Posts Tagged ‘dark’

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!

It was a dark and stormy night…

Monday, February 11th, 2013

"A new mountain marathon", announced my Inbox.
Excellent, tell me more.
"It's in January".
No problem, keep going.
"At night".

A completely bonkers idea, so of course I was immediately hooked. Carmen didn't take much persuasion, and ignoring the warnings of others ("it's far too dangerous, you'll all die in a freezing bog") we signed up.

There were 4 linear courses – Elite, A, B, C – but we opted for Score (8 hours to visit as many controls as possible). Mostly because that's what we usually do, but also because it gave the option of cutting it short if things got too grim.

As the time got closer, things changed from mild and rainy, to cold and icy, and then a couple of weeks before the event it started snowing. We managed one night time training session, in deep powder snow across unseen (but very much felt) bogs, when we averaged a feeble 1.8 mph. Things can only get better, we thought. Ha.

A couple of days before the start, the clear blue skies disappeared and it snowed. A lot. The organisers announced bad weather courses would be used, and shortened ours to 7 hours. It duly snowed some more, and the last controls were put out on skis. If it had stayed that way, however, it would have been too easy. So they arranged for the temperatures to climb, the wind to pick up, and the rain to fall.

The event centre was at Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass in the south west Lake District, so we stopped off at Eskdale Green on the way over for a last supper. The drive from there to the Castle took us along a road that we'd briefly follow during the event. It was under 2 inches of water.

A brief word about kit.

Obviously the normal MM kit of "as little as possible" was out of the question, so after much indecision we ended up going for the "far too much" option instead. I had 2 pairs of trousers + over-trousers, thick base layer plus fleece plus waterproof, 3 different hats and enough pairs of gloves for a Himalayan expedition. Plus 2 spare tops and even a spare waterproof (I'd just reproofed my thick one and wasn't sure how waterproof it would be). Carmen had similar (top tip – Paramo trousers are ideal).

Now for the race.

At the start we were given an extra bit of safety kit – the maps were so big they could easily serve as an emergency blanket. Luckily the scale was 1:25K, but even so it was clear that we could ignore most of it as we'd never get to the edge of the map and back in the time allowed.

My first big problem was seeing anything. Glasses were out, contacts meant I could see distance but not the map, so I took the risk and removed one lens – one eye for close up and one for route finding. It sort of worked, though next time I'll go for the naked eye option – not much distance vision needed when it's dark.

We started, along with everyone else, with a selection of controls on Muncaster Fell. Intermittent patches of ice made running too risky – first bruise to Carmen – so we walked most of it from here on. Brief loss of concentration lost us a few minutes ("it's only worth 10 points, how hard can it be"), lesson learned, nothing's easy at night.

A brief study of the map gave us a vague game plan. Almost all the closer controls were worth just 5 or 10 points, but there was a small cluster of 30-pointers that looked like it might just be achievable. So we decided to take as direct a line as we could for those, ignoring anything that involved much of a detour.

After a brief stop to change into some dry clothes (my "waterproof" jacket wasn't) we battled our way into the wind to reach the control on the summit of the aptly named Water Crag. A descent to Devoke Water was followed by a rising traverse towards the next control, interrupted briefly by a short patch of ice that left me 20 feet further down the hill with a bruised arse.

By now the snow was deep and wet. We both had waterproof socks, but even my thick merino ones had no effect on the cold – being permanently encased in slush puppies is probably a challenge too far for any sock.

The distant head torches that had kept us company up to now gradually disappeared, as their owners saw sense and headed for home. No quitting for us though – this was serious fun!

At the next control, on White Pike, the wind was so ferocious we were on our hands and knees to reach the top, even though it was just 442m above sea level (and still only worth 10 points!). The planned continuation along the watershed was obviously not going to happen, so we dropped down instead and contoured below the ridge line.

By now it was clear that we'd not be able to reach the group of 30-pointers, but we wanted to at least manage one that scored over 10, so headed south towards the 20-pointer at Holehouse Tarn. A handy fence gave us something to haul ourselves up the steep hill through knee-deep snow; we found the control but not the tarn, presumably it was buried. At last we could turn back north and have the wind behind us!

