TGOC18 Days 11 to 13. The end.

I knew that Tuesday and Wednesday could be hard work. Mostly road walking with only the occasional farm track to break up the monotony and ease the pounding on the feet.

BBC Radio 4 helped.to distract me. I also set targets, such as St Margaret’s church at Forgue – where there was a bench – and the shop at Cuminestown and cafe at Maud. I was not disappointed to find Maud full of little old ladies!

The last 16km along the Formatine and Buchan Way, today, was a good finish to the walk. A local, Bill, accompanied me for the first mile or so. His tips on what I would see as I approached Peterhead helped with the mental challenge of just wanting to be there and stop walking.

I found myself in a busy port area of Peterhead to begin with. Luckily I soon realised if I walked a little further I’d find a proper beached harbour where I could have an East Coast Paddle to formally mark completion of my 11th TGO Challenge. A tough one at times due to a cold and a sore right foot but, as usual, a good sense of achievement on completion.

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TGOC18 Days 7 to 10

I knew that there were a few Challengers in Carrbridge and, in the morning, I caught up with them. This crossing has been much more sociable than usual for me.

There was a small Challenge get-together at Boat of Garden. I recommend the cheesecake.

That night’s pitch was a case of picking out the flattest, driest part of a marsh …. and my drinking water had bits in.

I’ve passed through Tomintoul a couple of times before but this was the first time I’ve stayed the night. I do like the smell of Tomintoul; whatever the weather their lums are always reeky.

I’d not been aware of the Dorenell wind farm development, so the devastation of the wild land near Blackwater Lodge was both upsetting to see and unsettling as I needed somewhere to camp. The Lodge is now deserted and I found a pretty if breezy pitch near a dilapidated bridge which I very nearly bottled out of crossing.

This morning’s forest was a navigational nightmare but this afternoon’s trees were in the right place. I just wish I hadn’t planned a 31km day. My poor little feet are suffering tonight.

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TGOC18 Days 1 to 6

I realise I have a few blog followers who aren’t on Twitter so won’t have heard anything from my TGO Challenge trip this year. I’ve had very little internet access so far but I think that will improve now I’ve crossed the A9.
The weather has been amazing. I wore my waterproof trousers to protect against drizzle first thing on Sunday morning but, apart from that, it’s been sunny and dry.
Mam Sodhail and the ridge walk was special. A long, hard climb up but the views were outstanding.
Yesterday’s slog through forestry plantation brash, bog and heather near Dunmaglass was not so good.
Unfortunately, I woke up with a cold on Tuesday morning and felt like packing in. Thankfully I was too far from anywhere with a railway station to make that possible so I kept going.
Today I took my Foul Weather Alternative, even though the weather is far from foul, as I wanted an easier walk to Carrbridge and a hotel room. A shower, cup of tea and pub meal don’t half lift the spirits.

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Bivvying for softies in the Carneddau (or somewhere near there)

What I needed for this trip was no rain.  My Paramo Velez smock’s pocket zip is broken so I was wearing my Montane smock for this trip and it is not waterproof.  Saturday’s forecast looked drier than Friday’s so I delayed my Easter trip by a day and, with a strange sense of inverse snobbery, protected myself from the Saturday morning forecasted rain with the Gelert cagoule I keep in the car for emergencies. Anyone can wear expensive gear, dear.

The 4 day weekend gave me the time to go a little further afield than my usual Clwydians overnight camps but this was still only going to be a 2 day/1 night trip and I didn’t see the need to carry my full backpacking set.  I have no idea how I have ever managed to fit everything into a 22 litre pack.  That same rucksack seemed much too small so I ended up using my Golite Pinnacle which I find uncomfortable for a multi-day tent trip but quite OK for a lighter load on an overnighter.

I’d been watching the weather forecast and mountain rescue twitter feeds and was not expecting any snow to fall where I was going but I did not know how much would still be on the ground.  I wasn’t prepared for a proper winter bivi, like I had at New Year so decided to play it by ear.

