Mam Tor and the Great Ridge, an old classic

After the untimely passing of my younger brother, along with the need to cancel a planned night hike on Stanage Edge, for safety reasons due to the heavy snowfall that had fallen in the Peak District, this walk was more than needed for two reasons. 

First, to clear my head and second, my new Scarp Manta boots, that were overdue a proper outing.

Before we go any further, my brother hadn’t been well for a few years, and though I’m not religious, he is a peace now. A phrase I often think to myself, one chapter ends so another can open.

Normally, where I live, we hardly get any snow, so when we do; many of the places I walk in are often cut off or extremely close to being cut off.

So in view of that early observation, I decided to get the message out, that in the interest of safety; the planned night hike on Stanage Edge was to be cancelled.

My big concern, was the roads, for where we would be parking, is an open lane and unlikely to get any grit applied, mainly due to fact that it could get very difficult if we had a great frost, or further snow, for any of us to get home.

Still, planning is well under way for the next attempt, providing Mother Nature plays the game.

Even more frustrating, though I expected the roads to clear, I wasn’t able to get out and play in the snow!

Still, I can’t complain, I had on fantastic day on Axe Edge Moor just after Christmas, which you can read about in Axe Edge Moor Winter Walk and I’m a BIG kid at heart which I’m looking forward to another day to match that.
The snow on Axe Edge Moor, 28th December 2014
This walk was to prove out my new Scarpa Manta boots. Just before Christmas, an outdoor retailer I use had the Scarpa Manta, a B2 boot, on offer, and I’ve always wanted a pair for proper winter walking with ice axe and crampons, but couldn’t justify the expense, when my trusty old Scarpa SL’s, a B1 boot, adequately did the job.

Now before we go any further, I ought to explain what the difference is between a B1 and B2 boot is. Crampons, which are sharp steel spikes on a frame, which attach to the boots, are also categorised, to accommodate the boot they are designed to fit.

Similar to the boots, which are B1, B2 and B3, crampons are C1, C2 and C3.

Basically winter boots are classified in three categories, as to their suitability for winter walking and climbing. The suitability is based on how stiff the boot sole is, and the stiffer the sole, the better the boot is for serious winter climbing using crampons.

B1 being the least stiff, but far more rigid than normal boots, and B3 being the stiffest with a unique crampon attachment system.

The grading goes like this:

B0 boots, general walking and too flexible for crampon use
B1 boots have a stiffer sole and can be used with C1 crampons only.
B2 boots have an even stiffer sole and preferably be used with a C2 crampon, but a C1 crampon can be used as an alternative.
B3 boots, the stiffest sole, are preferably used with C3 crampons, but C2 or C1 crampons can be used as an alternative.

Does that mean I need C2 crampons?

Ideally yes and I’m searching for a deal. But, I’m fussy where I buy my kit from, using only reputable outdoor retailers and buying known brand names to guarantee quality.

I know many of you who will be reading this, will be mountain savvy and aware of the dangers of winter climbing, but of those who are new or not so sure, please take the time to read the next part.

Now before we continue with the walk, I would strongly advise before going out and buying crampons and compatible boots and then walking or climbing in the ice and snow, that you read Crampons for mortals from The BMC, to make sure you grasp a basic understanding what they’re about. If you’re keen to go out and use crampons, and it is exciting stuff, then do as I did, go and get on a winter skills course.

A proper course, taught by a qualified instructor, of which many are held in Scotland, but some also in Snowdonia, at Plas-y-Brenin, are well worth attending.

They teach you not just how to walk in crampons, but how to arrest a fall using an ice axe, a very important lifesaving skill, how to recognise different types of snow, avalanche awareness and many other skills.

Some of those skills learnt, particularly the walking ones, can be used in very day hill and mountain climbing.

So please, don’t go out and buy a winter boot and crampons, without getting trained, for a lot of harm and even death, can result if you don’t know how to use them properly.
Winnats Pass, almost the end of my drive from home to Mam Nic
I’ve digressed, so, back to the walk. I was hoping, but not expecting, to find some really good snow to walk in, rather than mud. But alas, the thaw was well under way and there was a lot of mud!

The route was really one to get the best out of ascents and descents rather than a circular walk, which tends to be the norm for this classic. The route starts at Mam Nic car park, almost between Rushup Edge and Mam Tor, where I ascend on to Mam Tor, then follow the ridge along to Lose Hill, via Hollins Cross and Back Tor, then back again.

Most folk will walk down Lose Hill in to Castleton or Hope, a circuit I’ve done before many times. Two of those you can read in Castleton’s North Ridges Sunday 19th February 2012 and A windy wander on Mam Tor and along Castleton’s Great Ridge.

This is a very popular walk, with splendid views across the Edale and Hope Valleys, across to Kinder, Win Hill and to the White Peak, starting with Eyam Moor, where you can see a big radio mast on a bearing of 123º approximately 10.5 km (6.5 mls) away!

