A stormy encounter on Hard Knott fell

Eskdale Needle, Lake District
A mean and moody Eskdale Needle.

Despite the following list of photos taken on a new Nexus 5 phone and a Canon EOS M showing how apparently benign the weather was during the latter half of my recent Lakeland trip – I have to admit I encountered one of the worst nights out in a storm in many a year.

It was rather bizarre in truth. Forecasts had generally indicated that on a given day I was out wandering the fells, conditions would be rather grim. ie, low cloud, persistent drizzle and a cold breeze. However, while descending Three Tarns to the Great Moss and Upper Eskdale, I was enjoying the total opposite!

There was hardly a cloud in the sky, the sun was shining and only a gentle pleasing cool breeze. Snow lay about here and there, boggy ground crunched underfoot – it was bloody marvellous. A fantastic day to be out on the fells.

After exploring the delights of this wild side of the Scafells, I then made my way to the summit of Hard Knott (again) determined to capture some scenes I’m keen to get in my current film. Conditions were perfect for what I had in mind. Alas, due to my wanderings about the crags and knolls I arrived a little late on the summit of Hard Knott and consequently didn’t get some of the video I hoped to capture. Even so, I was thoroughly enjoying the weather and fabulous scenery.

It was a tad cold too. Down in the valleys it was still autumn. But up on the higher fells, winter had arrived.

After the sun had set and the biting still cold air began to kick in, I picked up a message from a friend on Twitter asking me where I was located and if I was aware of an impending storm coming in. I hadn’t a clue. None of the forecasts had indicated a ‘storm’ previously, and conditions were superb where I was. Sure enough, having loaded up some satellite imagery from the Met Office on my phone and a bit of reading, storm force winds were indeed making their way to my area due to arrive at about 12am in the night.

Wild camping Hard Knott F10 Argon 200
The final room with a view on Hard Knott.

wild camping F10 Argon 200 Lake District Hard Knott
The chosen camp on Hard Knott. Hmmmm….should’ve moved elsewhere.

After some thought, I reluctantly moved my ‘room with a view’ to a wee ledge nearby thinking it would afford me a modicum of shelter from the prevailing winds. I refused to pack up and head lower down. I don’t usually let a storm put me off pitching high (‘ish’ at least on this occasion). It proved to be a decision I very nearly came to regret!

Some of my friends can tell you with confidence, that once I hit the sack at camp I wake for no one. A bomb could go off, but I’ll still be happily dancing around in the land of nod. Tents rattling in winds or rains beating hard on a flysheet don’t stir me from my slumber or drown out my apparent penchant for doing wild boar impressions in the night. However, that was all about to change. In fact I came very close to bailing out and retreating to Cockley Bridge for safety.

At about 11.30pm the horrendous roar of storm force winds reared up the flanks of Hard Knott and pushed down the other side right into my tent. And mother nature’s attempt to flatten my camp was proving rather effective too as I had the semi-geodesic shelter inadvertently pitched front side on into the winds!

In truth, I don’t think tail into the wind would’ve made much of a difference.

I’ve camped out in some silly storms over the years and uncannily 90% of them were unexpected. After all, most sensible folk wouldn’t choose to camp out in such conditions. It’s not safe. It’s not clever and furthermore not very enjoyable. Great for testing kit mind! Maybe less so if you value and cherish your shelter. However, many backpacking tents accommodate for such conditions when they may arise. Some are even deliberately built for it of course.

I’m thinking of shelters used in the arctic and such like – not so much regular backpacking tents. They’re often suited and booted to withstand all but the very worst weather anyway. eg, stronger poles, sleeves to accommodate ‘double-poling’, extra guylines, stronger fabrics, blah blah blah….

However, during these dark hours on an autumnal night in Lakeland I think I encountered the worst winds at a camp I’ve personally ever had to endure. It was truly horrendous.

I was clocking wind speeds consistently in excess of 60mph with gusts clocking (at about 2am) in excess of 75 and even 80mph. I couldn’t possibly confirm if this was a result of the winds compressing in lee of the fell as they raced in from the nearby coast. They likely were of course but I hadn’t the inclination to venture up onto the exposed summit! What I can tell you though, was I had to crawl around the tent in the night, reaching and holding onto it endeavouring to re-peg guylines, double-peg key points of the shelter and so on.

