Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 

 

A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.

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A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 

 

Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Something new! - cross country skiing

Despite my time spent pulling a pulk, the skills and techniques although similar to cross country are also certainly very different. With both pulk pulling and cross country skiing you are trying to build up speed as efficiently as possible. But having to drag additional 60 - 100kg’s or so of weight behind you certainly slows you down, makes you more cumbersome and changes your concept of speed. Pulk pulling uses large snow boots and bindings that clamp your foot onto the ski, kind of like a snowboarding binding. In comparison the cross country setup feels incredibly sleek and light weight. So despite having done some cross country skiing in Scotland (when the conditions allowed) it was time to get out on the slopes in the US. 

 

We are slightly spoilt for choice in the northeast US. With a trip to Lake Placid on the cards (home to the 1983 and 1932 winter Olympic Games), we had the opportunity to have a blast round their cross country course. The conditions had been pretty warm along with a forecast of rain, so going downhill skiing was a bit less tempting. Heading over to the the venue and we soon found ourselves kitted out with all the gear. Having spent years downhill skiing the difference in weight and feel of the kit still amazes me (comfy!). Admittedly the boots we had were very much the recreational type but its much more like wearing trainers (sneakers) compared to the heavy, rigid boots for skiing or snowboarding. And the bindings only clip the very tip of your toe to the ski. After a few pointers we were out on the course doing laps of the place - imagining ourselves as Olympians flying round the course in style (albeit a fair bit slower)! Having watched the olympics and the speed with which they can go round it is going to take some time and practise to reach those levels. That said, cross country skiing is relatively easy for snow newbies to pick up and much less intimidating than facing a steep downhill slope. I really recommend it if you are ever looking for a snow sport with friends of varying levels of ski skills and fitness. 

 

The course started in a large opening between the lodge and the old start line. There were kids, teens, grown-ups, octogenarians and even nonagenarians! flying all over the place with varying degrees of control, most of them a lot better than myself, clearly enjoying themselves and making the most of the break in the weather. We headed from the opening up towards the woods. The ice conditions in parts made for some interesting skiing as we got used to this relatively new sport. Particularly the descents, where despite being short and not very steep became quite challenging as I shot towards a tree…  That said the majority was of the snow was softening up making it slower and easier for us, the woodland had protected the course from the worst of the conditions. (Tip for newbies: fresh fluffy snow or wet slushy snow are the easiest to learn on. Hard packed icy snow is great for adrenalin junkies! When in doubt call ahead and ask the lodge for advice on what time of day to go).

On the other side of the venue there was a competition taking place. Passing some sections we could hear cheers and clapping with the occasional glimpse of a racer shooting past. It certainly gave us an appreciation for the speed that you see the racers going!

After a few hours the sky began to threaten with a few splots of rain. Time to head indoors to taste our first maple steamer - a perfect warm combination of milk and local maple syrup to end. We will certainly be back for more and hopefully to try out skate skiing.

 

Going Veggie - ish

Now for anyone that knows me I love my steak, bacon, burgers and anything meat related as much as anyone. But this doesn’t stop me appreciating the delights that a vegetarian diet can provide. 

 Check out - pictures courtesy of - http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/pumpkin-salad-just-married/

Check out - pictures courtesy of - http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/pumpkin-salad-just-married/

I am not going to go into the various different types as for me its not about changing my entire diet but more taking the time to have a few meat free meals a week. The great thing with playing about with this is vegetarian recipes often incorporate a far greater variety of ingredients which in my opinion can be very beneficial form a health point of view as we’ll as offering meals packed with flavour and textures.  I am not a nutritionist but just a guy who really appreciates food, it is helped by me enjoying staying constantly active! 

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Now you maybe wondering why would are a couple of guys who go on expeditions be interested in this. Well not only is it incredibly important to be as healthy and prepared as possible prior to going out on expedition. And although our diet isn’t the only thing that will do this its all part and parcel of it. There is also the fact that even having one meal or day a week without meat is beneficial for you and for the planet. 

 This was pretty tasty! - pictures courtesy of https://www.mynewroots.org/site/

This was pretty tasty! - pictures courtesy of https://www.mynewroots.org/site/

You don’t have to become a tofu munching machine but why not set the challenge of having a vegetarian day a week or more if you fancy it. There are plenty of delicious recipes out there. Here are some of my sources for inspiration, have a look and if you have your own favourite why not add it in the comments as a recommendation for others.

https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/category/special-diets/vegetarian/

https://www.101cookbooks.com/

https://www.mynewroots.org/site/

http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/

Mount Jo - New york

The plans for a weekend packed from start to finish with skiing were soon dashed by a wave of warm weather hitting the region. After a month of decent low temperatures everything was melting.

Having spent Saturday mostly cross country skiing, the day was finished when the rain began to fall. I don’t mind skiing in most conditions from hot weather to bitterly cold. But skiing in the rain is less enjoyable!

After an early finish we were all set for the next day. Rising early we found the car park to be a mini ice rink covered in a sheet of ice It turned out it was much the same as the nearby cross country course we intended to visit. 

Instead we opted for a slow start to work out some new plans as we visited an outdoor equipment shop called High Peak Cyclery. After having a look round and a chat with the team they recommended heading to Mount Jo. A nearby spot which would provide a short hike to its summit. 

 

Armed with a map of the area, various bits of winter kit and some micro spikes we drove up to the starting point of the route. The sun was making the occasional glimpse and as soon as we stepped out the car the spikes were on. We made our way towards the trail head wondering past frozen streams, lakes and the entire path being one frozen slab of ice. Soon the path veered from the lakeside up towards the summit. Admittedly still a fair bit below it. 

 Micro spikes on and ready

Micro spikes on and ready

Despite the relatively warm temperatures that had hit the area the path was still coated in a huge layer of ice. And in some cases large steps of solid ice. We passed huge icicles dripping and in some areas collapsing with the sudden warm spell.

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Bit by bit we made our way towards the summit before the final steps, arriving at the plateau with views over the valley beneath. As we sat down absorbing the winter beauty we could feel the difference in wind chill as we were now exposed to the elements with no protection from the wind. Below we could hear people playing on a nearby frozen lake as the sound travelled clearly through the cold crisp air. Compared to hiking in the summer where the trees and undergrowth cover and conceal the area the winter provided this opportunity to see all around us. Through the leaf less woodland bar the odd evergreen. Having spent much more time hiking in the UK where heading up the summit is often a treeless and open expanse I still find it strange despite being far more natural to have these woodland covered summits. 

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After a quick drink it was time to head back down the mountain. Very quickly we were reminded that it is often easier hiking and climbing up compared to going down. We scrambled down the steps and over some icy rocks to make it back to the initial path. I don't normally walk with poles, so it was an experience heading down with all this additional stuff! We soon came across the split in the path between the long path we had come up and the short path on the way down. 

