Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Short Walk in the Nick of Time

Although I'd planned to do a 2 day walk and over night camp using the hammock the weather put me off, stormy with heavy rain wasn't really what I was looking for considering the area I'd intended going too and certainly not what I wanted for a 1st attempt at hammock camping.

In the end I kept myself busy with other stuff, not least trying to sort an Under Quilt for my hammock. Having made one from a kids sleeping bag I was keen to tackle a made from scratch quilt and had found a guide on the hammock forum for a synthetic quilt. Obviously using proper outdoors type fabrics and insulation would result in the best performance or at least the best warmth/weight ratio but specialist fabrics are expensive so I decided to lower my sights a little and try to get the best I could locally. I managed to get some fabric and insulation that should work and should result in something a bit better than the converted sleeping bag, if i can put it together.

In the end it looked like I wasn't going to get near the hills at all but a last minute call from my mate Les provided an opportunity. Les had a GPS handheld with mapping software that he wanted to try out so he arranged to call at my house this morning and take it from there. It was a bit last minute for me so when he arrived I gathered a few bits and pieces, threw them in a day sack and we set off.

Most of the route Les had planned was in the forest with a fair amount on forest roads but there were a few stretches off road through the forest and a bit of open hill. The weather was pretty much as it has been for the past week with low cloud, light rain and scattered heavier showers and quite breezy.

I'd pulled on my Paramo VAL over a L/S baselayer, my Peter Storm Active trousers and against Les's advice decided on the Terrex trainers but no Gore-Tex socks or gaiters.

It wasn't actually raining when the 3 of us, Les, myself and Fly, Les's dog set off but the cloud base was very low and at times it was difficult to tell whether it was raining or not although it was reasonably mild. After following a forest road for a bit we emerged onto the open hill only to discover that the area had been on fire recently. The result was that while it was easier to see what you were stepping on, normally it's covered in heather and walking through it is less than pleasant, what remained of the heather was charred stumps which didn't do much for the appearance of my trousers which are a light grey/stone colour. Although it's only been a little over a week since the area was on fire the new shoots are already well established and fortunately the fire didn't spread to the forest nearby.

Once on the open hill the wind picked up and the rain increased in intensity and although I had a pair of waterproof trousers in my daysack i didn't bother to stop to put them on as I knew that once the rain stopped or we re-entered the forest my trousers would dry out quickly.

Visibility was poor to begin with but as we neared the final slopes of the only small hill on our route the cloud lifted a little but detail visibility was still less than 500m. Normally we'd have stopped on the top but with no shelter and nothing to see we continued over the summit and down the other side aiming to enter the forest again.

Most of the ground on the Antrim hills is peaty and as such holds a lot of water, that results in everything in the forest being a vibrant greens which I always find amazing, the downside is that the ground is often wet at best and muddy if it's a route that gets walked frequently.

Fly was in his element of course and must have covered 10x times the distance that Les and myself had. It didn't take long before we were back on a forest road but we continued for a bit looking for a decent spot to stop for lunch. Ideally it would provide some shelter in case we were hit with a heavy shower but not too sheltered as already the midges are making their presence felt.

Eventually we stopped at a spot that while it wasn't much better than some we'd passed wasn't any worse so I set up the stove, a GoSystem Fly to boil water for a brew while Les provided filled rolls. True to form the midges did make at half hearted attempt at disruptiing proceedings but they were just about bearable and we managed to have lunch and set off before they got too much of an aggravation, form now on I'll be taking a head net and some insect repellent.

After following the forest road for a bit we re-entered the forest where the ground was reasonably firm but it didn't last and we were soon making our way down a fire break between the trees where the heather and long grass had me soaked to the knees again.

Les had been checking that the route we were taking corresponded to the one he'd loaded into the GPS while I was generally just tagging along but we eventually reached the forest road that would lead us back to the car. Again the rain had virtually stopped and I started to dry out again and by the time we'd reached the car only the bottoms of my trousers were still wet and although my feet were saturated they weren't cold, the benefit I guess of socks with at least some wool content.

It was a short walk but one I hadn't done before so that was a bonus and I also made a mental note of a few potential hammock camping spots although I dread to think what the midge situation would be like amongst the trees having experienced them while camping on the open hill. Having failed to make the most of my days off and leaving getting out until the last moment I finally did get out thanks to Les but now it's back on shift again fo a few days but hopefully the weather will pick up again in time for the end of my shift.

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