Memorable wild camps – Looking back at working on ‘Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike’

F10 Nitro Lite 200 wild camping winter lake district
Normally it’s too rocky to camp on the summit of Bowfell – not in Dec ’12 though with all the snow!

“All in all, the camps I’ve made while producing ‘Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike’ have been excellent and ones I’ll cherish forever. The good and bad. It’s character building stuff but they all enabled me in some way to capture the Scafells through the seasons in all weathers.” 

Now I’ve completed working on my Scafells film, I’ve been asked regularly how many wild camps have I done while producing the feature. My answer always is, “Countless. I’ve spent more time in a tent on the fells this past year than I have my own bed at home!”

So in this blogpost I’m going to share photos of some memorable camps I’ve had in the Western Lakes and reveal a story behind each scene.

Above is a camp I did on Bowfell’s summit in December 2012 (yes, that’s how long ago it is since I began working on the documentary). I very nearly didn’t take this photo too! Aye, it looks rather dramatic but it was horrendously cold. The air temperature was below freezing (obviously) but the winds were really rather strong and consequently very, very cold.

I recall dressing myself to protect my aching and tired body from the elements in a rush to get out with my video camera and capture the unfolding sunrise as it cast it’s delicate pink and orange rays upon the Scafells. However the strong winds made it very difficult to keep my camera steady. Having to contend with that and fiddly buttons, it lead me to remove my gloves on occasion. Within 20-30 seconds my hands would be red raw and numb with a terrible burning sensation.

It was all so beautiful though! So I persisted with filming as much as I could. And despite suffering with the odd numb and tingling finger tip or two for a few weeks after – it was well worth the effort for the end results.

By chance I saw the above view of my camp as I raced back for another spare battery. I didn’t want to take off my gloves and capture a photo. Through gritted teeth and a few swear words I reluctantly reached for the DSLR, removed my gloves and quickly snapped this pic. That’s it. Job done.

F10 Nitro Lite 200 wild camping winter Scafell Pike summit
Home Sweet Home on Scafell Pike at dawn – F10 Nitro Lite 200.

A few days later after the previous story, I was making my up a snow laden and grim Mickledore from Wasdale aiming to camp on the summit of Scafell Pike. On the way I took a call (which startled me) from the National Trust checking I was OK as the previous day a poor soul had died on Lord’s Rake. Promising them I wasn’t going anywhere “silly” I continued up in the deep snow to reach the MRT rescue box. It was while lingering in the clag and ever dimming daylight I took a stumble in a deep drift – whereupon the sheer momentum of that coupled with my heavy pack I was pulled out and began to slide down a steep slope!

Consequently it was the first time I’ve ever had to do an ice axe arrest. I was relieved it all came so naturally, as I was only a few feet away from being pulled over a considerable precipice.

I sat there for about 20mins taking in my predicament and cursing the weather. I was exhausted by this point of the trip and I was obviously a little shaken about what just happened. As time passed, I pulled myself together so to speak and gingerly made my way carefully back up the slopes and eventually ploughed my way to within 30 feet of the summit.

By now it was dark and the winds were very strong. Looking back, it make me shudder but at the time I was just so damn relieved to find somewhere I was able to pitch my tent. It took me a while too as I had to clear about 6inches of snow, ensure what was going to be under my tent was compact enough, and then pitch the tent with snow pegs and so on.

Once in the tent nice and warm with a hot drink – all was forgiven. I tried to block out my encounter on Mickledore (with a litre of Port) and ended up having a really good night’s kip. The following day revealed a beautiful temperature inversion predominantly to the east and a wonderful sunrise (hence the above photo). Again, I thought the scare and efforts were worthwhile but it did make me think twice when heading to considerable snow laden inclines in the future.

wild camping lake district
Camp on Lingmell with the Vaude Power Lizard UL.

Come Spring 2013, the sun tends to set on the northern side of the Scafells. And consequently many of my camps involved being on or around the Scafells on the Wasdale side. Here we see one of many camps I did on Lingmell. Just off Lingmell’s summit is a small grassy area suitable for a couple of tents. There’s more further down it’s slopes though – but this spot affords the best views in my opinion.

