Monday 25 January 2016

The Spine 2016 Part 2

The next section for me was full of trepidation. The legend of Cross Fell was something we'd heard all about. It sounded like something of nightmares, where folk disappear into the mountains, fall down disused mineshaft deep in the ground, or return a different person, scarred by what they've experienced up there. On the map, this section looked very bleak. Approx 12k of heavily contoured fells, featuring several peaks across empty high altitude moorland. I was nervous about what was ahead. Thankfully, we'd be crossing in daylight and the snow storm from the night before had passed.

Doug and I left Dufton a couple of minutes ahead of Zoe and we agreed she would catch  us up, dawn was breaking so I didn't bother with my head torch, I got myself into my map and started trying to identify the surrounding hills, cross checking with Doug in agreement. Very soon, we were regrouped and heading up our first climb. We were all moving well, and had given each other orders to remind one another to eat. (It's easy to get stuck in a pace and forget the important bits like grazing) as we crested the first climb we all turned round to look back at where we had come from. It was stunning. The day had broken, the vast expanse of hills and fields spread out below us, above and beyond. Some way in the distance we could see huge white snow top peaks and plateaus. My phone didn't like the cold weather so I was unable to take any photos on this trip but I have an amazing mental image of that moment and it was lovely to share it with my two adventure companions. We continued up up up, and were soon above the snow line, and the mist thickening. Before long we we were ankle deep in snow and following the footsteps of those ahead of us. At times the footsteps didn't agree with our tracking so we made new tracks of our own. 

I was enjoying this. What was the big deal? Cross fell is nothing more than a snowy adventure! We made slow progress through the snow, across the various peaks, great Dunn fell, came and went. We stopped briefly, as the sun broke through the mist, we could have been skiing in France. Taking care not to veer off track (not that we could see the track) and fall 100ft down one of the disused mine shafts we continue our journey up towards the highest part of the pennine way. I was ticking off the peaks along my map just one more to go before Cross Fell. I finally felt like I'd clicked with my navigation, it felt empowering. We were very lucky with our crossing, the weather was largely in our favour, the fog made visibility difficult at times but the blizzard from the night before was just a memory underneath our feet.

Knowing after Cross Fell we had not far to go before reaching Gregs hut, another legendary location on the pennine way, somewhere we'd only dreamed of reaching until today. We summitted cross fell and I tried taking a bearing. I didn't do it right. I was annoyed with myself. Zoe set off into the mist, practically skipping towards John bamber waiting for us in Gregs hut. Doug and I were eating, I was annoyed at my nav error, Doug was trying to help me take the bearing correctly. We set off in the direction that we thought right, and could no longer see Zoe. I panicked a bit and we shouted into the mist. I blew my whistle and got nothing back. Doug said let's carry on, she'll just be ahead. We shouted and blew our whistles, where was she? She was just there? What if she'd gone off the wrong way?? A minute later, a figure appeared in the mist, wondering what all the fuss was about I'm sure!

We continued on, the navigation was a little tricky here as the cairns were difficult to see in the mist and visibility was down to about 25m or so. We knew we were only about a km from Gregs hut and were all excited to get there. Before long, we saw a little stone building appear down below from the mist, buoyed up by the thought of warmth and humans and a hot meal we bounced our way down and into the hut. Once inside, we were greeted by John, Paul, a medic and Paul's dog appropriately named Mist. We were given hot drinks and a bowl of noodles each. It sounded like we'd timed our descent perfectly as a big snow storm was heading in and the folk behind were sure to be caught in it.

We didn't stop too long as we were keen to get off the hill before the snow came and into Alston check point for a snooze. We left once more before Zoe, down the hill towards garigill. It was easy navigation from here to Alston, so we didn't need to think much. We looked back to see Zoe was on the move again so slowed to let her catch up before moving once more as a group. Soon we were passed by Ryan who seemed to have an amazing burst of energy running briskly downt the hill.

