Thursday, 30 November 2017

Plan For Extreem Weather


   This is a recycled post from last year  with a few new thoughts so some of this you may have already read. It has been updater to include lessons learnt from 2017.

      Overseas competitors from cold countries  may fully  not appreciate   that UK Winter Hill Conditions can be way harder to cope with than the much colder weather you may have experienced in  northern regions such as Alaska and Scandinavia.     This is not just my personal view but also the race Directors Scott and Phill. (they both have extensive Snow and  Polar Experience).
     A combination of frequent rain and high humidity combined with rapid changes in temperature makes dressing suitably for the conditions difficult to plan. You may have to change layering several times each day as you move between exposed high level areas and low level farmland.
     High humidity even without rain means damp . Dampness makes controlling heat loss from the body  difficult to manage and that is without even taking into account the effects on Chaffing , Trench foot and Blisters.
     Normal Pennine winter  temperature ranges of between +10c and -10c make trail conditions vary widely. Even making Kit choices a week  before the race is never straight forward. Your Kit must be able to be adapted for weather during  and during the whole possibly 7 days of the  Race .

       If you live in Canada  and go trail running in -20c you may wonder what all the fuss is about. This  may lead you to underestimate the reality of Spine Conditions.


      There have been 6 editions of the Spine Race so far and we tend to think of each year as characterised  by one sort of weather .
                   1 2012 ---Icy.
                   2 2013---Icy + Blizzard.
                   3 2014 ---Rain ---Rain ----Rain
                   4 2015 --- Extreme Wind + snow
                   5 2016---- Cold then Snow later in the race.
                   6 2017----Melting snow . then  a mild damp slog.
                                  
In reality what gets remembered is the extremes of weather en counted  on  specific days on specific parts of the course. Pennine Weather can change fast even over small distances . You could find yourself on a high pass in bright sunshine  looking over at  a storm on the next Peak .

       For  as a competitor you need to be able to survive  (or at least adapt ) to the extremes and cope with long hours of less noteworthy weather that can grind you down.

        BAD FORECASTS
         All Spine and Challenger racers should have a good understanding of predicted weather and it's implications for you the runner.
          Ultimately the forecasts you need to worry about are the medium forecast for the race period  and the updates available at CP's during the race . (Pre race Face book will get flooded by overexcited and often uninformed comments on race conditions )  
           The Pre Race briefings will give you a better idea but that briefing covers many aspects of the race .
            To get a more detailed analysis of weather and coping strategy I thoroughly recommend attending  Ranger Expeditions Pre Race  Masterclass. Even better sign up for the Spine Race Training Course.

        Spine Race Organisation  has , over the years  moved forward especially in areas of Safety and Race Control and this has been reflected in what weather conditions you are likely to encounter.
        Increasing the  numbers of runners means that the bar of what is unacceptable weather has  probably been lowered. Sudden changes in weather still  do result in unpredictable hazards.
     

  When it Comes to Spine Weather  expect the "RACE TO GO ON "      in conditions that would cause other trail races to be stooped or cancelled.

          From a personal point of view I can honestly say that during my 4 Spine Runs I have encountered  the most severe and at times terrifying weather conditions in all the 60 years of my life.
           I have spent many days in the hills but  like most people not ventured out in what I would class as miserable conditions in daylight which become downright  dodgy at night.
           It is one thing to nip out of a car to stand by the sea in a gale for a few moments or walk around a Ski Resort in a howling  blizzard  and a totally different thing to know that you are totally knackered , possibly  hours from any  help and that if you make a mistake.

       
   You should be able to get advice from Marshall's about fore casted trail conditions ahead . Don't ignore this advise . Make your own decisions on how to prepare.
 
   IF A MARSHAL GIVES YOU A DIRECT INSTRUCTION  TO MAKE A DIVERSION OR DELAY TACKLING A HIGH EXPOSED AREA YOU ARE OBLIGED TO FOLLOW THAT INSTRUCTION.

                 At  times when the forecast and weather looks good but you may be  instructed to halt .

                 It could be that the safety teams are having trouble covering the course ahead ,due to access problems or dealing with another incident.