The tent appeared almost flush to the ground as if the structure of the poles didn’t exist at times. Furthermore, temperatures had risen in those few hours, a result of which the frozen solid ground had now returned to it’s soft and boggy usual condition. I had to wander off in the dark, battling the winds trying to stay upright and not keep falling over to collect rocks to place atop of pegs for the shelter. I really couldn’t have chosen a less suitable spot to be out for the night.

Come dawn, the winds weren’t as bad but still enough for you to walk and lean into without falling over. I managed to take a couple of pics when mother nature wasn’t trying to knock me off my knees!

Force Ten Argon 200 wild camping Lake District
A bit blurry, but you get the gist. A calm moment at dawn for the F10 Argon 200.
Force Ten Argon 200 storm wild camping
A not so calm moment for the Argon 200. As you can see, the winds are not hitting the rear of the tent.

What astounded me though was there was little damage to the tent. I was expecting some tears to the flysheet, especially at key stress points like where the guy ropes are tied to the shelter. At the very least, some pole damage. Which sadly proved to be the case, but not as severe as I had imagined. In fact I was shocked.

I guess it’s testament to the quality of the materials involved with modern shelters, and of course to the design of this tent’s structure – even if it was pitched incorrectly to the prevailing winds. I don’t want to big up the company who this tent is produced by in all honesty. Yes, it’s a fantastic shelter and all that. And it did itself more than proud.

But I know from experience, that ANY shelter from  ANY BRAND would’ve struggled that night – bar a bivvy or a full on spec increased geodesic. Only a fool would think otherwise. Even so, it’s great to see some decent high end kit coming out now from Force Ten. I’m not surprised a couple of the tents have one awards recently. One for the Argon 200 as it happens.

The Yukon poles survived for the rest of my trip though. Aye, a couple had a lovely additional curve or two in sections but nothing a wee bend over a knee couldn’t correct with a little duck tape wrapped around afterwards to prevent any unseen stress failing it’s structure.

That said and done, it wasn’t half a slow and precise take down of the tent. Lying about atop of it after releasing the poles and so on wasn’t much fun I can tell you.

My route was to head on over more fells in the general direction of Nether Wasdale – where a day later I’d be attending the ‘World’s Biggest Liar Competition’ at the Santon Bridge Inn. Alas, I changed my route and headed down to the safe confines of Eskdale and retreated to an inn for the night. And a nice one it was too.

One highlight of the trip – attending and filming the liar competition. Joss Naylor’s nephew won in the end!
terrybnd wild camping lake district
Yours truly at camp on The Band, Langdale one evening.

Great Langdale, Lake District National Park
Looking down to Langdale from camp at night.

Great Langdale under moonlight
Looking down The Band to Great Langdale under moonlight.

Great Langdale dawn
Sunrise over Blea Tarn from The Band.

Pike O Stickle at dawn autumn Lake District National Park
Autumnal light kisses Pike O Stickle at dawn.

wild camping lake district F10 Argon 200
Camp with the F10 Argon 200 and Langdale Pikes at dawn.

Scafell Pike from Hard Knott fell
The Scafells as seen from Hard Knott. Best view in Lakeland in my opinion.

Sunset autumn from Hard Knott Lake District
Sunset from Hard Knott fell. Splendid! But very cold!

Slight Side and Scafell from Hard Knott, Lake District National Park
Slight Side and Scafell from camp on Hard Knott, the calm before the storm.

Asolo Reston GV boots
Some Asolo Reston GV boots I’ve been testing in recent months. Bloody good footwear actually. Still look rather new!

Wastwater Lake District National Park
Like a mirror! Wastwater one morning as I made my way back to Wasdale Head and the fells beyond.

wild camping F10 Argon 200
Room with a view – of Piers Ghyll to be precise.

wild camp Lake District Great Gable
Mark from Marks Walking Blog joined me one night for a camp by Great Gable.

Thermarest Altair sleeping bag
A Thermarest Altair down bag I’ve been testing gets a bit of sun one morning at camp.

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