The snow was thinning and the path was becoming gravelly and making my feet sore. My legs were more than happy to jog to keep up with the fast walk of Doug and Zoe but my feet did not appreciate it so I trotted on the grass where I could to keep up. Along here we bumped in to Joe who had given us some nav instruction last spring. Hoping he was impressed that we'd not gone horrifically wrong yet he walked with us a little while and took a few snaps. Leaving joe behind to catch other racers on their descent we continued on through garigill and on towards Alston.

The last km into the checkpoint was a bastard. It took us around a field and up a fucking steep Tarmac hill. We rolled into the cp and got on with eating, foot care, and I took advantage of some lovely showers. Ronnie was at the cp with Ryan, he said the weather was turning and big snow was forecast further up so Ryan was only taking an hour stop and then out to keep ahead of the weather. Outside I could see it was snowing now but I was so tired, we needed to sleep. Once more, alarms set for no more than 90 min from now we tried sleep. I was struggling. I was so cold. We had fancy beds again with duvets. I had two Quilts on and was still shivering. When I wasn't shivering my legs were spasming in pain. I finally got off and had about 30 min sleep before getting up and getting in the medic queue for foot checking.

I ordered some breakfast
"is it morning or night?" Always it's night.

Doug was still asleep so I sent someone to wake him. He appeared Bleary eyed and very sweet but not happy with being woke up and too got in the queue for foot taping and handed a porridge and coffee. This checkpoint saw a lot of faffing. Our earlier efficiency was gone. Our kit was exploded across the room. It took us ten times longer to vacate, Zoe was ready before us and finally we were out the door. Next target was Green head. We weren't sure if there as going to be somewhere to sleep along here but we hoped so. Out into the night we went. It's surreal. It feels like morning and the sun should be coming up soon. But it quickly dawns on you that it's night. always night. And only just night, and there is a whole night of hiking and cold ahead of you.

Leaving Alston was shit. I was navigating confidently through some fields. We were all tired so we worked as a team to navigate. Doug was on the gps, I was in my map, Zoe had a 1:25k map so had much more detail to offer. Cross checking with each other. Before long, we felt trapped. I poked around in the bushes and found myself thigh deep in a bog. Struggling to get out, fell backwards into it. Zoe and Doug helpless whilst I hauled myself out of it and Zoe located the correct route. The next few hours was just awful. Tricky nav, through awful wet boggy fields. We were really struggling to stand up in the mud, slipping over constantly we we getting exhausted and not to mention caked in mud, so we took the road which ran parallel to this part of the route. I looked down and saw I'd dropped my map. It couldn't have been far back so I dropped my bag with Doug and ran back to find it. I felt like a deer! Bounding easily without the restricting weight on my shoulders. This is what running feels like!!

We popped out onto a road Crossing and spotted a barn to stop in and put some more layers on as it was getting chilly. Whilst Doug and I layered up, Zoe had seen what treats the barn had. Chairs and tarpaulin, some ducks hanging by their necks. She sat down for a few minutes whilst we fettled. We were jealous of her sleeping so we climbed into some chairs and pulled the tarp over us and set an alarm clock for ten minutes time. Power nap in, we felt happy to continue. It's amazing how much of a boost you get from a short nap.

I don't remember much of the night from here until greenhead but we reached greenhead with the most impeccable timing, we were exhausted and wanting to eat something and have a nap, by now there was snow heavily under foot. We saw a tea shop that looked closed but there were lights on, I poked my head in to enquire if they were open and luck had it , they opened at 9am (it was 9:01!) so relieved to be inside and the prospect of breakfast we huddled round the fire and were treated to coffee, and a breakfast of eggs and bacon. Also a short nap on a lovely comfy sofa. We stayed here longer than intended but enjoyed the welcome relief from the cold.