                         IF YOU  IGNORE INSTRUCTIONS YOU WILL BE DISQUALIFIED                              

           We all have a rough race plan  and part of this is to have a flexible plan .
           The Course Directors also have a race plan and several back up plans .
            Pre race several possible diversion routs have been worked out to allow for weather conditions .
            You don't need to worry about these routs as they will be explained if and when they become necessary.
             If you are asked to divert then that is the time your Nav skills will be really tested. You may have to enter way points into your GPS . Re mark the new course using  a pen that actually writes on a waterproof map .
             Just to make things a little more complex you may have to go "Off Map" This happened in 2015 when part of the field was diverted from Cow Green Reservoir  to Gargill  missing out Dufton and Cross Fell . Most of this rout was outside the narrow Pennine Way strip of map shown on the Harveys and AZ maps.   If this happens it's all down to written directions and your minute square of map (zoomed in and out) shown on the GPS screen. The MST had put some signs out but most were buried in snow.

       

         Types of Extreme weather you may encounter .

          1 WIND 
          2 HEAVY SNOW
          3 TORRENTIAL RAIN
          4 SNOW MELT RUN OFF
          5 BELOW FREEZING TEMPERATURE'S
          

WIND     

Having competed in the  2015 Spine  and the Borrowdale OMM. I have huge respect for the effects of high    winds in the Fells.   A Gale may be  a slight hindrance in most towns but up on the Fells especially on an exposed ridge line it can mean the difference between Racing and a Survival Crawl in order to carry on with the least possible damage to gear and bodily health.  
         50mph winds (80kpm) in the hills will knock you off your feet. It is not the constant force but the rapid changes in wind strength that are the problem.  
         Your worst situation will be strong tail winds while descending on rocks soaked by  wind driven rain.
          What ever the situation if things get really bad then your best friend will be your Pole (note that is a singular pole . Your free hand will be employed in grabbing rocks and the ground if you start to fall. The pole is held up wind to act as a prop to prevent you falling upwind  if a gust suddenly subsides.
          Taller light weight racers will suffer most. Short ,fat racers will expend less energy staying upright  and be subjected to lower Wind Chill.

          Navigation in really high winds means using the GPS
           Shortly after starting in 2015,  high winds forced  map and compass navigators to gave up trying to hold a map.  (Even in marginal winds your map needs to be tethered to your pack preferably in a good clear map case.)    Any loose gear attached to racers  packs was ripped off
         . Waterproof pack covers lasted about 20 mins before they all were ripped off last seen  heading towards the north sea.

          If the forecast is for mountain winds above 20 mph you may wish to consider streamlining your pack . Bulky items should be strapped close to your body and low down to prevent the forces of wind on your pack 'weathercocking" your body into the wind. (the down side of this is that you tend to  get jammed in narrow gates!)  . Having a roll mat strapped to the top of your pack in high wind  is a total no no.

         High winds in the mountains are often accompanied with low cloud , mist and rain. Any form of moisture will accelerate the rate your body cools .  In 2015 the wind blasted droplets of rain through every minute gap in your waterproof clothing . The good quality shell fabrics worked but poor cuff, neck and waist joints let water in .
          I should also add that the wind caused Waterproof trousers to fail for many competitors . Press stud lower leg seals had no chance  holding . Once the flap was open the resulting vibration ripped apart  several  sets of over trousers.  Communication between different members in groups can be difficult ruling out co operation in Navigation and general group tactics.
      Cold dry winds without Goggles will fast track you to :  WIND BLINDNESS the stealth  DNF .
   
     

    HEAVY SNOW.

      We all know there are many sorts of Snow but the' Knee Jerk' reaction to  any signs or type  of snow on the course is to go out and buy specialised snow running shoes soy don't slip.
       Even a little smattering of  snow tends to panic the UK trail runner.

        As with most things Spine Related you need to look closer at your preconceived ideas.

                      The Plain Truth Is That Most Snow Is Not That Slippery.

         Ice is slippery but fresh snow or even snow that has lain for some time can be  easy to run on .
         The main exception is Verglas . This is where the surface of the snow has been melted then Re-frozen forming a hard but  sometimes thin crust.

                               VERGLAS
                                Can end has been encountered especially if we get settled snow and clear skies with the temps rising above freezing during the day then sub zero at night. This can result in a hard crystal crust on the surface that melts gradually in the sun. This surface is slippery if thick enough as it forms an ice  crust that can support your body weight.
          If you encounter this crust then put on your Traction Aids.

                                 DEEP SNOW WITH THIN CRUST
                                    Post Holing .                                     This occurs more commonly and is much more difficult to cope with. Your feet break through the crust and you find yourself lurching from hole to hole or trying to follow the tracks of other runners who passed earlier.
                                    The snow crust itself can bruise your legs but Gaiters can alleviate this problem.
                                    Post Holing  is incredibly energy sapping and it's not unusual for your speed to drop below 1 Km per Hr!. Snow running shoes like Spikecross are no help at all .  Your best way to make efficient progress is to let someone else go first then follow or avoid their track if they hit the really deep stuff!
                                      Using SPINE RACE MULTY TOOL AKA your running poles are the only way of staying upright in deep snow. You also need them for probing to establish snow depth and covered hazards.


