The last half of 2012 has seen me suffer badly from tendonitis deep within my knee and my fitness was waning as quickly as my tummy was swelling ;-) but all is not lost as finally during the 6 weeks prior to Christmas I made it back to some form of pain-free consistent training, happy days. And as I am about to go under the surgeon’s knife on the 18th of January I decide on a final burst of effort and set myself a special little Xmas Holiday Challenge , to run the Borders Abbey Way over 4 days.
Borders Abbey Way
The Borders Abbey Way is a 65 mile long trail that circumnavigates the best of the Scottish Borders, taking you on your way between 4 ancient Abbeys. It’s a trail that I have used in part but never really followed it in its entirety so I thought why not give it a go and it’s always good to put a goal down while looking for a new adventure
the Borders Abbey Way …. follow the post
There is nothing extreme about this trail as it travels over hills and through forests for the most part then across farmland and by riverside path for the rest. It is however exceptionally beautiful and constantly varied in its journey. Never was I bored, at every turn there was always something different appearing on the Horizon. In fact I was actually buzzing for the next stage to see what was there , and I live here !! Yes , it is THAT good.
heading away from Kelso …
For the most part the hills come between Jedburgh ,Hawick through Selkirk and on to Melrose , with the famous Eildon hills popping into view at every high point , getting tantalizingly closer as you travel east …. the Borders Schiehallion I thought. From Melrose to Kelso and on to Jedburgh the trail is relatively flat riverside path, this makes for great running through. Over the length of your journey which ever sections you do , I guarantee you will see some of the most beautiful scenery the Borders has to offer and you will view it from all different perspectives and angles.
Running it over 4 days the daily mileage was reasonably comfortable for me, and the climbing shallow and easy-going, so even in my relatively unfit condition I was able to enjoy it all. A hill runner would run this route in its entirety , a cautious trail runner might on occasion walk the odd hill but still enjoy the trail either side. I recommend this to everyone from walker to Ultra runner. It is a fantastic journey from start to finish and one that I will return to when I intend to run it in one long push during the build up for my 95 mile West Highland Way race attempt in June. I will have to be patient though as I have an operation and a fair bit of training to do before then , but at least now I know the “Way”
There is a race that is a myth to many , one that most are never likely to see , it’s a mystery held deep within the European mountain bike community. A race where invitation is the only means of entry, a race purely for fun yet there is a winner, one who is elevated to god like status yet is openly mocked for winning . It is a race of endurance, hard trail and brutal climbing. Add to that tricky navigation , remote night stages and a sprinkling of crazy challenges ….. It is everything yet it is nothing !! it is “Men of Porage”
My friend and adventure racer extra-ordinaire Kenny Short rang me up last week , the conversation went like this …
Kenny: Hey Mark fancy a mountain bike race on Saturday”
Mark: ah Kenny I’m no racer on the bike mate.
Kenny: Dont worry Mark its an endurance event you wont need to go fast .
Mark: Fuck it then Kenny I’ll come along ….. what is it ?
Kenny: it’s the Men of Porage and this time its set near Innerleithen.
Mark: THE Men of Porage race Kenny ?
Kenny: yes !! THE Men of Porage
Mark: fuck !!
a Porageer …..
Originating in the Czech Republic , home of some real hardcore nutters when it comes to sport so you just know it is going to be tough. I’m not sure of the UK history but to quote Lawrence Tring : “About 8 year’s ago a British Porage event was launched with élite riders from mountain bike endurance and orienteering/trail-quest events invited” , obviously 8 years later they were scraping the bottom of the barrel if I was getting an invite . it’s a race that travels to a different venue every outing and is a slightly different incarnation every time. This year it was set close to me in Innerleithen, so not to far to for me to travel either. Gary Tompsett of Rat Race fame was in charge of this Porage so it was sure to be a good one.
Traquair house and the Maze ….
Kenny picked me up at 11am Saturday morning. Andrew Tullie would also be accompanying us , good news as Andrew is part of the greatest Orienteering / hill running family EVER !! he would be the man to count on when things got tough. We were to be at the Corner House Hotel Innerleithen and be ready to race for 12 noon , here we would be escorted as a peloton to the starting point which was unknown to all. About 50 riders from all over the UK were in the hotel car park excited and nervous in equal doses. Suddenly a rider appeared and after a short briefing we were off , a 50 strong mountain bike peloton heading for Traquair house. As we arrived we were told to position our bikes against a long wall as if preparing for a mass start. We were then ushered to the top of the garden by the old Gates and given a briefing on what to expect , 50 miles at least , 20 checkpoints to reach , probably 3000m of climbing all in …. WOW !! I knew I was screwed right here We would be given 4 maps , but only 1 at a time , once we had hit the CPs we would be “rewarded” with our next section of challenges before moving on to the next area of the the Peeblesshire hills. Gary then told us there was a twist to the starting of the race. We had to race the 400 metres to the huge maze situated at the back of the house , find the centre to get our first CP then head back to the bikes before disappearing into the Forests and hills of Traquair , amazing !! but before all this the Porage oath had to be taken ….
It was now tiem to go , all of a sudden we were running down the length of the Traquair gardens to the maze at the back of this grand old house. In we went, 50 adventure racers fleeting like mice in a laboratory puzzle, all trying to find the centre of this ancient maze . After 5 minutes we realised that it was harder than we thought , hmm let’s think … here! shouted Kenny seeing a hole in the maze leading to the centre , as we squeezed through the short-cut the event photographer caught Kenny with his camera .. ha-ha red-handed !!!
Kenny caught red handed !!
We noted the CP number and found our way out , running quickly to the bikes and trying at the same time to decide the best route to CP2 …. for this checkpoint we headed into the forest trails and used a logging road to gain height before heading out and over the moors to come round onto the next hill, man !! what a slog !! My legs were on fire after nearly one hour of solid energy sapping climbing !! eventually we left the forest and headed over the high ground , the inclement weather had left the paths soft , muddy and very wet , hard going indeed. At times I wished I had been running , it would definitely have been easier .. yet I was enjoying being out there so much , really buzzing that after my injury , I was finally back racing in the hills , albeit on wheels.
Eventually we made our way up and over the amazingly beautiful Gypsy Glen and down over the hills to Peebles where we had to find a checkpoint deep in the countryside to the North . It was dark now and we were relying on good judgement and luck, actually just luck We made it back to Peebles and I looked at my watch , 4 hours on the bike already and we still had to find a railway tunnel before we could head on to the next map. A stroke of genius happened , the organiser had made one of the CPs next to a good old SPAR !!! yassssssss !! in we went and grabbed the goodies , stuffed ourself full of Bounty bars and wine gums .. Next we headed North east to a trail that took us to a point above the railway tunnel , or so we thought. We found a sweet descent trail and dropped height , and more height until we ended up on the banks of the Tweed !! aaaaarrghhh SHIT !! we had over shot the tunnel and dropped way more height than we had meant to. 30 minutes of hauling bikes around a steep and over grown banking ensued and eventually we had found the tunnel , 200 metres long and pitch black we scanned its walls looking for a CP number , eventually finding it in a small bay full of nasty nasty things ,the unmentionable. We sent the bold Kenny in first
Andrew enters the Nasty !!!
