A Very Serious & Committing Night On The Fells

31st Jan 2013


Many thanks to Andy Mouncey who has given permission for this article from his Blog to be republished on the Marmot Dark Mountains website. Andy was competing in the C Course alongside Andy Beanland. Check out Andy Mouncey's blog, 'Doing Big and Scary' here>>>

With my jaunt on The Spine Race much shorter than planned two weeks ago I’d decided that the best way to thank my friend Andy B for his flask of warm ribena at the 85-mile point of that race was to invite him along to the UK’s first overnight mountain marathon. Another DNF for me but this time I wasn’t alone: 90% of the field did the same. Read on: One week after The Spine and Andy I are testing our compatibility over some 4 hours in the wee small hours on a very dark, cold and snowy Ingleborough. Mrs B promises to write a list of 10 Things You Really Shouldn't Say To My Husband to help me, while Mr B promises to bring some of his exceedingly good Christmas cake flapjacks - which I never saw, by the way...

A salutary warning on the door of the event centre. Photo: Ben Winston


Friday morning before race day and a 'Very Bad Weather Indeed - No, Really, We're Not Kidding' message arrives from race HQ with news that all courses switch to bad weather option. Examining what exactly this meant as laminated maps the size of a small tablecloth were thrust at us as we left the start gate at 2250 revealed just 2 CPs had been taken out but we were still heading up to about 500m.

Sat morning and text from clubmate Sharon about her upgrade to the Elite class. Figure it's probably not her idea but that she'll also probably be just fine.

Walk 20 mins from the start at Muncaster Castle in West Cumbria and realise we are both hideously overdressed in what is very soggy, rainy but quite benign conditions. Remove layers as the clock ticks down and wonder how quick we'll be reversing that process.

In incredible procession of lights on Muncaster Fell as all the courses converge on the mandatory route through Eskdale Green shortly after the start. Photo: Ben Winston

We're last off and we languish in copious amounts of smugness as we reel in team after team through the first 2 CPs. Brought back down to earth descending into first encounter with frozen bogs and a slip where yours truly lands flat out with a head smacking stars-seeing result. There will be others. Shaken, cautious and wobbly describe the next few minutes.

There's no let up in appalling conditions underfoot till we hit a road section, and we aren’t even out of the valley yet.

A hands and knees slip-fest climb puts us into the badlands of the Birker and Ulpha fells. Realise normal eat-and-drink-and sort-yourself-out-on-the-climbs routine ain't gonna work as need both hands and both feet to make any uphill progress. Realise that this is gonna lead to serious sense of humor failure later if we don't figure this out.

First serious snow encounter as we top out: Step, slip, slide, stumble, sink, swear describe the act of forced forward locomotion. Recent thaw and continued periodic freezing means the ground is a complete mess. Big snow, ice, half frozen bogs with gale force winds and driving sleet and we are forced to be Seriously On Task. And it's just UNRELENTING.

Wonder how Sharon and other clubmate Alex are doing and figure they're probably just fine.

Remember that in these conditions a key is to take action before you need to take action - so stop and add layers and switch to Full Shields Up mode.
Aware of faint torchlight pairs all around us but conditions are such that our world is the 2-3 meters ahead as standing straight and moving easily is the stuff of wet dreams right now.

Belatedly realise we've been traveling slightly offset to each other as a nav-check. Figure while that looks good on paper that's just damn silly out here in deep snow so switch to line astern.

Appalling conditions on the fells made navigation extremly tough for everyone. Photo: Ben Winston

Another stop for Emergency Shields Up.  Andy is now wearing everything he has and has fallen through into an icy bog up to his waist twice. We're keeping core body temp up but are shaking as soon as we stop - and find we have to stop to eat or do anything else as it's damn near impossible to do it on the move.

4 hours in and we're half way round what's supposed to be a 7 hour course and we've only made one navigation error which only cost us a handful of minutes. Communication is huddle in the lee of a rock and shout into each other faces. I stopped feeling my feet hours ago. We do tablecloth-wrestling and go big picture for the first time: The next 4 CPs look more of the same. If we continue like this it's gonna get seriously outrageous. Executive decision: Abort. Let's get the **** out of here while we still can.

Takes us 2 hours to get back much of it over obscured sheet ice through frozen bogs that has our nerves shredded. 6 hours after we’d set off we're back at base.

'Welcome back,' says organiser Shane Ohly 'Good decision - you're not alone. There's 60 people retired already which means the sleeping room is full and there'll be a breakfast queue in an hour when the cafe opens 60 people long...'

Feel slightly less of a pair of blouses with news of so many DNF's. Negotiate bodies in various states of awareness sprawled/slumped around the registration area. Pairs continue to arrive all having opted out. We're still happy with our decision.

Drive home successfully only half-nodding off at the wheel twice despite open windows and Slash & Friends blasting out at full volume, and arrive at chez Mouncey as our small boys are waking up. It's a very long time since I can recall feeling this sore, bruised, wrenched and generally trashed.

Wonder how Alex and Sharon got on and figure they probably did just fine...

Clubmate Alex who did indeed do just fine winning with teammate Kim Collinson.