Digested read: Be careful out there! I’ve done my final bog recce for the Dig Deep 12.12 trail race, and can now navigate off Higger Tor! Hurrah. However, I’ve also found out that wet feet often occasion fatal diseases. It’s wet in those peat bogs, I didn’t fully appreciate this is what was meant by the ‘Run at your own risk’ blah de blah disclaimer you routinely sign on entry to such events. Oh well, no turning back now. Bring it on.
Yesterday, I got an opportunity to undertake a somewhat spontaneous final circuit of the Burbage/ Higger Tor section of the 12.12 route. Some fellow committed/potential twelve-twelvers proposed the outing just the night before, explaining they would have their canine companions with them. This meant it was a walk that was being proposed rather than a run, which for me was a bonus as I’m not doing any more (hard) runs before Sunday now. Better yet, it offered potentially a stop off at the last chance saloon for me to finally find that elusive route off that blooming gritstone tor and onto the more obvious path below. My regular reader will know this part of the route has repeatedly confounded me. Despite repeated recces, my departure off the top of Higger Tor has been a literal leap of faith every time. My fellow dig deepers have fared little better. It seems we have all taken routes involving inelegant and life risking scrambles down near vertical rock faces into the forests of bracken below. What is so frustrating, is that the path is really obvious going up the tor, and looks as if it should be really obvious coming down too – you can even see the path from the top for pity’s sake. Even so, when you are up on high, surrounded by the flattened expansive plain of boulders, heather tufts and mud puddles disappearing off in all directions, it’s a different prospect all together. It is beautiful if breezy up there, the location definitely has its merits, but it isn’t quite like following the yellow brick road in terms of route finding. I’m not worried about getting lost per se, I know I can get down safely, but it would save so much time if I could work out a neat and relatively obstacle free route for descent. It isn’t quite ‘Touching the Void‘ territory, but let’s not take any unnecessary risks out there. The weather can change quickly up high. I doubt they’ll be a marshal anywhere to guide, though there could be some dibbers (or are they dabbers?) I’m assuming nothing, taking nothing for granted. It is the only way!
So we met, in the rain, at Burbage bridge. We headed off up the tor, heads down. We summited at reasonable speed, and then set about a collective scamper in all directions like worker ant scouts searching for food, only looking for a better route down. Well, I can report dear reader that against all odds, the excursion turned out to be pretty educational one way and another. Not only was this final recce in fine company. We did it! We finally found the ‘open sesame’ boulder that marks the point for descent onto the path off Higger Tor. Once located, it is, whilst not exactly visually obvious, quite clearly the most straightforward, quick and hazard free route off, and it does lead straight on to what is the intended path. Result!
I cannot tell a lie, we didn’t achieve this feat entirely on our own. We were aided and abetted by the kindness of strangers who were up top too. They clearly knew the place really well, insisting there was a path we could find, and we were tantalizingly close. Our unexpected guardian angel was a guy walking with a boy and a dog, who pointed out to us (the guy not the dog) that the best way to memorize route is not in fact by looking out for distinctive boulders as I was trying to do – they are all a bit samey after a while – but rather seek out a fixed feature on the sky line (not that car on the road below heading to Longshaw then?) and head towards that like a compass point. This was a brilliant navigational top tip, and also a blindingly obvious one once pointed out.
We to-ed and fro-ed on and off the tor for a bit, trying to spot the path from further and further away. I am not 100% I’ll find it again but at least I know it actually exists. However, as we made our final descent, I spotted some weathered lettering, scratched onto one of the gritstones just near the dropping off point. Clearly, I don’t approve of such defacing of the landscape, however, ‘James’ and ‘Dad’ do mark the spot as clearly as the skeleton pointing the way to the treasure on Treasure Island. If I find them again, I’ve found my jumping off point. It has definitely helped my confidence to discover this. I could shave a good 15 minutes off my time just by not faffing about at this turn around point. We all felt pretty darned good about our newfound navigational prowess, and grateful to our knowing stranger for guiding us on our way.
So, that was the really good news. Against all odds, I can now navigate off Higger Tor, well probably I can, which is way better than my previous odds. My navigation is always going to be a work in progress, but all the same, share a half-hearted and perfunctory ‘yay’ with me, a yay is still a yay after all. Yaysayers are sometimes needed. How does it go? ‘She believed she could and so she did!’ It’s a start. Fabulous, and unexpected, it can be filed with the four leaved clovers and white heather in the ‘external signs of luck’ folder for future reference and psychological support.
