Montane Spine 2017

The noble sport of dot watching, for those who have never done this be warned it is addictive once you start.

A lot of ultra-races these days use trackers that while providing safety for the competitors also provide the basis for the addiction of dot watching the competitors during the race be it friends or club mates racing.

My spine race some might say started 2 years ago watching my friend Matt Neale during his spine race along with a few others I knew. My friend was going to help him out with some support during the second half of the race and as I was working not far from the A66 crossing of the Pennine way I was able to intercept him with a mug of hot coffee and some food to give him a boost after the Tan Hill bogs before the final 14 miles to the next CP at Middleton.

Seeing the race first hand and after talking to Matt and then reading a bit more into the race got my mental cogs turning. But as the longest race I had done at the time being only a 100 mile I reckoned I needed a bit of a warm up tester multiday event first to see how I would react. So, the plan was hatched to enter a multiday event during 2016 and some others with a focus of doing the spine in Jan 2017.


My training year started off in March with the Hardmoors 55 to get things going, this went well with a nice steady run and a strong finish with no injuries. The plan next was to do the Hardmoors 160 in May. This started off well utill a bad stomach and a mystery foot injury at 70 miles made me do the safe thing and withdraw, don’t make things worse and live to race another day.

My foot was soon back to normal and working well and was tested out with a 60 mile recce for my next race the 190 mile Northern Traverse at the end of May. The race went well and got me used to the multi day ultra with 40-50 miles being done each day (see race report here).

Next up was the UTLD 100 that did not quite go according to plan as I ended up making a silly nav error with my head down and then went over on my ankle about 6 times before i’d even got to Wasdale. So, this slowed me up untill about Ambleside where my second wind kicked in, even managing my normal sprint up the steps at the last CP. To which someone shouted that man needs to be drug tested as I ran past them at the top of the steps. So about 2 hrs slower than 2 years ago, but happy to finish strong, sub 30 maybe in 2018 for a goal.

The next thing on the list were some Pennine way recce days. I had walked the entire route about 8 years ago with a friend in 13 days with quite large packs and that went well then about 4 years ago did a section from Hebdon bridge to Dufton with Jane my wife. So I was quite happy with most of the route but thought some more recceing would be beneficial and allow me to test my kit out.

So at the beginning of September I did a four day recce from Edale to Dufton with a mixture of wild camping and YHA only walking during daylight hrs. This went well and firmed up a few bits where my memory was not so good so I would be happy not to have to use a map for the first 2 legs. The main point from the first recce was my OMM pack just did not agree with me and that I needed some better light weight waterproofs as my faithful Haglofs smock was failing now after four years of hard use.

The final race for 2016 was the Hardmoors 60 mid Sept only being a week after my recce I was happy with a 30min improvement over last year. But the main thing I noted was I was feeling more tired as i’d been up to a lot of big races and recce’s this year. So I decided to call it quits on any more races and instead focus on spine race preps.

The next recce came early in November starting in Hawes in the afternoon then spent a further 3 days going to Alston. While again all in daylight cross fell was a complete white out and covered in snow from half way up the fell so finding the path was fun. I ran into another spine racer doing a recce to Greg’s hut. Cross fell itself was just white so navigation was by bearing and some pacing and this got me spot on to the cairn up top and then to Greg’s hut and down to Alston.

A few weeks later I was working near Hawes so decided to pop up Shunner fell in the dark and the snow. This proved rather sporting as normaly it would take me around 2 hrs from Hawes to the top walking. But this time the snow was bad with no sign of any path or others I was cutting fresh tracks up. Just to make things work a blizzard came in the joys so on I plodded, near the top the drifts were over 1m deep in places.

But finally, I made the top in 4hrs. Glad I was carrying all my safety kit in case. This was one time snow shoes would have been beneficial. At least it only took 2.5 hrs to get back down.

