This weekend was to be the next logical step of training the Snakeye Clan to camp self-sufficiently in the wilderness for multiple nights at a time. Last time, we hiked a mile from our house and found some prime real estate near a stream on the farm property… this time, I wanted to venture a little farther, extending out the hiking distance and takeing away the safety net of a nearby home.
You see, I’m trying to expose the Clan to camping in nature herself. Unfortunately, you can’t get the same results, awe, and respect for nature when you’re stuck in some lot with tents all around you, the shitters next door, and paddle boats to rent on the lake. The true-to-nature camping is called “wild camping”… and in Britain, it’s illegal. There are ways around it… and some of the National Parks “acknowledge that it can be common place in their park and discourage it.” A statement like that read between the lines? “You can do it and we don’t mind, as long as you’re smart about it and leave no trace.”
I’m amazed on how much research goes into planning for a trip like this. Unless you do this sort of thing professionally (or truly, without kids), you can’t just go gallivanting off into some unknown destination hoping to find what you’re looking for. It takes a map, checking distances, ensuring there are good water sources enroute, etc… and with kids, extra planning is involved to ensure that anything short of the destination will lead to a good camping experience… because once the kids call “uncle,” there’s no point in continuing on; everyone quickly becomes miserable and you’ll instead convert them into abhorring hiking and camping.
To cut our teeth on real wild camping, I chose the Lake District, which gives the same amazing Scottish views without the added driving. That being said, it still took us 4 hours to drive there. I checked the weather before departing the house: 40°F lows, 55°F highs, mostly cloudy with patches of sun (considered a “good day” in England) with bouts of rain here and there embedded in the cloud. So you say there might be sun… good enough for me! Besides, this country is an island; weather changes pretty rapidly on islands (for better and worse!). Sure, it might be sunny then rain, but the opposite occurs pretty quickly too.
The hike started off in high spirits: the sun was out (albeit with a lot of surrounding clouds), we’d just got gassed-up at the Pub (left) where we parked our car, and we were off to explore the 2¾-mile trek I planned through Mother Nature. The first 2 miles were relatively flat as we made our way through the Langdale Valley. The landscape was beautiful; exactly what your mind would drudge up whilst thinking of the natural landscape of England:
Shortly after mile 2 began the ascent to the high ground. Both the kids were doing better than I expected! Brenden was tirelessly blazing the trail ahead of me (I was actually having to put some effort into keeping up with him… but I also had 40+ pounds of extra gear on my back), while Marissa was happily making a game of it with Pam while carefully negotiating the rocks all on her own. Like the last hike, we even took time to stop and ponder nature’s wonders: tadpoles in a puddle (not pictured), a good look at sheep shit, an even better look at a slug sliming its way along sheep shit, and then Brenden: “Dad, why do sheep have hairy penises sticking out of their butts?”
Everything was going swimmingly. Then, about 75% up the mountain, it started to drizzle… then drizzle started turning into rain, and then rain started turning into a downpour accompanied with 45-mph wind gusts. All of us had water-repellent jackets accept for Brenden, which we never got around to buying one for him (after he lost the last one a few weeks ago); he was triple-layered to compensate. He continued to blaze ahead having fun. At this point though, I knew the clock was running because he would soon be soaked to the bone and I would have to get him dry and warm.
As soon as we got to the summit, I started looking around for some place to shelter, while keeping Brenden huddled between me and the sideways rain pelting me. By the time he started noticing he was cold, Pam and Marissa rounded the summit. Marissa was truly (and rightfully) pissed, and Pam was doing all she could to soothe her and keep her going. A place to put the tent down was slim pickings where we were, so we pressed on. And the it started sleeting…
That was it. Brenden joined Marissa in desperate cries for mercy, and I could see that fearful look in Pam’s eye. Unlike the last time where we let the kids pick out a spot to lay the tent, this spot kinda picked us. I had to find a place and now! All of us were waterlogged to our knees (and that was the best case)… I scampered frantically to find a spot that wouldn’t get flooded, while the kids howled in agony as Pam tried to keep them from the inexorable cold wetness.
