, Black diamond raven ice axe. Also carried up to the Lnyn a wood burning stove as was requested, plus fire lighting equipment. Dried food for three days, packet soups, porridge, nibbles, snacks etc, camera and spare batteries. Petzle myo head torch and an e light as back up. Maps, compass, whistle etc. Pocket knife, opinel. Tent was a Golite shangri la 2 with a shangri la 1 floor, trek mate carbon trek poles also where used to support tent.

descending heather terrace ,


From top of Tryfan

View from Tryfan. The Llyn below is frozen