Sound. Mountain. Judgement. I hadn’t heard this phrase much before about December last year and then I heard it a number of times within a very short period of time. I’ll like to think (hope) that I exercised a bit of this, despite some circumstances within my control, in the Spine recently. Glyn’s already told part of the story, but it’s surprising how everyone’s views of events differ, so here’s my bit:
Despite Beavis taking the mickey out of me repeatedly in the days and weeks leading up to the start of the Spine, I felt a lot less terror than I had before the MdS. I didn’t pack, unpack, repack quite as many times as I had for that (that’s not to say I didn’t do this though), and I felt much more prepared. In fact we should all have felt incredibly prepared considering the time and investment and support we’d had, particularly from the likes of Paul Cosgrave at Montane (who supported me brilliantly for the MdS, and did so again for the Spine), and Charlie Sproson at www.mountainrun.co.uk (and his previous Outdoor Warehouse/Mountain Lite ventures). We had so much kit it was frightening (frightening but obviously all NEEDED), although the purchases went on right up to about two days before we went. Anyway, we had enough kit each to sink an aircraft carrier, but luckily enough Max and Di (our awesome support crew) had a campervan that was much sturdier.
Glyn’s already told the story about getting to Castleton, so I won’t labour the point, but I felt pretty calm in the van on the way down there, all things considered.
We’d booked in for the Spine Masterclass with Stu Westfield from the Mountain Safety Team that were supporting the event. This was enlightening, exciting, incredibly interesting, and terrifying in equal amounts. There were some pretty awesome characters present including Tom (who’d finished the Challenger the previous year), Mimi Anderson, Javed, Justin and a few others who’s names I cant recollect. The stories and information exchanged was truly superb and gave me some reassurance in certain elements, and worried me a touch in others. After close to four hours of hypothermia, hypoglycaemia, nav tips, feed and hydration tips, and general kit tips, it was time to get in the minibus and head off to Edale for pre-race briefing and registration.
We got off the bus and walked into the village hall to see a throng of familiar faces, most of which I’d never met but recognised from Twitter and Facebook. We registered, and had the TERRIFYING briefing, then had our race packs checked for mandatory kit, then left these in the hall to be collected the following morning. That’s it, no more fretting about kit then! I remember my anxiety started building here, and then we got back in the minibus to get to our accommodation at the YHA in Castleton. We’d checked our bags into the room earlier and made our bunks, so we just laid there semi-snoozing. I was starting to feel a bit sick, and really worrying about the lack of sleep ahead. I’m crap without sleep at the best of times, and we’d had a rough night with our one-year old the night before I left, so I was already struggling. I think we snoozed a bit, and I’d had a text exchange with Max about meeting up for a pint and some grub. I really couldn’t be arsed with speaking to anyone at this point, but Chris said it’d do us good, and would obviously be a bit rude not to go and see Max and Di, who were sacrificing their weekend to support us, so we got up and off to the pub.
I just felt sick with anxiety throughout the walk, the meal, and the walk back. I managed to get some soup down, and some coke i think, but that was about it. Not a good start, to have this emotional draining before such a monumental event. We got back to the YHA, minced about a bit, think I contemplated starting smoking again, then we got in the bunks to sleep. Or at least try. It’s not easy with Glyn the Gorilla, who snores like he’s trying to bring the building down. Or the kids outside the room running up and down the corridor, or the slight breeze outside, or Chris breathing. Yeah, it’s ridiculous, this was all me being anxious and unable to sleep!
The following morning arrived and we managed to stomach some porridge before we were to be collected. I felt sorry for all the other guys who were waiting for a lift to Edale, while we piled into the campervan and off we went.