The first (and, thankfully, last) issue was when a walker at Llanfairfechan station asked me where I was heading to and I said “Oh, I don’t really mind”.  I am such an anti-social walker I don’t usually need to have a prepared Line To Take when interrogated about my intentions.  I must’ve looked like a pending statistic standing there in my pac-a-mac and without a clue where I was going.  She said they were going to Rowan and I nodded like I knew where that was.

As expected, I didn’t take my planned route out of Llanfairfechan.  Not that it really mattered; I only had to go South and then Up.  I’d downloaded chunks of map to use offline on the OSMaps app on my phone.  Throughout this trip I used my phone as my main “quick check” for navigation.  I still had a paper OS map bungeed to my rucksack strap but the phone – with its built-in GPS – was quicker than matching the GR off my Garmin Geko to the map.  I wish I was able to download bigger sections of map on the OSMaps app.  I had to piece together the downloads before I set off so that I had full map coverage if I had no phone signal.  This will not be ideal for a longer walk like the TGO Challenge but I’ll probably download some 1:25k sections for tricky parts of my route.

My plan was to follow the ridge – Drum – Foel Fras – Carnedd Gwenllian – and maybe drop down to Dulyn Bothy.  However, after only a couple of miles I decided it was time for a tea-break so I got out my stove and checked my map.  I changed my plan.  I would now go as far as Drum then drop down to Pen Y Castell which would make me nicely placed for an easy walk back to the bus-stop in the morning.

The weather got more wintery as I got closer to Drum.  At first there was a light covering of snow on the path:

My lack of spikes (or even boots) didn’t worry me, and I could easily camp in this light coverage.

I passed a scientific station for measuring sheep wee.  I’ve spent many a happy night camping on sheep poo but I’d not given a moment’s thought to the wee.

Very quickly the visibility reduced.

My common sense was starting to kick in.  If the path continued like this, with a thin layer of soft snow underfoot, I could continue – but if it started to get deep or icy I would have to turn back.

I didn’t make it as far as the Drum summit cairn (and nor could I see it through the cloud) because I caught sight of this stile in around the right place for my descent to Pen Y Castell.

I wish I’d had a 1:25k map with me, as I now know this fence is marked on that map, but it seemed to be going in the SE direction I needed.  Expecting that the visibility and ground conditions would improve down the hill, I followed the fence with frequent checks of my compass.

Resting my poles against the next fence I reached, I noticed these ice feathers.

Conditions did improve after Pen Y Castell.  I now knew that I wouldn’t have to bivi in the snow.  Not that I would have minded, although I would’ve liked to have had a warmer mat and maybe my bigger tarp.

The track running from the S side of Pen Y Castell towards Llanbedr y Cennin has dry stone walls along its sides.  The walls have several gaps in them so I had the cunning plan to nip through one of these gaps and find a pleasant sward on which to spend the night.  I must’ve walked 1km round in circles trying to find a sleeping bag sized plot that wasn’t bumpy, rocky, spiky or boggy.

Eventually I chose the least worst patch I could find and put my tarp up in a simple lean-to configuration and chucked everything under cover.  Remember, it wasn’t going to rain so this was a just in case tarp.  Within minutes it was raining …. and then snowing.

I turned my mat round to run along the length of the tarp, unpacked my sleeping bag and bivi bag, and propped myself up on my elbow under the shelter whilst making a cup of tea.

The rain got quite heavy for a while but I was now in my bivi bag and the mini tarp was doing its job of keeping the rain off me while I cooked and ate.

I’ve learned from cold, miserable experience that the secret of successful cold-weather  bivvying is to put on all your clothes before it goes dark and before you wake up feeling cold.  If you’re already shivering in a clammy bivi bag then the last thing you want to do is climb out of it and find, in the dark, where you put your jumper and gloves.  I put on my fleece jumper then put my smock back on top.  I put my dry socks on and wrapped my pac-a-mac around the end of my sleeping bag, inside the bivi bag.  I was wearing my new Biotorsion socks and they were comfy both in my trail shoes and sleeping bag.  My sleeping bag is supposed to be good down to -5 degrees, and the forecast was for + 1 or 2 degrees, but I’m a cold sleeper and I’d rather be too warm than cold at the start of the night.

