Back in October 2018, we saw a startling fall in Summit or Nothing activity, and I, for one, was beginning to panic as I saw the views and subscriber rate dropping off from the steady rise that I had worked so hard at up until now. On this one weekend in October, the 27th, we had planned another wild camp, but Nath contacted me in the days before to say that he had been summoned to work the Saturday, which is fair enough that’s his obligation. I, however, was a bit deflated, I needed not only to get more footage for the channel, but I needed to get out there!
I was itching to do another camp and some more walking, and week after week of inactivity was beginning to take its toll on my own well being. I could feel all my old traits coming back in to play. I was irritable, I was becoming a little lazier, getting a bit stressed at home, and angrier than I like to be. As is often the case with any venture, it is easy to be put off the track, and one of my fears was that if we stopped getting out regularly then it would become increasingly difficult for us to maintain the momentum and soon fall out of the routine and lose all drive completely. I was determined to keep our channel moving, and keep myself active, which meant that I had to put myself out of my comfort zone for the benefit of the channel, and get myself out for a solo wild camp. Finding the motivation for that was something that I found difficult to do on my own, but it was a decision that I was soon glad that I had made.
Even on the morning of the wild camp, I ummed and erred. Should I, shouldn’t I. And as it hailed and rained outside of my house on an abysmal morning, as I ate my sausage sandwich, I considered just throwing in the towel. It was literally at the last minute, and quite late in the day when, as cracks in the black clouds began to show, and a dazzling sun began to break through that I finally and decisively gathered up my belongings and set out for Sourton Tor, the location that I had chosen to camp at, one which I had checked on the Dartmoor Camping Map that was ok to camp.
I don’t exactly know why, but on my way to Sourton, I decided to change my plans (making sure to let my wife know – always let someone know where you are heading on any solo wild camp) and I had it in my head to check out some of the Tor’s that we walked beneath on our second hike ever when we navigated the Tavy Cleave River en-route (unsuccessfully) to Cranmere Pool. So I headed towards Willsworthy, and Lane End Farm car park, to start my adventure up towards Ger Tor. This was not too far from the car, for my first solo camp, I thought, and also, being just up a little from the Sourton area I was pretty sure that it still fell into the free camping zone… I was wrong. You’re not supposed to camp there!
I felt a bit out of practice as I carted my winter pack on my back up the initial climb of Ger Tor, but being on my own, I managed to spend a little more time on camera positioning and created what I felt were some stunning shots on my way up! The day had turned from grey and miserable to a dazzling and quite beautiful afternoon, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, although the biting wind suggested that winter had indeed come early this year, but wear the right layers and keeping moving soon eliminated the wrath of the winter chill.
I reached the top of Ger Tor, and after a brief look around, decided that this rocky outcrop was not an ideal camping location at all. I found one spot where the ground was ideal, but its positioning atop the tor and between two granite slabs, meant that it was like a wind tunnel. I began to wonder if I would be camping at all, it would be just like me to get this far and turn around… at least, just like the old me. I looked out across the bleak expanse of moorland, towards Hare Tor, and saw a level looking grassy ledge just down from the summit which looked like a great spot to camp. However, I wondered whether, being so late in the day if I would have time to make it over and set up camp there before night kicked in.
I guess I also hesitated because I was on my own, and the fact that I had to navigate without the company of Nath to help read the map and compass, I was a little nervous. Although the weather was fine now, the sun was out and you could clearly see the way between the two tors, I suppose that subconsciously I probably wonder what may happen when the Dartmoor mist came in, or if I had to walk back in the dark. Swallow it down, Trev, take a breath and think positively. Even if the weather or mist does come in, all you need to do is take a baring, and you will find your way. Confidence, Trev! Confidence and common sense! The only other alternative was to give up and head back, so I soldiered on.
It turned out that my doubts concerning daylight hours were perhaps the result of ill-founded panic. I explored the tor, got up on to the summit, set up camp, had a coffee, set up a time lapse of the tent set up, and the clouds dissipating, and all with plenty of time to spare before the sun dipped out of view. In fact, I even had time to set up a third time lapse of the sunset itself.
It was great to be back out on the moors, and as I sat looking at Ger Tor in the distance, I wallowed in the tranquillity of this spot. I was just in moor enough to be isolated from the people that frequented Ger Tor on what had turned out to be a glorious afternoon. It was also great to be able to give the Naturehike Cloud Up 2 tent another good outing, and although there was no real wind forecast (just rain, later on tonight) it would still be good testing it in the winter climate.
Before long I was ready to spend my first night alone on the moors. The biggest worry I had was whether the video would be any good, having no one to bounce the banter with, yet it turned out to that I had plenty to discuss with the camera, including tent setups, kit choices, food I bought, and I even had a Dartmoor legend to throw into the mix. It seemed that I was putting enough footage under my belt.
But what was it like camping on the moors, on your own, in the winter hours, I hear you ask? How did I prepare for winter camping? Was it Scary? What did you do all Night?
Woah! Woah! Woah! One question at a time please!
Was it cold? And how did I prepare for winter camping?
Yes. It was bloody freezing. At one point I could barely feel my fingers and toes, but I had packed additional socks and thermal gloves, and with a little exercise (press-ups and sit-ups) within my tent, I soon bought both room temperature and body temperature up.