Finally we shot out the tunnel and headed for the final checkpoint to receive our next map , this took us to Cardrona Village and a pump track where we had to complete the challenge of pumping our way round with out a pedal stoke , easy and we were off heading down the country lanes towards Traquair house again for another crazy checkpoint , every hill now felt like a serious mission to my very tired legs .
Hardened Vets singing for their supper
We arrived to a moon lit Traquair house and a checkpoint full of Beer !! we gave our names to the official so he could check us in, at night things get a little more serious and a cold night like we were having takes no prisoners to anyone stuck in the hills . Kenny gave his name and all of a sudden the official picked up a tin of cat food , eat he said to Kenny. Kenny looked up , why ? you must eat or you forfeit your race due to cheating in the maze …. hahah Andrew and I laughed , Kenny picked up the cat food and ate it .. eeuurgh ! Kenny turned round and said “Tuna and jelly isn’t my favourite , I much prefer chicken and gravy” this cheered me up no end. We headed out of traquair and the back roads to the final CP at Innerleithen downhill car-park We met Gary who offered us an extra loop to spice up our adventure … we accepted it and headed down to Walkerburn to climb to the the reservoir high above , the trail is reputed to be a tasty local secret , this would be fun at night. Unfortunately our powerful bike lights were now dropping like flys and we were down to Zipka head torches . No good for technical trails , Tullie was also on a promise !! you can’t keep these young lads from their Shnazzzms so we bit the bullet and headed back to Innerleithen to call it a night … 8 hours in the saddle , thousands of metres of tough technical ascents and descents … lost many times , cold and exhausted !! and lets not mention my arse !!! Never had such a good time for ages
Alan Watts, philosopher, writer and public speaker .
Alan Watts ….
Since my youth I have had a strong interest in both the nature that surrounds me and who I am within it, not in a flaky way I might add ! I’m not dancing in the streets shaking my tambourine just yet but I have been strongly drawn to looking deeper into life than most . Over the years I’ve read books, listened to philosophies and even tried to experience various belief’s and religions and have built a strong association with Buddhism. I have even immersed myself in some of its teachings through several retreats at the Samye Ling centre near my home, every time thoroughly enjoying my stay. Am I a Buddhist ? unfortunately not, I am in no way a person pure enough of soul to restrict myself to the practices of Buddhism no matter how much I respect it as a way of life. My drive for knowledge is not about religion , it’s about wonderment of nature and the why of me , it’s a big picture I know
Contemplating the Universe ..
I have asked the following question many times; Is it because I am an outdoor sportsman that I wonder about the world or is because I wonder about the word that I am an outdoor sportsman ? chicken and egg ? I remember my early days as a climber sitting on tiny ledges looking out at the vast topography below me, taking it all in and wondering, this wonder is probably what sets me apart as one of the people who take notice and look deeper into what is spinning around me, many doubt, some mock and most just aren’t interested in anything apart from the confines of their daily life, but for those interested enough to look there are beliefs and teachings out there that when you take the time to read or listen to may actually make more sense than what you actually have believed to be true before. laughing yet ? ask yourself a question, do you use a mantra to help your running , if the answer is yes …. Ever wondered why you use it and why it helps ? read on …….
A video titled “What if money was no object” seems to have captured everyone’s imagination in the outdoor sports community right now, probably because it helps justify spending time on our own desires, many of us giving priority to our love of our sport over financial gain or family commitments, an explanation on “living the dream” it eventually hit my inbox or twitter feed and a name came up from my past, Alan Watts , a British philosopher and writer who I had a real interest in during the 90s. Back then his books and transcripts had been a huge force in giving me answers and questions about myself, he ignited a lot of little sparks that still burn within me all these years later. So it was with great interest that I watched this little video go “viral” all these years later . I have spent the last few days looking back into Alan’s work and decided to post a few of his interesting videos for all to enjoy …..
Alan Watts was born in London in 1915, at the start of the first World War. At a young age he became fascinated with the Far East, and at fourteen he began to write and was published in the Journal of the London Buddhist Lodge before writing his first booklet on Zen in 1932. He moved to New York in 1938 and then to Chicago, where he served as an Episcopal priest for six years before leaving the Church. In 1950, he moved to upstate New York before going on to San Francisco to teach at the Academy of Asian Studies. Among Alan Watts’ earliest influences were the novelist Sax Rohmer and Zen scholars D.T. Suzuki and Christmas Humpreys. In late 1950, he visited with Joseph Campbell and composer John Cage in NYC.
Alan Watts was profoundly influenced by the East Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism, and by Taoist thought, which is reflected in Zen poetry and the arts of China and Japan. After leaving the Church, he never became a member of another organized religion, and although he wrote and spoke extensively about Zen Buddhism, he was criticized by American Buddhist practitioners for not sitting regularly in zazen. Alan Watts responded simply by saying, “A cat sits until it is done sitting, and then gets up, stretches, and walks away.”
1950′s and early ’60′s
After teaching at the Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, he became Dean and began to give regular radio talks on KPFA, the Berkeley free radio station. In 1957, he published his best-selling Way of Zen, and in 1958 returned to Europe where he met with C.G. Jung. He was an early subject in pioneering psychedelic trials, and, after recording two seasons of the public television series Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, travelled to Japan several times in the early sixties. By the late sixties, he had become a counter-culture celebrity, and travelled widely to speak at universities and growth centers across the US and Europe.
By the early seventies, Alan Watts had become a foremost interpreter of Eastern thought for the West, and was widely published in periodicals including Earth, Elle, Playboy, and Redbook. He appeared on CBS television’s Camera Three in 1969, and in 1971 he recorded a pilot for a new show titled A Conversation with Myself for NET, the precursor to PBS. When the series was not produced, he recorded the shows with his son Mark and his long-time audio archivist Henry Jacobs in 1972. Overall, Alan Watts developed an extensive audio library of nearly 400 talks and wrote more than 25 books during his lifetime, including his final volume, Tao: The Watercourse Way. Alan Watts died in his sleep in November of 1973, after returning from an intensive international lecture tour.
Some of my favourite lectures ..
The Art of Meditation …. a great explanation and guide to meditation
Our Image of the World
The Nature of conciousness
The Web of Life
There are many many more great lectures available on the web and they are well worth spending the time listening to “some may say rubbish , some may say good and some may change for ever ” Marko 2012
23rd of September 2012Parking and registration at Stobs disused camp site (GR500094), 4 miles south of Hawick on B6399 (turn off at war memorial near Woodfoot Bridge).Race takes place on farmland with livestock, so please do not bring dogs.
