Monday, 1 March 2010

I'm Going Outside...I May Be Sometime

Route details: 

I hadn't particularly intended to write anything special about the High Peak Marathon recce beforehand. However, the 18 or so miles from Cutthroat Bridge to Snake Pass was such an epic adventure it deserves its own little slice of the blogosphere.

The plan was just a run around the top half of the HPM route, trying to get a feel for the tricky Bleaklow section. There were warning signs from the start that things might get interesting when we first met up at Snake Pass, the we being Team Traversers - myself, Brian, Emma and Andy - Dave the dog, and Clare from Pussycat Trolls (which definitely trumps our team name, but hey, I had no input into that). At this point Snake Pass was open, but the snow was falling quite heavily and beginning to settle on the ground. For this reason, of the 3 cars there, we decided to leave Clare's Land Rover Defender as this would stand the best chance of getting back down the hill, so we chucked our warm, dry gear in the back of the Landy, and off we went. This was a good call, as I could only just get my car off the layby and back onto the road at this stage. We then carried on to Cutthroat Bridge, where we met the Ray Mears of the area, Mountain Rescue member, and all round good-egg, Ian of the Dark Peak Fell Runners.

We got into our watrproof gear straightaway, as it was clear it was going to be pretty wet: at this lower level there was a fairly heavy sleet. So off we headed up Derwent Moors and had quite an enjoyable, uneventful run for the most part, until we reached Howden Edge.

The photo on the left is of me running down Sheepfold Clough, if only to offer proof that despite the poor time we completed this recce in, we did try to run.

At the bottom of Sheepfold Clough; some fairly fast moving water, which was wider than it looks on here. We crossed using a one-in-one-out human chain. This really put my GoreTex trousers to the test, and they passed with flying colours. Apart from the chill from the water - which went in the first 20m or so of the hill-climb out of the Clough - I was completely dry (apart from my feet, which took a bit longer to thaw).

At Howden Edge you are completely exposed and it was at this point we felt the full force of the wind that would give us a good indication of what was to come. The wind was hitting us hard (from the west?) and driving the snow right into our faces. I was still feeling this sensation later that night when I closed my eyes in bed: a tingling right across my eyes, nose and cheeks, exactly like the snow and wind earlier that day.

We did find a sheltered spot before getting onto Bleaklow though to bivvy and get some food inside us. A very sensible decision as it turned out, as there was no real opportunity to do this at all later on. 

Navigation at this point started to get harder as the horizon – nearer by some considerable margin due to the blizzard - blurred with the sky. Picking out landmarks was nigh on impossible. As we hit Bleaklow it got even worse. This is a notorious section to run across at the best of times. A mixture of featureless wilderness; maze-like groughs; and energy-sapping bogs. However tiring the bogs are though it would surely have been easier than the reality we faced. Snow drifts that very often came above the knee, hidden hollows that you would get lost in up to the waist and have to be hauled out of…all made running tricky. The fact that the last four miles were taken at about 1mph should illustrate this.

The intrepid crew in the relative shelter of a huge drift on Bleaklow. Note the smiles.
L-R: Clare, Dave, Emma, Ian, Andy, Brian

Even our local guide ended up getting lost, and finding what should have been an easy run out of Bleaklow via the slabbed Pennine Way took numerous wrong diversions (you’ll see from the route we took we don’t follow the HPM course exactly), and required crossing a fairly steep clough. This wouldn’t have been so tricky at any other time, but with the heavy snow, it had steepened the sides, and made finding a footing difficult. When we finally did find the Pennine Way, it wasn’t the slabbed path we’d been expecting, but a 2ft layer of snow. So no easy run out. We did eventually slog our way through it to find our way back to the Landy, 7h10m later, exhausted and frozen. (A compass that had been flapping loose round Brian’s neck on the way round was encased in a solid block of ice.)
Job done: back at the Land Rover at Snake Pass
C/wise from top: Me, looking spaced out; Brian, looking, er, reflective; and Andy looking chuffed, and well he might.
As we drove back down from Snake Pass, a couple of our number started getting very cold, and by the time we got back to the rest of the cars at Cutthroat Bridge, we nearly had a hypothermia case on our hands. Not even Clare's stash of Bakewell tarts coud help with this! Luckily, with Ian - Mountain Rescue, remember - on hand we were able to take the appropriate steps to look after our comrade, and in a matter of minutes we were sat in the warmth of Ladybower Inn in lots of dry layers, sipping hot chocolate and eating crisps. In conversation with some nearby diners, we explained what we had just done and were met with a mixture of awe and bemusement. When we told them we were doing the same again, only longer, and at night...

Well done to my fellow 'runners' on that day, good luck to the High Peak Marathon-ers on Friday, and to the rest: you just had to be there!

Back home after these type of escapades I get very little sympathy - it's all seen as self-inflicted and very much avoidable. A question I was asked after this particular run, was "why didn't you just turn back?" This got me thinking about why we do this, and why, despite everything, I ended our jaunt with a grin on my face and looking forward to more of the same this coming Friday. I remembered reading this article (below) about the infamous 2008 OMM, and thought it goes part way to explaining it, so I have shared this here for you:


  1. all i can say is, blimey!!! and there is a little bit of me that's very jealous....but i hope conditions aren't quite so extreme come friday....

  2. By the sounds of it, it will be relatively calm, and we may be running into a beautiful dawn. *Touches wood very quickly*
    BTW are you Kate of @cheeesekate fame?