Saturday, 27 January 2018

Montane Spine Challenger - sending out a S.O.S. (10)

The rain was lashing down, but along the sheltered road I at least had a break from the wind. My feet, in my final dry pair of socks, remained dry along the road but the moment I was back on the trail a few minutes later they were soaked again. The grassy track along the bottom of the valley was waterlogged.  I knew the navigation was fairly straight forward along here but I decided to keep my GPS out because the visibility (on top of the darkness) was deteriorating.

These fields had been full of beef cattle with calves when I came along on my recce and I didn't wonder if they'd still be out.  There was no sign of them or them bulls. And I arrived at the road crossing and the farm surprisingly quickly.  Then the big old slog up Fountains Fell began.  It's not a difficult climb, it's just long.  Once you find the start of the trail up, then you're pretty much sorted and it's just a case of head down and keep pushing upwards.  The higher I climbed the heavier the rain fell and the wind was building again.  I knew that the hill was providing some shelter so I was dreading getting over the top. About three quarters of the way up Pavel and another runner breezed past me seemingly effortlessly compared to my trudging.

The gradient levelled out soon enough and the wind was now right into my face, with the rain battering against me. Across the plateau it was fairly easy to navigate to path thankfully - don't much fancy falling down an open mineshaft - and the giant wall and stile appeared for a brief moment of shelter. And who doesn't love trying to climb over a 6 foot high wall stile in 60 mph winds? The wall into hell no less!

The moment I was up and over the race moved up to another level of brutal. I recalled a rocky and then boggy descent off the hill but everything was alien to me.  The wind torn at me and the rain was beating down so hard it felt like it was working it's way through every layer of clothing I had.  My waterproof gloves had lost the fight and were soon completely sodden and my hands were starting to feel numb with the cold.  The route was nothing like I remembered and I simply couldn't picture where I was at all. Layers of ice were scattered across the route and there seemed to be loads of route options where I only remember there being one.  Visibility was down to about 5 feet.  The grassy section appeared, but again it was different to what I remembered. I fell, over and over, seemingly incapable of finding solid ground.  I was covered in mud but it washed off in minutes with the rain being so ridiculous.  I found myself in a gully wondering where the hell I was - it just didn't make sense.  I didn't remember this from my recce at all, but I was grateful for the respite from the wind.  I stopped to swap one wet pair of gloves for another and to put on an extra buff. I was frozen.  I didn't want to come out of the gully but knew I had to keep moving.  The GPS said I was right but my head was not feeling it all. I knew there was a bog at the lower end of the slope.  The paths all looked like a bad choice so I tried to use the wall down as a guide, when it was within visibility. Oh how I wished I could have done this section in the daylight - what a difference it would have made.  I was in complete bog hell.

Where was the f*cking road?! Seriously!  I was flailing around this stupid bog trying to find the non-existent road - back and forth, back and forth. Give me a f*cking break!  And suddenly it was there - right in front of me - it had been only feet away but I simply couldn't see it or reach it. FFS! It was so different in the dark - a completely different world.

There was no victory dance though. The wind and rain continued to beat down on me.  My hands were frozen and wrinkled from being so wet for so long.  And I was cold.  So very cold.  I had never been so cold. I was completely alone, no one and nothing in sight.  I was shivering badly. My mind was going through all my hypothermia knowledge.  I focused on my breathing. 'Shivering was ok.  No need to worry yet. Stay focused.  Move. Breathe.  Move. Is this it?  Is this when I press my S.O.S.?   No Vicky, you've got this, keep moving. Keep your head in the game.  You can do this. Focus.  Forward.  The wind isn't there.  There rain isn't there.  Just move, forward. You're made of fire and ice, built of grit.  Nobody wants this more than you.  Move. Forward. Breathe. Forward.  This is what you came for. To be pushed beyond your absolute limits - well here they are Vicky.  Here's your limits - you've found them.  So what are you going to do?  Are you going to quit or are you going to push on through? Be more than you thought. Make new limits?  Be more than other people think you can be?  Prove the doubters wrong, or prove them right? Who are you?  What do you stand for?'

I couldn't see a thing. A wall of darkness and biting rain right in front of me.  After what seemed like an age, right in front of me, literally a few feet away, a Spine Safety Team appeared. In my abject misery I had forgotten they would be there to ensure we all took the safety diversion avoiding the scramble up the top section of Pen Y Ghent. What a relief.  Another human being.  They checked if I was ok.  'Keep your head up Vicky, don't crumble in front of them.  You've got this.  We're nearly on the home straight.  Don't lose it now.' They reminded me of the diversion and from their description and from what I'd been shown on the map back at CP1.5 I had a pretty good idea of where I was going.  Onwards along the track into the never ending wind and rain.  At least now my brain could have a rest as the navigation was straight forward from here, even in the dark and poor visibility. And the change of direction meant the rain and wind were no longer straight into my face.

About half way up the climb I met a group of three racers coming back down the route.  They asked if I knew where the diversion was. They were worried that they'd gone passed it.  I explained that they simply hadn't gone high enough. The diversion should be easy to find, and they would know if they'd gone too far as they'd arrive at the huge rocks at the start of the steep final climb of PYG. We made our way up together.  One of the three was really struggling.  But soon enough we arrived at the diversion.  They stopped to shelter and rest for a moment behind the wall but I headed through the gate and started my descent down the slab steps. I had no idea what this diversion would be like or how long it would take but I was grateful not to going over the summit.

As I descended, daylight started creeping through the cloud and mist.  The winds eased to a more manageable level and the rain stopped being quite so painful.  I'd made it!  I'd made it through the final full night.  What a relief. It wasn't a particularly pleasant descent but I could have been running across broken glass for all I cared at that point.  I was just grateful for the daylight and the easing up of the weather.  The final day was upon us and I was closing in on Horton and a hot cup of tea.  Thank f*ck!!

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