A short delay failing to find an "easy" 5-pointer at a stream junction (not so easy when the whole hillside is one big snowy stream) was followed immediately afterwards by finding the missing control a few metres further down the hill – the stream junction had become the middle of a small river. Then up into the lowering clag for a final 10-pointer, down the other side to hoover up a final clutch of 5-pointers, and all that remained was a marked route across boggy tussocks (or was it tussocky bogs) to finish with 20 minutes to spare.

We'd averaged just 1.7 mph, but despite the usual collection of "what-ifs" that could have gained a few extra points, we were happy with our meagre haul of 105 points. Even more so when we found that we were the first mixed team, and 4th overall! Over 100 points behind 3rd place, but if we'd had the fitness for an extra couple of miles then we'd have had access to another 150 points, so not as big a gap as it seemed.

But winning and losing were largely irrelevant, just finishing (or even starting!) in those conditions took some effort. As a measure of how tough things were, only half a dozen teams on the linear courses completed (none at all on B or C), everyone else missing controls and heading for home.

My toes were slightly numb for a couple of days (frost nip?). Chilblains lasted a week. Three weeks on, the bruise on my hip is finally fading. But the memories will last a life time.

Would I do it again? Just try and stop me!


Some photos here

Results here

Event website here


And then there were two

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Most people were on holiday or working this week, so Carmen and I were the only two who managed to get to Wharncliffe yesterday for some evening climbing. For the first time in a few weeks, we enjoyed warm sunshine, with just about enough breeze to keep the midges in check.

Carmen started off with Himmelswillen (VS), an excellent route, and worth the drive on its own. Next I tackled Sidewinder (HS), a steep wall with small holds and not much protection. And finally, Carmen led YMCA Crack, a VDiff variation on Teufelsweg (and superior to the original).

The last route was climbed in near-darkness, and the walk back was only lit by the full moon where it managed to penetrate through the trees. As usual there was hardly anyone else at the crag – though there were a couple of teams still climbing when we walked out!

HPM Recce 3 – The Dark Side

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Alan had a cunning plan. Take 2 cars, drop one off at Cut Throat Bridge, drive to Edale, and then do the first 12 miles of the HPM. An excellent idea, we all agreed.

One other minor detail – this was to happen after work on a Friday, so it wouldn't affect any other weekend plans. A good theory.

Will was one step ahead of us and arranged a prior engagement. So it was just Alan, Carmen and I who set off from Edale in the dark at 5 to 7 last night.

It was actually quite fun, though the fun abated slightly as we waded through the oozing "mud" thoughtfully provided by a field of cows on the approach to the first hill. The skies were clear though, and it was lighter than I'd expected, courtesy mainly of the City of Sheffield.

Hollins Cross and Lose Hill were fun (though a few tumbles left Alan reconsidering his decision to wear walking boots), and the going easy enough to allow some half-hearted running. It was made a bit trickier by the portable hill fog, as every breath was illuminated by our head torches. The ascent of Win Hill was brutally steep but fairly short, the descent from there to Yorkshire Bridge was steep, muddy, and unending.

Avoiding the temptation of a pint or 3 in the pub, it was up the road to Stanage. The path to High Neb is easier to follow in the daylight, and the climbs easier to identify! We missed High Neb slightly, but consulting the climbing guide later I'm fairly confident we'll find it on the night (I'll probably live to regret that statement). All that remained was a boggy yomp along the edge to Moscar, and back down the road to Cut Throat Bridge.

Last year's race times for this section were between 2 hours 10 minutes, and 4 hours 15. We had hoped to take about 3 hours, but took 4 hours 13 minutes. Oops. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we could have been faster if we'd run more, but on the event we'll need to conserve as much energy as possible for later on.

Got back home about 1.30am. So much for not affecting weekend plans, it's 6pm and I'm off for a snooze.

Less than a week to go…

Vital statistics: 11.5 miles, 980m ascent, 4 hours 13 minutes

The Raeburn Hut – New Year Meet 2008/9

Friday, January 16th, 2009

The raeburn HutWe did far too much for a detailed report (cue audible sighs of relief all round) so here's a summary. 

There was not much snow about, but temperatures were around freezing all week (usually well below) so the ground was frozen hard, with quite a bit of water ice, especially on paths and in the glens. A high pressure system was sat over us for the whole trip, giving mostly light winds and sunny skies. The main occasional problem was the low cloud that often came in from the east, except when it came from the west, so predicting the best direction to head in was largely down to luck. So we travelled east, west, north, and south, and occasionally stayed close to the hut. Overview on Google Maps.