We got there to see bodies and bags everywhere, and I was very glad I’d had my kit checked the night before. I was messing around in the back of the van with my kit when I heard a voice and turned round. ‘SPRO! How are you mate!’ I shouted at Charlie Sproson – he’d brought me a Montane Air jacket for the event as I’d had issues with jacket failure over recent months and wanted something sturdy for the event. Turns out this was a good decision. We had a brief chat and he cursed me for being elusive and said he hoped I hadn’t been too worried. I responded by saying something like the jacket was the least of my worries! I was starting to feel a lot more positive now, and the atmosphere for me was pretty awesome. We were around some of the countries top ultra-athletes, as anyone who followed the event will know, and this general feeling of super-fitness tends to rub off I feel (if you allow it too anyway!). We went inside and grabbed our packs, had the GPS trackers fitted and had a bit of pre-race briefing action from Scott Gilmour the race director. As Glyn mentioned this consisted of – going to be a nice day, bit of hail around 1, bit windy potentially, but fairly clear. Awesome. A stunning day on the fells with my mates then. We shouldered our packs, had a bit of banter with Charlie and Andy Burton (very serious looking), and a few others including Paul Bryant, then it was outside and back to the van.
As we’re stood there, I was looking around at the sky. It was stunning as the sun was just coming up and the sky was mostly clear, with some whisps of cloud on the tops which would clear shortly if the weather reports were correct. Then I felt a splodge of rain, then another. I said to the lads ‘was that rain?’, ‘no mate’ was the reply, then more came, so we got our waterproofs on. Then the sky went red. Which i’ve never see before. And the hail started. And the hail continued. Hoods up and time to make our way to the start. More hail and the grass looked white now from where we were stood. There was a bit of fannying around and we were off on our adventure! I felt pretty good and was looking forward to the event and adventure ahead. And the hail continued. We made our way through Edale, and passed a few people that we knew, including Annie Garcia, who’d finished the Lakeland 100 with Beavis, and Chris when they did the 50 last year. Then it started snowing. Jesus, we’d not even got out of Edale yet. We made our way onto the Pennine Way proper and onto the open fields to be hit by the wind and more snow. People were starting to put waterproofs on behind walls, both to protect from the snow, and the biting wind. I put my Montane Prism gloves on as my hands were already getting a bit cold. Hood up, and I was loving it. Chris came alongside and shouted ‘This is why we entered!’, ‘AWESOME’ i responded. And it was. The brutal weather conditions of last year, and following the race reports, were the reason we’d entered this as a major adventure, pretty close to home, and incredibly cheap considering the support we got throughout. I took the following picture as we made it past the buildings and just before we reached Jacob’s Ladder. Bear in mind we’d been on the move for around forty minutes at this point:
We hunkered down and got on with the climb. The snow was piling up underfoot and the clag was down so visibility was crap. We hit the ‘yellow brick road’ as the flags on the Pennine Way get called, and we tromped on, chatting to people around us, and picking up with Paul Brant, who was to be with us for the majority of my time in the event, and was a great replacement for our missing Andy Holohan, who’d wussed out and gone to California to meet Mickey Mouse or something. Paul didn’t swear anywhere near as much though, or pass wind as much, or be politically incorrect anywhere NEAR as much.
We were up on Kinder now and it was pretty exposed – buffs up over faces, hoods still up, hunched over to get any protection from the wind that buffeted us from the West. This was unreal. We were trotting bits of the flagstones, which was pretty precarious to say the least. We’d agreed to try and trot the flats and downhills in order to move along a bit more quickly. I was in front of the guys when I heard a shout behind me, and I turned to see Chris falling and probably about up to his hip in bog. He’d fallen in a gap between flags and gone down. He said he was ok to carry on, so we trotted a little, but this was more cautious and wasn’t the last time one of us went down for sure. Shouts of ‘look out Bambi’ were going up, with me shouting ‘you’re like Bambi on ice/stone/mud/grass Chads’ back at Chris, I got plenty of gentle words of encouragement in response obviously. We were due to meet Max and Di at the A57 road crossing and already this couldn’t come soon enough. It seems that plenty of others had already taken advantage of the hospitality on offer! Di said they’d struggled to get up the road as the police had closed the road from the East to get up the A57 so they’d had to go back around. Just as they arrived on the top, the police were closing the road on the West too. This was incredible and not we’d expected from the day after the weather reports. We had a brew, some scoff (melon was going down a treat) and carried on towards Bleaklow which I wasn’t looking forward to.
