From Slackpacker to Backpacker

Because of a fall at the end of 2012, this year got off to a slow start. My convalescent winter was spent reading about other people’s adventures, which inspired me to plan some of my own. The injury knocked my confidence, and dented confidence sometimes takes longer to recover from than broken bones.

I first ventured out into the country again on a group trip to Kirkby Stephen in February. I discovered how out of condition I was when I couldn’t complete the first 15 mile walk. I did manage a shorter walk the following day.

First trip out of 2013 to Kirkby Stephen
First trip out of 2013 to Kirkby Stephen

A few weeks later in March of 2013, I planned a week of some of my favourite Northumberland walks from a base in Rothbury in order to boost my fitness and my morale. Kirkby Stephen had taught me that I needed to take things at a more comfortable pace at first. Although it was still quite wintery on the hilltops, it was really good to get out again and revisit north Northumberland.

College Burn
College Burn near Westnewton

As some of you will know, my big plan for 2013 was to walk the Pennine Way to raise funds for Crisis UK, so I knew I had to get back into condition. With advice from some people about my camping kit, I began my attempt to transform myself from a slackpacker to a self supporting backpacker.

PW Kit
Backpacking kit for the Pennine Way

I made plans to do two hikes in the spring; the 65 mile St Cuthbert’s Way during the wintery April, followed by the 75 mile Cumbria Way during May. I never stop learning when I hike, and these hikes were no exception. I was able to experiment with new kit, footwear, and different kinds of accommodation. The strange weather of the 2013 spring presented challenges on both walks, with 25cm of snow in places across the Scottish borders, and hail showers on the Cumbria Way.

Eildons
Snow on the Eildons

When the time came for me to set off on the Pennine Way in June, I was apprehensive about my achy tendons, and about camping in my new tent. I had consulted a podiatrist who gave me some exercises designed to prevent tendon injury, and sought some advice about camping, but I was still nervous when I arrived at Edale in June.

image
Pennine Way practice in the garden

With hindsight, I can honestly say that all the kit and exercise preparation I did, and all the advice I sought turned out to be valuable. I saw quite a few people on the Pennine Way during the summer heatwave with problems such as sunburn, heat exhaustion, heavy packs and injury, which luckily didn’t affect me during my hike.

Pennine Way route map
Pennine Way route map

I completed the hike in 20 days but allowed a few negative comments at the end to get under my skin, which wasn’t helpful. My advice is to avoid negative people as they will drag you down. Some of the “areas for improvement” which emerged on the Pennine Way were my wild-camping and my mountain skills so the remainder of 2013 has been spent trying to address these issues.

I was lucky enough to team up with 4 other wild-campers on Twitter for my first wild camp in the Peak District. After the Pennine Way, it was relaxing not to have a schedule to adhere to, and to have the logistics planned by somebody else. Many people have made the point that we are generally much safer in the hills than we are in most cities, so I have no excuses left to stop me getting out there to wild camp in 2014.

I had planned to try and fit two more short trails in to the end of the year, but responsibilities at home have put these on hold. I did manage half of the Northumberland coast path which I hope to finish at some stage.

Alnmouth
Alnmouth

I can’t write about this year without mentioning some of the people in it, as well as the hikes. As my ambitions to do longer trails have grown, I have realised that the best people to turn to for advice are people who have done them. It was therefore a huge pleasure to meet trail walkers Sarah, Alasdair, Colin and Chris and to chat about many aspects of their experience on some of the worlds great trails. In October I was invited to the Lake District by the National Trust to meet Tanya Oliver of Fix the Fells to see some of the vital path maintenance they do to tackle problems caused by erosion and poor drainage on the upland fell paths. This fascinating day with Tanya also kickstarted my Wainwright bagging again in the Central Fells.

Tanya Oliver
Tanya Oliver surveys her workplace

All these experiences have meant that the line between myself and mountaineers has started to become a bit blurred and meaningless. In November I therefore took myself to the Kendal Mountain Festival to meet some more mountaineers. Over the weekend I met some friendly people, enjoyed some good craic, and saw some great talks and films, so I look forward to returning in the future. Watching films about mountains in the snow finally persuaded me that I need to improve my winter skills if I am going to complete any longer trails. Thus the year ended with me playing with my first ice axe and crampons at a Winter Skills lecture and booking myself onto a course.

At the end of 2013, many of the assumptions I had about hiking have disappeared, and I find myself wanting to improve my mountain skills in the coming year. Thanks for reading and I hope all your plans for next year come to fruition. All I can say about 2013 really is who knew!

Cross Fell
Summit of Cross Fell

6 thoughts on “From Slackpacker to Backpacker

  1. The Pennine Way is a great confidence builder and I’m sure your achiement will encourage some ambitious adventures in the fells next year. So, good luck and I look forwards to finding out about your walks in 2014.

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