Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We haz it. Life feels a bit like an avalanche might at the moment, just at the start when everything is slowly but inevitably obeying the force of gravity, with me balancing in the middle juggling rocks. The goal? end? is our walk in Sutherland. The rocks are training for it, checking and acquiring gear, work, cutting the lawn, doing the ironing, knitting and spinning and just... everything. Spinning is low priority at the moment, alas: if I don't get the weeds under control now, I'll lose the war later in the summer. If we don't get the training in, there's much less chance that we'll enjoy ourselves walking. If I don't do the ironing or clean the loo... it's not fair to him. Us :-)

So. Speaking of walking, we did it again on Saturday. The forecast suggested this was the last good weekend for a while, the car had just been serviced... so the alarm went off at 5am and by 0615 we were out the door and away. It was a gloriously promising morning, but for some reason I didn't feel quite my usual early morning enthusiasm. Nonetheless
That's the view from the passenger seat as we headed north up the M1 (celebrating its 50th birthday this year) at 0700. I don't think embiggening that will let you read the big blue sign, so take my word for it: beside the vertical 'straight on' white line are the words 'The North'. I love that. Just... The North.
We arrived in Edale at about 1000.

The sky is blue, the grass is green, there are spring flowers in the villagers' gardens. We're not the only walkers heading toward the hill, but there are fewer than we'd expected. Perhaps the fog on the hilltops has something to do with it? You can't see it in that shot, but cloud is pouring like water off the high western top of Kinder. Surely it will burn off as the sun rises? We carried on, opting for the steep climb that will take us quickly to the top of the Kinder plateau, and I discovered that this was not going to be a good day. Far from it. I'm never good at uphill – I run out of puff very quickly, no matter how hard or long I train, and just have to persevere, panting like a small steam train and pausing to catch my breath at regular intervals – but this time I was feeling almost queasy by the time we got to the top. We're testing some high-tech athletic nutrition stuff, so I split one of the SIS gels with him. Weird stuff, but it's nicely inoffensive and I certainly feel much better about 10 minutes later. Perhaps I should have had more than 2 pieces of toast for breakfast? Or maybe donating a pint of blood on Friday afternoon has left me with less blood than I needed? At any rate life is looking up.
That's the view a bit further down the track looking back (west) past a heather burn. We weren't certain whether this was a deliberate burn or not; controlled burns are useful to encourage regeneration of aged heather. That's full spring sun; if it wasn't for the strong cold northwesterly, we'd have been hot. We were moving fast, our intention to do as much of the entire 'round' as we could, so I didn't stop for many photos. We should have stopped for a little more map-reading, though, as we missed the path across the eastern end of the plateau, moving too far west before we headed north for the far side. A shame, as it cut our mileage a bit. On the other hand... as we turn west it becomes clear that the cloud/fog has not cleared and has no intention of doing so. We'll be walking straight into it, and the wind. We stop for a brief lunch of sausage and dwarfbread, and split a GO bar (there is NO WAY I could eat an entire one of those every hour. It's just not possible) and march on into the wind. Wisps of mist whip past, and the visibility drops to less than 100m. We're theoretically in absolutely no danger of becoming lost: the path around the edge of the plateau is well-worn, but where the peat is deep and soft it splits into a myriad minor tracks as people search for drier footing and on the dry gritstone and sand it can be difficult to spot footprints. So we could become confused and waste time if we don't pay attention constantly. I'm better at tracking, so I lead. And, as the visibility decreases, I begin once more to feel sick. It's completely irrational: I know where we are, in the broadest possible sense. At the very, very worst we can walk a compass bearing... and yet I am still afraid of... what? Getting lost, but there's more to it. A really deep-seated lack of confidence, which can only be overcome by experience. Logic rules, so I pull out some fruit gums for a sugar hit and we continue into the fog. I'm waiting for a particular landmark and, when it doesn't materialise after what feels like an aeon or two, we stop to check the map. The fog is lifting slightly so we can see into the valley north of the plateau and immediately realise we've been walking far faster than we thought. We're well along the northern edge, and - thank heavens - as the fog lifts further, we can see the ridge that brings the Pennine Way to the plateau. Brief flashes of sunlight lift my spirits immeasurably and, as we round the north-western corner and head south to Kinder Downfall, I'm feeling tired but confident. We discuss irrational fears as we walk in the sun :-)

