Marmot Dark Mountains takes the classic two-day mountain marathon format and gives it a new… darker twist. Rather than two days of running with an overnight camp in between, we pack everything into one winter’s night!

This is our third entry into this great event and this year the plan was to get the timing right. There are 6 courses on offer, and we always pick the short score class (8 hour time limit) as this gives us the opportunity if the weather is bad to bail out early. The first year we were an hour late at the finish, and lost all our points, and last year we were 2 hours early. So could we get the plan right and stay out for 8 hours?

The weather leading up to the event had been poor with the Northern Lakes badly hit by the flooding.  Also, on the days leading up the event, we were warned of severe weather with the night being sandwiched between Storm Gertrude and Storm Henry.  Anyway, looking at the conditions, most of the snow had gone and it looked like things might calm down a little, but  that we may get some weather arriving through the night.

We arrived at around 7:30 pm and found a place to wait until our start time of 10:16 pm.  The hall was very busy as the event this year had been sold out, with over 100 other (daft) teams.  Our time arrived and, kitted up for the night, we ventured out into the cold and breezy evening.  Having looked at the map we decided to start with some easy 5 point check points around the start. These went without issue although we did go slightly wrong on one, as we tried to find it without using the compass, which is not the easiest in the dark. At this time we started to see some of damage that had been caused by the recent floods.  We were having to walk across rivers rather than use bridges as they were closed, with bits missing.  Also some of the footpaths where no longer there, as they’d been washed away. Anyway, having negotiated this, we set off up a good path and started to get going.

We found the next couple of check points easily and slowly climbed up and over the snow line.  As we climbed the ground got steeper until we reached a path and a high col.  At this point the wind hit us and it got very cold.  The only thing to do was run to get warm again.  We descended into the next valley and found another check point, and then had the deepest river crossing of the night, just above knee level.  After this David must have been cold, as he set off at such a fast pace that it took me a while to catch him up.  This carried on until the base of the next climb, which was a 1000 feet up a steepening fence line. The climb went well, and after about 30 mins we reached the top.

Pete 2

© Steve Ashworth

At the top the wind was really blowing and the weather was starting to deteriorate, with a mix of hail and snow.  The next couple of check points came and went with no problems, and we were both moving well, walking up and running the flats and descents.  We reached a river checkpoint and then we had a very steep climb.  By this time it was really starting to snow hard.  We climbed up onto a plateau and walked to where we thought the check point should be.  However we started to descend when we didn’t expect to, so stopped and consulted the map.  After 5 mins or so of deep discussion on our location, we retraced out steps back up from where we had come and continued along a path that we had found.  After about 20 mins of climbing, we stopped again, as we thought it couldn’t be that far up.  We turned and descended again and after 20 mins or so we had got back to where we started. We took the decision to push on a miss out this point, so we moved on and found the next point easily.  It was very disappointing to miss out the checkpoint having been so close but due to the weather I think it was the correct call.

Pete 3

© Steve Ashworth

At this check point David said we should do one more. We had 90 minutes before we needed to be back.  I agreed  and off we went into the snow.  We found the last checkpoint reasonably easily and descended into the valley and headed for home.  By now it was raining in the valley and after 30 mins along the road we reached the finish.

Pete 1

So we finished at 5:52 AM, with 160 points and finished 10th in our class.  One of the new features of the race this year was that we carried a GPS tracker and have been able to see our route following the event.  It shows how close we were to checkpoint we missed, but also that we covered 31km, which I am very pleased with.  So if any of you fancy a great event in the dark in the middle of winter, I can recommend this one it’s great. Role on the next one! (