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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.