Magazine article Geographical

Getting Away from Them All: Keen to Escape the Teeming Masses and Experience Nature in the Raw? Then Grab Yourself a Tent and Head out into the Wilderness

Magazine article Geographical

Getting Away from Them All: Keen to Escape the Teeming Masses and Experience Nature in the Raw? Then Grab Yourself a Tent and Head out into the Wilderness

Article excerpt

One winter in the early 1990s, while working for an outdoor retailer, I scrounged a tent from the store's loan stock for a weekend's wild camping in Snowdonia National Park. Nine hours later, as I erected the borrowed shelter in a howling gale, I found that the flysheet was labelled merely as 'sunproof'. Hmmm. During the night, the tent leaked like a colander, and a trickle of rainwater that began running between myself and my climbing partner soon developed into a full-blown imitation of the Seine.

After a night that felt as if I was in a scene from The Perfect Storm, I squeezed several litres of rainwater from my sleeping bag and retreated to the comparative security of a farmer's barn. dawn to an unusual (but not unpleasant) warm and furry sensation between my legs. The rat roused itself at precisely the same time as I did. I don't know who was more surprised. I exited the sleeping bag like a ball from a cannon, as did Mr. Rat.

Since then, I've worked hard to perfect the art of wild camping in order to: a) stay dry; b) prevent the need to evacuate to the nearest hotel for local vermin; and c) enjoy all the great things that nature has to offer.

Leave no trace

We live in an age when the world's wild areas are becoming increasingly accessible. Being able to visit fantastic natural sights before retreating to the warmth and comfort of a well-stocked and centrally heated hotel is almost common place: national parks such as Zion in the USA. Torres del Paine in Chile and even Sagarmatha in Nepal all offer luxury accommodation.

But wrapping yourself up in air-conditioned sumptuousness and bathing sore feet in a soothing spa serves only to insulate you from the very environment that you've come to experience.

Another alternative is to visit just for the day and return to a nearby town (such as Banff in Canada, situated within its own national park). However, do this and you can kiss goodbye to spectacular sunrises and sunsets unsullied by roads or buildings.

A third option is to use established camping grounds. This reduces the pressure to practice minimum-impact camping and eliminates the majority of concerns about damaging the environment as the basic infrastructure is already in place. However, an organised campsite is still a step away from experiencing nature in the raw. And that is where wilderness camping comes in.

The first thing to appreciate is the level of responsibility that comes with the privilege of wild camping. Every tent peg stabbed in the ground, every groundsheet laid out and every stove fired up has the potential to scar the landscape. Take for example the seemingly innocuous act of picking up large rocks to place on tent anchors around your tent. Ignoring for a moment the habitat destruction caused by moving boulders, picture the dismay on the faces of the next posse of backpackers to come across the same beautiful spot, only to discover the tell-tale circle of Stonehenge-style stones. Secondhand wilderness camping is never as memorable as the illusion of being the first to camp in a special place. So if you remember that every action has a consequence, and if you are able to think through every stage of wild camping, you'll have a better time of it, the surrounding terrain will suffer less damage, and future campers will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Lighten your load

Wilderness camping has the potential to weigh down your rucksack to the point that daily distances have to be reduced, and your thoughts become dominated by the weight of your belongings on your hip, neck and spine, rather than the spectacular landscape around you.

So, the first thing to do is to chuck out every non-essential item. Are those paperback books, iPod and short-wave radio necessary for your comfort and enjoyment?

Second, do what you can to reduce the weight of every item of existing equipment. Extraneous straps can be cut from rucksacks, handles can be filed down to stubs and lightweight lithium batteries can replace heavier alkaline cells in head torches. …

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