Archive for January, 2014

Dark Mountains 2014

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

While the rest of the club headed north to battle the elements, we drove south instead. This year's Marmot Dark Mountains (an overnight mountain marathon) was held in the Peak District, on Kinder and Bleaklow – two areas that are notoriously difficult to navigate across in the daylight, let alone in the dark. We did well in last year's inaugural event when in appalling weather we were the first mixed team in the score class. This year score was split into long (10 hours) and short (8 hours), and we went for long (I felt we ought to, as I was one of those who'd suggested the idea!). Could we match last year's rare success?

In a word, no.

In marked contrast to last year's conditions, the weather was fairly benign. Rain earlier in the day had stopped, and apart from a little light drizzle it stayed dry until the next storm arrived shortly after 7am (many of the finishers on the line courses will have been hit by this, but the score courses were over by then). It was actually milder than forecast, no sign of the promised frost, and we ended up over-warm – but better that that too cold.

We began OK, slow and steady, as we made our way south east to the Kinder plateau. The mist came down just as we got to what we'd hoped would be a runnable track along the edge, slowing us to a walk. We opted against a couple of 25-pointers further down the hill, aiming to get a bit further for a group of 40 and 30 point controls instead.

We hit the first 30 OK (difficult to find, I was please we got it relatively easily), then a 40, and were going well enough that we added in another 40. The idea from here was initially an easy descent to the Snake Pass road for three 5-pointers and a steady return to the finish. But we spotted a better option, continuing further round the plateau, picking up another couple of controls totalling 40 points with the possibility of an extra 20 on the way back if we picked the right stream to ascend. More points, shorter, and slightly less ascent. Perfect.

We should have stuck with Plan A. Tiredness led to a loss of concentration, and we started looking for the controls too soon. After wasting half an hour wandering around swearing in entirely the wrong place, we decided to cut our losses and head for home. Unfortunately, being in the wrong place, we headed for home down the wrong valley and didn't notice until the compass started pointing the wrong direction. I worked out the mistake, uttered a few more choice words, and visibly sagged. We were going to be late back, but how late? And how many points would we lose? (the map didn't specify the penalties, and I'd forgotten).

Back in the right valley, we mopped up the 15 points we'd thought about earlier, somehow climbed the steepest hill in the world, and reached the finish a mere 35 minutes late. Not too bad, only 5% error – but enough to lose all our points.

Lessons learned: Expect tiredness and plan accordingly. If you know you're in the right place and the control isn't there, then you're probably not. And remember the downside of score courses – a mistake near the end doesn't leave any margin for error.

Must do better next year…

Once again, a fantastic event, highly recommended to anyone experienced in navigation, whether runner or walker (as we proved, speed matters much less than accuracy!)

Results here

Course details here

Our route here – see if you can spot where we went wrong!

Aviemore meet

Monday, January 27th, 2014

With Christmas and New Year well and truly behind us, the psyche was good for some winter climbing and the meet fully booked for a long weekend in Scotland. Axes and crampons had been retrieved from storage and dusted off, and the winter guidebook thumbed through. We nervously watched the weather as the weekend drew closer, with flooding in other parts of the country, and a seemingly endless series of Atlantic storms blowing in, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Pete, Rob and Paul drove up on Thursday night hoping to squeeze in an extra day in the highlands, and made good time reaching our accommodation – Milehouse hut owned by the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club at Kincraig – very comfy and well equipped accommodation within the Cairngorms national park.

Friday morning was dry but windy, as we headed up the Cairngorm ski centre road, and the wind was buffeting the car as we pulled into the Coire na Ciste car park. Given the recent strong winds and current avalanche forecast, we’d decided to play safe and head over to explore ‘Creagan Coire Cha-no’, a small east facing crag that has only been recently developed, with a walk in of less than an hour and some short mainly mixed routes. We got sorted and headed out, strong winds made even walking down the boardwalk steps from the car difficult, but we decided to give it a go, figuring if we could make it to the crag, we would be sheltered from the westerlies whipping across the Cairngorms. We were leaning on our walking poles and battling with every step against the wind as we ascended the ridge, and after what seemed like an age but was probably only 45 minutes we’d covered less than a km, and the wind was increasing with altitude. Sitting down for a rest to avoid being blown over, we decided to retreat back to the car.

