Monday, 30 January 2012

Kinder Trial: >>11 miles of orienteering across the rough. 28/01/2012.

Levitation and teleportation; that’s the only way I can conceive of moving over that stuff in under three hours. It took me 4:25. Tom Brunt won it in under 1:45. How can that be possible?

You may recall from a previous wittering of mine that orienteering combined with running are not my bag. I can’t really do either properly, but put the two together and I am on the brink of total meltdown. That’s why I rarely do it, far too stressful. However, as part of my new strategy for 2012 of doing more short, sharp, local races, I’m doing as much of the Hayfield race series as I can. I can just about squeeze in four of them, which entitles me to enter the championship, which I shall be doing (I fancy the idea of a winner’s trinket on my mantelpiece anyway). Lamb’s Longer Leg was the first one and this was the second. Watch out podium, prepare to feel the soles of my feet....;-)

Race organiser Andy Howie described as “shocking” the conditions on Friday when he was up on the western flanks of Kinder Scout hiding the 13 controls. However, come Saturday morning at Hayfield scout headquarters, the sun shone out of a calm blue sky and the hills were plastered with the previous day’s issue from above. Let the fun begin.

The staggered starts lasted from 10:00 to 11:00. I was issued with my map at 10:26. I leaned nonchalantly on the door frame to appear in control of the situation while I decided whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise to pick off the 13 controls. It was an easy decision for me. Anticlockwise it was. Within 30 seconds I was off, micro navigating my way along the footpaths and lanes out of Hayfield and up the track to K7. Several runners had already overtaken me and one of them found the control hidden around the back of a tree off-path up the hill. I was surprised how small, inconspicuous and hidden it was. I had a lot to learn.

The expansive snow-covered fells basking in bright winter sunshine were grabbing my attention as I climbed towards Mount Famine, checking my compass that I was on the right heading. Navigation was still going perfectly as I went straight to K10 as described: “Below crag south of summit”. This wasn’t so bad, I thought. I set a compass bearing towards the next one (K12) and made a beeline for it steeply down and across really rough terrain, stumbling more than running. On hindsight I would have been better contouring more around to the right. I found a trod through the snow and fell into the trap of following it. It led me astray, bypassing K12 down into the River Sett valley. Even the trees above which K12 was situated were out of sight above me. A long backtrack uphill was required to find it.

The climb towards K11 was across thousands of snow-covered baby’s head tussocks. Trips and stumbles were frequent as I plodded upwards. The levitators runners who were overtaking me seemed to be having less trouble.

K11 would have been easy to find even without the trodden trail in the snow because it was off the path in a wall nook – a very easy feature to find. A Pennine runner who I’d seen closing in the far distance was suddenly there and clipping his tally. How on earth did he cover that ground so quickly? I suspected teleportation this time, the cheating scoundrels ;-)

The run down in a northerly direction towards K9 seemed quite pleasant to begin with. I decided to try a bit of proper fell running down the easy snowy trod left by others as I followed in pursuit of the Pennine runner, who was already pulling away rapidly. Within 10 seconds my face was pressed firmly into the snow (I straightened my testicles spectacles later after I got home). That’ll teach me to get ideas above my station and think I’m a fell runner. With a snap back to reality I bounced back onto my feet to resume the clumsy shuffle-cum-walk down towards the sloppy slip-slidey valley and up the other side towards K9. At this point the first clockwise runners started to overtake in the opposite direction, to add to the anticlockwise runners already overtaking me. It was starting to get busy.

First clockwise runner descends from K9.

K13 was in a NNE direction, but there was a trod and there were people to follow, so no problem. I hit a track and turned right. (My depleted brain had only taken in the headings from each control to the next, but little else, so I only found out two days later that this was the track down from Edale Cross.) I turned left through the next gate and proceeded to run down the track, but something didn’t feel right. I should not be descending like this and it’s turning too far round to the right. I turned around and ran back up to the gate, to be confronted by lines of runners coming and going in all directions. Were they clockwise or anticlockwise runners? Where did I just come from? I was totally confused. (I now realise I must have been running down towards Jacob’s Ladder, but I didn’t recognise it in the snow and had no inkling I’d been along there so many times on the Bullock Smithy Hike.) I looked at the fingerpost and saw one finger pointing more to the left, more in the direction I should have maintained. Streams of other runners were coming back from that direction. A quick check with one of them confirmed that K13 was indeed down there. Off I plodded again.

K13 was even busier, like Piccadilly Circus. I made way for the proper runners to clip their tallies first while I took a few pictures. We couldn’t have these proper athletes being held up by an incapable rank amateur of such monumental incompetence.

Ian Winterburn leaves K13 going clockwise.

From K13 I set my compass on a NW heading and made a beeline uphill and across the top over terrain that could only be tripped over, on the way getting overtaken by the final anticlockwise runner. I was now bringing up the rear. My compass bearing took me straight to the steep valley that hid K8. Here I had my last human contact as the last of the clockwise runners climbed up in the opposite direction (see top picture). (At this stage I was pleased to have chosen anticlockwise; I didn't envy the clockwise runners who had difficulty finding this checkpoint.)

A very difficult crossing of a snow-covered boulder field in a northerly direction, where legs disappeared down holes and running was quite impossible, brought me eventually (thankfully without any broken bones) to K6. I looked behind to where I’d come from. The expansive fells were devoid of any other human life.