Entries on the day – £3
Entrants must be aged 16 or over.ROUTE DESCRIPTION: Start next to site of Stobs camp GR500094, proceed SW up track, through 2 gates and alongside Barnes Loch with wood on LHS. Carry on below a second wood then turn uphill until coming to a farm track at cattle grid GR491071. Cross straight over the cattle grid and carry on track SSW until crossing a second cattle grid GR486060, immediately after which turn back along the fence NE and proceed to top of Penchrise Pen GR491063. Follow path off top of hill NW which will go through a gate and past a stone shelter to rejoin the track, turning right to go back down through the first cattle grid. Continue on track for about 100 yards until before cutting off to the left and downhill towards Barnes Loch and rejoin outward route for run down to finish.further details here : Penchrise Pen Hill race / Scottish hill racing websiteFor further information, contact Keith Murray: email email@example.com or telephone 01450 374971
Penchrise Summit , the view is 360 degrees of beauty
Penchrise is a little known hill nestled near Hawick , full of history and with an epic view on a bright day. It is also the main feature in my local hill race “The Penchrise Pen race” , a relatively new hill race organised by Keith Murray, one of the borders finest hill runners , a man who can climb hills like a Kenyan runs the flat. Keith has found a little gem with his race and I’m sure it will gain in popularity once word gets around. As a fledgling hill runner and a training buddy of Keith I had looked forward to it for a while, so it was with sadness that I could not run on the day due to the tendinitis in my knee. Not to miss out entirely I went along to help out and I was lucky enough to Marshall from the summit on what was one of the nicest days of the year.
Stobs camp back in the war…
The race starts at the old Stobs camp near Hawick GR500094 , it was the base of a military camp from 1903 and later became a prisoner of war camp during the second world war , loads of info and pictures can be found here: Stobs camp . Nowadays it’s used for everything from Mini Rallys , a quiet place to practice reversing your caravan and even teaching your kids to drive for the first time , none the less a beautiful setting and the perfect staging post for this cracking hill run.
Barnes Loch .. Penchrise
The race would start at the camp and head up towards Penchrise following cattle trails and sheep trods before heading steeply up to pass Barnes loch before joining a rough track for a short distance before veering up to the summit of Penchrise to touch the trig point and head down the other side dropping all the way home. The run at only a little over 8 km and a pretty gentle climb of only 280 metres its pretty easy in comparison to a lot of hill races in the calendar but with the beautiful setting and the easy access it is definitely a race worth doing , a great introduction for a novice or a speed trial for a seasoned campaigner, you can go as hard as you can for the top, see what you have in your legs and once you get there grab a few seconds of that view before tearing down the other side for home … a race day that everyone is sure to enjoy.
Keith Murray … The races main man
This years date for the race although perfect for the late good weather was also the day after the Two Breweries hill race over at Traquair , an 18 mile hill-fest of epic proportions so it was always going to be a tough call for entries , however a decent amount of dedicated runners arrived including several Two Brewery racers going for the double crown and a bunch of local stalwarts from the Teviotdale harriers, it would definitely be a closely fought race at the front and a great day out at the back .The weather was a beautiful cool sunny day so visibility was to be outstanding and the views would be enjoyed to the full.
I headed up to the summit to set up my marshalling station (get my camera out) … and below are a few shots from the day . A great race ! with fabulous cake …
Penchrise Summit , the view is 360 degrees of beauty
“After reading this I shook my head and laughed at my own antics , so I think for the benefit of readers new to this blog Id better explain a little , I have a degenerative shoulder injury sustained while whitewater kayaking nearly 2 years ago, one which I am scheduled to have surgery on in October, I have postponed this operation twice to avoid missing my summer and its racing but this was Ill advised as it has rapidly became very unstable over the past few months and I am now having trouble just keeping it in its socket , keep reading you will understand why I write this”
I arrived in Chamonix last week to beautiful weather and high spirits, my knee was feeling better for my semi-taper and the thought of a cool sunny high level run across the Alps was making me happy. This was a good feeling because lately the thought of running was not having that effect on me , quite the opposite in fact . Trying to keep fit has been a hard battle between injury and lack of interest , I should have been psyched for this race, training hard and banging in the 90+ mile weeks like I had been previous to the Marathon Des Sable and the Himalayan100 the year before but instead I was suffering from tendonitis in my knee and had struggled to get in 25 quality miles a week and these were an effort both physically and mentally, C’est la Vie. I would head to Chamonix and try to finish the TDS no matter what , hopefully I could just keep plodding to the finish-line, after all how hard could it be ?
Four go running ..
I was staying in a lovely apartment located bang center of town with 3 of my ultra-running compadre’s , Johnny Millen the dark horse of ultra running , a guy who really can run with the best yet never tries to give the impression he is anything special , in fact he lives by the Joss Naylor code of looking like a throwback from the 70s school of fleece and woolly hats he was entered in the 160km UTMB race , next the Lentil kid , the super modest yet incredibly talented Paul “Pyllon” Giblin, only his second year of Ultra-running yet already a growing force in the Scottish Ultra scene, winner of last years Cateran and powering himself to second place in this years West Highland way Race , rounding off my talented bunch of companions was Davie Bell, a super experienced and indomitable ultra runner / adventure racer who over the years has completed more races than even he cares to mention, UTMB and WHW race include …… Errrr, now wheres my qualifications ? , Hmmmmm did I mention I was good at kayaking once ?
Le Brevent 2525m straight up !!!!!
After settling in our first foray into the Chamonix countryside was a steep bimble up to the top of Le Brevent , a huge mountain towering over Chamonix at 2525m high. I left the apartment thinking we would be running up a switchback trail but no, not us , it was to be straight up the side of the mountain following the steepest mountain bike trail we could find … half way up as I puffed along at the back I swung under a tree that blocked the path , I held on a second to long and managed to dislocate my arm much to the alarm of the lads … I found a rock twisted on it to pop it back in place, painful but nothing Im not used to by now. As we progressed onwards and upwards I felt the altitude and my legs were ever tiring , not the best pre-race prep I know ! Eventually we reached the clouds after a climb of over 1500 metres .. at this point Pyllon and Johnny decided to race to the top ….. Bloody hell !! I was already knackered , quickly they disappeared into the mist bounding up the hill ….. Davie and I opting for the “old bulls” approach of cruising up to enjoy the “pleasure” … Pretty soon Davie and I decided to the head down towards the cable car restaurant for a crêpe and Cafe’ and let the whippets go for it …. Davies remark of “they’re a stone lighter than a meringue” made me laugh as we jogged down towards the restaurant. It was a truly beautiful place to chill out , with superb views of the Mt Blanc massif opposite . After our lunch we decided on descending via the cable car to save our quads for later in the week. Johnny and Pyllon eventually arriving home hours later after what most would consider a very hard day in the mountains , to them just a warm up of things to come.
Registering for TDS
The next few days were spent ambling around in beautiful weather,eating,drinking and eventually registering for our chosen races. Johnny queued with us for a while until eventually noticing that the UTMB registration wasn’t until later in the day The usual identity and kit check ensued for Davie and I but Paul was pulled aside for a blood test , those élite athletes get all the fun we were given our free T-shirts , mines being a little on the tight side … my lack of training the past 6 months hasn’t been kind … never mind its something to work on once I get back to proper training , my goal is to get that T-shirt to fit again !! After all the excitement we headed home to relax. The next morning we went for a “brisk” 10km trail run by the river to keep our legs oiled , I glanced at my watch which said 6:40 m/mile pace as Pyllon casually chatted to me on the home straight !! personally I was ready to collapse later that day Katie , Johnny’s girlfriend arrived in town so we were all put on our best behaviour , well for 10 minutes !! she was cool and very nice to , so we all headed out to the square for something to eat , a last supper !
