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The Connoisseurs Mountain Marathon

Helping at LAMM 2008

by Brian Jackson

Thurs 5 June

Arrive at Glenfinnan. Find marquee and event centre field deserted by all but a few tents around Wilf’s trailer. Millions of midges. Flee to the bar of the wonderful Glenfinnan House Hotel. Not only find the rest of the help team there but real ale brewed on the premises. Great to be back amongst old friends.


Helpers briefing meeting. Martin outlines plan – 4 starts, transport, parking on forest road, midway camp at Loch Arkaig. All controls in on Monday. Everything to be done by team of 25 helpers. Meet up at marquee 9.30am.

Fri 6 June

Meet up at marquee. Start work. Stuff two car stickers, two small plastic bags and a 3 plastic socks into another plastic sock and do this many times.

Break off to help Dave J and John Den to watch local musician and recording studio proprietor use his digger to cut a couple of latrine trenches. We then erect screens around them. The car parking team agrees a rota. Cups of tea from Wilf’s where major preparations are underway. Meanwhile Compasspoint have arrived and brought another helper – Frances. Go back to stuffing plastic socks. Dave and Val dish out T-shirts to each helper – nice royal blue this year. Sock job completed with big pile of 400 + packages to be handed out when teams register. Finish off by helping Dave Johnstone festoon the marquee area with Low Alpine banners.


Break for lunch. Go back to cottage. Assemble bike.


Meet up with car park team at marquee. John Dickson has sorted it all out. John Denmark and I cycle with him to the forest road SE of Glenfinnan. They are at the end of the board walk to park up the cars. I cycle a couple of km to the entrance off the main road.


Open the gate on the dot as promised in the event details. One car already waiting and another rolls up. My job is to meet and greet competitors and send them along the track for the two Johns to park them and direct them to the event field. Most importantly, I must make sure that I only send the overnight campers through and direct others to the parking next to the event centre where they can register and then go on to their B&Bs etc.  I don’t have too many to redirect. Competitors are in good spirits. The sun is out. The midges are in.


End of shift. Hand over to Tony Peacock. Cycle back to event centre. All going smoothly. Not needed to help. Have one of Wilf’s famous veggie chillies and a flap jack for my dinner.


Back on duty to “meet and greet”. By the end of the shift the midges are appearing but the midge net is not quite needed.


End of shift. Tony takes over.
Back to the marquee. Time to catch up with old friends over a cup of tea. All going smoothly. No signs of stress anywhere. Organiser still sane.


Registration suspended. All competitors excluded from registration area of marquee. Secret briefing by Martin. Outlines the tasks for the morning and who is to do them. With Frances I am to marshall D and Novice competitors onto buses. Then we are to drive to the west end of Lock Arkaig to set out a final control, the finish boxes and the SROC tent for the finish.


Back on duty at the car park. Just a trickle of cars to greet. Midges now out in force. I am now dressed to look like an urban terrorist. Is it this or the midges that make the drivers reluctant to open their windows wide and seem anxious to curtail the conversation? The midge net is quite adequate but not half as stylish and effective as the fine mesh see-through anoraks that one helper couple have come dressed up in. They looked as if they had been purchased at an Ann Summers party.


The very last car arrives. Ring the two Johns.


I lock gate. Collect road signs.

Sat 7 June

Get back to marquee. Give signs to Martin.


Go to bed.


Wake up on hearing Andrew Leaney’s mobile ring. It is Martin sending him a text. (The phone was only on so that it could be an alarm for Brian! – Ed)


First breakfast – in cottage.


Depart for marquee.


Meet up with Frances. Make bus parking area ready. Only a few midges and they are disappearing as the sun gets higher.


The 3 buses arrive. Competitors start to roll up. We have to make sure that only D and N competitors get on bus. A, B and Elite walk past but we have a few C competitors who we have to redirect back to the finish field!