Unfortunately... as we stop for a brief rest and an apple at Kinder Downfall, the mist closed in again. Within 5 minutes of taking that picture, you couldn't see the far side of the cleft, and we were setting off again. We're slightly more familiar with this part of Kinder, and the path is clear sand rather than multiple tracks across wet peat, so I don't feel quite so nervous. Just as well, because by the time we reach Kinder Low, visibility is worse than it's been before. A fell-runner in bright lime green flashed past up just before we saw these two, and those three are the only people we'd seen for 45 minutes. Very, very different from high summer!
And that's roughly the point at which we missed the path we wanted (the Pennine Way), taking instead a more westerly minor path. After about 10 minutes we realised things felt 'wrong', stopped, pulled out both maps, a compass, and worked out where we thought we were, how to check it, and what to do if we were wrong. That weekend at Plas Y Brenin was worth it, because we were right: the Pennine Way was 250m to the east and within 10 minutes we were striding out again. See? Irrational fear. On the other hand, if I wasn't afraid, would I take so much care in working out the details? Perhaps it's a useful irrational fear. At any rate, the path along the southern edge of the plateau is so well-worn it's almost impossible to go astray. We were veritably racing along, slowing only for peaty sections where I stayed on the main path regardless of the wet peat underfoot: I wanted no chance of losing our way now, as it would be getting dark soon. We carry headlamps, but would much rather be eating in the pub as the light failed! And we did, too. By 1700 we were heading down Grindlebrook, tired but relatively triumphant. My knees hurt, but not as badly as I'd expected. His feet hurt, but not as much as usual.
As we tucked our walking poles into our packs and looked back at the hill the cloud dropped even further. We'd just passed a party of walkers heading uphill with biggish packs, perhaps planning an illicit overnight camp high in the mist. We continued downhill thinking of egg and chips and beer and a hot shower and bed. End result was 16 miles walked in 6 hours, which isn't bad. But I paid for it with sore legs at the gym on Monday despite trying the SIS Nocte (supposed to supply nutrients to muscle that might otherwise cannibalize itself during recovery).

We have a routine: he drives up, I drive back (which means he can have a couple of pints with dinner; I'd rather drive than drink). While he drove I knitted, managing another two repeats of Aeolian. The beading slows the knitting considerably, even when I rather ambitiously put 6 beads on the hook to use for the next 6 stitches. I'm not entirely certain I like this many beads. The blob glitters dangerously. It might be alright blocked, or it might not. I was a bit depressed by the prospect of putting this much time (and that many beads!) into something I wouldn't wear, then realised I can get rid of some or all of the beads very easily. With a hammer. Just hit them with a hammer (carefully) and shake the glittering dust away. I told him that (he's been eyeing the glitter warily) and he thinks I'm quite mad. Nevermind, I'm much happier now, because I simply love the yarn. Blue Moon Fiber Arts Silk Thread II in Rook-y.
I cannot take a photograph that does it justice. The colours do look like the structural colouration (scroll down) of a corvid wing. It's just beautiful. If you like dark and subtle, try anything from the Raven Clan. My love for this is a problem, because it's distracted me from my love for Sam. The kit was my Christmas gift from my sister, thanks to my husband, who sent her a chunk of my Firefox bookmarks file. This is SUCH FUN!

Everything so far is shaped with short rows, or by leaving stitches to be picked up later. It's fabulous. I hope to have him finished to greet my sister in April, but if I can't kick the Aeolian habit I might not make it. Incidentally, those orange blobs in the background are dehydrated meals to be taste-tested. We've had one very bad experience with freeze-dried food (can't remember the brand) and one good experience (Mountain House). The essential advantage is that they're light. If we had space for a dehydrator I'd might make our own, but as things stand I'll stick to making beef jerky in the oven. Those are from Expedition Foods, and may or may not be edible. The gold standard meal (expensive but actually tastes *good*) seems to be Real Turmat from Drytech, but Charlie at Extreme Outdoor Food didn't reply to my email until yesterday. He's on an expedition in the Arctic, but will ensure my order is filled! We've also bought several Mountain House meals from George Fisher in Keswick. Momentum... we haz it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how useful this is, but I found this site when I was trawling for granola recipes for feeding the partner-creature. The granola ideas appear to be stuff he'll eat, and not all the recipes call for a dehydrator...