Lightweight. It’s not a new mantra, but it has become an increasingly loud one within the outdoor community over the last few years. Whether you class yourself as someone who is looking to reduce their packweight, a lightweight backpacker, ultralightweight backpacker or supreme ultralight lightfantastic godlike backpacker, more and more people are gradually realising that the lighter your pack is, the further and longer you can walk for.
I’m not sure about you, but whereas my pack was getting lighter when solo backpacking, I found that when I was heading off with the family, I was actually taking more and more stuff. Two burner stoves with a grill that could just about cook a marshmallow. A full set of table and chairs. The solid, niche, canvas frame tent that are legends to longevity and stability. A box of toys that would put a small nursery to shame. Whereas at work I would gaze in rapt admiration of the Nemo Obi tents, at home I was looking at the portable kitchen station with space for a washing up bowl.
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The end result of this was that I simply could not be bothered to go camping en famille. It meant getting together a load of stuff, putting a load of stuff up, taking a load of stuff down and finally putting a load of stuff away again afterwards. So last August, me and the better half sat down and had the following plan which we called stealth camping.
Our aim was simple. Make camping as a family easier and lighter. Our new mantra was to just leave it all behind. Not to go and buy a load of lightweight gear, but instead just focus on the basics. So unless something was utterly critical, it got binned. We decided that we were not allowed to camp for a long time (weekends only) and could only decided to camp on a Thursday night, to leave Friday night. This, more than any other choice, has had the trick of really making us focus on the gear that was important.
In the end this is what we got down to, it’s not an exhaustive list, but it pretty much sums it up.
Lightweight family tent. – We’re currently having fun with the Limestone 6P, but we also have a Robbens Double Dreamer.
Trangia Stove – nothing big or fancy thanks very much
4 bowls and 4 spoons, a sharp knife and a spare plate
Cool Box 4 x sleeping bags, 3 sleeping mats and a cot.
1 outside toy for each boy. Child Carrier for Ellis
Torches, duct tape, penknife, first aid kit
Maps, compass and map case
Erm thats it I think.
We tried it out for several weekends at the end of last summer, and just had some of the best outdoor weekends we have ever had. The boys ended up going nuts outside and playing with natural stuff they found, rather than the toys they brought. We no longer stressed about what we had forgotten or not having stuff, and instead just got out and about and enjoyed ourselves. We felt free. We felt liberated. We fell in love with camping again as a family.
This does have it’s limitations, we are limited to camping realistically within a 3 hour radius of home, but hey that means we don’t cream cracker the environment. Occasionally, you may suffer the pitying looks of people who gaze at you from their portable decking with the BBQ and camping chairs, but it’s a small price to pay.
It’s a Thursday today. Nobody has said anything yet. We’re not allowed to you see, but the diary tells me I haven’t got anything on this weekend. Game on?
This post was one I previously published on the TogBlog, as usual though time is limited so in case you missed it, I’ve brought it across here. I promise I’ll try and get a bit more regular soon, it’s just that I don’t like posting until I have something good to say.
We’ve got two mini explorers on board here at jonesnow, Ifor, who is just beginning to read maps, and has morasses of energy. Then there’s young Ellis, who loves animals & has no fear of anything. Most of our outdoor time is dedicated to these guys, so I’m going to try and write more about the routes we take with them. The routes as a result are short, so I’m going to keep my posts short too you’ll be pleased to hear 🙂
Well, we had a spot of holiday last week, but the weekend before saw us head off to the gloriously titled Mackintosh Davidson woods. I’d spotted it when downloading maps of the surrounding area on Viewranger, suddenly seeing the words nature reserve just shy of West Knoyle. Curiosity piqued, I filed it away in the grey matter until we finally got the time to pop out there. The start boded well. Dorset is too posh for my liking sometimes, too many fey little villages with price tags that would make a footballer blush. The drive out to West Knoyle was different though, working farms and houses that were run down gave a more honest feel to the countryside.
