A Day in Deep Snow !

Marsden to Glossop. 28th January 2012. 22 miles, 4000ft ascent.

The Marsden to Edale route, used by a number of endurance events including Tanky’s Trog and the Trigger, is a tough 21-mile North-South traverse of Black Hill, Bleaklow and Kinder Scout.

In good weather, ideally after a long dry spell, it is a wonderful day out and a fine way to give muscles and navigation skills a good work out. In winter it becomes a serious and arduous undertaking. Yet, only two weeks previously, the Trigger had seen a winning time of 3hr 13 mins! The last runners home had taken over 7 hours, which is still an average of 3mph over difficult ground and 4000 ft ascent. [results]
I had no particular time in mind as I left Marsden. The last stages of the train journey from Manchester Piccadilly to Marsden had revealed snow-clad hills around the Chew reservoir, and Pots and Pans, so I was wondering what 633 metres up on Bleaklow would be like. Certainly this snow had all fallen recently, and since the Trigger. The weather, however, was fabulous. Bright sunshine, great visibility and only a breath of wind – not a day to be missed.

Above Marsden

Compared to my previous outing in the Lake District 13 days earlier, just setting out from Marsden indicated that this was going to be a much trickier route underfoot. Ice and deep frost covered the track alongside the reservoirs and whilst I was able to set a good pace, the conditions demanded respect. Still, nothing above shoe-level, and the A635 was reached relatively easily.
Wessenden Reservoir

Wessenden Reservoir

A short distance along the road and the Pennine Way stile is reached – and things immediately looked different. Only a few pairs of footprints appeared in the deeper snow, but because of the underlying flagstones the going was still good, though the descent into Dean Clough was steep and treacherous. The final slope before the summit plateau contained drifts which took the snow to knee-level in places, and the pace slowed to a crawl. Still, all things must pass and Soldier’s Lump was duly reached.
Soldier's Lump

Soldier's Lump, Black Hill

This is normally a busy place, but there was a not a soul in sight, and I’d only passed three others on the way up. Quick photo and decision No.1 needed to be taken. My normal route is south across Tooleyshaw Moss but I feared that the deep snow would hinder me more than taking the Pennine Way via Laddow Rocks. I’m not sure what the former was like, but the latter felt like a mistake. The initial going over the submerged slabs was quite quick, but the climb and descent of Laddow Rocks was tricky and difficult. I don’t come this way often and now I know why.
The Pennine Way !

The Pennine Way !

At Crowden I took the concessionary path across the outflow from Woodhead Reservoir and headed west along the Trans-Pennine Trail – the only bit of flat surface since the start!
Now decision No.2 : Wildboar Clough or Torside Clough as the main approach to Bleaklow? The former is more direct, but tricky; the latter longer and very boggy in places. I decided that if I could see footprints on the Wildboar route I’d take that. And footprints there were, over the stile and up into the woods. I dutifully followed, and the track was clear through the aged copse. However on emerging at the other side the footprints had gone. I was on track, because there was the next stile. Hmmmm. I looked ahead into the clough and the view was daunting:- 600 ft of very steep boulders and heather all topped with a deep layer of snow. No path.
Wildboar Clough

Entering Wildboar Clough

But it was still only 2pm, with plenty of bright sunshine and stunning views back over the Longendale valley, I had plenty of resources and was feeling good – so I crossed the brook, and up I went, spending a challenging half an hour clambering up to the edge. The bright white gleaming snow drifting over the groughs was an awesome sight. There was nothing remotely resembling a path and just a sense of how peat hags sit on the land guided me on a knee-deep trudge alongside the beck. Thankfully no deep holes encountered!
Wildboar Clough

Wildboar Clough

The signal to leave the clough is where it turns sharp left onto Shining Clough Moss. I crossed the beck again and took a bearing on the Pennine Way at Far Moss, occasionally resorting to ViewRanger to confirm my position. Everywhere was white. Completely featureless. A gently undulating sea of snow-covered groughs as far as you could see. The lowering sun was casting an eerie glow on this scene and I felt very alone, and very alive. A fabulous feeling.
Bleaklow

Bleaklow

Soon the summit cairn at Bleaklow Head was reached. (Soon? Nope, this was a laborious trudge). Here I took stock of the situation. It was gone 4pm, and I had taken two hours to navigate the clough and reach the summit. I fully expected the going on the slabbed section of the Pennine Way to the Snake Pass to be better, since there were many more footprints coming from that direction. But even assuming I could get good speed along there, I was still heading for a crossing of Kinder Scout in the dark, with just my trusty head-torch and ViewRanger for company. And a train to catch!
Wain Stones, Bleaklow

