Sunday 17 June 2012

LAMM 2012 - Ben Cruachan

Martin Stone had once again chosen a fantastic location for the LAMM; with the mountains to the north of Dalmally hosting some rugged and remote Munros Adam and I were looking forward to another challenging weekend in the hills.

The southerly location meant that for a change we arrived at the Friday night camp in good time and were able to enjoy the calm evening weather and catch up with friends before retreating to the midge safe tent for the final repack and distribution of kit. Our packs weighed in at 4.18kg and 4.48kg - the first record for the weekend! Our combined accumulation and proven success with minimal and super lightweight kit from past MMs was taken to another level with Adam’s most recent indulgence: a Terra Nova Laser Ultra 1.

With such light packs and recent BG success still in our minds we were hoping that this year we could improve on last years strong performance in the Elite – 7th overall having maintained our position in the chasing start on Day 2.
Day 1:
The first of the LAMM traditions set the weekend in motion - bag pipes stirred us from a comfortable nights sleep, we shovelled in some rice pudding and cake before a quick visit to the trenches then a promised 10minute walk to the as yet unknown start location. The midges began to feast on the crowd of eager runners waiting for their turn for the suprise busses. The maps gave no indication of where we would be starting, but the sheer size of it and the separate busses for various courses indicated separate start locations. When our time came we joined another 11 teams comprising A and Elite runners - all looking strong, fresh and fit and immediately making me question which teams we would be able to beat.
The journey to the start was fun and uneventful – after the bus, a small passenger ferry floated us across Loch Etive’s tranquil waters, then a minibus took us to our start. The glorious morning sun and clear skies were a stark contrast to the predicted low loud and heavy showers - I was overheating even before the start.

Shortly after Duncan Archer and Jim Mann had set off in defence of their LAMM Elite title Adam and I headed up the short grassy climb to CP1. I was dripping in the heat, which when combined with DEET managed to ‘melt’ the glue on the band fastening the the Si Card round my wrist. Fortunately I saw it fall to the ground or our race may have ended before the first CP of the day!
The first CPs consisted of some easy nav over rough grassy tussocks and heather. Despite the relative lack of climb in the first half of the day it was tough running and by CP4 over two hours had passed. Estimating to only be ¼ of the way through the day we realised we were in for a very long day.
The streams were dry, adding to the difficulties of staying energised and hydrated. Adam seemed happy to let me take over the nav and with great visibility I tried to find efficient lines that would enable easier running, easier said than done over the rough terrain and the track down to the head of Loch Etive was a rare but welcome opportunity to stretch the legs.
The direct ascent up the NW slopes of Stob Coir an Albannaich to a broad spur at 750m was brutal and never ending. In the intense sun we slowed to a frustrating plod. Having caught Chris Dale and Steve Smith on the climb we darted off from CP9 to try to run the contour round the remaining climb of the Munro. As one of the only Elite teams to take this line I was relieved to see we didn’t lose much time over the direct up and over approach – our consequential 150m of steep scrambly descending into the gulley off Sron nan Cabar required care and cost us time but I was feeling stronger in the coolth of a passing shower and pushed Adam hard from here over the more runable ground through the last two CPs to the finish.
Having taken 9hrs29mins to complete Day 1, a new record for our longest ever MM day, we were disappointed and tired. Despite feeling we had put in a respectable effort the 2hrs 20 minute margin behind the Elite leaders Duncan and Jim, who we’d kept within an hour last year, showed we were off par. The effects of our recent BGs probably to blame.
Arriving at the remote and well situated midcamp just before the midges descended meant we could at least enjoy the novelty of pitching Adams shiny Laser Ultra 1 and stretch out and briefly chat to friends. Robin and Frank were 4th on the Score and Paul and John from NFR were 18th on the A, with similar sentiments and feelings on what we agreed was the toughest Day 1 of a MM we had ever experienced. It seemed that in particular the Elite and A courses had been tougher than usual with both leading teams taking an hour longer than typically planned.
We cooked our first rounds of food and tried to rehydrate but the extent of the midges meant that cooking or leaving the tent seemed far too much effort and we skipped the second course, choosing instead to just lie down and try to stretch out our cramping legs in the otherwise perfectly adequate space within the Ultra 1.
Once again on the LAMM the balloon beds were needlessly carried – a further saving in weight to be achieved there. It turns out we were both warm enough overnight directly on the ground out of our sleeping bags but on a wetter colder weekend it would be a different story. Even my strategic 2am trip to the loo didnt avoid me being eaten alive by midges.
Day 2
After a disturbed night of sleep my first waking thoughts were that the MWIS forecast for the day must have been accurate, but I had mistaken the persistent sound of the cloud of midges hitting the tent for rain. The weather was cooler than D1, thankfully the cloud remained above all but the highest of the tops for most of day and it stayed dry.
Knowing we had another long day ahead of us we set of shortly before E2 began their chasing start, following the straight forward route up the first climb of the day to Cp1. From here route choice varied significantly, we chose the down round and up approach to CP2, which seemed popular as we were passed by a flying Ondrej and Iain battling it out for 3rd place with Dan and Al.
Stopping only for some quick blister repair work and Vitamin I for Adam we made steady progress over the open grassy slopes and climbs and steep descent to Cp3, where frustratingly I must have dropped my water bottle. The next long steep climb up onto the western end of the Cruachan ridge sorted the men from the boys. We caught up with Nicky Spinks but were passed by a comfortable looking Spyke and Tim and the lads from Sweden.
The ground was more runnable today but whilst contouring round Ben Cruachan just below the cloud line we could only maintain our steady progress. I felt dehydrated and sick and let Adam take over the map duties. After a fast decent to Cruachan reservoir we were joined by Digby Harris and Judith Jepson who were climbing strongly on the way up the last long steep climb of the weekend on to Beinn a Bhuiridh summit.

I recovered on this climb and resumed map duties on the last scrambly section to the top. I nearly had to dig out my compass for the first time all weekend, but after a needless few minutes of self doubt we located the small indistinct cairn around the cloud covered top. With all the climb done we jogged off down the eastern shoulder to cover the last 6km of grassy downhill to the track leading to the finish.
The finish
The final run in held mixed feelings for us both – the sense of satisfaction at completing what has to be one of the hardest LAMM elite courses was reduced by the time it had taken us to do so – 17hr21m.
We had finished in 9th place, just in time wolf down our wilf's and clap the leaders at the prize giving who had finished some four hours quicker than us over the two days, an hour clear of their nearest rivals. The last few months have involved a number of serious big mountain weekends and alot of personal success in the hills for Adam and I. Maybe one day it will be our turn at the LAMM - but there is a long way to go to acheive that..!
Despite being dissappointed with our performance here at the LAMM, it has to be said that we had enjoyed another great event, expertly organised in a wonderful location, which certainly proved a challenge - we'd expect nothing less. The sense of scale and remoteness of the hills west of Loch Etive was compiled by the fact that on both days we met very few teams on other classes. Whether  becasue of the routes, or simply because most of the shorter courses had finish so soon before us, it had seemed quite a lonely weekend - in some ways it lacked the urgency and sense of competition that company on the hills usually brings at a MM.

Thanks to Martin Stone, all the organisers, planners and support for another memorable weekend in the hills. We will be back next year for certain to improve our performance, as, no doubt, will the midges!

Full results, more reports and photo's available at the LAMM website.

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