What’s particularly nice about this area is the full in your face view of Scafell you get. And a good one too when the setting sun lights it up transforming it into what appears to be cooling lava!

More often than not though, my camps here involved lots of clag but it did make for some interesting timelapse shots which feature in my film. The view down Wastwater and to the Irish Sea aint half bad either. I rarely encountered another soul up here despite observing the ever increasing number of souls participating in the notorious Three Peaks Challenge over at Hollow Stones and above. I’ve bivouacked and tarped here too. Cracking spot. However, there’s not much in the way of water for camp nearby so you need to collect it before reaching the area.

Terra Nova competition tarp wild camping Lake District
A camp near Lambfoots Dub by the little visited hidden valley below Calfcove – tarp used a Terra Nova Competition 1.

One of my favourite places to wild camp amongst the Scafells is in the hidden valley/combe that sits below Great End, Calfcove and Broad Crag. A little-visited area with a dramatic backdrop of crag and scree while in the other direction some nice views of Great Gable and Kirkfell to name a few.

It’s a place to linger and savour. Time rushes for no one here and you’ll be inclined to stay a while, sit on a rock and observe the changing light on the nearby fells. Despite being relatively close to the Corridor Route (which runs below this combe) I guarantee you’ll likely see not another soul. Just ravens and sheep and Mother Nature for company. Bliss!

I tarped here a few times. Often just as a base camp before doing day walks nearby. For example, there’s a little known route up to Calfcove from near this photo (you can see Lambfoots Dub tarn in the background) and plenty of water and shelter can be found too.

You see? The Scafells may well be a busy and popular mountain but there’s lots of places to explore and enjoy in peace and quiet.

Rab tarp wild camping Lake District
Another tarp camp – this time on Great End during July 2013.

I think it was June and July 2013 that the UK had somewhat of a heatwave? I can tell you now I prefer to bivvy or tarp when wild camping and so I was pleased as punch with the free movement of air a tarp could afford to cool me down yet shelter me from the burning sun.

In this photo, is the Rab SilTarp 1 – a camp I made on Great End. Bloody good tarp it is too. Anyway, if you ever venture onto the delightful summit of Great End and follow the rocks north you’ll eventually chance upon a nice flat area of grass suitable to spend the night. Again, you get some cracking views and most folk wouldn’t have a clue you was there.

I spent two happy nights camped here filming the distant Scafell Pike and other scenes in the area. Water though needs to be collected from one of the two springs that can be found at Calfcove but that’s only a 10mins walk away. And it is a bit exposed to the weather here too, from both the east and west.

F10 Argon 200 wild camping lake district
F10 Argon 200 in action on Grey Knotts.

As summer began to come to a close, I found myself grabbing shots of the Scafells from further away taking advantage of the lowering sun’s light on the fells. Here’s a camp I did on Grey Knotts which reveals a lovely view of the Scafells (and particularly Great End) at dawn.

At this point I was not so fussed about filming though. I was actually just spending the night here en route for Wasdale Head for the Shepherds Meet that’s held there annually in late summer. As it happens as far as camps go this was the best weather I had for that trip!

Rab Sil Tarp 1 wild camping lake district Buttermere
A memorable camp overlooking Buttermere.

This scene’s got naff all to do with the Scafells in truth. This was a pit stop camp above Buttermere while making my back from Wasdale to Honister to catch a bus home the following day. This day and camp is quite vivid in my memory.

The weather had been overcast, clag and wet all day and I inadvertently got caught out in a thunderstorm near Great Gable while walking Mose’s Trod (or plod rather!). I had hoped to spend the night in the charming Warnscale Bothy but about 10 blokes had commandeered it – even though it only sleeps four at a push! So much for them respecting the ‘Bothy Code’. Either way, I was tired after a long trip and was in no mood for company. A camp was made lower down overlooking this fine Lakeland Valley.

I’m pleased I did too. After the thunderstorm had passed, all was well with the world and the following morning revealed a fine summer’s dawn!

wild camping on Esk Pike lake district
Can you see my camp? The F10 Argon 200 on Esk Pike.

