Monday, 27 January 2014

RAB Mountain Marathon 28-29/09/2013

Zoe and I had a great time on our first full two day Mountain Marathon, despite Zoe feeling unwell all day on Saturday and not being in great form on Sunday either.
Neither of us had managed much consistent training over the previous month due to a house move falling across two of the three weekend before the event. We were going to have a bit of practise on a short break in Scotland but that landed between the move weekends and we were so shattered all we ended up doing was a single climb most of the way up Ben Cruachan.
Anyway the RAB is a little unusual amongst mountain marathons in only offering score courses, where you get a map with the checkpoints marked and a table with the checkpoint details and point scores for each checkpoint. You have to come up with a route which collects the maximum points score for each day within the time limit.
We arrived at the car park (a field near Stair in Newlands Valley in the NW Lakes) in good time, having stopped the night before at a nearby Travelodge. Registration was at the Stair Outdoor Centre. We got kitted up and sorted out, bought the excellent T shirts and dropped them back at the car and prepared to start.
The start's straightforward, when you're ready go to the staging marshall who will hand you a map and the checkpoints list as you dib in the start control box. Then, with a choice of two paths immediately leading to two different checkpoints, it was straight on the deck for a bit of planning.
Zoe had said she wasn't feeling great so I tried to plot a route which would get us going with some fairly easy running but pick up a reasonable number of points to start. The overnight camp was at Rannerdale and there were really two main options:
(1) work along the north side of Buttermere on the slopes of Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson, then cross the Newlands road to reach the overnight camp; and
(2) get over Honister pass to a group of checkpoints between Borrowdale and Fleetwith Pike, then potentially along the south side of Buttermere or over High Stile to drop into Buttermere village and on to Rannerdale.
Possibly incorrectly I felt there probably weren't enough CPs or points on offer with option (1) so the first decision I made was to head over Honister. I could see there were groups of checkpoints along the Maiden Moor ridge and up the valley parallel to it, both leading to a couple of CPs on the shoulder of Dale Head and on to Honister. This wasn't a bad decision, we could have got the same points total staying north of Buttermere with less distance and climbing but (barring one mistake I'll come to) the same number of points than we ultimately ended up with, but we could not have managed to get more, whereas there were plenty of options on the chosen plan to have picked up more points.
So we were looking at options to get over to Honister. It was clear we would do a CP at Launchy Tarn (CP5 - 20 pts) and one on the BG climb below Dale Head (15 pts) on either route before dropping down to Honister. There was a low option, skiting under Catbells and Maiden Moor and climbing the valley up to Dale Head Tarn and then CP5, and a higher option starting with a short sharp climb to a CP just the far side of the Catbells ridge, then over Maiden Moor and High Spy to CP5. The low option would score 80 points to Honister and the higher option 85 points. With the small difference in mind and wanting to stay comfortable and warm to start with, not to mention letting Zoe ease into it a bit, we went for the low option. I missed a little combo which would have meant we could incorporate CP2 into the high option for an extra 10 points at the cost of very little distance and only about 60m of climbing, which might have swayed me to the high option.
I felt this was enough planning and started to move off, taking the low path under Catbells for fast running to our first CP, by a stream in Yewthwaite Combe. There was a little group by this CP so it was easily located and we dibbed and moved on gently down the combe to CP47 above Little Town. I lost us a couple of minutes here as the CP was labelled 147 and I wasn't familiar with the three digit codes used by the SI timing system, so thought it might be a safety control or something else - it was where it was shown on the map but for some reason I thought it wasn't right. Anyway we sussed it out and moved on.
Running up the valley past Low Snab I realised that Zoe wasn't entirely happy. We talked it through and she felt that I hadn't spent enough time planning, hadn't really involved her and hadn't communicated the plan properly. Probably guilty on all three counts, I apologised and we picked up the pace a bit to an easily found checkpoint on a footbridge under Scope End. So much of pairs running is to do with the relationship and mood between the runners in the pair. Zoe had felt like she was just being dragged along, she wasn't feeling too great anyway and not surprisingly she wasn't really moving that well until we got things aired.
The next CP was a cleft / sheepfold under the disused Dale Head Copper Mines. We both did a bit of the nav, checking we'd picked up the correct trod as we crossed the river and climbing diagonally right. We then contoured a little and dropped right in on the cleft, although it took us a moment to realise that it was a mining feature which had been converted into a sheepfold and the control was actually hidden from view until we were right next to the wall it was behind.