Although not much in it we chose the shorter path for a different view and way down. The short path as the name suggests takes a much more direct way down the mountain. We clambered down the icy structure that was a head of us. In many ways it was much easier than during the summer with all the rocks and rubble covered, it felt like we didn’t have to take quite so much care of tripping over the undergrowth. Which wasn’t entirely true as instead it was more about where we will get the most purchase from the tiny little metal spikes beneath our feet. 

The final crux came through a little ravine, with trees to one side and a short cliff face with large icicles hanging down onto the path we meandered through this slightly steeper section. After picking our way down and passing another couple we finally reached the bottom. Our first winter ascent together. 

Arriving at the bottom we headed back to the car. It had clearly been a warm day, by this stage rather than completely jacketed up i was hiking with just a thin merino wool top and the car park that was an ice rink had become a slushy and in some places stream flowing area.  Now just time for some lunch!

Paragliding in Switzerland

With a real appreciation of the risks involved in paragliding I wanted to make sure I found what I considered to be the best place to learn. There is nothing wrong with slow and steady that I could achieve in the UK and it would definitely keep building up my knowledge bit by bit. But you can’t beat an intense period of learning to really boost it. So the prospect of a week somewhere paragliding about the place was all too appealing. After sifting through forums, websites and any other tips i could find I came across Verbier Summits. Run by Mike and Stu who are twins their soul moto is to be the best and safest paragliding school in the world came across as the winner. As the name suggests they are based in Verbier in the Alps of Switzerland. The fact that I would be surrounded by beautiful mountains, swiss/ french food and being outdoors all day was an added bonus.

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I booked last minute and soon found myself on route to Switzerland. Despite a delayed flight by quite a few hours, resulting in me having to hire a rental car that I wasn’t expecting to in order to get up the mountain, I finally ended up at the chalet for the week in the very early hours of the morning. The benefit of this was I was running ridiculously late for my flight so despite the added inconvenience it meant I made my flight. I woke slightly groggy from the few hours of sleep i got to the sight of mountains all around. A quick breakfast and a boat load of coffee before hitting the classroom. We went through the agenda for the week. There was definitely going to be one day at least in the classroom as well as at the end or morning of somedays but the aim was to get us to be qualified to the club pilot level by the end of the week. There was a completely mixed group from beginners to experience paraglider's/ skydiver's and everything in between. 

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Taking the drive up to the gondola we pilled our paraglider into the cabin before diving into the gondola in front. Paraglider packs are not the smallest and it only took a few of them to fill a cabin. Arriving at the launch pad and it was an incredible sight. The views from high above the valley were incredible and we weren’t even flying at this point. They took us through the safety briefing again. Pointing out the various landmarks and ultimately the field we would be landing in. The difference between looking down on the Isle of Wight vs Verbier was equally daunting. 

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Setting up just the same as previously and then it was time to make my first flight. I was given the signal as the breeze began to run up the hillside. Our wind marker fluttering in the wind. I ran down the hillside. Feeling the wing rising above me and beginning to pull me from the hillside.  Soon enough my feet were off the ground and i was flying out into the valley. I was also looking down several 1000 ft. The different conditions felt a bit bumpier initially than what I had previously experienced back in the UK but as I looked down on Verbier it was an incredible feeling. We were directed on the radios, initially this was very regular communication as they watched us all the way into the landing area but as the week progressed it became more about us feeling the glide. To pass we had to show a certain amount of competence from take off through to landing.

The final part of each flight being lining up the landing, as we approached had to consider the direction, speed and height as we came in. Observing the bright orange wind sock showing us the direction of the wind. I did of course have some nerves on each flight but as we progressed and I felt more confident these relaxed a little. As the week went on we managed 3 - 4 flights a day each being 30 mins or so and as we progressed they incorporated exercises into each of them. Building up our skills along the journey. I really enjoyed the experience of learning the new skills each day and you could see and feel the progression through the week. Towards the end we were making solo flights with a lot less input, they were obviously watching and making sure we didn’t do anything stupid but it still felt like we had a lot more within our control. We could start making journeys across the valley, making sure we avoided the other pilots as well as playing a bit of follow the leader. 

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It was certainly sad to see the end come to the week but it had been an incredible experience. I would highly recommend Verbier Summits as a paragliding school and certainly hope to join them in the future.  We all qualified as club pilots, which sounds a lot more qualified than it really is. It is merely a small step in a much longer journey of learning about paragliding. If you fancy giving it a go why not check these guys out, high adventure on the isle of wight or there is always the BHPA (British hangliding and paragliding association) where you can search for an instructor near you.  

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Paragliding in the UK

I have been debating whether or not to write about paragliding for a while. Partly because it has now been a couple of years ago since I did it. But, more importantly, by far, is I unfortunately had a family member who was killed during a sky dive and a few friends who have been injured paragliding. So making the decision to have a go is filled with so many thoughts, questions and concerns mixed in with the excitement of trying something that I have watched for years.

Going back to 2008 I got my first taste of paragliding. I was out in Argentina on a ski trip where we heard of someone offering paragliding tandem jumps. It was near my birthday and I jumped at the opportunity. There wasn't a huge amount of lift that day so it was a fairly short flight but nonetheless it sparked an idea to try it again one day.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had my chance. Whilst on Baffin Island I had been listening to a audio book called Hanging in There by Jon Chambers. It's quite a niche subject but despite not knowing much about paragliding I enjoyed it as it helped pass the time away. It was interesting hearing about how they pushed the limits of technical skill and ability during the competition as well as inspiring me to have another go at the sport of paragliding. 

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Once back in the UK from Canada I had a look round and came across High Adventure Paragliding on the Isle of Wight. Finding a route over from Southampton was easy enough and I made my first journey over to the Island. Jumping on the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth. I sat on the top deck in the glorious sunshine as it pulled away into the channel not far from Christchurch where I had previously practised ocean rowing. I met up with Pad the instructor where he went over how we would progress and an introduction to paragliding. Outside the office sat a swing setup like a paraglider without the wing where we could go over some of the basics before we headed out to the hill. 

 Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck

Chilling in the Sunshine on the Top deck

 

Pad took the time to show me how to setup the wing as we laid it out for the first time in a small valley looking out onto the sea. I could see in the distance small white horses gleaming in the sunshine.The sea breeze channelled up this small gorge providing the lift for us to play on. He talked me through it bit by bit before showing me the first short flight of him lifting and dropping down safely. The main point being to concentrate on each section of the journey and breaking it down into shorter sections. The first bit being the take off. Wing primed it was a case of waiting for the right breeze before running down the hill. Bit by bit the wing would rise above before it felt like you couldn’t run downhill as it started to lift me from the hillside. Focussing on the direction I wanted to go i ran harder, i probably looked like some odd bird desperately trying to take off in a completely ungraceful manner. I was finally up and enjoying my short and sweet flight back down to the grassy slope beneath me as I was directed on the radio.

 Paragliding swing

Paragliding swing

 

The day was spent making longer and longer walks up the hill, setting up under the supervision of Pad before waiting for his signal and taking off for a small hop down the field. The feeling each time was incredible with that small piece of weightlessness cruising  down the field and landing. It is of course a big learning curve and I was trying to absorb as much as I could with the terminology and new technique. In the midst of all this I even forgot to about lunch which soon passed me by.