Once parked up, I got suited and booted; boy did those boots feel good, and then set off for Mam Tor. Departing the car park on to the road, I soon reached the gate on my right, where the footpath meets the path up from the old Buxton Road, that has now been swallowed up by Mother Nature, to make the ascent up the stone clad path and steps to Mam Tor’s summit and trig point.
A snow covered Mam Nic car park
The weather forecast for the day was low cloud and drizzle, but up to now, it was sunny and dry, but chilly, a cool -2.3ºC and the wind 18.9 mph.

But I was nice and toasty in my winter kit and those boots were superbly comfortable. When I first tried them on in the shop, they felt damned good then, just like my old Scarpa SL’s did when I tried them before buying.
The path from Mam Nic car park

The ascent to Mam Tor
A short while was spent on Mam Tor’s summit grabbing the views, when a rock outcrop on Kinder caught my eye. This called for the binoculars, so I grabbed the binoculars and looked over to this outcrop, and there it was, Pym Chair on Kinder, as clear as day!
...."looked over to this outcrop, and there it was,
Pym Chair on Kinder, as clear as day!"....
The Trig Point on Mam Tor

Looking along the Great Ridge from Mam Tor to Lose Hill

The path down from Mam Tor
Time was moving on, following the path downhill from Mam Tor, I set of for Hollins Cross. It wasn’t long before I reached the Tom Hyett Memorial, at the point where a collection of six paths meet.

The paths include the one that follows the Great Ridge, along with the paths to Edale, Castleton, Barber Booth and Townhead.
Hollins Cross, and the Tom Hyett Memorial

Following the path as it continues to descend, eventually there is a style which has to be crossed, so that the path along the Great Ridge can be followed, heading for Back Tor.
The path to Back Tor

I was talking to a group of young people not long after leaving Hollins Cross, who were finding the walk a little muddier than expected, no map, but a set of instructions, about how to walk the ridge!

One of the group of four couples, was asking about what kit was in my pack, so I happily shared what was in my pack and why.

It’s all too easy to criticise anyone for not being adequately kitted out, but if many of us are honest, the chances are, we were there once!

I know I was, and I wrote about my first wild camping experience on Kinder, when I was eighteen, using an ex-army canvass tent, and many other dubious items and a very desperate lack of experience, which I wrote about in my reflection of 2014 in Peak Rambler’s Ramblings; another year ends and time to reflect.
Back to the path for Back Tor, or even Edale, should, if you choose, continue straight on, for the path will take you down and in to Edale, a very pretty little village and the start point for many when either walking the Pennine Way or just a wander on to Kinder.

Probably one of the most classic routes up and around Kinder starts from Edale, which you can read about in Classic Kinder walk, and some Gritstone formations which I did on a superbly pleasant day, or one I did on a very pleasant winters day, in the snow; A Peak Winter Meet, a Bunkhouse and Kinder.

Incidentally, though the route I took along Kinder in both those write-ups is generally very clear on a good day, beware that the weather can change and the plateau edge can become unnavigable very quickly. So make sure you are well kitted out and are able to use a map and compass competently.

If you want to see some of the kit I carry, even on a walk as easy as this along Mam Tor and the Great Ridge, have a look at What's in my pack? which list many of the items I carry and why.

As you cross the style, you take an immediate right turn, following the path as it takes you up towards Back Tor

...."cross the style, you take an immediate right turn,
following the path as it takes you up towards Back Tor"....

The ascent of Back Tor is a brief and steep one, on a good solid, but rocky path. By rocky, I mean it’s not a smooth path, but one with rocks firmly fixed in to the hillside.
As you approach the summit of Back Tor, to your right is probably one of the Peak Districts most famous and most photographed tree!
The ascent of Back Tor

The lonely tree on Back Tor, that stands prominent even from Castleton!
That tree, small as it is very prominent even from as far away as Castleton.

Once on the summit of Back Tor, on a clear day, take in the views around you, down in to the Hope Valley to the east, Edale Valley and the Kinder Plateau to the west, with Win Hill to the north east and Rushup behind you to the south west.

The path from here is relatively clear, looking in a north easterly direction, the clearly defined path to Lose Hill, the far end of the Great Ridge, spans out in front of you.
The snow covered and muddy path from Back Tor to Lose Hill
The dry stone wall to the left provides a good wind break....
However, on this particular day, it still had a lot of snow, where the snow had melted, it was a mud bath!

Once I’d reached the lowest point of this section, there is a nice steady climb to the summit of Lose Hill.

On my left, there is a dry stone wall, which provided a great wind break for my lunch stop.
Here I had a brief stop for lunch, again, taking in the views, particularly across the Edale Valley over to the Kinder Plateau. It was while taking in the views, I was observing the cloud that had been encroaching on to the plateau, was now heading my way!
I wasn’t unduly worried, for I know the path very well, it is clearly defined and my route back to the car, was just back tracking the route I’d just walked.