                                     SNOWSHOES
                        ( The tennis racket type) are the only really efficient way to reduce energy drain and increase pace .  The problem with Snowshoes is that they are not good on steep ,angled and rough ground  so you may have to take them off and on .
                                      Running  Snowshoes can weigh as little as 1Kg but they are cumbersome to attach to your pack and there is always a reluctance to take them from your drop bag and add that extra  1Kg to your race pack . If there is deep snow outside the CP Door then this psychological barrier would not be a problem . I suspect the greater danger would be from other runner mugging you and stealing the snowshoes.
                                       In case you are wondering ,yes I do pack  Kahtoola RNR snowshoes in my drop bag  if the medium forecast is for snow.  I have never used them but would have on several sections : Spines  2016 and 2013 if I had accurate reports whilst departing certain CP's . I would only have used them on some legs of the course and in each case they would have saved me hours .
               (CP Marshals have only rough, random reports of the trail ahead . Short of sending out your own personal 'Drone" to recce the trail ahead , carrying Snowshoes will always be a gamble  .

                                        A snowshoe is essentially a way of increasing your footprint size . If your feet have swollen and you are wearing your larger shoes you won's sink so often into snow.
                                        It is possible to increase your foot size while on the trail . Yacktrax Pro are traction aids that wrap around your foot . This effectively increases your footprint size . You can increase it further by wrapping a T shirt around your foot  and holding it in place with  the Yaktrax.  (This may seem an utterly ridiculous suggestion but when you fall through the crust 8 steps out of 10 it is worth trying  anything and everything!)"Been there done that , it sort of works ."

          SOFT FRESH SNOW
                                        You may find yourself bashing your own personal trail through Knee deep snow. This is plain hard work and you will probably make better progress teaming up with others and rotating the leading runner when they tire.  Shallow snow can be a joy to run in as it can cushion each step giving bruised feet a bit of a break.  Problems can occur if there is a layer of hard  ice under  the snow but this is unlikely to happen unless we get a prolonged severe cold spell for several days before the event.

           AVOIDABLE SNOW ISSUES
                                           Unlike colder regions of the world the UK warm  soil surface temps seldom allow Ice to form for long . You will usually find slush under the snow. (No Permafrost )
                                            What you are likely to encounter is thin snow that sticks to your Shoes and Gaiters falling balls of ice that build up as you walk . This 'Balling Effect' can have a major impact on your pace as you can end up carrying great slabs of ice on your legs.
                                             Snow or ice 'Balling ' always starts with a seed of water. Wet snow (At near 0c ) touches this and sticks as it is compressed. Each time the effected are is dabbed in wet snow more  snow/slush , sticks and builds up . Any loose wet object (like a frayed lace end or wisps of  chord protruding from your waterproofs ankle toggle will start this process ) . Go over your lower leg gear and use a flame to consolidate all loose ends. Better still over tape the flapping bits with plastic electrical tape before leaving the CP and heading out on Snow.
                                              Moisture repellant Gaiters will prevent ice build up on the legs.

                                             Gaiter Under Foot Straps if made of nylon webbing can be subjected to 'balling' in some conditions. The Nylon wets out ,balls form and before you know it you shoes are jacked off the ground right under your arches.  This sort of ball is often mixed with dirt and can be remarkably difficult to break off leading several competitors to abandon the gaiters altogether  and accepting  snow getting into the tops of  footwear   .  Choosing Gaiters with a 'Hypalon ' (rubberised) under strap or multy strand wire  will prevent balling. as the snow does not stick.

                       FALLING SNOW
                                              Can be quite fun in daylight but at night the back reflections from your head torch drastically reduce visibility.  If you are on a goodish  path you will be OK provided you keep checking your GPS .
                                       The GPS  is a much more effective tool than a Map in reduced viz or white out conditions.
                                      Falling snow is often moving sideways and this can be incredibly disorientating at night. Holding a course even with a compass becomes hard and mentally taxing.

                       UNSEEN SNOW COVERED HAZARDS

                         Use your poles to probe snow ahead and try to stay on track.
                          Some parts of the Course are close to features called SINK HOLES. These resemble massive funnels in the ground . at the centre of some of these you may find a mine shaft type drop into caves below. They can be incredibly dangerous and should be avoided 
.( The worst of these are found between CROSS FELL  top and GREGS HUT . On no account cut the corner in this area.   It is worth looking at your map to see the area I am referring to.  


