OMM 2023 – North Wales – Day 1
That was a fun weekend walking in the hills thanks to the 54th Original Mountain Marathon (OMM). After doing 53 of these things they should know what they are doing, and the organisation was amazing all the way through.
As you know from my previous post, Lawrence, my original partner in crime for the OMM had to drop out at the last minute and Mike bravely stepped in to do it with me. Mike had quite an epic just getting to North Wales before the event. He had been in South Devon with his family until Friday and then had to drive to Norwich, collect all of his kit and then drive all the way to North Wales. He eventually got there late on Friday evening, parked up in a layby under the shadow of Tryfan and slept in his car. I met him there around 7am on Saturday. We had a coffee in the layby, had a chat about the kit that we had, Mikes backpack was considerably larger and heavier than mine, and then headed off to the Race Registration in Bethesda.
Registration was easy and the name change process was no problem at all. The forms were there ready, they knew what they were doing and before long Lawrence had become Mike, emergency contact details and such like had been updated and we were fully registered as a team. Mike had a ‘dibber’ attached to his wrist that would have to remain there throughout the weekend and would be used to start and stop timers each day and check into each checkpoint that we managed to visit. I had a GPS tracker and emergency beacon attached to my rucksack. This would have to remain attached and with me all weekend and could be used to track us. It also had an emergency button which hopefully wouldn’t be needed.
Parking at Race HQ was going to be a little limited so car-sharing was recommended and there was a system in place for those who had arrived by other means to grab a lift with those who had spare seats. If you arrived at Race HQ with only one person in the car there was a charge for parking, two or more people and it was free so someone jumped into Mike’s car and into my car and we headed up through the narrow streets of Bethesda in a controlled convoy of cars with an escort vehicle. It was all perfectly choreographed and organised. Marshalls directed us to parking spots which was indeed a little difficult thanks to the muddy nature of the field but with a little pushing by our passengers we were in place and almost ready to go.
We had plenty of time to spare so I took a wander to the huge Marquee where there was a café, a shop selling all sorts of OMM equipment, clothing and branded memorabilia and a huge screen that would have the live tracking on later. This wasn’t on yet as they didn’t want to give away anything about the course to those who had yet to start.
Mike culled some of his kit to reduce the weight of his rucksack, but still had quite a lot of kit. I therefore took the tent and stove rather than share it out. Mike also had 3 litres of water rather than the 750ml that I had and two cans of beer which added quite a bit of weight to his pack. His ‘fluid’ alone weighed more than 4kg which was more than half the weight of my entire pack. My fluid was 750g!
Day 1 on the Hills
Our start time soon rolled around, so with kit on and packs on our backs we took the walk to the start line which was just a few hundred yards from the Race HQ. Once again everything here was well organised and there were marshalls checking everything was as it should be.
We soon, ‘dibbed our dibber’ were given our maps and were off. It wasn’t quite such an event really as we just strolled over the start line and continued strolling along the path in the same direction as everyone else. We were unlikely to be running at all as Mike doesn’t run, but we weren’t the only ones walking. Some people who were running passed us as we made our way to the first checkpoint which was worth 10 points. Each checkpoint has a two-letter code on the map, this one was point DO(10). The 10 in brackets after the code is the number of points it was worth. Each checkpoint also has a short description to help you find it. In this case, the description was ‘Gate’. The map itself was a 1:40000 Harvey map but with all elevations and names removed from it.
Checkpoints 1 to 3 – up the valley
Everyone went to checkpoint DO(10) as it was the only way out of the start funnel and along an easy path. After this, there were more options. Those doing the linear courses would have to go from checkpoint to checkpoint in a set order. They were however free to choose their own route between the checkpoints themselves. Those of us on the ‘score’ courses had even more freedom. We were doing the short score course so our map had a choice of 29 checkpoints dotted across the map, each with scores ranging from 10 points to 50 points each. We could visit as many or as few of these as we wanted (could) and in whatever order we wished, taking whatever route we thought best between them. There was also a finish point marked. We had a total of 5 hours to do it. If we were late back then 2 points would be deducted from our score for every minute or part of minute that we were over the time limit.
As we weren’t going to be fast we stopped, checked the map and picked checkpoints that we thought looked like a fairly direct route to the finish line whilst still gaining a few points. The next checkpoint for us was therefore BJ(20) with the description “Large sheepfold SE side”. It was about 1.2km East from us along what looked like a fairly easy path. Sure enough, we soon found and dibbed this checkpoint and already had 30 points in the bag.
The weather was looking fairly kind. There was a stiff SE breeze, the tops of the hills were shrouded in mist and murk, but down here in the valley it was clear, visibility was good and it was fairly sheltered, The temperature was just right too.
Next on our list was DC(40) which was SE of our current location across some boggy ground but still following a faint path as we followed the valley of the Afon Gaseg. Of course, at the time we didn’t know the name of the river as it wasn’t named on the map! The description of checkpoint DC(40) was also ‘large sheepfold SE side’ and it was once again easy to find. It was here that people really started to diverge on their routes. people spread out and things became quieter. We were also now about to start climbing a little quicker.
Checkpoints 4-5 – Up to the top
The next checkpoint on our list was AG(30) ‘sheepfold inside’. This was beside a small lake in a hidden cwm below the main Carneddau ridge. It was going to take some climbing to get it across some loose scree. As we set off towards it we spotted someone heading back the other way with a blood-covered face having obviously performed some first-aid and was now heading back for more assistance and to retire. This wasn’t at all ominous!!
