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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