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As conditions became stronger into the early evening it was time to call it a day. We finished up with a tandem ride. Taking off near one of the cliffs we cruised backwards and forwards on the sea breeze. It gave me a true feel for what it would be like to be able to paraglide by myself with nothing but the wind on my face. I even got a go at steering us along the cliff line. 

We made our final top landing on the cliff before packing up. We made our way back to the ferry and I was excited about my next time already. 

 

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With me being a beginner and it being Britain that next flyable day took a bit longer than expected. But soon enough I was on day 2. This time from a slightly different location and a bit of a longer path to fly. I got to practise some reverse launches. This is where you get your paraglide to form a bank in front of you further up the slope as you fill each of the pockets. Once ready and with the wind at the right level towards you I would pull the paraglider up where it would ideally slowly rise above me before I would smoothly turn around and run down the slope. After I got the knack of remembering which way to turn around, the lines at this point are twisted over one another, I quite liked this method. It was a lot more visual and i felt you could see what was happening through each stage. 

 Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Came across an adventurous Renault Clio

Again a lot of the day was spent marching up and down the hill. Each landing meant the packing up of the wing before quick marching back up the hill for the next round. Not wanting to miss out on potential flying time I marched up and down as much as I could. By the end of the day there was a bit more flying to do and a written test to complete the first stage. I managed a couple of more days in the UK each time heading higher up the hill side and getting more valuable air time.

At this stage though I got the opportunity for a week of intense paragliding.

Tesla Hertz 50km Ultra Run

After building the training up bit by bit and a half marathon as a warm up the next stage was a 50km ultra marathon out on Long Island. Its called the Tesla Hertz ultra race. Making it sounded like an exceptionally well sponsored event!!

Unlike the last race, being point to point, this was a steady 10mile loop with barely a hill to match. As bizarre as it sounds having some hills makes for a nice change on the body along the route. However with it still being hot and this being one of my first ultra's back in a while not having to carry a huge amount round due to it being laps was definitely going to be a big advantage. 

Friday night and with everything finally packed for the weekend I headed out first to get some last minute supplies and then onwards to Long Island. One of the key things after almost getting cramps at the last race was some electrolytes. Back in the UK I had found the cheapest and best solution to be dioralyte, designed for dodgy stomachs it seemed to hit the spot every time. Searching for something similar in the US I have come across something called pedialyte. Pretty much exactly the same thing with a different name. It's also rumoured to be an excellent hang over cure. I don't think it beats irnbru on that front though.

Arriving at a massive campsite for the night I setup camp for the night with the occasional bug bite in the process before jumping into my sleeping bag. It was incredibly humid and my sleeping bag designed for Scottish summer meant I was roasting. In the process of this restful night's sleep I jumped out mid way through the night for a bathroom break and in the process stubbing my toe on the only curb around. Back into my hot and sweaty sleeping bag with a throbbing toe it felt like no time at all before my alarm was going off in my ear. A slightly unique alarm sound to wake up to. If your interested check it out below.

Getting out I was greeted to a thick blanket of fog wrapped over the forest. Taking the tent down whilst trying not to wake the rest of the campsite. A quick bite to eat and I was ready to  head to the start of the race. I made the short trip to the start of the race, bumping into a few fellow competitors before a quick sign in. As we signed in people who had started in the early hours of the morning doing 50 miles, 100kms or 100 miles crossed over the start line for another lap on route to the finish. Greeted to a round of applause it was inspiring to see. 

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The tesla hertz race had a attracted a wide variety of people from all over North America to compete in. Located near the historic site of tesla tower a radio mast that was originally aimed at sending messages back to the UK it was a very fitting event. 

A quick photo from the start and brief before we made a start. Bizarrely I found myself near the front of the race. I say bizarre as I've normally sat around the top third to top half. I was happy enough though and was making good ground. The blanket of fog slowly lifting from the trees and replacing it with an ever increasing amount of humidity. It still felt like pretty ideal conditions. Running through the cushioned hard pack trails past trees starting to show glimmers of fall. The ground littered in a variety of fungi. My knowledge in this areas is low to none (basically don't eat the red ones...) but I'm sure for the experienced picker this could have looked like a natural feast. 

Making to the first check point I was excited to see whiskey and an array of treats. Including Swedish fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not an early American conversion but something that had been growing on me for quite a while. Fortunately this is considered a perfectly reasonable lunch request or sandwich/ bagel deli request. For those used to running events particularly road running events these aid stations might seem strange but for longer races the prospect of being sustained on energy gels is not particularly appetising! I made a fairly quick transition through this not wanting to loose much time before heading back the way I came. It was a cool feature of the race being able to see how far behind the next competitors is. The answer was not much. 

Running further along and we started coming across more people out on their morning cycle or run. The day was definitely heating up bit by bit. Coming up the brow of the one and only hill was a perfect little break from the constant flat gradient. Crossing lap one I and they had water melon! I may have ended up eating too much this race but watermelon on a hot day was seriously refreshing! 

 

Lap two and I could feel I was slowing a little bit. The competitors in front I would briefly see running the opposite way just before the aid station and check point on the lap. But apart from that it felt like I was alone in the woods running round the trails. It was at this stage that the sun had finally broken through at it was hitting the high 70's low 80's (high 20's/ low 30s). My water consumption had suddenly gone through the roof and my top was soaking. It was time for my top to come off. I've generally not had the need to do this back in the UK but the heat was pretty intense. Once it was off I immediately felt cooler.

The one and only hill came and went by slower than the first. Before lining up for lap 3. It was at this point and I am not sure what triggered it maybe the fact I hadn't been passed by anyone but I wondered if a lap was 10km not 10 miles. Checking out my watch and asking a couple of people I pasted about what distance they were doing and I was pretty sure I was on track with it being 10 miles. I grabbed some more electrolyte at the start line for lap 3 and a bit more food and water before the making a start on the next one. Despite not doing an ultra for a while the idea of constantly fuelling the body is something I haven't forgotten. I knew that especially on a hot day like it was missing the opportunity to eat and drink could catch up with me quickly. 

The final lap was by far my slowest, admittedly it was what I was expecting to average for all the laps it just worked out that my first two were much quicker. Being out in front though kept my mind thinking that if I could just keep a steady pace I should finish in a good position and ideally hold where I was. I hadn't seen the guy up a head for quite a while and as I made my way up towards the aid station I wasn't expecting to see him as for the entirety of the race he had been up a head by an ever increasing amount. Just as I reached the station though I reached him. Not only that but I was surprised by my wife, Laura, who had after a red eye flight driven out to Long Island to see me running. The final chunks of watermelon and pb & j sandwiches consumed before heading back out onto the course for the final 5 miles ish. On my way back out I passed a few people who had made ground on me but I was confident I could maintain the gap  for the moment at least. Not long after I came across the guy who had been a head race. We ended up running most of this final stretch together passing the time chatting about various races. Towards the end he managed to pull away, my legs no longer feeling fresh and not much left in the tank I didn't manage to close the gap as we headed up towards the finish line. Finally crossing in 5 hours 27 min.

