Back on Easter Bank Holiday weekend, I did my first wildcamp on Dartmoor (which also happened to be the first time I’ve had to carry my big 65L Osprey Aura backpack).
It was always going to be daunting – I’m not very strong and the bag was quite heavy (though in reality, no more than about 10kg).
The first battle was packing. My sleeping bag just about fits in the bottom of the backpack. I also find it really difficult to roll up my mat tight enough to fit in its case – but Dan was on hand to do it properly. I also carried water, snacks, clothes, waterproofs, toiletries and I think Dan had the rest (he’s good like that).
We arrived at Hound Tor on Saturday afternoon (we’d avoided the morning rain). The biggest challenge was picking the backpack up and trying to get it onto my back. Fortunately, once in place, the hip belt made and tightening the shoulder straps made it reasonably comfortable. Poles were lengthened and off we went.
I can’t remember most of the route (I remember passing Widecombe-on-the-Moor at some point). And we went up a really big hill in the freezing wind. There was also some sort of trail race going on, but rather them than me. It was exhausting, cold and I was honestly a little miserable. But late in the afternoon, we started to go downhill again (and in my ‘I hurt so much and I’m so tired and bleeeeh’ state, started singing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads).
It felt good to take off my rucksack, but within a few minutes of stopping the walk I got really cold. I half-heartedly helped Dan put the tent up (it’s an easy tent to put up, but some of it is fiddly with thickish gloves on). By the time I could get inside, I was shivering and even more miserable and honestly had no desire to ever camp again. I think I even cried a little bit – yes, I’m a bit of a wimp. But Dan cooked us some pasta (mixed with John West packets of tuna or salmon and random cous-cous variations to add some flavour), and I ate it with my sleeping bag over my legs, with base layer, jumper, fleece and synthetic down jacket on. As I warmed up, I was lots happier.
I slept reasonably well. Dan’s old inflatable mat was much more comfortable than the roll mat that I was using before. My sleeping bag was incredibly cosy. I slept in a hat. I woke up to the sound of sheep grazing. It was actually really peaceful.
Naturally, it was still cold in the morning. Naturally, I was too cold to change clothes (I did manage to change socks and wow it felt good). Naturally, I had to wee outside which was rather difficult with sore legs. But after that, we packed up and walked the last few kilometres back to Hound Tor. My collar bones ached a lot from the day before but everything felt better after the first half an hour or so. And it still hadn’t rained, which was awesome.
When we finished, we got celebratory cheeseburgers at the burger van, warmed up in the car, and drove home. And I actually felt really good. And I’d happily do it again (hopefully in slightly better weather). I’ve learned to put my thermals on before I get too cold to change clothes, to trust my sleeping bag which is warm even if it doesn’t look it, and that I can carry my big bag over a fair distance with hills in it.
I can’t wait to give it a go again!