Slackpacking in the Lakes

Although I had intended a relatively relaxed wander in the Eastern Lakes for a few days, this trip turned into the slackpacking trip to end all slackpacking trips! My original intention was to do about 20 miles over two and half days, but this turned into 5.5 miles in one and half days.

I arrived at Sykeside camp site late afternoon. I always enjoy the drive along the lake side of Ullswater. There’s something mystical and magical about Ullswater and this was the first time I’d been in February. The nuclear shelter, sorry, F10 Vortex was quickly erected. There were only four other tents on the site.

After a shower, I had dinner and settled for an early night. It was pretty cold and I wore some fleece trousers and a fleece top to supplement my sleeping bag (Cumulus Quantum 350). The overnight temperature was around 2c in the tent but there was a frost outside.

After a relatively leisurely breakfast, I repacked my rucksack. I rather over-catered on food with about 3kg, but I wasn’t looking at a particularly strenuous day so I wasn’t bothered. The plan was to head up Thornthwaite Beacon either via Gray Crag or Threshthwaite Mouth over to Nan Bield Pass and then down to Small Water, either camping there or lower down at The Rigg.

After a short but pleasant stroll by Brothers Water I crossed the road and took the walled lane to Hartsop. Reaching Pasture Beck I turned right and followed the path through a couple of gates. Looking at Gray Crag, it was under cloud, so I decided to head up the valley the Threshthwaite Cove.

The last time I was here, in November 2008, there was a thin covering of snow. This time the only snow evident was in a few of the higher crags. Pasture Beck is a really beautiful walk. With Hartsop out of site and beyond the pastures, it feels very wild. As usual I dawdled taking a few photos. Half way up the valley there is a short but steep section through some boulders, no doubt dumped in the last Ice Age.

Beyond the incline, Threshthwaite Cove is revealed. Again there is evidence of glaciation with some prominent drumlins. Having drifted along, it was now late morning. Wherever I go, I’m always on the lookout for places to wild camp, for future reference. Lo and behold, in the curve of the beck, an almost perfect site was revealed.

As time wasn’t pressing, I thought I’d go down and have a look. Crossing the stream at a narrow point, I reached paradise. While the ground was slightly rough, it was flat. A section was raised above the level of the banks, so there was no chance of flooding.

My first idea was to have an early lunch, but then I thought why not pitch here? The tops were still under cloud and there had been the occasional flurry of very light rain. Just to make sure this was the ideal place, I followed the beck a bit further to an area of verdant green grass. However, this was on a slope, so I rejected it as a place to pitch.

Returning to my original site, lassitude overtook me. My guess was that Small Water might be a bit too windy since there was a NE wind. I’ve camped at The Rigg before, so it wasn’t new to me. So I pitched the Scarp and decided to have a lazy afternoon in the desolate grandeur that is Threshthwaite Cove. Even though it’s only about 1.5 miles from Hartsop, it feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.

After lunch, I had a little exploration of the area, taking some photos and climbing on top of the largest drumlin for a view. Indeed, it was flat enough to pitch on top if I’d wanted. Perhaps in summer, that might be a good idea as I can imagine that down by the stream could get a bit “midgey”.

As I returned to the tent there was a very brief light shower of rain. I spent most of the rest of the afternoon lazing in the tent thinking about not very much at all. The strange thing about wild camping is that it is like turning your brain off. You think that you might have deep, meaningful thoughts, but the reality is that my mind blanks out. I guess that’s why I find it so relaxing and enjoyable.

I only saw four other walkers all afternoon. In the late afternoon, the weather brightened and the sun lit up Gray Crag. However, the Cove remained in shadow. As the sun dropped, so did the temperature and by six o’clock it dropped below freezing. It was going to be a cold night so it was time to repair to my tent, cook some food and get into my sleeping bag.

Little did I know quite how cold the night would be! Instead of the Exped Downmat that I had been using on the camp site, I was using the POE Ether Elite. This was a major mistake. After a couple of hours it felt cold. In addition to the fleece trousers and top, I was wearing my PHD Minimus Jacket. To try to counter the cold mattress, I put my Paramo VAL and my trousers underneath my hips and legs. This was only partially successful and I only slept fitfully through the night.

On checking my Silva ADC, the minimum temperature in the tent during the night was -2c. Outside there was a hard frost and the tent was encrusted with ice. Fortunately there were only some very small nodules of ice in the inner.

