recording the temperature – science and bodies together

Dec 30, 2018 Placing Tiny Tag West at Sprinkling Tarn

Today is all about clouds and warmth, an uncanny temperature of ten degrees. The mist has lifted to 500 metres but it’s playing with us, hiding and revealing crags and ghylls as we ascend the path towards Great End. 

We’re heading up hill to place the first of four ‘tiny tag’ monitors that will be recording the temperature in the coming year, every 20 minutes, for 365 days. I have been wondering, as I walk, about the sense of here. On the uphill slog it is the sound of water falling, it is the placing of one foot in front of the other on wet rocks, it is wetness in the air, the earthy taste of water sipped from a waterfall, and the heat of my own body, moving.

At Sprinkling Tarn we take a bearing and count our steps to ensure we’re standing on a point that’s precisely 270 degrees from the Under Helm Sycamore, and we place the monitor among rocks at a height of around 630 metres above sea level; we can see its green light flashing, which shows the battery is working well. This small yellow box will measure temperature, while around it the apparently unchanging rocks are changing, ever so slowly, in their recording of eras and weather. A geologist would read these rocks as if they share their own graph of time. 

The chill of winter is held fast up here, even though the valley below is mimicking an early spring, with an air temperature of ten degrees. Up here, the wind is racing and pushing wisps of cloud across the near-vertical rock face of Great End. This is where you feel the bite on your fingers and the creeping cold of damp shoulders and feet, where the elements have pressed in; and when you stop moving your core temperature quickly drops. We move on, and take ourselves out of the wind, and downhill. The view opens up and we become warm again, arriving back in Seathwaite four hours after we started, ready to head up Blencathra to place the next sensor.

Tiny Tag North: Between Blencathra and Bannerdale Crags

The exposed rock where the beck cuts through the hill is the colour of lead – the reminder that this element was once mined here. I wonder about industrial heritage and whether this is something to be celebrated as ‘progress’ – the process of finding and making use of land’s resources, and doing so until they are depleted or until progress makes one thing useless and another useful. What’s our progress now? Is it towards an ‘ecozoic’ society where interconnectivity is respected and worked with? Or will it push towards the kind of wealth that’s counted in dollars, pounds and yen? These aren’t really rhetorical questions, although any answers are elusive, but they are pressing. 

We find a place precisely 360 degrees from the Under Helm Sycamore, close to a gill, at a height of 580m. We’ll find out after a year how much the difference in height and exposure makes to the temperatures here and by Sprinkling Tarn.

Night is coming in, clouds thickening over the spine of Sharp Edge. The lowering sky cocoons the sounds of the valley and the constant hush of falling water comes to us, in pulses, on a gusting wind. 

In the last light of the gloaming the land takes on a strange glow and the wet grass almost hums. By the time we’re back down to low ground darkness is complete, and our torches pick out the twinkling crystals of ice beginning to form around us.

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