My final recce was over Christmas and was a short one from Alston for an out and back run to recheck the section of fields. My timing could not have been worse as it was when a three day the storm came through and the rain was coming in sideways and blowing a gale, but luckily it was from behind me. Until I hit the turnaround point when it was full on in my face. Trying to run the 6 miles along the road back to Alston was almost impossible with 1-2 inches of water on the roads and gale winds, but I was glad of my new Gortex jacket that worked a treat I was at least dry.

Now it was time to rest and sort and pack my kit.


Well I could write a whole story on kit and selection but for me my choices were down to reading what others used and talking to past runners. But most was down to personnel preference and tried and trusted stuff. So I’ll just list what I had, weight wise it was around 6kg without food and water.

  • Backpack Osprey Talon 33 – This was great if a little big, but would allow the carriage of lots off additional warm kit if needed.

  • Raidlight front pouch

  • PHD Minimum 400 ultralight sleeping bag -5 rated, wanted a bit more than the minimum spec, if I needed to us it I was in a bad place and would need it.

  • Tera nova moonlight bivi

  • Thermarest ¾ mat

  • Pocket rocket stove with jet boil gas and titanium cup with lid and titanium long spoon.

  • Flint & steel , had a lighter for kit requirements.

  • Garmin etrex 20x GPS with 1:25 & 1:50 maps

  • 2l camel back, insulated with filter attachment

  • Water filter

  • A-Z 1:25 maps in oltlib a4 case

  • Montane spine gortex jacket and pants

  • Merino base layers

  • Merino hat and buff

  • Montane gloves

  • North face gloves

  • Injinji socks

  • Sealskin and dex shell waterproof socks

  • Lowa alpine micro fleece

  • PHD -5 down jacket (was not cold enough to carry this)

  • Inov 8 Arctic claw thermos

  • Inov 8 X claw

  • Altra boots

  • Black diamond poles x 2

The Race

Over 6 months ago I booked a family room in Edale YHA for Jane and I to stop at but we were undecided to get the train or drive. But as the weather was not to bad I drove down.

We arrive for kit check and sign in around 2pm and this went quick as I was a lucky one and drew a partial kit check of a few items. Confirmed my details got my starters t-shirt and photo taken . We then headed off to Edale YHA to chill and have tea and an early night.

A lot of people still seemed to be kit fiddling on the available seats while we carried all the bags upstairs. Everything had been packed and repacked, weighed and weighed again to make sure drop bags were not over the limit previously the week before. So this only left me with final kit choice to use on day one depending what the weather was doing. We had a nice meal then retired to the room for a chill and early night.

In the morning I had a big bowel of porridge and banana and some cold omelettes i’d made the day before, along with copious amounts of tea and water.

I had decided as the weather was getting better and most of the snow low down was gone to play it safe and wear my inov Arctic claws with an extra rock plate thin insole in them, stop you feeling the carbide spike in the soles. My reasons being I wanted maximum grip on rocks and slabs and good muddy grip and for this combination I thought these will do. As it was pouring down it was going to be a full gortex setup with normal running leggings and merino long sleeve base layer and micro fleece, hat and gloves. I was quite conscious walking on the tarmac sounding like a footballer in boots with the spikes, but I thought what the hell won’t be long utill the soft stuff.

After a slight start delay of 30 mins due to tracker issues we all headed of to the start line. A few minutes of good lucks from Jane and some photos and we were off at nice walking pace. I’ve worked out it takes me a good hour to get going so no rush needed at the start, and with 268 ish miles to go.

The start is a short road section up to the official Pennine way start then you’re into fields of sheep and following the big snake with the obligatory bottlenecks at all the stiles and gates. It’s a gentle uphill for a while before a steeper slippy decent back down to the track and people were sliding all over the shot.

So this was a first thumbs up for the arctic claws, work well in the mud. The route then heads along and up Jacobs ladder, at this point I’m warming up nicely and we are beginning to spread out a bit. Jacob’s ladder had quite a bit of snow and ice on the slabs, so a lot of people were having to take their time here due to slipping but again my shoes gripped like on normal ground, I thought to myself I think I made a good choice here.