                    WHITE OUT NAVIGATION


                        WHITE OUTS WITH NO TRACE OF PATH 
            This has happened tome several times on the Spine in falling  snow and fog .
            To carry on you need your GPS out and checked as often as possible . (Map work where you can't even tell if you are ascending or descending is near impossible) If you have a recording of a Recce trace you move on keeping the little arrow of your current track slap bang on top of the recce track.
        Failing having a Recce Track then use the GPS base map Pennine Way track.
        Spine GPX way points will be totally inadequate especially on high rough ground.
         Night constant referral to GPS screen will rapidly suck the energy out of your GPS batteries (the screen light draws a high current) .
         Never leave a CP with partly discharged Batteries in your GPS.   24 hour normal use battery life can be reduced to 4 on some models with constant use !
         AVOID CHANGING BATTERIES OUTSIDE IN RAIN OR SNOW on many models there are moisture sensitive components just under the Batteries. ( just take a look inside  your own GPS!)

                     CONFUSED  PATHS IN WHITEOUTS
                      This can be as bad as no path .  You start following one and it peters  out or veer off in the wrong direction . This can happen on rough hill side( like the ascent of Shunner Fell)  , in marshy bogs (such as those after Tan Hill )  And also in any area of multiple snow tracks especially where previous runners have been searching for a good line . The strategy should be the same ---Get Navigating!
                     

                   RAIN

                         In Spine conditions Rain is never fun . Rain means damp which means cold.
                          I have encountered continuous rain (for our 6 hr periods) during the spine and provided the wind is not that strong it is bearable. Wind driven rain is a whole lot harder.
                         You will be dipping into your pack and fiddling with gear multiple times during the race . Most times this involves taking off your Gloves and getting your hands wet. It does not matter how Bomb Proof your Gloves are ,if your hands are soaked they are probably going to get cold even inside your gloves .  (In freezing conditions this is less of an issue)
                         When you combine high winds with rain water is driven through any crack in your  shell layer defences .
                        Give the choice between wet drizzle blown by wind in +5c and half a gale in -8c then I would pick the sub zero conditions every time.


                          WET GROUND.

                        For 50% of likely  spine time you should count on having wet lower legs. It could be only outside your shoes or gaiters but it will get wet.  
                        This is why I recommend Capri type leggings /tights combined with long wool blend socks.
                         If you are forced to stop and Bivvi or even in fast transit CP's you only have to remove your socks to get comfy . If it is rainy and you need to get in a Bivvi bag fast then you can do so still wearing Capri tights without getting your sleeping bag wet. Your socks can stay outside still wet as you have dry spare pairs in your pack . Getting out of full length tights fast in rain is near impossible.
                         There is also an advantage in Sleeping CP's Capri tights probably won't need drying or changing so you don't need so many pairs of tights in your Drop Bag.

                         

                         THE BOOT  V  TRAIL SHOE  ISSUE ( Water Depth)

                        

                        In sub zero hard frosts (SPINE 2012,2013) The Racers never  encountered water deep enough to flood a boot (Except by accidentally falling into streams)
                        Most years the only way of keeping your feet dry in Boots was to make detours.
                        Using trail shoes and long waterproof socks you can normally just plough on through all but the deepest water.
                       The main object of using Boots is to keep your feet dry and ventilated.  If your Boots get flooded early in the race you are stuck with damp  feet until the next CP when you need time to properly dry your Boot
                           Forget about waterproof trail shoes,  they are gust a bad compromise
                           Most Runners use Trail Shoes with either thick Wool Socks or Waterproof Socks .
                           A Waterproof Sock despite the makers claim will never keep you as dry as a non flooded boot.
                          Waterproof  socks do not breath as effectively as a Boot.
                          As for what type of shoe /Boot ,i will come back to that later.




                   MOVING WATER 

Picture By  David Riley of recce  session .


   
            The separate day  Challenger and Spine Starts in 2017 gave the day one different packs  totally different trail conditions.: 
                                          Challengers were faced with snow and obscured tracks.           
                                          The main Spine Race started a day later as the snow was  rapidly melting . Snow melt can produce vast volumes of run off water in a very short time . The Stream Crossings encountered before CP1 caused major issues . Runners had to make major detours up stream of Kinder Downfall  to find safe  places were they could wade across . The situation was even worse for slower runners as the water volume rapidly increased as snow melt accelerated.
          Crossing the steep stream gully leading to Torside Clough  involved jumping and for some an unplanned swim.
           The following You tube Clip  of Kinder Downfall Crossing (8Km From Dale) was made by Bruce Ballagher .   Bruce was kind enough to record  his thoughts on the situation that faced him.


