Seeking discomfort from a solo wild bivouac in Langdale

Thursday 16th July 2020, 07:30pm

I find it really tough to choose where to stay and explore in the Lake District, because there are places I am so familiar with and feel safe and comfortable exploring on my own, but there is also so much I don’t know. There’s only so far research and planning will take you. I like to explore the place myself, see the angles, what it looks like at sunrise and sunset. Where the light hits at different times, at different seasons. It’s hard to do that when you don’t live that close to a place. 

I find myself heading up the steps toward Pavey Ark. I love Langdale, and I know the routes up to Pavey well. It’s the first place we ever multi-pitch climbed. Well, that particular multi-pitch was more like climb-hike-climb-hike-climb-bailbecauseitsgettingdark… but it’s still a place I love to go. The weird thing is, though, that I haven’t really explored much of the landscape around Pavey Ark. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me, so I thought it would be the perfect place to go. It is somewhere both familiar but not so familiar.

I’m not really up here tonight by careful design. Kind of by chance, kind of not. I spend today at Blea Tarn meeting up with Frit for the first time. Frit is a filmmaker in the outdoors space and she is exactly the kind of person I’ve been looking for this whole time. She’s really talented, has a ton of experience, and a lot of values that align with my own. As soon as I saw her online I wanted to interview her for the Outdoors Creative series, and it really was a breath of fresh air to spend the afternoon with her and her partner, Frankie. 

So, I thought, I’m already here in Langdale. I should just stay. I was also supposed to be shooting a video with Harrison but we rescheduled because I want to shoot with him when we would be guaranteed a golden sunset and sunrise. And tonight’s forecast really is not that. But why not stay over anyway?  There’s quite a bit of cloud forecast, so the sunset and sunrise aren’t likely to be anything special, but it should still be good to be out. There’s heavy rain due in the morning around 10. Which means I should really assume that it will be raining by 8 just to be safe. The sun comes up around 5, the nights already getting longer and the sunrises becoming easier to manage. A blessing, but also a curse because you’re more likely to have to share them.

There are two other parties here, both in tents, I give a friendly wave to the two red-jacket figures in the distance, and choose a spot far away from them both, and settle into my own view of Langdale.

Despite the threatening low cloud, and the slightly soggy ground that I’m hopping through, hoping not to sink into boggy water before I reach my bivvy spot, I’m happy to be out. It’s so good just to be out here alone with my thoughts, and my camera. Even if my camera won’t really seeing anything that exciting.

The sun, that wasn’t really very present to begin with, begins to dip and for a few moments the sky kind of tries to light up. Briefly the clouds touch oranges and pinks and the hills have a soft glow before a dull blue hour sets in.

 I think it is an important thing for me, to be out here even when the views aren’t spectacular, when I’m not just here to get a beautiful photo. People (including myself) might think “why were you out in that?”. And they won’t feel so terrible that they missed out. I hate that. That feeling that you’re somehow failing because you haven’t captured the image of a perfect experience.

Give me the images of an imperfect experience. Let me hear about how the hike was difficult and steep and you got no sleep and the wind howled and shook your tent and then you woke in in the morning and it wasn’t worth it. You need experiences and stories like that. And I love to hear them. And it’s just that feeling, you know? With being a little uncomfortable but still safe. A feeling you crave. 

It’s that same feeling that drove me to convince Michael and Rory to climb Corvus in the rain with me, big boots and slippery route-finding, that made snowy white-out hikes in blustery winds somehow enjoyable. 

I really do love it. And I love it the most when I’m alone up there. Though, being alone I tend to take things a lot easier, less risk. One day I may feel comfortable enough climbing alone, rope soloing or soloing an easy mountain route by myself, but I’m definitely not there yet and don’t think I will be for a long while

I settle down for the night. I actually write. I haven’t written in a really long time. On here, but especially I haven’t physically written anything in a while. After less than a page my hand starts to cramp up and I wonder when this happened? When writing become something I barely did anymore. 

“I sometimes forget that although ‘risk’ has been a staple part of my life  for a very long time, traditional adventure hasn’t. I don’t ever really think  the me of several years ago would ever contemplate hiking into the mountains solo and sleeping up there, especially without a tent. But tents are heavy and effort and I like the romantic idea of sleeping under the stars. If there are any. It’s a little cloudy.”

 – an excerpt 


Friday 17th July 2020, 04:15am

The night was… uneventful. I slept restlessly but then I usually do, even when I’m at home. A few times the wind picked up but I found myself so deeply entangled in my sleeping bag that I was comfortable enough, head and face completely covered to the point I would wake up and uncover my face to gulp some fresh air. 

I woke up just after 4, it was gloomy blue hour and there was a lot of cloud, as expected, but there were some glimpses of blue. And some dashes of colour in the sky. 

I looked over to Pavey Ark, remembered climbing up there and wishing that I could climb there again soon, looked over to the tent, no movement. They might miss this sunrise if they wait any longer. A big thick bank of cloud already looked like it was on its way and that any blue sky would soon be gone. 

I headed out, fast and light with my things safe and weighed down in my spot. It hadn’t rained in the night but it was so wet as I ran up and down the hills to get to the east. I had made a rookie mistake by being lazy and pitching up right near Pavey, it meant there was a little bit of ground and a few false summits between me and a sunrise view. But it made for a micro-adventure and I didn’t mind my wet feet. 

I found my way to Codale Tarn and also found a little bit of soft light. An actual sunrise, kind of, which is always nice when you’re expecting a no show. I stayed for around 5 minutes and then the heavy cloud rolled in, fast. And the rain. The rain wasn’t forecast until 10ish, it was 6 now and it was here. As I picked my way back to my bivvy spot to pack up I looked up, again, at that little tent. No movement. They missed the sunrise! But also, they were dry, when I was soaking. So we are all winners and losers. 

After a hasty talk to camera and packing everything electronic away I felt simultanously grateful for my waterproof but then also stressed I still don’t own a waterproof cover for my pack, but then also grateful that my camera is weatherproof. My hair dripped and as I made my way back down I couldn’t help but just feel a little lighter than I felt when I went up. It’s been a weird week and I’ve not felt very happy or myself. I had hoped that a night like this would help, and it has – a little. But it’s still not a fix, just something to clear the mind a little so I can actually think. 

A quick waterfall photo, complete with water on my lens, kind of sums up my hike down. I probably shouldn’t have gotten my camera out at all but I just couldn’t help it. 

At the bottom I finally had my breakfast, which I’d taken all the way up there with me and then all the way back. Thankful for the National Trust and their covered benches. It wasn’t the bivvy breakfast I’d planned but I chose to run and find the sunrise and I think I made the right choice.

I also love the aftermath of quick adventures like this. Usually if I’m not exploring during the day because the weather is terrible, I drive home and crash out for a few hours, so tired that I usually have had to stop on the way home to close my eyes.

There’s just a feeling around getting home and sinking into a comfortable bed, with soft pillows, such a juxtaposition of tossing and turning on a thin mat and waking up to find myself completely submerged in my sleeping bag unable to breath properly, escaping to breath fresh mountain air which is just somehow different at night. 

I am excited for when that routine changes. We’re currently converting a van, so the passing out will be once I’m down from the mountain, straight into a soft bed that looks out into the mountains. Where I can take my memory cards out of my camera, sit up on the bed, go through and edit. And then a few hours later head out again for the next exploration. To be able to explore, work, explore work, without having to have home in middle of it all, and hours and hours of driving. That is a routine I really can’t wait for.  

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