K5 was still on the same heading. I looked at the horizon to pick out a feature to aim for as I picked my way precariously across the boulder field with its copious man traps. There were so many opportunities to break a leg or an ankle that great attention had to be paid to each footfall. Running was impossible. Did I mention that? I hit the fence and descended the sloppy muddy hill to cross a small river (later found out to be the River Kinder with Kinder Downfall at its head). I climbed the equally sloppy opposite side of the valley and continued upwards. I was halfway up the next 'mountain' when I checked my map, wondering when K5 was going to appear. It should have been well before the river crossing. The air turned blue.

I turned around and slid back down the hill, across the river and back up the other side. I eventually came upon K5, nestling discreetly at the base of the rock where Andy had secreted it. Not only can I not run and navigate, I can’t walk and spot anonymous, almost hidden micro orienteering flags either. I've been far too used all these years to checkpoint locations shouting at me on the events I do. Did I say I have a lot to learn?

I turned back downhill to repeat my journey across and up to the next control at the foot of the crag. The geographical location was obvious and brightly sunlit, so K1 was easy to find despite its diminutive proportions.

K1 and the way ahead.

K2 would be easy to find. It was just a contour along the hillside in a westerly direction to a stream source. I followed the trod in the snow, enjoying the warm sunshine along the way. I came upon the stream source. There were footprints all around. I added to them copiously. I stood on high and scanned downwards. Nothing. I went lower down and scanned upwards. Still nothing. I must have missed the control at an earlier stream source as I concentrated on placing my footfalls safely. The air became blue again. I turned around and plodded back almost to K1 while scanning every little valley and depression for that elusive flag. NOTHING. The blue turned to indigo as I convinced myself that the previous runner must have thought he was the last one and was doing a tidying-up job for Andy.

I turned around again and plodded slowly back to the stream source while rehearsing my excuse speech for Andy as to why I could not get all the controls. I scanned around one final time. Still nothing. I carried on. Ten yards further on was another stream source. There was K2 basking in the sunlight and laughing at me in all its dinky glory.

K2 mocked me, oh yes it did.

K3 in a south-westerly direction was easy to find (at least the boulder under which it retired shyly was easy to find). A sheep viewed me suspiciously as I went about my important business of bringing up the rear.

From K3 a traverse westwards and a steep descent to cross the inlet to the Kinder Reservoir brought me to the footbridge and climb up the other side. The footpath ascent to the shooting cabin brought the final control, K4, camouflaged nicely in shadow around the back. From there it was an easy run down the Snake Path back to Hayfield, except that I walked most of it. I was too drained by the previous four hours plus of hard slog across that terrain. There was no point in finishing myself off completely. The débâcle would not be turned into any less of a débâcle by any attempt at personal competitiveness at this irretrievable stage of the game. Anyway I might twist an ankle on a pebble on my way back to Hayfield and that would just add insult to injury, so I continued to do what I do best: PLOD and enjoy the views. I did save myself for a half-arsed trot up the steps to the scout hut though, just to convince myself and anyone else who happened to be watching that I'd given it my best shot, which you might say had already landed in my foot.

Strangely enough, most of my lost time was caused by failing to find controls even though I was on the correct route. With the two detours and all the to-ing and fro-ing I probably covered 13 miles. Perhaps if I ever do one of these again, my eyes might be better tuned to spot the small controls and to look sooner. I’m not used to events where checkpoints are so close together and so inconspicuous. It can only get better next time. I am even more in awe of those who can do these events so quickly.

Many thanks go to Andy and crew for allowing me another new experience. The home made broccoli soup back in the scout hut was excellent too.

I finished the ordeal unscathed, then back home I smashed my middle left toe on the edge of the bath as I climbed in. The various shades of red, purple and black provide an extended reminder of a rather special day in my life ;-)

We were blessed with an amazing day with amazing views to behold. Here's the best of the pictures I took.


  1. I found the Peak Trial similarly frustrating at times, although I didn't have quite as bad a time as you did, by the sounds of it. As you say, definitely a learning curve!

    I happened to be out on a leisurely trot around Kinder to break in some new shoes last Saturday, having forgotten it was the Kinder Trial, and even remarked to my girlfriend, after passing a few numbered-runners, that we might see you out there. And we did indeed see you, on your way back alongside Kinder reservoir, but I think by then you must have been sufficiently worn down not to recognise me other than as an inquisitive passer-by! I considered explaining further but you looked like you had enough on your mind at the time! It was indeed an amazing day for it though - beautifully clear.

    I'm heading for the Mickledon Straddle race this weekend - a 14 miler. They're getting longer!


  2. Well done on your day. Any day where you get ALL the controls is a good day!

    If you need more practice there are loads of events advertised on the British Orienteering website if you want to find one local to you. You won't get the distance on most of them but the practice and advice from others could be helpful if you need it.

    Well done again! I wish I could have been there too.

  3. Sorry Percy, I did recognise you immediately but I was 'smelling the barn' and my dulled brain did not allow me to recall your name within the timeframe of our meeting.

    Thank you Mark. Practice is definitely what I do need.

  4. Enjoyed the write up Nick. It made me laugh. Thanks.

  5. Nick, nice snow pics but your photo at the top with green and violets has me dreaming of spring already! Do enough orienteering events and you'll start to love them, promise! If you can navigate quickly, being a plodder doesn't matter as much anymore, and everyone will think you are fast. Or at least that's what I tell myself!


  6. It's OK - I did have a hat on, which won't have helped :o)