Sunday, 31 March 2013

Hope to Edale via The Great Ridge

I booked this Friday off work a few weeks ago in the hope that it would be a warm sunny day for a hike. I haven't been out much so far this year as work has been very busy, I've been going through divorce and I've moved into my amazing new city centre apartment. Now that I live in the city centre Piccadilly station and trains to the Peak District are only a few minutes walk away. I want to take advantage of this and do more walks using the much cheaper public transport. When I booked the time off I had visions of moderately warm and sunny spring day. Instead the forecast was thirty six hours of snow, freezing temperatures and gale force winds. I've not managed to get out enough this winter to play in the snow so I was still happy to hear that forecast. I slept with the blinds open in my bedroom as I am like a big kid on nights when snow is forecast. At around midnight, as my eye lids were forcing themselves shut, the first flakes started to fall in the light under the canal towpaths lamps below. I smiled to myself then allowed my eyelids to win the battle. When I woke it was snowing but wasn't sticking. I checked a few Peak District webcams and they showed that there had been significant snowfall up there so I packed my Microspikes and other winter gear. I decided against the axe as I knew the terrain wouldn't be steep enough to warrant it. I did however pack my ski goggles as MWIS mentioned gale force winds. The other dilemma was three or four seasons boots. Despite the fact I looked a bit of an idiot on the train in town I decided on my four season boots. When I got to Piccadilly I bought the return ticket to Edale, which is only £10.40, then grabbed a Mocha from Starbucks and decant it into flask.

Hope Railway Station, Peak District National Park.
The train was delayed by ten minutes and as is often the case we had to change platforms. As the train left Piccadilly the driver announced that the reason for this was that the snow was deep on the tops so we had to couple up with another train to make sure we got over the tops. Everyone else on the train seemed to look horrified by this whilst I developed an ever widening smile. There were a few other hikers on the train. I'm guessing most of them hadn't watched the weather forecast as they seemed to be wearing mostly two season summer hiking attire. The first sign of any snow, other than that falling from the sky, was at Marple where a centimetre lay on the floor. After that it got deeper the closer we got to the hills. At Chinley it was at least two inches deep and some poor sod had been given the task of walking along the railway lines with a brush clearing the lines where it had drifted deep over them. The snow got deeper and at times covered the railway tracks. The train entered the Cowburn Tunnel and I waited anxiously for it to come out or the other end. The inside of the carriage suddenly burst into light as the train flew out of the tunnel and revealed the Edale Valley skyline, a winter wonderland. I wasn't alighting at Edale. The plan was to alight at Hope station and walk all the way back to Edale Station via The Great Ridge. This was a walk I had always wanted to do and today the route was just the right length and ascent for a short winter walk with a bit of height. It also involved an ascent and descent route I hadn't done before.

Footpath along the River Noe to Killhill Bridge, Hope.

As the train approached Hope I put on my gaiters and winter gloves. I stepped off the train at Hope to that lovely crunching sound of snow under foot. I crossed the quaint footbridge and made my way down the station road to the main road. I walked along the main road until I reached the bridge over the River Noe. There was a footpath sign posted to Killhill Bridge. A quick look at the map confirmed this path would take me to the start of the ascent path to Lose Hill and eliminate the need to continue walking along the main road through the village. The path went through fields covered in inches deep powder snow that was being blown up into spindrifts and being thrown into my face.

River Noe from Killhill Bridge, Hope, Peak District.
At something Bridge there was a monochrome winter wonderland with the dark ribbon of the River Noe flanked on either side by the contrasting dark tree branches topped with bright white snow. I crossed the bridge and headed up to the minor road. I crossed the road to the Lose Hill via Lose Hill Farm footpath. The path seems to go through someones garden before crossing several small fields and eventually reaching more open and steeper ground. The snow was once again blowing into some surprisingly deep drifts, especially around western fringes of the fields which also happened to be the route of footpath.

Footpath to Lose Hill from Hope Village, Peak District.
Public footpath sign to Mam Tor via Lose Hill Farm.

Deep drifting snow at stile in corner of a field.
Deep snow drifts below Lose Hill Farm, Peak District.
Wind driven snow making shapes in farm gateways, Lose Hill Farm.

