So you are standing on a knoll which you have identified on your map despite the fact that you can see no more than 5 metres due to heavy mist / fog. Now your next control is 200 metres away due east so you pull out your trusty compass only to discover that the needle is spinning in the housing. Thats right folks this here hill is littered with magnetic rocks. This day can only get better.
… 24 hours previously …
So after a thankfully uneventful flight this year Peter and I made it to glasgow airport and hit the Burger King for some food while we awaited the arrival of Greg and his wife Tish from Belfast who were entered on the B course who had hired a car to get to the event and we were going to tag along with in order to avoid a 5+ hour wait for the overbooked coach. A pleasent 2 hour drive got us to Oban where Tish and Greg went for food while we took a stroll about. We spotted a lot of other compeditors hanging around the harbour and presumed they had arrived via some form of scheduled bus service as the train wasn’t due for hours. If only we had asked them because once we pulled into the car park about 1km from the harbour we were handed our ferry tickets and a briefing sheet and told we had 45 minutes to get to the ferry to the Isle of Mull.
Due to the hundreds of us travelling the ferry had us leave our rucksacks in the car deck and so after a short sailing in the mist (a key feature for the weekend) we headed below decks to get ready to disembark. Most people where wearing two packs, a larger one on thier back containing clothes and equipment for base camp and a smaller race pack on their chest so a resemblance to WWII paratroopers is noticable. This unusal appearence was certainly noticed by the locals as several hundred of us stormed up the ramp and commenced the walk to the event centre. There was the option for going via a narrow gauge steam train but the queues were long and it was only a 2km walk so we skipped it planning to get it back on the sunday. This turned out to be a cunning plan as we were able to get a nice campsite and register before the hoardes arrived. With our plastic bags for our feet and a 6.51a.m. assembly time we hit the LAMM shop for our dryflo t-shirts and then to the compass-point shop for all the bits we had forgotten to bring (torches) or that are easier to get here (lightweight sleeping mat / no friction socks). Decided against the no-see-um head net for Â£6 since my deet seemed to be keeping them at bay and Â£6 was a little expensive. We would come to regret this decision once we made it to midcamp on saturday.
We headed to bed nice and early and got a decent nights sleep before being awoken at 5a.m. by the LAMM Piper and his “tunes”. So we packed and had a quick breafast and headed for the assembly and the busses to our start location, collecting our maps along the way. This year the map was double sided, 1:40000 on one side and 1:25000 on the other. The short walk from the bus to the start involved crossing a stream and getting our feet wet. I had atleast hoped to stay dry for the first few km. Peter dibbed us thorugh the start and we collected our control descriptions and we started plotting them. Looking at the route to control 1 we decided on going over the western shoulder of Ben Buie rather than over the top. This was a mistake as there was a track which ran around the north eastern end of the mountain which while marked on the 1:40000 was not marked on the 1:25000. I don’t think it cost us much time but the terrain was tougher and we had some navigation issues in the mist. This is also the first time we hit the compass issue. So after two hours walking we made it to the first control and met a team who had run via the track in just over an hour, so feeling better we pushed on for controls 2 and 3 which were nearby. At this point we had bettered our performance from last year and so were feeling pretty good. Control 4 was as at a small lochan but we had to follow a taped route to the base of a steep slope up onto the ridge that would lead us to the lochan. It was during this climb that me knee first starting misbehaving but once at the top it was fine and so we pushed on to the control. It was along this stretch that we got our only real rain for the day for about 30 minutes though the following 2 hours would be spent walking in heavy mist that required keeping the rainjacket on.
I would like to take a short moment to say just how kick ass dryflo is. It is a lightweight synthetic material which is so effective at removing moisture from your skin that no matter how hot you get you never feel sticky. Makes running arround the mountains much more comfortable.
The finding of controls 5 and 6 took an hour each despite them being nearby due to visibilty being regularly less than 5 metres and the compass being unreliable.
On both occassions we banded together with other teams to locate the control. In the case of control 5 we overshot and arrived a control for the C course but then knowing our location we were able to get to our control. Control 6 was a similar story but in this case involved us trying to decide which on of four nearby lochs we were at based only on the few metres of one corner we could see. From 6 the route to control 7 was easy enough and had some solid handrail features to keep us on the right track. It was on the approach to 6 that we had joined up with a father and daughter team and we stayed together for the next few controls. The descent from 7 down to the road was particularly tough and the mud in places was thigh deep. In general the terrain under foot this year was much tougher than the year before and consisted of wet marshy ground covered in tussocks. These place a lot of strain on ones ankles and walking around them tricky as the ground between them frequently was so marshy that you sank at least knee deep into it. Plus the few hundred teams also crossing it didn’t help.
