2019 Course Planner's Insights

18th Jan 2019

Course Planner Gary Tompsett and Course Controller Graham Gristwood share some thoughts and information about Marmot Dark Mountains™ 2019.


How Marmot Dark Mountains terrain might look



Marmot Dark Mountains™ 2019 is all set to wow you from the outset! With an atmospheric venue at Lowther Castle, some stunning terrain, and with ‘escalating’ variety too: i.e. The further you go from the event base, the more vertiginous the terrain becomes!

This article is intended as scene-setter for the event terrain that you are soon to encounter, mixed in with a few other related pieces of info to help you prepare. The unknowns are, as always, the extent of preceding snowfall, weather forecasting, and the actual prevailing weather on the night. Unlike last year, we are in the unusual position of having very little snow at present. 


Driving and Car Park advice

Currently, there are no worrisome roadworks within 15 miles of the event. On the day you should check that the M74, M6 and A66 are clear for travel. The A74 and A6 are options that run parallel.

Event parking is in the Lowther Castle overflow car park immediately on the left when entering the grounds. Event team will direct parking. In addition, we would advise that the vehicle in which you travel is well prepared for manoeuvring and starting in winter. Consider jump leads, road salt, shovel, tyre snow chains/grips, a rehearsed towing/recovery system (which should include knowledge of location and deployment of towing eye bolts and chassis towing points).




Terrain advice

This part of the Lake District should be considered as fairly standard in form. Generic Lakeland mountain terrain as it were, with deep valleys, craggy mountains and some moorland: Beautiful in daylight, and strangely beautiful at night! There are no special hazards or characteristics to mention here. Suffice to say that there is steep ground, crags/cliffs, bodies of water, rivers and becks, rough and boggy ground. If there is snow and/or ice, then you will need to exercise considerable caution on steep ground. 

The rivers in this area are unlikely to be a major flooding concern. The rivers are quite young or have usefully sited bridges. 


The Map

This is a Harvey 1:30 000 fully waterproof map, compiled to our usual high and exacting standards. It’s printed and ready. We are looking at it now, and it will be your partner in a fantastic adventure and after the event will still be in good shape as a framed memento after the event!



It is a condition of use of the area that participants must not enter areas marked on the map as Out of Bounds, and must not cross boundaries (walls and fences) which are marked on the map as uncrossable (see the map samples and legend below for symbols and examples). Crossing points are marked on the map, and these are the only points at which these boundaries may be crossed.

Participants breaking this rule will jeopardise future use of not only the Lake District, but also other areas of the country that may be owned by the same land-owners. There will be severe penalties for anybody found to be doing so.

Out of Bounds areas with distinct boundaries (such as a fence or wall) are surrounded by the uncrossable boundary symbol. If there is no boundary marked on the map, then there may not be a visible boundary on the ground.


Course Information

2019 course information



2019 legend


Public Right of Way Information

2019 PROW


The Courses

These are as advertised, and as shown on the website. You will know that we now have a Medium Score added into the course mix. The full courses data can be seen here. One development, that might otherwise go missed if we did not mention it here, is that unlike previous years we no longer have ‘Good’ Weather Courses prepared. I.e. there is no chance that we will revert to longer courses should there be bright weather, no wind, no snow etc etc. We have all learned that, as soon as it is dark and cold in January, an appropriate adventure always prevails .. for all participants. 

Reassuringly though, we have retained the ‘Bad’ Weather Courses, for the Linear Courses; Elite, A, B and C. These are clearly explained on the map and normally involve the omission of some checkpoints, often with the addition of a new linking checkpoint at lower altitude. For the Score Courses we would reduce the time span for the course, respectively, and would announce this at the event, once the full implications of the weather were known. (Score values would remain unchanged).


Bad Weather Course Depiction

In the event of extreme bad weather, the Race Director might authorise the use of Bad Weather courses. These are very similar to the standard courses, but usually avoid the highest, or most exposed ground.

Below is a map extract from Marmot Dark Mountains 2018 which gives an idea of how the Bad Weather course will be depicted on your race map. Any extra checkpoints that you would need to visit will be marked on the map (e.g. Checkpoint 229).


