Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Mountain? Really?

As a Nuttall and a TRAIL 100 mountain, Bleaklow Head had at least a couple of reasons for me to tick it.  As it is just over an hour’s drive from home and with roadside parking available at the top of the Snake Pass, leaving only about 400 feet of ascent to the summit, this was going to be an easy day.  Although I was mostly enclosed by mist, the well-paved path of the Pennine Way wound its way through the groughs of the peat moorland.

The bleak landscape offered little promise of seeing any wildlife but I disturbed a few grouse, battering their way into the air, and watched as a curlew, bigger than I imagined it would be, cruised silently past and onwards into the mist.

The mist thickened as I reached a large cairn with an embedded pole marking the summit; or does it ?  The hills database says that the summit is a “tiny cairn on peat hag” which is “0.75m higher than top of large cairn”.  In the gloom it is not easy to find the true summit amongst the many hags on the summit plateau.

Bleaklow's large cairn

The true summit

If you were to ask a child to draw a mountain, I’m sure that the result would be pointy and nothing like the flat top of Bleaklow.  From the summit you have to walk at least a kilometre in order to descend 250 feet – if you walk just north of west towards Barrow Stones, you have to walk over 4 kilometres to achieve the same descent !  Although the summit of Bleaklow Head lies at an altitude of 2077 feet, a reasonable height above the accepted threshold of 2000 feet, it’s hard for me to accept that it deserves its “mountain” status and even less that it is one of the 100 “Finest UK Mountains” according to TRAIL magazine’s list.

The next landmark of this walk was the Wain Stones which were considerably more interesting than Bleaklow’s summit.

"Give us a kiss !"

I took a bearing towards Higher Shelf Stones and soon reached the trig point and summit rocks, at least two of which lay claim to being the highpoint of the day’s second Nuttall.

Higher Shelf Stones trig point

the stones of Higher Shelf

A couple of hundred metres to the east are the remains of a USAF B-29 Superfortress that crashed in 1948.  Some of the engines and undercarriage are clear to see, within a significant debris field.  It is thought that the plane was descending through low cloud and that the crew never saw the ground before the impact.  A memorial has been erected in memory of the crew and a large cross made of stones has been shaped into a nearby peat hag; poignant reminders of those who died far from home.

Superfortress memorial

B-29 engine

B-29 undercarriage

Leaving the tangled wreckage behind, I headed east across untracked terrain to reach the Pennine Way path by the shortest route.  The cloud had cleared now and I strolled back to the summit of the Snake at a leisurely pace under the early afternoon sun.