The Storm rolls in ……..
As we headed home for an early night I noticed the weather was taking a turn for the worst and it was feeling pretty heady , electricity was building and we were certainly heading for a storm .. We sat discussing the possibility of bad weather and what we would do about it when a text arrived in from the organisers , they were obviously concerned ….
Another text came in later to tell us it was now compulsory to carry 4 layers of winter clothing, the ball game had changed .. running across high ground with the heat of the sun and complete visibility is one thing, crossing it in winter conditions is another,the TDS race would be especially tough as this was a route away from the ultra trail , a race over exposed and remote ground, I thought to myself “you can pick them mate” my fingers were crossed. Our pick up was at 5am , we would see what the weather was like then . All night the rain lashed down and the thunder and lightning bashed and clashed relentlessly. I don’t think I slept a wink during the storm, I can remember seeing my watch say 3am then It was 5am and time to roll … outside was a deadly calm, the storm had stopped and the air was still .. out we went to the bus that would ship us through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Cormayeur our start line. We arrived to a cold but dry starting line , the cloud was low however but hopefully as the sun came up it would rise. Paul headed to the front of the starting line, he meant business …. Davie and I content to sit nice and cosy in the middle … the sun was rising and music started to play , the atmosphere was building and as the darkness drifted away I saw the lean and mean faces of the other runners , this was a tough race and one filled with athletes from all around the globe , at least 40 nationalities was accounted for. This was no marathon full of fun runners , it’s not going to be fun , this was a high altitude 75 mile mountain race with 23,500 feet of positive ascent over extreme and difficult terrain raced to tight cut off times and would not finish for most until at least 24 hours later , only the qualified need apply… I wondered what I was doing there among these hardened individuals , maybe last year but this year, hmmm I had the experience and the stones but did I have the legs , I didn’t know !
.“Paul is in the video , the last runner of the 5 heading down through the rock terrace , wearing the purple rucksack”
The music stopped and the race director made an announcement to everyone , then BANG , we were off !!! The race headed down through Cormayeur across the bridge , which crossed a very nice grade 5 kayak gorge and then it climbed up , and up until we hit a fire road heading VERY steeply up to a cable car station several thousand feet above at Col de Checrouit . I got my poles out and run/walked up the relentlessly steep and rapidly deteriorating path to the top , was I glad to see that checkpoint , my legs were on fire! A good excuse to stop and rest if only for a few minutes , I grabbed some bread and honey and headed off-road and steeply up again , this time heading to Col de Youlaz . It was lashing down with cold rain at this point and I put my waterproof jacket on before heading out into the open country , as I approached the Col I saw a huge bottle-neck of runners , it was like a line of ants snaking up a huge rocky slope finishing in a muddy scramble to the top over loose shale and with a death drop to the side , nice !! I sat in the bottle-neck for well over an hour ! slowly moving up the mountain one step at a time, at one point a large group of runners tried to move past the bottle neck and a large argument ensued. I started to shiver as my temperature had now plummeted due to the slow pace , I had to strip off in the sheet rain and try to get a warm thermal on , this was turning into a nightmare scenario ! stuck in the open freezing to death. As I began to approach the rocky scramble ahead , rocks were careering from above and people were slipping and sliding everywhere , there was real danger here , bodies shoe-horned into a slippy mud strewn rocky ascent was certainly not a good thing. Thoughts of falling with a shoulder like mine are not positive thoughts , my inability to stop myself falling was making me nervous imagine a dislocated shoulder stuck on this ice rink of an ascent ,8000 feet up a mountain top … screw that … I was uncomfortable to say the least .Eventually I topped out , frozen to the bone but at least I was moving again , the rain had made the descent path a mud slide , people were falling everywhere in front of me .. I slid myself , twice , the second time I held myself onto my poles and subluxed my shoulder, here we go again !!! it went straight back in , but this really shit me up and I picked my way slowly down the descent of slippery rock,mud and grass for what seemed like an eternity … I just couldn’t risk a dislocation out there , I was now realising that with the current state of my injury I had put myself at risk in a way I had never considered .. eventually we hit a trail and I could confidently run again without fear of slipping so I headed for the checkpoint at double speed. My knee at this point was already feeling weak , god this is starting to sound terrible, like the oldest runner in the world has a running blog .. haha , I hit the checkpoint at La Thuille and sat there considering whether to just pull out there .. I was soaked through , frozen and obviously not fit enough to take the full challenge of this race on , Davie was nowhere to be seen , probably miles ahead at this point so what’s the point of continuing … well plenty !! I was in the Alps !! and the following section was manageable ,so why not continue checkpoint to checkpoint and enjoy my day .. I grabbed some noodle soup and some more bread and headed out into the rain , up and up again I went eventually topping out at a nice lake , I ran along the lakeside before climbing again to Col du Petit-St-Bernard. I arrived here soaked through and it was howling , there were lines of guy laid out with silver blankets on … shit !! I headed straight though and ran the flat before a nice trail twisted its way 4000 feet down to St Germain , my knee at this point was weakening rapidly and I had to lay off the steeper parts of the descent but as I dropped height the temperature picked up and I felt myself warming up . I caught up with a french man , Basile . He was amazed that a Scotsman was not at the front of the race, after all we live in the mountains . haha … he was funny and told me he had run the UTMB and CCC several times, and had been in the first TDS race in 2009 , they started the TDS he said, for runners looking for something more extreme and mountainous that the other races , not so far as the UTMB but tougher and more rugged … next year they will change the course , and race from Chamonix to Courmayeur … Hmmm , Ill keep it in mind .. ha-ha What I do realise now is that there is an ignorance to what the TDS race is actually about, I originally thought it was the worst half of the UTMB and that is why it was less famous and never needed a ballot entry, the CCC being the best half and hence the reason for its popularity but NO, the TDS is a race set out in an entirely different ilk to the CCC or UTMB , it was devised in 2009 to be a race to suit the mountain goats, the runners who want away from the Ultra trail , runners who really want to go into the wilds and rough it , it is longer than the CCC in distance and it has sections on it harder then the UTMB so be ready, this is no sister race to the UTMB, it’s a brother from another mother !! Its nasty and this year only 44% of the 1500+ TDS runners finished the race.