We then spotted a checkpoint partway up the hill and made our first (and possibly only) mistake of the day. We were drawn to the checkpoint so climbed up to it only to discover that it had a code that wasn’t on our map. It turned out that this was a checkpoint for the long score course. I hadn’t realised that each score course had a different map, I had assumed the maps were the same but the amount of time and therefore number of checkpoints you could visit were different. That wasn’t the case and we had climbed up to this one needlessly. The climbs were particularly difficult and slow for Mike thanks to his larger pack and lack of preparation. He’d only had 3 days notice so had done no training whatsoever and by his own admission wasn’t very fit. Having gained this elevation we decided it was best to stay at it and traversed around the hillside towards the actual AG(30)checkpoint. There was still a bit of climbing to do to get to it and Mike looked as though he was suffering already. We made it though and had gained another 30 points. Our tally was now a nice round 100.
From here, the only way was up, and it was going to be a very steep climb picking our way through the crags towards the summits of the Carneddau. At just over 1000m these are some of the highest peaks in Wales and today they were shrouded in mist and murk.
There was nothing for it but to start climbing. It wasn’t actually that bad, path-finding was easy enough and the earlier, easier climbing meant that we started at around 750m anyway so only had about 250m to go. I don’t think Mike found it easy though as he became slower and slower, the earlier climbs had worn him out, this one almost broke him. When he did make it to the top he said his legs were like jelly. I rushed around a little in the murk trying to find the exact location of checkpoint BA(50) ‘small knoll top’. It ended up being in exactly the direction I had thought it was but the other knolls that I could actually see had distracted me so I checked them out first. At least Mike didn’t do this rushing around and was able to follow me directly to the checkpoint to take our tally to 150 points.
Towards the finish
We had planned to reassess once at the top to see if we could gain some more points or start heading straight for the finish. We wouldn’t have time to collect any more so the plan was to head along the Carneddau ridge (a path I’d walked recently). We’d pass one checkpoint worth 40 points on the ridge and could then descend down the route that I knew from Pen yr Ole Wen and maybe pick up 3 other checkpoints as we passed them for another 60 points before heading to the finish line and the campsite. I didn’t think we’d quite make it within the time allowance but it would be close and if we rushed we could make it. Having looked back, last time I took this route this part of it took 2 hours 20 minutes and that was taking it easy in similar visibility but with a very strong headwind. We had now been going for 2hrs 50 minutes so it was possible even without any running.
We headed off across the rocky hillside following the contours until we intersected with the main ridge path. As we did so Mike slipped, fell over and twisted his knee. I went straight back to him to assess the damage as he lay there moaning on the floor. He seemed pretty much OK but his knee and ankle were a little sore. Once he was back up on his feet he was moving OK but it wasn’t ideal. Our pace was slowing even more now and our progress along the ridge was taking more time than I’d hoped. We found checkpoint DB(40) ‘3m crag foot’ and took our total to 190 points. Lots of people couldn’t find this one for some reason and I guess it was a little hidden so it was a good 40 points to get. My navigational skills had been spot on so far which I was pleased with.
The direct way to the end
We were now running out of time and Mike was just wanting to get to the end. He said that he’d done the steeper descent off Pen ye Ole Wen before and it wasn’t too difficult. It was also the most direct route but had no checkpoints along it. I’d always avoided this path in the past as it looked very steep and tricky so thought the slightly longer route with a few checkpoints along the way would be better but Mike had had enough and just wanted the shortest route to the end now. So, we started picking our way down Pen yr Ole Wen. It was quite a nice route with amazing views down to the campsite that we were aiming for. The site was gradually filling up with tents as more and more people finished for the day and started setting up for the overnight camp.
The route itself turned into something of a Grade 1 down-scramble at times so the going was slow. We couldn’t have gone much quicker over this terrain even if Mike was feeling fine.
We hit the 5 hour cut-off point about 1/3 of the way down and were now losing 2 of those hard-earned points with every minute that ticked by! I calculated that we had 140 points (this was wrong as we actually had 190 but my calculations here were based on us having 140 points). I was doing mental maths all the way down. When we hit slightly easier slopes I worked out that we’d probably get into camp about 70 minutes after the time limit so would lose around 140 points. It was going to be touch and go as to whether we’d have a positive or a negative score by the end of the day. I think a negative score after all the effort Mike had put in would have been more than he could cope with so I urged him on, hoping we’d get in with just a few points to spare.
Mike had nothing left though and couldn’t increase the pace, He was stopping for breathers more often and looked exhausted. I guess a 10 mile hike in the mountains with a full pack is a little too much to ask without any preparation at all! We made it to the road, crossed over to Ogwen Cottage and still had about a mile to walk along the tarmac track to the finish line. I didn’t even try to encourage him to run it! We eventually made it to the line with an official time of 6hrs 12 minutes and 14 seconds, 72 and a bit minutes over the time limit. My calculations led me to believe that we therefore had lost 146 points which would leave us with minus 6 points!!!
Fortunately, I’d forgotten about one of the checkpoints that we’d visited and it was the 50 pointer so we actually had 190 points and finished in credit with a total of 44 points. Not great, but we were nowhere near last. Some people didn’t finish, but out of those that did the people in last place had minus 320 points! Mind you, the winners had somehow managed to get 610 points which is pretty impressive. Full results here.
I think Mike was buoyed by the fact that we still had some points and we were currently 115th out of 143 finishers. Time now to set up camp, have some food and get some rest ready for Day 2! Mike was at least still smiling, still standing and still willing to do another day in the hills. All in all, despite the disappointment of losing quite so many of our points we had a good day in the hills which is what it’s all about.