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Battling the Elements in Great Langdale (aka tales from the OMM 2017)

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

The last weekend of October saw Chris and Carolyn travelling to the Lake District to take on the 50th edition of the UK's Original Mountain Marathon.

It turned out to be quite the adventure, with the event's worst weather for a number of years adding to the challenge of Great Langdale's gnarly fells. Although for them it was actually just a warm-up for OMM Japan on 11-12 November.

This is what Chris had to say about it.....

The weather forecast for the weekend was dry and sunny, with some wind. This soon changed on the Friday night when we checked in, the forecast was 65 mph winds and poor visibility, but no mention of rain. This was also the first sight of the map, but with no controls marked on, and no indication of where the overnight camp would be. We took the opportunity to catch up with a few faces we knew over a beer, and headed back to The Old dungeon Ghyll for a last night of sleep.

Day 1.

We were up early and into our kit. It was too early for breakfast, so walked down to the Event Headquarters at Stool End Farm for food before we headed the mile up to the start. The weather was dry, clear with a breeze when we left the main area, but jackets, gloves and hats were soon on before we reached the start as the rain came down the valley.

We joined the queue for our start at 9.00, collected our map for day 1, and had just 1 minute before we dibbed and were off. The first task was to head onto the first piece of flattish ground and join everyone else to study the controls we had, get the string out to measure and plan a route to get us to the overnight camp in the Duddon valley within the 5-hour limit, and gaining as many points as possible.

We found the first control without too much trouble, all bar a sit down in the river; a good start to the day! It’s always handy when there are others looking for the control, but plenty struggled to find it. We then made the choice to head out for a ‘40 pointer’, so it was across the contours and head back to the path. It was then we realised how bad it was going to be underfoot, and the climb past Rossett Pike gave an indication on how strong the wind would be. The rain was horizontal and the visibility was down to 50m at times crossing past Allen Crags. Worryingly, we met 2 walkers who asked the way to Scafell Pike. I wonder if they got there?

We then headed up to Esk Hause, and over Esk Pike with the wind now from the West and across our path. Running with full kit was not an option as the risk of a fall was increased, and the visibility was down to 20m’s now. Definitely a time to be sure of your map reading and compass work.

The control CC was somewhere over to our right, only about 300m’s off the path. When we started the descent from the Pike, we met 2 “A” course competitors who were lost on the Pike, having become disorientated and now going the wrong way. By working with another team who had an altimeter, but no sense of direction, we put ourselves in the vicinity of the control and, as the cloud lifted for a few seconds, we spotted the control on top of a knoll.

With time ticking by and the wind, rain and visibility getting worse, it was time to head for the overnight camp. o we headed back to the main path, over the Bow Fell boulder field which was lethal when wet in high winds, and gained a following party of others who were calling it a day. At Three Tarns we took a bearing and headed over and down the valley to pick up the path. Every now and then other competitors appeared out of the mist and disappeared in different directions, searching for elusive controls. A slight over-chute on the final junction, quickly corrected, and down the track and out of the cloud, wind and rain, through the river and dib to complete the day, 35 minutes over our time.

The next challenge was to find the least wet place to set up the tent, get some hot food and drink and into dry clothes. Now came the issue, somehow I had left my dry sack with my clothes back home, which was not ideal. In fact, a bit stupid! So damage limitation time, wet clothes off, dry the merino base on the body (they are great for that) and into the sleeping bag. Then struggle with the wind and waterproof matches, another issue.

The night was windy to put it mildly. It was the first time we have heard the roar of the wind coming up the valley before it hit the camp, to be followed by loads of torches of others re-fixing their tents back down. The wind went from a Westerly to a Northerly during the night and eventually dropped about 2am.

Day 2.

Day 2 was clear, but with a cold Northerly wind, so a better day. From about 6am tents were being struck ready for the day ahead. As quite a few had come in after dark, tents were pitched anywhere they could. If it was level it had a tent on it, regardless of how much water was there. And in the background there was the sound of the horn setting the competitors off.

For us it was damage limitation, we had lost 35minutes on day 1, so lost 70 points. This was not as bad as some, there was a -276 on the score sheet. We chose a relatively straight way back, over Cold Pike and back past Crinkle Crags. The first control was some way below the path beneath the crag, the second on top of a knoll and then we headed over to DD. This was a bad route choice, as we ended up on steep and wet rocks and paths. We could see the control from 200m away, but getting to it was a different matter. Once bagged it was downhill, across the river and in on the track. Interestingly we met some who had overshot and descended some 50m below the control, even in clear conditions.

Then time for food, a hot drink and a beer, a chat with some of the OMM team ahead of our trip to the Japanese version to get tips on a few things. Then back for cheesy chips and another beer before a shower and, funnily enough, another beer and more food.

Our score for the weekend was not the best, but for us it was about finishing after a few challenges we have had in the past few months. Job Done!

A few stats.

930 teams started the event, just over 604 finished. It's interesting how many of the Elite and A Class competitors retired. Could this have been down to travelling light, with the bare minimum of kit, and being caught out by the conditions?

Elite class, 42 started, 10 completed;

A class, 76 started, 8 completed;

B class, 156 started, 55 completed;

Combined class, 64 started, 6 completed;

Long score, 194 started, 170 completed;

Medium score, 232 started, 217 completed;

Short score, 166 started, 138 completed.

We completed day 1, 10.3 miles and 3500ft climb, day 2, 5.3 miles and 2000ft climb.

Things we learnt:

Check your kit.

Take your kit with you.

Believe in the compass, so many didn’t.

Take a 1:25000 OS Map of the area, there is additional info on it when the clag comes down. Never underestimate the weather.

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