Arnside Knott fell race

A common mistake in fell racing is to presume that the hillier the race is, the more difficult it will be. Arnside Knott fell race on Sunday definitely proved that to be false, as I arrived at the finish line more worn out than most other races I’ve done. It was definitely more intense than Great Whernside a few weeks ago.

Lorna uttered something to me before the start to the extent of “make sure you’re at the front of the group at the start”, and with this in mind I soon found myself in sixth place, huffing and puffing my way up slippy limestone covered in even more slippy leaves. The “make sure you’re at the front” strategy was to avoid the bottleneck as the race route took us onto a little single-track footpath just after the start, and it worked perfectly. I was pushing myself to maximum intensity, but in a manageable way so that I could (almost) maintain my pace for the duration of the race. After just over a mile, the guy in front cramped up and I slipped up into fifth place. After a stretch of road the final ascent of the Knott began, and I managed to overtake once more, putting me into fourth place until the summit. I had lost sight of the lead runners by this point and all that spurred me on was the knowledge that I was being pursued closely.

Go! Paul Webb, the winner, setting the pace at the start (middle of the picture).

Go! Paul Webb, the winner, setting the pace at the start (middle of the picture).

After dodging some curious cows standing around the summit trig, I started the descent, doing my best to avoid ploughing into those still making the ascent (the route is straight out and back), whilst valiantly trying to maintain my position. A real sting in the tail came in the form of a steep ascent about a mile from the finish, and at this point my legs decided they’d had quite enough ascent, allowing two guys who had been chasing me on the descent to finally pass. I managed to hang onto sixth position until the finish, frustratingly being only one second behind fifth place across the line.

Heading for the summit - on the final ascent of the Knott.

Heading for the summit – on the final ascent of the Knott. Photo copyright Mark Cronshaw.

My finishing time was 37:48, whilst the winner (Paul Webb) smashed the course record by nearly two minutes, finishing in 34:56. The full results are available here.

Nearly there! On the finishing straight.

Nearly there! On the finishing straight.

The snow is here! Exploring the Munros of Loch Lomond

I thought we might get a little bit of snow for Lancaster University Hiking Club’s first Scotland weekend trip last weekend, but I didn’t envisage we’d be wading through waist-deep stuff most of the weekend. We were staying at Beinglas Farm Campsite, at the very northern-most end of Loch Lomond in Inverarnan. This offered easy access to not just the Arrochar Alps but also the Munros to the north-east of the campsite, on which I spent most of the weekend.

The initial plan on Saturday was to bag all five Munros to the north-east of the campsite, namely: Beinn Chabhair; An Caisteail; Beinn a’ Chroin; Cruach Ardain and; Beinn Tulaichean. However, logistics dictated that only four (missing out Beinn Chabhair) were realistically going to be achievable and so we headed up to park just south-west of Crianlarich to start the walk up Coire Earb. The weather was pretty miserable at first, with plenty of sleety snow as we hacked our way up onto An Caisteal’s northern ridge. Things cleared up, fortunately, and we even got a bit of a view from the summit.¬†As it was the first fall of snow, no freeze-thaw cycles had occurred and hence it was all very powdery and pristine, which made for hard going as we waded our way onto Beinn a’ Chroin, via a steep, exposed and somewhat direct route up it’s north-western face. The clouds cleared on our way up and we got some stunning views over the surrounding Munros and down to Loch Lomond.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

Pristine powdery snow! Just off the summit of An Caisteal.

The wind was biting and I don’t think I really warmed up all day long, even on the ascent. When we reached the col between Beinn a’ Chroin and Cruach Ardain, some of the group decided to head down, whilst Calum, Jim, Laura, Daniel, Ben and myself decided to head on. By the time we reached the summit of Cruach Ardain (which we later discovered wasn’t actually the summit; how frustrating!), it was already dark and as we didn’t fancy adding an extra couple of hours navigating in the pitch black out to Beinn Tulaichean and back, we decided to head down instead.

Great views when the clouds cleared!

Great views when the clouds cleared!

That evening, the campsite owners were hosting a bonfire and firework display. We received a phonecall just after leaving our final summit to say our van would need to be moved as it was too close to where the fire was going to be (Daniel had the keys), but when we returned we found they’d decided to crack on without us and instead had left a good layer of ash on the van. More annoyingly, they showed clear disregard for any tents nearby (i.e., ours) and gave them a good coating of ash as well.

The forecast was much better for the Sunday, and as I decided it was about time that I run up my first Munro. I’d weighed up the snow the day before and decided it wasn’t icy enough to warrant crampons, and that fell running shoes would be fine. Of course, I had in mind that I might need to turn back before the summit of my target – the most western of the five behind the campsite: Beinn Chabhair.

The weather was perfect, and the bog to Lochan Beinn Chabhair fortunately frozen – for the ascent at least! It took me 52 minutes to run the 3km and 500m ascent to the lochan, with a few stops to de-layer and take on some food. A lot of time was spent skirting around unfrozen sections of the bog. From there, where there were another few guys starting their ascents, I started the wade up onto Meall nan Tarmachain on Beinn Chabhair’s north-western ridge. The “ridge” was very undulating, with chest-high snow drifts in places, and by the time I reached the summit I was feeling physically drained. I finished off my first PowerBar, started on my second (my “emergency” one) and ate a handful of snow, before slipping and sliding my way back along the ridge and down to the lochan. The descent was, fortunately, effortless, and I did literally slide most of the way down. I really enjoy descending in deep snow!

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn't take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

View from the ascent of Beinn Chabhair. I didn’t take my camera, so had to rely on my phone.

By the time I was back at the lochan, my feet had recovered from the near-frostbitten state they were in on the way up (note to self: must invest in some waterproof socks) and the PowerBars had started to work their magic. The run back to the campsite was very enjoyable – despite an excessive amount of bog-wading – and I took the time to take in the surroundings in the euphoric I’ve-just-ran-up-my-first-Munro, my-toes-don’t-have-frostbite state I was in.

I can’t wait to get some more Munro runs in over the winter!