I remembered this section from our recce in November, and it’s a bit like a peat bog wadi, and was very very wet then, and it’d rained solidly for about two months now so I was expecting torrents. In the end it wasn’t too bad, and the sealskinz socks we had on were working a treat. The downside were the Inov8 295’s which I’d chosen to wear rather than the Roclite goretex boot, which would have kept my feet a bit warmer (was this a sign of things to come????). I quite enjoyed this section and we were checking each other constantly to see we were eating and drinking enough. We soon came to Torside Castle and the view was surreal. We were stood in snow, with thick clag, and we were still being battered by the elements. We looked across Torside Reservoir towards Crowden, and there was nothing, it was just green and clear skies. ‘Yorkshire’s that way’ said Chris, ‘that’s why the sky is clear’. I’m not convinced by his geography but it made us chuckle all the same.
Max and DI were meeting us somewhere round the reservoir, so we got a bit of a wriggle on descending down the bottom, but it was pretty muddy and there was a load of hilarity as I ended on my arse, along with a good few others around us at that point.
We came on to the road, and Ashleigh was there with a Lakeland 50/100 buff on her head (she was supporting Neil Bennett) – so i shouted ‘Hooray, nice buff, we’ve all got one of them’ and trotted past. Not sure what you shouted in response though Ash sorry!
More grub, piling it down, lovely hot brew in ‘my’ pink mug in the campervan. Words of encouragement from Max and Di, and we were off to Crowden. Now I hold fond memories of Crowden after our recce. Chris and I spent a wonderful night together in a one man tent after my bivvy/bothy combination didn’t work as well as expected. There’s plenty to tell on that story, and I’ll have to blog it in the future, but bear in mind I’m 6 foot 6, and the Terra Nova Laser Comp – being a one man tent, was only big enough for one. Not one, plus me!
We were moving fairly well in my view and I was still enjoying the day. I was a bit apprehensive as it was probably around 3pm by now, and I knew darkness wasn’t really that far away for us. Paul and Glyn were having a good chat in front, but Chris seemed to be struggling a bit. I turned to see if he was ok. No was the answer. I’m just not enjoying it mate, he said. So I got my camera out and took some pics of him as that’d obviously cheer him right up. Go on mate give us a smile
Go on mate smile
There you go beautiful! That’s better, and he was smiling a bit now. We were climbing up by Blackchew Head and Chads was still struggling. He complained that he was feeling nauseous as we climbed (sign of what was to come for him i reckon), and I admitted that I was struggling in the same way for some reason. We carried on up onto the tops, and it was never ending climbs and more and more Yellow Brick Road. The sun was starting to descend now and it was getting much much colder
We carried on with much falls, as the Yellow Brick Road had been very wet during the day, and this had now frozen so we were all over the place. Paul said a number of times that he was putting his ice spikes on, but I was having none of it, and just minced along the side of the slabs gently. On reflection, we should have just put our spikes on and it would have saved us a whole lot of hurt, and made us move a bit more quickly.
As Glyn’s said in his blog, we made it to the road crossing at the A635 – gutted cos our support crew weren’t there (they were, in a big white campervan, which I’d actually seen but not recognised the number plate!). The guy spoke to us about a missing lad on the fells, as Glyn said, then we crossed and went onto Wessenden Moor, following Tom and Annie, who were fairly shifting down the valley.
Again as Glyn mentioned – he shattered all of my banter by coming up with the goods and ensuring we didn’t go too far off track by the wessenden Moors. It was bloody freezing and pitch black up here as we crossed the moors, past reservoirs, through bogs and all the time along stretches of Yellow Brick Road.
We came to the next road crossing near Standedge to be met by a familiar and very friendly face of Jon Fletcher. We exchanged a bit of banter, probably about his crap beard, or being a scouser. The lad behind that had a hacking cough, bailed at this point, which was a relief for me as I had thought he was going down for some time, and I’d asked him a few times if he was ok.
We climbed up on the tops at Standedge, and the clag was really down now. My Alpkit headtorch isn’t great in conditions like this and I was struggling a bit. For some reason, the other guys were
tucking in behind me so I could see nothing as they just shone their stronger torches on my torso and I just saw my shadow. I was proper grumbling and snapped at them a couple of times to get past me. Glyn asked what was up so I said about the headtorch and said it’s ok, as I’ll just pick up my LED Lenser H7 at the M62 crossing where we were to meet Max and Di next.