I was elated about finishing and even more so for being in 2nd place. As we walked back to the car for a celebratory chocolate milkshake I cramped up crossing the road whilst stepping up the curb. Almost falling back in could have been a bit of a disaster but fortunately Laura was there with a helping hand. 

The drive back was long but pain and cramp free!! 

Trail Run Racing North East USA

I recently took part in my first running trail race in just over a year and prior to that one it has been a couple of years. It also happened to be my first since arriving in the USA.

The race was along the Shawangunk ridge in the state of New York. It's a beautiful part of the state as well as being a tree covered ridge line with enough hills to add to the difficulty. The event had 4 choices of race lengths; 70, 50, 30 miles and half marathon distances. Each followed the same route you just jumped onto the course at different stages along the way. The beauty of it being point to point is the added interest along the trail. When looking out for races I managed to find a large number of them in the northeast of the US that did laps of a trail circuit. Both options have different benefits. But for my first one back in a while a point to point was perfect. You can check out the race details on the link below

https://www.longpathraces.com/shawangunk-ridge-trail-run

I had opted for the half marathon, having not had a suitable amount of time to train up for some longer I was thinking of using it to get me used to races run in the US as well as a good stepping stone to some longer events later in the year. 

Turning up to the event early on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning I had estimated my finishing time. Not on many hard facts for this one just rough estimates based on the distance. As I got chatting to people at the start line it transpired that my estimation was probably off, a quick time for the half marathon and winning time the previous year was just over the 2 hour mark. Along with this a number of people mentioned various points in the course where it was difficult finding the route. There are route markers but they are intermittent and are just the normal Shawangunk ridge trail markers, rather than any additional ones being used other than at the end where some occasional additional red strings of tape had been used. I picked up the map which being for the full length of the course (70 miles long) didn't provide great detail on a side of A4 to really navigate by. With the route on my gps I thought this would suffice. But after speaking to the fellow runners I decided to try to download the route map onto my phone as a back up. Being out in the middle of  nowhere with limited reception this took until part the way through the race to download fully. Better late than never. 

 My first yellow bus journey

My first yellow bus journey

Boarding a couple of yellow school buses at the finish line we headed to where the half marathon started. It was my first time on one of these American icons. Boarding the buses made me realise the vast array of runners from whippets at the front to experienced runners right through to those who fancied the challenge for a weekend. Arriving at the start line we all bundled out and did our final preparations before the race started. This along with the race briefing where getting lost was mentioned again. I hoped this would not be me...

We were set off in waves according to our running numbers and I quickly got into a rhythm following behind a few people. We were making good progress along the trail and had made the transition from the little tributary of a trail the half marathon started on to the main trail. It followed beneath pine trees on a hard packed trail as the day began to heat up. Well above the temperatures I was expecting. Rather than being in the mid teens (60F range as I get into the US metric) it was well into the high 20's ( high 70F low 80's).

All was going well till we passed another runner but he was heading in the other direction. It turned out the girl who I was following was his wife. They had a brief chat and she carried on. Now I assumed that he had come out to meet his wife on the trail and as she had continued on we must be heading on the right direction. Turned out this wasn't the case he was doing the 70 miler and we were going the wrong way. About 15 to 20 of us spread out along this part of the trail. Checking and re-checking the maps we turned around and headed promptly back in the reverse direction. We had travelled about 30 mins round trip in the wrong direction. Not ideal on a race that was already due to be a tough half marathon.

Turning around and it was back the way we had come. Sweat already soaking through my top. I met up with a runner who it turned out spent a lot of time of the years running in the area and knew some of  the tougher sections of the course. It was great way of passing the time chatting away as well as getting some local insight on the course or at least pointing out some cool looking areas which I may have otherwise just run past without looking up. Despite being hard packed trail we had already passed one guy limping the other way having gone over on his ankle on one of a number of roots, which I had almost slipped on as well. The trail meandered along a spectacular ridge line with views up into the Catskills. The odd tree hinted at the transition to autumn or fall with the colours beginning to change but there was still a way to go for the real show to begin.

 Views from a clearing

Views from a clearing

 

Making it to the second a final check point marked the start of a long ish up hill section. As well as a short scramble through a boulder field to reach the top. A definite possibility for some scrambling or potentially some bouldering at a later date. I had heard the area was famous for roped up climbing as well. 

Making it to the top and my legs still felt pretty good I bid farewell to my running buddy for the morning and headed off. The trail flattened out and was beginning to descend towards the finish I passed by one of the 70 mile racers who was running in sandals although he was doing incredibly time wise looked to be struggling a bit. Think I would have looked distinctly worst at that stage of a 70 mile run! The heat of the day had clearly had an impact on me as I could feel the odd twinge of cramp setting in. I just hoped a random movement wouldn't set it off. Easing up on the pace for a bit I was trying to minimise the risk of it happening before picking up again. The course by this stage was a gentle descent through cool and damp under growth. With old pine needles littering the floor making for a soft cushioning feeling for the body. 

 Warm conditions out on the course

Warm conditions out on the course

 

I came across a few more runners not really knowing which course they were on I greeted them as I passed them by on route to the finish. Coming round the corner and I was greeted to the bridge I had driven under earlier in the day. By now the day had well and truely cleared from the initial clouds of the early morning to reveal the view across the valley. I quickly stopped to admire the view before the final few hundred metres to the finish line. 

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Crossing the finish line and being welcomed to cold drinks, a toast with a very small beer and a slice of pizza was a perfect finish for the race. Before making a rather sweaty journey back south again. 

16th place in 3hrs 10mins. Shouldn't have got lost for 30 mins! 1st place was completed in 2hrs 8mins. I think i will be back for one of these events next year.

 Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing? 

Catskills 3500

Not long after moving to the US I came across the Appalachian mountain club in my search for some backcountry skiing. After chatting with some fellow skiers they introduced me to the Catskills 3500 club. It's a group who wish to climb the highest 35 peaks in the state of New York. To "officially complete" the 35 peaks you have to repeat 4 specific ones in winter as well. Since spending more time with the guys  and girls in the group many have finished their first round and are now well into multiple rounds. More on that later.

 the 35 peaks within the Catskills

the 35 peaks within the Catskills

 

Every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year they have a selection of hikes. One free weekend earlier I got in touch with the groups leader. Not long later we got a reply saying we were all good to join them. These guys volunteer their personal time to take other folk up the mountains. There are of course safety briefings and waivers to be signed but none the less a cool experience just being able to rock up and meet someone who knows the mountains, surrounding areas and of course where to get some great food and drink afterwards. 

First up was a couple of mountains called Vly and Bearpen. It was described as a bush wack. Sounding much more like an exploration through the Australian outback than some mountains in the north east of the USA. Which a bit like "mountains in Scotland" are not quite the alps but some brilliant playgrounds nonetheless.