The hillside had very good mobile phone coverage so I entertained myself, before bed, with the delights of Twitter.  I’d brought my Kindle with me and had fully intended to read a proper book with big words in, but reading people’s comments on my physical hardiness and dubious mental state passed the time nicely.

I don’t think the temperature got down below freezing overnight.  I had put my shoes and water bottle in my rucksack to prevent them from freezing but – apart from a light frosting on the end of my bivi bag – there was no indication of sub-zero temperatures.

That’s not to say I was completely toasty in my bag.  I woke up a couple of times and noticed that my hips were cold.  I covered them with my pack towel and windshirt, inside the sleeping bag, and that warmed me up.  This seems to be a fairly common problem for some women.  I know some sleeping bags have extra down around the foot; maybe a woman-specific bag should have extra filling in the middle?

The weather was perfect in the morning.  Despite having to camp on the wrong (ie West) side of a wall, I soon had the sun on me and I took my time having breakfast and packing up.  Why rush when I could lie in the sun, listen to the birds and look at the snowy peaks of the Southern Carnedds?

This is what I’d come for.  I took down the tarp and revelled in the quiet simplicity of sitting on my mat, sipping my coffee and doing nowt.

Ater an hour of glorious sunshine I remembered I’d brought my new solar charger with me.  Doh! I don’t think they work if you leave them in your bag.  I plugged it into my phone for half an hour or so and got a couple of percent of extra charge despite using the phone’s data, GPS and camera.  Not brilliant but my phone did end up with more charge than before despite fairly heavy usage.  I used it again later, whilst waiting for the bus, and managed to maintain the charge when using the phone.

No camping trip is complete without excessive calorific intake on the journey home.  An all-day Veggie breakfast was just the ticket.

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Mobile Solar Chargers 6W Compact USB 5V/1A folding solar panel charger – First look

I go into the mountains to get away from the daily humdrum of work, decisions, and technology.  What could be more relaxing than camping under the stars miles from civilisation? When I first starting wild camping, I remember a mild panic when I switched on my phone and had no signal.  Nowadays I relish that moment ….. apart from the times when I’d quite like to share my adventure on twitter or maybe check a train time for my journey home.  On those occasions the “no signal” panic is replaced with a “flat battery” anxiety so I’ve finally decided to buy myself a solar charger in the hope that I can make use of natural light to keep my phone topped up.

I’ve done a bit of reseach and sought other outdoor folks’ opinions.  Most people reckon solar chargers are a waste of time in the UK for most of the year.  We just don’t have enough bright sun to justify the weight and faff of the solar charger.  I’d be better getting a decent capacity external battery pack and recharging it whenever I can find a wall socket.

However, a solar charger has become an itch I need to scratch.  If I set my expectations low but manage to get a small amount of charge when I’m basking in the late afternoon sun as I walk and camp my way across Scotland, I’ll be very pleased.  I’ve been telling myself that a few extra percent of battery is better than none (but I really hope that I’ll get more than that).

Please note that I bought this product with my own money and have no connection with the vendor.

The solar panel I decided to get is the Mobile Solar Chargers 6W Compact USB 5V/1A folding solar panel charger. I bought this one, rather than the equivalent non-folding version, as it appeared more convenient to pack away. I would have liked to be able to attach the solar panel to my rucksack – which will not be easy with the one I have bought – but it will be easier to protect in my rucksack on the more frequent occasions when I am not using it.

I have copied this decription and specification from the manufacturer’s website:

An efficient and particularly compact 4-panel lightweight solar charger with a drawstring carry bag. This solar phone charger is ideal for travel as a backup or to charge power banks.

The 1A/5v DC output will charge an iPhone 5 in a few hours of bright sunlight. The USB solar controller will automatically protect against over or undercharge and can be used for any 5v USB charged device, including Bluetooth and Mp3 players.

Product Features

  • USB Solar Controller
  • Overcharge/Discharge/Auto Start
  • Universal USB output port
  • Very compact & lightweight.
  • PU matt leather cover
  • Safe to take on aircraft
  • Pull string carry bag
Technical Specifications

  • High efficiency 22% semi-flexible panel
  • Solar peak power : 5v/6W
  • Peak Output  : 5v/1A
  • Size Folded : 155 x 85 x 30mm
  • Size Open :  155 x 430 x 20mm
  • Weight : 220g

Folded up, the panel looks like this:

It comes with a drawstring bag (pictured) which is a nice size to also hold a power bank and cable.

