Saturday, 22 December 2018

Detailed Course Notes Airton to Pen y Gent

This post will cover this section of the course picking out details of what I call "NAV TRAPS!"

You get lost for several reasons : 1 you can't see any path
                                                        2 you took the wrong path
                                                        3 you are following a lost runners heading the wrong way.

For any runner lucky enough to Recce parts of the course I hope this post will highlight what information you need to be taking in. (its not always obvious!)

. For the vast majority of racers who take on the Spine running the course for the first time it is more than likely that you will 30 mins or more on this relatively short section of the course and even more on other sections if you are not aware of the NAV TRAPS that will face you.

          Planning A Recce

         Many racers will look on a recce as an opportunity to get much fitter and so plan to cover long distances in one session. The problem with this approach is that your mind tends to focus on pushing on rather than memorising the rout/terrain.   Once you are in the race memories of trail finding will save you far more time than any extra fitness gained in a recce period.
          If ever you make a nav mistake during a recce try to retrace your steps to just before that false turn and memorise an obvious feature that will trigger your memory before you repeat the mistake.All this will take time and is seldom done by most runners.

         Recce Priorities in order most important first.

        1       Recording your own accurate GPS bread crumb  track and storing it for use during the race.
        2       Soaking up as much visual memory of the trail as you can absorb.
        3       Trying to identify complex nav areas and trying to imagine  the area in limited vizibility .                                          
        4       Locating and identifying places where you could perhaps sleep.
        5       Locating all food opportunities (shops,Pubs) noting opening times.
        6       Getting familiar with all your gear ( does you pack tend to hang lopsided? How and where best to stow your map /GPS for instant access .Is it a strain to reach that backpack mesh pocket?)
        7       Getting a feel for the course (where might you find shelter to swap layering? where is a good place to grab and consume food before you take on an exposed area like Cross Fell/ Pen y Ghent?).
         8         Lastly getting extra fit for the race .

         To get the most from a recce don't get over ambitious with the distance TAKE YOUR TIME.
          If you have limited opportunity to recce prioritise the problem (night time) bits of the course.

Airton to Pen -y-Ghent an IDIOTS GUIDE?

 First Question , Why look at this section of the course?

Second Question , Just who are you calling an Idiot?

The answers are linked for several reasons.
1 I have made all of the following  nav errors over my 4 Spines and many others have done the same .
2 Timing : For 90% of the field by Airton   a, its dark 
                                                                     b. You are short on sleep
                                                                     c . The path is mainly indistinct
                                                                     d , Parts of the trail is often flooded
                                                                      e , With dark comes mist and fog
                                                                      f , You are getting stressed  about bivvying out.
                                                                      g , You are probably running with others and not concentrating.
   3 I live in Devon and have never had the time to do any other  recce's.

  By Airton That bushy eyed runner at the start line by is  now a:

                       " nav retarded jabbering idot!" 

Lets work down that list :
   Its dark so you can only see as far as your torch beam will allow . Not only that but your torch will give you no contrast reducing your ability to judge distance and what shape an illuminated object actually is. Actually picking out the shadows of others tracks is limited.

 You are short of sleep ( getting a good quality  slept CP1 is near impossible. Very  few runners sleep between CP1 and CP1.5 so almost everyone is falling asleep on their feet by this point. 

The  first section of the path is mainly (but not always indistinct)  At this point anyone having done a daylight recce not in mid winter may disagree. I can assure you it will look completely different to you during the race .

The trail is often flooded . Here I am talking about the river valley leading up to Malham. 
This valley is a flood plain covered in shallow depressions and ditches some of which run alongside the river and others at 90 degrees to the river . It is not unusual to be faced  with puddles 10m wide of unknown depth (specifically deeper than fairly high walking boots) You may be thrown off the trail while avoiding the puddles.

Mist /fog /stress and lack of concentration are all normal in the Malham valley

You need sleep and you are worrying more about your first real bivvi than where you are going.

 Sloppy mud and multiple gate crossings slows the pace so runners tend to bunch up and form groups which tend to distract the active navigators.
         We all have the ability to stay sharp ,but to maintain the level of thinking required to navigate for long periods is mentally exhausting in its self. One way or another you are probably at a low ebb.
Other Things Our Brains Subconsciously  Tell Us To Do.

When moving over slanted ground we tend to move up the slope even when contouring around a hill.
We will  automatically skirt around puddles or boggy ground.
We will move trance light in fairly straight lines ignoring features off our chosen track.
Sleep deprivation will exaggerate all the above tendency's

           Course Notes starting at Airton Bridge SD 903592

This first short500m section was by passed due to erosion in the 2018 race
Get out your maps and even better a separate computer showing Google Satellite images of the Pennine Way 
 Starting from the bridge near  Airton 

You cross the road  and follow marks in the grass heading roughly north with river on your left crossing a few wall fence boundaries.
 300m from the bridge the  track  is  soon squeezed along a  narrow well defined path with high ground on your right and a wire fence on your left. Half way along you can touch a  small concrete pump shed with grass on the roof (at a push you could sleep 2 inside) 
                      Pump house looking back towards Airton.
You re-emerge into the fields which are increasingly boggy. 