However, anyone who is not familiar with the route would be advised to reconsider their route and make suitable changes to their route and head for safety, quickly and safely.

Lunch was over, it was time to move on, and head for Lose Hill summit.

The gate to Loose Hill


The final stage to Lose Hill


There is a tale about Lose Hill and Win Hill, both being battle sites between two Anglo Saxon communities. However, there has been no evidence to date, to confirm that such a battle ever took place.
But remember, Mam Tor was once a hill fort…..

Again, spending some time to take in the views, Hope Valley and Castleton one side, the Edale Valley and Kinder to the other, with Win Hill to the north east and Rushup to the south west!

It was while taking in these views, it suddenly dawned on me, I had been trying out the new Scarpa Manta B2 boots.

Even walking up Back Tor it had slipped my mind, so I think I can safely say, they’ve passed the test.

After a short and enjoyable stop on Lose Hill summit, it was time to walk back to Mam Tor and then down to the car.

I could have continued over Lose Hill and pick up the path down in to Castleton, but I fancied back tracking my walk to enjoy the views that IO had behind me on the way out.
Looking back to Mam Tor, my return route....

Back through the gate

So off I set, down Lose Hill, following the path for Back Tor.

Now I was beginning to see things I hadn’t noticed on the outbound walk. Looking over to ~Brown Knoll and Castleton, the old Buxton Road, now taken by nature….

As I continued my walk, back through the mud, snow and whatever else there was that I’d already walked through.
Back along the snow and muddy path, heading for Back Tor
It wasn’t long before I started to ascend up Back Tor, again, some impressive views to enjoy, but from a different perspective.

Now for the short but steep descent of Back Tor, which was a pleasure to do, where it wasn’t long before I reached the style I crossed earlier, to cross back over again to re-join the path back to Mam Tor.
The path down Back Tor
Crossing over the style, I continued up to Hollins Cross and the Tom Hyatt memorial, watching the cloud moving over towards the ridge, from Kinder.

Walking past the memorial, the ascent to Mama Tor starts and so was the cloud beginning to make its way over the ridge too!
Back across the style and turn right to head for Hollins Cross and Mam Tor
Passing through the .two gates, I was well on my way up to Mam Tor’s summit.

Here I was getting some superb views of the old Buxton Road that Mother Nature has reclaimed.
The old Buxton Road, which suffered a lot of subsidence,
was eventually closed in 1979
Still ascending Mam Tor, I was suddenly greeted on my left, with one of the defence ditches!

Did you know that Mam Tor was once a Hill Fort?

Mam Tor, meaning Mother Hill, is also called the ‘Shivering Mountain‘, because the earth around it is constantly on the move, subsidence!

For many years, the road from Castleton to Buxton suffered a lot of movement before being finally closed to traffic in 1979. If you walk the road, you will see deep reinforced concrete blocks, steel rods and much more, used to try and stop the rods subsidence. Eventually, man had to give in to Mother Nature, close the road and the subsidence has continued making the road break up and slide down the hillside in many places.

Mam Tor as a settlement, dates back to Neolithic times, with Bronze and Iron Age occupancy where during those latter periods, the hill became fortified.
Mam Tor was once a Hill For!
One of the defence ditches around Mam Tor
Archaeological evidence has confirmed this, along with a lot of evidence of various dwellings and barrows, (burial mounds) in the vicinity.

It wasn’t long before I reached Mam Tor’s summit and Trig Point.

By now, the cloud had found its way across the Edale Valley from Kinder and was engulfing Mam Tor’s summit, along with sleet, which was beginning to bite in to the face!
The path back up Mam Tor

Mam Tor's Trig Point coming in to view
I did wonder whether to stop and get my goggles out, but decided to push on, not because of time, but I didn’t quite feel that it was heavy enough to warrant goggles, just yet….

After a short while on the summit, with no views down to either the Hope of Edale Valleys, Castleton or Kinder enjoy, I started the descent back down to Mam Nic car park, where had started my walk from.
The path back to Mam Nic car park
Mam Nic car park
A map showing the route taken
Back at the car, I started to remove my boots, which were so comfortable, it seemed a crim. But alas, the 80 plus mile drive home would have been far from comfortable, or even safe, with the boots on….

They were muddy outside, but dry inside, and a real pleasure to wear. I could almost make them my summer boot as well as winter boot!

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,
Peak Rambler

Twitter            @PeakRambler
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Links to some of the items I’ve mentioned and written about here:
Axe Edge Moor Winter Walk and I’m a BIG kid at heart
Crampons for mortals
Castleton’s North Ridges Sunday 19th February 2012
A windy wander on Mam Tor and along Castleton’s Great Ridge
Classic Kinder walk, and some Gritstone formations
A Peak Winter Meet, a Bunkhouse and Kinder
What's in my pack?
Peak Rambler’s Ramblings; another year ends and time to reflect
Mam Tor, Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age Hillfort
Castleton, Peak District National Park

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