Sunday 11 December 2011

The best laid schemes

As Rabbie Burns announced, 'The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley'In an unusual departure from my normal solitary wanderings I agreed to meet up with Mike, ( Mike Knipe northern pies). A flurry of messages and e mails saw a rough outline of a 'plan'. Mike spoke of snow on the tops? Cold weather kit duly packed and four days food in the rucksack made the pack feel weighty. At the early hour of five thirty am on the Monday morning; saw me heading to the station. Approaching Leeds I was surprised to actually see snow showers and the train station felt decidedly chilly. To my relief the trains where running to time, a delay would have meant Mike sitting around waiting for me.As is my usual habit, after Settle station I nipped in to the train loo to change in to my hill going gear.Looking up to the Mallerstang ridge just after Gargrave it appeared to be shrouded in cloud. It took a few moments for me to realise that it was actually snowing and heavy snow too. Mike was waiting for me at Kirkby Stephen station .A bit of tricky manoeuvering to get out of the car park and Mike drove gingerly in to Kirkby. The road surface was icy and the car was a tad skittish. A fancy Porsche coming the other way lost it and went to investigate the hedge; at one point I wondered if he was going to perform a rollover for a finale, thankfully he did not. Mind he had sustained damage and was looking rather  nonplussed as we passed. Parking up in the town we  shrugged in to waterproofs and headed out.We did not have that far to go but conditions underfoot where wet and muddy; as I found out doing a nice belly slide on a little bit of bank that posed no problem for Mike.For a short time the weather eased, however, as we set up camp by an old sheep pen and close to a wall for protection the snow started once more. For me it had been a long day, especially since breakfast had been at 0430am. A brew of tea and a meal and I was happy to snuggle down in the sleeping bag. The snow continued all night, nipping out in the early hours everything was a white swirling mass. Snow was banking up on the sides of the tent and it needed a few thumps to reduce the buildup. From the sound of things Mike too was having a few problems. By morning it was evident the overnight snowfall had been substantial. We both agreed that with the amount of snow that was blanketing the hills, progress in any direction would have a hard slog. This was born out when Mike headed off to find water; the snow was up to his knees and it was obviously laborious just plowing through the stuff. With full packs the going would have been even more difficult. While |Mike headed back to his sleeping bag to continue his research on snoozeology, I curled up with a book.. It was a day of sunshine and showers. The following morning more bad weather was rattling around the tents; sleet, snow, freezing rain and hail. A quick heads together as we discussed plans to head up the Eden valley and head up the old 'High Road' that climbs the hill above Mallerstang. The concern was that our proposed destination, Hell Gill, offered little protection from bad weather. As things turned out it was a fortuitous decision. It was a tad frustrating for both of us to spend another day tent bound. With a certain degree of lassitude creeping in on my part  I broke a cardinal rule of camping.While brewing up  late in the afternoon I noticed a tent peg was loose. By now the ground we where on was wet and boggy. Shoving the tent peg back in I remember thinking that if the wind got up that peg would come loose. It needed a rock placing on it which would have solved the problem. Putting off the task until I had drunk my tea, I promptly forgot about it. A bad mistake on my part, the price for negligence can sometimes be high. The night was a long one and I slept badly, feeling uneasy. By the wee small hours the wind had shifted direction and was rising rapidly. The dry stone wall was no longer offering us any protection from the wind. With the wind came rain, icy, freezing, mingled with hail and sleet. As a dark gray morning broke I noticed the front of the tent was flapping badly and remembered that tent peg. Too late, even as I made a move to rectify the problem the peg came away and the front of the tent now began to thrash wildly. Really I should have got out of the tent and sorted the problem. Instead I yelled for Mike. Poor guy, I just shoved a handful of tent material in to his hand with a "Hang on to this please." It was then a case of hurriedly dressing and rapidly bundling everything in to the rucksack. Amazingly everything remained dry, the rucksack liner proved its worth. Staggering out to face a howling maelstrom, the tents where rapidly taken down and unceremoniously bundled in to the packs. Ironically the rest of the tent pegs where embedded deep and pulling them out with numb fingers was non too pleasant. Looking up to the hillside above us tattered clouds and horizontal rain where scudding across the fells driven by the gale force wind. It was no place to be. As we headed down toward Hartley, gusts of wind broadsided us causing the pair of us to skitter sideways, crabbing against the relentless onslaught. Water was flowing everywhere and the river Eden was in full spate. Arriving in Kirkby Stephen we  took the sensible option and headed in to the nearest cafe for breakfast.What the folk in the cafe thought as we bundled through the door dripping wet and rather wild looking, I have no idea? The lady rallied to the occasion though, promptly placing bin bags on the chairs for us to sit on. Mike, ever the gentleman took of his waterproofs and left them by the door. While Mike would be heading home on the A66, my aim now was to book in to the local independent hostel. Obviously it was closed but there was a phone number which we called on Mike's phone. It was on an answer phone. No real worry, there was a cycle shed where I could stay out of the worst of the weather. My concern was for Mike, he would be in for an interesting drive home! Fortunately the hostel owner called Mike back and he warned her that there may be a strange woman lurking in her cycle shed? The lady found me dancing slowly around my stove. In actual fact it was only my outer layers and boots that where wet, underneath I was quite dry and fairly warm. Oh my, the luxury of a hot shower and clean, dry clothes. Such simple pleasures are sometimes worth their weight in gold. Leaving next day the snow had returned and as I walked up to the station it was snowing heavily. An interesting few days, little mileage done, no goals realized. Sometimes though things turn out that way.