Unfolded it looks like this:

There is a red LED which lights up when the charger is converting solar energy into electricity …..

…… although I’m not sure whether the brightness of the light is any indicator of how likely it is that there’ll be enough power to charge a device.  I reckon just looking at how bright the sunshine is would give a a better clue.

There is one USB socket which is used to connect the solar charger to your device.  No cable was supplied.

Buying a solar charger in Northern England in mid-March might not be the smartest move.   The sky is grey with only occasional sunny intervals.  Apparently I should be able to use a solar panel on an overcast day but my initial testing would be better carried out on a sunny day.  However, I thought I’d see what happened in these less than ideal conditions.  Initial results were not good!

This is what the sky looked like:

The camera has made it look even gloomier than it was, but you get the idea.

My phone was at 94% charged but, about 30 seconds after I plugged it into the solar charger, it dropped to 93%. This may have just been coincidence and not related to the charger.  As soon as I connected the phone to the solar charger the phone beeped and showed that it was charging.  I left the phone and solar panel in the brightest part of the garden for 30 minutes and tried to act nonchalent. A watched phone never charges.

During the 30 minutes, the phone charge dropped to 92%. Hm?  I am not sure how quickly my phone would normally drop 1% of charge but this was not the result I wanted.  The phone was not actively doing anything (and I had told it to kill off any inactive apps) but the trickle from the solar charger was not enough to prevent a drop in battery charge, let alone top it up.

So, slightly disheartened, I packed up and came back inside.  It is now raining but there is the promise of sunny intervals tomorrow.  I shall continue my not-very-scientific experiments when the sun is shining.

21 hours later…..

As soon as I woke up in the morning I looked out of the window.  The sky was mainly cloudy but there was a large patch of pale blue and the light seemed brighter than yesterday.  However, by the time I’d made my coffee the full cloud cover was back.  I tried a 15 minute solar charging session but I felt I was wasting my time so I gave up.

An hour or so later I could see that the sun was trying to break through the cloud.  The sky now looked like this …..

…. still a lot of cloud but at least it was possible to see the sun through the cloud and – every so often – the sun was bright enough to cast shadows for a couple of minutes.

My phone was at 75% charged at the start of the experiment.  After approximately 15 minutes it had gone up to 76%.  I did a little jig!  I went in for another cup of coffee but couldn’t bear the anticipation so finished my drink while watching my phone.  After another 15 minutes it went up to 77%.  Hurrah!

2% in 30 minutes on a cloudy day.  Do I regard that as good?  Yes, for now, I do.  I now know that the solar charger does charge my phone in conditions which are far from ideal.  The next stage of the testing will be to see if charging is faster on a sunny day; to charge my phone when it is switched off; to see if it works indoors through a window; and to repeat the tests with my power bank.  I also, of course, want to use the solar charger whilst out in the wilds.  I will blog my experiences when I’ve used the solar charger in real life situations.

 

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Anglezarke Amble Challenge Walk – 2018

I’ve been a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) for a few years.  I joined after JJ invited me on a couple of walks, both Social and “Challenge”.  The Challenge walks typically have a short and long course with mandatory checkpoints, must be completed within a time limit and – best of all – have food at the end and at one or two of the checkpoints.

I would love to go out for a walk far more often than I do but always seem to have something else on.  Sometimes the only way for me to make time to do something is to put it in the diary months in advance, so that’s what I did with the Anglezarke Amble.  It wasn’t possible to enter on the day so I committed to sending off the form and that was that ….. I was doing it.

Rivington church hall was bustling with walkers when I arrived.  Never at my best in the morning – and suffering from steamed up glasses – I found the crowds a little stressful at first but once I’d got my entry number and managed to dress myself [Note to self: buy some easier-to-put-on gaiters] I had plenty of time for a cup of tea and some toast.

