Right, a couple of weeks ago I blogged about having never set foot over Bleaklow. Well now I have and I can say for sure that it’s a tough area. Tough because of the relatively featureless terrain (Bleak). Tough for the length of time you can move without anything resembling shelter. Tough for the massive amount of bog that awaits you under a very deceptively firm looking plateau. It’s tough. Not for the faint of heart at any time of year.
If it’s frozen solid – you might just avoid sinking into the bog as you gain some footing and move at a fair speed, thus shortening the time you’ll have to spend out there.
You’d do equally well if it’s warmer, but wet all the same – since at least while you stop/start, searching for firm ground and saving yourself from a potential fall into chest deep bog, the ability to at least stay warm when moving so slowly means you won’t wind up with hypothermia for your trouble.
What you don’t want then……..is to visit the area in freezing wind chill, with the icy bog thawing as you go. Ice cold ground water, shielded by slush – inviting you to try your luck and hope you don’t sink with every attempt to move, let alone leap to what looks like firmer footing just out of stride length.
And what else might not help, well…..wearing shoes with no mid-sole, that are constructed mainly of plastic mesh and let the water AND wind chill in none stop.
Yeah, that’s about the perfect recipe for what I’ve ended up with……………Stage 1 frostbite! No word of a lie. Numb cold feet for about 5 out of the 7 hours that my High Peak Marathon team and I ran as a recce of the route’s mid-section. From Fairholmes underneath the Derwent Dam, up through Abbey Brook to the route itself, which we picked up at Foul Clough (good name for it). We took it steady, having waded through the icy stream at the junction with Sheepfold Clough, feet beginning to get cold as we emerged onto the ridge toward Wet Stones. The strong winds that were wreaking havoc up and down the country, were extremely harsh. We donned extra layers and set about running the ridge to Cut Gate and beyond. Though we didn’t lose anyone, there were a few instances where one of us would sink a leg right up to the thigh, or try to jump and push straight into a foot of bog – meaning the failed leap resulted in the other foot sinking the same if not deeper right away. Almost worth throwing caution to the wind………almost.
I’d remarked at several points along the run that when we found a place to shelter, I’d break out my flask of coffee and share it. It took until we’d completed approximately 70% of the run and were already freezing cold, now shrouded in mist as the cloud had descended just in time for us to climb Bleaklow itself.
By the time we’d stop/started around our 16mile loop, we were all tired and cold, but I couldn’t help wondering if the others were feeling as uncomfortable as I was. Not in an egotistical way, but because I know my tendency is to make plenty of noise during a run. I chatter and joke almost constantly. By the end of this particular outing, I’d gone completely quiet. You might say solemn.
When we made it to the cars (parked early on at the Snake crossing that forms part of the Pennine Way), I was very glad of the shelter. We removed cold wet gloves and hats. We changed into dry shoes and drank what remained of our hot drinks.
My hands were a little cold, since my waterproof over mitts were fastened over my sleeves, instead of the other way round, so the rain had slowly found its way into my gloves. That was worth remembering in future. More immediate was my concern over the waterproof trousers I’d put back into my pack as soon as we’d finished the coffee break at Bleaklow Stones. They’d been difficult to tighten properly, and being the kind that just hang over the feet, had gradually crept low enough for me to keep standing on them. That combined with he way they’d balloon every time the wind hit me, meant I was happier with cold legs than fighting with the trousers for a minute longer, but the difference on and off was noticeable. I spent what energy I had to keep moving, even running in circles if we found anywhere firm, or had to pause to get a reference from the map. By the time we all flung ourselves (slightly off course all the same) down the Pennine Way for the finish, it seemed absurd that we should run past a bunch of young Indian men who were heading in the opposite direction – back onto the hill, wearing sweatshirts, jeans and regular trainers. I can only assume it was a quick prat about for them, having seen the opportunity to park up and play in the snow for a spell. In jeans.
Anyway, who am I to judge? I now have a tingly numb big toe on my left foot, after a week and a half. The nerve damage from prolonged cold and the impact I couldn’t feel while already numbed has left me with an odd sensation. I can and do still run every day. My toes have circulation and full colour, but the left big toe (and for a few days, the right one also) feels permanently vacant. I read that it might take several more weeks (at least) for it to re-grow the nerves and begin to settle down again. Until then, it’ll be hard to tell whether it’s just tingly – or actually cold again. Great. Ahh well, at least Debs has come through and lent me a pair of her Neoprene (wet suit material) socks to try next time. Hopefully they’ll prove warm when wet. And I’ll be looking at some alternative footwear for the event itself. Recce complete. Lessons learned.
*Photo (c) http://Climbers.net