Planning a Saunter in the Southern Fells

I’m heading off to the Lakes for a week-long backpack at the weekend as a key part of my preparation for walking the Cambrian Way in April. Here are a few notes on the process of preparing for the preparation trip.

The Concept

The concept of this trip was simple: a multi-day route that mimicked the sort of conditions I can expect on the Cambrian Way in April, and which also gives me an idea as to how ready I am for that walk. More specifically:

  1. The route had to involve the sort of daily distances and ascent that I am likely to do on the Cambrian Way. It didn’t necessarily have to mimic the hardest part of that more challenging walk, but it certainly had to be tough enough to give me confidence that I can close any “performance gap” that exists.
  2. I wanted to dry-run the situation I will face in the Brecon Beacons where I have 6 days walking without much that I can rely on in the way of re-provisioning on the route itself. So, I wanted a route where I would have to carry my supplies for the whole trip. Of course on the real trip I’m likely to come across the odd village shop, but it’s difficult to research all of these and certainly a bad idea to base my whole provisioning strategy on a shop being there, open and having anything I’d want to buy. I had a bad enough time shopping in Patterdale one day recently, so I definitely won’t be banking on finding much in remoter places.
  3. Having only wild camped a maximum of 4 nights in a row, and feeling that was just right, I wanted to make sure that I can extend it to 6 without going mad.
  4. Short of extreme weather conditions (e.g. hurricanes and the like), this would be a “go whatever” trip, as once I’ve started on the Cambrian Way I will largely have to take whatever is thrown at me. As things stand it looks like I’m going to face the last sting in the tail of winter with some decent sub-zero temperatures, snow showers etc.
  5. The trip will be a good sharpening up of skills in adapting to the conditions and decision making.
  6. The trip will provide an opportunity to test out certain items of gear I’m considering taking on the Cambrian Way, and generally to refine my kit list for that trip.

But these aims aside, this would still be a week of Lake District walking, as the Lakes felt like the most appropriate place to train – it’s (relatively) easy to get to, I know it quite well, and it avoids actually doing part of the Cambrian Way route. Ideally I would also pick up a few extra Wainwrights, although when I got down to planning, ticking off fells became only a secondary consideration.

Planning the Route

Over the winter my thoughts had turned to some of the areas in the Lakes that I haven’t been to for a while, particularly because of some of the memories built up there. And so faced with a choice of doing a route that picked off Wainwrights or one that revisited old ground, I chose the latter and looked to create a route in the Southern Fells. It’s been as hard to plan as my Far Eastern Fells trips in July and September last year, but for a different reason. The FE fells octopus-like layout makes planning an efficient route tricky, but in the case of the Southern Fells it’s being spoilt for choice that is the problem. But this is a very nice problem to have.

I’ve built the route around the following:

  • revisiting the Coniston group which I’ve not been near since 2007. There are also two fells here which I want to revisit in order to keep alive my plan to bag every Wainwright without the use of a car.
  • similarly doing the Cold Pike to Scafell Pike horseshoe around the head of Eskdale which I also haven’t visited since 2007. And 4 of these fells also need to be repeated for the above car reasons.
  • I’d like to pick off Illgill Head and Whin Rigg which I’ve not visited at all.
  • I really want to do the Hardknott, Harter Fell and Green Crag walk again – last done in 2010.
  • similarly, a return to the fells around and south of Devoke Water really appeals. I loved this area and a wild camp there beckons.
  • I’ve wanted to visit Caw and Stickle Pike for a long time, and so threw these into the planning pot.

This lot gave some obvious pointers to a circular route starting and ending in Coniston, and much of my planning focused on whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise (I’ve chosen the latter because it makes more sense with the daily distances and planned camp spots), and how to join up the Whin Rigg/Illgill Head and Hardknott/Harter Fell/Green Crag bits to the main circle.

I nearly ditched the Hardknott section altogether, but I then happened across Paul’s account of a day out on HardKnott, accompanied by David’s pictures. In particular seeing the views of the snow-flecked Scafells from HardKnott. The pictures made my mind up – Hard Knott needed to be included. And the fact that it had been a dull cloudy day on my previous visit added some extra justification (if any justification is ever needed for visiting a fell). I want that amazing view of upper Eskdale.

I solved the Whin Rigg/Illgill Head piece by making it a loop from Burnmoor Tarn. This gives me the flexibility to do it as planned, reverse the direction, make it an out-and-back or ditch it. Just doing this made the whole thing achievable (on paper), as well as providing a lot of flexibility. If I end up ditching it then a future backpack based around a circuit of Wasdale will sort them out.

In planning this walk, I wanted a challenging route that added up to a chunky amount of distance and equally chunky amount of ascent. What I’ve ended up with at around 76 miles and 20,000ft of ascent is broadly comparable with one of the harder weeks on the Cambrian Way. Not quite the hardest, but sufficiently within range that the expected increase in fitness on the walk will get me there.

The other aspect to this walk that I wanted to incorporate was some wild and remote terrain to mimic what it will be like being away from proper accommodation for 6 days, as I will be on the loneliest stretch of the Cambrian Way. Now some of the ground I’ll be covering on the Lakes walk you wouldn’t call extreme remote and I’ll likely see a good number of people on the Coniston fells and the Scafells in particular, but it was more of the overnighting that I was thinking of. Indeed, all 6 of my target wild camp locations I would expect to have to myself, and have been chosen to position me for any available sunsets and sunrises that may be on offer. You’ll just have to wait for the post-trip write up to find out where they are.