The walking contingent set off at 8am – with the runners due to follow at 9am – and I blindly followed the throng.  I had printed out the route sheet – which gives turn-by-turn directions – but the sleet deterred me from removing my gloves to open my pocket so my plan was to make sure I stayed in sight of someone who looked like they knew where they were going at all times.  This short-sighted approach to navigation, coupled with the literally short-sighted visibility due to low cloud, meant that I had very little idea where I was all day!  I had the route sheet, I had the map, I had various electronic means of determining where I was.  Did I use any of these useful tools? No (until I got a wee bit lost, but we’ll come to that later).

The first viewpoint on the route was Rivington Pike.  Here was the view looking back down from the Pike:It was cold and windy at the top so I didn’t hang around.  Following a cluster of waterproofs I headed towards the Winter Hill radio/TV masts.  I only knew that’s where we were going because I’d read the route in advance; I couldn’t actually see the masts even though, on a clear day, they can be seen for miles around.  Up close, I could see a big block of concrete with a steel cable which must have been one of the tether lines to stop a mast blowing over but I couldn’t see the mast itself due to the thick clag.

There was a checkpoint on the road by the masts so I gave my number and kept walking.  I then developed a niggling doubt about whether that was the first checkpoint or the second.  Had there been a checkpoint up at the Pike?  Should I check my route sheet?  Nah, too wet and miserable to stop.  I’ll own up to my possible mistake at the next checkpoint.  (It turned out that I hadn’t missed one).

The Amble is a good mix of moorland, tracks, paths and sections of road.  After a rough section it was a relief to walk on the road, although ice was an ever-present threat and many of the roads were covered in deep slushy puddles.  My boots were soon soaked.

I’d been overtaken by the first male runner at 0940 and the first female at 0950.  I enjoyed watching the runners with their lightweight gear and skimpy clothes (in comparison to me, cocoooned in multiple layers).  I’d like to do some fell running but I don’t think the West Pennine moors in February would be a good place to start.

The clag lifted as the day progressed.  It rained all day but at least I could see that this was a place I’d like to come back to.  I like bleak moorland.

I reached the cut-off checkpoint for the long route at 1040.  The official cut-off time was 1030 but they did seem to be letting people through.  Having chosen the short route I hadn’t been rushing but I do doubt if I could complete the longer Challenge events in the time available; I just don’t walk fast enough.

By the ruins of Hollinshead Hall I found myself alone.  I’d seen some walkers go down the hill and up to the right but, by the time I got down to where the path split, I could no longer see them and there was nobody catching me up who I could wait for.  I took the right hand turn and went up through the trees but there was a choice of paths and I could so easily have wandered off in the wrong direction.  Worried that I might miss the refreshments stop, I took shelter in the trees and checked my route sheet.  Although I’d not been paying attention to whether I’d passed through two sets of gateposts – the second pair being taller – I did seem to be going the right way and I was glad to soon have a wall on my right.  My relief was great when I saw the checkpoint with the refreshments gazebo!

The refreshments at the 9.6 mile checkpoint (at about 1140 for me) were very welcome.  Sandwiches, jaffa cakes, cake and tea.  I’d been carrying food and drink but this wasn’t a Shall We Stop For A Picnic sort of day.  Before setting off again I changed my gloves.  In the run-up to the event the weather forecast had promised persistent rain so I had brought spare gloves with me.  My first set of “waterproof” gloves were now completely sodden and – although still keeping my hands warm by blocking the wind – did not feel very nice.  I think in driving rain the water runs down my sleeve into the glove.  I know I could tuck the glove inside my sleeve but that is less convenient when I need to replace the gloves after putting my phone/camera back in my pocket.

I checked with the marshals that I was leaving the checkpoint in the right direction.  They gave me a very clear description of where I needed to go but, 2 minutes later, I was confused about whether I needed to go left or right.  I checked the route description but that didn’t help and it said I should go through a “gate marked Hollinshead Hall” but my gate wasn’t marked at all.  I wasn’t sure whether I’d gone far enough – and the route sheet very rarely mentioned distances – so I waited until a runner came along then followed him.  It was handy that most people had their entry numbers tied to their rucksack, so I knew I was following someone on the Amble and not a random walker/runner.

