Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gore Tex and Testosterone - OMM 2011

Warning: this could be a long one and there are going to be a lot of boring notes for my own benefit, so feel free to get a cup of tea and have a sit down, or just skip to the bottom to see how it all panned out.

The title comes from a comment my partner run2thehills (or Ian) made on the Friday night as we had a quiet beer before an early night - never had so much technical clothing been seen in one place before, or so it seemed. I slept OK but the alarm came all too early, and by the time we'd got properly awake and packed away the (wet) tent, we were rushing for the 7:20 bus to the start. Well, actually the 7:20 bus to St Fillans from where there was still a 1.5km hike up a hill to the start, which was not without incident; about half way up the track a look of horror appeared on Ian's face as he realised he'd left the tent poles on the bus. Fortunately, the guys right behind us had picked them up so disaster averted.

We milled around the start in the drizzle for a wee while until our time was called up then proceeded to the gate, dibbed the dibber and were given the maps. Follow the link below to see the map and also our route if you can figure out the complexities of route gadget:

Control 1 CH Re-entrant
Of course it was a re-entrant. Where else would it be? Actually this one was easy enough (except for almost being disqualified because our first plan was to follow the track, completely ignoring the huge purple "out-of-bounds" line that we'd have crossed) - the alternative direct approach looked too steep and bouldery for so early in the day.

Control 2 CC Hill top
Route choice here was simple and fairly uneventful, using the rivers as "hand rails" to keep us right - probably got too high too early on the first hill so had to drop down between the hills but not a bad effort and no drama - from what I remember, the weather was light drizzle and nothing to worry about at this point.

Control 3 DI Lochan
The choice of route here was fine, but the longer distance between the points made life a bit more difficult and we thought we'd gone further than we actually had. Hence, following the wrong stream to the wrong lochan and the wrong control point. At least we were able to get a fix on position when we saw the radio marshal's tent and found it relatively easy to then find the right lochan and the right control, despite poor visibility and worsening weather.

Control 4 CS Re-entrant
Looking back now, I think we made the wrong choice by going round the East of the first hill rather than the West, and as we came round the hill, kept going too much North and not enough West (it didn't help that visibility continued to be poor). As a result we ended up East of the hill we wanted to be on and had to backtrack a bit. (Note to self: need to concentrate on looking at the compass a bit more) At least the weather wasn't too bad.

Control 5 DB Re-entrant
The more or less direct route seemed like the best and turned out to be pretty good. Poor judgement of distance led to a bit of doubt but at least we could see the lochan below the point and the top of the hill so were able to use those to check our position and find the control without too much worry. I think it was around here that Ian looked a bit rough for a minute or two - some extra food and energy drink seemed to get him over the worst of it. (note to self and anyone else who's still listening: keep eating and drinking, you need the energy!)

Control 6 AQ Northern Hill
We now had a choice to make - never easy, especially when a bit tired and stuck out on a hill, but we chose our four points and set off for the first one. A few other teams were headed in the same direction, so it can't have been too bad a choice, and it was quite an easy one to find.

Control 7 BP Hill Top
BP! Bloody BP. Still not exactly sure where we went wrong here but this one took a long time to find. I think we followed the wrong stream up from the barely existent path so were too far East of where we should be and spent some time trying different hills (which don't seem to appear on the map for some reason?) before we found the right one. We were not the only team who struggled here which was sort of reassuring. Again, the weather was worsening at this point and my mood darkened a bit at this point. Believe it or not, I'd been having fun up til then.

Control 8 DA Re-entrant (shallow)
Heading North from BP, we crossed an area of "peat hags" where we both sank up to our knees - thighs in Ian's case at which point I feared he wasn't going to get out. We probably hit the worst of the weather as we worked our way round the hill and the boulder field trying to find this one. Very cold rain being driven into our faces by the wind made it all a bit unpleasant. I think it was here I realised we were really doing something crazy. Normal people simply wouldn't be out on the hills on a day like this, and even slightly crazy people would at least be following paths and trying to stay in the more sheltered valleys, so why were we scrambling around on the exposed faces of a bloody big hill? No, I don't really know the answer either. In any case, we realised we'd gone a wee bit too far round, then cut back a bit too quickly and hit the wrong stream and the wrong control point. A couple of other teams were looking a bit lost, but we refocussed and realised we just needed to get a bit further North to find the right point.

Control 9 DG Re-entrant
Oooh, a path - easy to find, fairly easy to follow, and fairly easy to know when to leave the path for the re-entrant. Job done, no problem there.

Control 10 DK Western Stream, Bend
Briefly considered staying high along the ridge before dropping down directly to the control but decided to drop down into the valley early and use the marked path - it was nice to drop below the cloud level (yes, we could see again) but the path was basically a stream. Still, a useful navigation aid which we just followed round until we could see the stream where the control was placed. Nae bother!

Control 11 DJ Stream Junction
An unmarked footbridge allowed us to cut the corner here, but it was wet wet wet as we turned into Glen Almond and followed the river along to the next bridge. At least the control point at the river near the woods was easy to find and we saw a wee bit of blue sky for the first (and last) time that day.

Control 12 BI Stream
The map said "optional taped path through forestry" but in truth it should have been "mandatory taped path around forestry". Not that it mattered. We were now part of a crocodile of teams making for the next control point so just followed on until we got there. Not very exciting, but that was OK.

Control 13 AG Road Bend and Finish
From control 12, it was just a case of drop down to the road, then follow the road past the final control and on to the finish. Easy going, but the rain was back on, the sky was getting gloomy, and I felt thoroughly soaked.

As far as I can figure out, water was seeping in everywhere - somehow bypassing my waterproofs, possibly by means of capillary action. It had been raining most of the day and the ground was absolutely sodden so it wasn't really a surprise. We managed to get the tent up (still a bit damp from the previous night), and get sleeping bags out. My blizzard bag still felt a bit damp on the inside but it did offer a degree of warmth so I stuck my legs inside - probably a mistake since that got the inside of the bag wetter. We needed water to cook dinner so I went off to the river but started shaking so that the kettle lid was clattering as I walked. Not a good sign but the food helped warm me up and it was time for bed. Unfortunately, I didn't really have any dry stuff - my balloon bed was damp which made it difficult to slide the balloons in so I ended up with a really badly prepared bed which was less comfortable and, more importantly, less warm. Basically I spent most of the night shivering and by the time that the piper woke the camp at 6am, I wasn't too happy, especially as my gout was flaring up. Heading back into the hills feeling cold with a sore foot didn't seem like a good idea, but I was getting more reluctant to bail out as time went by. Ian, on the other hand, was reluctant to be up in the hills with a blue-nosed potential hypothermia case so we came to the decision that our race was run. I managed to blag a lift back to camp where I had a long days waiting, first for Ian, then for Jim who was giving us a lift home.

So, disappointed not to finish the event, especially when it came down to poor kit choices and poor kit management, but lots to think about for future events, of which I'm sure there will be many.

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