Archive for August, 2014

Sleep is overrated

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

The start
It's a week after the event, and I'm just about rested enough to string a few vaguely intelligible sentences together, so here goes.

Marmot24, the UK's first 24 hour mountain marathon, was launched a few months ago. The principle is simple – you've got 24 hours to score as many points as you can by visiting controls spread out across an alarmingly large area. You can return to the event centre to eat and/or sleep, or you can keep going for the whole time. As well as the 24 hour option, there are 12 and 6 hour classes, each timed to finish at the same time.

Adopting my usual plan of "try anything once and regret it later" I was keen to give it a go. Carmen didn't take much persuasion, and so last Saturday morning found us in a wet field near Threlkeld with over 80 other like-minded people. Maps were issued at registration, giving us 3 hours or so in which to plan our day. The competition area was huge, about 300 square km, and the route choices limitless. Each control was worth the same, 10 points, but with a few small clusters of relatively close controls.

There were 2 main areas. To the north were Skiddaw, Blencathra, and the hills Back o' Skidda'. To the south were the Dodds and the northern slopes of Helvellyn, with a scattering across St Johns in the Vale, and even some west of Thirlmere; and east to Gowbarrow and Great/Little Mell Fells.

After a lot of staring at the map, we came up with a vague plan. The area to the south had more controls, with a few nice clusters, but many of them looked like they'd involve some tricky technical navigation with lots of knolls, spurs, re-entrants and the like. So we decided to head this way first, while we were still fresh and it was light.

Controls on the two Mell Fell summits were followed by straight paths/roads back to the event centre, and we hoped this would give us an easier night time section. From the  centre, another line of easy-looking options headed back north. By the time we were on to complex terrain again, we hoped we'd be back in daylight. Depending on fitness levels, there were a few options available taking in some or all of the controls at the top of the map.

So much for theory.

Clough Head in the rainSlightly after midday and in heavy rain, we were off, in a mass start. But it wasn't long at all before we were almost alone, with just one other pair choosing the same first control as us; we had no idea if this was a good sign or a bad one! After 3 controls on Clough Head, we dropped back down to the valley, slightly surprised to find the other pair do the same, as it wasn't an obvious route choice! Four controls on Low and High Rigg proved just as tricky as they looked, but we were pleased to get them all right. A few other teams arrived from various directions, and soon disappeared in some more different directions.

A quick up-and-down through the woods of Great How was followed by a long ascent just west of Castle Rock (nobody was climbing today!) then a rising traverse to the upper slopes of Stybarrow Dodd, by which time the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Here the other team who we'd been leap frogging all afternoon, headed south for a control near Brown Cove and we were alone. We crossed to the east side of the Dodds followed by a not-as-hard-as-it-looked ascent back to the ridge NE of Great Dodd.

Control on Middle TongueHere we decided to miss out one of our planned controls in order to get to easy ground by dark, and so a descent to the east was followed by a short road section through Dockray (the pub was extremely hard to resist). The rain returned briefly, but soon disappeared, and we climbed up Gowbarrow Fell in fantastic evening sunshine – we even had the luxury of a good path through the bracken, at least until we left it and fought through undergrowth, tussocks, and bogs to find a couple more technical controls. The first summit tick of the day was Gowbarrow Fell, with a brilliant sunset over Blencathra, after which we followed some good unmarked tracks to reach the road below Little Mell Fell.

Evening light over UllswaterOur plan had been to get here by about 10 – we arrived at 5 past 🙂 Little Mell Fell went smoothly, but Great Mell Fell was hideous, the path for most of the way up obscured by head-high bracken and the path down the far side seeming vertical to my tired knees. But the road from here back to the event centre was at least easy, with fantastic starry skies to look at, though I didn't have enough strength to run much of it. Passing a few worryingly energetic runners going in the opposite direction – hopefully doing the 12 hour course which had started half an hour before! – we arrived back at the event centre after 13 hours, with 190 points in the bag.

We couldn't keep this up of course.

Excellent track up GowbarrowA cup of tea and a quick chat with Shane (though I doubt he understood most of the gibberish coming out of my mouth) were followed by some food. I was feeling ill and could hardly eat anything, just a couple of mouthfuls of vegetable tikka and a banana. And despite changing into dry clothing (3 layers and a new waterproof), I was cold. But forced myself to get going again, just as the rain returned. Carmen of course was doing much better.

The next control was a sheep fold well away from any paths, and head torches wandering randomly around the hillside confirmed it was going to be tricky. So we stuck to the path until the altimeter showed the right height and traversed to it – I was pleased (and surprised) that we hit it almost spot on! Back down to the valley between Blencathra and Skiddaw, here it should have been runnable but I was having trouble even walking. Another control, then past Skiddaw House to a hideous 2km there-and back tussock-and-heather-bash.

SunsetDawn had by now been and gone, obscured by incessant rain with cloud bases down to 300m at times. Our planned route further north was long abandoned, it was just a question of which route to take us back to base. The cloud base rose for a while, making an potentially difficult re-entrant easy, after which some indecision and a change of tack led to a sheepfold.

Still raining, we traversed Mungrisdale Common to the col below Bannerdale Crags, down the valley and up to a final control just south of Souther Fell. At least it was supposed to be the final control. But we had 2 hours left and the centre was half an hour away, so although neither of us wanted to we headed back up into the clouds and increasing wind on Scale Fell before descending into the corrie east of Doddick Fell. This is somewhere I've wanted to explore for years – I don't know why, and having now been there I still don't!

All that remained now was the final sprint (ha ha) back across the fields to the finish. After 190 points in the first 13 hours, the last 9 or more gave us just 70, for a grand total of 260. Some way short of my hoped-for 300, but pretty good considering how I felt for most of Sunday.  47.5 miles and 14,000 feet ascent. Much to our surprise, we found we'd finished in 6th place (out of 42 starters), and picked up the mixed team prize!

With hindsight, we made the mistake of devising two 1-day routes, but without the benefits of a good night's sleep between them, so the second part was always going to be unrealistic. And it would probably have been better to stay out all night, without the long control-free section to get back to and from the event centre – the first two teams did this and were a long way ahead of everyone else.

Another brilliant event from Shane and team, with another fantastic course from Charlie Sproson.

I'm really glad we did it, but next time I think the 12 hour course may be a better choice, I wouldn't do the 24-hour again. Definitely not. Almost certainly not. Probably not.

When do entries open for 2015?

Results here

Our route here

Even web site here

Stanage meltdown

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

paul-heather-wallPaul and I flexed a day off last week and headed to the popular end of Stanage, in what turned out to be a scorching hot day. When we parked there was a fair breeze to keep you cool but under the crag with sunlight reflecting off the rock we rapidly melted.

We ticked off a handful of VS's – Heather Wall being on Paul's list, and Rugosity Crack on mine, soloed a few easy routes and did a couple of easier HS ish routes. Highlight of the day were the resting on top after each climb, it was so lovely and cool up there in the breeze we agreed to investigate the snoozing potential.

Top entertainment and very reminiscent of the Ravens Scar siege of Will and Rob a few weeks back is Mantelpiece Buttress Direct. 10+ mins fiddling gear in, a couple of aborted attempts and a grazed knee and we decided to leave it for a better day! (aka i got spanked) At HVS 5b it is much easier than Raven's Jonah at VS 5a !

We managed to force ourselves to do 10 routes before sliding away in the early evening, just when it was getting nice, and the midges were coming out to play.