Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Big 3 in One Winter

 Ramsay Round 22nd Jan 2017 (anticlockwise)

It's around 3am and Jon Ascroft is leading me across Devils Ridge in the Mamores in near perfect conditions. Graham Nash has stopped at the end of the ridge so he has time to fill our water bottles from the lochan outflow to save time. There is a little snow collected in gullies but not much on the path and although the sub zero temperatures have left a thick layer of frost on all the rocks its not verglas or particularly slippery. We're doing a Ramsay Round and are already well ahead of schedule but this is the Highlands in the middle of winter and sure enough it'll get more interesting before we are done. Over the next couple of hours it starts to snow, the nav gets difficult, ice axes come out, we have to use crampons for the first time to descend a steep frozen snow bank and all in all it's got a whole lot more interesting. It's not full on classic Scottish winter conditions, but we certainly know it's winter. By the end of the leg we have slipped from being 20 minutes up on our 22hr schedule to being 26 minutes down but it's daylight now and the frozen ground means we should be able to move fast on leg 2.

Towards the end of the leg 1 I start to play back just how on earth I ended up here. It wasn't planned that is for sure. So how exactly do you end up doing a winter Ramsay by mistake!? Flashback to Thursday, just over 48 hours ago and I was looking for something to do at the weekend. The weather in Wales looked good so I was considering a Paddy Buckley Round. I dropped Konrad Rawlik and Jasmin Paris an email to see if they fancied a day out. The reply was basically, 'We'd love to but we have a race in Scotland on Saturday so Wales is a bit too far but if I wanted to get out in the hills in Scotland on Sunday they would come along'. I'd never considered a winter Ramsay but looked up the Fort William weather forecast out of daftness and there was a band of high pressure there too. An idea was forming. A few emails later and things were out of control, several top runners were up for it and there was no going back. I was going to attempt a winter Ramsay on the eve of my 40th birthday. Trepidation rapidly changed to excitement and before I knew it we were off.

The first we saw of Konrad and Jasmin, my leg 2 support, was a head torch pointed up the hill through the twilight at us so we knew where to aim for which was a huge help. Leg 2 takes in the three hills to the east of Loch Treig. We were fortunate that the boggy ground was generally frozen and just had a light coating of snow over it so we could move fast. I drank the coffee and ate the pasta they had brought in for me on the move and we set to trying to recover the time deficit. It was great fun and the time seemed to pass really quickly. The wind was still and we were mostly below the clouds. We gained 1hour and 10 minutes against the schedule in this section and as a result were 40 minutes ahead of the 22hr schedule by the end of the leg and I was still eating well and feeling good.

As we came down into Fersit Konrad went ahead to hand gear on to the leg 3 support but as Jasmin and I got closer we realised that there was no one there. Maybe they were out of sight? No, they had been caught out by the pace we were moving and were late (or rather we were early). There was no fuss, Jasmin set off to find them and Konrad and I set of on leg 3. Sure enough within a few minutes Shane Ohly, Alex McVey and John Ryan were chasing us up the hill to be greeted by a friendly shout of “worst support ever!” from Konrad and a suitable response from Shane. Kit was exchanged and for the next couple of hours we continued to get further ahead of the schedule and at one point were an hour and 10 minutes up. However, we still had the big hills ahead of us and from the mornings experience in the Mamores I suspected that it might not be easy there. Jon Gay was waiting for us before the Aonachs where he had cut some steps to help us ascend the frozen snow in Charlie's Gully. I was starting to tire a little by this point and had layered up a bit more to stay warm but we were still climbing really well. It was just the delicate foot placement on the exposed ridges that was becoming more challenging as my muscles tired. Not surprisingly the Aonachs and CMD proved to be the most difficult part of the round with us back in darkness, lots of consolidated snow, sections of ice and a fresh albeit thin layer of snow hiding the condition of the ground beneath.

We lost a lot of time against the schedule over this final section using up the entire buffer and some on our way back to the youth hostel but finished in a time of 22 hours and 23 minutes. I was delighted to be only the third person to complete a sub 24hr winter Ramsay Round and am very pleased that its a new fastest winter time. That said there is still no doubt that the benchmark and best winter round remains Jon Gay's phenomenal 23 hour 18 minute solo round in classic winter conditions.

It was my best ever birthday party and I can honestly say I can't think of a way I would have preferred to see out my 30's than in big hills with great friends. It was a very special day.

Paddy Buckley Round 11th February 2017 (Clockwise – Starting from Capel Curig)
The temptation of  trying to hold all of the Big 3 fastest winter times at once (I set the BG fastest time of 18 hours 18minutes in December 2013) was just too much and as I started to recover from the Ramsay I began watching the Snowdonia forecast.

