Friday of the Saunders MM dawned with gloom; it was horrendously wet and I was feeling pretty rough. This was unfortunate because I had a mountain marathon to run and I was running with Mark, who is mid-way through his (self-imposed) challenge to run 12 marathons in 12 months for The Meningitis Trust. Luckily, from Friday evening onwards, things got better on both counts and our adventure was a success.
Mark had not run a 2-day mountain marathon before, and in fact it was my beckoning that probably got him interested in the first place. But when he asked if he could join me on on a MM for one of his 12 I was happy to oblige. I chose the Saunders MM because it’s usually sunny, there are drinks at the mid-camp and it’s usually quite sociable. I decided to choose the Kirkfell class because my memories from that course weren’t too bad. I had neglected to take into account that memories fade (as I’ve just noted from reading my report from 2007), that Mark wasn’t used to moving over terrain, and that the event this year was in Wasdale; an area that is characterised by the roughest Lakeland terrain possible (although at the time of entry, the location wasn’t announced).
The start was at Wasdale Head. At 08.00 Richard started on the solo klets course and Mark and I walked to the start for our 08.18 take-off. Our route was 23.4 km straightline with an anticipated 1434 m of climb; it was going to be a long day and I was navigating. Our first control was on the way up to Black Sail Pass. I slightly missed the first control whilst getting used to the map, but we soon found it. We then headed off around Kirk Fell to a control on the side of Green Gable. We then descended down Aaron Slack to Styhead Tarn and to a control on Granny Gill at the top of Lingmell Beck. After this we had a really steep climb up to the Corridor Route. This took quite a while, Mark’s running legs were finding the relentless climbs a challenge. Thankfully, Mark’s relentless sense of humour and cheerfulness was holding out! After the climb we traversed Lingmell to another control before traversing Scafell; a route which took us across the scree west of Black Crag. This was tough for Mark, but despite the slope and looseness of the rock he made it. Hooray! Our next control was a sheepfold in Oliver Gill and then we had a mammoth leg past Burnmoor Tarn and around Whin Rigg to a gill on the other side of the ridge overlooking the southwest end of Wast Water. This leg was absolutely horrendous. It started with a steep descent on bracken+rocks then whilst trying to contour and ascend Whin Rigg we became surrounded by man-eating gorse. The only way to get out was to contour and descend – the opposite of what we wanted to do. Eventually we found a route free of gorse, but the time was taking it’s toll, we’d been out for about 8 hours by this time. After the descent down to Wasdale we made good progress across the farmland and then ascended the other side of the valley near Buckbarrow. After traversing a huge bog we eventually made it to the midcamp about 10 hours after starting out!
We met Richard there. He’d had to retire after 2 hours because his calf had pulled, so he was suitably fresh to erect tents :-). Over the next few hours, Mark became increasingly horizontal and when food was passed into the tent, it seemed to disappear, which suggested he was still alive and kicking. He also became more communicative, which was a good sign, but he was pretty tired; as was I.
On day 1 we had covered 28.5 km with 1822 m of climb (that’s 17.7 miles with 6000 feet of climb for imperial Mark – although I think his tracker suggested more).
On day 2 we opted for the Wansfell course, which would hopefully follow some slightly easier terrain. We employed Richard as our private photographer for some of the route, hence the photos! Prior to him joining us, he walked cross-country and came across Brian Layton at a control on a waterfall. Brian is one of the many friendly faces of the mountain marathon world. He’s always there and is a legend for completing vast numbers of mountain marathons – this was his 125th!
Our day started with an ascent of Seatallan via Glade How. This was a rather long ascent and it was foggy on top so we didn’t get any rewards. Once we started the descent however we were able to see Pots of the Ashness, which looked amazing. Richard took pictures from the bottom.
Mark only fell over once… or this is the only evidence we have anyway :-)…
Our next control was on the side of Haycock and then all was left was a rather rough traverse of Yewbarrow, which eventually led us back to Wasdale Head, where chilli and flapjack awaited us :-).
Day 2 was 17.5 km with about 825 m of climb (that’s 10.8 miles, with 2700 feet of climb for imperial Mark).
Over the two days we traversed a huge circle around Wast Water, we went to a whole load of random places, we made some friends along the way, we saw some of the roughest terrain in the Lakes, we had a giggle and a few tense moments. The ascents, descents and rough terrain tested Mark to the max, but despite this he was relentlessly optimistic and cheerful and carried on regardless, which is just what you need when the going gets tough. Well done Mark!