I decided that it was no use lazing around and that a bit of movement would warm me up. I fired up the stove and made a nice hot cup of tea. The sun was rising and even though it was not shining directly into the Cove, the temperature was rising. I weighed up what to do next. The sleeping mat was clearly inadequate so I decided to swing by the camp site and swap it with my Downmat. I would then head over to Deepdale.

By the time I had packed, the frost had mostly disappeared but the tent was now wet, so I spent some time wiping it down. I was all packed and ready to go by 9.30. Rather than regain the path, I followed the beck until it rejoined the main path further up the Cove.

It had started out as a bright day but it was now clouding over. By the time I reached Threshthwaite Mouth it was quite murky. The view down to Lake Windermere was partially obscured by low cloud. The climb up to Stoney Cove Pike entailed a bit of scrambling.

At the summit, my iPhone alerted me to a text, the first time there had been a mobile signal since the day before yesterday. It was from my wife, who was not feeling well. She had a stomach problem before I left and it hadn’t improved. I sent a text back to see whether she wanted me to come home. Near Caudle Head, I got a strong signal so I decided to speak to her. While she didn’t insist that I come home, it was clear that she wanted me to. It seemed sensible to go home the following day as it was too late to go home that day.

From Caudle Head, it is an easy path down to the camp site along the shoulder Caudale Moor. I met a couple of other walkers slogging up the slope. It’s actually hard work going down as the path is quite steep. At about noon I arrived back at the camp site. I had a wash and then made some lunch, having a Beef Stew rather than the pita bread sandwiches that I had made earlier.

Down at Sykeside, the weather had cheered up a bit and it was sheltered from the cold breeze higher up. As I had an afternoon to kill, I decided to head into Keswick and mooch around the gear shops.

As I mentioned before, I was exceptionally disciplined and spent no money at all. To be honest I didn’t see much that interested me. Most of the shops have become very similar. I did see the new Inov-8 Race Pro 4 belt pack, which is now in a pleasing grey. In the Rohan shop, I had a look at the Striders. I didn’t like the material at all. It felt almost like cardboard. The most depressing shop was Blacks, which was just dire.

So with my wallet lightened only by the car parking fee, I headed back to Patterdale and another very cold night. At least the Downmat meant that I wasn’t losing heat to the ground. The tent was heavily encrusted with frost. After breakfast, I packed quickly and was off home. Mercifully, there were no hold-ups. As much as it can be, it was a pleasant drive home.

My total mileage on the fells was a pathetic 5.5 miles. However, it was nice to get out and the wild camp at Threshthwaite Cove was excellent (despite the cold).


17 thoughts on “Slackpacking in the Lakes”

  1. Nowt wrong with a ‘slackpacking’ trip. Mick & I managed a whole 9 miles on our 2-day outing in December, and it was still a most worthwhile and enjoyable excursion.

    That did indeed look to be an unpassbyable (what do you mean that unpassbyable isn’t a word?!) pitch too.

  2. better luck next time.but family first.i’m off to scotland in early april to tick off a few more of my munro list,and i love scotland and the wild camping but underneath im missing my wife and kids can be strange better luck next time peter

  3. A shame you had to return early, but as Martin says family first. Thats a good place you used for your wild camp. I’ve camped there myself with a mate a few years ago. We walked back to Windermere and then caught the bus back to Hartsop.

  4. It’s not about the mileage always – you said you were able to turn your brain off, I think that is the most important thing. Slackpacking has its time, too!

    All the best to your wife.

  5. looks like a great stop off, that. liked yr description of ‘blanking out’ too – that’s exactly it, set brain to…idle! perfect, little bit of zen, we all need that sometimes

    1. Backpacking strips life down to its fundamentals releasing us from the complexity of modern living. That’s the attraction for me.

  6. Robin I think that sometimes slackpacking is much better than backpacking. No worries about amount of miles done, time to look at the scenery, turn off and zone out! Sounds like a nice relaxing trip in that respect. With summer on its way there will be plenty of time to get all those miles in. Hope that your wife is feeling better.

  7. Slackpacking definitely has its place, better than that feeling of being over-hurried to keep up a schedule. I find one of the best moments in every day of backpacking is when the tent is pitched and the stuff unpacked and I first sit inside and look out the door:- total relaxation of body and mind.

  8. Shame on you Robin 😉 . Having got back last night from a 35km, 2,000m, 2 day, 1 night (at 800m) backpacking trip and feeling, ah, a little tired I am quite jealous of your more relaxed outing.

    I hope that the issue with your wife sorts itself out.

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