I'd first seen the weather window on the 14 day forecast. Flat calm and no precipitation forecast for  a 72 hour gap. It was perfect and the fact that it was still there with 7 days to go indicated some stability to the forecast so even if the window narrowed a little I should still get the 24 hours I wanted. Happy days.

Another amazing set of support was all lined up and a bunkhouse arranged to base from so we were good to go.

We started at midnight and by the time we got to the end of leg 3 we were an hour up on the 19.45 schedule and getting back to Capel in time for the salsa band at the Siabod cafe at 8pm was looking like a distinct possibility.

It hadn't been easy by any means. The promised weather window had not just narrowed but had firmly slammed shut and was forecast to deteriorate further with even higher winds and snow but the sooner we got done the more of it we would avoid. The first leg with Andy Berry had been uneventful, in a good way, as the wind was mainly behind us despite it snowing lightly from early on. As we turned briefly into the wind in the Moelwyns and got the full force of the weather into our faces for the first time it was clear that unless something changed for the better it was going to be a long, tough day.

Leg 2 was more interesting as a combination of factors (our early arrival being the main one) resulted in only Nic Barber being on the leg and my food and kit remaining behind. I was suffering a real low as we fought our way directly against the wind into the first of many blizzards on to the top of Moel Hebog. No food, little water, no extra layers, deteriorating weather, no spare headtorch and my headtorch flashing to say it would shut down soon conspired to make me feel pretty miserable. Eventually I voiced my concerns to Nic. It turned out that he had food for two legs, enough spare kit to last out the winter up there and was confident that we could manage with one headtorch between two if needs be and pointed out that regardless “it would get light soon”. So we were good. I cheered up and we pressed on sharing his cream cheese and salsa sandwiches (yes I know, but honestly they are so much better than they sound!) We got round without any real excitement, collected some pasta, a cup of coffee and Jasmin Paris from Pont Caer Gors and headed off to find Snowdon.

Ant Bethell was waiting for us on the approach to Snowdon and we cracked on well for the leg. Snow was still falling and the wind was picking up more but we were in the lee of the hills for parts of the leg so it never felt too bad.

Very soon we were in Llanberis where Nic and Ant left having done a cracking job and Konrad Rawlik and Jo Zakrzewski joined Jasmin and I for leg 4. This is the leg that concerned me most before setting out and it turned out not without good reason – it was really brutal. We battled through dreadful weather for the entire leg holding roughly to schedule until the Glyders and then losing a full hour of time over the final three summits in thick clag, high winds and a combination of new and drifting snow.

I was battered by the end of it but decided to stick with the plan of running straight through the road crossings to complete the relatively short leg 5 now with quite a posse composed of Konrad, continuing on, Andy, back for more, Carol Morgan, clearly recovering well from her record breaking Spine run, Dave Harrison and Liz Barker. I like the Carneddau leg as it's nice, fast, easy running so you can relax and enjoy it or at least that's how I used to feel about it. It was really dreadful weather for this section. Darkness closed in around us just before the top of Pen y Ole Wen and with the wind now making forward movement hard, whipping snow into our faces and at times making it hard to stay upright I'd be hard pushed to say I was enjoying myself. I just fell in line and followed trying to make the most of the post holes that whoever I was following at any given time was creating. It's pretty impressive that despite the conditions we only made a couple of small nav wobbles before heading down toward Capel. We had lost a lot of time but we were going to get round and a new fastest winter time was still on the cards although we were going to be late for salsa dancing which had become somewhat less appealing in the last 20 hours.

We eventually returned to Capel in 21 hour and 37 minutes which I am delighted with in the conditions. It was another fantastic day out, a lot of fun (some of it type 2) and again it was a fastest time to give me the fastest times for all the Big 3 in winter but already ambition creep was setting in...

Bob Graham round, 20th / 21st February 2017 (Clockwise)

Having completed my 'accidental' Ramsay round and then a Paddy both in the same winter it seemed natural to try and complete the big 3 in one winter which has never been done before but it wasn't straight forward. The Paddy was complete on the 12th of February leaving me with just 16 days before the end of winter to fit in a BG. However I was already committed to a fast High Peak Marathon team for the 3rd of March and would need as much recovery time as possible for that so I had to go as soon after the Paddy as I dared if I wasn't to let the HPM team down. After a week my legs were returning to a reasonable state and I started watching the weather. I needed a gap that would leave me a minimum of 6 clear days before the HPM if I was going to do it.

