On Friday 7th Jan at 10pm I set off from Edale in a group of 16 heading through the night to cross Kinder, Bleaklow's frozen seas, and over Black Hill to reach Marsden 25ml away at the bottom of the Wessenden track at 8am - all to turn around again and head back to Edale. Galling masochism of the highest order courtesy of the Manchester Rucksack club.
Some time ago I made enquiries after the Rucksack club and was pleased to receive a copy of 'Meetstaff' and a letter from the RC members sec after contacting them via the club website. I also received a call from Andy Howie, RC president (and Pennine fell runner), who suggested I could tag along on the annual Edale to Marsden return 'Double' that he organises. The club was formed in 1902 and has three huts; in the Llanberis pass, the Duddon valley, and north of the border; Craigallan overlooking Loch Linnhe. It has over 400 members and a busy schedule of meets including climbing, mountaineering, fell running, alpine meets, and perhaps most notoriously; long distance walking.
Turning up at Edale at 9.30pm on the friday night with Colin Wilshaw (Pennine fell runners), I must confess that my mind had been on other things prior to this and I had given little thought to the actualities of the task in hand. I've done the odd overnight event before as a runner, the HPM, Lakeland 100, BG, I'd also completed Tanky's Trog fell race from Marsden to Edale and not felt too bad afterwards and this was supposed to be a walk rather than a run. I enjoyed for a short while a naivety that I would soon leave floundering in the mire of Bleaklow on a pitch dark frozen 2am slog. As I remarked to Rucksacker Rae Pritchard on the return leg - you know you've had a long day out when you've had to use your headtorch twice. Actually we didn't. Just. We returned to Edale at 5pm Sat and I got on with trying not to fall asleep at the wheel on the way home. 'You're drifting!'. Sorry Col.
Conditions overnight were as expected; cold and with a lot of ice. By the time we'd reached the Snake road the night had properly begun. It was Rucksacker Dave's birthday and he was whiskey toasted while he unwrapped a present in the woods below the Snake. We headed up to Bleaklow via the Snake pass rd having been slightly delayed following an impromptu tour of the woodlands valley. Bleaklow was suitably bleak although not altogether low and we enjoyed another slightly extended tour whilst trying to navigate our way towards Wildboar Clough to descend to Torside reservoir. Navigation was difficult and I confess that I didn't contribute much (no comments please Paul), preferring instead to practice the art of falling over twice in a single step.
My lowest and highest points came over Black Hill. By the time we'd reached the summit my toes were so cold I thought they were on fire - I'd opted for winter fell gear instead of boots. Usually this is fine and wet feet soon warm up if you keep moving; but not when they're continually being plunged into the icy water that surrounded the tussocks of Black Hill. Black Hill in the black night, and cold. I was glad to reach the summit trig and wriggle some warmth into the old phalanges as we plodded down the slippery flagged path towards Marsden. Seal skin socks needed perhaps. Upon reaching Dean Clough over Wessenden Head Moor we found the river in full spate despite my previous efforts to drink as much bog water as I could.
We prowled the waters edge looking for a way to cross in the darkness. I saw Andy steady himself and then let out a screech as he gamely chucked himself across onto the opposite bank via a rock protruding from the torrent. Then someone else jumped, and so did I, and the chaps helped the others across with outstretched arms whilst I valiantly took photographs in the hope that someone would fall in. Helen, the only lady present gave a Stirling effort and bounded across without mishap.
We reached Marsden in the grey dawn at around 8am. By that time I'd got cold to the core and Colin and I decided we'd prefer to keep moving to try and warm up. So we let Andy know we were going to head off and did what the 'Double' is all about: We turned around and went back again. Descending the Wessenden track we'd passed many a cheery 'Singler' doing the Marsden to Edale event with the Rucksack club and it wasn't too long before we caught up with a small group of three heading up onto Black Hill once more. The re-crossing of Dean Clough wasn't difficult in the light although I do remember a time on Tankys where runners were forced to link arms to avoid being swept away there.
And then the re-ascent of Black Hill to drop down the Pennine way towards Crowden Great Brook. Andy had said they'd catch us up by Black Hill summit but we couldn't see anyone behind and it wasn't untill later that I realised there's more than the one way from Marsden to Edale and we'd probably taken different routes after that. Some welcome sunshine warmed us over the Laddow rocks and the edge of Bleaklow was a welcome sight in the valley below. We even manged a bit of a sprightly jog at times but soon reverted to plodding away, ticking off the miles.
The ascent of Bleaklow wasn't too bad and soon we were retracing our falls on the ice towards the summit. Thanks to Rae Pritchard for the navigation here.
Rae corrected me as I began to stumble in the wrong direction down the Pennine Way back towards Crowden, and he was keen to help out on my Paddy Buckley later in the year as his girlfriend Helen (who came along on the previous nights Edale to Marsden leg) is also interesed in a PB. Cheers Rae - I'll be in touch. Buoyed by the arrival at the Snake road Col and I jogged down, trying to avoid lurching into any passing cars. A woman in a layby said she thought Andy and the other Doublers had headed off towards Mill Hill and the Kinder Downfall on the way back to Edale. Col and I opted for the more direct route up the side of Seal Edge. A group of Singlers were gingerly crossing Fairbrook ford while their companions gave them encouragement from the opposite bank; 'Get on with it you wusses' I heard one of them cry. We splashed on through and began the ascent of Seal edge. My brain was truly fried by this time (and my feet poached) and it reminded me of the surreal sleep deprived fun of the Lakeland 100.
Across kinder and dropping down Golden Clough to gain the Grindsbrook track and then back to Edale. We said goodbye to Rae and asked him to let the others know we were back safe. Thats about it folks. I had a baby's headwetting to go to in the pub in Leek. I didn't get there. Col wore gaiters. I ate 5 snickers and drank several gallons of bog water. Stupefied and knackered; we drove erratically home.
We'd been on the go since 10pm Friday and finished at 4.50pm Sat. My GPS ran out of battery at around 30ml but I guess around 50ml and roughly 10,000ft ascent overall. Give or take a bit.
All that remains to be said is a big thank you to Andy Howie and the Rucksack club for a great and difficult night and day out.