Thursday, 29 September 2016


The weather has been amazing this September and I decided to make the most of it with a quick mini adventure at the upper Derwent above Howden reservoir. I parked at the top. Howden reservoir car park and walked up to the slippery stones and then followed the track along the river. The sky was really clear and there was absolutely no wind. It didn't take before the midges found me. Fortunately I had brought a midge net for my head, unfortunately I was wearing shorts! I walked up the river to keep cool and keep the midges off my legs. By 8pm slight breeze had picked up by the river and the midges had left me alone. No sooner had I pitched the tent than the breeze stopped and the swarms of midges returned! I paced around as I cooked a dinner of cous cous and then brushed off as many midges as I could before unzipping the inner tent and diving in.

Seconds later I realised the inner tent was full of midges! Did I bring them in on my clothes or were the holes on the mesh of the inner tent too big? I searched for a gap they could have sneaked through but couldn't find one. I crawled into my sleeping bag and drew the cord tight over my head. This significantly reduced the midge problem but now I was too hot! I came up for fresh cool air only to be eaten by the midges so I crawled back into the bag. I repeated this cycle over and over till midnight till I decided enough was enough and that I would pack up and sleep in the car.

Packing up took minutes and soon I was walking back along the track bathed in moonlight. It was still warm so I stopped for a nightswim attire slippery stones plunge pool. Jumping into the cold water was the perfect cure for my itching midge bitten body and when I came out I noticed there were no midges to speak of so I blew up the mat and slept out under the stars.

In the morning I was woken by the midges returning to feast on my exposed face so I packed up quickly, shook the dew off my sleeping bag and mat and walked back to the car. I was treated to a flat calm Howden reservoir with mist clinging to the trees on the far bank. A perfect photo opportunity...

Sunday, 4 September 2016

10 tips for hiking and camping with toddlers

I've been climbing hills with my 4 year old daughter since she was two and a half and recently we went on our first 'wild camp'. I'm not claiming to be an expert but here are a few lessons / tips that I've picked up along the way...

1) Let them be involved in the planning - this will give them a sense of ownership of the trip. They could help to choose the menu and what clothes they're going to wear.

2) Compromise - this is their trip as well. It may seem totally impractical to pack Ski Barbie, but bringing her may mean the world to them (and Barbie's skis make great chopsticks)!

3) Let them set the pace - let them walk in front of you. They'll enjoy taking the lead a lot more than trailing along behind. And you'll be able to see when they want to stop, when they're getting tired and if they need any help.

4) Don't rush them - let them explore their surroundings. Those plants / insects / rocks that you've seen a hundred times might be new and exciting to them. 

5) Let them be involved in making decisions - this will also give them a sense of ownership. They could decide when to take a break or help choose a suitable spot to pitch a tent.

6) Show them the map - it's never too early to teach them the basics of map reading.  

7) Distract them - tell them a story or play a game if they look like they're flagging.

8) Give them targets - break the hike into manageable chunks. We'll often stop for a piece of chocolate every half hour.

9) Comfort over the 'ultralight' approach - a wet cold night under a tarp could put them off camping for life!

10) Bring a full change of clothes - children are drawn to mud like moths to a flame, plus their clothes are so small they'll take up hardly any space in the pack! 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Place Fell (657m) wild camp... with a 4 year old!

My daughter (MD) and I have been climbing hills together since she was two and a half. She is four now and a couple of months ago she asked if we could climb a mountain together and camp out on top!

I'd climbed about 350m ascent (Catbells) with MD in the past and I figured she would be able to climb 500m without too much trouble. I've found she enjoys steep climbs over gentle ones so I did some research and decided Place Fell (657m) from Patterdale would be perfect.

I wanted MD to be involved in the planning so she chose the menu - hotdog sausages and tortilla wraps for lunch,  ramen noodles for dinner and porridge for breakfast. I packed my bombproof Terra Nova Solar 2 tent (2.5kg) and my toasty warm Mountain Equipment Lightline sleeping bag (1.2kg)... hardly lightweight but I wanted her to be as comfortable as possible

I managed to pack the tent, both sleeping bags, both mats, cooking gear, spare clothes, waterproofs, food, water, camera, tigress doll and Ski Barbie in the cavernous Montane Ultratour 40lt (730g) backpack. I had a bit of a stand-off as to whether Ski Barbie should be allowed to come, but I succumbed as this was MD's trip and there was just enough space in the pack.