Now at this point, and I’m going to carry on telling the story as I initially thought it happened. On reflection I’ve got a different impression of what happened but I’ll save this for later (possibly instalment 2!)
It was pretty stunning being on this stretch, we could see the lights of Manchester and all it’s surrounding towns, way over in the distance that looked like a big plain. We were also starting to see the M62 snaking around in the distance too. This got us pretty excited as it meant it wouldn’t be long until we saw Max and Di next. We could hear dogs barking in the distance, and Glyn expressed some concern as he thought they were fairly close. I think I snapped at him and said don’t be daft, they’re probably around ten miles away
I recall it being pretty clear by now, and the clag had disappeared. We were following Paul’s GPS to keep us on track, and doing a bit of maintenance as we went e.g. drinking, eating, checking location etc. We stopped a few times and every time we stopped I started getting really cold and was getting desperate to move on. And then it felt like something sucked all the heat out of my body through my feet. God it was cold. Someone asked if I was ok. Yes, just a bit cold I responded, I’ll get in the van and warm up when we get there.
It gets a bit hazy for me at this point, and continues to be hazy until the next morning. I think it was only ten minutes from the point i got really cold, to the point I got in the van. But it could have been an hour, or more. We got the van and I just needed to get in the back and get warm, so I bundled past Di and sat down. She told me to watch out for the little heater on the floor, and told me to put my hands near it to get warm. Then I started shivering. And I haven’t shivered like this before, I was bloody freezing. I think (but am not sure), Di said to get my shoes off. I said OK, then looked at my shoes, and looked back up at her. I couldn’t figure out how to undo my shoes. She asked if I needed help. I don’t know, I said. The next thing I recall is her rubbing my minging feet in a tea towel to warm them up, and it was the most amazing feeling I think I’ve ever had. But I couldn’t get warm. I had my Montane Extreme Mitts on, sat in the back of a campervan, with a heater, and I couldn’t get warm. Quite the opposite in fact, I was shivering like a shivery beast. Then a medic arrived and asked me to recount what had happened, so I told her. She asked how much I’d drunk, and when I last pee’d, whether I had been confused. Then she told Max and Di to feed me hot water with loads of sugar in. She also asked how much clothes I had, and told me to put on EVERYTHING. So i ended up with about six layers on top, plus my Montane Punk balaclava, and the Extreme mitts. And still I was shivering. I think I kept zoning out, and various people got in and out of the van, including Tom, who bailed at this point, and just looked out of it (pot calling the kettle!), and Paul who got in to keep warm. Every time there was a draught of wind, all of the heat got sucked out of me again, and I started shivering. I don’t know how long this went on, but I just knew that my mates were waiting in the freezing cold for me to get my shit together. And I couldn’t. ‘Do you want to go on?’ asked Max. ‘If you mean do I want to go back out there, in the cold, now, then the answer’s no’, I said. Then a few tears came. I think I knew I was out at this stage but I let the decision slide for a little while longer. I had a great chat with Paul who was sat in the front, and another chat with Max, and LOADS with Di. Then the lads came up with a suggestion, it was only a couple of miles until the next road crossing, why didn’t I give it a try? OK, I thought. Someone suggested we check with the medic. No, keep drinking, you’re not going anywhere like that, said Cat the medic. OK then. And still I was shivering. And I looked up at Glyn and Chris and realised I was out. I can’t remember the conversation but I was devastated inside. 12 months prep, heartache, training. And i was done. I’d only been on the move for around 14.5 hours. 35 miles of 108. I felt lame. But my guardian angels (that’s you Max and Di), talked me round, explaining that it’d be stupid to go back out, and potentially put myself, my mates, and Mountain Rescue in harm’s way if anything further happened Sound Mountain Judgement. Don’t put yourself in such a position. And I was still cold.
The lads carried on along the Spine, and I hunkered down in the back of the campervan, in my own, dehydrated and hypothermic world and tried not to cry. Too much.