Friday 8th February 2013, and another opportunity to get some much needed exercise done. I thought “local-ish summit, an hours drive, straightforward walk, done it several times before, winter bonus applied”. I was thinking of course of Black Hill G/SP-002, but most of my other assumptions were wide of the mark.
Three quarters of an hour after setting off from Macclesfield, after a very enjoyable 2m FM natter with Graham GW0HUS, I found myself at the A663 Rochdale Road junction off the M60. I exited the motorway here to have a quick glance at the road atlas, confirming that my exit was a few junctions back. From the junction I was at, I worked my way through Chadderton and Oldham before finding the intended A635 road to Holmfirth.
At the summit of the road was the old Pennine Way route to Black Hill summit. No chance, it’s a nightmare. So onwards, and a little lower in altitude to the usual lay-by - which had six inches of snow over its entire area. As it was flat, and slightly raised from the road, I judged that I could safely park on it. Big mistake! The snow was of course concealing the pot holes in the lay-by, and soon my left wheel was in one and suddenly half submerged in a brown muddy puddle - surrounded by deep snow!
I was stuck and could not escape the trap. It was “swallow your pride time” and I raised my hand to the next passing motorist. He was happy to help, as was a second who pulled over to offer assistance. The three of us rocked the car until we finally had enough play on it to push it right out of the lay-by. I thanked them and went to park on the other lay-by a bit further down and opposite the Wessenden Road. This also had snow and ice on it, but a fair bit of tarmac still showing as well.
By now, due to considering the possibility of calling my breakdown service, I had found out that I had left my mobile at home! Panic set in as I realised I had not brought my camera out of the house when I set off. Panic evaporated when packing my rucksack and finding that the camera was still in it from last time out.
At last, and running a bit late as usual, I set off along the roadside to the Pennine Way gate opposite the originally intended lay-by. The gate could not be opened for there was so much snow either side of it. But at least this made it easy to step over!
There wasn’t much sign of the flagged path, made with the floor stones from former Lancashire mills and factories. The snow covered much of the proper path, and this became the norm for most of the route. There were just two sets of footprints in the snow, suggesting that there had been overnight snowfall, or high winds and drifting.
I was keen to follow these footsteps, especially when the path disappeared under snow, or when a section of the path was so treacherous with ice that a diversion was recommended. I tried to keep particularly to the footprints that had barely pressed into the snow, indicating a strong consolidation underfoot. By and large, this worked, although from time-to-time, the snow would be suddenly penetrated and my leg was in up to my knee!
This ‘ascent’ route to Black Hill summit is downhill to start with, and then steeply downhill to a clough that needs to be crossed. Shortly afterwards, and even deeper and steeper clough needs to be crossed. New signs were in place explaining that the cloughs might be difficult to cross after periods of heavy rain, and pointing out an alternative route that had footbridges.
On both cloughs, heavy drifting had completely obliterated the footpaths on the north banks. For the first one, I was able to edge myself down into the bed of a subsidiary stream, then work down that to the main stream in the clough, while avoiding slabs of ice on the rocks. The south banks were more straightforward - to ascend anyway, but I made a mental note to exercise caution on the return journey.
I could not see a way of safely descending to the stream on the second clough, so I took a long diversion, gradually descending across the snow-filled heather until at the stream - but a good way downstream from the usual crossing. I then needed to work my way beside the stream to that point to resume my route.
A footbridge which is two narrow planks of wood, was completely hidden under snow, as was the pool it crosses. I put all my faith in the footprints in the snow of earlier walkers, and made a safe crossing. The going got slightly easier as the path began to climb and curl right towards the summit, and the first cairn on the edge of the plateau came into view.
I should also mention that it was turning into a beautiful day. The air temperature was about zero degrees Celcius and the wind no more than 10mph. Above was lots of blue sky and bright sunshine. The views all around were glorious.
I enjoyed the walk across the flat plateau to the trig point, even though I did still periodically lose half a leg to the snow! At what appeared to be an intersection of paths (but probably an optical illusion caused by a perpendicular long strip of snow unpenetrated by heather), the temptation was to bear right a little. However, the footprints continued ahead, and so did I.
At one point the footprints suddenly stopped, and the underfoot conditions sharply deteriorated. A glance down to my left showed a very sharp turn in the footprints as an error was realised and whoever it was made a direct hop back to where they considered the correct path to be. And then I was at the trig point - phew!
It had been a much more strenuous walk to Black Hill than usual, but fun and rewarding in its own way. I paused to get my breath back and take some photos, before erecting the SOTA Pole and BHIV four-band linked dipole. Pegs were not need as the kite winders slotted straight into the firm dry snow for a strong hold.
I felt incredibly hungry! Unusually, I had started a SOTA day with two rounds of toast and a bowl of museli. And not brought any soup or food with me! Just my bladder, from which I enjoyed a few refreshing slurps of ice cold water.
Kicking off on 20m CW with the HB1B, 22 contacts were made in 17 minutes. Not a bad start. When this run died down, I closed the first set of links in order to work on 30m CW. This brought 17 QSOs in 14 minutes. Finally, on 40m CW, it was 8 contacts in 6 minutes, bringing up a total for the activation of 47 QSOs.
It was edging towards 3pm and the sun was edging towards the horizon. I decided to leave 80m and get on my way. I did however call on 2m FM prior to leaving the summit, but no replies were received.
The first part of the descent was a joy, with easy underfoot terrain and snow, and superb visibility ahead of me, overlooking a frosty Yorkshire. The first difficulty was the “narrow planks of wood footbridge”, where this time I planted my right foot on snow that did not have a plank beneath it. Suddenly I had a very wet and muddy boot and sock!
The descent down to the first clough was a real chore, with every footstep planted with extreme care down the steep snow-filled path. On the other side, the challenge was greater, but different. This time it was a case of finding a suitable line to scramble up.
The pattern repeated for the next clough, but then it was relatively plain-sailing uphill to the A635, and along to my car. I was absolutely exhausted, and a little dehydrated, as my bladder had frozen! I certainly felt like I had been quicker and fitter than I was on Kinder Scout G/SP-001 eleven days earlier, but there is plenty of improvement yet to be achieved.
I called CQ on 2m FM as I began the drive home, and Karen 2E0XYL came back. We tried to keep the conversation going as I got lower and behind hills. We briefly managed to resume the QSO by going on GB3MP, but this did not last well for me. Nearer home, it was Graham GW0HUS again on 2m simplex.
And then? Shower, beer, curry, wine, bed. G’night all… (Zzzzzzzzzz) Many thanks to all the chasers that worked me - superb stuff.