There’s a number of undeniable truths that walkers hear all the time. One of them being ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate gear’. It’s probably 90% true, with the other 10% suggesting that the baddest mo-fo’ing weather will challenge the hardiness of any gear – appropriate or not.
A couple of walks at the beginning and end of Dec 2015 made me wholly reconsider the walking gear I had and challenge my aim to stick to planned walks.
If, like me, you are working 5 days a week (although that’s not necessarily the case at the moment), have a partner, kids and responsibilities – a pre-planned hike, to escape from things for a while and de-stress is something to look forward to and isn’t going to be postponed for anything – especially not bad weather.
In fact I can only think of one occasion when ‘The Walking Dan’ and I have knocked a walk on the head. It was a couple of winters ago and we cancelled a Snowdon trek because of the promise of bad weather. Good job too as the weather was beyond terrible and some poor soul lost their life on the mountain that day. There have been a couple of occasions when we have had to abort a walk. Once on the hills between Langsett and Ladybower when non-stop waves of horizontal rain sent us packing. That walk was particularly memorable as special guest walker ‘Dave’ had brought his small pet dog ‘Elvis’ with him. Poor old Elvis nearly joined his namesake in leaving this plain of existence let alone the building and had to be carried miles back to the car wrapped in a blanket, stuffed in Dave’s jacket – with just his ickle head sticking out. The other time was on Kinder when we were mercilessly battered by tracer-bullet-like chunks of hail barely half a hour into the walk. Of course, by the time we got back to the car park the weather had cleared and the sun was shining, gaining us some disparaging looks from those late to the party.
2015 was the year the Met Office began to mirror our cousins from across the pond and start naming storms. I was hoping that we’d be getting storm names like ‘Apocalyse’ or ‘Bastard’ but, of course, this is Britain so we got ‘Abigail’ and ‘Barney’! I’ve just checked and we have got the terrifying Storms ‘Mary’ and ‘Wendy to come – FFS! The American’s aren’t much better – Hurricane’s ‘Colin and ‘Lisa’ are heading their way… scary eh!?
Neither ‘The Walking Dan’ or I knew Storm Desmond was on the way, let alone it was going to impact our walk that much. I’d heard there was bad weather due in the north-west, but thought that we’d be ok in The Peak District, especially as the weather prior had been good. The company I work for had, just a few weeks before, moved into swish new offices in Trafford Park, Manchester and I had full 360 degree views from the 5th floor that took in The Pennines, Pendle Hill and the hills of the ‘Dark’ Peak District and a few others. So the days building up to our walk were the epitome of the ‘calm before the storm’ – exotic looking sunrises, blue skies and winter sunshine.
The trip to Edale didn’t seem all that bad. A few branches were down but nothing more and the drive along Mortimer Road in inky blackness was reasonably easy. Likewise our walk along The Pennine Way, via Upper Booth and Jacob’s Ladder to Eden Rocks and Kinder Low.
It was only when we hit the skyline, after bagging the trig, that we realised the walk from then on would be extremely difficult. The wind absolutely pulverised us. Two hoods and a hat made no difference whatsoever. We passed some of our favourite points on Kinder, including Pym Chair and Noel Stool barely being able to give them a second glance. Putting one foot in front of the other, normally only difficult after a skinful, felt like an Herculean task. In fact, at times, it was like we were drunk – weaving from side to side and falling over. Although when I say ‘falling over’, I mean being flung forcefully to the floor. It was almost comical at times and we tried to see the funny side of things, although actually talking to each other was next to impossible too. It stopped being funny when we got to the ridge above Grindsbrook Clough and the wind started to push us towards the edge and not away from it. It’s not the biggest drop around, but it’s big enough. We did think, for about 30 seconds, about heading down the Clough but thankfully thought better of it.
Neither of us have any pictures of this walk. It was just impossible. But there are some remarkable shots and videos online. Pop ‘Kinder Reverse Waterfall Storm Desmond’ into Google to see Kinder Downfall falling upwards, and not just a bit of spray but the whole cascade shooting vertically upwards. There’s some equally amazing footage, from the same day, of Malham Cove being turned into a waterfall for the first time in centuries too.
We ploughed on past Upper Tor and Nether Tor aiming towards the fantastically named rocky outdrop that is Ringing Roger where we would make our descent. ‘The Walking Dan’ once took an amazing image of a cloud inversion over the Hope Valley from Ringing Roger, he sent it into a walking magazine and won a pair of socks. If he hasn’t lost it (as if!), I will post it here… this blog sorely needs some pics. If not I will post a filler pic of a sock.
