Saturday, 18 February 2017

Catch up

Reading Mark's recent updates has prompted me to write a few things down for no other reason than I do occasionally enjoy looking back over these posts and reminiscing over what we've been up to.

Me and Mark trotting up to Two Lads with the Lostock lot on their mince pie run 2015

I didn't really do many events last year, other things in my life took over. I got the hump with the Ben Nevis race since they spurned my usual advances, it had become a yearly ritual sending my form off on the day they were released - last year would have been my tenth consecutive race. I was a bit upset when I checked the entries ready for booking what has become our annual weekend away in Fort William to discover I hadn't got in.

I mailed the organiser during that week only to receive a somewhat curt response telling me I was on the reserve list; I didn't hear from him again. I doubt they'll miss me being there from now on.

I fancied a go at the Fred Whitton again, it being long enough since the last time I did it for the memories of how punishing it is to have faded. I didn't get into that either! Beginning to feel a bit paranoid I had one last try at entering an event and got in the Etape Du Dales instead which is the weekend after the Fred. So early last year most of my spare time was mainly spent spinning on the turbo trainer and cycling progressively longer routes around Hertfordshire in sometimes dire weather.

A couple of weeks after getting the Etape entry the Fred Whitton organiser mailed me to say they had a place for me if I wanted it! I now had the tough decision over whether to do the Fred, Etape or both. I decided to do the Fred Whitton then see how I felt during the following week.

On the climb in the Causey Pike race. Paul Dobson was hiding with his camera (thanks Paul!)
Thinking back the only fell race I did last year was Causey Pike in March, a great little race from a lovely part of Cumbria. I had a good run but my lack of descending showed; partly from going face first in the long grass coming off the top and also from the state of my legs during the following 3 or 4 days!

Great fun on the descent, this was what destroyed my legs

After the race I rode the loop over Whinlatter and Newlands in the late afternoon sunshine
My Fred Whitton was a bit of a nightmare, I started a bit later than I'd hoped then as I was climbing Kirkstone an ambulance passed with its siren on. Heading down the other side at 40+ mph I had to brake sharply to avoid a cyclist in front who had seen what I hadn't - the now stationary ambulance and marshals in the road, just as I slowed to a crawl my front tyre blew. Some bloke had hit the wall; he was already in the ambulance but his bike was ruined. My rims were red hot as I changed my inner tube and I was now slightly concerned about making the cutoff that I was vaguely aware of. I needn't have worried, though my bottle had now gone (metaphorically) and all the steep descents from then on had me arse-clenching and once or twice actually unclipping and tip-toeing down. I got round anyway, even though I had to walk Honister and most of Wrynose but was spent at the finish - I don't think I drank or ate enough, it was unusually warm if I remember rightly.

 I felt ok during that week so the following Sunday saw me in the Yorkshire Dales for what ended up being a much better ride than the week before. I loved it; though again there were a few descents where I just couldn't descend like I usually do. The road was bad in a few places with road closures but it was a great route overall and showed me a few places in the Dales I hadn't seen before, finishing much stronger than the previous week.

My only other trip to the lakes was with Mark for a trot round the Langdale route towards the end of May. This was a good day out and a nice short break from all the diy I was deeply engrossed in.

Mark just after we left the car

Posing looking over the Scafell range
That was the last time I was in Cumbria. I'm hoping to get up there more often this year since most of the work I've been doing at home is now done (don't tell the wife I said that). Mark's been trying to persuade me to do some of that orienteering thing and in turn I've been trying to get him to do a traverse so I can tag along.

We stayed in a nice part of Scotland towards the end of last year; in the Cairngorms where I hadn't been before. Had a few good runs there and was really pleased to get out with my eldest son plus my eldest daughter's boyfriend who seemed to enjoy themselves and once or twice had me feeling like an old goat trying to keep up!

The boys on their way up Cairngorm mountain
On top of Cairngorm. It was quite cold up there, not somewhere for hanging around too long
So hopefully niggles permitting I'm hoping to do a few more events this year, or at least head up north more than I did last year and spend some time outdoors with friends.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Marmot Dark Mountains 2017

Mist, snow and a cold wind was the theme for this years Marmot Dark Mountains overnight mountain marathon.

