Circle of Solitude backpack trip

The ‘Circle of Solitude’ (so named by author Mike White) is a 65-70 mile trek in the heart of the High Sierra crossing some of the most wild and remote parts of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.  My father and I did the trek in mid-June, 2014.  Due to the low-snow year, we did not have any real difficulties with the snow or stream crossings, but we did encounter far more than our share of mosquitoes.

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State of the Pack, 2012

After the weekend’s Mt. Shasta adventure (summary: made it to Shastina, but not to the main summit), I am once again dreaming of clever ways to lighten my backpack.

Currently, the base weight of my pack is around 8.8kg (just under 20 lbs), which doesn’t sound like much, except that when food, water, camera paraphernalia and necessary snow gear are added, it becomes a much larger number very quickly.

My goal would be to get everything down to 5kg, but that may not be feasible.

In any case, here’s the current packing list:

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The Coast to Coast Walk

P6207470 Across England – Walking Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route

Preparations – What we did to prepare for the walk

Day 0 – Getting to Kirkby Stephen – In which we all somehow manage to arrive in Kirkby Stephen in time for dinner.

Day 1 – St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – In which we set off on our journey only to immediately get lost. Also: an introduction to two English institutions: the pub and the weather, and a lesson in country living.

Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Longthwaite – In which we continue our way across the Lake District and make a worthwhile detour up into the hills in search of adventure. Also: getting an understanding for the youth hostel system.

Day 3 – Longthwaite to Grasmere – In which we are thoroughly drenched en route to Wordsworth’s home and celebrate the birthday of our guides in style.

Day 4 – Grasmere to Patterdale – In which a complete absence of rain provides the perfect excuse to visit England’s third highest mountain and descend via the aptly named ‘Striding Edge.’ Also: experiencing a proper evening in the pub.

Day 5 – Patterdale to Shap – In which we ascend Kidsty Pike without being able to see it (or much of anything else) before leaving the hills of the Lake District for good. Also: admiring the handiwork of King Henry VIII and learning a valuable lesson about sheep.

Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – In which we enjoy the benefits of a cream tea in the morning and a massive downpour in the evening crossing the middle of England.

Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – In which a wet day is made considerably soggier thanks to the presence of numerous bogs and we encounter the happiest farm in England. Also: a brief stop at Nine Standard Riggs.

Day 8 – Keld to Reeth – In which we cross the Pennines and pass numerous relics of Britain’s mining past. Also: what to do when the afternoon proves rain-free.

Day 9 – Reeth to Richmond – In which a short leg ends in our first encounter with a real city. Also: trying out England’s new national dish at dinner.

Day 10 – Richmond to Oaktree Hill – In which we miss the rainy weather and sweat our way across the lowlands. Also: learning how to fill Sunday afternoon in a really small town.

Day 11 – Oaktree Hill to Clay Bank Top (Chop Gate) – In which we continue to bake even while leaving the lowlands for the moors. Also: the incredible friendliness of folks in the countryside and the case for leaving the urban grind.

Day 12 – Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge (Rosedale Abbey) – In which the weather mercifully cools off allowing us to traverse the Yorkshire Moors in relative comfort. Also: the peculiar story of the grouse, the gentry and the moors.

Day 13 – Blakey Ridge to Grosmont – In which we catch numerous glimpses of the ocean descending off the moors and are treated to some of England’s finest villages. Also: learning a bit about British railroads.

Day 14 – Grosmont to Robin’s Hood Bay (Kirkby Stephen) – In which we conclude our walk with a stretch along the rugged coast and help move England slightly eastward. Also: the best vegetarian dinner in Cumbria and swapping stories with 6 other hikers on the same hike.

Day 14 + 1 – Conclusion – In which we find ourselves in York and discover the difference between being a tourist and being a hiker. Also: the nuisances of luggage.

Day 14+1 – Conclusion

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Thursday June 30 – Concluding

Our journey did not in truth end at Robin’s Hood Bay. First, there was the matter of returning to Kirkby Stephen. This we did thanks to the luggage service’s bus. After a few hours of exploring Robin’s Hood Bay, including a pause at the Victoria Inn pub to celebrate, we caught the bus around 4PM. The bus driver was a talkative fellow, so I learned a fair amount throughout our 2 hour drive to Kirkby Stephen. He was also quite skillful, maneuvering the van up and down narrow roads and streets. Despite it being almost rush hour, we saw little traffic save on one major motorway.

To celebrate the successful completion of the Coast to Coast walk, we decided to have dinner at the Croglin Castle, a restaurant in Kirkby Stephen known for its vegetarian shepherd’s pie. The fact that establishment had its own brewery was merely an additional incentive! After an excellent dinner (everybody had the same dish – shepherd’s pie), we were greeted by some familiar voices – 6 members of the same hiking group in the bay area were also doing the Coast to Coast walk too, but 8 days after us, so they were passing through Kirkby Stephen on the way to Keld. They had gone as part of a tour, and apparently had had much drier weather than us. We exchanged stories until quite late.