There was really no weather window at all with sustained upland gales forecast except for what looked like an 8 – 12 hour lull (where the wind would drop to 15-30mph winds) in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday the 21st. I would need that 'calm' ideally on the Scafell ridge which meant I would have to run through high winds for other parts of the round. It was a long shot but as I figured this would be the only chance I would ever have to run the 3 in one winter so I took it.

A crack team was rapidly scrambled the weekend before and without time to dwell on what I was about to do we were off on a 6pm start. 6 pm is a dreadful time to start in winter. Instead of making the best use of the daylight you are maximising the night time and where I normally try and split the daylight to make it easier mentally it would be one long block and furthermore we would have to do the Scafell ridge in the dark. As long as the clag didn't come in and the rocks didn't verglas that should be possible.

Within minutes of setting off I started to get concerned; the wind was very strong and my legs felt heavy even on the first climb but I was determined to give it a decent try. As we neared the top of Skiddaw the group split with Bill Williamson and Jo Zakrzewski dropping back together after Jo was blown over and Jonny Mally continuing with me to Great Calva. Jo and Bill headed onto Blencathra to give me much needed food. The leg was completed in good time and I was handed over to the very capable team of Jasmin Paris, Steve Birkenshaw, Konrad Rawlik and James Harris for leg 2. The wind remained strong but was largely from the side so although I felt like I was taking a beating we were making good time. I was desperately hoping it would drop as predicted before the Scafell ridge. By Dunmail Raise we were 30 minutes up on the 21hr schedule so I took a rare break to eat the pasta and drink the coffee that Martin Stone had prepared. Martin had volunteered himself as road support through to Wasdale and it was a massive help as well as a psychological lift.

Leg 3 was always going to be really tough but with the time buffer I was feeling confident. Shane Ohly and Jeff Powell-Davies were pacing me and are both really good navigators but a thick clag came in that was to test us all to our limits as we tried to keep to the best line but we were often losing even good paths. On Great End we passed within 6 feet of the cairn and missed it only to be brought to a halt by the rather pronounced capture feature (large cliff) and we circled back to collect it. The clag, wind and long night made it really tough but when it finally started to get light on the descent into Wasdale and we hadn't lost too much time I knew we would make it and took a little bit of time to eat and chat before heading off onto leg 4 with Carol Morgan, Mick Allen and Dave Harrison. There would be no records today but that wasn't the goal – sub 24 hours would be just fine and would limit fatigue before the High Peak Marathon. Leg 4 was not too windy and was great fun as we enjoyed the daylight and ticked off the last big hills. At Honister Andy Blackett joined us and Dave and Carol continued onto leg 5 too.

Somewhere on the way up Dale Head the predicted return to upland gales started and it came in really fast. I had a fair bit left in reserve still so put the hammer down to get off the fells as fast as possible and then relaxed once we had dropped into the relative shelter of Newlands valley for the run home. Moot hall soon came into view and we finished in a respectable 20:26 to complete the Big 3 in 1 winter.

Huge thanks to all of the following for their help and support on the 3 rounds (in order of appearance): Jon Ascroft, Graham Nash, Jasmin Paris, Konrad Rawlik, Shane Ohly, Alex McVey, John Ryan, Jon Gay, Andrew Berry, Nic Barber, Carol Morgan, Dave Harrison, Clive King, Liz Barker, Ant Bethell, Jo Zakrzewski, Paul Hodges and all at the Siabod Cafe, Bill Williamson, Jonny Mally, Martin Stone, Steve Birkenshaw, James Harris, Jeff Powell-Davies, Mick Allen and Andy Blackett.

Special thanks to Margarita Grigoriadi who has got me in such good shape and helped me manage my recovery and for the support from Hangar 18, Start Fitness, Inov8, & OMM.

I have been asked a lot about what kit I used and when I thought about it there were six items I simply wouldn't want to set out without:
1.     inov8 X-Talon 190 shoes – My usual shoe is the Mudclaw but I used the same pair of X-Talons for all 3 rounds and found that they were really good on all surfaces even ice and verglas where the Muclaw can be a bit flighty.
2.     Hangar 18 leggings – I don't know what fabric they are using but these are amazing, they shed water fast, stay warm and are comfortable. I wore the same pair for all 3 rounds and through deep snow, blizzards, rain etc I didn't once have to put waterproof trousers over the top.
3.     OMM Aether Smock – I have only had this a couple of months. Its really light, breaths well and really keeps the weather out.
4.     Sealskin socks – they are sold as waterproof although clearly if you are crossing streams your feet will get wet, but crucially they do always keep my feet warm.
5.     Goretex over mits – keeping hands warm is really important and I've found that overmits are far better than any other gloves or glove combination. My pair are a generic ebay purchase.
6.     Camp Corsa Ice axe – I use a 50cm. Its only 200g so its light enough that you don't think twice about carrying it.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Hangar 18's new ambassador - George Foster

