The 2018 Marmot Dark Mountains™ is the 6th edition of the event and it has steadily grown since its winter storm baptism in 2013. It is now widely considered the benchmark test for all-round mountain craft for experienced mountain runners. The combination of darkness and winter conditions combine to make Marmot Dark Mountains™ a unique challenge for participants, where usual mountain running approaches to navigation, and equipment and clothing choices can prove to be inadequate. Stepping up to the challenge of this event requires new skills, different strategies and alternative clothing and equipment. Here, Marmot Dark Mountains™ Race Director Shane Ohly, shares some of his insights for success drawing on his experience as a multiple Elite mountain marathon winner and Winter Mountain Leader.
At each Marmot Dark Mountains™ event we have seen mild hypothermia cases and often not wearing sufficient clothing is the main reason. The trend in fell running and other mountain marathon events is to ‘run wet’ i.e. allowing yourself to get wet and maintaining warmth by keeping moving. Over the years we have seen a strong trend of successful teams on all courses at Marmot Dark Mountains™ opting to wear additional layers and heavyweight waterproofs from the start. These teams are opting to ‘run warm’ and it is the right approach for this event. The take home message here is don’t skimp on your clothing.
Kneeling to take a bearing on Ben Wyvis from the example in the previous Navigation Insights article. Note:
1) Full face protection including goggles.
2) Kneeling to make a solid stance to measure a leg carefully and take an accurate bearing.
3) Compass and Map physically attached to me - you really cannot afford for this kit to blow away in these conditions.
4) 'Winterised' footwear (see following picture).
5) Heavy-duty mountain softshell jacket - this is not lightweight running kit. I am also wearing Gore Windstopper tights with thermal leggings under them.
Many participants get cold hands and feet and we would recommend a minimum of two significant pairs of gloves so that you can change into warm and dry gloves during the night. We would also recommend hand warmers such as Hot Hands to use inside your gloves.
Wet feet are almost a certainty at Marmot Dark Mountains™ if you don’t use waterproof socks. My personal favourites are Gore-Tex Socks, which are worn over another warmer sock. Sealskinz are another popular option.
If it is snowy underfoot, then microspikes or dobbed running shoes (shoes with metal studs set into the rubber cleats) make life much easier and safer. It is worth noting that as the organisers we do reserve the right to make microspikes (or dobbed shoes) and an ice axe mandatory equipment if conditions dictate.
Footwear Choices: Left inov-8 Oroc (dobbed orienteering shoes) and Salomon S/LAB X Alp Carbon (not dobbed). Both used in combination with Gore-Tex Socks. Note that these pictures were taken on different days (i.e. different conditions) and the ice balls on the inov-8 shoes can also happen on the Salomon shoes. Also note the duct tape used to seal the external gaiter of the S/LAB X Alp with my running tights!
Over the years I have experimented with different combinations of footwear and socks for winter running, and while dobbed running shoes certainly have their limitations, they are my favourite option when combined with Gore-Tex Socks.
Finally, full face protection can be essential and I’d always carry a full-face balaclava and goggles for winter running / walking.
Good luck out there!