We drove up to Patterdale as a family on our way to a holiday cottage near Penrith. By the time we got there it was 1pm so we decided to have the hotdogs cooked on the stove with mum and little brother before we set off from the cafe at the bottom of the trail at 2pm. The views on the first leg were beautiful.

We stopped halfway at Boredale Hause for coffee / hot chocolate. The wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped so MD donned her (heavy duty) wet weather gear. The next leg of the walk was steeper and involved a few bits of easy scrambling - which she loved! 

We were on the top by 4.30pm but didn't stick around for long on the blustery and exposed trig point. Next on the agenda was finding a suitable place to pitch the tent. I let MD suggest a few places and I was surprised at how good they were (flat / dry etc). She helped me pitch the tent by pushing in the pegs, threading the poles etc.

Dinner (ramen noodles) were cooked in my Alpkit MytiPot with a windshield and stove set up I'd bought on ebay. I though I'd packed two sporks but when I unpacked I could only find one. I gave MD the spork and then looked for something I could use as chopsticks... Barbies skis did the job perfectly!

By 8pm MD was ready for bed - teeth brushed and tucked up in my super warm Mountain Equipment sleeping bag. I was also ready for bed having been up since 5am with her little brother and driven 3.5 hours to the Lake District. I closed my eyes ready for some sleep only to have two little fingers peal my eye lids open and a little voice ask 'Daddy are you awake?'... this happened over and over till about 9.30pm. Next time I'll tire her out on a on a bigger hill!

After breakfast in the morning we packed up in the sunshine and MD practically ran down to the Howtown Hotel where we'd arranged to meet up with mum and little brother. On the way down she shouted 'this is the best day ever!' (no doubt a line from Frozen). I'm inclined to agree - if you've got kids take them up a hill and camp out in the wild - you'll both remember it forever.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Barrow Stones circuit - after work mini adventure

For my first ultralight (mini) adventure I decided to do a circular walk to the Barrow Stones - a cluster of gritstone boulders on the Bleaklow plateau.

I decided to try and fit all my overnight kit (inc climbing shoes for bouldering and a mini tripod) into a dinky 20lt daypack that I'd bought from Decathlon for £10. I wanted anyone I met to think I was just going for a walk in the peak.

I left work just after 5pm and parked up at the bottom of the Westend valley just before 6pm. The weather forecast had promised clear skies but as I set off up the valley it started to drizzle and I'd not packed a waterproof. Lesson number 1 - bring an emergency waterproof next time - perhaps my poncho / tarp (230g).

I took a leasurley walk along the River Westend to take some photos with my new (second hand) Sony Nex-5 camera with 16mm pancake lens (355g). I love my slr and wide angle lens but together they weigh just over 1kg not including the camera case and are hardly what you'd call ultralight.

The rain eased as I walked up the. shooting track onto the moors and I was soon picking my way through the peat bogs towards the Barrow Stones. I spotted a couple of mountain hares bounding through the heather and dozens of noisy grouse squawked as I walked past their nests.

I'd never been to the Barrow Stones before and I was hoping there would be some good bouldering opportunities. By the time I got there however it was nearly 8pm, it was drizzling again and I needed to pitch my new tarp tent (490g).

I found a flat patch of dry peat but thought better of pitching there as I'm sure it would have turned into a bog if enough rain had fallen. Instead I pitched on a flat patch of low lying heather. At first I pitched with the front of the tent away from the wind. The tent has a rectangular footprint and this left the broadside facing into the wind. I soon realized this pushed the fabric into the sleeping area. Lesson number 2 - I turned the tent 90 degrees so the narrow side was facing the wind and immediately noticed a vast improvement.

The trekking pole I was using had a maximum extension of 135cm but according to the website the tent was 145cm high. This meant I had to pitch it close to the ground. This was great for keeping the rain out but terrible for ventilation and despite the wind blowing steadily over night the walls were dripping with condensation the morning. Lesson number 3 - next time bring an extension for the pole.

