Monday, 28 January 2013
Marmot Dark Mountains
What an amazing night! I've never been so proud to have finished an event, and never worked so hard for such long periods of slog. The conditions were truely tough. Basically there was around 15-20cm of old soft snow lying with some big sheets of ice underneath. As the thaw came in it produced deep, soft, wet slush, giving very cold feet, coupled with frequent showers of rain and sleet and strong winds.
I was well psyched for this; I needed a good hard event and navigation and endurance are my strong points.Footwear had been a worrying choice as some form of water resistant socks would be neccessary, but ones I could get in some mountain running shoes. I decided to use a good quality thin wool sock inside some stretch Goretex socks from Berghaus. My shoe choice was Inov-8 315 with give a bit more room than my usual choice of Mudclaw 300.
While I'm talking kit, I'll run through my list as it seems to have been key in our success. I wore a pair of full weight (nearly new) Powerstretch legs with Montane Mimimus over trousers throughout. Early on I was too warm in these but not later as the night worn on. My body was clad in four layers; Helly Hanson Wool Mix Lifa zip, Patagonia Capalene3, Montane Krypton Jacket, and a Montane Atomic waterproof. I mention these by name solely to illustrate just what thickness of winter warmth I needed. My comparison, my partner Sharon wore a Paramo Velez smock over a good base layer and was OK as well, although she did think of addding a mid-layer at times but conditions weren't conducive to adding more layers.
The rest of the kit is pretty straight forward. Soft shell gloves were Ok; they got very wet, and I had expected to change them for Power Stretch gloves and waterproof over mitts but never made the switch. A buff inside the Krypton and Atomic hoods was fine, so my Windstopper helmet liner stayed in the sac. I also carried a Montane Extreme Smock in case things got really bad.
There is a short video of us and others on the Start Line - Aren't we excited!
A Petzl Myo XP lasted most of the night and gave adequate field of vision for most of the time in misty conditions. Sharon did have an high output 'Aye-Up' head set which was useful at times, when the cloud cleared. Just a quick tip here - I usually have my headtorch underneath my hoods so as to keep the warm and as dry as possible. Batteries do last a bit better this way and the headband of your torch doesn't suffer as much damage and wear through constant wetness and the whole lot stays a bit lighter.
I was also respectful of the conditions and would consider pulling out if neccessay. Certainly after the first few hours I did voice my concerns about safety to Sharon, but she was very keen to go on were both warm and confident in our gear.
But it's not just about the gear, but the ability to navigate effectively and efficiently. One of the downsides of the conditions was that our pae was slow, as it was so hard to run anyway, even downhill! Therefore, excellent navigation from both of us gave us a strong and confident feeling. There was a manned control on the Corney Fell road, but the marshals had walked into here for several miles and so a lift back, or even a walk back along the road would have been just as bad as continuing, given the frozen sludge on the road!
And we were still going strong. We were eating well, with Sharon stoking me up with Pepperoni pizza slices in exchange for Stainsbury's Granola slices. Eating was becoming a chore, probably due to dehydration as it was difficlut to collect fresh running water. When you did cross a stream way you wanted to get clear of the knee deep marshy edges in order to protect the deep cold numb feeling in my toes. It wasn't until the later stages when we were on the lower western slopes and where the snow had retreated that flowing streams were more common. However, by then each stream crossing had to be treated with caution as they were swollen and often inpassible.
We did make one navigational mistake. We missed control No.17 (stream junction - 137922) in the dark, just before the cold eerie light of dawn. It was tricky control being a long way from any clear 'attack point', and we should have used a more cautious approach from the road at Backbarrow Bridge (on the Corny Fell road) This was very annoying but was a combination of tiredness and complacency, and required a very frustrating and time consuming relocation back to the upper reaches of Back Barrow Beck. A combined and very cautious joint effort of compass bearing, altimeter and pacing evenutally located the control.
At this stage I as at my lowest ebb; it had already been a long night and we'd now been out for 12hours. There was several kilometres to go, and despite the fact were were generally heading for home the terrain was still very hard going with big patches of wet snow, swollen streams and rocky ground. My feet and ankle were sore, by back sore, and my wrists increasingly painful from the use of trekking poles. Incidentally, the use of poles did effect my navigation at times, but Sharon is a competent navigator and I don't think I would have survived without poles. I'm not sure we got the best line between 18-19, and the finish at Muncaster Castle could be seen just off to our left but there was no way of not finishing now. The swollen streams around control 23 gave us one last little annoyance before a very long and sore plod through water logged rough pasture to the final control.
A very welcome surprise awaited us in the finish barn - a cup of tea, well several cups of tea and a handful of biscuits - before a 2km walk back along the road. A even bigger surprise awaited us at the event centre, when we found out that we were only the third pair to finish the Elite course, with our friends Kim and Alex assumedly winning the class and I guess Gary Thompset and partner also ahead of us. (At the time of writing the results aren't yet published on the web.) There had been a big drop out rate in all classes due to the extreme conditions, but everyone had returned safe and well having made sensible 'SMJ' decisions - Sound Mountain Judgement.
So, an epic event but the sense of satisfaction on finishing is huge. My finger tips and toes are a little numb, whci may just have been the cold, or probably due to bruising from plunging through deep snow or extreme trekking pole action.
Many, many thanks to Shane and his team - Charlie, Dr Mike, Jez, Dave, the Tea Angels and several more, including those I've missed out. And a big thanks to Sharon for an excellent night on the fells.
OK, time for a brew ...and a snooze.