Great Hill was a trial.  Bog – sometimes frozen, sometimes not – and driving rain which was determined to fill my left ear……

…. but I knew there was another refreshment stop not far after the hill and that thought kept me going.

The White Coppice cricket pavilion refreshment stop was wonderful.  Lumps of cheese, cold boiled spuds, cherry tomatoes, and the most delicious parkin.  Oh, and hot tea of course.  Better still, I could have my first sit-down of the walk and ponder whether to walk the last 3 or 4 miles or call a taxi (just kiddin’).

The last few miles were mainly on roads and seemed to wend their way around a number of reservoirs – Anglezarke, High Bullough and Yarrow.  If the weather had been better, and my feet not so wet and achy, I’d have got the map out and worked out exactly where I was.  Making a mental note to come back to this area in better weather I yomped along the roads and tracks trying to keep the woman in the bright yellow mac in sight.  My navigational laziness really was astounding on this walk!

I arrived back at the church hall at 3:13pm so it had taken me 7 hours and 13 minutes to walk 16 miles.  Not fast for some people but quite a pace for me.  I would normally plan for no more than 2mph on a mixed terrain walk like this.

I had a bowl of delicious veggie stew with red cabbage and beetroot, followed by cold rice pudding and tinned peaches and a cup of tea.  The room was full of people who’d worked hard for their dinner ….. although many were runners who’d done the 24 miles and looked like they could do it all again.  Strange folk!

Thanks to the West Lancashire section of the LDWA who organised the event.  Although (or maybe because) it really was a Challenge, I’m looking forward to doing the walk again….. hopefully in better weather.

 

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A snowy tarp camp in the Peak District

I do like camping in cold weather.  With the right clothes, gear and shelter a wintry camp is very refreshing and much more pleasant than camping in the damp weather we get so much of in the later months of the year. Keeping an eye on the weather forecasts I noticed that Glossop was the coldest place I could easily get to on public transport for an overnight camp so I sketched out a rough route, checked out potential camp sites in a few grid squares on Geograph and packed my rucksack.

This was easier said than done as I’ve not got round to buying the new larger rucksack I’ve been pondering for several years. My largest pack is my 65 litre Karrimor Jaguar which I must’ve had for 20 odd years. It’s still a smashing pack but has none of the little extras I now want such as hip-belt pockets, compression straps and stretchy external pouches for stuffing my wet waterproof trousers in.  I decided to take my Osprey Exos 46, but with a full winter load it was a heavy and slightly lumpy beast which weighed me down on the slow walk to the station. Still recovering from a chest infection which had laid me low for most of December, this would be the first exercise I’d had for weeks so I planned to take it easy with no rushing.

It was sleeting in Glossop and I took advantage of the station waiting room to get properly dressed before heading outside.  Unusually for me I was wearing boots, rather than trail shoes, and my full-length gaiters rather than the ankle gaiters I normally wear…. if at all.  I’d also brought my ski-gloves which turned out to be the best bit of kit of the whole trip. Waterproof and warm but not tight or too thick, they kept my hands toasty and also warmed them up again quickly whenever I’d had to take them off for any reason.

One objective of this trip was to see if I could get Social Hiking to show where I had walked. I’d set up viewranger on my mobile phone and thought I’d done all the preparation I needed to get my phone’s GPS to tell viewranger where I was, then for viewranger to tell Social Hiking.  However, this was the first time I’d tried to use it for real and I spent the first mile or so stopping every couple of minutes to fiddle with the settings. After a while a couple of twitter followers confirmed that they could “see” me, so I stopped playing with gadgets and started to enjoy the walk.  I’ve not yet studied exactly what was appearing on the Social Hiking map but it was a good start and I’m sure I can fine tune it on later walks.  It’s just such a shame that Social Hiking will be closing down after the May 2018 TGO Challenge.

My plan was to walk a circular walk of around 19km along Doctor’s Gate, then North up the Pennine Way, look for somewhere to camp near Bleaklow Head then return to Glossop via Torside Castle and Blackshaw Farm in the morning; but I would be flexible.

The sleet which had welcomed me to Glossop had now blown over and it was a beautiful day to be out walking.

Blue skies and the promise of snow to camp in

Blue skies and the promise of snow to camp in

The snow cover was improving as I headed East and I was hopeful for a perfect camp site.