I'd bought a cook set (136g) from eBay which is similar to the Caldera cone set up except the cone comes splits into two parts which allows it to fit neatly into the pot / mug. It comes with a non spill alcohol burner. I filled the burner with just enough methylated spirits to boil 500ml of water then tried to light it with a fire starter flint. After 5 frustrating minutes it still wasn't lit so I filled the burner to the top and it lit first time. Lesson number 4 - fill the stove to the top.

Just before it got dark I laid out a polycro ground sheet, inflated the mattress (355g) and climbed into the sleeping bag (440g). The bag does not have a hood but has a draw cord around the shoulders so my head was exposed. The temperature had dropped significantly and I could see my breath. I'd not brought a hat and my follicaly challenged head was freezing. Lesson number 5 - always bring a hat. The bag was a little too small to crawl into any further so I resigned myself to having a cold head all night. Otherwise the bag and mat performed well and the rest of my body was warm.

I woke to a clear but cold morning, made a cup of coffee, shook the condensation off the tent and packed up quickly. The walk down to the river Derwent was cross country over heather moorland. Across the valley I could see some impressive looking rocks on Howden Edge that are inexplicably not marked on the OS map (on google earth they can be seen at grid reference 152984) - something to investigate on my next mini adventure!

I crossed the river and followed the track down to the pool above the slippery stones enjoying some wild bilberries along the way. As no one else was at the pool I enjoyed a swim in the way nature intended (sans clothing) and warmed up with a coffee in the sunshine.

An hour later I was back at the car refreshed, invigorated and ready for my night shift.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The big 3 - pack / shelter / sleeping system

So I've searched high and low and I've spent the least amount of money possible on what many refer to as the big 3: the backpack, the shelter and the sleeping system.

The pack
I've bought the Montane Ultra Tour 40 (730g) - which I picked up for the bargain price of £64 from Go Outdoors on their 10% price match. It's got loads of bells and whistles and I'm looking forward to putting it through it's paces.

The shelter
I liked the look of the tarp tents made my Mountain Laurel Designs such as the Duomid and the Trailstar but these were way beyond my tight budget. So I did a little searching and I found a generic Chinese duomid on Aliexpress (fly 490g / inner 409g). I paid £103 including postage. It should work well with my current trekking pole (135cm Leki Makalu).
The sleeping system
My current sleeping bag is an amazing winter bag (-5C 1200g) but I wanted to find something lighter and cooler. I found another bargain on Aliexpress - a 450g  ultralight goose down sleeping bag rated to 10C for £40 including postage! It packs down tiny but appears to loft up well.

I spent a bit more on the sleeping mat. I bought the Sea to Summit ultralight mat (355g) with the air stream dry sack for £65.

So in total I've spent £272 and the total weight (not using the tent inner) is 2025g - that's less than my old backpacking tent the Terra Nova Solar 2 (2550g)!

So that's the bulk of the buying done now it's time for an ultralight adventure!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The after work mini adventure

I work 10 hour day / night shifts - sometimes I have to work 8 in a row. I love my job (paramedic) but these runs of shifts leave me mentally exhausted. I've decided to break the monotony of these runs of shifts by sneaking in a mini adventure in the 22 hour window between days shifts and night shifts.

This obviously limits where I can have these adventures but fortunately living in Sheffield means I have wealth of beautiful countryside within a half hour drive (mostly Dark Peak area).

The first thing I'll be setting out to do is to prepare a full kitted ultralight pack which I can grab on my way to work and ready for an after work adventure. I've not got stacks of cash so I'll be looking to put together a set up whilst parting with as little cash as possible!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Who am I? What am I doing?

Who am I? 
I'm a 40 something year old guy with a young family who loves the outdoors. 

In the past I did a lot of long distance hiking including the Pennine Way, West Highland Way, a 2 week hike in Mongolia and 4000 mile hike called the Hyakumeizan Challenge. On these trips I used expensive 'bombproof' equipment that would survive day after day of abuse. The only drawback of using this kit is that this kit weighs a tonne!

What am I doing?
In this blog I'll be aiming to document my successes, failures, experiences and discoveries as I make the transition from heavyweight hiking to ultralight adventures. I'll be applying an a ultralight approach to hiking, climbing, wild camping, canoeing, fly fishing, wild swimming, ski touring, and landscape photography.