Take a look at our new Fell Runner and Climbing Ambassador, George Foster, a good read, looking forward to reading about his adventures 

Friday, 4 November 2016

OMM 2016, Galloway

“I don’t want to get to the finish in second place feeling like I could have tried harder.”  These words from Shane are ringing in my ears as we struggle up a long rising traverse, the last significant hill on day 2 of the Original Mountain Marathon 2016 in Galloway.  We alternate between “maximum shuffle” and hands-on-knees walking up steep grass.  It is a long leg, 5 miles long in fact, with some route choice.  Overnight we had been lying in 1st place on the elite course with nearly a 20 minute lead, but anything can happen in a chasing start.  Maybe Nic and Jim in 2nd took a better route round the forest roads and are overtaking us?  All we can do is get our heads down, shovel some more food in, and keep pushing.

Rewind the clock – how did we get to be in this position?  This time last year it was the usual story.  You do the OMM (the fourth time on elite for me with Shane), you don’t quite get the result you wanted, the next day you have trouble even walking down the street, and wonder if it is all worth it.  But as days turn to weeks and months those memories fade.  Then the insistent promotional emails from OMM start arriving in your inbox, with photographs of glorious rolling hills for next year’s race.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad after all?  So you enter again.

2016 saw the event return to the Galloway Hills in SW Scotland, as apparently it does in every year ending in a 6.  The perceived wisdom was that this was rough terrain, tussocks up to your armpits.  Great says Shane, this will play to our strengths Duncan, the rougher the better.  Well maybe years of orienteering stand us in good stead, but it isn’t going to be pleasant.  The event gets closer and I put a previous map of the area on the wall next to my desk at home (is that normal?), so I have a choice of getting on with some work or gazing at wiggly contours and imagining those tussocks….

Three months before the OMM I get an email from Jackie at British Orienteering.  Apparently the OMM have invited orienteering teams from different nations to take part, the event will be covered by the BBC Adventure show, and this is a good opportunity to promote orienteering and get some publicity.  Some discussion ensues about how to go about this, but eventually British Orienteering put forward Shane and I to represent them at the elite end of the race.  In the end neither the OMM or British Orienteering actually do much publicity beforehand, but we get some promotional jackets with GREAT BRITAIN emblazoned on the back.  Shane is over the moon about this.  They are for the podium apparently.  I guess we better do our best to get there.

Eventually the weekend comes around and we turn up with that nervous anticipation you get the night before a big race.  A good night’s sleep in Shane’s van, then a long 5km walk to the start in quiet contemplation.  Bjorn and Sebastian, a strong Swedish team, one of whom beat us into second place in the Howgills, comes jogging past uphill.  Come on guys, we haven’t even started yet!  We end of getting away just in front of them (no allocated start times) and we are off.  Into the mist, right from the start it is tricky, bumps everywhere, we desperately search the map for clues, but I know these hills are too small to be on at 1:40,000.  So we trust our instincts, and our compasses, press on and eventually #1 looms out of the mist.  One down.  Later we discover other teams lost significant time here.  #2 is a long leg and we are happy with our route choice, up and over Merrick (no view).  #3 I’m hesitant on the approach, but Shane confidently stashes his compass and uses “the force” to guide us in – strangely it seems to work as we hit it bang on, and climb out to find others circling back to it.  Having started late we are passing teams, some of them decent teams, and we feel like we are going well.  No sign of the Swedes catching us, and reports that Jim and Nic (strong contenders for the race and beating us last year) aren’t far ahead.  We chat with the leading girls team, Jess and Kerstin, as we pass them on the way up a hill, then into the mist once more.  But then I’m disorientated, lose confidence, and a minute or two searching for #4, finding it just as the ladies navigate cleanly into it.  Bother.  Off again at speed vowing to pay more attention.  On exit from #5 someone familiar is coming towards us – it is Jim and Nic, having made a mistake and we are now a few minutes ahead.  The race is on!  We take what feels like another solid route minimizing climb to #6, with frequent glances over our shoulders.  Eventually Jim and Nic catch us again at #7, there is some friendly chat on the way to #8, but then someone turns on the boosters.  90 minutes of hard work follow as the pace is wound up over the final few controls.  We keep on pushing, and eventually Shane and I pull away on the last descent.  The final road and track seem interminable but this is the time to put a few more minutes in the bag.  What a day.  I seriously never thought we’d be leading overnight.  I thought I was less fit than previous years, but maybe I was just well rested?!