We pushed on through greenhead where Tom was waiting to offer hot chocolate but aware we'd already stopped longer than planned we pushed on through towards Hadrians wall. I'd never seen Hadrians wall before and it was exciting! It was huge and Imposing and I was feeling fantastic. We cocked up our nav a little in the beginning but were soon back on track traipsing through the the fine deep snow. Through the next couple of hours I felt great. I could have run and skipped along the whole section but as we were moving as a team I ran along then stopped to admire the views whilst I was caught up. Doug was getting some leg pain so I insisted we stopped and taped it up, it was still a bloody long way to go to risk not dealing with niggles as soon as they cropped up.

The day was beautiful. I felt almost guilty for the sun being out. Most unspinelike. We were moving well as a group once more when we turned off towards the forest. I'd heard that this was boggy and unpleasant so was expecting this to be a shit part. I'm sure if I was in a bad mood or feeling particularly sleepy it would have been but I was feeling energised by the sun. When we reached the forest it was like an alpine dream. Deep snow, big evergreens heavy with glittery snow. Still I was feeling good so I'm probably rose tinting it. Zoe had reccied this part of the route so was familiar with which way to go which took a little bit of pressure off thinking. We caught up with Stuart who was struggling a bit. Saying his batteries are low. We pushed on passed, I told Doug and Zoe I'd catch them up whilst I nipped in to the bushes for a pee. Stuart edged past me and I quickly caught him back up through the deep snow. I offered him some malt loaf as I passed which he gladly took. I hung back with him a while and chatted briefly.

I pushed back on to catch up with my teammates and the course opened up on to a fantastic plateau. The sun was setting and turning the sky pink and we were all enjoying the fantastic view behind. I felt like an alpine skier (minus the skis) As the day faded to night (It's always night) we approached a farm which was offering coffee, sit downs, soup and snacks. I could see Doug was struggling with his feet and needed to get off them I was tired and getting cold. We were only 5 miles from Bellingham checkpoint and he and I were keen to push on. Zoe went on in to the farm and we reluctantly followed. We discussed between The two of us what we wanted to do, not really knowing what was right or wrong. Do we push on to the cp and have a proper stop, or have a brief stop here? We were ushered inside, but we'd all but decided to carry on, but Zoe was keen to stop and enjoy a soup.

I felt really rude and ungrateful to our hosts and bad that Zoe wanted to stay. Already having only stopped for a minute the cold was setting into my bones and we had a rushed stop which I still feel awkward about as I know we must have seemed so rude and we should have acted as a team and not rushed Zoe out. When we were back on the move, I apologised to Zoe that I didn't want to appear rude but was keen to get on to the proper check point. I sure if she'd stayed she'd still have caught us up!

The navigation into Bellingham was pretty easy from here but the temperature had dropped significantly and the ground under foot was really icy, we stopped to look at the sky which was glowing red like a strange aroura. Eventually we found our way into Bellingham CP where we faffed and Put kit on to heaters to dry out. Ronnie was once more here, telling us to get our shit together, the weather was shit ahead. Stop faffing, and helping us in any way he could to hurry the fuck on. He was ace though, he was rooting for us to finish but knew that the next section was a beast and had our best interests at heart. We popped over to have a hot meal and Jenny was there being super lovely and mothering me a bit, which is always nice.

Heads down in the hope for a decent sleep once more. I looked over to where Zoe was asleep under a table and Doug asked if she was alright. She certainly didn't look alright. I sat up and looked to where she was appearing to have a fit on the floor. What was really happening was her legs twitching severely while she slept. I managed about 30 mins of broke sleep once more, my legs were cramping horrifically. I got up and got my feet taped up, not that the medics thought there was much wrong with them. Doug had to wait as someone had just been brought off the hill with hypothermia. While he got his feet sorted, I went in search of breakfast as was donated some porridge by the supporter of Richard who was the hypothermic racer, now warmed up but sadly out of the race but in fantastic spirits already planning his return assault.

As we left Bellingham.

"Is it morning or night?" Always night.

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)