From control 8 we had a taped route alongside a stream bed and then a 200m climb up to control 9 in a re-entrant. This climb was very tough for me as my right knee was hurting everytime i stepped upwards with it. It took a long time to make the climb but make it I did. At one point during this climb someone started playing bagpipes at the bottom of the valley and it should be noted that this is the distance from which bagpipes are ment to be enjoyed. kilometres not metres. At this stage it was getting late in the day and so we pushed on for control 10 which was across two ridges and one valley but was within sight of the midcamp. The best route fthere was to climb over the first ridge at a col, then try to contour arround the valley as much as possible (with my knee being sore losing height was a bad idea) and then slowly ascend the second ridge as we walked along it. The col was only 200m above us but it took me an hour to get to the top of it as my legs really didn’t want to climb any more. Once over the col I was fine and we started contouring along the second ridge, as we made it to the top the mist lifted (thats right, we had been walking in mist most of the day, except the low level bits) and we could see many other teams all allong the ridge. We descended down to control 10 which was described as Stream junction (base of unmapped waterfall) and it was a great control, the waterfall was about 10 metres high and Peter had to descend down the opposite bank of the gully to reach the control. This route was pretty hairy as numerous other teams had torn the ground up. I took some photos of Peter at the bottom of the gully and then picked up his pack and headed downstream to meetup where he exited. The route from 10 to 11 was aout 1.5km of more tussocky / boggy ground and it was torturous to walk over and sapped what little energy we had left. Control 11 was on a rock dam at the exit of a river from a loch which we had to wade across. It was then a short walk to midcamp where we posted a time of 10:19:17 which placed us 128th for the day out of 187 teams who had registered.
Just after the checkin at the midcamp we spotted a nice camping area really closeby and after briefly wondering why noone else had used it setup the tent and got some water on the go to make soup. At this point we became aware the the whole campsite was midge invested and even generous application of deet had only a mild deterent affect. Not being cold and wet like last year we didn’t imediatly huddle into our sleeping bags but did take the time to wash the mud off our legs and try to rinse out our runners after soup and before the first of our dinners. After dinner we had a nap for a few hours and then had a second dinner arround 22:30 before going to sleep for the night. During the night we got very very impressive thunder and lightning and rain that hammered the tent like never before but we stayed all dry and warm, in fact the rain was a good thing in that it cleared the midge allowing us to open the door on the inner part of the tent to let some cool air in as with myself and Peter in such a small space it was getting very warm. Just to give idea of how cramped we were the sleeping portion of the tent is a mere 2m by 90cm but like most things in LAMM in the confort versus weight tradeoff weight wins everytime.
One of the nice things this year was meeting the people we had run into along the way the year before again. In particular at midcamp we ran into one of the guys who we had walked out with on the sunday and shared a car ride back to the event centre with. To think we both came back again.
Following another 5am bagpipe performace I woke up and then went back to sleep until about 5:45 when i came to and woke Peter also, we were aiming to start sometime after 6:30 so as to have enough time to make it to the event centre for the 15:00 boat that Greg and Tish need to make if they were to their flight ontime.
Following breakfast and packing up the tent we headed to the start. We started and collected the route for the day and plotted it on the map. There were two big climbs on the route and no suitable escape routes if my knee gave out for good and both of us were pretty knackered after the day before so we decided to not attempt the route and to head for the event centre via the road. As we were leaving one of the Marshalls told us he was heading to the event centre in 30 minutes and if we waited around the first corner he would give us a lift. We waited for about 35 minutes and decided to walk as the midge were begin to get really annoying.
After walking for about 10 minutes he pulled and we jumped in. There were two C course compeditors in the car also discussing how they had found day 1 with him and it turned out he was the course planner.
Back at the event centre we returned our dibber and went to the tent we had left up to change clothes and get dry socks and runners. This is possibly one of the best feelings ever. mmmmhhhhh, dry socks mmmmhhhh We considered staying at the event centre to watch the finish and see how the people we had meet on the hill during day one had fared but the evil midge and the fact that the 15:00 ferry was going to be very busy lead us to catch the 11:00 ferry and having left our gear by the car with a note for Greg go for lunch in a nice Italian resteraunt in Oban. Following lunch we wandered a little and proceded to nap on the grass bank in the car park where we got our first sunshine for the weekend.
The return journey was uneventfull bar being delayed in Glasgow due to a combination of UK ATC being down, thunderstorms over the midlands earlier in the day and 3 drunk muppets screwing up the cabin crews attempts to do a head count. Peter has some amusing photos of me sleeping on a bunch of seats near the departure gate.
We will be back again next year and in the mean time Greg andTish have been trying to talk us into doing the Mourne Mountain Marrathon in late september which seems like lots of fun.