We cruised the last few miles into Bourg St Maurice together and it was here I decided to call it a day , I looked high into the mountains above me, looking at where I had to go , it was dark and foreboding , nightfall only an hour or two away , the forecast was for even more bad weather. I doubted that even if I wanted to continue whether I could move fast enough to keep warm through the night , so after 35 miles and nearly 10,000 feet of ascent/descent I decided to call it a day , feeling a little foolish to have thought I could sneak a finish , this race was proper TOUGH and needs 100% respect and superb conditioning to finish, two factors I hadn’t been able to give …… I sat for a while contemplating my day, despite everything it had been a good one no Gilet for me , just a tight T-shirt , but still a great alpine adventure. I checked my phone , Paul was sitting in 25th place from 1500 runners , WOW !! that was amazing , this was a field of super tough runners racing in extreme conditions and Paul was right up there at the front !!!! And Davie was forging on up the mountain in front of me , good man the runners were now fast dispersing from the checkpoint so I walked the last few metres to cross the line and register my retiral from the race . There were several buses of runners retiring and I was pointed to the one in the middle , I climbed on and fell asleep , waking up in Cormayeur !!! bugger , they had shipped me back to the start I thought , nightmare !! but no , it was the right bus and a quick change of buses and were off through the tunnel back home.
Mont Blanc Tunnel …. 16km long …
I arrived back at our apartment where Johnny was chilling out following the race , Paul was now 23rd , superb !!! Davie hadn’t been heard of for several hours , no concern really , he knew what he was on . I showered and piled Ibuprofen down my throat , I headed out to get something to eat. I headed to a café close by the finish line , the Poco Loco .. one awesome little burger bar and the reason for me falling off my vegetarian wagon for a few days , burgers are my Achilles heel and after 35 miles I was needing a fix !! It was now nearly 1am and the first of the TDS finishers were coming in so I grabbed a bench near the finish-line to watch ….. News came in that Davie had retired from the race high on the mountain , Hypothermia had set in and he had to withdraw from the race unable to keep warm through the night , that just shows how tough it had got up there after dark , he is nails !!
First over the line was Dawa Sherpa , a mountain goat from Nepal. After that they came in sporadically but every runner had a look of relief to be finished and most had a 1000 mile stare as the realisation of what they had been through sank in now the running had stopped . I was keeping an eye out for Paul , I think I was drifting off to sleep when Johnny Millen arrived on my bench with Katie , Paul had held a 25th place and was just about an hour away from finishing …. fantastic .. we went in to the cafe’ for hot chocolate and a heat as we waited . WE kept our eyes on the feed waiting on Paul to come through the last checkpoint , soon he had passed through so we headed out into the street to stand at the finish-line …. I received a phone-call from Paul’s sister , the swizzler, they were watching us back in Glasgow on the finish-line web-cam , haha She was texting Johnny and I requests for Bolt arms and the Mo-bot .. live on camera ha! Brilliant .
Suddenly a wisp of a runner burst round the corner to cheers and whistles , it was Paul , I grabbed my camera and shot him running across the finish , I shouted him to let him know his family was watching and tried to grab a few more shots . 18 hrs and 35 minutes of super tough extreme running across the high mountain passes of the Alps , horrendous weather and mud strewn trails , he had held his own against some of the best mountain runners in the world , he had proved himself once and for all !!!! I was made up for him !! he was shell-shocked and tired but still found time to tell us the tales as we headed home …… a great night !!
A jubilant Pyllon acknowledges his family
We awoke to the news that the CCC and the UTMB would now be altered due to the weather conditions , the CCC would not cross the high paths and would stay closer to the valley and the UTMB would not cross the Border and would circle Chamonix , the distance cut by 60km … apparently we were the crash test dummies during the TDS .. haha , now do not be fooled though , the weather and underfoot conditions still made these races super tough and just as challenging. I could sense a mixed emotion from Johnny , he had come to test himself out against the mighty Ultra trail Mont Blanc and he was being short-changed but also a slight relief he didn’t have to go the distance in the conditions outside , either way his race would be ultra-tough , he would go hard !
UTMB starting line
We chilled out most of the day as we awaited Johnny’s race , soon it was upon us and the dark horse running machine was raring to go , a 58th place in last years CCC and a long list of fast times in the hills Johnny is an off road runner of the highest calibre so I was excited to see him go for it over the shortened course .. he would of course be up against some of the worlds best but he would dig in up those hills and give it real welly I was betting .. Off Johnny went to the start and Paul , Davie and I headed off to get a good vantage point to see the runners leave Chamonix to run through the night … we were stood watching a cordoned off street expecting the start of the UTMB.. suddenly a dirty tired runner came up the street , he was the winner of the CCC , a sudden realism that we were watching the wrong race … Paul ,Davie and I ran (in reality hobbled) down the street like 3 old age pensioners as our raced out legs just didn’t want to work , we hit the main street just making the UTMB start and cheering them all off .
A tired but happy Johnny Millen finishes his UTMB in fine style and with a smile !
We left the square and went to chill out in the apartment keeping an eye on the race updates for Johnny’s place , he was 250th , pretty good ! then he 220th , then 180th …. wow !! pretty soon it was midnight and I couldn’t keep my eyes open , outside the rain had come in and I imagined their night run to be a tough one …. I awoke to find Johnny in 170th place … now that’s out of 2400 runners !! I imagined him in his vent shorts and old woolly hat running past state of the art top to toe Salomon wearing runners giggling in his madness through lack of sleep .. he’s a geordie Soon we were at the finish line waiting on his arrival and sure enough he sneaked round the corner in his trademark plain kit , but in an incredible 165th place !! yahooooooo !!!! he looked fresh as a daisy and was looking like he’d just done 10km not 100km …. superb !! way aye man ye did greet !!! … A fellow adventure runner and good friend from my home town , Jason MacDonald also completed the UTMB this year and I was lucky enough to meet him in Chamonix before he headed off to Les Houche .. nice one Jason , Well done
the View from Chamonix square …….
What a great trip with great people, we had our races , we had our laughs and I ate a burger !! I learnt that if you don’t do the miles in training your legs will not do the miles racing , I learnt that it’s finally time to stop pushing , admit I’m injured and chill out until I’m able to be fit again , I learnt that great runners are normal people and that my French is merde , but most of all I learnt that you should always let your eyes acclimatize to the light before sitting on a toilet seat in a toilet with no lightbulb !!!!
The Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie ….. the TDS race of the UTMB mountain running Event.
“Wilder and more technical than the UTMB® and the CCC® it is a race in exposed country along the ‘Grande Randonnée’ paths crossing though the high Mont-Blanc, Beaufort, Tarentaise and Aosta. A mountain event, including numerous sections at high altitude (>2,500m), in weather conditions which can be very difficult (night, wind, cold, rain or snow), requiring a very high level of fitness, the appropriate equipment and a real capacity for personal autonomy”
TDS Profile .. up down up down up down ouch ouch !!!!
What now seems like forever ago I entered the UTMB race but failed in the ballot to get a place, therefore I was offered a place in the TDS race which runs alongside the CCCand PTLraces to form the The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®mountain running festival based in Chamonix….. now I’ve got that mouthful of abbreviational mumbo jumbo out the way lets talk English.
The North Face UTMB festival is a magnet for mountain runners worldwide and boasts the highest number of entries in any event of its kind. It will be amazing for me to be part of it and I fully expect Chamonix to be buzzing with top runners from all over the world including some of the worlds top mountain athletes ,hopefully I will spy a few of my favorite “celebs” during the week Even if I don’t I am heading out with an illustrious bunch of extremely fit compadre’s including Johnny Millen the Geordie hill cruncher , Paul Giblin the “floating” Scotsman and the one and only Sir Davie Bell of Bathgate , need I say more !. Whatever happens in Chamonix I’m in for a good time !
