In the dark

January 29th, 2015 by Simon C

We didn't have the best of preparation for this year's Dark Mountains. First Carmen went down with her annual cold/cough, then I duly caught it and turned it into full blown man flu. A week off work was followed by another week wishing I was off work, then the morning of the race I was so tired I thought about pulling out.

But it's become my favourite event of the year (OK, equal favourite with the LAMM), and this year was held in my favourite running area, the Howgills. So I had no choice.

After a brief kip on the drive over I was feeling a lot better, but our aim as we started will still just to get round in one piece, and not to repeat last year's miscalculation which left us in joint last place. Of course this resolution lasted until we were given the maps, at which point I immediately checked where the highest scoring controls were and worked out if it was feasible to get to them! (We were were doing Long Score – 10 hours to get as many points as possible).

We spent a good 10 minutes planning a route, and decided on a vague line to get to the east of the map for a line of high scoring controls. We'd then pick up whatever we had time for before heading for home where there was a concentrated group of controls near the finish.

This plan lasted approximately 2 minutes. There seemed to be more tracks leading away from the start than were marked on the map, and we weren't sure which to take. And we also decided that it would be better to pick up the grouped controls at the beginning, to be sure of getting them all. So that's what we did.

I'd like to say that we found them all first go, but we didn't. However, we found most of the more elusive ones 2nd or 3rd try, without losing more than a few minutes. A couple more changes of mind followed, and we soon found ourselves on the summit of The Calf, with about 4 hours 15 minutes gone.

I was tempted to leg it down the path to pick up a 50-pointer to the south, but Carmen was more cautious (ie sensible). Instead, a 30-pointer loomed in a re-entrant a couple of km away. This looked quite tricky, with no obvious attack point from above so we decided to miss it out – then changed our minds, and were soon counting paces as we traversed the hill before a diagonal descent to the check point. Of course once we reached the re-entrant and got to the right altitude, there was no control. Wrong re-entrant.

A study of the map suggested showed 2 possibilities for where we might be – one slightly too far east, the other slightly too far west. At this point Carmen mentioned some other possibilities, chiefly about what would happen to me if we were late back and lost all our points again. Luckily I made the right choice and we traversed west into the control.

Up and over the hill again, and down to a control inside the Andy Goldsworthy sheepfold above Cautley Spout. We'd been there before on the 2012 OMM, but that didn't stop us running straight past it and having to retrace our footsteps. From here, if we'd been feeling more optimistic then we might have headed north east to pick up a line of good scoring controls. But this would have left us with a long way to the finish over trackless terrain, and I was starting to feel sick, so we decided to play it safe and headed north along the ridge instead.

The downside of this was that we ended up running out of controls to visit, and after a series of climbs and descents to pick up every available checkpoint between us and the end, we finished with some 35 minutes spare. With hindsight we'd probably have had time for that 50-pointer, but better 35 minutes early than 35 minutes late like last year!

Much to our surprise we finished 4th in the long score, and first veterans team (at last, an advantage of middle age!)

Another excellent event, brilliantly organised as usual and with some well designed courses (I might not be feeling the same if we'd done Elite and been faced with a 14km leg to the first control!). Plenty of choices were available on our course – though pretty much everyone did a variation on the same thing. In some ways I wish we'd gone with our initial plan – just to see how it would have compared (almost certainly worse!). The only disappointment was the weather – far too benign! And the lovely snow that had covered the hills a couple of days earlier had pretty much all melted, leaving just a couple of large snow fields and some water ice on the odd occasion that we ended up following footpaths.

Our route here – about 32km and 2000m ascent.

Results here

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