There’s snow where I’m heading

I don’t do much walking in the Peak District and don’t really know my way round but the path was easy to follow.  I looked at my various paper and electronic maps from time-to-time but I knew that the Pennine Way would be easy to find and I just had to keep going until I found it….

The Pennine Way approach to Bleaklow

Looking South I could see the busy A57 Snake Pass through the mist. There were quite a few well-wrapped-up family groups down by the road, and several walkers were now coming off the hill, presumably returning to their cars on the road.  It was now the time of day when most people are heading home and not going up a snowy hill with less than an hour’s daylight left.

At first the Pennine Way was wide and straight but in places it opened out and it wasn’t immediately clear, with snow on the ground, which was the right way to go but I just kept going North and kept an eye out to the East for somewhere to camp.  I was conscious that Bleaklow Head was still over a kilometre away, my energy was flagging, and it would be better to find somewhere to camp before I lost the light.  I saw a likely pitch at Hern Clough so carefully picked my way down the snowy hill to the stream.  I had a small nagging voice in my head warning me about having to climb back up the hill in the morning but the voice saying I needed to camp and get a brew on was louder.

I found a flat bit of ground next to the stream. This would be perfect.

Although the photo doesn’t show it the half-moon was just out of shot. The partial cloud could mean an icy night or more snow.

For a close-to-nature experience I’d brought my Alpkit Rig 7 Tarp. I’ve used it a few times before, including on a winter camp, and am getting better at making practial shelters which shed the weather whilst giving me the freedom of an open shelter. The Rig 7 is large (2.4m x 2.8m) so, for one person, there is plenty of space to sleep, cook and stow all of your gear.  I have found that a squashed toad configuration works best when I’ve got my two walking poles, although I would probably use some of the other lifters to create more space if I had something else to tie my lines to.

Pitching the closed end into the wind I made my bijou residence then went and filled my water bottle.  I really didn’t want to risk falling into the stream in the dark so I made sure I had plenty of water to get me through a comfortable night with plenty of food and hot drinks.

I did slightly alter the pegging after taking this photo but – before the snow fell – I had plenty of height at the foot end of the tarp

Tucked up in my Tundra Pure -10 bag on my Exped Downmat I was soon warm while I made my first cup of coffee.   I sipped my coffee, propped up on my elbow, whilst enjoying the nothingness of where I was.  I started to doze off but noticed that I was beginning to feel cold… then realised I’d made the schoolgirl error of leaving my damp socks on. I took them off and immediately felt warmer.

Dinner was pasta by candlelight from my tealight candle lantern.  The bright moon reflecting off the snow meant that I didn’t really need a lantern but the candle added to the atmosphere.

After another snooze it was time for pudding.  Custard and Pecan Slice.  Yum!

Home comforts in this photo: Custard, Pecan Slice, secondary double glazing film groundsheet, laminate flooring underlay “carpet”, foam sitmat, , camper van insulation pot cosy, Exped Downmat, Radio 4 LW.

After dinner I drifted in and out of sleep whilst listening to the radio. Eventually it was time to properly go to bed so I made sure everything was where I could find it in the night, eg headtorch and spare pegs in case the wind got up, then went to sleep.

My bladder woke me up at about 1 am. I’d covered my boots with my gaiters to stop them from freezing but this hadn’t worked and they were almost too stiff to put on. Returning to my sleeping bag I put the boots, in a binbag, inside with me.  Slightly uncomfortable whenever I wanted to roll over but better than having no usable footwear in the  morning.

At about 5am I woke again. My face was being sprayed with cold water.  It was snowing and – no surprise – the wind had changed direction.  I shuffled towards the back of the tarp but this wasn’t going to be enough; the snow was blowing in and covering my mat and pillow.   I lowered the walking pole and also rigged up an extra line and peg which closed up the door a little.  The quick fix completed, I moved back to my mattress and heard a very distressing hiss.  No….??  Not the mattress!  Phew, no, my pillow was completely flat but the mattress was fine.  I couldn’t find what was wrong but I looked at it when I got home and found that one of the pressed seams [this is a cheap inflatable pillow] had split.  So relieved that my mattress was OK, I had a quick scout around for anything sharp then went back to sleep.