The next section was probably the poorest line we got all weekend. We had to cut back across the valley to pick up the main path which would take us up to Dale Head Tarn. The map wasn't brilliantly clear but it does (on very close scrutiny) show a good line up to the west of the crag called Great Gable. We took a more contouring line and ended up scrambling on slippery slabs just under the crag which was very slow. As we worked our way up through the crags a guy ambled up a grassy rake which was on the map but not easily visible from below. On this occasion trying to get back on a path quickly had backfired on us and the much the better option was a direct(ish) line. Anyway once past the crags we found a fairly easy river crossing and got back on the track, following it until we were level with Dalehead Tarn. I took a bearing towards the Launchy Tarn CP, aiming off 100m to the north so we would hit and could follow a fence in towards the CP. Converging with a lot of runners who'd taken the high route, I could have got away with following the crowd rather than aiming off. Five minutes of climbing and we were there.
The next leg over to the CP on the Bob Graham Dale Head climb was pretty fast and straightforward and we were almost bang on the CP, although I have to admit I was lazy here and relied more on the large number of runners around to be able to work out the CP location than on the map and compass. It was a fairly easy run down to Honister. Zoe descended quite quickly, but I realised a bit later there was a price to pay. In the meantime I was struggling with the Speedcross - I'd got my feet wet on the crossing from Launchy Tarn and now on the descent the footbed in the right shoe was moving around and creasing up. Since the RAB I've heard of other people with this problem - it seems like a design faulty and I think I'll test some UHU on them and try to glue them in. I had the same problem for the rest of the MM, but as Zoe generally descends a little slower than I do it wasn't too big a deal, I just had to keep stopping and straightening things out.
From Honister we had the next big route choice. I was working on this on the descent but should have looked at it more carefully on the way up or even at the start. There were five checkpoints between Honister and the next major decision point on our route, Scarth Gap. CP14, on the ridge down from Grey Knotts to Seatoller looked like an outlier, and CP15, near the summit of Grey Knotts, was at nearly 700m.
Kit List:
Terra Nova Superlight Solar 2.2 Tent - excellent: very stable, roomy for the weight, warm (with a foil blanket under the groundsheet) and with two entrances and decent sized porches - thanks to Arthur Clare-Hay for the loan.
OMM rucsacs - I had the Classic 32L and Zoe the Classic 25L. They were just the right size for our kit as neither of us had particularly small packing sleeping bags and the tent pack size and weight were a little heavier than some might use. Zoe had a little chafing but is less used to a rucsac than me. I found mine pretty comfortable and didn't really notice the weight too much.
Sleeping bags - Zoe had a synthetic, I had a North Face down one. Both 3 season and fairly bulky and heavy. It wasn't a cold night but neither of us needed much in the way of clothes and I slept with the zip undone. We could save weight and bulk here quite easily in future.
Sleeping mats - just the mats from the OMM rucsacs which double as the back padding. They were fine.
Stove and gas - a no-name gas burner, a single medium pan from an aluminium pan set, with the handle, lighter and spare lighter and a 250g cylinder (too big I think). Foil for a lid and a windbreak, plastic spoon each, foldable plastic mug each. We ate direct from the dehyde pouches.
Food - three dehydrated main courses, two puddings, two breakfasts. I think we could cut this down by a pudding and a breakfast. Also various cereal bars (Eat Natural, Nutrigrain) and some nuts. Forgot S-Caps which we should really have had, and took too many bars. Some spare bags for feet after sock change / rubbish.
Compass - both on standard Silva Rangers, I could do with a new one with a smoother bezel and a quick settling needle. The event map was supplied with an A3 sealable clear bag which was too big for my taste. Next time I'll bring A4 ones instead and not pick up the bag supplied.
Headtorch - Lenser H7 for me, Alpkit for her. Both light, not really needed much except for late night loo trip.
Clothes (for him) - Quechua base layer, Haglos Stem II Fleece, Craft full weight running tights, inov-8 socks (ok but wear very quickly), Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes (victory of comfort over suitability really, if it had been wet it would have been x-talons), Berghaus Goretex Active Cag (more breathable and warmer than the racing cag), Montane Atomic overtrousers, spare tech T, spare socks (Hilly monoskin trail anklet with x-static which are expensive but hard wearing and very comfy), buff, extremities windstopper gloves. I could have got away with shorts or 3/4 tights but would have had to carry full length tights anyway. Should have gone for a lighter weight pair but I don't have any. I like the "proper" cag for longer days out - the convenience of pockets and extra warmth / breathability over a racing cag far outweigh the extra 100g. The Speedcross would have been a bad mistake if there'd been much wet / boggy steep terrain but I got away with them. After a summer of only intermittent training I just wasn't sure my feet were strong enough for two days in near-minimal fell shoes. I had small blisters on the outsides of my ankles at the end of day 2 from traversing, but otherwise my feet were cushty.
Clothes (for her) - Hoglofs base layer, OMM fleece, Nike tights, Karrimor socks, Speedcross 3 shoes, Haglofs Gram cagoule, Pacamac Overtrousers, tech T, buff, gloves.
Cheat - two pints of milk at mid-camp. We drank one between us as we finished and had the other one with tea and coffee, finishing it in the morning before we set off. The milk lady had brought bottles which was nice because we could wash them out and leave them instead of humping out flattened cartons on day 2. Unlike some others, we did not go to the pub on Saturday night, which is rather against the spirit of it IMHO.

No comments:

Post a Comment