With a south-westerly responsible for record November highs at the beginning of the month, it was somewhat inevitable that the mercury would suffer a bout of vertigo and need a lie down in the meteorological basement before too long. No better time to go on an adventure then, than when arctic blasts move in and the first serious frosts of the early winter appear.
In all fairness we’ve done very well with the weather since a freezing trip in February; either as a result of being flexible with our plans or simply fortuitous, so we couldn’t grumble too much when the forecast was for sub-zero temperatures. Though rather that than a continuation of the rain we’d had the week before.
In a bid to mix things up for November, and ensure a prompt and early arrival back at home, we decided to ditch the bikes and head up into the hills on foot but not before parking up close to our intended destination – Box Hill. I was also keen to try a tarp configuration I’d seen on YouTube (one that I was sure I’d be grateful for given the conditions) as largely since March we’d just been relying on bivvy bags for cover.
With a vague plan of where we might find somewhere suitable and discrete to pitch our tarps we were soon scrambling up a very slippery footpath which at least helped us gain height quickly, passing the circular flint tower of Broadwood’s Folly and a couple of study groups from the nearby Juniper Hall Field Centre in the process.
It didn’t take long to find a flat spot where we wouldn’t be bothered and with fading daylight and a bitter wind blowing we set about getting our tarps up. I’d opted for a tent-style configuration and on the basis I’d not tried it before, I was pretty happy with the result. In addition to the DD Hammocks 3×3 tarp it required a walking pole, three guy ropes and 10 pegs. A relatively easy and rigid solution.
Huddled in our respective ‘tents’ we fired up the stoves for a warming cup of tea and i set about arranging my kit so everything was within easy reach. I was disappointed not to get my recently made alcohol stove going – just too cold to prime properly I think – but I had gas as a back-up so it wasn’t all bad news.
A good 14 hours of darkness makes for a long night this time of year, so we drank our tea and headed off for a bit of an explore and look at the views. We headed down towards the viewpoint at the Folly end of Box Hill where the wind was still strong and bitterly cold, so without much hesitation we decided to follow the main track into the trees and to the café end of Box Hill.
From here, sheltered by the stone viewpoint, we sat and chatted and watched the world go by a few hundred feet below us. Cars and trains headed in and out of Dorking, planes arrived into and departed from Gatwick, whilst on the horizon fireworks lit up the otherwise inky-black sky. Civilisation was within touching distance almost, yet all of this hustle and bustle seemed a world away from where we sat.
Getting hungry, we retraced our steps back to camp with just the light of the moon required to find our way. Dispatching another fine curry was done with minimal fuss and we made it ’til nine before we both thought about hitting the sack. I was actually rather excited to be trying my fairly new Mountain Equipment Helium 800 bag in more appropriate conditions and it proved a consummate performer. Apart from a slight stir at around 3am, it wasn’t until 6.30, and the alarm, that I woke again.
Knowing we needed to be home sharpish, we wasted no time in packing away our stuff. That old phrase ‘leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories’ is always at the forefront of my mind in these situations.
Emerging back into open space, the sun was rising and the promise of a clear, sunny day was already starting to play out. What was particularly evident on the exposed hillside was the extent of the frost from those sub-zero temperatures overnight.
The frost even gave us the opportunity for a little temporary promotion on behalf of the ever-growing microadventure movement!
According to the gauge on the car dash it was minus four degrees when we arrived back at the car park. Probably not the conditions most people would choose to camp out in, but in a strange way it was really satisfying and probably a good re-introduction for what to expect over the next few trips.