Once on the tops the wind picked up and the clag (Cloud Low Aircraft Grounded as an old RAF boy had once told me) had come in so visibility was down to around 50m, but navigation was easy and a big snake of people to follow. Again, my shoes were proving great on the large rocks with no slipping at all enabling me to take the shortest routes without fear of a fall.

Kinder downfall came up soon and the normal stream was a bit of a river now so we were going to get our first real wetting. So I went upstream about 30m and found a good wading place, fast water just over my knees but no problem, just wet cold feet now, but they would soon warm up.

By now I had over taken a few people and felt good and ended up on my own, and I don’t mind this at all and cracked on and at least the rain had stopped. I hit the turn onto the slabs and these are normally runnable, but a foot of wet snow stopped this for a while but after a mile it turned more into ice and again I had no problems running on this, spikes working well. As I got close to snake pass it seemed a fell race was running as well coming along the Pennine way towards us. Snake pass had a mountain rescue checkpoint there and after getting past the film crew managed to get a hot drink before heading off.

The path to Bleaklaw was more of a river in places and sodding wet with melting snow and water so the going was a lot slower than expected. Also, to add confusion another race was also in the area and talking to others later on had people following the wrong race runners, always check nav after a turn or before going downhill I like to say, 30 second GPS or map check beats walking back up a hill. The top of Bleaklaw was just a snowy boggy claggy mess and the normally runnable path a bit of a pain as you kept falling through the snow, whereas the mud you just slipped a small amount.

This is where my first minor accident happened, my foot went through the snow up to my thigh and I twisted my left ankle and tweaked my right knee a bit. So, after a few seconds of cursing and running a self-diagnostic check I headed of at a slower pace thankfully everything was seeming to be ok just a bit sore but I knew it was not too bad.

Torside came up next along with another cup of tea and biscuit off the MRT team there before heading off over the dam, my time was a bit slower than what i’d expected but they said everyone was going slower this year due to the conditions underfoot. I was happy I was still on target to get to CP1 before 2am.

The next section to Blackhill involves a few stream crossings after a few miles. But before these I could feel a hot spot on my heels and I thought that’s strange. So I played it safe found a nice rock to sit on and took my shoes off. This is where I realised my first mistake with kit selection, for some reason I’d but low cut socks on under my dex shells and now these has slid under my heels. Now I'm not sure how this happened but I suspect with my feet getting soaked and cold my shoes stretched a bit more and I did not feel them sliding under. Note to self-use longer socks. The damage was not bad at all just 2 slight blisters about 2mm each heel, my feet were too wet to stick plasters on and I knew I had to get wet again so I just pulled them up properly and tied my shoes tighter. This did the trick and they were fine after this. The normal streams had now turned into rivers so some selective jumping spots needed to be found to cross most of these or waded where you could but the last one was well deep and I half made the jump with up to my knees. The smaller people would be struggling here.

At Dean clough stream there was a marshal pointing us downstream to a safe spot to jump from a rock, this all went well. I had caught up to Dave by the last river crossing before and it seemed we both had a mutual friend of Matt Neale, small world this.

At the road crossing we stocked up with water and as the light was going got our head torches out. This is where the front pouch was handy for things like torches and gloves. The Japanese film crew were also there and I probably looked a right numpty trying to get the lock of my petzl torch.

Going to the A62 was good tracks to start so we made up some time here running down these, before heading back up the hill and top the road where another MRT tent was. So we both grabbed a brew and snack and pressed on.

The mist was coming right in and visibility was around 20 metres, we kept seeming to be getting passed by the same runner after each road and it turns out he had a support crew and was meeting them at every road crossing, so we would overtake him then he would overtake us. I’m sure this was slowing him down wasting time. But that’s up to them. It was not long before we could hear the noise of the M62 and hopefully the burger van and a cup of tea. I mentioned to Dave that I had planned to get a dehydrated ration and a brew which he thought was a great idea so that is what we did.

