Seventy five minutes after leaving the car park we approached the Rattlebrook and Watern Oke beyond looked ominously white, perhaps there really was a fair amount of snow on the higher ground. We had been relatively sheltered in the Cleave and the wind chill was minimal down beside the Tavy.When we reached the Rattlebrook, we turned north and headed up it until we found a relatively sheltered spot where we enjoyed our morning coffee and watched the first of many runners running down hill from Watern Oke approaching the Tavy Cleave. Was it really their intention to run down through the Cleave, good luck to them!! After morning coffee Pat told me that she would be walking up through part of Dead Lake rather than staying relatively near to the Rattlebrook up to Bleak House as she had been told that the going was difficult close to the Rattlebrook. Accordingly, we swung left and climbed up away from the Rattlebrook, up though Dead Lake and its mines. As we left the shelter of the Cleave so we began to feel the full force of the North Easterly wind and we soon found ourselves walking in up to a foot of snow or more, as I soon found out to my cost. As we climbed I crossed pristine snow, only to find that the pristine snow had filled a four feet deep or more mini gully. From walking across snow, I suddenly found myself up to my waist in snow, ever had that sinking feeling? Getting out was quite difficult, I ended up laying on my front and thrashing around to literally pull myself out. I decided not to wait for members of the group to get their cameras out to record the moment!!. No harm done but a salutary warning to test every step for depth of snow.
I might have been the first to have had a snow bath but as it turned out I certainly wasn't the last. There were tumbles a plenty during this section of the walk.A little further on from my escapade, we swung right to find the Dartmoor Path that would lead us down towards the Scad and the Rattlebrook. Our new direction caused a couple of problems, firstly we were now heading directly into the teeth of the thirty knot or more east north east wind from the Artic and secondly we had some small mining gerts to cross, normally no problems but with the north side of the gert now a vertical wall of snow it made an interesting little ascent. Luckily Martin had used his body to make the semblance of steps and with some little luck we all managed to reach the other side and into the deep, snow covered tussocks. After a few hundred metres of extremely difficult terrain with the snow and the wind, we were able to see Bleak House, about 1500 metres to the north of us across very exposed, tussocky and snow covered terrain. With the 11 members of the group getting very spread out, all cold and and some tired, it became obvious that perhaps it might be sensible to cut the walk short before hypothermia took hold and make our way back onto the ridge and to a track back to Hare Tor where the walking might be a little easier and consequently safer. Consequently we turned our back on Bleak House and ploughed uphill heading east attempting to locate the track which links Chat Tor to Hare Tor. It was far from obvious across with this difficult mix and tussocks, dips, rocks and other little difficulties which caused our " snow falls" to continue at a predictable rate. One advantage was that the wind was now behind us. After 500 metres of climbing, sinking and toppling across the 12 inch deep snow, and much deeper infills we could see Sharp Tor and then "the path" appeared in front of us. No more snow covered tussocks and much of the snow had blown away from the track. We made relatively good progress along this ridge path heading south west, helped by the wind, and after 750 metres we reached the very large Hare Tor. We made our way up towards the Tor, the dark clouds slid away and the sun came out. After what we had been through before, this section really was a relative stroll in the park! We could see Sharp Tor, Brae Tor and Doe Tor looking back, bathed in cool winter sunshine. Maybe the temperature rose a degree, our spirits certainly did. Once on the southwestern side of Hare Tor we were, relatively speaking, out of the wind, and the snow, wind carved contours were smooth and very attractive to see. Luckily for most of the lunch break the sun remained out giving us the sight of blue sky, if not any real significant increase in temperature. We could see Little Hare Tor not far below us to the west and Ger Tor and many others to the south. Although we were out of the wind, compared with sitting on the north side of the tor, there were some entertaining gusts which picked up loose objects and deposited them many metres (or more) away. Having had lunch and recovered some of the articles that were blown away, we were on our way again.
The descent from Hare Tor, heading south, was quite difficult, picking our way precariously down snow covered scree as we descended down to get on the track linking across to Ger Tor. More than once we found out to our cost that the smooth snow gave variable depth conditions and once the surface was broken, it could be up to a metre of so of snow until terra firma was reached. Once on the track, again it was relatively easy going with the wind on our quarter as we made our way across to Ger Tor. From high above Tavy Cleave, near the summit of Ger Tor, the views of the Cleave were superb although the wind was really howling across this exposed local high spot.
A couple of minutes to enjoy the views and we were on our way again heading downhill, along barely discernable tracks heading for a Tor I had never visited before, Nat Tor.I had walked under it many times but never been upto it. It is one of the many low level tors on the moor but from the top there are some nice views looking up into Tavy Cleave. It is certainly dwarfed by the huge Standon Hill dome just across the Tavy. From Nat Tor, we descended to Mine Leat, ignored the temptation to cross it, to walk along an easy path below the leat. Instead we walked along the upper side of the leat with various bogs, rocks and depressions to negotiate. We were well used to that by now!
When we came to the first clapper over the leat we crossed it and descended more or less in a straight line across easy going downland moor back to the car.11 of us had started the walk and we had all arrived back. One thing about falling in snow is that generally it is a soft landing, providing the rocks are avoided. On the day, we think we made the right decision in cutting the walk short, it would indeed have been seriously hard going against the wind and the incredible degree of wind chill, across the snow filled tussocks up to Bleak House. It will be nice to repeat the walk on a nice Summers Day when we can see the paths and the various navigation points and compare it with our survival expedition of February 2006. Thanks Pat, it is good to have a testing walk now and again and I normally manage to have one whenever we walk with you !! I always have some personal event to remember, either on coastal walks, falling off the edge of a path or in this case disappearing up to my waist in snow.