I hear the Gates of heaven are up here ? … thank God cos my calves are in Hell !!!!
If I’m honest this is a race that has me a little worried, it is a very serious undertaking for anyone, it is over remote high mountain terrain with an unrelentingly tough course from beginning to end. I’ve run up Scottish hills, baked in hot deserts and ground my way up Himalayan mountain trails but never have I undertook something as long and as unrelentingly tough as this race. It is 112 kilometers long and has 7150 meters of technical ascent and descent . that’s 23,454 feet or 8 Munros from sea level to summit , it’s all to be done in one single stage and my calves and quads will be screaming for mercy if I can keep going to the end. And that is the burning question in my head right now, it is what I keep asking myself over and over , will my legs keep going and will my knee hold up ?
Ouch …. pass the peas.
This year has been exceptionally tough for me, my shoulder which was wrenched violently from its socket while kayaking a spot of Alpine white-water gnarl during my last visit to the french alps has now deteriorated to the point where it dislocates for apparently no reason other than twisting it the wrong way , making anything but running near impossible, and even running has recently started to give me a gnawing pain deep within the socket. It has also been another big year of change in my life. Working out-of-town at the University made my early seasons training very tough to keep consistent and I let my mileage slip badly,thankfully I was welcomed into the “screaming calf society” of the local hill runners who beasted me twice weekly with hill reps and intervals after work . My weekends have and still are chaotic , having left self employment behind means finding time to spend with my daughter is a lot tougher, I took on a freelance programming contract to help pay the bills on-top of my new full-time job thinking I could “sqeeze” it all in, then at the same time I was asked by a local charity Anthony Mundell Memorial Fund to help train their charity runners in the 10 weeks leading up to the Edinburgh Rock and Roll half marathon. This I enjoyed immensely but all the juggling of my spare time meant that again I dropped back my training even further, still I was happy enough, running has to take a back seat to both my daughter and making a living. I felt I still had loads of time before the light nights and the start of the summer where I could run to my heart’s content ….. well think again Marko !! My first ultra-race of the year, the 55 mile Cateran55 came quickly in May and I should have been better prepared. It saw me run well until shortly after 40 miles a rapidly stiffening groin and quads slowed me down before a sharp pain in my knee at mile 50 saw the last 5 miles take me nearly 2 hours. It was an amazing race and I seemed to be better by mid-week so stupidly I went on to run the Edinburgh marathon with Rhalou only 7 days later , pain set in early and I kept running despite knowing better, this knocked another nail into my ultra running coffin for 2012 !! I had an enforced rest for a few weeks before running the Lairig Ghru mountain race which saw me stiffen up at 9 miles before my knee went half way up the pass !! fuck me!! only another 19 miles to go !! :) I was having no luck at all , I soldiered on to the end and still enjoyed the race despite everything. I then had a full months lay off, hoping for a miracle recovery that has never came. In the end having to cancel both the Lakeland50 and The Devil ‘o’ the Highlands in the hope of being fit for Chamonix. Since then I’ve juggled rest and light running in an attempt to keep some CV in me yet let my knee heal at the same time. My shoulder operation is due soon after the race in October, this will see me on several months downtime . So at least when I get to the race I can give it my all and not have to worry too much about injuring my knee as I’ll be recuperating anyway . Errrr did I really give that as an option .. haha The past two weeks have finally seen me out and about running on my local trails trying hard to get mileage into my legs. It’s not been pretty either, I’m nowhere near as fit as I was last season, not even close! My brain tells me to pull out yet my heart says try your best , so I’m left hoping that I can run,walk,limp and hopefully crawl over that Chamonix finish line before the cut off time ……….. have I got enough in the tank?, can I keep moving when my body tells me to stop? …. keep your fingers crossed , I’ll be crossing mine
I wrote about Sean MacFarlane once before here .. http://www.runner786.com/2011/07/04/west-to-east-beast-a-serious-challenge-and-then-some/ and if you read that already then you know that Sean is an exceptional outdoor athlete and has ran, biked , swam and kayaked just about every conceivable terrain out there , he likes it tough and he likes it long so when the Celtman extreme triathlon popped up as this years must do extreme multi-sport event he was sure to enter …. this is his write up ……
I was recently contacted by Under Armour during a Blog outreach program where they chose unassociated athletes suitably qualified ( I use the term “athlete” loosely ) to test and independability review their products , on this occasion the new Cold Black technology in the form of a wicking outer T-shirt. Its a combination of its existing Heatgear principle with a new heat reflecting fabric called Cold Black that is meant to keep you cooler in the heat of the sun. It reflects the suns rays and stay cool …… does it work ? watch the videos then read on compadre’ …….
that’s the fabric now here the principle …
I don’t do a lot of reviews on the blog to be honest , it really has to be something that blows me away to the point I need to tell everyone but this time I was super stoked to do it as Under Armour is one of my favorite brands for compression/wicking and whether kayaking, climbing or running, 99% of the time I’m wearing their product …. Under Armour has kept me comfortable all over the world from kayaking the Grand Canyon of the Himalaya to running the Marathon Des Sable …. so I agreed to independently test and blog my opinion , good or bad . And a week later a Cold Black T-Shirt arrived through the post . It must be stated though that the Cold Black technology is aimed at use in the heat of the sun so as I live in Scotland, and we were going through a spell of horrendously wet and cold weather I had to wait a while to review it properly , however it was worth the wait as a heat wave hit Scotland on the same week the Edinburgh marathon was being run and luckily enough I was entered. Game on Cold Black !!! lets see just what your made of …..
A boiling Edinburgh Marathon
I decided to try it out the day before the marathon with a short 10 mile blast across the countryside on my local trails , the sun was high and the temperature a touch over 25 degrees Centigrade , the T-Shirt was comfortable enough on , clean inside seams so no chafing and looked to be very good quality especially given that it was only £22 in the shops , that is pretty cheap for a running T-shirt, let alone one which apparently blocks the heat of the sun. So off I went and after a mile or two being baked in the open I could visibly feel the difference , the T-shirt was actually feeling like it was cool to touch , sweat was dripping off my brow and the heat of the sun burnt down on my arms but the T-shirt was not hot at all , not only did it reflect the Suns rays, it did not retain any heat either so it felt cool to wear. I felt I could have done with a smaller size to benefit fully from the sweat wicking but it was fine and I sailed up the trail back to my house pretty impressed. My final opinion is that I wish I had one when I was running across the Sahara and Gobi , I can guarantee the next time I’m in the desert I will be wearing one
Next time .....
Absolutely nothing to do with running but check this video out !!! Awesome !!
Cateran55 mountain trail race….. 55 miles is a lot of running !
I had definitely been better prepared for a race but this was one journey I really didn’t want to miss, even if I was guaranteed a tough time…So I packed my bags and headed North for the Cateran Trail …
Follow the hearts ......