From here it was a short walk to the White House pub which was now not spine friendly and a good track alongside a few reservoirs towards Stooly pike. By now there were four of us in our group and the visibility was down further but Stooly pike monument jumped right out in front of us. Another group we came across seemed to be going in the wrong way just before this. A good runnable downhill section to the main road at Hebden bridge came up fast followed by the steep slog up the hill to the fields on top. Here while chatting we made a slight nav error but only cost us 400m on the flat. I’d not recce’d the decent from the Pennine way to the first CP but as Dave and Neil had done this before they knew the way and it was not hard to follow as it was well signposted down a boggy quagmire of a path.

It had taken me 15h 17m for the 46 miles and I arrived at 23:53 on Sunday night, I was happy with that. My only plan was to get to CP1 as quick as I could so I could get a rest before heading off.

In the CP we washed our shoes off and the marshals got our bags and took them inside. My first port of call was wet things of, and sort my feet out. Blister wise there was no change so I taped up my feet to let them dry then repacked my kit and got some food before trying to get some sleep. This all went to plan except the sleep part where I ended up just lying there for 2 hrs in my bag thinking I can’t sleep typical first night of races for me.

We had agreed to all get up around 3am get food then head off before 4am. This all went to plan, and I stuck some zinc oxide tape on my heels just in case while also swapping to my inov8 X-claws now for the next leg along with fresh socks and sealskins. I knew my feet would get wet or damp, but the sealskins would more importantly keep the fine grit and dirt out of my socks and feet. The only other foot prep I did was apply body glide all over my feet before putting the socks on, this time longer injinji ones.

With this we headed out in the dark to our next CP 1.5 at Malham tarn.

We took a slightly higher track up from the CP that seemed to miss the boggy bits out and were soon back on the road and then re-joining the Pennine way.

Good progress was made now and Top Withins soon came up on us. We were surprised to see another mutual friend Jess there to say hello and offer us a hot brew, go on then. He had been tracking us and set off realy early to meet us around 6am great bit of morale there.

The climb up to Ichshorn moor is a steady one being steep at the bottom then tapering off near the top, but the going was good and before long we were dropping in to the village of Cowling where the MRT had a tent set up with tea and biscuits, very nice indeed and welcome praise was duly given. It was walking through the fields here we found a glove then noticed one of the pair in front of us with only one glove on , so we shouted over and waived the glove. He seemed to acknowledge this but kept on walking untill we caught him up in a few hundred metres and gave it to him. Very strange indeed, oh well.

From here to Lothersdale it crosses quite a few farmers’ fields which were sodden and boggy and slippery on the down hills but not too bad compared to the first day. Outside the pub there was a sign saying specials for spine racers and lots of water in bottles to top up, many thanks. Neil and one other decided to pop inside for a break so Dave and I pressed on to Thornton in craven with some steady fields uphill then across the moors to a good road downhill section before some more boggy fields and a bit more road to the village. From here to the canal I knew it was reasonably flat but with lots of fields that no doubt was sodden as well. Our guess was true, so this slowed things down a bit, Neal had caught us up again by now but the other guy was not feeling too good and was flagging way back, we later found he had pulled out. Once on the Leeds Liverpool canal the pace picked up again and spirits were high as Gargrave was not far away just a few fields to cross and you guessed it sodden and boggy wetness. Energy levels were getting a bit low by now.

So we agreed to stop for a brew, Dave had some friends meeting him here so Neil and I headed in to the café for tea and toastie. After about 30 ish mins we felt a lot better and set off to find Dave or in our case not find him. It seems we both thought the other had gone ahead and Dave was in front of us now after a call to Jane to check the tracker. Not to worry long way to go and we will no doubt catch up some place.

The route to Malham is quite flat and low down which no doubt means wet and boggy so no surprises there as it was. But we both were going well and caught quite a few people up. At Malham we thought a coffee would be nice before it got dark and another racers support crew offered to go in the pub, so we did not have to strip off. So, a few minutes later and off again up to the cove. We wanted to get clear of this before we lost the light so put our foot down up the cove and across the slabs and only had to turn on the light just before the road at Malham tarn. Good going. A gentle easy walk had us at CP 1.5 at Malham tarn field centre. The plan for here was have a re hydrated food, drink and sock change before the final push to CP 2 at Hawes via fountains Fell and Peny Ghent and then having a good 3-5 hrs sleep at Hawes.

