Hail stones, fog and a mountain rescue ..... what an adventure!

For the last few days myself and my old buddy Paul were lucky enough to spend some time hiking in the Peak district and we had quite a little adventure.

Wednesday morning Paul swung by to pick me up and we drove without incident (via costa coffee) to Fieldhead campsite, Edale.

The rain was just threatening to start as we arrived so we quickly set up camp and then (after all that hard work!) headed off to the Ramblers Inn for a pint and a bite to eat. We popped back to the campsite to book in once the office was opened and the weather hadn't improved!

I took a couple of items with me to test out - one was a army surplus jacket - Dutch army, goretex lined and DPM - being ex army I don't usually like wearing DPM gear as I don't want to look like some Walter Mitty wanna be SAS man, but now the troops are issued MTP I'm happy to wear DPM. Anyway I can safely say the Dutch army jacket was excellent and I will definitely be using this in future as my bushcraft outer layer. It wasn't my hiking jacket on this occasion for that I had my Paramo but it would have served the purpose equally well I'm sure.

Another item I took to test out was a 1 season combo - yes November on the hills in Minus temperatures with one season bags - I can here all the experts and know-it-alls tutting away - well the theory was sound, after all what is a sleeping bag? Its just a means of trapping warmed air around the body. So my thinking was that I might save space and add versatility by taking 2 one season bags and sleeping with one inside the other. More on this later, Paul btw being a sensible chap had a arctic bag.

So next morning we hiked out of Edale, walking up through the village heading almost due NORTH. The rain at this point held off.

The above was our route but fate and fog were set to foil us. Alas we still had yet to ascent to a height where this was going to be a problem - for now we scrambled and climbed up Grindsbrook gorge until we reached the mist shrouded top where a icy wind quickly chilled our sweat soaked bodies.
 encouraging a short rest stop.

Now things started to take a down turn, the winds brought the temperatures plummeting into the minus' and first tendrils of a thick fog began to creep across the peat bogs and ravines of the Edale plateau creating a eerie Alien landscape.

You can see by the ice forming on my hat that the wind chill alone was cold enough to freeze the moisture vapours rising off my sweating head.

For awhile we hiked along the planned route until eventually losing it in the fog. Now the fun started. Meeting a pair of hikers who were also disorientated in the fog we quickly realised we'd gone astray and here things got interested.

Firstly we took a GPS reading and got our correct grid reference, this proved our suspicions and pin pointed us as being about 500m south. Using this info we simply talked 500m north. But simply isn't a term we can use on the plateau around Kinder Scout in a thick pea souper. After walking for the prescribed distance we took another GPS reading and this gave us a grid which suggested we were on the track - yaaa - well not quite, looking around with our limited visibility and the rough brooding dark terrain we could see nothing??

Now we did the typical lost hiker thing ............. we decided to walk a little further, the tracks got to be here somewhere after all! RIGHT?

30 minutes later, another GPS reading and now a drift to the left - "OK," I said to Paul, "lets stop messing around!" we knew our location we knew where the track we wanted was on the map so using a Silva compass I took a bearing and we, after measuring the distance, set off - again nothing?? Now, just to tease us, the fog broke briefly and we could see the rocky out croppings of Crowden Tower - which we took a bearing onto and converting to a back bearing we triple checked out position - but alas the fog closed in again and we couldn't see a sausage. The trail stayed well and truly hidden from us!

So what to do??

Wisdom finally won out and after a quick war council we decided to head back to Crowden Tower and from there follow a well trodden path down hill so we could get below the fog. Interestingly enough on this route we found two other groups and a solo hiker all likewise geographically confused thanks to the clinging grey vapours and the insidious blindness that ensues ...........

Eventually we dropped down the rain swept hills until we reached the base of Jacobs ladder - wet and weary we took shelter from the driving hail stones in a old ruined sheep fold and brewed up.

So true to the teachings, a warming brew (a nice cup of tea) and a little rest soon had our spirits revived and our feet getting cold. Cold enough that we decided it was time to head back up the hill. It also helped that the fog had now lifted and brief glimpses of sun light now punctured the rolling black clouds over head to encourage us back up.

Climbing up Jacobs ladder, we hiked up the Pennine way until we were back in the windswept hills and now with the light fading quickly we decided to look for a camp.

With driving winds and soggy peat bogs all around finding a reasonably decent place to camp for the night wasn't easy - time was running out and darkness was nipping at our heels as we stumbled across another collapsed sheep fold. This site offered us reasonable flat, raised land with partial walls which could act "notionally" as wind breaks - so here we pitched for the night. 

Darkness engulfed us - we retreated to the relative shelter of our tents to eat and enjoy a warming brew when suddenly blue flashing lights appeared in the valley below. Three land rovers and a helicopter arrived so it was obvious a search and rescue operation was in full swing.

Eventually, some hours later (about three) the last land rover left the hills and us to the wind.

So remember my sleeping bags - 2 x one season bags? ......... well I can happily report that I slept as happily and as comfortably as a toad in a hole - the theory played out and I was right the combo worked. The only down side was the zip issue in as much as its a pain to keep opening two zips which seem to always be on opposite sides from each other every time you want to get out your bag - but I think this was a minor problem compared to the weight saving and versatility. Will I continue to carry two bags?? Not sure, I think I like the simple standard one bag no matter how bulky or heavy.

Morning dawned cold but clear and the rest of our trip proceeded without incident until the last morning when I had the water spillage reported in the blog entry before this.

Good news was also later gleened as we heard that the search and rescue operation was to find a male hiker who had become disorientated and lost on the hills due to the inclement weather - said gentleman was found and removed to safety - so well done the SAR's guys. I can confirm that these brave souls certainly earned their stripes on that night as it wasn't a time when the faint hearted would venture forth!

Well, dear reader, I've waffled enough - suffice to say it was an excellent and at times exciting trip - somewhere new for me and thanks to our fickle English weather a excellent reminder of how no matter how confident you are in your skills sometimes the sensible thing to do is bow to natures power and err of the side of caution - after all the hill will be there tomorrow!


Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable trip report, Gary!

I have used nested sleeping bags for a while. It's my preferred method. As you said, it's not perfect, but it does have its advantages.

Finnman said...

Actually bad weather and challenges on trips are the ones we remember rest of our lives. Interesting story and great landscape pictures. Thanks for sharing this!