Thundersnow and a freezing night on the Derwent Moors

by backpackingbongos

It had meant to be a sociable weekend camping on the high moors in the Peak District. However a threat of snow had folk dropping out at the last minute. My rucksack was already packed so I headed off anyway. I erred on the side of caution and took the Bongo with its 4WD, also somewhere to sleep if turned out to be snowmageddon.

The ground was decidedly snow free when I pulled the Bongo into the car park at Langsett. I was lucky to get a space as this popular spot was almost full, even on a raw winters day. The path along the north shore of the reservoir was busy and I ended up walking its length chatting to a local guy who regularly does the circuit. Although he has a health condition it has not diminished his love for his local hills and he tries to get out for a couple of hours as much as possible. We soon parted company and I continued to the west, parallel with the busy A616 and its constant growl of traffic.

A track led me south onto the moors, brown and foreboding with patches of snow remaining. The sky was grey and overcast adding to the bleakness. I passed the cabin at Upper Hordron and descended into Hordron Clough, a sheepfold providing a sheltered spot for a late lunch.

The plan had been to cross the moors to the south and head for a wild camp up on Bleaklow. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise which at first I though was a low flying aircraft, this was soon repeated much louder and I realised it was thunder. This is my biggest fear in the hills, having been caught out in exposed places in the past during some violent thunder storms. I beat a hasty retreat back down to the valley just as I was engulfed in a furious snow shower. Within minutes everything was white and the black clouds above continued to grumble their displeasure. The shower disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I started climbing again, only to see black clouds once again gathering to the west. Sod it I thought, there was no way I was going onto the moors if there was a further risk of a thunderstorm.

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In the end I decided to pitch on a nice flat grassy patch next to the stream. It was early but I was well placed to get onto the hills the following morning, where hopefully the promised sunshine would make an appearance.

Th next heavy shower arrived as I was pitching, the wind picking up and making the task more difficult than it should have been. It was with relief that I could brush myself free of snow and climb into the Wickiup and put on a brew. It was barely past 3.00pm but I was happy to have a lazy afternoon and it was unlikely that anyone would pass me just an hour or so before sunset.

The snow continued to fall for most of the night and I had to frequently bash the sides of my shelter to encourage it to slide off. At one point I even had to go out and remove some of the snow that had accumulated around the bottom of the Wickiup. With the inner taking up the whole of the shelter and with no porch I managed to bring in snow with me. Despite the cold I was snug inside and with good mobile reception I could watch the traffic reports, the busy road not that far away closing due to the conditions.

After a long sleep I was keen to get up before dawn, the world clear, windless and frozen solid. Stars still shone in the sky and the eastern horizon had a smudge of yellow. I enjoyed the crunch of virgin snow under my boots as I wandered round with a cup of coffee in hand. It was gone 9.00am by the time the sun reached camp, only warming me psychologically, the air remaining far below freezing. It was tough going taking down the Wickiup, the snow and frost nipping at my bare fingers as I wrestled with a frozen flysheet.

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The stream was a black streak in the white snow but easily forded. I followed a faint track past some grouse butts before striking up across heather covered snow. The heather was knee-deep with a few inches of snow on top, not the easiest of walking.

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Once on the plateau the ground was wind blasted, miles of white hills ran to the horizon towards the west. If I ignored the steady drone of traffic on the Woodhead pass I could have been on a remote hilltop in the Highlands. There were even a string of wind turbines nearby to give it that Scottish authenticity.

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I wanted to pay the Crow Stones a visit, they were not very far away but I underestimated the toughness of the ground around Stainery Clough. I’m sure that the snow did not help as I attempted to cross various deep peat groughs.

The Crow stones however were worth the effort. They are located in a remote spot close to the head of the river Derwent, the huge bulk of Bleaklow beyond, Kinder Scout on the horizon. A welcome spot in which to get out of the wind and boil some water for a brew on my stove. One of the benefits of backpacking is having the kit to make a hot drink.

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Weather was building again in the west as I packed up and headed towards the trig point on Outer Edge. It overtook me as I picked a way through the rocks, snow and mist blotting out the sun.

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Visibility was seriously reduced on Outer Edge and it was a bleak crossing to get to the security of the Cut Gate path. I passed a couple of groups of runners, rather them than me with so little kit on such a day. A quick chat with a National Park Ranger on the summit of the pass before putting my head down and yomping back to the Bongo.

Luckily once down at valley level the snow had melted, no issues in getting home. A short and sweet route but it’s amazing how a few inches of snow transform the familiar into something much bigger and wilder.

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26 Comments to “Thundersnow and a freezing night on the Derwent Moors”

  1. Some great pics James of the landscape and the Wikiup. Like your comment about the wind turbines😄

  2. Quite spectacular James, fantastic photos, they really sum things up, awesome!

  3. I feel cold just reading that. Still you had a wild and memorable night out.

  4. Wonderful pics, nice one ! Love the tent in the snow. You are forcing me to don the thermals.

  5. Those first few morning photos do have a rather cold air about them! Looked like a good walk on the Sunday mind. I do like Outer Edge – even the name appeals to me, like something out of the Twilight Zone!

    • Outer edge is a cracking spot Chrissie, feels far off the beaten track. Perhaps good enough for a pitch one night……….

  6. Looks incredible!

  7. total respect for your winter wild camp james.huge landscape with that snow. doesn’t walking in snow hammer the calfs.

    • It certainly makes the legs ache, especially the thighs. You have to lift your legs much higher, especially across rough heather clad ground!

  8. Magnificent. Camping in deep snow is not something I’ve ever done. The morning clear sky and snowy groud must have been a chilly treat

  9. Great post as ever. Really fancying the Wikiup the more I see. It looks a great tent. ATB

  10. Was glad I wimped out when you mentionned the thundersnow event but also sad upon reading the rest. After my last camp at the head of the Derwent I walked the wholw lenght of the Eastern Edges, it’s a long and superb hike. There is a weird contrast on Howden Edge, on one side the Woodhead road, busy with trucks, lush fields, houses and indeed wind turbines but turn around and you have miles upon miles of moorlands with no sign of anything builtup. The illusion is perfect if you drop down towards Horse Stones and follow the contours towards Crow Stones. Part of my ‘Dark Peak linear high road’ from Glossop I did that time ( and which I hope to share with some folks eventually!)

    • The thunder did make me whimper Yuri, it’s the only weather that really scares the life out of me. Its all good wild country up there, especially considering Manchester and Sheffield are just over the horizon.

  11. Hi James
    That looked great everything quiet and tranquil the picture of your wicki up is good and tells the story.may I ask what rucksack you were using.
    Thanks.
    Rich.

    • Thanks Rich. The rucksack is an Exped Expedition 80. Overkill for a night out but just testing it for my next trip to Sarek in the summer.

  12. Looks supremely cold James, I haven’t been up there since Summer and remember walking round in a t shirt and shorts and jumping in a plunge pool not far from horse stone, probably not a great idea in January…

    • It was a touch on the chilly side Rich. Just filling up my water bottle in the morning was bone numbing, not sure about a plunge pool!

  13. Always good to be out int winter…munro277

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