Time for a nice relaxing evening and a good night’s sleep.  Ah my mistake, we are at the OMM, where you spend an extra hour in a slightly damp and flapping tent because the clocks go back, just waiting for the alarm to go off.  Actually it wasn’t nearly that bad this year.  We alternate between piling in the calories (a few new food ideas now Shane is vegan), dozing, rehydrating, strolling round the campsite chatting, doing some media interviews, the usual stuff!  It was probably the warmest night I’ve known at an OMM, must be a combination of all that mist keeping the heat in, and the luxurious bubble-wrap underlay in the tent. 

Next morning the legs feel ready to go, we’re excited to be off, just need to keep focussing on navigation, running, eating and drinking, try not to think about the competition chasing us down.  Our biggest mistake, really just a wobble in the circle, comes at #7 under the watchful eye of a film crew with a drone buzzing overhead – should provide some entertainment if they every air it.  And then we are into that long route choice leg to #9….  “Have any elite teams come through yet?” Shane asks the marshal at the next control.  He shrugs his shoulders.  So we keep pushing through the final controls in the woods.  Just after the last control is a cameraman and a friend from Trail Running magazine – “Have Jim and Nic come by?” asks Shane.  “No!”  Shane: “Ah thank f&%*” (all caught on camera) “How are you doing?”  Me: “Knackered”  Shane: “We’re very tired”  That sums it up really.  Tired but very happy.  A second win on elite at the OMM.  There was some discussion that we might not do another elite after this one.  But then someone pointed out next year is the 50th OMM and promising to be something special.  We’ll see….

Duncan Archer
H18 Ambassador

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Another runner eases past, making it seem effortless, whilst my trainers slap the tarmac, wasting what little energy I have left.  Crowds pass in a blur, not due to my speed but because tunnel vision takes over, just focussing on the road ahead.  That light spring in the step an hour ago seems a distant memory.  I check my watch, but I’m only slightly nearer the finish than when I checked it 30 seconds ago, and 30 seconds before that.  Here I finally am, doing the Stockholm marathon, experiencing what thousands have experienced before me – the tiredness of the last few miles of a marathon. 

Let’s rewind the clock…  Firstly why a road marathon?  I have no problem with two marathons over two days, each with 2,000m of mountainous ascent, and a pack on my back.  But road running has never been my thing.  I started orienteering aged 11, and have been running through forests, up mountains, and across the fells ever since.  My wife Pippa jokes I have the gait of a moose, ideal for bounding through heather, but somewhat ungainly on the flat.  My road racing experience through the end of 2015 amounted to a 10 mile race in the early 2000s whilst living in London (~60 mins), and the Middlesbrough 10km in 2009 (35:26).  However I’ve always seen the attraction of a road race, challenging yourself against an objective target in relatively controlled conditions, and pushing yourself to be as good as you can in a measurable way.  Also, a road race – and a marathon time in particular – is something non-running friends can comprehend, when they cannot fathom a mountain marathon.

Why Stockholm?  My brother has lived with his family in Sweden for many years and announced last autumn he was going to do the Stockholm marathon.  I’ve had various mountain marathon successes in recent years, and a good Bob Graham Round in June 2015, so I was wondering what next?  It seemed like the time for a marathon had come, and what better motivation than having someone to share training stories and targets with.  I’ve also been to Stockholm several times, it is a beautiful city, and I had plenty of time to prepare.  So the idea was born.

Finishing the Bob Graham Round in 2015.

I did the elite OMM in October 2015 with Shane, and despite fatigue in the latter part of both days (thanks Shane for helping me through!) a few weeks later I was feeling fairly well recovered, and I slowly built up the mileage.  I’ve spent many winters with coughs and colds, so I really focussed on resting well and keeping healthy, and strung together a few months of good training.  Training for long distance events requires miles and hours, no-one can deny sometimes you have to be selfish, and I will confess my best training happened whilst Pippa was away for 5 weeks pursuing her research dreams in Antarctica.  1 mile reps, hills for strength, long runs, and race-pace runs all came and went.

Having done so few previous road races I needed to test myself.  On a spare weekend I entered the salubrious Great North West Half Marathon in Blackpool, a flat course up and down the seafront, what could be better for gauging my pace?  A nice summer day that’s what.  Sadly race day in February came with very strong winds, waves crashing over the sea-wall onto the “out” section of the course, and a headwind on the “back” section.  Still, I managed a respectable time (1:21:41), and one which given the conditions made me think a 2:45 marathon was achievable.