Wain Stones, Bleaklow

The obvious alternative was Glossop, and therefore Doctor’s Gate the obvious route. After saying “Hello” to the Wainstones I navigated back to the Pennine Way, and on to the cross-paths with Doctors Gate. The fading light made the whole scene mystic, and the lights of the traffic on the Snake Pass seemed like Chinese lanterns. To my right Higher Shelf Stones, and its sad memorial, stood dominant.
Pennine Way, Bleaklow

Pennine Way, Bleaklow

Doctor’s Gate is not an easy path at this time of the year. As the snow thinned during the descent, the bogs took over and many streams flooded into Shelf Brook.
Doctor's Gate

Doctor's Gate

I left putting my head-torch on until I was faced with a black bubbling mass of goo and no obvious route across. Soon the lights of Glossop peaked through the cleft of the valley and Old Glossop – a lovely place – was reached. Just time for some curry sauce and chips before catching the train to Manchester. What a fantastic day this had been.
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Geocaching 101

This is developing into a hobby which sits nicely alongside my other activities, such as running, walking and even visiting other locations whilst on business or vacation.
Basically, Geocaching is Hide and Seek for the 21st Century. People hide things and you have to find them.
There is also a touch of the cloak-and-dagger, dead-letter boxes and of waiting until the coast is clear.
The 21st Century element comes from the integral use of the internet, GPS technology and – generally – mobile devices.

Bench with a view

Bench with a view - but where's the cache?

  • Scene: 1pm, a busy shopping street. A statue of a local poet faces me as I sit on a sturdy iron bench. Yes, this looks like the spot. With my right hand I reach under the bench and retrieve a small film canister, held in place with a magnet. Inside is a roll of paper listing the previous finders. I add my details and return everything. All that remains is to log the find on my iPhone App and the job is done.

The leading organisation for this hobby is Geocaching.com. The easy site soon draws you in and apps are are available for most devices. I’ve tried both the iPhone and Windows phone versions: the former is superb, whilst the latter needs work.

Lakeland 100 Recce 1

15th January 2012

Sometimes you push against situations that seem to be telling you to stop. From a logistics point of view the weekend was difficult and most “sensible” people would have understood if I’d said, “Nah, didn’t go – a lot of hard work for a day’s running”.

The running in question was the first 26 miles of the Lakeland 100 route – actually 105 miles – which winds its way around the Lake District and scampers over 23,000 ft ascent. This section only had 7000 ft – but what feet they were! More of that later.

The organisers had lined-up an interesting set of talks for the Saturday evening – in Keswick, starting at 6pm. The recce itself, on the Sunday, was from Coniston to Buttermere but since most people would need their cars at the end of the day a coach was laid on to take runners from Buttermere to Coniston at 8am. So, where to to stay on Saturday night? And when to eat?

The talks were excellent, although the second one went on a bit too long – even though the advice was really useful. And it was good to meet-up with people I’d be seeing at 8am the next morning. At 9:15pm the talks finished and I went in search of food. Most pubs had stopped serving and the restaurants were too expensive, so a Chinese take-away had to do. And it was awful.

I chose to stay at the Youth Hostel in Keswick, which was a mistake. The YH itself is excellent – warm, clean and comfortable and of course inexpensive. However one of the room mates had a deep, loud snore which never ceased – even after prodding! Not the good night’s sleep I’d been looking forward to. I’m normally an optimistic person, but I was feeling less than ready for the event ahead.

At 6.30 am on Sunday I got dressed and de-iced Trebor. I’d been tipped-off that both Honister and Newlands passes would probably be closed, so I drove to Buttermere via Cockermouth. Others were less lucky and had tried the passes first before having to resort to the round-about route.

Roll Up, Roll Up For The Mystery Tour!

8am Buttermere. Almost ready to leave for Coniston.

Consequently it was nearer to 08:30 when the bus left, and 10am before we set off from the school at Coniston.

Then everything changed.

Jogging out of Coniston. Feeling great!

At Coniston the sun was glorious and the second I started running – despite the initial climb – I felt ready to go. Once my heart-rate had settled down the going was good and the climb over Walna Scar was comfortable, the run down to Seathwaite enervating  and the scenery fabulous.