       Ahead is a fairly straightforward nondescript muddy flooded  field.
       Nothing warns you of the almost hidden footbridge ahead.

You are highly likely to miss a small footbridge on your left because:
You are now contouring and probably drifting up the slope to your right away from the river
 There are several  tempting dry sheep tracks contouring the same slope
 The indiscernible signs of the PW lead into a puddle on your left and disappear under water.
On the far side of that puddle is the dark smudge of a footbridge bearing hard left

Look at the above photo. The small footbridge is under  the big tree with a summer path leading up to it .
The light green rough area is often under water. You are approaching from the right where the ground rises up so you will tend to drift to the right following the sheep trods away from the puddle.
       During a dry daylight  non winter recce the puddle may  not be there and the footbridge is obvious.
At night with flooding and mist 50% of runners will miss this turn in the PW and carry straight on for another 50m + until they hit the barbed wire fence.(top right in the pic)
      At this point you are forced to wake up and pay attention.

You will probably assume there is a crossing point and look at your nav aids for a clue 
The harvey's map shows no details and no bridge.
Os mapping is not much better.
Spine issued waypoint line bearing will indicate you must cross the fence
GPS indicates you are a little to far to the right .
At this point most runners move left  (west) down the fence to the corner where there is still no crossing point.
You find  another  wire fence , small trees and a stream running N-S.(no chance of crossing that lot!)
You stop and consider your options : Try searching  east back up the slope away from the main river 
                                                             Start climbing barbed wire fence (Heading north)
                                                             Head south along the fence/tree/stream boundary
The hardest thing a runner can ever do is turn and move away from the finish line!!!(thats option 3  ruled out) 
Climbing the high flimsy barbed wire will probably lead to torn over trousers (you can possibly see a second wire fence in the distance.
Heading east up the hill looks good and there are loads of footprints from other  lost runners. You can rejoin the PW  by taking the parallel footpath.
If you are at the back of the field the whole are is often covered in the muddy tracks of previous lost runners searching for a way back to the trail.

       One way or another you have  lost 10 mins , probably have torn your trousers possibly have back tracked to the bridge and certainly become very demoralised.

       If you get the chance to Recce this point then take your time and try to imagine the area in low viz when you are mentally stuffed . Like all magic tricks the most subtle ones are the best.
        Once you comprehend how you can make this mistake then apply that critical way of looking at the trail to all your Recce expeditions.


          If you do  find and cross the correct bridge  the next bit of the trail is fairly obvious but the flooding can get far worse . Much of the trail may be underwater. There are also deep ditches in places.

          OK moving on towards Malham you come towards the next short dog leg up  the road at Hanlith Hall SD900611
           The field before the hall is usually full of horses!
            In 2015 the fields were completely flooded pushing runners east towards a separate field gate by the hall . This gate is not on the PW and is tied shut with rope . the gate was left wide open  several times by runners.  The horses escaped  onto the road several times. The farmer spent most of that night shouting at all of the following runners!
          If you have any doubts always leave a gate SHUT!  latched and tied never rely on the following runner to  shut and sort  the gate for you.

           Moving on past Hanlith Hall the path follows the right hand bank of the river .
           Try not to drift up hill away from the river.
            The final bit into Malham is on a cinder hard path.

           Entering Malham in the dark you pass an illuminated guest house sign and dodge left over the bridge then right up Malham cove road.

Pubs In Malham.

   There are two pubs in Malham but the pub on the the left  is less pretentious and serves a mean sausage and mash.

          Sleeping  Options in Malham

Things have changed since the early Spine Races when there was no CP1.5
There are two sets of public toilets in Malham . One at the national park visitor centre Which also has an outside veranda offering overhead cover . (The visitor ctr is about 150m down the road, south from the  pub. ) the second public toilets  next to the pub is smaller and smells more but almost faces you when you cross the stone bridge as you enter the village. The toilets may or may not be locked but the visiter centre  veranda is less exposed than the veranda 5Km up hill along the trail at CP1.5.
          The Malham toilets are particularly popular sleeping spots with German Spine Runners.
          Malham can be checked out with Google Street View.



         Malham Cove .  (Scan this area with Google Maps satellite image )

     Leaving Malham you follow the road up hill   for just under 1Km before crossing the wall on your right and following a cinder track to the Crags of Malham Cove . the trail  branches left climbs up hundreds of   steps  finally passing through  small gate at the top of the massive vertical crag to your right
      The PW  trail  climbs the rocks  a shot way then skirts right along the edge of the crag  across rock formations called limestone pavement. There is no discernible path just 200m of some of the most slippery treacherous rocks you have ever encountered in your life.  The whole area is cut by fishers in the rocks just the right size to break your legs!   On your right is a fatal drop off the crag edge to the valley below.  It is never fun especially in the dark. The prevailing wind  can form  wet fog and in freezing conditions a layer of ice on top of the rock.  You will spend much of your time on all fours wishing you were somewhere, anywhere else but Malham Cove.

