Sometimes, a planned Microadventure just doesn’t go to plan. There’s absolutely no shame in deciding you’ve had enough, turning around and going home. That’s exactly what I did on Friday. My first planned wild camp in several years, cut short. Though it failed, I took away some valuable lessons for future planning.

It’s been many, many years since I wild camped. So long in fact that I had actually sold most of my gear. Life sometimes just gets in the way. Now my kids are a little older, I felt a desperate urge to escape on my own for the night. I wanted to camp out in the wild, somewhere I’ve not camped before. I got the green light after running the idea passed my partner, who’s only real comment was ‘just be careful’. Good enough for me!

I had written this year off and figured it was unlikely to happen anytime soon due to the ongoing pandemic. So I was looking into winter camping when I suddenly spotted a decent offer on Wild Country Hoolie 2 (full review coming soon). That was the beginning. Within a week I’d acquired a new tent, sleeping mat, camping pillow (I’m getting older and value comfort a little more) and was loading my panniers and fixing the rack to my mountain bike.

I’d spent a good few hours looking for a new possible wild camp location for my upcoming Microadventure (I love that term). Narrowing it down to 3 and finally settling on a spot near a disused copper mine in Cwm Pennant.¬† I figured it would only take a couple of hours to get there as I know the valley quite well.

The Trip That Failed

I’d arranged an early finish from work and had packed the bags and loaded the bike the night before. All was going great, especially since the sun was also shining. The forecast was looking slightly overcast for the evening, but I didn’t expect that to be a problem… except I made one fatal mistake.

I was worried to start that my bike was going to be too heavy to lug all the way to Cwm Pennant. Thinking about it now though, I suspect it wasn’t that heavy. It certainly didn’t feel it when I got on the road. The ride was actually quite pleasant, avoiding all major roads and following a cycle route. I arrived in Cwm Pennant a lot earlier than anticipated and looked to where I planned to camp. Suddenly it dawned on me… I probably should have checked the exact route in person as part of my planning.

Stood at the bottom of the Cwm Pennant valley, right at the end of the road, looking up to my prospective camp (which isn’t actually visible from that spot). I realised it was going to be a hard job getting my bike up there. Enter fatal mistake number two… no alternative. So I tried. For several hours. To get my heavy, fully loaded mountain bike up the side of a mountain. The path I planned to follow is marked on the map as a bridal way. So I thought I should have no trouble getting the bike up there.

Failed wild camp at cwm pennant in north wales

It turns out, not all bridal ways are created equal. This one was steep, with tall grasses and reeds, boggy and looked untrodden. Linking back to fatal mistake number 2. Never the less I kept going. Till I reached a point and realised how stupid this was.

No Shame In Turning Back and Admitting it Failed

The final straw was when the weather turned. I’ve spent a good portion of my life exploring mountains so I know how quickly things can change. But this took me by surprise. All the forecasts said the weather was going to be just fine. But within the space of 10 minutes, the glorious sunshine had turned into poor visibility and heavy rain. Fatal mistake number 1 – I forgot to pack anything waterproof (except by Gore-Tex shoes). My chosen spot was actually overrun with young lads with cheap tens, which made matters worse. Loud music and alcohol. I thought this was a nice secluded spot.

I was conflicted. I’d been looking forward to this first adventure and was more excited about camping than a grown man really should be. But the prospect of a wet, cold night was looming. I didn’t fancy it, but it took me a good 20 minutes or more to come to that conclusion. So I finally made the decision to turn back, adamant that I would keep scouting for suitable spots.

My return journey was miserable. I felt defeated. My thoughts on the way back through Cwm Pennant were mostly of the missed opportunity and how maybe I’m too old for wild camping and not nearly as adventurous as I once was. The ride back took me up to an old reservoir in Cwmystradllyn in the hopes I might be able to salvage my adventure and find a spot there. Alas, I was faced with another unsuitable bridal way (that was actually gated with padlocks – isn’t that illegal?). The ride did take me passed this wonderful old slate mill (learn more about the mill here).

I had to admit defeat. I turned around and cycled home the exact way I had come. My partner was surprised to see me. And the kids were over the moon I was home early. I was feeling like a failure.

It Taught Me Something

I mentioned there were a few fatal mistakes. Granted nobody actually died.

Mistake number 1: I forgot to pack waterproofs. I should have learnt this long ago. No matter the forecast, if you’re heading into the hills for a night, always take a waterproof layer! Even if it’s just a cheap shell that packs down small. Something to stop you getting completely drenched will do. I believe this is the main reason my trip failed.

Mistake number 2: It had been a long time since I visited Cwm Pennant. Not actually checking out my route in person beforehand was a bad idea. It’s not such an issue if you’re purely on foot, but when you have a bike to consider, you really should know the terrain you’re planning to face.

Mistake number 3: No alternative. I didn’t have a backup plan. It was my first time cycling to a camp in the mountains and I had no alternative plan in place if this one failed. Looking back at and reviewing maps, there were plenty of alternatives I could have used, I just didn’t know about them. My future solution is going to be to have multiple possible locations marked out, with at least one of them being somewhere I’ve been before. Or failing that, have the ability to leave the bike behind and continue on foot (easily done by taking a rucksack and a bike lock).

The Next One

Feeling like a failure can be hard to overcome. I soon realised that it wasn’t that bad. And it was still a small adventure. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and will be taking my own advice from above this time. I think the important thing to remember is that there really is no shame in admitting defeat, turning around and going home. It’s better than soldiering on, completing your planned trip and arriving home miserable and bitter that it didn’t go exactly as you hoped. That’s enough to put you off ever trying again.