So this is the route I’ve ended up with (click on the image to go to Social Hiking where you can zoom in parts of the route in more detail).

A Saunter around the Southern Fells

A Saunter around the Southern Fells

Planning the travel

On the face of it the travel is simple. It’s a circular route from Coniston so I simply need a return train ticket to Windermere and align my timings with the 505 bus. Then a spanner got thrown in the works, albeit a pleasant one in the shape of this bolt-on trip to Wales to walk the Taith Ardudwy with some Twitter friends. Now having to break my journey part way to get to the meet-up point in Shropshire introduced some extra cost (but still cheaper than doing as a separate trip), altered my planned travel days and gave me a jigsaw puzzle of how to deconstruct the journey into sensible portions that made sense from a ticketing and seat reservation perspective. A lot of research eventually brought me to the point where my journeys would consist of a return leg from home to Warrington, a return leg from Warrington to Windermere and a return leg from Warrington to Shrewsbury. Although this introduced some duplication (especially as the side trip will actually break at Crewe), it turned out to he cheapest way of doing it that achieved the timings, travel flexibility and ticket breaks that I was looking for. But it involves 14 or 15 trains and 2 buses in total. A massive sigh of relief could be heard escaping from me when I’d got this all worked out and booked.

Gear

This will be a 7 day backpack, and after it’s done I’ll be heading straight to Wales for a two day route with Twitter friends. So I will need to carry all the equipment and clothing I will need for 9 days. This should therefore, be a good test for the Cambrian Way where I will potentially have to carry everything I need for 3 weeks (although I am looking at the option of getting parcels sent out to strategic points and mailing things home). So the first thing is a slightly larger rucksack than my usual Golite Jam. I can just about cope with that for 4-5 days, but with the extra food I’m going to be carrying, plus the fact that we’re still pretty much in winter conditions and I sleep cold (hence needing to carry a bit more bulky warmth), it won’t quite manage. On a trip like this I would expect to be right up against the Jam’s load/comfort limit due to the weight of the food, so I’m going to use something larger and which should provide a more comfortable carry. So, I’ll finally be trying out my new ULA Epic. This is over 1kg lighter than my existing expedition pack, has a bigger capacity than the Jam and should handle the additional load. It’s also fully waterproof, and because it’s essentially a big dry bag and a detachable frame, also has the option of being used with different size bags, giving essentially two packs in one (I have both 65L and a 35L dry bags that will work with this). As packs go, it’s a bit of a risk, but as long as the bag is secure and carries ok, should meet my needs perfectly. As this pack isn’t commonly seen in the UK, I’m sure there will be some interest in the results of this experiment.

The other big thing is the new SPOT which I’ve used a couple of times locally to get the hang of, but which I have yet to use on a multi-day walk. Assuming that I can work it properly, this will provide tracking of my route on Social Hiking, reassurance for back home and the ability to send messages home without needing a mobile phone signal. Since the people I’m walking with in Wales are also Social Hiking users that will also give me a chance to try out group maps and tag teams.

I’m also trying out some BeWell Expedition Foods freeze dried meals which typically give around 800 cals for about 180g of weight per meal. That’s better in terms of both weight and calories than what I usually use. If I get on well with these then they could play a significant part in my Cambrian Way menu. Especially so when I compared their nutritional value and weight against my normal backpacking fayre – hundreds more calories for half the weight in some cases. So having just this evening sorted my food out for the trip, the other thing I’ve done is prioritise the heavier meals for the start of the trip so that the lightening of my load is optimised.

 

Choosing 6 day food from my stash

Choosing 6 day food from my stash

I’ve not packed yet, but assuming capacity and load weight allow, I might be trying out some tweaks to my sleeping arrangements that should give me more flexibility and warmth, albeit costing a bit extra weight and bulk. More on these if I go ahead with them when the final packing is done tomorrow night.

And finally, there’s still snow on the tops of the fells so this also affects the gear taken.

I might not even dare weigh my pack before this trip as I know it’s going to be heavier than I would like – a consequence mainly of carrying 6 days food, the fact it’s still winter and the fact that I am deliberately taking a few extra things to try out., having blown my entire gear budget for the year already.

Watch this space

Anyone who is interested will be able to (hopefully) follow my route live on Social Hiking. I can’t promise it will exactly match the planned route above – I’m sure there will be some tweaks to the walk each day to account for my physical condition and for the weather/fell conditions. But that’s what this walk is all about – practicing being out on the hills for a decent stretch and testing my ability to adapt to the conditions. Wish me luck!

6 thoughts on “Planning a Saunter in the Southern Fells

  1. Sounds daunting but exciting. Have a wonderful time and I will read your post-hike blogs with interest… 🙂

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    • The problem seems to be that the lightest food is not necessarily the tastiest, and on a long trip there’s a limit to how much dehydrated stuff you can tolerate, day in day out. So in order to keep sane some heavier things sneak in, limiting your ability to carry it. Tricky balance to strike all in all. On this trip I’ve gone for a mix of light dehydrated stuff and some wet meals with plenty of custard and chocolate for pudding. So not as light as it could be, but the motivation is just as important.

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      • You’ve just reminded me as well, that after a couple of long trips we realised that many of the meals (dehydrated) that we’d chosen to take, didn’t have as many calories in as they could have done. So, on subsequent trips, we made decisions about what to take based more on calorific value than on taste!

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      • I’ve noted the calories and weight of every item of food. Carrying average of 3232 cals per day. Should still lose weight even on that. Going to monitor closely so can optimise for Cambrian Way

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