Big waves at the Great North West Half Marathon Blackpool.

But then I got ill in the lead up to Easter, and didn’t race the JK.  I recovered for an excellent climbing holiday in Morocco, apart from badly spraining my ankle walking out from the crag one day.  Cue several weeks of physio and rest, followed by cross-training on the bike and in the pool (including one session of aqua-jogging – never again).  Slowly my thoughts moved back from not making the start line, to at least completing the marathon, to maybe still achieving my goal.

As the day approach I studied and re-studied the race route, familiarised myself with drinks points, feeding stations (one dedicated to salty gherkins?!), landmarks and the two 30m “hills” over a bridge.  I went over pace times my head.  Finally race day came, blue skies, sunny, and 18 degrees with a breeze, not ideal but thankfully cooler than the day before.  Pre-race nerves gave way to excitement on the start line and finally the gun.  13,000 runners eased themselves onto the streets of Stockholm.  Checking my watch in the first few km, pace was good, a bit faster than needed, but it felt ok and surely a few seconds in the bank was no bad thing (…. what was that noise in the back of my head, alarm bells?...).  I was staying hydrated, taking on shot blocs and a banana, halfway came feeling good, and the gherkins were declined.

Feeling fresh early on the course.

Not so happy now.

Then gradually it started to feel like an effort.  Runners I’d been keeping pace with eased away, and after a couple of small efforts to hang on they drifted out of sight.  Through 25km and nearly 30km my times were still reasonable, but the signs were there.  This was no longer fun.  Keep telling myself to focus on running tall, head up, one foot in front of the other.  Slowly the km markers came and went, as my min/km crept up.  Taking on refreshments at any opportunity.  Repeated checks of the watch as if it might make me go faster or the finish line come sooner.  My goal of 2:45 was out the window, and the mental faculty to calculate what finish time I was now on for eluded me.  Finally the last bends came, cheers from family supporters seeing me through, into the historic Stockholm 1912 stadium, a mention on the commentary and I raised a hand to no-one in particular.  Over the finish line in 2:52:08, my immediate thought was relief it was over.  But that was replaced by an amazing happiness – despite the effort and tiredness, I’d come from no experience in this sort of race to still finish in a hugely respectable time, and I was smiling from ear to ear, soaking up the atmosphere in the stadium.

How not to pace a marathon.

Could I have done better?  On the day I’m not sure.  Was my goal realistic?  Looking back I missed several weeks of important training through illness and injury.  Tactically I ran a poor race on the day, getting sucked into running too fast early on, when lots of evidence suggests sticking to a game plan, with a consistent pace or even a negative split, is the way to get a PB.  Would I have even wanted to do my sub-2:45 goal first time?  Experiencing some pain and disappointment often makes a goal much more satisfying when finally achieved.  But hang on…. what does that mean – that I should try another road marathon?  We shall see.  For now I can hear the hills and forests calling, and I’m happy taking some rest, before a couple of orienteering trips over the summer, but then who knows….

A happy finisher.

Duncan Archer
H18 ambassador

Friday, 22 April 2016

Northern Orienteering Championships

On Sunday 17th April the Northern Orienteering Championships were staged by Cleveland Orienteering Klub (CLOK), and Hangar 18 were proud to attend and sponsor the event.  The race took place in Mulgrave Woods, close to the seaside town of Whitby, and attracted over 500 competitors.  Orienteering is often considered a “sport for all”, and this race saw men and women, from 10 to 85 years of age, compete over a variety of course lengths.

The weather had not been kind leading up to the race.  Significant rain in the weeks before led to the loss of the parking field, and competitors had to be bussed in from parking in Whitby.  And the day before there was a complementary orienteering race round the streets of Whitby, which felt the force of wintry showers blast in off the north sea.  However, Sunday dawned sunny, and fair weather remained throughout the day.  The races were based around an “arena” in the forest, with food, clothing and equipment traders (including the Hangar 18 stand seeing good interest from the orienteers!), views of a spectator control point, the run-in, and plenty of space to lounge in the sun after the race.

Mulgrave Woods provided a real orienteering challenge.  The area is bisected by two deep valleys, with a network of tracks, but also wilder forest areas where many control points were located.  There was also a significant element of route choice in the courses, between straighter routes through the varied forest, or longer routes on tracks, and also the option of using two ancient tunnels in the area to reduce the ascent!