After being entered for the event last year, despite my objections, I hated it so much I entered again this year too. The location for this years event was the northern Pennines, near Warcop, an area I have never been in before.

On arrival at the event, the weather was calm with a clear sky. The number of stars visible in the sky was unreal and it spurred me on with the hope of some great stargazing during the event. This wasn't to be!

Before starting the event, all competitors must complete a kit check and have a GPS tracker fitted. Despite only getting my kit ready for the event, an hour before leaving the house I had everything I needed, but Michele (my running partner) seemed to be missing a key item, her sleeping bag!

Michele Sunter
After some searching in the rucksack, Michele rushed off to check her bag. No sleeping bag. After a call home, the sleeping bag was found on the coffee table in the house. Some discussions followed and a chat with the organiser suggested we would be able to set off on the event late if we were able to rendezvous with Abigail who had agreed to drive half way up to meet us. However, Steve Wilson became our saviour on the night as he had brought a spare sleeping bag so we were able to use this for the event. Thanks Steve, crisis avoided.

The start was around 3km away from registration and on arrival at the village hall, as I got off the bus, I couldn't help but notice the lack of stars in the sky. The mist had started to draw in.

We set off on the event at 22:33, with 8 hours on the hills in front of us. The event started off well; we approached the hill and hit the first, second and third controls bang on. The third control, on top of Murton Pike, introduced the cold wind (estimated at around -9 with wind chill) that would be with us on the higher points for most of the night.
Slightly off on the forth control and then a mistake misreading the map. An uncrossable wall on the map followed a stream down a gully but I hadn't noticed the uncrossable boundary until I saw the wall. The only option that remained was to climb up the hill alongside the wall heading for a different control. It was here that the mist started to descend and the visibility started to draw in.
With the fifth control found, I took a moment to review the map before Michele and I headed off.

Michele and her frozen hair
I knew control six (223) would be a difficult one to find. The area around the control didn't really have many features and with the mist drawing in, although the controls had reflective tape on them, it was going to be difficult to find. We headed on a bearing and I started to count my steps. Then lost count, and lost count again, so it became a judgement call guessing how far we had gone.
Stopping on the way to put more clothes on, the cold breeze was beginning to be felt. The featureless landscape did nothing to help reassure you that you were on the right track. Eventually, when I had convinced myself we may have gone too far two other competitors came towards us. After a few words, we all checked the are around where we met and the control was found. It's reassuring to know you were right even though you begin to doubt yourself.
By now, the visibility was felt like it was down to about 10-20m. We headed off on a bearing for High Cup Nick and our seventh control. On the way we found another team that were off course looking for the same control. I knew we weren't far off and we headed into the control together.
On leaving control seven, we looked for a path. We found something that may have resembled a path but by this point it had been snowing for a bit and the ground was starting to lose some of its features. By the time we reached control eight the mist, wind and constant white dots now appearing in front of my face started to get at me.
Which cairn??
The route onward to control nine saw me constantly checking my compass and scanning for a cairn I'd plannined to use as an attack point. Eventually, the cairn appeared and we took a bearing to the control (shelter). We searched for what seemed like 15 minutes before returning to the cairn to try again. After a second attempt with no luck we gave up on the control and headed off for the next control. After the event I examined the GPS trace only to realise I was taking my bearing from the wrong cairn.

Right now the night had started to take it's toll. I'm not sure exactly what made my mind up. The mist and cold? The constant map checking and compass checking? The ache I had started to get from a knee injury I've had since Xmas but I'd already considered retiring and now I convinced myself it was the right thing to do. I discussed it with Michele and we agreed to head back.

The route back went without issue, other than a fence that wasn't mapped trying to confuse me. The temperature on the lower slopes felt almost tropical. By the time we finished I'd started limping as I ran. The knee was starting to ache more and I reassured myself, coming off the hill was the right decision, despite feeling like I'd given up.

Now, a few beers and a few days later, I feel the map/area for the event this year was very technical. With a lack of handrails in places, some of the controls were already difficult for night nav but with the mist, snow and wind included these controls were made even more difficult. I also felt the map was difficult to read in places, only now I have found myself noticing things I should have seen on the night.

That'll do for now and I'll try to ensure the blog gets updated more frequently.

Running buddies!
Steve Wilson
Josie Greenhalgh
Albert Sunter
Tony Marlow