As the path gained height the effect of the wind was much greater. The snow wasn't just being blown over the walls, it was constant and from a distance looked like the snow jets you get on a ski piste. On one side of the wall were huge five foot deep drifts, on the other the most unusual sculptures had developed in a sort of catchment area between the wall and a barbed wire fence. I walk round the back of Lose Hill Farm and followed the path through the gate on to open moorland. The wind was now so strong that it was making me walk like a stick man in an LS Lowry painting.

Snow being blasted over the stone walls, Lose Hill Farm.
The conditions under foot were starting to harden and got treacherous in places. I sheltered behind a tree and put on my Microspikes, Balaclava and Ski Goggles. I felt warmer and less exposed immediately. Ski goggles are something any hill walker going out in proper winter conditions should invest in. You can get them very cheap, they don't take up too much room in a rucksack and they can turn an uncomfortable walk into a thoroughly enjoyable one. The one thing I like about goggles is that they don't tend steam up like sunglasses and they provide a lot more protection. I also ate a few energy snacks and had a drink whilst I was stopped as I knew I probably wouldn't want to stop for long once I was on the exposed ridge.

Hope and Lose Hill footpath sign with Mam Tor beyond.
Ready for the ridge I plodded on up the hill l, walking lopsided as the wind buffeted me from the east. When I reached the summit of Lose Hill I was surprised to find hardly any snow and wondered why, but then as I was taking out my camera a huge gust of wind nearly took me off my feet. It was then I realised the lack of snow was due to the high winds and the summits exposure. Lose Hill is situated at the eastern end of The Great Ridge. The strong winds were smacking into this end of the ridge and being split suddenly creating one hell of an exhilarating atmosphere. I didn't stick around for too long as the wind was literally moving my thirteen stone frame off my feet.

Looking back down the snow covered ascent route from Lose Hill.
Lose Hill summit cairn, The Great Ridge, Peak District.
I descended from Lose Hill along the Great Ridge footpath. At one stile I stepped down into a deep drift and disappeared from my thighs down. This was the only problem with the powdery snow. It was being blown everywhere but settling feet deep anywhere it found a hole. This meant I had no idea how deep each foot would go down, so at times I had to be really slow and extremely careful. The way the wind had sculptured the snow drifts on the ridge between Lose Hill and Back Tor was amazing, they were absolutely stunning in places.

Deep snow drifts on The Great Ridge path, Peak District.

Sculpted snow in drifts on The Great Ridge, Peak District.
Back Tor is probably my favourite bump of the several along The Great Ridge. It is home to my favourite tree in the Peak District. Anyone who walks this way regularly will know the lonely Scots Pine I am talking about. I took a photo of it with a huge wintry Mam Tor beyond.

The infamous lonely pine tree on Back Tor with Mam Tor beyond.
The descent down the other side of Back Tor was pretty treacherous. It is a steep path that is well laid, but when covered in deep drifts of powdery snow, the steps are really hard to judge. I sheltered under the huge fragile landslide of Back Tor and enjoyed the hot Mocha I had earlier decanted into my flask.

Back Tor, The Great Ridge, Peak District National Park.

Back Tor, The Great Ridge, Peak District National Park. 
I took the obligatory photos of Back Tor from Backtor Nook before crossing Barker Bank to reach Hollins Cross. On Barker Bank you are more or less in the middle of The Great Ridge and looking either way along it is a great view but you can't help be seduced by the shattered north western face of Back Tor.

The infamous lonely pine tree on Back Tor, The Great Ridge.

Mam Tor and Barker Bank from Back Tor, The Great Ridge.

Hollins Cross with Mam Tor beyond, The Great Ridge.
I have walked across Hollins Cross several times before when traversing the ridge length ways. I've ascended to Hollins Cross from the south too but I had never descended north into Edale from here. So instead of bagging Mam Tor I descended on this unfamiliar route to Edale. One thing that struck me whilst I was stood at Hollins Cross was that since I alighted from the train at the very start of the walk I hadn't seen another human being. I didn't see a single other human being in fact until I said hello to the bar man in The Ramblers Inn at Edale. Maybe no one else was daft enough to be out in these conditions on a Friday afternoon.

Hollins Cross descent path to Edale, Peak District.
Bob Brown's footpath sign for Edale and Hollins Cross.