                       


                            Guidelines For Crossing Fast / Deep Moving  Water 

            FAST MOVING WATER CAN KILL!

            1 AVOID if at all possible (look on your map for a bridge )
            2 Head Upstream as volume reduces upstream.
            3 If you can't safely jump then look for wider places where the water should be flowing slower.
            4 Study the entry and exit to the water . Is it safe to get in and out? 
            5  Check for hazards downstream . (Water can trap you against a fence)
            6 Team up with others . (delay crossing solo if you are worried)
            7 Check your shoes and gear before entering water ( no loose laces or open pack Zips . Are the locks on telescopic poles tight? )
            8 Take it slowly using your pole /poles to establish a leaning post upstream of your legs before moving your feet.
            9 Try to maintain maximum contact with the stream bed  (Min one foot and pole at all times )
            
             Double check pack dry bag liners ( possibly transferring  normally exposed gear such as gloves  into the dry bags .
             Reconsider turning back!
             
             Note crossing fast water requires applying  SMJ . There many other factors you may have to consider which I will not get into in this blog.

           

          FOOTWEAR RECONSIDERED
          Crossing  a Stream and falling will probably lead to a DNF .
          Stream beds with fast water are made of slippery Rocks .
          You need really GOOD  WET ROCK GRIP  to stay upright.
          One again a fall on mud  just gets you muddy . Falling on rock is almost always more serious.
          When choosing  footwear sole selection  the ability to handle wet rock should be your priority.

                             STILL WATER
                 Many parts of the course can be covered by still water wide puddles.
                 The water is usually muddy so you need to use your poles to probe for depth and ditches .
                 If an area is flooded there may be an overloaded  hidden drainage ditch below the surface.


                                                    ICE CONDITIONS

                 Having completed 1000+ Spine Miles I can confirm I only encountered   a total of 100 meters of unavoidable Sheet Ice .  
                  Novice Racers freak out about FROZEN FLAGSTONES.  (Their fear is unjustified)
                  Flagstones are laid to protect Bogs . If the frost is severe enough to form sheet ice on the flagstones, then the crust of bog alongside the flags will probably be hard enough to run on .
                  Frozen bog crust : dirt , ice, grass mix is really grippy to run on .

                  FLAGSTONE BRIDGES.
                  You will encounter several of these early in the race .

                  Stone Bridges  are often coated in black ice even when the rest of the trail is clear.


                  THE REST OF THE COURSE
                  Your  ice problems will be worse  on north facing (usually down hill rocky trails)
                  The most ice prone part of the whole Spine is the section  below Cauldron Snout. Spray from the waterfall and shade from the valley sides can lead to a coating on the boulders. This area will be surveyed by the race safety team and a diversion put in place if found to be dangerous.

                   The solution for ice is to use Traction aids . They must be robust ,light and above all easy to put on and take off .
                   From experience I would recommend Yaktrax Pro . They work in mixed conditions and make minimum drag on your feet . They are also easy to clip onto the front of your pack for convenient access. Avoid the small mini spike dog walking traction aids (The Spine will rapidly destroy them)
                    Practise running in your traction aids before the race . You don't need snow as they should work fine in Mud .
                     Traction aids work brilliantly on slush covered slippy steep grass. Putting them on instantly upgrades your trail shoes into ultra grippy mud shoes.



             TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY

      There is no doubt that the Spine Race is safer now than it was in the early years.
      Trackers allow your position to be monitored (apart from a few blackspot).
      The Race "Mountain Safety Teams "are out there to support you but .
      The MSTeams are made of volunteers (often Spine Vets).  The teams have many miles of course to cover and racers can be tens of miles apart. Access to parts of the course is difficult.
       Moving a team from one location to another further up the course can take hours.
       Communication between teams and race control can be difficult.
       Several runners may need help at the same time .

        The MST capability  should not be confused with that of the better trained and equipped local Mountain Rescue Teams .

ALWAYS MAKE ANY  RISK JUDGEMENT DECISION  on the basis that if all goes wrong you will have to get yourself out of the SHIT! (without relying on outside help)

      

                      

                      Coping with bad  weather  is all about understanding the forecast and possible impact on your race plan. 
                       Getting an accurate assessment of forecast implications is vital for your race . 
                  



                            
                          

                         
          

           






         


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