Thursday, 21 April 2016

Back, backpacking on (not so) bleak Bleaklow

April's month seven in my year of wildcamps every month and it's coincided with meeting Jamie, a friend on Twitter. Jamie's from South Wales, somewhere so far south of here that it might as well be on another continent. In fact, I'm wonderin' if it is.

Jamie's a keen hillwalker and, of late, has been looking to get into backpacking and wild camping. Foolishly, in the misguided notion that I'm some kind of expert, he's sought my advice on kit. He came up here (to the darkest of the Dark Peak) a coupla weeks back to take a walk up Kinder and look at our stable of tents and other kit and went away with a shopping list longer than a long thing. And since I mentioned my plan to be backpacking and wild camping again in a week or so, he asked if he might join me.

So, it's Tuesday of this week and Chrissie drops me an' Jamie off on the far side o' the Snake Pass, right at the bottom of the Ashop valley. The sky is blue, birds are singing. It's far removed from normal Dark Peak weather, seeming to convince Jamie that we're in some kind of nirvana and it's always like this here.

I've opted to be dogless for this trip. The concept of a lively young lab bouncing around a camp might not best suit helping someone to pitch a tent for the first time. Hence, Islay remains ... sulking ... in the car with Pebbles.

We amble up the easy track to Alport Castles Farm, gazing upwards at the strange rock formations after which it's named. It's a tough old pull up onto the moor above the rocks. Jamie has his first taste of hauling a heavily laden pack up a hill.

After a short breather we're soon on the top, having passed our first glimpse of the Tower.

Looking back reveals a view of the Kinder plateau with Fairbrook Naze jutting out from the horizon.

The strange island rock which forms the Tower is the result of a major landslip here way back in the mists of time, when the world was in black and white.

On the moor's edge is a small hutty type building; a bird hide. Info inside tells me there are peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffs. I can't see any. I reckon they're having a day out ... in Hayfield p'raps.

We set out across the moor now, heading for a trig point on a nameless bit o' moor above Alport Dale.

We lunch at the trig. The weather is intoxicating. It'll have to do, cos I've no alcohol with me. Then, it's away into the wilderness, following the vaguest of tracks. I say following - in fact we we're meandering about all over t'place in efforts to avoid bottomless pits of bubbling, steaming mud. (It was neither bottomless, nor bubbling, nor steaming but I like the dramatic effect it creates ... sorry).

We're following the watershed (sadly ineffective at shedding water) towards the, grandly named "Ridge" which we hope will lead us up onto the plateau of Bleaklow.

The stony outcrop of Grinah Stones looms in the distance.

The final rise up onto the top is energy sapping. Jamie is particularly enjoying his nice, new Lowe Alpine sac, which is proving less-than-comfortable. But, all credit to him for knuckling down and not complaining ... well, not much anyway. He's doing really well for a first timer.

On the way we spot red grouse and arctic hare. Both are a novelty for Jamie. Did I mention he's from waaay down south? And then, in two shakes of a hare's tail (that's what Stewart Lee would call a callback), we're on the summit ish, on the path twixt Bleaklow Stones and Bleaklow Head. They've bin doing lots of seeding up here so, where once was bare peat, there's now grass. We sit, and contemplate. And eat. And drink.

Heading west now, in the fullness of time, aided greatly by our trusty Satmap, we arrive at the very top of Bleaklow, aka Bleaklow Head. It's an anti-climaxish pile of stones with a stick in it. But we're elated anyway and turn to follow the route of the Pennine Way, south.

Now, this is where we backpacking types normally claim to have found a MOST SECRET PLACE; an idyll, sent from heaven, exclusively for us, or me, to stick my tent on. Of course, in time-honoured backpacker's tradition, I'm not gonna tell you where it is. We don't want riff-raff, hoy polloy, ne're do wells (delete to taste) or other unsavoury types up there now, do we? The reality is of course, all us northern, roughty toughty backpackers know where it is anyway. But I'm gonna continue to pretend it's mine and Chrissie's secret ... just for my own amusement.

Anyway, we got there. And we filtered some water, using our brand new MSR Guardian water purifier, which is gorgeous, and new, and is faster than a really fast thing, and gorgeous, and new, and I love it. In two shakes of a hare's tail (callback) we have seven litres or so of drinking water between us and set to erecting tents.

Foolishly following mine and Chrissie's advice, Jamie has acquired a Terra Nova Polarlite 2 Micro, just like ours, 'cept it's red (good for stealth camping in red places). It's the first time Jamie's pitched it, but with a little tuition and cajoling from yours truly, we have two matching tents, side by side in the idyllic, secret location.

I'm overly excited that, due to the clemency of the weather, I can use my Thermarest chair kit for the first time. And before all you ultralighters get on your (ultralight) high horses, I'm not getting any younger. I am, officially, sick an' tired of trying to sit, cross legged on the ground without any support. So now, I'm happy. So there! And I sit ... in the sun ... sipping proper coffee ... happy.

These two make lots o' noise. I suspect they have amorous intentions.

We chat and put some, if not all, the world's problems to right. Then it begins to chill and we retreat into our shelters, like snails into shells, finding warmth and comfort as the sun starts to fall behind the horizon. It's peaceful. The only sound, the burbling of the stream.

The night is cool. We awake to an even bluer, clearer sky ... and frost. Undeterred, we emerge to breakfast in the rising, warming sun.

After a lazy meal and many cups of coffee we decide it's time to go ... and we pack.

Jamie enjoyed his alpine-style pack so much yesterday I ask to try it, offering him my Osprey Xenith instead. He agrees. Initially, the smaller, lighter pack feels fine, but, following the climb up out of the secret bowl where we camped (callback), I start to feel a slight ache in my right shoulder. The sac has only meagre padding, offering little comfort. I can see why Jamie suffered so much yesterday. But, being a macho type (no ... really) I soldier on, without complaint.

Following the Pennine Way again, we march along Devil's Dyke, cross the Snake Road and start the endless trudge over Featherbed Moss towards home.

The views are clear and wide. We can look down towards the Cheshire plain and see Manchester airport. Thinking I'll point out planes taking off and landing, I note there aren't any. Am I going mad? Have I misidentified the airport after all these years? Thirty minutes pass with the same clear view ... and still not a plane in sight.

We arrive at Mill Hill and as I ready myself for lunch I phone Chrissie. A Google search tells her there's been an emergency landing at the airport with all passengers of a large aircraft evacuated. Clearly, the airport's closed, hence no flights in or out. Thankfully, no injuries.

I amuse myself cooking noodles, laced with a spicy cup-a-soup (as recommended by my backpacking companion, Chris) and devour it with gusto.

Now, we're off down west to Burnt Hill, stopping along the way to take in the wreck site of the USAAF Liberator which came down here in 1944 on its delivery run from the USAAF's Burtonwood base down to Norfolk. Amazingly, the two crew survived the unplanned, rough moorland landing. The bulk of the airframe was burnt at the site but large pieces of fuselage, wings, engines and undercarriage still remain.

Leaving the wreckage we continue over Burnt Hill and follow a familiar route via Carr Meadow and Park Hall Woods back home.

Jamie is VERY pleased to take his rucsac off (we swapped back at Mill Hill). Despite this he seems to have enjoyed this first foray into the world of backpacking and wild camping.

He's got another major item on his long shopping list ... a new rucsac. The good news is, his nice Lowe Alpine sac was a raffle prize, so cost nowt. I have a feeling I'll be seeing him again.

Meanwhile, we're on with prepping for our month in the Highlands in May, comprising tootling, chilling and multiple backpacks. Ace! Bring it on!