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

1 comment:

  1. Don't let the organiser see your comment about the map...he'll have a go at you on his website! Everything about the event was perfect...ALRIGHT!..