Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for that.
At a tent site high up on a ridge in Washington, I met two women sitting on logs next to their individual mineral green tents and passing a small flask betwixt themselves. They lifted their outstretched legs as I passed, since that was the only route to a tiny spring – described as a “crisp, cool, mystical, scoopable pool of water” below the trail.
As it goes with all backpackers sharing a space, the two were friendly, eager to share about their day’s hiking. For them, it was a return to familiar ground, which last summer had been shrouded in smoke with no views available at all of splendid Goat Rocks or Mount Rainier himself, shining high above.
Fortunately, it had been a gloriously clear day, so all had been rescued – and that might have explained the celebratory Scotch which was eventually offered to me.
Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.
Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.
The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.
The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.
Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.
Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.
Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.
Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.
But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.
After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.
My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.
And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?
Your vote is needed to help personalize this hike. The winner will receive a prize – a very cool outdoorsy item. Vote in comments below.
Soon-to-be-named tent perches on the banks of the St. Croix River.
Here are the finalists:
Domov (home in Czech)
Sova nu (sleep now in Swedish)
Let the beauty of what we love be what we do. – Rumi
Possibly the biggest purchase a thru-hiker will make – and the most obvious place to cut weight – is with her tent. So much goes into choosing. Will it withstand wind? Wind that carries sand? Will it need to protect her from torrential rain? Is snow expected? What luxuries does she need? Will she be sharing or going solo? Is she willing to set up with trekking poles? How light – and thus spendy – is she willing to go?
One of my fav tents in a fav spot.
For my last long distance hike in the Alps, I took the Nemo Hornet, but had epic condensation issues with a fly that left no air gap to the main body of the tent.
The part of the tent directly over my head.
22 ounces of joy.
I also found that tent to be a pain to set up and longed for my favorite in a closet stuffed with tents: a single wall, non free-stander made by a company called Tarptent. It’s massive for a single and is up in a snap. I was nervous to take it to France with so much humidity, but had a thought to take a look at what the company is up to these days.
My timing was spot on. They have just come out with a kind of hybrid tent with a cuben fiber outer over a silnylon inner. This fabric known as Dynamee is used to make sails. Strong, impenetrable and super ultra lightweight.
Roomy and cozy.
Of course, it’s not cheap, and I’ve been warned dynamee will get beat up. How it handles in the seemingly continuous rain showers of England’s green and pleasant land remains to be seen, but the inauguration has occurred and next steps are to sleep in it over the coming weekends when I’m safely car camping.
what: Tarptent Notch Li with partial solid insert, inner: silnylon, outer: dynamee
weight: 22 oz.
packed size: 16×4 inches, it is not recommended to stuff dynamee
includes: four stakes though I may take two more to stake out the apex
First time practice set-up amidst Victorians.
My new home-on-the-trail may not be the prettiest and that might be a good thing to perhaps keep would-be thieves at bay!
Name my tent in the comments for a chance to win a prize!