I woke for good at 8 o’clock and could now see how much snow had fallen.  There was a light covering over the footprints I’d made, and quite a bit of snow on the tarp.

I brushed the snow off the tarp and got back inside for breakfast.  It then started snowing quite heavily.

After about an hour, my walking pole handle was completely covered and all of the footprints and disturbances I’d made in the snow were covered and evened out.  It was very pretty but also a little disconcerting as I realised the climb back up the snowy hill could be a little more demanding than I’d expected.

Lying in my sleeping bag eating my breakfast I developed a whole-body-wriggle which flicked the settling snow off the tarp. It was falling heavily though and I could see the patterns against the light.

Snow settling on the outside of the tarp

I hoped there’d be a snow-free window in which I could pack up.  I put things away, as best I could, before deciding it was now or never; boots on and get out there.

Despite having wiped most of the snow off the tarp earlier, it was now covered again.

Home Sweet Home

To be sure I didn’t cover any of my gear in snow, I rolled the tarp to tip the snow off at one end and was surprised at how heavy it was.

All packed up, I checked the map and confirmed I needed to go West along the stream and would soon rejoin the Pennine Way. I’d pretty much decided I would retrace my steps rather than go up to Bleaklow. The visibility was not good and I’d done what I came to do.  I’d camped in the snow and eaten my custard, so now I could go home via an easy route if necessary.

The climb up the hill was as expected.  It was difficult to tell how thick the snow cover was so I gingerly prodded the ground with my poles and spent a fair bit of time crawling on my hands and knees to get out of the drifts.  After a hard, slow climb, Viewranger and OS Maps both told me I was on the Pennine Way but there was absolutely no sign on the ground of anything I recognised as a path.

I don’t know what I expected but I suppose I think of the PW as a hideous motorway that can be seen from space.  Maybe that’s true in the summer but not when it’s covered in snow.  I made several attempts to find “the path” then gave up and decided the best thing to do was to walk on a Southerly bearing – yep, good old compass – and I knew I’d eventually reach the Snake Pass.

My phone’s camera has probably tried to correct the white balance in this photo but I think it gives an good idea of what I could see in all directions.  B*gger all.

I was not scared or worried but do admit to wishing I was off the hill and could see where I was.  It didn’t really matter exactly where I was but it wasn’t much fun taking a few steps South then chcking my compass and taking a few more steps.  The annoying thing was that I knew I was very close to the Pennine Way but couldn’t find it!

I heard some voices and looked to my left to see two grey figures through the fog.  Whilst processing whether these were people or some sort of mythical Peak District snow monster, one of them shouted across to me, “Are you alright?”.  I confirmed that they were on the path and they waited there while I slowly made my way over.   They said that if I followed their footprints I’d make my way back down to Doctor’s Gate and the Snake Pass.  Although I think I showed my gratitude, I’m not sure I actually said Thank You ….. so, if you’re reading, thank you very much.

At the point where I needed to choose whether to take the Doctor’s Gate path or follow the Snake Pass road, I initially decided to follow the path but soon found I couldn’t be sure I was going the right way.  I think my confidence had suffered a little whilst wandering round in the mist and I really didn’t feel up to the challenge of having to navigate.  I guessed that the Snake Pass would be closed to traffic, so it wouldn’t be too bad a walk into Glossop, and this would be the quickest, easiest way to get to a cafe!

There were a couple of cars parked on the road, and a Land Rover towing a van.  There wasn’t much traffic so I assumed that the road was, indeed, closed.  When that road is “closed” there is no barrier or gate so people can just drive past the Closed sign if they want to.

I reckon that about 30 cars passed me on the walk to Glossop.  Some were 4x4s being driven slowly and carefully by drivers who gave me plenty of space.  Others were Audis and BMWs.

In Glossop I checked the sign. Hm? Thought so!

At the station it was a relief to take off my gloves, hat and gaiters and comb my hair before sitting in the warm cafe with a cheese toasty, muffin and large coffee.  I enjoyed my camp but the morning’s exertions had worn me out and I’d earned a treat.

 

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