We parked on the high street, (if you could really call 5 houses a high street) and headed through the gate. Woods for me offer some of the best walking, the smell of the woodland floor, trees and flowers is kept strong under the leafy canopy. The light is always special and these were no different. The last of the bluebells still gave off their fragrance as we wandered, following Ifor who charged ahead. The path danced in and out of clearings until we came out of the oaks and startled the deer grazing nearby. They took a while to get the message until both boys crashed towards them in delight and they vanished as quickly as they appeared.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no choice when walking with kids, there is a point when trying to get them to fit in with what you want them to do just won’t happen. You can either have a cruddy time trying to batter them in to walking in a straight line, or you can let them do their thing with a little prompting.
Walking on, the tone of the wood changed to silver Beech, and them to pear orchards. We stopped for a bite to eat and marvelled that the woods still remained peculiar to us, no-one else gracing the paths we travelled.
I guess all I really want to say about this walk is don’t go to the Mackintosh Davidson woods. Don’t go as no-one knows about them and we saw no-one there all morning. Don’t go, as the variety of woodland and unspoilt little trails will leave you wanting more. Don’t go if you’ve got kids as the playground at the start of the woods rocks. Don’t go if you are miserable, as these woods will undoubtedly make you smile. Don’t go if you want your kids to have a good time as they definitely will. Don’t go if you want to feel uplifted and at peace. Don’t go if you don’t like taking your son on a zip wire. Have a look at our flickr set for more reasons not to go if you don’t like beautiful blue skies and green things. Definitely don’t follow the route we stored below on Social Hiking.
Having had an epic first day back in the hills the day before, I was looking forward to Sunday and meeting up with Sean. The day began with the sun gracing the hills opposite us, and we packed up quietly. Lauren headed off for a search exercise, and I was off to the North ridge of Tryfan. It still feels a little strange meeting people you have got to know from twitter, but having met Helen in the peaks, my experiences have always been positive. It was lovely to have met Lauren as well – not only was the conversation good, and she made me laugh, but she didn’t snore and keep me awake unlike my last wild camp companion who will remain nameless 🙂
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Meeting up with Sean at Nant Gwynant car park, we headed back to the Pinnacle sports cafe in Capel Curig for a bit of ballast for the day ahead, and to decide what we wanted to do. I have always been keen to do the North ridge of Tryfan. My better half has never been a fan of scrambling and so whenever we have been in Snowdonia, we have always passed on doing it. Sean kindly agreed and so we headed down the Ogwen valley to park at the foot of Tryfan.
I think Tryfan is perhaps the most beautiful mountain to look at in Wales along with Cadir Idris, and I was genuinely excited to be climbing it. I don’t have a huge fondness for heights, attributable to being up the Kyoto Tower when a 6.3 richter scale earthquake hit on our honeymoon. Sean was decent enough to keep me away from the more exposed elements to the east, but at the same time, we took more of an interesting route up, away from the standard smooth rocked trail.
A steep ascent gave us some rapid height, and the route that Sean had us following led to a massive grin on my face. I had ditched the large sack from yesterday, and just had a small scrambling sack. Pausing to drink in the Carneddau opposite, I struggled to think of a time when I had more fun on a mountain. I was loving the physical challenge, but not feeling too exposed, and I really started to enjoy myself. Heres the route I took on social hiking;
Getting nearer to the top, the final section of Tryfan came in to view, looking like nothing else but a selection of rock lego bricks piled up by Ifor, my three year old. The top came too soon for me, and we perched for a while, catching our breath and some amazing views.
The descent was down by Llyn Bochlwyd. By this stage my feet had realised I had walked for a while the previous day, and decided to let me know that they weren’t happy with me. I’m sure other people feel the same as well, but I really have no fondness for going down hills. I would rather climb all day than have to step down. We soon reached the saddle leading down to the lake, and Sean pointed out Bristly Ridge. Keith has often said in conjunction with the North ridge of Tryfan, it is one of the best hill days out in Wales. It certainly looked like a hell of a lot of fun, but sadly we had a 6 hour journey in the car ahead of us, plus our exertions from the day had left us both zonked so we meandered gently back to the car.