Despite attracting a range of abilities, this was the Northern Championships, and the sharp end was hotly contested.  It was also a World Ranking Event for the main men’s and women’s elite classes – one of only half a dozen such events in the UK each year.  The women’s elite was won by Heather Monro in 76 minutes – Heather now lives in Durham, and is an ex-GBR team member who won a bronze medal in the World Champs 2005.  The men’s elite was won by Marcus Pinker, another international runner from Ireland, who completed the men’s elite course in 99 minutes.  Hangar 18 provided prizes for the elite races with an excellent down vestgoing to each of the winners, and H18 socks to the 2nd and 3rd places.  Full results, photos, and maps of the courses can be found at http://www.clok.org.uk/events2016/nchamps/index.htm.

Report by Duncan Archer (course planner for the event)

Monday, 11 April 2016


I reach up and my fingers feel around for the next hold.  There it is, a small but super sharp edge.  Foot up, rock over, stand up.  I look down to see the rope stretching lazily down to my last piece of gear, several feet away.  Confident in the positive holds I don’t even think of falling.  I look around and spy a crack, fumble in a cam, and clip the rope in.  All around it is silent, save for my own breathing.  I’m lost in the moment, focussed on the rock, totally immersed in the climbing. 

It is just after Easter, and Pippa and I are in the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco, rock climbing.  We came out before in Dec 2014, see my previous blog post.  The start of that trip coincided with some of the worst rain they’d had for several years.  Bridges and roads were washed out, and when it stopped raining it was cold enough to be seeking out all the south-facing crags.  Still it was a fantastic experience, and now we are back in April, it is warmer, and north-facing crags and sun-baked dirt roads have opened up many more possibilities.

Today we’ve gone for one such opportunity.  20 minutes driving up hairpins on “good” roads (albeit where sections were washed out a year ago), then one hour driving down the Samazar Valley on a rocky track, mostly in first gear, trying not to scratch the sides of the rental car on bushes, or the underside on rocks (I failed a bit on both, but we get away without losing any deposit…).  We are on a route called “Firesword” (what a name!).  Most likely we are the only climbers in the whole valley, which contains acres of rock, 100s of recorded routes, and 1000s more awaiting a first ascent.  This is not Stanage on a Saturday morning.  This is adventure trad climbing at its best.

I get to the belay, a roomy ledge, secure myself, call down to Pippa, and soon she has climbed up to join me.  Then she is off to experience the pitch above, whilst I sit back on the ledge, paying out the rope as the sun creeps round the side of the mountain with a pleasant warmth.  The only sounds are a donkey braying on the terraces below, a truck struggling along the dirt track in the distance, and the occasional grunt from Pippa as she wrestles with an off-width crack above. 

Some time later we are at the top, agreeing how excellent the climbing was, as we drink in the panorama of the valley, and point at neighbouring crags we might climb on one day.  Is there time for another route today?  Yes if we are quick, so we make the easy descent off the back of the crag, and race up the four pitches of neighbouring “Sisters of Mercy”, an ominous sounding name, but entirely pleasant climbing on immaculate rock.

Later in the evening we are back at the excellent Tizourgane Kasbah where we are staying.  Superbly located in a restored 13thcentury fort.  We find the other groups that are also climbing in the area, to swap our stories from the day over dinner (usually a vast tagine of food), and plan new adventures for the next day.  Then repeat the experience every day for a week, tucked away from the distractions of modern life, just enjoying the climbing.

Duncan Archer
H18 Ambassador

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Kendal Mountain Festival review 2015 - some great films, some bad films & 14 minutes of Dudley Caving Club.

Kendal Mountain Festival has been the first thing on my calendar for the year for the last 4 years.  I have always enjoyed the mix of films, lectures, beer drinking and catching up with friends. This year I decided to have a blast around the 10km trail race, catch a film and lecture on Saturday, then try and see as many films as possible with the Sunday all day film pass.

The 10km trail race is a fantastic course, starts up the road up the infamous Beast Bank, then across the fields along the Edge, giving amazing views across the Lakeland Fells, then back towards town through the golf course and down some narrow cobbled ginnels back into town to finish along the high street.  All season I have been racing closely with NFR runner David Beach, who has been 4th for the last couple of years at this race I lined up alongside David and Tom Addison (last years winner) who looked nailed on for the win from the start.  As expected I had a lead on NE rival Beach as we started the descent back to town and as expected he started to reel me in on the fast downhill section.  About 200yards before the first narrow cobbled section Beach came past me, using his experience of the course to know that it was very tricky to counter attack on the slippery steep final descent.  I gave it everything, came onto the street 5 seconds after him and couldn’t close him down along the high street to finish in 4th, 5 seconds shy of 3rd place.  Perhaps a lesson there that I shouldn’t have given Beach shit that morning for always being 4th!