Beinn a\' Chlachair from Geal CharnSaturday 27/12. Wall-to-wall sunshine for a round of the three Munros south of Loch Laggan – Creag Pitridh, Geal Charn, and Beinn a' Chlachair – with Rob. Good views of the clouds that obscured all hills east of Ben Alder, so a lucky choice of hills. Descended by the rarely visited SW ridge of Beinn a' Chlachair in order to stay in the sun for as long as possible. Route Map.

Ben AlderSunday 28/12. A big day. Cycled 8 miles from Dalwhinnie to Loch Pattack, then abandoned bikes for a walk up Ben Alder (via a scramble on the Long Leachas) and Beinn Bheoil (where we unexpectedly met 2 other walkers), before a long cycle out in the dark. Rather overcast for most of the day with the summits mainly in cloud, which made navigation across the Ben Alder plateau quite interesting. Route Map.

Beinn UdlamainMonday 29/12. A shorter day round the Munros west of Drumochter Pass. In the clag all day, with a bitterly cold wind.  Carmen only needed the first summit (Sgairneach Mhor), and I'd done them all before, but we made more of a day of it by carrying on to the next two (Beinn Udlamain and A' Mharconaich) before leaving Rob to add the fourth (another Geal Charn). Route Map.

The Lairig GhruTuesday 30/01. The forecast was for sun, and it didn't disappoint. We left the Whitewell carpark (near Aviemore) at 8.25, just before sunrise, and walked down Glen Einich with the intention of climbing just Braeriach. Conditions were so good when we reached the plateau that we added on Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine for good measure (narrowly missing heading south towards Monadh Mor by mistake!), finally reaching the summit of Braeriach at sunset. All that remained was a 7.5 mile walk out via the Lairig Ghru, most of it in the dark, arriving at the car at about 7.10. Total distance 22 miles. Arrived back at the hut to find that the water supply (ie burn) had frozen so there were no showers for the rest of the week. Joined the others in the pub. Route Map.

Brocken SpectreWednesday 31/01. Another forecast of sunshine. A 6.30 alarm call got us to Tulloch Station in time for the first train to Corrour, to do the 2 Munros SE of Loch Ossian (Sgor Gaibhre and Carn Dearg). Disappointingly cloudy for the long walk by the loch, with the hills obscured. But we walked up through the clag for the most magnificient inversion I can recall, peaks in all directions emerging from a sea of cloud. And it got even better on the last summit, with a series of Brocken Spectres added to the mix. It was a shame we had to descend back into the gloom to get the last train back. Route Map.

Crossing Markie BurnThursday 01/01. A late start after a late night, we set off to do Geal Charn (the one in the Monadhliath this time). We left Ben's car at Garva Bridge, and started walking from the Spey Dam. We walked up via Glen Markie (interesting river crossing, luckily the ice held!) and descended via Beinn Sgiath and the SW ridge. More clouds today, and no inversion. But we did find ourselves in a gap between layers, with clouds below us, and above us, and a view of cloud-draped summits in between. Route Map.

A\' ChailleachFriday 02/01. Carmen's final Monadhliath Munro, Sgurr Dearg. A cold mist in the valley, but sadly no inversion. However the clouds did clear gradually, giving superb views of the Cairngorms which were completely clear of cloud, and then the hills to the northwest, similarly bathed in sunshine. Our hills took a little longer to clear, but did so in time to decide to extend the day, following the old fence posts for a few miles to add the two easterly Munros (Carn Sgulain and A' Chailleach). Route Map.

Loch QuoichSaturday 03/01. Decided to head northwest to get some of the sunshine they'd been enjoying for most of the week, so drove for 90 minutes to Loch Quoich, just south of Glen Shiel to climb Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach. Unfortunately this seemed to be just about the only part of Scotland that didn't get sunshine that day. But at least the cloud base was above the summits, so we got good views of the sunny hills elsewhere! The view up Loch Quoich towards Sgurr na Ciste is a contender for the finest in the country. Route Map.

Sunday 04/01. Cloudy with light snow. Drove home.

A tiring week, we kept waiting for the weather to break so we could have a rest day, but it stayed stubbornly fine. A total of 19 Munros in 8 days, and I even managed 6 that were new to me!

Lots more photos can be found here.