So that’s the good news. However, as with all good fairy tales, there is a price to be paid for such good fortune. On the very day I encountered the fairest of fortunes on the navigational front, I also was made aware of the dark side of being out on the fells. It was pretty boggy out after all the rain. There is definitely a swampy section beneath Carl Wark. Now, certainly, a big part of the fun of the run is the splish splosh splash through the soft, submerged peat. I always do a little bog dance. To begin with I jump from reed tussock to tussock, trying to keep out of the standing water as best I can, however, it is futile. It is almost a relief at the moment you know you have misjudged, you foot sinks deep into the soft ground and icy water fills your fell shoes. Thereafter you can gallop on uncaring. The wetter the better, it makes me feel like a ‘proper’ hard core fell runner, who laughs at the element and moves through the terrain undaunted by the streams, bogs, bracken and boulders in my path. I can bound through (ish) and celebrate the ever-changing landscape as I experience it beneath my feet. My wet feet. The icy water soothing my arthritic bones. However, this dear reader, comes at a cost. Little did I know it, but all this time I’ve been playing Russian Roulette with my life each time I dipped so much as an adventurous or wayward toe into the damp embrace of the soft, squelching peat bog out on them there moors.
The bog dancing is all very romantic sounding and everything, but I now have new information. Information I feel compelled to share. It’s not health and safety gone mad, it is the cumulative wisdom of centuries of medical research which I had previously inexplicably hitherto overlooked. It was on Radio 4 as well so it must be true. Essentially, the less good news, actually the positively bad news, is that I’ve recently found out that venturing out across those peat bogs will quite possibly kill me, and may well kill you too. No really.
I only found this out yesterday, so I’m about 227 years slow on the uptake, which is fairly disappointing I will concede. Anyway, turns out, that the educated amongst us have known since 1790 that wet feet often occasion fatal diseases. So said William Buchan (M.D.) in his page turner: Domestic medicine: or, A treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases.
Thanks to Radio 4 for their ‘A nasty case of the vapours‘ for alerting me to this previously unknown almost inevitable eventuality. This is obviously what they mean when Fell Race organisers blather on about ‘running at your own risk’. I’m still going to do the 12.12 anyway, ‘I am in bog stepped so far...’ already as the saying goes so might as well carry on regardless. Wading onwards will indeed be just as challenging as retracing my steps back to the start. Also, it might be hard, but it wont be anything like as painful as treading on lego in bare feet say, and I’ve survived that in the past, so it’s important to keep everything in proportion. On the other hand, treading on lego isn’t known to be the ‘occasion of many fatal diseases‘ so you pays your money and you take your chance in relation to deciding which risks you are up for and which are a step too far so to speak…
Irrespective of my decision, clearly what each of us is willing to risk is very personal. Therefore, I feel it is only fair to those who may step in my wake to share this warning, you can then carry out your own risk assessment and make an informed decision of your own. I’m quite surprised the race organisers don’t explicitly mention this wet feet point to be honest, but they are all probably enthusiastic fell runners and therefore it is in their nature and their interests to be in abject denial of the whole thing otherwise they’d never carry on running the insane distances over the hostile country that they do. Or maybe the danger is part of the appeal. Feel the fear and do it anyway people, that’s the best way to feel properly alive! Look danger straight in the face and laugh, manically, and then run on.
One final thing though, further reading of this eminent tome suggests wet feet are only the start of the risks. I’ve not read all of his book, because I did get bored eventually, but there is a section on wet clothes too, so even if you are blasé about your feet, you better at least be confident you are carrying the FRA approved wet weather gear before you head out even if you are currently young and healthy. You can’t eliminate all risks, but you can manage them.
If you are doing the ultra and might be out in the night air, well I don’t want to be alarmist as such, but…. let’s just say there’s still plenty of time to transfer to the Felly Fun Run and they have lovely medals, so you can still have all the bling and fun of the run at relatively low risk, as long as you can pass yourself off as under 16. Food for thought perhaps?
So that’s my recces done. I’ve woken up today with a mysteriously painful shoulder, so good to know I’m developing random psychosomatic symptoms in accordance with normal tapering expectations. I am confident(ish) I shall make it to the start of this endeavour. Then it’s just one foot in front of another and dream of glory. Not long now before we find out if I made it to the end. Eek.
So that’s the yin and the yan of the final recce. I have a route off Higger Tor, but I am also in morbid fear of wet feet. Oh well. It’s what makes life interesting. Just the final count down now, and endless packing and repacking of essential kit, before Whirlow Farm on Sunday.
See you there? Everyone who is anyone will be I understand. Can you hear the sound of FOMO calling to you? Getting louder surely… You need to either get with the programme and join in (you can even enter on the day for the 10k or 12.12), or see if you can find a treatment for that. It’s amazing what you can source on ebay these days. This is a cream, but they probably do suppositories too. Each to their own after all.
Food for thought I hope.
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you
Oh and another thing, did you hear keep on running? Thanks Radio 4 Extra. Seems running is increasingly ‘a thing.’ We runners are quite the zeitgeist, whatever size or shape we come in. Hurrah!