After a quick lunch we went to see Tommy Caldwell of Dawn Wall fame give his only UK lecture.  Tommy was self-deprecating, witty, reflective and wonderfully descriptive of the years of work which had gone into his Dawn Wall project.  Reminded me a lot of how Andy Kirkpatrick used to speak, and I can give no higher compliment to a climbing lecture.  Following Tommy we filled the early evening with a special showing of “The Citadel” the latest offering from Alistair Lee.  It was shot in “amazing 4k”, and it looked pretty, but that was really all it had going for it.  The climbers were neither memorable, nor funny, the story had no suspense or surprise and Alistair Lee just looked either bored or embarrassed by what he was presenting. 

We spent Saturday night crammed into the bar discussing what makes a great mountain film.  It’s simple really, I need to be able to empathise with the stars, and it needs a story.  All the great films I have seen at Kendal in previous years have ticked both of those boxes, they hade something which makes me “want to be there”, or “want to do that”.  All great films have some sort of plot, which is either historic or adventurous (will they won’t they make it?).

Almost without exception the films we saw on Sunday lacked either plot or character, almost without exception I wasn’t left thinking “I want to do that”.  It was a very disappointing and frustrating day.

Brief highlights and extensive lowlights are described below.

The Rocky Mountains Traverse - two paragliders attempt to paraglide the length of the rocky mountains, never been done before and a good story but the main stars were dull.

Showdown At Horseshoe Hell - fantastic story of a 24 hour climbing competition staring Alex Honnald, which was brimming over with humour and personality.

UK Caving Video Best Bits 2014 - Unvelieveably poor.  Left me in stitches laughing at the ridiculous decision to include the 14 minutes of utter rubbish from Dudley Caving Club.  Sorry Chaps but this shouldn’t be at Kendal it had nothing going for it.

A Line Across the Sky - highlight of the festival for me, Caldwell and Honnald on the Patagonia skyline traverse which won them the Piolet D’or.  Shot by the climbers themselves on an unbelievable expedition.  Funny, honest, amazing, brilliant.

Defiance - The Eiger Paraclimb, great that some disabled climbers climb the Eiger, but so dull to watch, like watching your mates holiday video of his climb.

First Ascent - “Chopped fingers, fun, friendship” It had a chopped finger near the start, but no fun or friendship came through in this film of an expedition with some boring characters on a mountain I had never heard of.

I Climb Therefore I Am - lots of Indian people saying “I love climbing” 12 minutes of my life I won’t get back.

In the Bubble - story of Andy Earl, the desperately sad story which struck one of climbings brightest stars.  Emotional stuff.

Stonnis - video guidebok of Black Rocks, nice idea, should have been 15 minutes, not 60.

Into The Light - Red Bull film following Chris Sharma climbing out of a big cave in Oman - I couldn’t have cared less if he got out of that hole or not after watching him struggle for 52 minutes.  

Back to the Fjords - the flying frenchies, as they have become known, up to their old tricks, rigging a huge catapult and throwing themselves off a cliff in Norway.  Brilliant, light hearted and one of those “I want to do that” movies that was so rare this year.

Operation Moffat - an absolute gem, wonderful, 90 year old Gwen Moffat, Britain's first female mountain guide looks back on her life.  Heart warming, sole enriching stuff from the very first second to the last. 

The tickets for the film pass had gone up from £21 per day to £30 (Sat) £27 (Sun), and the whole place felt less busy this year.  The venues we chose to watch on Sunday were screen 2, (3/4 full), The school, (perhaps 20 people in a venue for 150), and the leisure centre, (10 people in a venue for 250+).  So you can see that the place was nowhere near sold out, and that is perhaps a shame, but given the almost exclusively dull, uninspiring, corporate sponsored content, perhaps it is for the best.  

I feel that the adventure and mountain films which are the heart of Kendal have dropped in quality this year.  I would imagine that there are just as many people making inspiring films about independent adventure, filming it themselves and sticking it into Kendal Film Festival on the off chance that some more people watch it and get inspired by it, but, there was almost non of this content.  It was almost all corporate sponsored expeditions with dull individuals doing things that I could never dream of.  In short, stuff I didn’t want to watch and couldn’t see why anyone would want to watch.  Sorry to say that at nearly £30 a day I won’t be getting a film pass next year.  Trail race, lectures and beer for the weekend - Brilliant!

Andy Blackett - Brand Ambassador for Hangar 18.

Outdoor Run Rock

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