Looking back, I think the consistently best weather I ever encountered while working on my film was during the summer months – oh the sweet irony! Above is a late summer camp I did on Esk Pike, can you see the tent?

The picture was taken from the actual summit at dawn looking north to Great End and beyond. There’s a few areas to pitch a home for the night up here but sadly there’s no water source. The nearest can be located at a small tarn (which is there all year round yet not marked on any OS or Harvey’s maps) on the southern flanks of Esk Pike towards Yeastyrigg Crags.

Some of the opening shots in my film were captured here. And why not? You get a cracking view of the Scafells and I was also lucky enough to enjoy 3 whole days of this fantastic cloud inversion too. This camp is also memorable for me as author and friend to Alfred Wainwright, Mark Richards joined me for two nights in his Hilleberg Akto. If I recall, he’d not wild camped before. He couldn’t have been more lucky with the weather eh? The bug was truly bitten for him on this trip and I’ll be working with Mark again very soon.

Terra Nova competition 1 tarp wild camping lake district yewbarrow
Enjoying yet another tarp camp – this time on Yewbarrow.

Yet another tarp camp again. This time on Yewbarrow which overlooks Wastwater and in the other direction the majestic Scafells. This camp came at the end of a 2 week long visit and the steep, scrambly climb up the nose of Yewbarrow was hard work with my heavy pack.

The end result was as usual worth every drop of sweat. I couldn’t have wished for better conditions that evening or the following day. Superb. And a place I re-visited again many months later – the above pic being taken in June 2014 I think, I’m not too sure. Either way, I got some great shots which feature in the final film.

chris townsend wild camping lake district
Chris Townsend wandering about camp at night in Upper Eskdale.

Bit of a cheat this one. It’s not me or my camp in the photo but renowned backpacker and writer Chris Townsend. It was a pleasure as usual to catch up and spend some time with Chris in Upper Eskdale filming. Incidentally my camp was out of sight over the lip of a hill. By this point in February this year, I’d been very busy working on capturing the night sky on camera around the Scafells – and I was keen to capture Chris enjoying a wild camp under the stars with the award-winning F10 MTN tent. Handy as F10 are one of the sponsors for the film, but also Chris had been testing it on his trips for review.

We had a bit of a miserable day or so of weather with little low-level snow. But come the evening the stars were out in force (I was jumping and swearing with joy – Sorry Chris!) and the next day we woke to a winter wonderland before heading back to Wasdale. Top trip, top shots, top company.

f10 argon 200 wild camping lake district great langdale
A camp on The Band in Great Langdale.

There’s just so many camps and stories I’d like to share here, but too little time and effort on my part! Lastly here’s another memorable morning for me. I’d arrived late in the day the previous evening to grim conditions after paying the Kendal Mountain Festival a visit. I had hoped to reach the Three Tarns area for some filming before moving on. Alas, I cut the walk short and camped on The Band instead. And the following day transformed into what you see here.

It was by this point the first real wintry conditions creeping in during November 2013. It looks cold and indeed it was, but the sun was really warm as it rose ever higher into the sky. Plus I’d never seen the Langdale Pikes look so fine.

Funny really. The weather forecasts were for a crap few days. Instead I had a leisurely stroll up and over Three Tarns to camp on Hard Knott and conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. Inevitably the weather did turn and I encountered one of the worst storms I’ve had the displeasure of camping in on the little visited Hard Knott. A hasty retreat was beaten the next day and conditions like the above didn’t return for another 7 days.

All in all, the camps I’ve made while producing ‘Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike’ have been excellent and ones I’ll cherish forever. The good and bad. It’s character building stuff but they all enabled me in some way to capture the Scafells through the seasons in all weathers. Indeed, I did feel like a “posh tramp” for much of the time and I missed my family and home dearly. It was hard work on so many levels least of all lugging about my camera gear.

But I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world. There’s just something about spending nights out on the hills you just cannot beat for me. It’s cleansing to the soul, it’s enlightening in how you feel and adapt to Mother Nature and so much more that only a poet could describe better than me right now. And I do hope many of you will get to enjoy great camps this coming summer or feel compelled to take up the hobby.

There’s just no better way of enjoying the great outdoors.

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