News - Tue 31st Jan 2017 - 2017 Planner's Report - Marmot Dark Mountains™

2017 Planner's Report

31st Jan 2017


"That was like trying to navigate inside a ping-pong ball… in the dark!” © Ian Corless


That was a very challenging event due to the weather conditions on the night. Many thanks for the compliments and feedback. We work to the utmost detail with landowners, reconnaissance, map design and control rigging in order to give you the most fitting experience. Respect to the participants for their bravery, tenacity and decision-making. The weekend has proven that the conditions on the night are the significant factor in completion rate. Of course, the difficulties for the participant are two-fold: Weather conditions + navigation. These are answered by experience and skill levels, and of course there is a great range of this across any participant group, and a study of the results and GPS tracks shows this. Sure, it would be nice to have more completers, but the nature of the event, winter and darkness is an experiential immersion that cannot be bettered. It’s a very valuable personal test. Everyone had their own struggles to navigate and locate checkpoints, sometimes banding with others to search, and sometimes – in the Score classes, more able to abandon in order to fight another battle elsewhere on the map! 


Marmot Dark Mountain 2017 copyright Steve Ashworth-3 1

Conditions during the night were very challenging. © Steve Ashworth

For the C course, perhaps some easier controls would enable more surety of a completion, and more surety of some head-to-head racing. We could look at this for 2018. If we adjust this way, then the C course will also be an excellent entry level grade for people new to night+nav. Let us know what you think.

Control sites were a mixture of difficulty, and as many of the drainage features are unreliable on limestone and peat hags/groughs, then this reduced the ability to place checkpoints on linear and catchment features. Also on this Open Fell there are almost no wall features or fences. This was the strong characteristic of the area. On a night with better visibility, the reflectors that are installed on all controls can be picked up from approx. 100m, but in fog, and with rime coating some of the controls and reflectors, it changes what we might have planned and hoped for. Some have argued that it was better that way – they understood the challenge now presented to them.

The Score courses seem to have exhibited the spread and choices we wanted. The wall and fence crossing points at lower altitudes, negotiated with farmers, were there to give route choices down off the exposure of the plateau – for both Score and Linear in fact.



Marmot Dark Mountain 2017 copyright Steve Ashworth-5

Night Nav! The essence of Marmot Dark Mountains™ © Steve Ashworth

The course lengths and ascents are calculated from a spreadsheet that develops after every edition of the MDM (though perhaps we now need to add a ‘Hunting in Fog’ column). Pre-event, the calculations told us that the E and A might be a little too easy, that the B might be a little too hard, and the Score and C courses similar to previous years. Interesting then that the B course had a higher percentage of finishers! We will study this, and we also relish any feedback on any course-setting matters. We will revisit our checkpoint planning strategy – we already endeavour to have controls that are generally suited to E/A vs B/C ‘grade’ placements for example, but we also need to be careful that we do not create 100 control locations – that would take our team longer to rig – and whom often endure difficult rigging weathers, and sometimes while working alone.

The map detail, and purple overprinting seems to have been broadly popular and may have solved a ‘8% of the male population are colour blind’ issue that we have been aware of, though there is a scale trade-off that we are also monitoring: Some areas of this map were very busy with rock and text detail, and some others very sparse. We could try 1:25 000 scale, but the map size then could become more of a handful. (Harvey Maps haven’t yet mapped this area with their own map cartography, so our prefered Harvey Map solution was unavailable). As a related aside, and as I see this from teaching navigation, a large percentage of mostly older/mature people need to have (indeed, should have) corrected vision in order to bring the map closer to their eyes. There are a number of vision correction options from lenses, sport glasses and magnifiers. This is true for any map scale and can be practised pre-event using the advertised scale and map type for that event.

We were watching the tracking during the event, and have reviewed after the event. It is a compliment to the participants (aided with decent map over-printing) that there are so few infringements on OOB and Boundaries. The road running through the villages at the foot of the Pennine scarp was deliberately kept OOB as the challenge is designed for, and intended to be played out, on the hill. However, we knew that this road would prove to be an essential safety conduit. No problems in this regard - all to plan.

We thought it was a fascinating area. Perhaps go back for a look in daylight? Picnic in a remote sheepfold anyone?