I’m no gifted runner, quite the opposite in fact and I have to work hard for every mile I cover, but usually I put the training in and for the most part enjoy my races. But lately life has been getting in the way of my outdoor pursuits; a return to full time working as a programmer and a huge backlog of freelance work has had me working night and day. I grudgingly had to cancel both the Highland Fling and the Sandbaggers Scottish Ultra because of my life’s various commitments and this was starting to piss me off no end, my belief is that I work to allow me my adventures and if it gets in the way of these, then what’s the point? However the spare time I have had has been put to good use, I’ve been training with the local hill runners and by God it’s been intensely hard AND painful! It definitely helping to improve my hills but the only problem is that it is short distance; races are normally under 12 miles and under an hour for the training sessions during the week. So when the Cateran55 came round I was left wondering whether to cancel that too, but I dug my heels into life and decided to go for it! So with a quick 23-mile cross-country run the week before to make sure I could still run over 12 miles, I set off on Friday after work for the GlenSpittal Hotel, the start line of the race.
Glen Spittal Hotel
It’s a lovely hotel with good food, clean rooms and a warm bar in a beautiful part of the Highlands, what’s not to like! And they had laid on a special deal for runners so I was staying until Sunday, nice and comfy in a double room with mountain view, lovely! I arrived late Friday night as it’s several hours drive from The Borders to the heart of the Cairngorms. I took in the scenery, huge mountains all around me, I thought back to my days of winter climbing and the many ice routes I used to scare myself senseless on. Many are now regarded as scary test pieces, back then my naïvety was probably a good thing… However this trip I was here to run , 55 miles of running to be precise. The Cateran55 is a super runnable ultra race, there’s not many places in its 55 miles that you are forced to stop and walk, definitely a real runners trail. An old drovers road that snakes gently along climbing and falling, spilling its way through beautiful green countryside filled with mountains and forests. But do not let that fool you, 7,500 feet of ascent AND descent (never forget the descent) is also there to take its toll on your legs…
Myself and the ultra monster that is Pyllon ...
My first port of call once settled into Glen Spittal was to search out my friend Paul, he’s one of Scotland’s top ultra runners and was last years’ winner of the Cateran55. He was here in the hotel with his girlfriend and had bagged room 444, obviously paying homage to Paul’s training schedule where his alarm goes off at 4:44am every morning for his early runs, about the same time as my cockerel finds the bedroom window and starts screeching underneath it! However Paul gets up and runs 15 miles before work, I roll over and try to go back to sleep… Now there’s a lesson on why I’m rubbish and he’s top of the tree It was great to finally get a chance to meet his family who support him in every way possible, and what a fantastic bunch they were, lovely friendly people with a huge love of the ultra scene, if his mum doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing… His sister Nicola was every bit as cool and funny in real life as she is online and his Dad was so full of pride for Paul it was bursting out the sides… Eventually after a load of laughs and Paul giving me the low down on what to watch out for in the race I retired to bed , preparing for an early 7am start to the race .
Karen reads the race brief ...
6am and my alarm went off, I necked an oatmeal yoghurt, prepared my drop bags, filled my bottles, and headed down stairs for the race briefing where I met Paul and the delightful Louise Jones, bubbly ultra-lady and a very strong ultra runner … Outside it was a beautiful high pressure morning, bluebird sky and a cool temperature. Karen the race director read out the race brief and finally we all walked over to the start line , about 70 odd runners congregated and chatted briefly before we were told to get ready , BANG and we are off !!! …. 55 miles ahead, time to get busy .
Runners ready for the off ....
Its was a smooth run out over a cattle bridge and down a rough track before hitting the fields and following broken single track, the first checkpoint came quickly at 6 miles but the next one was 11 or 12 miles further out . In an Ultra race of this kind the checkpoints are set out where they can be accessed by car which means they are often intermittent and with varying distances between them, there’s nothing set up every 3 miles like a marathon but that’s why we love it, the game of off-road Ultra, every race is different , a character of its own , no set patterns here !! … I hit the 20 mile point pretty strong and had run with Louise most of the way, she had some great stories to tell and the miles disappeared behind us as we picked our way across the beautiful GlenShee landscape.
I ran into the half way checkpoint a little under 5 hours and I was now happy that I had enough in my tank to finish , all was good in the world until I received news that Paul who had battled it out up front with the other Ultra-rockets had been forced to withdraw from the race due to a problem with his stomach , I was gutted for him !! I knew this would be very upsetting for him ….. After a 5 minute rest break with my feet in the air and meeting Steve from Tentsmuir at the check point I set off again. Steve would later be a friendly and encouraging face for me at the checkpoints ahead.
running more miles than you can ever remember ....
I set off up the long hill that was to follow , whose Idea was it to put that there !! The scenery along the trail was beautiful to see and just as fantastic to run on, long sections of soft if a little muddy at times trail , broken up with short country lanes and steep hills , tracks through dark forests opening out into mountain views …. I was loving it and tried to take some mental snapshots of it all as I ran !! but after about 40 miles my legs weren’t loving it back .. my lack of training was starting to show , hill running may be the toughest of training but no substitute for a long run and hard day long grafts in the hills. My muscles and tendons had been slowly weakening and I was feeling it bad, my groin area the most , even the tendons in my arms were starting to nag with all the swinging back and forth , I soldiered on but I was starting to seriously flag and losing places , Louise was being held back by me yet seemed content to pull me along , I encouraged her to bash on as it wasn’t fair on her ,and just as well as the next 10 miles really took their toll and I slowed down considerably , by the time I reached mile 50 I was so debilitated by my groin strain that I was pretty much unable to hold any pace at all , I had a horrible feeling I would wake up with a double groin strain the next day …I soldiered on though , no way I was DNF this day !!!
taking a load off ....
When I think of the unrelenting pace that Paul , Matt and the guys in the front pack run these distances at I am full of awe and admiration for not only their athleticism but their steely determination when the pain kicks in !! ……. after a long hill climb I was high in Glen Shee following a high level mountain path for the final few miles to the finish.. the rough ground was torture and the final climb hard on my legs but finally I crossed the shoulder and looked down on the Glen Spittal hotel , less than a mile below down a steep path that in a hill race would probably take me no more than 6 or 7 minutes , after 54 miles however my groin and knees were so weak that I could only hobble down …. It took me over 30 mins to reach the finish !! in fact those last 5 miles took me over 2 hours !! Steve and Nicola were waiting for me as I hit the bottom of the hill and we ran/hobbled the last 200 yards to the finish line …. God it was nice to see that finish !! I fell into the bar with Nicola and Paul’s mum and finally took a load off my feet, I had made it to the finish and after 55 miles I was battered , broken but not beaten !!…… Paul’s sister introduced me to Matt Williams in the bar , he had won the race this year in a time of just over 8 hours !! now that is amazing !!!
Matt shakes hands with Karen at the finish ..... I probably had 15 miles to go
So next week is Edinburgh marathon , I swore Id never run a road marathon again but Rhalou has persuaded me to chum her round … fingers crossed my legs are recovered …. last year I ran 3:38 against gale force winds , hopefully this year may be a little more demure
# Newsflash # ….. just finished Edinburgh marathon , what a mission !!!! temperature reached 30 degrees , but Rhalou and I slogged it to the finish line I think Id rather have had the gales !!!