       It is about 200 m between the crag gate and the other end of the crag where you drop down onto a grassy area leading north . After 100m you cross a wall  by one of two stiles and follow the wide gully.

       The Crag  section will take you at least 20 mins in dark spine conditions (that is assuming you have shoes with good grip on rock. If you are wearing a mud grip shoe like  Salomon Speedcross it could take you 40mins to slither an slip your way to safety)
               Thats 15 mins wasted time attributed to shoe choice.
(I passed this way in 2016 with Stephen Brown. It was  dark,windy and the moisture on the rocks was just starting to freeze. Stephens boots were very slippery so he crawled most of the way on all fours. We separated as the slow pace was getting me chilled. I waited for Stephen at the east end of the crag traverse. When he finally arrived he looked  cold shattered and very shaken up.)
               Rout finding across the leg breaking limestone pavement above Malam Cove  crag.

    There is a better and safer rout  across the top of Malham Cove.

After the steps  up the side of the crag go through the gate and follow the wall  for 5 meters to your left . Climb through the boulders heading NE until you reach a grassy area 10 m vertically above the gate. contour around at the same level heading   roughly  NE cutting the corner and avoiding the crag edge rocks. You will eventually  hit a wall with a right angle bend  which you follow moving right until you drop down rejoining the Pennine Way where it crosses the wall through two wooden stiles and heads NNW.
   (there is no actual path to follow on the safe route. There are many small hills  preventing moving in a straight line , so you have to rely on reaching the wall (top right) catching features at the end of this section)

           Rough Sketch of the area . This shows the normal PW rout (red line ) and the safer bad weather rout (Dotted red line).  The Grey pencil shaded area is limestone crag and pavement.

         After reading this post spend some time studying the Google Satellite images of this area.
        The Satellite image is not that clear and gives you no idea of how high and scary the main crag is.
           If you are planning a recce ,allow one hour just for this area . Take the original limestone pavement first until you reach the two stile wall crossing then cut back from there heading SW until you reach the gate above the steps. Finally Switch on the tracking feature of your GPS retrace your steps  and record your NE track back to the stiles.  USE THAT TRACK DURING THE RACE.

         If the area above the steps is covered in snow then crossing the top of the crag on the normal Pennine Way rout  is downright dangerous. Your feet will keep slipping down the fishers in the rock.

          Some reading this post may regard this rout as cheating. There is a strong  argument that taking this rout in bad weather  is an example of applying Sound Mountain Judgement to avoidable hazards.
 I leave the decision to the runners faced with this choice during the actual race.

         Once past the Stiles and heading N again you go for some way up a gully with scatterings of boulders.  Near the end of the gully your way is partially blocked but there are steps on the LHS of the gully .  I spent 30 mins in 2013 looking for a way through this gully feature as the steps were obscured by snow.


       NAV WARNING    SD891649  The trail crosses a fence and turns back sharply back on itself on your right! you may well miss this junction and carry on heading north .

       The path is obvious for a while and meanders around in a northerly wish direction . Keep the wall on your right and  a finger post will loom out of the mist GR893657. 

       NAV WARNING  This are is often shrouded in mist . If you follow the exact line of the PW finger of this post you will find yourself faced with a stream and wire fence . Most racers will wade the stream and rip their trousers on the fence. ( I have done this 4 times while racing  which is why I made a point of checking this area in daylight  to discover what the F>>> was going wrong!)

             The finger post is not accurate . You need to head slightly more northerly where you will find a gate and a flat road  bridge over the streem
Again its all so obvious in a daylight Recce but not on race nights.

          As far as I am aware you can only stay inside for 1 hours max at CP1.5
           There is an area with a veranda where you can sleep outside.
            Get some food down you while you have shelter then Bivvi here or take the risk of moving 500 m on down the trail to see if there is room to sleep in the bird hide on the left of the trail (Sleeps 6 at a squeeze)

           NAV WARNING
           Once past the bird hide  don't miss the small gate on your RHS just before the houses.

  This is a typical example of the big obvious track leading you astray soon after a CP where you are refreshed ,up for a little speed  but  have not really switched your nav brain back on yet.

             The trail is fairly indistinct through several fields until you cross the road and head up the track to The farm at Tennant Gill . Don't go up to the farm house but kink left then drop through the farm yard passing the spooky sounds of cows listening to a radio through the night . 

                The trail soon rejoins the uplands where it has been improved and  easier to see as you climb over fountains fell . The descent down the other side to the road can be muddy with slippery rocks so take care .
              Once you hit the road you turn left and go about 2Km to the usually Marshaled Turn off right up to Pen -Y Ghent.

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