I usually take plenty of layers, from thermal base layers to additional jumpers, but leave layers off to put on as the night goes by rather than wrapping up all at once, that way you always have another layer to add. This time, I actually ended up with a jumper spare which I used to cushion my little inflatable pillow.
Also, getting plenty of hot food and drink in you also helps to keep your core heat up, and the additional liners inside my winter sleeping bag (Vango Latitude 300) helped to keep me warm throughout the night. I literally find myself hugged cozily into foetal position too, and by doubling up my sleeping mats (I use a Thermarest RidgeRest below an inflatable Naturehike Sleeping Pad) I decrease the heat loss through the ground too.
In fact, this was the first time that I had doubled up the sleeping pads. I had found the last few times out camping that the Thermarest RidgeRest may be a superb lightweight sleeping pad (360gs), but it was, in fact, bloody uncomfortable. The Naturehike Inflatable mat was a great addition, and as well as being lightweight itself (420gs), it also compacts into a smaller package that easily slips into my back pack and I therefore recommend using these types of pads. Its quite a cheap option too, when compared to some on the market. Of course you do run the risk of punctures in certain locations, but for me, comfort during the night is worth the few extra grams of doubling up the sleeping mats, and that way, should you get a puncture, you have the Tthermarest as a back up too. Besides, the combined weight of the two sleeping pads still weighs less than the Mountain Warehouse Self inflating mattress that I used to carry (990g’s) so the way I see it I am still weight saving.
Was I scared?
I wouldn’t say scared, but it was eerie. Especially after I read the Dartmoor legend about the ghost that looks for his drowned wife during full moons and when the Tavy Cleave swells with the winter rain. I hadn’t noticed before, but after reading it, I could clearly hear the crashing force of the Tavy far below me, and as night fell, the icy blue illumination of a full moon lit my tent up and meant that I barely needed to use my head torch. Also, I did find myself straining to hear every little sound, freezing statue still until I was sure that the sound was recognised or had completely stopped.
If anything, being in such a remote location should have been freakier than it was, but to me, it helped me to remain positive, and put any irrational fears aside. The way I saw it, anyone who ventured this far into the moors was more likely to be someone of a like mind as opposed to some chav out looking for mischief!
Did I get bored?
Having to spend between 12 and 13 hours in a tent on your own does sound a little boring, but as long as you break the time up it really isn’t all that bad. I usually take a book to read, actually this time I hadn’t, but I had installed Netflix on my phone and took full advantage of their download feature, giving myself plenty to watch in between my vlogging. (To ensure that my phone doesn’t run out of batteries, I also packed with me the Pebble Charger – now this thing is priceless to me, a must have item for any modern day wild camper or hiker. When fully charged it can charge my phone several times. As I usually record any route on both Relive and Viewranger, I need my phone at all times, plus its also there for any emergency calls you should make, so keeping it charegd by an external charger is a must! )
Also, saving dinner time until late in the night is also a great way of having something to look forward to, which helps to separate the lengthy awake time. And, every now and again I like to leave the tent for a brief nighttime stroll anyway, providing the weather is dry, of course. On wet nights you realy have little choice but to stay in. But tonight wasn’t too bad, until…..
….The patter of rain began to lightly tap against my tent, at first it sounded like a thick misty drizzle, but then as I lay motionless listening intently, the sound began to sound more sleety. Eventually I looked out to see that it wasn’t actually rain, nor sleet, but snow! Actual snow! The Tor had turned white and flurry of large snowflakes was pelting to the ground all around me. So to see the first snowfall of the year was, for me, a great omen – this was going to be a great adventure. My only concern was that this snow wasn’t widespread as I wasn’t sure whether my littl ecar would make it out of the car park and along the country lanes after any considerable snowfall. But there was comfort in th ethought that I knew someone with a decent 4x4 should I need to call on them…. Nath!
In the morning though, after a night of relatively good sleep, I woke and looked out to see that the snow had all but gone, and all that was left was a coating of ice where the snow had been. The wind, however, had picked up considerably in the night.
As I packed my wet and icy tent away, it didn’t take long for my fingers to feel numb. I was rushing, wanting to get the job done, and made the mistake of unpegging the tent before I had taken down the poles, and before I had chance to collapse it the wind ripped the tent up into the air like a sail and I was sure I heard a tear. My heart sank, although on later inspection, I have thankfully found no fault with the tent. Also, on my journey back to the car, I had set up a shot of me walking away from the Tor, and the wind even managed to whip the tripod over. Unfortunately, the camera was not as lucky as my tent, and now the screen door will not shut properly. However, the thing still works properly, so I must count my lucky stars.
So, as the camp came to an end, I couldn’t wait to get home and edit it. And what I feared may be a stale and uninteresting video of one man in a tent, actually came out quite well and as it turned out, the video became a great success! And having popped my solo camping cherry, I couldn’t wait to get back out again for another solo camp. Its good to know that not only do I have the confidence these days to do a solo camp (as well as the gear and dare I say it – some modicum of knowledge), but also that the Summit or Nothing audience is also more than up for it. In fact, the following solo camp on Sheepstor in December 2018 became the fastest video of our to reach 1000 views. So, in future, if we have a date set, and Nath cannot make it, I will be more inclined to get on out there myself.
But, I must say, from my point of view, its always better to share these experiences with someone, and I much prefer the company for a night on a the moors, and I look forward to Nath’s continued company in the future, and when his workload has abated somewhat.