P1020528Still keen to not waste our day off, we walked through Glenmore forest past An Lochan Uaine (the green lake – reputedly coloured by local fairies washing their clothes) to Ryvoan bothy where we took shelter to eat lunch. While there we were joined by some volunteer bothy guardians from the MBA who regaled us with stories of what their friends and acquaintances get up to on bothy nights away – I don’t think I will ever take a quiet night in a bothy for granted again! After lunch, a short walk back to the car at Glenmore meant there was still time for a walk around the gear shops of Aviemore before heading back to the hut for dinner, and the arrival of the rest of the club members.

We all awoke on Saturday morning to the sound of wind and rain against the hut windows, so after a leisurely breakfast and much deliberation and planning, by mid morning the weather looked like it was improving a bit so we headed out. Ann, Donal and Peter headed to Rothiemurchus forest to hire mountain bikes, and embarked on a wet and windy ride around the forest trails. Charles headed to Meallach Mhor (769m) up Glen Tromie and added another Corbett tick to his list, while John and Chris headed towards Newtonmore and Carn Dearg (945m), the highest munro in the Monadhliath.

P1020530Liz and Dave, eager to find some snow headed up to the ‘Norries’ with full climbing gear to ‘have a look’ and see what the conditions were like. Those who were out in Coire an T-Sneachda were concentrated around the Mess of Pottage, and despite the conditions they managed an ascent of Jacob’s ladder (I), which included a fairly substantial cornice at the top. The rest of us (Pete, Rob, Paul, Jamie and Karl) headed down Glen Feshie to start a winter walk from the end of the road up to the munro of Sgor Gaoith (1118m). After a climb up the valley to warm up, we found ourselves in the cloud just before we reached the ridge, and full Scottish conditions of strong winds and total whiteout. The next 6 km was spent navigating by compass bearing and pacing, plus the feel of the terrain under our feet and gave some much needed winter navigation practice. We successfully made the summit, avoided the cliffs and dropped back to the Glen, aided by a couple of bum-slides down snow-slopes on route. Commenting on what a great day out it had been on the walk back along the road was perhaps a bit premature, as Karl tripped and ended up in a deep puddle 10m from the car!

P1020547Back at the hut it was Burns night, so once showered and warmed up, the coal stove was going a treat as we enjoyed Jamie’s soup, 6lb of haggis (with Neeps and Tatties of course) and Ann’s cake and custard, washed down with a wee dram and shared stories from the day and much banter. Without a Scotsman in the room to help out I decided that attempting the ‘Address to the Haggis’ would be more of an insult to Burns, so left that part of the proceedings out!

Sunday we were again woken by wind and rain beating against the windows, and it was clear that there was not much enthusiasm for another day of bad weather, with no-one up before 8.30. A call to the ski centre weatherline said the road was closed, with storm force winds on the top which didn’t bode well. One car headed straight back to York after breakfast, deciding to cut their losses and brave the winter conditions along the A9 instead.

P1020557John, Chris and Paul headed down Glen Feshie to explore Coire Garbhlach, and got lucky as the day brightened up and they were able to scramble up a ridgeline onto the top and get a good look, despite the winds remaining strong. The rest of us went for a walk from a very windy Loch an Eilean, (where the waves were so big you could probably have surfed on them) through the forest to the visitor centre at Inverdruie, where by the time we got there the sun was out and we had a cup of tea outside on the picnic tables – how things change! Walking back through the woods gave great views up to the snowy hills, although it was clearly still windy up there.

Back in the hut, after much deliberation and agonising over whether the forecast for tomorrow could be trusted, and what conditions would be like following 2 days of high winds and much wind blown snow, everyone decided to make the trip back to York that night, and save a day’s holiday for another time, so after giving the hut a good clean and tidy we headed back south to York. Despite the weather, we’d had a good weekend and everyone had at least managed to do something on the Saturday, but hopefully the next time we head north the weather will be kinder. For now, I’ll put the climbing axes back into the box and keep fingers crossed that this winter redeems itself later in the season.

Some photos from the weekend can be found here