So once set we headed off in the dark and mist. The climb up to fountains fell seems to go on with a mixture of fell paths and gravelled sections nearer the top. The wind was not to bad, but the visibility was around 20m, so a good steady pace was made up to the top. Coming down seemed a bit slower due to the slipperiness of the ground and rocks but once at the bottom a good road section had us back up to speed in no time. Leaving the road, we started the climb up to Peny Ghent nice paths to start with and we caught someone up just at the base of the steep rocky climbing part. I think it was one of the Spanish guys, but he followed us up the probably not ideal route that seemed to involve a bit more bouldering and climbing that i’d remembered from previous times. Must of thought we were mad. But the mist was in close on the top and we lost sight of him shortly after the flagstones.

From my recce’s I knew the route down was a bit rocky at the start then turned into a good wide track all the way to Horton. What I did not remember was it taking so long, we must have been tired as near the bottom we were both staggering a bit and slowing up.

The Peny Ghent café was a welcome site at around 10pm, especially as it was open and serving food. So we both ordered food and I got a pint of coffee.

Neil had decided he needed some sleep and a rest bad so jumped into his sleeping bag while I was now jumping, and raring to go after my food and most likely the pint of coffee.

So, I set off at around 11pm, my plan was get to Hawes as quick as I could and then get a good long rest.

The first 2-3 hrs I was feeling very strong getting into a good pace and caught a few people up before Birkwith moor. The mist was still down here but around 50m visibility. It was not long before I hit the Cam road and a good track. I started to feel the tiredness catching me up so had some more to eat to keep me going. I eventually made the tarmac road thinking someone might be there from a crew, but the place was deserted so I turned off on to the rougher track down the side of Dodd fell.

It was here my head light batteries decided to go on me, so no problem as I had two more spare sets ready to go of lithium batteries. So I quickly swapped the packs over and turned on and set off. After about 10 seconds it went off, strange I turned it on and it worked, the 10 seconds after off again. I thought bad batteries so swapped the pack for the other spare. They proceeded to do exactly the same thing. Not good, not good at all. I put the original rechargeable pack in that was about to die and it worked OK so it was not the torch. So I put back in the lithium pack and same 10 seconds then off. I had a quiet laugh to myself and thought what the hell. So I hand held the torch with my thumb on the switch and carried on having to turn it back on every 10 seconds. This went on for an hour before it then stayed on and I could put it back on my head. How strange, not sure if it was down to cold, but it was not too cold and lithium energiser batteries are normaly good in a lot colder conditions or was it something to do with they needed to be run for a bit to get them going. Answers on a post card please.

The final section after leaving the track and down into Hawes was again very boggy and slippery and by now I was feeling a tad bit tired. So a slow decent down to the road then one or two more fields and I was on the outskirts of Hawes and then going through the streets to the CP at the YHA.

It had taken me 5 hrs to get from Horton to Hawes. 110 miles done in 43h 32mins (4am Tue morning)

Once in the CP it was wet stuff off and get some food and drink while sorting my pack out for the next day. The I decided to get a shower and hit the bed for 4 hrs and get up at 9am and leave before 10am. I reckoned i’d earned that sleep and was happy to lose 2 hrs of daylight for the rest. My feet were in good shape and the small blisters were no worse than the last time. All going well I thought.

I set off from Hawes refreshed and feeling a lot better at 10am, I made great speed up great Shunner fell getting to the summit after 2 hrs with no problems. A gentle jog down and I was in Thwaite where I was greeted by Matt and Jess to cheer me on.

I caught up to one of the Spanish guys who was not sure on the next bit of the route, so he tagged onto the back of me for a while towards Keld.

With around 4 miles to Tan Hill I dug in and pressed on determined to make the most of the daylight, the path was good going and boggy in a few places, but I was able to make good time and arrive at Tan Hill at around 4pm with Matt and Jess there again for a chat inside.

