Bill arranged a packed weekend of running, the first event being an informal mini night navigation event shortly after we arrived on the Friday evening. This was a short, though hilly, course visiting 3 checkpoints, with a return visit to the first checkpoint on the way back. Unfortunately I blew my team’s chances by making the rookie mistake of heading in the wrong direction off a summit. Once re-oriented we thought it would be safer to quit and head back to the start, to avoid triggering a search and rescue operation (and delaying the visit to the pub). Fortunately my partners DNF-free record was kept clean following skilled negotiations with the organizer, and we gave everybody else something to laugh at.
We managed a brief outing to a cosy pub in Sedbergh and everyone had a sensibly early night, in anticipation of the next day’s challenge.
We awoke eagerly on the Saturday morning, helped by an incident involving a gluten-free brioche and a smoke alarm. The main event of the weekend was a score event, the aim being to visit a series of checkpoints, each allocated a points score, with more points for the harder to reach checkpoints. There was a time limit of 3 hours, with the threat of points being eroded from your score for every minute late back.
The Howgills provided a very different challenge to the previous years events based in Calderdale, where navigation usually involves deciphering the intricate network of paths and tracks. The Howgills landscape is a much bigger scale, real mountain upland territory with steep, energy sapping climbs of several hundred metres. A few areas of prickly gorse and the odd unexpected precipitous drop add to the mix. We were very grateful for good, clear conditions as the broad grassy ridges with few landmarks would have made for difficult navigation in poor visibility.
With the clock already ticking we were presented with the map – the checkpoints were well distributed with no obvious pattern, so failing to spot a clear strategy we decided to just get out there and figure things out as we went along. We seemed to start slow as we slogged up the lower slopes, but one we reached the main ridge things became a more runnable and enjoyable. We realised there were some ferocious climbs out there, so we began to focus on the checkpoints which demanded the least re-ascent, for the sake of our legs.
As always, people chose a wide range of routes, and we went from not seeing anybody else for 30 minutes, to a sudden busy patch, with people darting off in all directions. This was a pleasant change from normal fell races, as the temptation to blindly follow other people is removed – although it’s always worth keeping an eye on others to get you the last few metres to a checkpoint.
We had a fairly successful trip around the checkpoints, managing to hit most of them without any major drama. We played things safe, and opted out of a risky last minute out-and-back dash to a remote checkpoint. Instead we returned fashionably early, with our points unthreatened by time penalties.
Once safely back to HQ, we even managed to sit outside in some afternoon sun as the rest of the runners came in. With everyone back, fed, and cleaned up we had a brief prizegiving. The usual navigation stars headed the leaderboard with James Logue recording his 10th win, but with Phil and Jackie running separately, we we lucky to pick up a beery prize for first mixed pair.
With the running over, and some of the prizes being an alcohol, it seemed rude not to start the celebrations early. We then made a trip into festive-feeling Sedbergh for food, more beer, and slightly surreal evening in the pub, including the unforgettable sight of Rod squeezing past the rear end of a pantomime horse on his way back from the bar. We made a staggered return from the pub (in more ways than one) for a bit of trouser-ripping action followed by a raucous late-night game of vets vs youngsters Pictionary, which the youngsters won (in a slightly suspicious manner).
Sunday morning saw a few sore heads and ashen faces, but in spite of this the sun was shining on the hills, inviting us out there to collecting the checkpoints. Me and Lee Shimwell managed a quick run back up to the highest summit in the area (the Calf) squeezing in a couple of all-important strava segments. The sunshine and crisp fresh air surprisingly worked wonders for our foggy heads.
Cheers to Bill for organising (in the middle of a house move), Ben F for providing the entertainment, everyone who contributed food and good company, and Lindsey for treating my navigation with the sense of humour it deserves. Richard Sunderland