The journey home was made in a comfortable haze of tiredness, Sean driving down through mid Wales, a route I had never taken before which was a treat in itself. Heading past the other side of the Moelwyns, Rhinogydds, Cadair Idris etc, plans were hatched for the next hill visit. I usually drive whenever we go anywhere as a family so I enjoyed the rare treat of not having to drive at all. Soon my head was lolling around like a broken doll and I awoke just as we came past the black mountains in the Brecons. Tempted to stop for an evening stroll, we resisted the temptation and continued down to Dorsetshire and home.
Snowdonia has so many memories for me as most Easters before the boys were born, we made the journey up to the Rynys campsite in Betys y Coed to stay with a wide variety of friends and family. It felt strange to be there without Cath, but at the same time I realised that these times are what we live for. The memories, experiences and challenges we gather from the hills, are many times the potency of the experiences we pick up from every day life. It has been too long since some proper hill time for me, but a week after my visit, I am still casting my mind back to an amazing weekend, and if truth be told, still feeling the tiredness a little!
I’ll write shortly about the gear I used, but in the meantime you might want to have a look at all the photos I took on Flickr
I think that the ugliest numbers I have ever seen are the numbers 2,4 and 5. These were the numbers my phone flashed at me to let me know I didn’t need to bother trying to sleep any more. Sean would be outside at 3 am ready to pick me up. I dimly recall thinking that perhaps Snowdonia wasn’t such a good idea, but I humped my sacks in to the car and promptly fell asleep. I woke up on the M5 and immediately felt bad for not keeping Sean company with witty repartee, but he was decency itself.
There is something about the quality of early morning light that uplifts you and Saturday morning was no different. Lots of low lying mist coupled with the pink tinge of dawn made 2:45 am feel years away. We arrived in good time at Betys y Coed and drove up to the Pinnacle cafe in Capel Curig to load up carbs. They know their customer base well , as half the breakfast was potato! Sean was up doing a Geology course as part of his SPLA qualification, and was due to meet the rest of his course at Pen y Pass. As usual though, the car park had been full since dawn, so we parked down by the Pen y Gyrd hotel, and set off to walk around the back of Moel Berfedd to Pen y Pass.
The whole weekend had nearly been kyboshed as I had picked up a decent bit of lurgy from the weekend before. As we started off up the hill my chest reminded me of this with a bubbling rasp that no amount of coughing could dislodge. It didn’t bode well. Taking leave of Sean at the top end of Llyn Cymffynnon my plan was to follow the ridge up to Glyder Fawr, heading round to Glyder Fach. I would then follow the miners track down to Pen y Gyrd, before heading down the valley towards Bethgelert and a rendezvous with Lauren for a wild camp up at Llyn Edno.
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I haven’t been back in the mountains for some time, and I had a certain amount of trepidation about my navigation skills and fitness. Dorsetshire is great and I’m pretty active, but nothing makes for good hill fitness except, well, you know, hills. Initially however the stillness of Llyn Cymffynnon, the call of the birds around me, and the presence of the hills made me just glad to be there. I had deliberately chosen this route as the path less travelled, and I was rewarded with no-one else around me. I spent some time just breathing it all in as I strolled upwards. It was rather claggy and the hill fog came down thickly. Before I knew it, I was way lower than I had planned to be. Not happy with myself, I began to climb sharply getting irritated with my lack of navigation nous and the bubbling in my chest. Stopping after a while I started to mentally slap myself. It was three years since I had navigated in something like this, and a year or so since I had been up an ascent as steep so I made peace with myself that it would take a while to get back in to my hill rhythm and skills. Stopping and pausing by a beautiful bit of quartz, I paused, had a bannana of justice, told myself to follow Helen’s advice to go with the flow a bit, and just enjoy where I was a tad more. I couldn’t see anything much due to the hill fog, but I could hear. Birds calling from the Llyn below and water wandering in the earth under my feet soon restored my calm and I headed upwards with a happier stride.