A nice bowl of hot soup and a boil in the bag filled me up. So, a good 10 mins pit stop then off again as it was starting to get dark.

My plan was to cross the bogs of Sleight Holm moor as fast as I could while I had some light left and get to the track after the bridge which I just managed but not without incident.

About 400m from the track in the last of the bogs up to my knees I pulled out my right leg and felt a popping feeling from the back of my knee and some instant pain. Unsure of what I’d done I kept on going, only 130 miles to go! I later found out I had a slight dislocation at the knee, “Tis but a flesh wound”, sort off.

So, I was hobbling along the track with my knee giving way every now and then with a bit of pain. I thought well I can walk with a bit of pain so i’ll keep going and see how it goes as it was only 12 ish miles to the next CP.

It gradually started to feel a bit better when I was caught up by Neil Rutherford, so we kept together all the way to the CP. Although I could not run I could walk at 2.5 – 3 mph so all was not lost. Just dig in till the CP and get it sorted out.

I arrived at Middleton in Teesdale at around 11pm to see Jane had driven over to see me. After the normal sorting kit out and getting some food, I booked into see the medics. They looked at it and decided to strap it up with some kinesio tape and see how I got on. My feet were still in excellent condition so no problems there. So, I set my alarm for 4am and hit the sack. Beds were nice, and I had a room to myself so quiet.

I was up and off by 4:30am the next morning. My knee was swelling up a bit and I could not fully straighten it, so running was out of the window.

As there is a lot of hard tracks on this leg I put on my altra ankle boots for more comfort and but less grip. My knee was sore as I set off with some pain every few hundred metres and I was thinking how this was going to play out, but gradually it settled in and the pain became less frequent so I carried on.

I was managing around 3mph again so was happy along the river towards high force waterfall, really good going here and not to bad untill after forest on Teesdale where the rocky section is by the river before Cauldron Snout. This proved a bit slower with my sore knee, but I eventually made it there after the wet scramble up the rocks to see Ben (who I met on the northern traverse, ran in his sandals) in his camper van and get myself filmed for the spine DVD.

Check out the video clip below from the Spine race to see me. At around 1 min 2 seconds that's me walking up by Cauldron Snout.

By now my knee must have swollen up some more as this seemed to be helping things and keep it together so I pressed on to high cup nick. Nice and straight forward section this road then a good track to the mine then a little up and over and back down to follow the river Maize Beck untill you cross the bridge.

Once at high cup nick the views were, not there due to the clouds and mist so a gentle but rocky decent into Dufton to the mini CP at the hall.

Was met in the CP a good friend here and shared a brew while I made a boil in the bag and took on some food.

As it was still light I wanted to press on and try to get as close to cross fell in the daylight, I said my goodbyes and left at 13:20 on the way to the bogy and soaking wet path up by Dufton pike and the farm thanks to the cows for churning it all up, nice.

A bit of a slog up Green fell to the big cairn at Knock old man but was happy with around 2 hrs for this climb. The path to great dun fell can be hard to find at times until you meet the slabs then its good going and the Golf ball at the top soon came into view. It was starting to get dark now, so I pressed on and the torch did not get put on untill just after Little dun fell.

I picked up the first large cairn shortly after Tees head and set my bearing on the compass as the Clag was coming down and it was dark. A lot of people don’t like or want to come over Cross fell in the dark, but I don’t mind it at all even when I’m solo. So following my compass hitting all the mini cairns on the way to the large cairn at the summit of Cross fell, switch bearings and head off untill I hit the other large cairn at the decent path and then follow this down untill you hit the main track and fence. Don’t be tempted to cut the corner off to the right for Greg’s hut as you will be in a world of hurt on the screes and boulders.

I arrived at Greg’s hut just before 6pm to the warm noodle bar provided by John, many thanks for this. Great morale boost and a place to warm up have some food before the final track down.

The track down to Garrigill is somewhat a tedious slog on the best of days even more so with no running due to my knee, head down and power walk on at a steady 3mph.