Well that’s the end of the winter and what a send off its had this year, kicked right back into touch by 20+ degrees temperatures and long sun soaked days… Cold, wet and windy weather get back in your box! I don’t want to see you again until October!
Looking out over the Highlands
I used to love the winter, it meant Kayaking for the wettest of it and Ice Climbing for the coldest , whatever the weather there was always something to push me , I love the extra Ante’ the winter adds to everything , the danger of anything going wrong is far worse than in the summer , the conditions you face all factor in and make it far more serious thank most realise , everything must be checked and double checked.The daylight hours are short and its normally very cold so you need to be in and out with little fuss or you could be in trouble. Unfortunately since my shoulder injury I have been unable to climb or kayak, only my fight to become a better runner has kept me busy but c’est la vie I’m getting to old anyway !! … Feeling a little Melancholy the other night I started flicking through some old climbing books and found a newspaper clipping stuck between two pages, it was marking a climb on Stob Coire Nam Beith … It is very unusual for me to have done something like this because much to my regret, back in my ignorant youth I didn’t keep anything to remember the glory days, my halcyon years are lost to memory for the most part , and too much smoking of weed back then lost me a few of those to !!! Magazine articles, paper clippings, photos and even friendships have been lost over time and now I truly regret not even attempting to keep something , maybe now in the digital age we forget the effort required to store and keep safe memories , life beyond a hard drive seems way more complicated …… although my mum allegedly has a hidden stash intended for my daughter to read when she’s older.
back in the days before wrinkles ...
The clipping was from what now seems a life time ago , when as a fledgling Ice Climber I undertook a 3 star classic gully on the famous GlenCoe mountain of Stob Coire Nam Beith. My 3 companions Jim, Jock and Tam …. wow! that sounds like a warm up to a joke and I had headed off from the Scottish Borders at 4.30am on the long journey to Glencoe fully expecting a tough day out but not in the way any of us expected…
Here is my recollection of that day……
We arrived at first light, and looking up at Stob Coire Nam Beith from the car park below I saw a behemoth of a Snow covered mountain towering above me, full of steep Icy gullies and long fang like icefalls, was I really going to climb that? Was I ready? Although already pushing well into the E-grades on rock I had very little experience on ice that morning; this was soon to be rectified!!
Typical Winters climbing rack
Jim and I sat behind the car sorting out all our equipment , lots of it for Ice climbing , checked and double checked, there was no way I was humping a rucksack that heavy up a mountain to forget a vital piece of equipment and have to come back down empty-handed , no way ! Finally we were ready , crampons on and off we went, walking the 1800 feet up the icy mountain paths and through the slippery rock gardens to find the traverse that would bring us out at the bottom of Central Gully, this was the route we had chosen to undertake that morning, a 3 star classic and one that given our relative lack of experience would definitely be a test of our skill, nerve and character. It’s hard to remember how I felt in those early years , I think I was to stupid or at least seriously naïve to the dangers back then , now a days I am quite rightly a quivering wreck ..
Stob Coire Nam Beith
I was to lead the route, Jim was belaying so nervously I prepared to climb. Standing below the route I eyed my foe for a few minutes … Fuck it time for battle !!!Off I went , slowly picking a route up the Neve’ and Ice . Eventually I hit a difficult Ice step, maybe 30 feet of 90 degree steepness before a step over a ledge and into a gully above, I headed up and after maybe 20 minutes of slow deliberate climbing I took a rest in a handy nook before making the move to go above…. all of a sudden snow came down, lots of it, an avalanche!!! I sucked close to the wall, pulling my body as far into the recess as I could, holding on for my life as I was blasted from above by snow for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only seconds, once it eased I lifted my head and looked below to check the lads were still there, they had dived for cover and thankfully they were ok but they were shouting up at me , Mark !!! Mark!! There was a body!! …..
Its a long way down .............
Shit!! a body ? I looked below and saw blood and what appeared to be a lot of it, it was smeared down the gully below and continued out of sight… Adrenaline shot through me , I remember shaking , I got myself together and quickly I started to reverse my route. After a while I had made it back to my companions. A body had come down with the avalanche and disappeared below, was he alive? We had to find out ! Tam had the flares so he set off a rescue flare high in the air; we desperately needed the Mountain rescue there as soon as possible. I started to set up a series of abseils and followed the gully to way below where we had joined it, following the snow and blood splattering as far as we could until it appeared to go very rocky and disappeared off into a sheer cliff face . I could see a body and it was caught precariously just above a chute which looked to drop right off the cliff face…Adrenalin was pumping again and I felt very nervous looking down at the body stuck between the rocks. We had to find out if he was dead or alive, if he moved and fell down the chute he was certainly dead!! I set up a last abseil and took my equipment down , I headed just right of him for fear of dislodging anything that could hit him, at first I couldn’t see his face for blood, his hair was long and blood soaked to, at first I thought head injury but later discovered his nose to be severely broken and responsible for most of the blood, he was jammed into some rocks , he looked like he had several possible breaks or dislocations, I couldn’t move him for fear of back or neck injuries so I secured him to the rocks he was snagged on, this way at least he couldn’t fall any further. My companions set off another rescue flare and we waited on the arrival of the Mountain rescue who seemed to be on the scene with no delay at all!! The Lochaber squad don’t mess around and are the number 1 mountain rescue squad in the U.K. , they get plenty practice for sure. I had a flask of hot orange and as the man regained consciousness I let him sip some to stave off any hypothermia and shock that was certainly setting in. We didn’t talk much as he was not able but I think he was better for me being there while we waited.
Scottish Mountain rescue at work ...
Eventually the rescue boys were on the scene , a ground crew arrived first, they assessed the situation and radioed for help , soon a helicopter was swirling over our heads. That was the first time I witnessed a mountain rescue and soon the injured climber was whisked high above to a huge Sea King helicopter that nearly blew us to our feet with its downdraft. The sense of relief seeing him head to safety was very emotional and as the adrenalin died down we began to chat about what had happened and just how crazy the day had been, welcome to Scottish Winter Climbing … No doubting that it was a horrible day to have been part of but thankfully one that spurred me on to learn, practice and practice even more the mountain rescue techniques which would later pay me back in full for the effort back then.
Sea King flys overhead
I read in the paper a few days later that his name was Andrew Porter and he was a climber from East Kilbride, he was in the Glasgow Royal infirmary and would recover fully from his injuries, he had fallen near the top of the gully and slid 400 feet down the front of the mountain before being jammed in the rocks just 20 feet from a sheer 500 foot drop.. As much as he was unlucky, he was VERY lucky… If anyone reading this knows Andrew , say Hi from me
It’s amazing the memories that a clipping can bring back….. If you’re out there now pushing yourself and having the time of your life, keep some memoirs, it’s totally worth it !!!!
Id like to thank Jim, Tam and Jock for being there that day ,and James Roddie for the use of some of his excellent photos … thanks James , they are a beautiful portrayal of Stob Coire Nam Beith ..