Walna Scar Road

The whole of the Western Fells could be seen and Harter Fell stood prominent as the next target.

Dunnerdale & Harter Fell

On the main event there will be a checkpoint at Seathwaite but today we just carried on and over the western shoulder of Harter Fell – a wet, boggy, tree-rooty wilderness that seemed never ending, but eventually did end with a steep descent and tricky rock work to take us to Boot, and the first refreshment stop.

On then over Eskdale Moor, by Burnmoor Tarn and into Wasdale. This was an easy section, but the scenery was awesome. Scafell sat high to my right, Illgill Head to my left and the Holy Triumvirate of Yewbarrow, Kirkfell and Great Gable directly ahead. In the late winter afternoon sun the sight was wonderful.

Wasdale Head - Kirkfell & Great Gable

Wasdale Head - Kirkfell & Great Gable

Although feeling chipper on leaving the checkpoint at Wasdale Head, I was aware of what was ahead and once the main flow of Gatescarth Beck was crossed at the boulders the mountain kicked-in. Steep rocky path. Ice flowing over steps. Unendingly up. The wind increasing, the sun gone and the temperature dropping. I put my head-torch on at Black Sail Pass summit, and a natural group of 4 people formed – two Pauls and a Jan!

Climbing up to Black Sail Pass

Climbing up to Black Sail Pass

Descending into Ennerdale was treacherous – steep and icy, but we crossed the footbridge, found the sleeping Youth Hostel (closed for the winter) and then made the relatively easy ascent to Scarth Gap. The descent into Buttermere was, perhaps, even worse than its predecessor – evil erosion, very steep and the path switching back and forth and ducking and diving under crags. On top of all this was the ice – threatening every step.

However, all things must pass and soon we were running for joy along the edge of Buttermere towards the finish. The jet-black night was a backcloth to a dazzling array of stars, and the lights of the village twinkled across the lake whose lapping against the edge of the path is one of the memories I’ll take from the day.

I checked-in, found Trebor and grinned from ear to ear. What a fantastic day! Now, just a small matter of finding coffee* and driving the 140 miles back to Chester.

When you’ve worked against the tide and it pays off, it’s a great feeling. Thanks to everyone who helped that weekend. Can’t wait for the next one!

Photos

*The BP petrol station in Keswick has a Costa self-service machine, and it was certainly most welcome late on an icy-cold Sunday evening.

Pass impassable

Pass impassable

Reverse OTO

Nothing prepares you better for hill-work, than hill-work. With a mountain marathon looming it was time to give Lefty & Righty a bit of push – and give calves, quads & hams some stick.

I left Trebor at the lay-by above Loggerheads around 2pm and basically followed the Open To Offas route backwards, mixing sections of both 21- and 30-mile routes. Through Maeshafn and Big Covert wood, on across the main road to The Nant and on to Foel Fenlli. The wind was strong but not too cold on the summit – the lights of the nearby towns starting to twinkle as the sky darkened and the clouds scurried home. I pressed on to Moel Famau, along the ridge, down the steps and across to Moel Arthur.

It was time to think about heading back, and one of my favourite paths runs downs from Moel Arthur heading North-east to the A541 via Penbedw farm. Nice ready down-hill jogging in the dark – just enough ambient light from the cloud cover to obviate the need for getting the head torch out. Then back lanes to Cilcain and Loggerheads. Looking back over to the Clwydian ridge, silhouetted against the night sky made me appreciate just how much I love this area. As tough or as easy as you want it, Moel Fammau Country Park is a big friendly giant welcoming all who want to get “out there”.

18 miles, 4500ft, 4.5 hours

Albums of 2011

So many to chose from – a real vintage year. This list will probably be updated as I remember them, which has also given me the idea of a blog for albums of 2012 as they arrive. So, not in any order …

Rock
Transatlantic – Whirlwind
Transatlantic – More Never Is Enough
Nightwish – Imaginaerium
Blind Guardian – At The Edge Of Time
Mastodon – The Hunter
Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Yes – Fly From Here
Smile – Beach Boys
Opeth – Heritage
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

Classical
Jordi Savall – Mare Nostrum
Mahler – Symphony No. 9 – LSO/Gergiev
Ives – Violin Sonatas – Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa
Bruckner, Nielsen & Sibelius Symphonies – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra & Gustavo Dudamel
Shostakovich Symphonies – Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Vasily Petrenko