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.

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