Waking at the crack of dawn we made our way up north on what has become a standard weekend route. Coming across an ideally placed Starbucks on route for a coffee boost before the walk. This was also to become part of our Catskills hiking routine as long as we hadn't overslept the 5 or 5.30 am alarm on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  

Rocking up we met up with a whole variety of people who had travelled from near and relatively far to hike these mountains. Unlike the vast majority of the UK version of 3000+ ft's these mountains turned out to be coated in a landscape of trees. Making it difficult to see or in some cases know when you have reached the summit. 

We made our way up a muddy track past some go kart like off road vehicles making our way steadily up the mountain. The canopy of trees above us shading us from the increase heat of the sun as it began to rise above us. We soon reached the point where the "bushwack" began. A cross road and the saddle between the two peaks. Turning off the main path we wondered along what looked like a sheep track heading in a meandering fashion upwards. The odd tree marked with a blue splosh which turned out to indicate the boundary of a local land owner. The false summits came across even more bizarre as with all the trees in the way it was seriously challenging to work out whether the peak had been reached with no visual clues to go by. We passed a sign marking the crossing of 3500ft and the start of the no camping zone. Rounding the corner we came to a clearing with a can suspended high up on one of the trees. It turned out this small area marked the summit. Opening the can up we signed our names to show we had completed the hike to the top before turning back round and heading down to the saddle of the mountain. It was still mid morning as we reached the saddle. Being out in the hills in a new environment felt like an incredible experience and with it still being mid morning by the time we reached the saddle where we had cut off the main track very satisfying to think we had seized the day to get up here so early. 

Vly down and on wards and up wards to Bear pen.

One of the cool aspects of these mountains is how visible the changes in flora are as the altitude and direction of the slope change. From dark and damp corners with lush vegetation dripping with droplets of water to the upper slopes covered in pines which look stunted in growth. We also witnessed areas on a number of summits showing what happens when the trees are cleared. Although revealing gorgeous views over the valley the irony is the scar left on this lookout point of a treeless, dry, bare patch of soil and rock on what otherwise from above looks like a pristine environment.

We meandered our way past a closed up cottage which made me think of the books I read on cabins in the far flung reaches of Canada and Alaska such as in call of the wild. 

Heading up the hill we soon made it to the top. I was thinking it would be more like the alps with treeless summits and potentially the chance for some paragliding. Instead the narrow passages back down the mountain between trees Im sure would make for a daunting if not virtually impossible take off point. We came across another group who had a 70 and 80 year old in their group. I very much hope I'm still hiking up mountains at that age!! As we got chatting to the group it transpires one of them had once owned a now long gone ski slope that was once situated on the mountain. Some remnants of the lift we still evident on the hill side. 

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A quick bite to eat we headed back down the way we had come and out to the cars at the base of the hill. Our first two US 3500 footers. The day was still pretty early so we opted for searching out a good place to eat. We came across a place called the gunk house. Recommended in an awesome wee book called 36 hrs in New York and the east coast. Serving up wholesome German inspired food food overlooking mountains and apple orchards. 

 

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Now just 33 summits to complete....

Since then we have knocked off a few more and are almost half way at 23 to go.

If you are in the north east of the US check out:

http://catskill-3500-club.org/ - for the catskills 3500 club

http://www.outdoors.org/ - for the Appalachian mountain club

And for those in the UK why not set the challenge of the munros, corbetts or wainwrights 

https://www.themountainguide.co.uk/highest/

 

Kite Skiing - In the White Mountains

For the last couple of years I have been playing around with kites trying to get into kite surfing and although I haven’t done masses it is something i have really enjoyed. 

Back in the winter months I met up with Jamie from our Baffin Island expedition with the idea of heading to the white mountains for a spot of kite skiing and any other mountain activities we could squeeze into the time up there. 

A couple of weeks out and the conditions were looking great. We were then hit by a heat wave as I watched the snow quickly melt. It was February and instead of spending the weekend skiing I was down on jersey shore in shorts and a t-shirt flying a kite instead. 

Despite hoping for a final dump of snow it never came as we hit the road for the drive north. Conditions in Quebec looked marginally better but the additional day spent in the car wasn't going to be worthwhile. We soon found ourselves reaching our destination of Conway. A wee town with mountains on its door step. 

The following day we met up with our instructor Zeb who has amassed an amazing breadth of experience in kiting and any activity that involves the mountains to the ocean. The conditions for the week were quite mixed which provided a perfect balance of classroom time going through theory of kite flying as well as working through everything kite related from setting it up to taking it down quickly and under control. All in the warmth of the mountain store. 

Indoor Kiting Skills

 

As conditions improved we headed out to a nearby frozen potato field. Patches of ice shone turquoise blues in the sunshine. Pulling out the kites we laid them on the ground. Stretching out the lines as we had done been practising, it was certainly a different sensation doing it with large mitts on rather than board shorts . The final part of hooking ourselves in and putting our skis on. 

One of the biggest differences of kite skiing vs kite surfing is you don't have the same challenges of the water start and that initial period of having to get just the right amount of pull to get yourself out of the water. Instead you are standing as we launch the kites and as soon as they pick up enough power we are soon gliding across the snow and ice. 

Kiting Conway

As we got more used to the kites and conditions are confidence grew. We were soon zooming across the ice. We would occasionally hit patches of hardened ice where our skis would skip and skid as we tried to find some grip and purchase on our edges. 

 

The next step was heading up wind. This involved digging our edges in even harder  and working the kite in the wind to start tacking in the direction we wanted to head in. Bit by bit we began to get the hang of it making it slightly further up wind with each attempt. There were of course mistakes along the way as we got to grips with the setup. Factoring in trees, the large overhead watering system, the odd pipe and the occasional patch of solid ice was certainly different to kite surfing. And a bit like how I was told there are either paraglider who have hit a tree or those who will the same seems to hold true with kite skiing. As we got one of the kites spectacularly held up in one of the trees. Fortunately there was no spectacular crashes of being lifted into the air and ceremoniously dumped onto the ground.  

Working our way up wind

As the week wore on our confidence grew along with our skills we were soon making it up to ends of the field we had been looking at all week. To continue spicing things up we also started including drills to take them down quickly in an emergency. 

It had been a fantastic week with a huge amount to absorb but we both certainly wanted more time playing about with kites in the snow. Packing up we were sad to see the mountains grow small in the mirrors as we made our way south to warmer less mountainous areas. 

Of course only a couple of weeks later the snow finally came and temperatures plummeted.

Windiest Place on Earth

Mount Washington The chance to ski on the windiest place on earth. Why wouldn’t I turn that option down.

Not long after moving to the North east I found out about an organisation called the Appalachian mountain club who were organising a ski tour up the Cog railway on mount Washington. Situated in an incredible area known as the white mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington I quickly discovered once had (only relatively recently beaten into second place) the highest recorded surface wind speed outside of a tropical storm coming in at 231mph.