Topping out, I became mighty puzzled. There was absolutely no-one on top of Glyder Fawr, which was unusual to say the least. Taking advantage of the fact I was carrying all my kit, I brewed up. Blessed by the kindness of the weather, I then had quarter of an hour of cloud cover clearing whilst I descended to Glyder Fach. As the cloud cleared, Tryfan appeared , and actually made me stop. I don’t think anything has made me have such a physical reaction on the hills, but it’s manner of appearing, and that as a mountain it’s a point of kick arse rock made me come up short in wonder.
Hill fog sneaking in again, I headed down to Castell y Gwynt and started heading up over the top. My navigation and route finding were found wanting again however, so I ended up scrambling with a large sack. Feeling uncomfortable and slightly top heavy, I backed off, heading around and towards Glyder Fach. By now the hill fog was in nice and heavy and I decided to aim off to find the ridge and trickle down to the miners track paying more attention to my nav. My skills started to come back and I was pleased to hit the trail where I thought I would. Coming out below the clag, I came across an old welsh couple pausing on the hill. The moustache immediately marked them out as part of my grandparents generation and we shared a quiet word and chuckle. One thing I had forgotten about hill time was the social nature of coming across people, particularly on busy trails. Everyone is doing something they love for the most part, and is generally good company. I reaped the benefit of the encounter, enjoying an impromptu lesson of Welsh pronunciation on the hill. Despite my parents being both Welsh, I’ve never lived in Wales so my accent is shocking. They soon had me sounding like Richard Burton however and I strolled back towards the car, rolling my R’s in a manner to which Jones the steam would have been proud of.
Although the social hiking map above finishes here, my day had not, I just decided to save some of my battery for the following day as I was due to wild camp that night with Lauren . Heading down the valley towards Llyn Gwynant and Beddgelert, the transition from mountain moor to wooded valley bathed in sunshine gave a lovely counterpoint to the day. Approaching the campsite by the lake, it all became a bit peculiar for 3:30 in the afternoon. The sounds of banging techno lurched across the lake from a group of Teepees, and I encountered several groups of Scousers with cans of beer wandering randomly through the woods on the far side. Leaving them behind, I moved further up in to the woods above the lake, the mossy trees and buds of spring giving new energy to my tired legs.
The rest of the walk was a gentle meander down the valley to the car park at Nant Gwynant where I met up with Lauren. By that stage I was pretty pooped, my first full days hill walk in a while having covered quite a distance. Lauren is an MRT member for North East Wales Search and Rescue, and she had been trying to contact me during the day to say she had been called out for a search since 6 that morning. As a result, we decided to wild camp, but rather than hump up to Llyn Edno, we headed towards Llyn Llagi to find somewhere a little closer to camp as we were both shattered. The evening sun was glorious and we soon found a spot overlooking Craig Wen, Yr Aran and Snowdon, pitched our tents and broke out the single malt. A gentle evening in the company of the brightest moon I have seen in some time was a grand re-introduction to wild camping. The setting sun over mountains is something I can never tire of, and being outside again in good company put a tired but seriously happy smile on my face.
The only downer to the evening was the two chocolate deserts we had both brought along. The initial Mountain House main course was superb, never having had them before I was mighty impressed with the taste. The subsequent Wayfarer chocolate pudding was however, utterly stomach churning, and Laurens choice wasn’t much better either!
All that was left was to fall in to the shelter of the Obi 2 Person I had brought along, and give thanks that I didn’t have to see the numbers 2:45 again the following morning, but just dream instead of Tryfan’s north ridge.
I am a little slow with blogging so forgive the lack of write up from Snowdonia last weekend, it is on its way, honest.
This weekend though we have been playing with new toys. Having never been in to bikes before, we now have a seriously good collection of kids bike attachments.
Let me introduce the elusive S H A D O W alleycat, according to Retro Bike it’s vintage and possibly the first tag along. Whatever it is, Ifor loves the colour and despite not being able to reach the bottom of the pedals, it is now his “favouritist and best”
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone after a very peaceful Easter.