Wow. It’s probably fair to say that we’ve had an adventure on today’s Spine recce.  I wrote a while ago about how training isn’t just about getting mileage in the legs, or time on feet, and I think that lesson stands for today’s experience.  I’ll start with last night’s packing for today’s excursion….

The ultramadness team had decided we’d all carry ‘race weight’ in our packs for the jaunt today, which meant carrying a load of the mandatory kit.  It was only when we started weighing the packs that we realised what this actually meant.  When I got to 6.5 kg and realised I had still to put water in (which would be around another 1.5kgs), I decided to take the tent out.  Weather conditions in the South Lakes yesterday (Saturday 27th April) were pretty warm on the whole which very nearly prompted me not to pack some of the essential kit i had planned on.  In the end I put the following in my Aarn 30 litre (and 3 Litres in chest pouches):

Pogu ice spikes – crucial after our last outing and some of the pics from facebook

Montane Alpine stretch jacket

First Aid kit with loads of goodies

Dry sack with Montane fleece, Montane Ice Grip gloves

Dry sack with food – pork pies, babybel, peperami, salt & vinegar crisps

Leki walking poles

Montane Punk balaclava (first outing as it only arrived on Friday)

Montane Atomic DT waterproof trousers – in front pouch for easy access

Clif bars, Peperami, Shot Bloks in front pouch for ‘grazing’

MdS buff

Windstopper head wear

Seal Skins Merino wool gloves and windproof overgloves

Sol emergency shelter

Mountain Equipment Xero sleeping bag

Two raidlight 750ml water bottles secured in front pouches

I very nearly didn’t include all of the clothing, but after our last outing on the Pennine Way, I thought it safer to carry it and not need it.

This morning was stunning just south of Kendal in the South of Cumbria.  I was up at half 6 doing final prep before Glyn arrived to pick me up at 7:10am.  I couldn’t decide whether to put on the new INov8 Roclite Gortex boots that the Endurance Store had sorted for us, or the trusty Inov8 295’s, so i took both with me.  Legwear consisted of Injinji liner socks, Skins, Montane Terra shorts, with a Helly base layer, Adidas t-shirt and Berghaus jacket on top.  Messing around putting the recycling out, it felt chilly outside but not too bad.

Glyn arrived to pick me up and off we went to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where we met the honorary Ultramadness team member – Sammy B, dropped Glyn’s car off, and drove to Gargrave to meet Holohan and Chadders.

Forty minutes or so later and we were all getting our kit (including gloves, hats and buffs) on and off we ambled from Gargrave to Malham.

At a fairly low level, it still felt very chilly, which was to be a good indicator of things to come.  We were having all of the usual banter, most of which is unrepeatable due to bad language or horrendous taste (mostly from Holohan!).  Coming up to Malham, it started to drizzle and Glyn and I put our waterproof trousers on (coats already on for wind protection).  It had been beautiful scenery so far, but as we got closer to Malham Cove, we could see that there was a grey haze obscuring a lot of the view at a higher level.  We got to Malham Cove, and ascended the steps up to the top, and into a slightly different day.  At the top, the wind was fairly howling, and the drizzle got a bit more persistent.  Holohan stopped behind a wall to put his waterproof trousers on, leaving me, Chadders and Sam on top in the wind, prompting some abuse from yours truly.  Once Holohan had sorted himself out, we got moving towards Malham Tarn.  The rain carried on, and my merino gloves started getting very wet and i was slowly getting cold.  Holohan stopped to put another jacket on over the top of his Montane Minimus smock, and then we could see Malham Tarn.  As we circled the tarn on the Pennine Way route, it was getting wetter, windier and colder and the banter was starting to get subdued.  As we saw the waves of rain being blown across the tarn, I was imagining coming along the road in January, with the rain being snow or hail, which was a pretty unpleasant thought.  I think it was at this stage that each of us started getting cold, and we moved into the woods alongside the tarn, grateful of the respite from the wind that this offered.

