January 2013 has brought a welcome change in the weather, no more rain day after day, but clear blue skies and higher temperatures. It has made for some good walking and we have enjoyed several fantastic days out. The ground is completely saturated after the almost constant downpours and water sits on the surface in large languid pools. Moorland is particularly testing to navigate through, with the peat groughs the consistency of a semi liquid, once you accidentally step in to a bog there is only one way your foot and leg are going and that’s downwards. Best to make sure you have one foot at least on dry firm land so that you can extricate yourself from the quagmire. In no way is it elegant but at least you will be able to save yourself from the humiliation of being pulled out, sans boots and socks. The other day I went in with both feet, sinking in to my thighs. I had to throw myself forward on to my chest and basically swim across the surface, grunting with effort and a little fear. Anyone looking on would think I was some strange sportsman possibly from Lincolnshire.
They say bad weather is on its way with everyone on Twitter and Facebook who has any interest in the Peak District posting up words of excitement at the thought. We’ve missed out on the snow and have only been able to look longingly at all the photos of the Lake District and Scotland covered in white powdery snow, that have been posted on any number of sites. For some reason we all seem to love walking in the stuff. I think for me the changes that the landscape goes through after a good snowfall is one of the things I like. There is a purity about all that snow with all those curves as it falls across moor and rock like a huge white cotton sheet. There is the quiet as though for a time snow has removed all sound from the world. The only sound that can be heard close by is the crunch squeak of boots moving across the surface. For the first time last year I wore crampons and this gives an amazing feeling of confidence. No longer did I have to walk with a swing of the pelvis and a twist of the foot to gain traction forward. Falling snow is nice to walk in too. But snow driven at high velocity directly in to your face is another challenge altogether. Walking in blizzard conditions, trying to stay upright, trying to navigate and stay on the right track is one which requires skill and a certain mindset, especially if visibility and daylight are almost non-existent.
Of course walking on fresh snow means you are the first human to do so. No one has come this way before you, its Shackleton’s expedition being the first people to see James Caird Island. You are alone and before you, a smooth pristine carpet of white, untouched by human feet, the sense of exploration being heightened by the odd set of prints from some unknown as yet undiscovered animal. The cold, if very cold, burns the cheeks and snow stings when it hits the face. The best days are the ones where the sky is a deep blue and the air positively cracks with the cold. You can see for miles on such days and the quiet just adds to the ethereal sense the world has taken as its mantle. This is the best winter walking, moving along warm but not wet inside, the crampons helping forward motion and the air still, clear and biting.