Location: Staple Tor (Higher)
- Date: Thursday 12th January
- OSGrid: SX542760 (E254269, N076033)
- Travel: 45 minute drive + 20 minute hike
- Style: Tent, Hammock & Bivvibag
Dartmoor is the largest area of granite in Britain with 625 km2 at the surface, although mostly covered with peat, it does become visible in places where the peat has been weathered away, leaving only the hard igneous rock to resist the wind and rain. The hilltops, often referred to as tors are most susceptible to this weathering, and the best place to find these eye-catching hints at the underlying geology. This week we decided to head North to Staple Tor, one of the most iconic and widely photographed of all the tors on the moor, and an easy walk from the nearby car park on the Tavistock-Princetown road – especially significant given the snow that had been falling all day before we set of….
We’d heard the rumours that it was snowing on Dartmoor (I’ve learnt to take weather forecasts with a pinch of salt, but found the Myweather2 Dartmoor Forecast reports to be pretty reliable, and of course, the Dartcom webcam is pretty reliable too – seeing is believing after all!), but Plymouth never really seems to see any snow, so it wasn’t until we hit the moor (literally, as we passed the sign) that we got our first taste of things to come
Once we arrived at Pork Hill we all added a couple of extra layers, except Paul, who had so much faith in his new down camping quilt that he planned to spend the night in his work uniform! (Paul’s first kit review coming soon!). The climb summit isn’t too difficult, and even in considerable snow, we were easily able to pick our way through the boulders and find the trail to the top. This was massively helped by the moon – If you’ve never been out for a midnight stroll on a snow coated moor by the light of a full moon you should take the next possible opportunity to do just that. It’s incredible!
Staple Tor actually features a few different granite outcrops; Middle Staple Tor and Higher Staple Tor are the two biggest and most obvious of these features. We’d decided to make camp at Higher Staple Tor, based mostly on a photo of two rocky towers which I’d hoped we could string a hammock between, but high winds on the top ruled out that option. We did manage to find a slightly more sheltered spot on the Eastern side of the Tor though and began the painstaking process of setting up Joe’s Eurohike Dart tent. Despite the slack elastic and ripped pole sleeves it only took half an hour of careful nurturing to pitch the beast and incredibly, once she was up, she really was magnificent! – The wind and snow were no match for no match for her plastered walls and improvised guy lines.
The hammock was next. No easy pitch on a rocky crag but we had a couple of webbing straps, about a mile of paracord, and a plan. Unfortunately, despite a particularly elaborate rigging set up and some textbook camping knots, the bottom line, to quote Paul, is “paracord and rocks make poor bedfellows”. It was just before midnight that the hammock (and Paul!) came crashing down as the gentle swinging motion wore through the cord, leaving him with little option but to join Joe in his canvas mansion.
Our third option. The bivvy bag, was an altogether different pitching experience, ‘up’ in seconds and no elastic, cord, ropes or rocks involved… but considerably less shelter from the elements, so we added a just-in-case tarp pegged out into the snow over the top in case the snow turned to rain in the night.
Camp all setup, Joe cracked out the stove and heated up some delicious homemade veggie chilli – quick to cook, filling, tasty and waste free – definitely the way forward for a wild camp! …and Paul unwrapped the chocolate for after (essential camping supplies!).
After a late arrival to the site (we picked Paul up on the way through at about 8), it was nearly 1am by the time we got into bed, and in order to get back to Plymouth in time for work, had planned to leave by 7. As such, we were never going to get a lot of sleep, but once the lights were off an extra complication that we’d not anticipated became unavoidably apparent – the wind was here to stay! After an hour under the tarp, I decided the annoyance of the intermittent but rapid whipping I’d been taking to the face finally outweighed the difficulty of getting out of the bivvy bag to pack it down. A good deal of cord toggling later and I’d stripped my shelter back to slightly riskier, but infinitely less frustrating basic bag-in-a-bag option. Joe however, could do little to address his tent’s performance in the wind, and as a consequence, spent the night impersonating a low flying helicopter.
At this time of year we’re having to get up before dawn to make it back to Plymouth in time, but that won’t be the case for the whole project. We were a little slow off the mark this week (perhaps something to do with the night’s soundtrack!), but on the plus side, it meant we were at the top as the sun started it’s daily climb. A lucky thing indeed, because the snow had all but hidden the car from view on the way down!
Stu. After being preceded by a double-check text from Joe asking if we were ‘staying strong’ regarding the plan, and despite having its challenges, WON02 turned out to be another absolutely magical night on the project. Bivvi for the win!
Paul. Dramatic views, and surprising accessibility are all positives, but the wind on our (probably unsuitable) tent meant I slept terribly. I can only recommend if you take unflappable shelter – or good ear plugs!
Top tips from the trip
If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs (the brook was nothing, in hindsight!)
Consider pre-cooking a meal that you just need to heat up instead of cook through – saves money, time and effort, and reduces the waste you have to deal with on the hill
Hammocks are great, but if you’re pitching on a rocky crag, talk to a climber about friends and chocks to help your attachments – we will be!