The descent path wasn't too bad though at times the drifts on one side were knee deep. The path crossed a field above the top wall above the farmers fields. The paths route through the field was covered in deep ankle breaking ruts that were hidden by the innocent looking snow that gave the impression of a safe flat surface. I went over on my ankle a few times until I took my spikes off after realised they were balling up the mud under the snow.

Spin drifts in fields above Edale Village, Peak District.
A muddy farmers track then took me down to the main road which I walked along to reach Edale. I had remembered seeing on the trainline website that for some reason if you miss the train around 2pm at Edale there isn't another for at least two hours. I was only five minutes away from the train station when I heard just that train heading towards Edale. I was way too tired to run for the train so instead admitted defeat and headed to The Ramblers Inn. In The Ramblers Inn I had absolutely no choice but to sit in a comfy chair by their log fire watching the blizzards outside whilst washing down a fish finger butty with a pint of Ramblers Gold. Sometimes missing the train isn't too painful. A very different day out but I think the word exhilarating was most fitting as the ridge in those conditions certainly was fun and made me feel glad to be alive.

Fish Butty and pint of Ramblers Gold, The Ramblers Inn, Edale.

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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Coniston Old Man via Swirl How

A while ago I was invited to an Outdoors Magic meet based at the YHA's Coppermines Youth Hostel in Coniston in the Lake District. The weekend planned was perfect timing as there were no other commitments and no football matches. However due to United's success in cup competitions this year a league game which I have already pre-paid for with my season ticket ended up being re-arranged to the Saturday I was due to be in the Lakes. This and the fact I had a difficult week at work, threatened to ruin my plans to head north. Knowing I would regret it if I didn't make the effort to go I decided not to miss out on a chance to walk up a mountain and see my outdoor buddies even if it was now just for the one night.

YHA Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel, Lake District National Park

After watching United beat Norwich in what was actually a much more exciting match than predicted, I headed north. It was an easy journey though I was forced to drive a lot slower than normal as my car needs its wheel alignment tracking fixing. By the time I reached the South Lakes junction on the M6 my hands were in pain from the wheel wobble I experienced every time I went over seventy miles per hour. I arrived in Coniston after a fun drive through the dark and empty country lanes and headed straight for the Black Bull Inn. I ordered a pint of refreshing Bluebird Bitter from the bar then sat down and listened to the guys comparing aching limbs and sharing stories from their days long walks. I was quite jealous as I knew they would probably have got better weather than I was likely to get on the Sunday. Some of them had also done the only route I am yet to do in the Coniston Fells, the route up Wetherlam via Steel Edge. We headed back to the youth hostel along the treacherous pot hole infested dirt track. It was one of the worst roads I had ever driven my poor old car up. We spent the rest of the night playing Jenga. It was my first time and I found it surprisingly stressful for a table top game! Unfortunately most of the guys were tired after their long walks so I was soon left by myself in the common room.

Tunnel, Paddy End Works, Copper Mines, Coniston

After a night of battling to ignore the bellowing animal like sounds of two snoring Yorkshire men I woke feeling a little sore headed. The curtains had been left open on the window in our dorm. It was a deep window sill with a tall wooden frame and a view of the countryside. It reminded me of the lounge window on Craggy Island and I half expected Mrs Doyle to go flying past the window. I have to say I wasn't overly impressed by the youth hostel, though I struggle to be impressed by most youth hostels these days. The kitchens always seem to be huge and incredibly well equipped yet the showering facilities are often useless and dirty which never makes sense to me. I find my love for youth hostels fading by the year as I grow older. I've no tolerance anymore for lack of facilities and snoring Yorkshire men. I said goodbye to the guys at the hostel and made my way along the track towards the old copper mines. I've done most routes and bagged all of the peaks in the Coniston Fells but I'd never walked up this track before.

Tunnel Entrance, Paddy End Works, Copper Mines, Coniston
The track came to an abrupt end at a bridge over the river by the mimes. There wasn't a right of way around or over the fence that traversed the bridge, despite the footpath sign on the other side pointing the way of the boulder valley route. I decided instead to follow the track that circles the mine spills to reach the far side. Half way around there looked to be another route that caught my eye. This route was the valley of the outflow from Levers Water above. I could see a path traversing the loose scree on the left hand side of the valley. The path looked loose but I was intrigued by the impressive waterfalls tumbling down the centre of the small hidden valley. Before I ascended the valley there was an old tunnel entrance that I explored.