It isn’t the closest ski area but with the warmer than usual temperatures in the north east it was always going to be about travelling further north to get the best snow possible. Unlike the previous weekend, the temperatures had certainly begun to cool down. As I started to make the drive north the weather began to change and by the end of the night it was snowing. I was seriously looking forward to getting out the car after a fairly brutal 7 hour drive after a full days work. As much as I wanted the snow I didn’t really fancy the slowing down of the journey.

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Arriving at the lodge I crashed out as soon as I hit the mattress, it didn’t feel like many hours later than the first people began to stir, all trying to get the best conditions for the day. Munching a quick breakfast all washed down with large mugs of coffee, I made my way to the meeting point. Now despite it once having the highest recorded wind speed on earth there is still a railway to the summit along with an access road. Our plan was to follow the train tracks up the mountain and once out of the tree line see what the conditions were like. Summiting was highly unlikely with forecasts of high winds and a thick layer of cloud covering it.

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I had enjoyed the ski mountaineering racing but this was a completely different experience again. The pace obviously much more sedate with the emphasis being on efficiency and trying not to sweat. Compared to my race strategy of trying to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Which was more of a brute strength and endurance exercise. And certainly less care for the amount of sweating going on. It was however a lot colder, hovering around the -5 to -15F , a balmy -20 to -26C and the  wind chill on top. Despite this it still felt quite warm as we meandered up hill surrounded by trees which looked incredible. Like frozen statues dotted all the way up the mountain side. Pausing occasionally to have a drink and admire the views behind and in front of us, despite the large bank of clouds hiding the summit. It wasn’t the blue bird day we had all hoped for but still fantastic being out on the mountain.

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Arriving at the first split point and we soon bundled up as the temperature plummeted. We had come out of the trees and the wind now had us in its sights. The rail line had clearly taken the full force of this onslaught for quite a while as its frozen structure looked like something from another planet. Not even in the arctic had I seen buildings covered in ice to this extent.

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A few of us opted to continue slightly further up the mountainside. It is safe to say we needn’t have bothered. All that proceed was some skating around on an icy surface of wind stripped mountainside. We tried to get purchase on what little friction we could get but despite this effort we hardly made it any further up for a lot more huffing and puffing. With the wind battering our faces and bodies it was only sensible to head back down. There was no chance of a summit today and the possibility of some better powder round the corner was never going to happen without some more hardware of ice axes and crampons. Even then we were not convinced there would be any great powder.

It was a quick turn around to get out the wind. I say quick but the ice and strong winds made it tough work wrapping up our ski skins to get them put away. Its like trying to roll loose duck tape up in a strong gale into a neat organised bundle.

And then the bit we had built up for, the ski down. Despite the odd patch of ice there were some great stretches of powder. The three of us who had tried to go a bit higher made the most of the descent getting in as many tight wee turns to float on the powder. In the hunt for some I managed to find a fairly lightly covered rock. Skiing over it I stopped almost instantly, trying to recover my balance from the forward momentum only to finally pop out of my bindings. Unfortunately one of the guys saw the whole thing unfold in a particularly slow and  inelegant fashion.

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We made it down to the bottom and back to the lodge for a well deserved hot shower and drink.

The next day I headed up to the in famous tuckermanns ravine. You can check out a couple of pro skiers hitting this on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM7YknhIKeU

It isn’t recommended generally to ski it until later in the season but whilst in the area I at least wanted to have a peek at what it was all about. I followed the trail up which is incredibly well marked. Past people snow shoeing up and a number of groups up for the weekend as part of a nearby ice festival learning about avalanche rescue techniques. The wind certainly felt less strong and it was definitely a warmer day than the previous one. Snow occasionally fell from the trees. It was a pretty magical sight.

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Slowly but surely the ravine revealed itself. Each glimpse between the trees showing a bit more until I came round the corner and caught sight of the whole area. With clear views of the summit of mount washington in the background. There in front the huge tuckermanns ravine and the steepest ski descents in the north east, or at least one of the better known ones.

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Arriving at a small cabin and there were groups continuing up as part of their avalanche course as well as some skiers who despite the now windy conditions had opted to try a few routes. It looked pretty incredible and in places pretty intimidating even from a distance. I headed on up the mountain as I wanted to see the full face of it. Some of the slopes are up at 40 - 50 degree range. The wind had certainly picked up though and I was now taking a bit of a beating even if it was warmer than the previous day. Arriving at the bottom of tuckermanns and I could finally take it it. I definitely want to return to the slopes here and take on some of these descents.

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Heading back down the mountain and my legs could finally enjoy a bit of a down hill ski. After trekking up it made for a nice change. Despite this I still had to walk a few bits at the top due to not being able to find a decent route to ski down as well as the path I walked up being really quite tight between rocks, trees and a small stream that with the warmer conditions wasn’t completely covered in snow.

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I soon found myself down the bottom  of the mountain just in time to munch a load of food in the car and before the return journey back down south to new jersey.

Skimo - Berkshire East

Over the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of ultra running races and trail races around the world with people looking beyond the standard road marathon to get their athletic fix. Regardless of what I do the option to go out running in the hills and mountains is always tempting.

The winter months give an opportunity for some down time, change the activity or generally prepare the coming season. For a while now I have been reading and watching more about skimo racing also known as randonee and ski mountaineering. Which from a racing stand point and ignoring the degrees of difference in technical descents and ascents basically involves hiking up hill either boot packing (going up hill with skis on your back), skinning (ski up hill with special material on the base of the skis called skins) and then descending the mountains as fast as you can.

When I moved to the north east of the U.S. and with the mountains nearby I went about searching for an event to enter. I found the north east rando race series. A series of events around the north east of the US and the timing was perfect. My first weekend in the U.S and there was an event on.

With snacks for the drive bought, I woke in the early hours of the morning to make the 4 hour drive up the road. The conditions over the last few weeks had been warm and the day was looking to continue this trend.

Despite this there was still a chill in the morning air and with this came the occasional blanket of fog which made for some spectacular scenery particularly where there were small clearings.

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Arriving at Berkshire east and there was one guy making an early start on the course in shorts and t-shirt. Which was a long way of my ski trousers and jacket. I hoped the day would stay cold, otherwise I was going to be ridiculously hot scaling the mountain. After getting organised it was time to start the race amongst a group of people ranging from the lycra clad to the occasional ski tourer.

Making a dash up the mountain the group soon dispersed as we made our first lap up the mountain. Before the first corner my jacket was as off and for the ascents only my helmet soon came off too. It was sweltering. First up hill done and it was the transition back to skiing down hill. The skins were off the bottom of the skis and everything switched back into ski mode for a brief ski half way down the mountain. This sounds much quicker than it was in practise, initially with the skins flapping all over the place  nothing helps speed things up with either bad weather or the time pressure of a race. That and a desire to cool down on the descent. It was then a walking stage up a steep wooded part of the route with our skis on our backs before we exited the forest and could get ours ski’s back onto ski touring mode for the last bit back to the top of the mountain. Skins off and it was time to go full speed down to the bottom of the mountain to repeat this a three more times. On the way up I ended up chatting to one of the local ski patrollers and another guy who turned out to be the owner of the ski resort which passed the time and made sure we were going at a steady pace up hill. With the U.S elections only just completed it was certainly interesting to start getting more of a local insight into it.