Friday June 31 – Epilogue

The next morning was not particularly relaxed. In addition to repacking our luggage (we’d left a suitcase in Kirkby Stephen the first time through), we had to figure out our next step. Michelle and Mark were heading back to London. Chris and Bridget were going off to see a bit more of the Lake District. After some back and forth, the remaining 3 of us agreed to go to York in the hopes of visiting a scenic, but still smallish, city. Making rail arrangements proved complicated too, but at length the taxi deposited us at the station, Chris and Bridget said goodbye, and we caught the same train we’d taken on our first day in England, only this time back toward Leeds.

The train ride was scenic, as it had been on our arrival. Unfortunately, we were now saddled with a full collection of luggage, which hampered movement considerably. At Leeds, I got tickets to York, and when the express train to York arrived, we had to quickly load ourselves and our luggage into it. We nearly left behind several pieces of baggage. Unloading in York was also hurried. Using a payphone, I managed to find a hotel, but getting there again required the assistance of a taxi. A day before the one mile walk would have been a pleasant diversion, but now it required a car to complete. It was a relief to drop the luggage at Astley House, and venture out into the town unencumbered.

York showed itself to be, as advertised, a very pleasant old city of manageable size. Without a set end-point determining our movements, it was difficult to decide what to do, so we did a fair amount of meandering through the old town. After two weeks spent mostly in towns that could be walked across in 5 minutes, we found ourselves beginning to get lost in the maze of small streets and intersections. The most interesting place we did visit was the railroad museum, which included some magnificent old steam engines as well as a great deal of history. This was enough to leave us hungry, and we had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

When we had finished dinner and returned to the hotel, there was the question of what to do for the following day. Again I thought back to our walk, and somehow it did feel that in spite of the difficulties of finding, following and completing the route, life looked more complicated now that we were no longer walkers on the way to the next town, but tourists, looking for something interesting, but not sure exactly what that something was.

Day 14 – Grosmont to Robin’s Hood Bay

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Thursday June 30 – Grosmont to Robin’s Hood Bay

Getting up at 6AM was surprisingly not so difficult. It helped that it was quite light outside, and appeared to be the beginning of a beautiful day. It also helped that the steam train had already made its first jaunt through town. The proprietor was true to his word, and we had a good breakfast before setting out up the steep hill to Littlebeck.

In an effort to avoid the sort of miscalculations that had led us astray on the first day of the trip, I kept both map and GPS handy, and things on the ground seemed to more or less accord with the map. The hill was quite steep, but after 40 minutes or so, we had crested the top of the moor and were being treated to the sounds of the busy A169 highway. We only had to walk alongside the highway for ¼ mile but it was enough. Then we followed a narrow trail, joining the main road to Littlebeck not too far on. We were just beginning to wonder which farm we were supposed to pause at when we saw Michelle and Mark. We continued on and found Bridget and Chris at the bottom of the hill, by the creek.

The next bit of trail paralleled the creek, taking us along a wooded hillside, past a cave known as the hermitage, and down to bridge. Across the bridge we found the charmingly named ‘Midge Hall’. The route then continued through the wood, returned to the east bank of the creek, and eventually emerged near a small car park. Here we returned to the road, climbing up a hill past several farms including one with a very vocal watchdog, and cresting with a view that extended all the way out to the ocean and the seaside resort of Whitby.

After a section next to the B1416, we crossed and began to head directly toward the sea. It was a lot further than it looked, and the moors gave way to cultivated fields. Soon our trail was swallowed up by tall hedges on either side. We meandered in this fashion for a fair distance, finally emerging near the town of Hawsker. We took a short rest in the center of the town on some well-positioned benches, and watched a driver-in-training navigating the turns and roundabouts of the main road through the town.

Our trail then proceeded to take us down a narrow country lane that somehow opened up on a massive RV park. Admittedly it seemed a rather nice RV park, being quite clean and offering an excellent view of the ocean, but I couldn’t help feeling that it was out of place. Still, we made our way through it, and a few hundred yards further along we reached the sea.

Or rather, we reached the cliffs. The sea was there all right, a few hundred feet below us. The trail took us south, following the contours of the bluffs. After a few minutes, as if on cue, the darkened section of sky proceeded to expand on us, and it started to get wet. After a pause to put on jackets, we continued.

The last few miles of the coast to coast trail kept to the bluffs. We had views out over the ocean, but also inland at the nearby farms. Some of the fields above the ocean had cows in them. We passed a good many other walkers, but most seemed to be just out for a pleasant stroll.

At length, the town of Robin’s Hood Bay appeared before us on the coast. The trail deposited us on a street surrounded by well-maintained vacation houses, and this we followed down into the center of town. We found numerous groups of tourists, many of them schoolchildren making their way down to or up from the beach. We followed the downward group and at about 2PM we crossed a small street onto the sand. Those of us with stones from the west coast (Bridget, Chris, Michelle and Mark) deposited them in the water. We took a group photo. And that was the Coast to Coast walk.