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