Waterfalls in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water
The path was easy enough to traverse though it was very loose, steep and narrow in places. I certainly would have though twice had it been covered in snow or raining heavily. The waterfalls were fantastic though. One or two of them had huge pools at the foot of them that would be a great place to take a dip on a really hot summers day.

Waterfall in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water

Waterfalls in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water
As you can see from the above photo, one of the waterfalls was like a chute from a theme park. Eventually the path reached the flat outflow area below the long concrete and stone dam that holds Levers Water.

Brim Fell above Levers Water, Coniston Fells
Levers Water was only partly frozen, just around the edges. It was completely still and reflected the stunning backdrop of the frozen crags of Gill Cove Crag, Little How Crags and Great How Crags.

Swirl How above Levers Water, Consiton Fells
I walked up the eastern side of Levers Water through the boulders and over ground that was getting wetter as I ascended towards the ever decreasing and melting snow line. The ground was fairly boggy at times and I often had to circle around huge areas of peat bog before picking up the more defined path towards Swirl Hawse.

Swirl Hawe, Coniston Fells, Lake District National Park

Levers Water below Coniston Old Man, Brim Fell and Great How Crags
At Swirl Hawse the snow was half a foot deep so I put on my Microspikes and winter attire ready for the narrow and sometimes hands on scramble up the Prison Band ridge towards Swirl How. The view back towards Levers Water was awesome with the ridges coming down from Great How Crags, Little How Crags, Brim Fell and the Old Man of Coniston looking almost alpine.

Swirl How summit cairn, Coniston Fells, Lake District
The Prison Band was easy enough with the spikes on, without them it would probably have taken twice as long as there were several hands on scrambles over icy rocks and unstable snow. From the summit of Swirl How I could see all of the fells that make up the Langdale skyline.

Cairns, snow and clouds on Brim Fell

The Old Man of Coniston beyond Brim Fell summit cairn
From Swirl How I turned left and headed south towards Brim Fell and then the Old Man of Coniston. I I sat at the summit cairn on Brim Fell and ate my lunch with a big smile on my face. It was apparent from this view point that the Old Man of Coniston and the southern most fells had received a much larger dump of snow than the rest of the Lake District. Even the Scafells and the Helvellyn range both in view and much higher had less snow.

Approaching The Old Man of Coniston from Brim Fell

Myself on Brim Fell, Coniston Fells, Lake District
On the approach to the Old Man of Coniston there were a lot more people than I had seen on the rest of the ridge. There were several dogs too which were scaring the hell out of me every time they wandered off towards the cornice that hung perilously off the edge of the ridge above Low Water. One Jack Russell had me laughing though as it waled in front of me trying to get a grip on the ice and ended up looking like it was on a treadmill.

Approaching the summit of The Old Man of Coniston

Walkers on north east slope of The Old Man of Coniston

Frozen Low Water below The Old Man of Coniston
Low Water is a few hundred metres higher than Levers Water, it is open side is north east facing and is shadowed from the winter sun by the north eastern ridge of the Old Man of Coniston. It was therefore completely frozen over and looked spectacular from the summit of the Old Man of Coniston.

The Old Man of Coniston summit trig point pillar

Myself at The Old Man of Coniston summit trig point pillar
At the summit I asked a fellow walker to take a photo of me, took a few of my own, then started the descent of the surprisingly difficult north eastern ridge of the Old Man of Coniston, often referred to as its tourist route.

Frozen Low Water below The Old Man of Coniston

Frozen Low Water on descent of The Old Man of Coniston
This route can be a little bit tricky for the average tourist at the best of times but on a day like today it was pretty scary even for someone as experienced as myself. Despite this though there were many people ascending and due to the sunny weather and many people helping each other along most people looked like they were having fun. I was certainly glad to have my Microspikes on my feet and caught the eye of many inquisitive and jealous onlooker. At a few tricky sections, as you'll see from the photo below, it was actually easier to go down on your backside.

Easiest way down!
Eventually I reached the snow line around the mines below Low Water. I removed my Microspikes and winter gloves and walked the rest of the descent route. Instead of walking the usual route via Church Beck I turned left and headed down to a stile over a fence and crossed the wide pebble valley floor to reach the road to the Youth Hostel then drove back home satisfied after a great day out.

YHA Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel, Lake District National Park

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