2019 bad weather course

There will also be instructions over-printed on your race map specifying any Bad Weather route information. This is an actual example:

2019 bad weather description


Manned Checkpoint

For those that took part in the 2018 event, you might recall a rather hospitable manned checkpoint, in a barn. We have no such luxury for this 2019 edition of the event. Accordingly, the checkpoint should be known as a Manned Checkpoint rather than a Support Point. This provision is to enable us to get eyes-on participants out on the course, and is a safety feature. There is only one manned checkpoint for this event. It is a checkpoint on all linear courses, and also features as a Score course checkpoint.


Unmanned Checkpoints

These are full size orienteering flags with associated SPORTident box, either mounted on a stake or placed in a way and at a height that aids detection, without a stake. For exposed windy locations such as summit areas and cairns, the control flag might be in a sheltered location. All stakes, control flags and SI boxes have silver reflectivity added.


Equipment advice

Check back to our Clothing & Equipment Insights from January 2018. These are still current and there will be something in here that will help you have a comfortable night. But note also that we mention in the text that; 

“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.”

We would endeavour to share any mandate on this (according to weather and temperature forecasts) as early as feasible. The likelihood of mandating this equipment is low, however for valid safety reasons this will be the only way to mitigate venturing onto the hills should there be very cold and frozen ground; typically snow and/or ice, and especially hazardous if on steep ground, and after a localised sequence of freeze/thaw/re-freeze. 

Please be prepared for potential enforcement of this mandate. There are plenty of products out there that can answer the need. Ice axes are readily available, and often can be borrowed from a friend or hired. Studded (dobbed) shoes are available from several manufacturers, and provide a solution that is robust for all running on frozen ground, including trails and roads! A marginal, but feasibly allowable, choice is the addition of studded solutions to your chosen shoes. Marginal because these might, under duress, detach from the shoe, or shift position at crucial moments. These solutions include high-end rubber-rand microspikes such as those from Kahtoola, instep crampons, semi-flexible full crampons, screw-in spikes and pavement rubber-banded ice grip studs. We would struggle to sanction the latter solution.

It is important to have practised the fitting, use and removal of these items of equipment prior to the event, and the intention would be that even if used briefly, these solutions might crucially enable you to cross, traverse, ascend, descend, or retreat from, a hazardous section of steep terrain. 

One word of housekeeping caution: DO NOT wear your studded solutions inside a building or on surfaces that might be damaged.



Information on the event website contains various matters relating to conduct. Often of great significance, and particularly with this edition of the event, it is important to be quiet when passing residential properties, cease talking where possible, open and close gates quietly and avoid shining torches into windows. Dogs might still bark.  If you are confronted, please take the opportunity to approach closer and talk... rather than shout or run onwards. In our experience farmers and residents do not want to be ignored – and they might have something useful to share with you. We have met many of the farmers through a consultation process.


Ecological advice

Please consult the 2019 ecological briefing notes for the best advice minimising ecological damage.


Local Trivia

If you have some time to spare when visiting the area, then perhaps visit a location used in the cult classic film ‘Withnail and I’. There are many. 

Depending on your route choices, and if the light is on, you might spot the hunting lodge built for the visit of Kaiser Willhelm in 1912.

Ennerdale Reservoir is being decommissioned as a drinking water supply for West Cumbria, for ecological reasons. Haweswater will become the replacement supply, with water piped all the way round to the west coast! Hence the considerable work that some will have seen near Keswick in 2018.

Penrith Mountain Rescue Team are training some aspirant team members in our event area, also overnight. Please say hello!



Armed with all that information, we bet that you are excited! We too are excited to bring you the biggest and best Marmot Dark Mountains since we started this audacious event. We look forward to providing your excellent adventure in a week’s time!


Partners and Brands

Thanks to:

  • Marmot for their huge and long-running support of the event – ask an event team member what they think about their new jacket;
  • Lowther Castle & Estate for hosting us – will you get the chance to take a look around?
  • Petzl for their head torch expertise - the Petzl Nao+ might as well have been designed for this event and Access The Inaccessible® has rarely been more appropriate!