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With the day heating up I stopped to get some water from a nearby stream having used up my small water bottle over the first few laps. Despite it being in january most people had switched to open jackets or just a thin shirt. One guy had even opted to go topless.

After the third lap it was time to head to the second stage of the race on the other side of the mountain. Amazingly some people had already finished. The skiing down became increasingly harder as my legs became more tired. This was my first ski day of the season, ski touring race and I had literally arrived in the US three days earlier.

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Despite this i finished the final couple of laps and very quickly ended up in the cafe for a well deserved feast of food before the prize giving. It was at this point I realised the quality of the field. Ranging from those competing for positions in the US team to the previous record holder Ed Warren for the fastest ascent of Denali before this was taken by Kilian Jornet. Certainly an impressive range of athletes.

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All in all I seriously enjoyed the north east rando race and will certainly be working out how to fill the next seasons schedule with races. It mixes mountains, skiing and running into a pretty epic combination. By the end I was sufficiently knackered, yet despite this my legs still felt good enough the following day to tear through some laps of a nearby mountain before the rain descended on the area. I can certainly see why this is the perfect winter trainer or event in its own right when you have mountains nearby.

Bring on the next season.

For those interested check out:

http://nerandorace.blogspot.com

and for those in the UK there is always the Scottish one:

http://www.skimoscotland.co.uk

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A long day in the Ben Lawers

With a waterproof map case at the ready this time we headed back to where we had started he previous day. It was a bit of a déjà vu. The weather hadn't really improved but we set our sights on the Ben Lawers and the first summit of Beinn Ghlas opposite the previous day's attempt. All being well we would continue on peak by peak and see how we got on with the aim of doing a wee circuit.

The first part of the walk took a route through a protected part of the hill. It was amazing to see how diverse the wildlife was there compared to the normal heather covered hills. Would be awesome to see those areas increased!

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Heading on up we were in the shelter from the wind heading up switch backs towards the summit. We soon arrived, feeling good and the weather not being too bad despite being wet, windy and very cloudy we continued on.

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Heading up Ben Lawers was equally quick. With no spectacular views to be distracted by we headed on to An Stuc. The route up was fine then coming over the summit the track leads down a crumbling, rocky and steep path. Fortunately it was in the lee side of the wind, it was certainly an interesting route down and one I would say was much more challenging than some of the ridge scrambles I have done in the past. Making our way down we soon reached the next shoulder to make out way a long.

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Our route then slowly took us back up to the top of Meall Garbh. The temperature had begun to drop and the wind picked up. We huddled just beyond the summit having a munch to eat and a check of the map for our route. Following a fence line almost all the way to the summit of the final rolling mounds of the last Munro of the day. This section of the route was one of the wetter and muddier parts of the day. With our boots sinking into the thick peattie mud. Some areas previous people had dropped leftover planks and fence posts into some of the more boggy areas in an attempt to create a basic bridge across. These made for a fun balancing act mid walk. Marching on up the final ascent we reached the top where we were finally below the cloud level and could admire the route we had take along the ridge line. A quick bite to eat before dashing down the hillside to a small track servicing a number of mini dams along the hillside. It was an interesting network of mini dams spread across the all the main tributaries and redirecting the water back to a few main dammed up areas. It was pretty impressive. Trekking along and soon the heavens opened. After being dry most of the day we were soon walking a long hoods up and very much looking forward to a hearty evening meal.

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We had been using a cicerone guide to the region which suggested taking a beeline traversing around the hillside along a back to the car park. In principle it was a good idea. It was the most direct route. However once we started it proved to be slow going. With a number of small ravines to negotiate along with the sodden ground our boots and clothing were soon clean of any mud. My ankle still recovering from the previous event didn't appreciate the unevenness of the ground and despite the drop in height we opted to get into the road as soon as possible before regaining the height. In retrospect it might have been quicker heading all the way down to the loch side before heading back along to the turn off.

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Making back to the car we were one of the last out of the car park. It had been a fantastic day. Although we weren't initially sure about heading round the full ridge it was certainly worthwhile.

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 Munro's:

An Stuc

Beinn Ghlas

Ben Lawers

Meall Garbh

Meall Greigh

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Although the week hadn't gone quite as we had planned we had achieved between us the total of 30 munros in a week as part of a celebration for our 30th this year. Made me really appreciate the effort that it would take to take on something like the bob graham or the Ramsey round.

Weather is on the Change

Looking at the mountain weather forecast for the coming days was not great reading. Cloud free summits at between 10% and 30%, rain heavy at times and wind speeds hitting gale force levels as the days went on. Perfect Scottish walking conditions.

The plan was to go for 4 munros for the day. Heading up the valley we soon spotted a vey clear path on the opposite side of the river to the part we were walking on. Our track soon came to an end as we trudged back to the start.

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Finding our way through yet more wet sticky bog to reach the path we had seen became an interesting challenge in itself with elements of the route feeling more like a series of small streams. We finally made it onto the path and route up the valley we had spotted previously. It was also at this point that we spotted the route we could have taken if we had continued slightly further a long our original route on the other side of the river.

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All about us small streams trickled off the mountain side allowing us to stop for an occasional drink from these whilst basking in the sunshine. It was starting out to be a glorious day. Heading up the onto the saddle between a few hills the wind hit us. Clearly we had been sheltered by this in the lower valley.

A head of us lay a large swathe of boggy ground before the initial ascent of ciste dubh. The start of the route zig zagged its way up through soft, thick brown sludge. As we came over a crest of the main ridge taking us too the top lay in front of us. It was a spectacular sight.

Overhead the clouds were beginning to build and the wind pick up. We continued trudging on up with a shear drop to one side and a steep slope to the other and views over the nearby lochs it was building up to be the favourite summit of the tour. The thought of these being snow covered and skiing down these slopes would be incredible with the right conditions.

The final part of the ridge was marked by a series of false summits. Each once getting our hopes up before another peaked its head above again. Finally reaching the top, the views were spectacular. After spending the previous day on a ridge line being on a single Munro surrounded by the other peaks was incredible despite meaning we had to go all the way back down before making another ascent.

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Despite some of the challenges on the way up, the down was remarkably quick. And we were soon heading up the other side, a steep grassy slope towards the next summit. The winds were really beginning to build up and we only stopped briefly at the top before heading up toward the next summit. As we dropped onto the saddle the winds would increase until we were back into the shade of the ascent. Each time we got buffeted by the wind the temperature would plummet.

We were on a role but as we made our way towards the third summit of the day the wind was beginning to be a considerable force which with a considerable drop on the down wind side was certainly less than welcome. The winds were due to pick up to around 50mph. With this beginning to occur and a natural route down off the hills we made the decision to call it a day and head down.

