The High Peak Marathon is a 43 mile race that traverses the watershed of Derwent Water. The race starts at Edale at 11 pm, ensuring that darkness adds complexity to the navigation across featureless Bleaklow. The rules require that teams of 4 visit the following points, in order: Hollins Cross, Lose Hill, Win Hill, Below High Neb, Moscar, Cutthroat Bridge, Derwent Moor, Lost Lad, Sheepfold Clough, Cut Gate, Outer Edge, Swains Head, Bleaklow Stones, Bleaklow Wainstones, Snake Road Top, Mill Hill, East of Edale Cross, Rushup Edge, Hollins Cross and Edale Village Hall.
Our team, called ‘The Equine Behind Strikes Again’ comprised Elsie, Amy, Katy and I. Amy, Katy and I had practiced numerous sections of the route previously, so we were quietly confident that the navigation would be fairly simple. It wasn’t until we got to Hollins Cross and started traversing the ridge to Lose Hill however, that we realised that route finding might not be so simple. The fog was so thick that it was difficult to see the floor in front of you one pace ahead, nevermind any other topographical features.
I found the first section from Edale to Moscar quite a challenge. Thankfully Katy was navigating this section so I could just concentrate on moving forwards. I was struggling a little with my body clock. It was wanting to sleep and I was making it run. On reaching Moscar, I started to feel better, which was good because we needed full concentration to navigate across the Bleaklow section in the fog, which was getting thicker if anything!
The next section of the race is one that I will remember for a long time. As I said, the fog was so thick that we had to navigate purely on bearings to the 9 controls scattered across Bleaklow. Taking bearings is always a bit of a leap of faith, but when it’s on Bleaklow, where the paths are indistinct and you can’t see anything at all, and the distance between controls is sometimes over 1 hour long (1hr40 in one case!), it is very committing. I’m still quite shocked that we managed to navigate so accurately to each control (see the GPS trace!). It was quite wonderful when the fog started to get slightly lighter in the morning, and suddenly we could see the indistinct topology over the surrounding 50 m and have confirmation that we were on a ridge.
Did I mention the bogs? Bleaklow lived up to its name. It was so boggy in places. At one point the team were running along and suddenly Amy and I took a step forwards and literally became submerged in a bog up to our waists and maybe even chest. It was like treading water in mushy peas. Elsie also got trapped in the bog, but nearer to the edge, where it was only knee deep. Katy pulled Elsie out, Katy and Elsie then pulled Amy out (who was nearer to the edge), and then the lot of them helped pull me out. Unfortunately I had taken the longest leap into the bog, so getting out required being pulled out and then trying to float on my stomach. We were quite wet after that! You can’t see the peat on me in the pictures because I’m wearing black, but the pictures of Amy shows the extent of the dipping. We were all at a pretty low ebb after that, but when we got to the next control on target, I think our spirits were lifted and at some point we even laughed about the whole episode. Man-eating bogs do exist!
The Bleaklow section took a long time… 7 hours I think. The bogs underfoot and traversing peat groughs was very tiring. When we arrived at Snake Pass we were in need of replenishment and this came in the form of cups of tea, cheese sandwiches and malt loaf, which tasted just amazing. It worked too, we started off on the next section towards Mill Hill and before we knew it Elsie was ‘sprinting’ ahead.
Snake Pass was a key milestone to reach, but we still had 12 miles to go. On the plus side however, the weather was improving and we could see at least 50 m ahead. At Mill Hill, Richard was awaiting us after camping out on the moors, hence the pictures. We were all pretty tired though and it was quite windy with buffeting rain, so we weren’t great company. On reaching Brown Knoll, the sun started to appear and for the last few miles of the race, the weather was wonderful and everyone cheered up. Quite a contrast to the rest of our race.
We finished almost fourteen hours after starting. I think we had a great time and the whole thing only took half a weekend. Now, what shall we do with the other half? hmm… not move anywhere I think.