An aside: you don’t understand. Here we are at the top of a mountain (hey, 1600 feet is a ways up according to the English standard) and the ground everywhere is seriously like walking on a waterlogged sponge. I’m not in a bog or a swamp… I’m on the top of a mountain for crying out loud!! How can the ground be like a swamp?!
I found the driest ground I could and laid the tent footprint. The sleet pelted everything. I’ve never set up a tent so fast. Within a mere minute, I had Pam and the kids inside as I was placing the tarp and securing it into place. Twice I almost lost the tarp as the wind ripped out the ground stakes and the thing went flying like a kite straining my grip. As I continued trying to make the tent impregnable, I yelled for Pam to strip everyone down out of their clothes and get them into the sleeping bags. She did so, and I grabbed some water containers to collect some drinking water from the nearby swelling mountain stream; once I got into the tent, I didn’t plan on leaving it to get stupid things like water…
Thoroughly soaked to the bone, I stripped down to envelop myself in the nest that Pam had made. All of us were pretty cold. The kids were starting to dry out and warm when I arrived, but Pam was still cold and I looked like I had just taken a shower with my clothes on. We had brought some home-dehydrated dinner with us, but we didn’t bother unpacking the hiking stove, we didn’t bother unpacking our entertainment, we didn’t bother unpacking anything but the bare necessities. Now we were just concentrating on keeping warm and dry.
As the kids started to trail off, I stayed awake in awe, like I would during a violent thunderstorm. The rain was just beating relentlessly against the tent. There were times that the wind would blow so hard that half the walls of the tent would temporarily collapse on top of us. It was those times I looked over at Pam and saw the panicked fight-or-flight look in her eyes. “We’ll be OK” I told her, knowing deep-down that the tent would continue to shield us from the rain and wind. We were in the tent, after all, acting as anchors to prevent it from blowing away; the worst that could happen was a pole snapping (which I wouldn’t have been surprised had one snapped, but none of them did).
Throughout the night, it sounded like our tent was getting sandblasted with peas, along with the wall collapsing on my face. At some point I got warm and dry enough to sneak a peek through the tent flap, just to ensure myself that it was only rain.
That’s about the only picture of the carnage I took; I was afraid of ruining the Canon 7D camera that I had painstakingly brought along with me.
I eventually got to sleep, but was awoken by Pam’s fidgeting about 5 times throughout the night. Only during the drive back did I realize just how worried Pam had been… about the cold, about the tent collapsing, about the weather sticking around (there’s no way we could descend that mountain with rain and 45-mph wind gusts!)…
Regardless. At around 7am, I was greeted with this as I woke up and started rousing the Clan:
As Pam packed up her nest, I put my soaked clothes back on and went outside, assessing the swamp (and sheep) that we were now surrounded by:
A swamp! On top of a mountain! Unbelievable.
Reverse of when we arrived, I went to get some water for all of us to drink as Pam packed up the comfortable nest she had once made.
When she was done, I broke down our waterlogged tent and strapped it to my back. It was still cloudy, but the wind was calm and it wasn’t raining. Time to climb down while the going’s good! We rounded the hill at the summit to start our descent back to our starting point, and there the sun finally decided to show herself.
On the descent, we had to stop and take off our layers so as not to overheat. It figures.
You could say this was a miserable experience. But what makes an adventure, I ask? I think it’s all the elements combined into this camping trip. Surely adventures aren’t packed full of only triumphs… if that were the case, every movie we watched would be filled with complete boredom. Could you imagine Lord of the Rings in this light? Frodo would put the ring in his pocket and the movie would be over! Adventures come from a roller coaster of hopeless lows and glorious highs. Moreover, it takes winning and losing to learn.
Things of note?
- I really need to outfit us in rain gear. Especially the kids. It’s ok to roll the dice with the weather provided you’re prepared for the worst. I could’ve prepared us better. Waterproof shoes (not galoshes) are still key.
- Trust the equipment. I ensured we were equipped with a good tent and sleeping bags. They completely made the difference. That tent got the ever-living shit beat out of it, yet it held together without a leak. Awesome. If anyone wants to know, it’s a tent from Big Agnes.
- I think outside families looking in would probably think we’re insane…
The best part? The kids are rearing to do it again! Now I just have to convince Pam…