The route off was initially a lot better than the previous day with a gentle decent back into the valley. This became less than ideal as we hit a fenced off wood land. Skirting round this was definitely possible but the ground was sodden and despite the wet weather a number of bugs and beetles sought refuge in our clothing, faces and hair. You could feeling them crawling all over us. Each one raising a number of expletives as we were attacked from all angles and our feet sank deep into muddy puddles.Hitting the main road was a delight.

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Despite our delight it was short lived as we became shocked at the amount of rubbish that lay just next to the roadside amongst the beautiful highlands.

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Don't leave a trace.

Munro's

Ciste Dhubh

Aonach Meadhoin

Visiting far places and cycling Great Glens

After a day of enforced rest due to yet more high winds. We opted for a tour to the furthest westerly point in mainland UK. Ardnamurchan.

This gorgeous peninsular involved a short ferry trip before creeping along the roads that meandered along the coastline. It was gorgeous particularly as the colours were changing as autumn approached. Behind us lay a bank of cloud while the sun shone down on this peninsular.

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We finally arrived at the end point. A lighthouse perched on a rocky outcrop and protected on all sides by stone built walls. We even became aquatinted to the local goat population. Before heading to a nearby beach to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Scotland. Almost like Barbados just a tad on the cooler side of things.

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The next day we woke early from our cosy glamping hut at wigwam. Our sights set on some nearby hills. Coming to our first option the wind began to increase and so we adapted our plan to a nearby summit. Later we found out this one was renowned for being windy. Making our way up the wind was increasing dramatically and the cloud level dropping. As we got closer to the top and with and the wind increasing substantially I thought it wiser to come down rather than to keep slogging for the sake of it. We managed it a few days later under slightly calmer conditions. The route up would have been ok particularly as the slightly more technical part of the route was in the lee of the wind.

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We made up for it with a fantastic cycle from Killin to Lochearnhead along a fantastic cycle route. The going was great heading quickly through the valley past streams and squeezing over cattle grids. We came across a Canadian cycling round Europe and was looking to head further north before it became too cold we headed our separate ways wishing him luck. With only an occasional shower and with the sun poking its head out we could enjoy the change of pace. Turning round we realised it had been a bit more of a downhill than we realised and the wind had been behind us. It was going to be tight with the bike hire place shutting. The last mile we lost our luck with the weather and it chucked it down.

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Finishing up we headed to our accommodation for the night. With views over the loch it was a gorgeous setting despite the clouds.

We certainly felt fresher for the more relaxed day and the cosy accommodation.

Sky Run - Peak District

With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way. At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn't to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

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Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

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The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.

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With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn't have to wait long!

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About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn't for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.

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Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don't understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently "grey" looking state.

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Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

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Helvellyn Circuit

With a weekend of spectacular weather on the cards and a wide range of walks across the Yorkshire moors, Dales or the Lake District to choose from we were certainly spoilt choice. After much debating over these options and gaining some local knowledge we set our sights on Helvelyn in the Lake District. With a choice of routes to go up Helvellyn including the famous striding edge it was set to be a fantastic outing.

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Waking the next morning and rushing for the curtains I was welcomed to a view of low cloud and overcast hills. Not quite what we expected. Stepping outside the cool weather was perfect for walking and so I began filling a couple of flasks with hot water in preparation for some cooler ascents.

As we headed out along the a66 with awesome views over the Pennines the cloud began to lift. As we drove down onto the western side of the pennines we were greeted to glorious sunshine. The temperature began rising and the thought of no sun cream along with the hot flasks of water all began to seem like daft ideas.

Arriving in Glenridding the car parks were jam packed with rucksack and map carrying hikers. Brilliant to see but dashing our thoughts of being in the wilderness. Gathering a few final essential supplies including the sun cream and chocolate bars we were ready to begin.  The chocolate unfortunately did not make the journey as it was eaten in advance before we started.

We headed on up the valley.

Wondering along side the stream that flowed through the village. Huge chunks of it were missing and the foundations of some houses completely exposed showed just how powerful this meandering stream had become in the floods over the winter. There was still a decent amount of work to be done before everything was back in order. Still evident from the number of trucks, diggers and reinforcements being put in place.

The route up was a path that carved its way up the hillside with only a short detour taking us away from the swathes of groups heading up the hill. In front and behind of us were a steady stream of harden walker to enthusiastic opportunist, young and old, tourist and local as well as a few dogs thrown in for good measure.

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As we reached a small plateau in front of us we could see striding edge with the silhouette of walkers making their way across it. The sun was beaming down on us and it's safe to say the sweat was beginning to stream off me at least.

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The edge itself was great fun, certainly in this weather. Despite being occasionally exposed it wasn't like tryfan or crib goch in Wales and in this dry and sunny weather it made for a great outing. Despite this you there were reminders to tougher times with a memorial to Mr Dixon who fell off it in 1858 whilst running with hounds, as well as  the occasional scrape from crampons left over from a previous winters. It would certainly be a challenge in cold, wet and icy conditions. One for another day! Darting over the rocks we paused occasionally to soak up the views and let some of the blockages on route ease up. The final chimney proved to be the biggest pinch point of the ridge yet despite this we watched as one guy virtually ran along the length of the ridge swerving round people while a rather elderly looking gentleman made this chimney look a piece of cake. There were of course many others for whom this was not quite so simple but seeing the elation and satisfaction from everyone on conquering striding edge was awesome to see.

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Making the final ascent up to the summit which flattens into a great plateau we reached the top. To beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. Sitting down with our feet dangling over one of the slopes we munched on some sandwiches as we watched the start of some fell runners coming up from the other side looking remarkably fresh. We briefly joined the throng of supporters cheering on the competitors before they made their descent.

Surveying the surrounding routes we opted to not go for the well trodden path up Catstye Cam but to meander round along a flat ridge line. The sights and smells brought back memories from many a previous trip up into the hills.

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On reaching what we thought would be our final summit, with us both still feeling pretty fresh and the day still young we set our sights on a further peak and ridge line. Passing school groups and walkers relaxing on the slopes whilst soaking up the afternoon rays of sunshine. It was definitely far too hot for the still steaming bottles of hot water I had packed in the cool yorkshire morning.

We made our way along a final ridge with hardly a soul about. It felt much more like the walk we had both expected being slightly more out in the wilderness. With the sun beaming down on us the occasional sip on cool stream water was incredibly satisfying.

The final descent into town was through a field packed full of blue bells lit by the soft evening sunshine. It was a pretty spectacular find for the end of the day, especially as this bit had been an unplanned extension to the day. Before the final descent into town.

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Sitting down to a plate of chips and a pint of coke was a delight. We could relax enjoying the evening and the feeling you get from being outdoors all day. A mix of tiredness and satisfaction at what has been achieved. All that was left to do was get some flip flops on, essential after any walking trip and head back to yorkshire for the night.