Spine training

Lack of light, time and energy make training in Autumn a bit of a struggle for me. But this Autumn I had the big target of the Spine Challenger to motivate me. The plan was to get out on the route as much as possible at weekends to get used to the terrain and the kit and learn the route.

  1. i) Edale to Snake Pass and back
This was the weekend of Round Rotherham, but when my alarm went off at 5am I couldn’t face dragging myself out of bed for another Ladybower-esque death-plod. So I decided to ditch it and recce the start of the Pennine Way the next day instead. In gorgeous dry weather I had great fun running along the slabs, splashing through puddles. Until what I thought was a puddle was actually a gap, slightly bigger than my foot. Down I went, rotating forward so that my shin hit the edge of the slab. It hurt so much I thought I’d broken something. Lesson learnt: treat the Pennine way slabs with caution (the scar on my leg is going to act as a good reminder).

  1. ii) The Bleaklow circle
My original plan was to park at the Snake and head over to Crowden and back again. After a late start the clag was down and I didn’t fancy leaving the car in the dark on the verge. So I headed over to Crowden, planning to reverse the route. The weather was miserable and visibility was low, but I happily followed the Penine way most of the way to Snake Pass and then back again. Or I thought I did. When I downloaded the data from my Garmin that evening, my route looked like I’d gone round in a circle on top of Bleaklow. But the elevation plot was consistent with an out and back, and I’d encountered various Pennine Way signs. Solving this mystery took several months and another 2 recces.

  1. iii) Crowden to Wessenden Lodge
Another Sunday afternoon out and back, where I learnt that the slabs are slippy when wet or icy and my standard trail shoes weren’t going to be up to the job.

iv) Wessenden Lodge to Gargrave
My first weekend trip, Marsden to Ickonshaw moor on Saturday (with a bivi on the moor after the campsite in Ponden was closed) and then on to Gargrave and the train (and rail replacement bus) home. Useful for fine-tuning bits of kit and getting to grips with some fiddly field crossings on the way to Lothersdale.

iv) Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale
My original plan was Gargrave to Hawes on Saturday and then back to Horton on Sunday morning. But things went a bit pear shaped before I even started. I dragged myself out of bed early to get the first train out of Chesterfield, on which I dozed off, slept through the train stopping at Leeds and woke up as it pulled into York... Back to Leeds and a long, wait for the next train to Gargrave. By the time I got started it was almost mid-day and my (probably always overambitious) plans weren’t really viable. At least not without a very long day. And the other half was on his way home from a work-trip with a heavy cold. So I decided to try and make it to Horton in time for the last train home. The snow from Malham onwards slowed things down and I was half an hour too late. Spent the night at a slightly unusual (but very hospitable) campsite in Horton, putting up my bivi in pouring rain which melted the snow overnight, and then headed home on the first train in the morning.

v) the Snake towards Bleaklow
The day before our Christmas holiday I decided to head back to Bleaklow and try and solve the mystery of what on earth I’d done the last time I was there. I was very tired.
It was a comedy of errors. I left late. What I thought was the last car park before the Snake in fact wasn’t (which I only realised when what I thought was the path to Doctor’s Gate clearly wasn’t and I got my GPS out). I’d forgotten my main head-torch and my emergency spare one was useless in the heavy fog so I ended up turning around before reaching Bleaklow,  my route not having met up with the ‘out and back’ of my earlier trip.

While queuing for security at Manchester airport the penny dropped. On the earlier trip I’d in fact done a ‘double circle’: I’d deviated from the Pennine Way before Bleaklow and then rejoined it at Bleaklow but going in the wrong direction. And shortly after completing the circle I’d turned around and reversed it. I was happy to have solved the problem which had been bugging me for months. But somewhat embarrassed. GPSs don’t lie and if I’d looked at my track more carefully I could have spotted the doubling back. And even though Bleaklow is famous for causing navigational problems it was a pretty numpty thing to have done in the first place. A timely lesson that while my navigation is OK in good conditions, I need to use the compass and GPS more in bad weather, even if the route seems obvious ‘on the ground’. Especially when in the middle of a peat bog in low visibility.

vi) the Bleaklow circle revisited
When we got back from holiday I had to go back to Bleaklow and work out how I’d managed to go around in a double circle. It turns out that when heading South there’s a point where the Pennine Way descends to cross two fairly major streams in a gully. However I’d missed this as there was a major path on the ground bending around and staying high, which also leads to Bleaklow. And then the Pennine Way signs at Bleaklow took me back in the direction I should have arrived in. Take away lesson: check the map/compass/GPS rather than blindly following paths on the ground.

viii) Horton to Hawes
The weekend before the race I went up to Horton to finish the route. A slightly unorthodox taper, but I wanted to get my legs back moving after the Christmas holiday and fine-tune a couple of final bits of kit. The weather on Saturday was a bit miserable and I really didn’t like the rock steps up Pen-y-Ghent, and they’d be nagging at the back of my mind for a lot of the race (in particular what they were going to be like if icy or snowy). On Sunday it was miserable in the valleys but I saw a fantastic dawn and cloud inversion on the never ending tracks past Dodd Fell and Cam End.