Our walk was just about finished when we had one of the most astonishing encounters on any of our trips. Marching determindly up towards Ringing Roger and the hurricane-like weather was a chap with a prosthetic leg. We gave him a heads-up on the wind upon top, but he was committed to going onward and so we shook his hand and wished him ‘good luck’. A memorable end to walk that was already memorable enough.
We came back for seconds three weeks later just before the end of the year and a walk on the wild side during Storm Frank. The north of England, if you remember, had been battered by Storm Eva over the Christmas period with The Lake District, Lancashire and Yorkshire getting the worse of it. Communities were stranded, bridges destroyed, armed forces deployed and the centres of Leeds and York under several feet of water. Huddersfield was barely affected, but just across the M62, in the Calder Valley, the towns of Elland, Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge suffered hugely.
Once again, the day before our walk had been great.. with a beautiful sunrise preceding a cloudless blue sky. ‘The Walking Dan’ and I had been especially looking forward to the walk over the Christmas period as we were going to start the walk much earlier than usual and do the ascent of Kinder in the dark. We’d gotten some new headlamps and wanted to give them a test, with the familiar Kinder being a safe option for us.
Unlike before the journey to Edale was fraught. Mortimer Road is a twisty/turny challenge at the best of times, but in complete darkness (there are no street lights), a pea-soup-like fog (about 5 feet of visibility), rain and very strong winds it became a nightmare. I’d set off early as I’d expected a tricky drive, but my speed was down to 5mph at some points and my nerves were on edge. I know! Wimp eh? I’d given ‘The Walking Dan’ a bell on the way to say I might be late, but actually hit the eerie, deserted and dark Edale Car Park well before him. It was absolutely tipping it down too which meant getting changed in the back seat off the car. This is no mean feat if you’ve not done it – getting jacket, boots, gators, waterproofs, knee protectors, headgear etc on would challenge a skilled contortionist.
‘The Walking Dan’ turned up after a similarly challenged journey and I waited patiently whilst he did his own ‘faffing’ around getting ready. We normally like a good ‘faff’ before a walk, but ‘faffing’ in the back of a car takes all the fun away from it. If there are any non-Brits reading this, who don’t know what faffing is, you might want to google it before you get the wrong impression!
Faffing completed, we put our headlamps on, braced ourselves against the oncoming storm and set off. Once again, we were going to follow The Pennine Way to the summit, as we know the route like the back of our hands. The first leg of the journey from Edale to Upper Booth was a real challenge. It was pitch black, muddy as hell and the only light we had to guide us was from two headlamps (well one and a half really as mine was useless). Plus, we were walking directly into the storm, so it felt like two steps forward and one back. We had a brief chat (shout?) with each other at the lightning tree to see whether we should actually turn back. At that point we bumped into a group of nutters coming the other way (at that time of day!!) who said it was worse on top. Doh! We made a decision to carry on for a while and see if things improved.
Things did for a little while, the weather on the track from Upper Booth past a cat-free Lea House up to the foot of Jacob’s Ladder wasn’t too bad. We were shielded down in the valley and could actually ‘talk to each other’ and ‘hear each other’. The storm ramped up again as we hit the top of Jacob’s Ladder and hampered our push towards the top. We’d planned the walk so that we’d hit the top of Kinder at dawn, but walking into the face of the storm had put us behind time – and there wasn’t really a dawn anyhow, more a case of it not being so dark anymore. We stopped for a while at Edale Rocks, wedging ourselves into a hollow and claiming whatever respite from the wind we could get, helped ourselves to a coffee and a cake, and watched the final rise of non-dawn.
Not bothering with the trig at Kinder Low because of the rain and wind (although we couldn’t get any wetter!) we retraced our footsteps of three weeks before, heading via Pym Chair et al to the top of Grindsbrook Clough. It’s here we took an easier route back and headed to the tip of Grindslow Knoll, the third highest point in the Peak District (behind Kinder and Bleaklow) and then dropped down it’s steep southern side and walked back into Edale.
It was still early, not even noon, when we limped soaking wet, cold and wind-beaten into the Penny Pot Café, for what felt and tasted like the best cup of tea ever. You can’t beat a good cup of tea can you?
After this storm and a teacup, I couldn’t swear that I wouldn’t do the sensible thing and stop going walking in storm conditions, but I did commit to spending some proper dosh and get a ‘fit-for-purpose’ wind and waterproof jacket.
Two weeks later I bought the Whymper Jacket and the rain and wind hasn’t really bother me since.