Having a load of peperami and some of Chadderses awesome granola bar we emerged from the trees and back into the ‘weather’.  Still windy, still raining, and starting to get exposed now as we moved out onto a hillside and out from behind a wall.  With a bit of nav from Chadders, we started moving uphill and into the murk.  Trying desperately to move a bit quicker, with some hefty weights on our back, was becoming an issue.  As we carried on, our hands, amongst other things, were getting colder.  I’d finally decided on wearing my Inov8 295’s and was starting to regret the decision as my feet were now cold and wet, as well as my hands.  As my hands started shaking, I realised I needed to stop and sort out my windproof outers and put them on.  I had to take my merino gloves off, or so I thought, to get in my pack, which proved a mistake, as I couldn’t then get them back on again, and into the windproof ones.  I also put my Montane jacket over the top of my Berghaus one, to try and retain some heat, or at the very least warmth. Glyn had got his Punk balaclava out of his pack as he’d been suffering with the wind on his face, and I think the other guys had sorted a few things out too.  Andy had been struggling for a while with the pack causing his back some grief, and a hot spot on his foot where he had a rub.  We all carried on, uphill, with the wind speed increasing, and the temperature dropping, as well as the rain continuing to hammer down.

I’d noticed Andy was lagging a bit, and remembering how crap it is being miserable at the back, I waited to keep him company, and spent most of the climb together, with Andy being uncharacteristically quiet.  He was grumbling about his hands being cold, his pack being  too heavy, and wondering whether his training was correct.  In fairness, my hands were freezing too, but my pack wasn’t too bad – probably something to do with me removing the tent before i left home!  Andy’s phrase of the day was ‘overloaded and under prepared’. On the training front, it’s still early days in our training plan for the Spine Challenger, and we were expecting to do 20 miles today, give or take.  I offered to get Andy’s poles out of his pack, and then bullied him into agreeing.  I thought it might help take the weight off his back, and give a mental boost.  I think he did start moving faster and before long we were on the top.

We started down the other side, hoping for some respite from the conditions, which wasn’t to happen, and we soon passed large patches of snow, which thankfully weren’t  a sign of  things to come.  Still freezing, Glyn, Chadders and myself started to trot down the hill, which was a bit boggy and subsequently slippery.  Today’s moment of hilarity soon followed as Glyn slipped, sidestepped, slipped, sidestepped, slipped and sidestepped, then did a pirouette of the path and into the marsh grass.  Creased up with laughter I was almost too breathless to shout and ask if he was ok.  Chuckling back, he said he was and trotted off.  Four steps later and he was slipping and ended on his backside.  Cue some more light-hearted banter and more chuckling.  Up Glyn gets and another six steps and there was a thud and off Glyn slid, with some bog surfing action off down the hillside.  No banter or chuckling this time, and Glyn had a serious look on his face but he got up and we carried on.  We were coming down towards a road, before turning left down the road, then after half a mile it was off over Pen-Y-Ghent, which wasn’t a good proposition in these conditions.

We caught up with a guy walking who had a monstrous pack on his back and it turned out he was walking the Pennine Way.  Glyn, Chadders and I had a quick chat about skipping the top at Pen-Y-Ghent and taking an alternative route which was far less exposed.  Sam caught up and shouted ‘ three words “No, Pen-Y-Ghent”.  It wasn’t the time to question whether this was two, or four, words rather than three, so we waited until Andy arrived and explained the plan.

Without labouring the point, we skipped the top, and took a slightly lower level route to get back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.  All very cold, and very very wet.  It’s amazing how soon you forget how bad you felt things were, and once we were sat in a cafe with a pint of tea, and a bowl of hot soup, the world was a better place.

The realisation for me kicked in once we’d finished our soup.  I imagined how we would feel if we were on the Spine Challenger event in January with 108 miles to complete so I said to Andy, come on then, only another 90 miles to go.  That thought is a tough one.

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