First bus leaves, shortly followed by the other two. Bus transport is an area that Martin plans in great detail. This year, as every year, the buses leave on the minute. They come back twice to fill up.


The last coach goes out with only one team on. We give them instructions to tell the start team that they are the last.


Second breakfast – bacon and egg roll from Wilf’s. A lovely cup of tea. The event centre is deserted except for a few helpers and 300 tents.


Drive to overnight camp with Frances. Is the road along Loch Arkaig the windiest and most undulating road in Britain?


Arrive at the idyllically located Strathen at the head of Loch Arkaig. The rescue team have just arrived and are talking to the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Hinks. They seem remarkably relaxed and welcoming for people whose isolation is to be destroyed by 900 outdoor fanatics camping on their lawn by the river. The “lawn” is the landing strip for their son’s microlight aircraft. He does not know about this, being busy with his university finals. After a few pleasantries, and reassuring ourselves that no competitors have arrived or are in sight, we set up:  a final control, the finish boxes and erect the finish tent. I put up my tent make tea and await Martin and the white van carrying the kit. He arrives along with cars carrying other helpers and soon the finish is fully laid out and the tent full of computer kit etc. We are now ready to greet the first finishers. They duly arrive but look very sheepish when we applaud. Perhaps they are retirees?


I spend the afternoon eating, drinking tea and reading the paper. My only contribution is to make lots of tea and distribute it to other helpers, particularly to the organiser and everyone working on the finish.

18.00 approx

The airstrip has filled with tents. Sunny and midge free, the competitors bask in the sunshine. News comes through of a competitor who has fallen and injured his back. I am told that I might be needed to accompany the rescue team doctor. The rescue team try to establish the location of the incident and the nature of the injury by interviewing competitors who have been asked to report the injury. When they have a reasonably clear picture the doctor sets off with Dave Coustick, the event controller. I am not needed at this stage. They first have to find a boat, because crossing Loch Arkaig to the East end of the big ridge opposite the campsite will be the quickest way there. Eventually we here that they have procured a boat and are heading across the loch.
Duncan, the rescue team leader piles five of us helpers into the Land Rover and we set of at brisk pace. All the time Duncan is speaking to his no. 2 known by his call name as “Arrochar Callum”. By now Arrochar Callum is well up the hill to the North of the campsite where he is acting as a radio relay and attempting to get mobile phone contact to RAF Leuchars in case we need a helicopter.
We see the boat at beach on opposite side, attract its attached by flashing lights and waving. It crosses and six of us, a rescue stretcher and rucksacks pile in to join the owner Willie. Willie spends about half the year living on a caravan by the loch and fishes from his boat The Vital Spark. He is very friendly, helpful and relaxed. With the kit in the bows of the small boat the stern is rather low in the water. Willie does not seem perturbed as water laps over the slots either side of the engine. However, seven in the boat would not have been wise if conditions had become at all choppy.


We are now out of contact with the advance party but set out to find them. I set out wobbling over the tussocky ground of the old Caldedonian pine forest, carrying half of the stretcher on my back. We don’t go very far before we hear a shout. It is the injured competitor and his partner. We go down to join them. They have decided to move from where they had planned to camp. The condition of the injured competitor had improved and he was now able to walk very slowly with the aid of a stick. The fall seems to have aggravated an old injury from a motorcycle crash and his symptoms indicate that he should go to hospital for a thorough check.


Back on beach we signal to Willie who is now on the other side. He returns and he takes Duncan and the injured competitor across before returning to collect the five of us. In the meantime Duncan drives the injured competitor to Fort William hospital and we still have no idea where the advance party have got to. Willie refuses to accept any payment for his services which have been crucial in getting to the incident quickly. We set off walking to the campsite. Another helper drives out can takes some of us back. A couple of us wait for her to return and soon we are joined by the advance party. A case of “all’s well that ends well”. The information sent back to the campsite about the injury had got through. The rescue team had carefully weighed up the situation and then acted very effectively.


Time for snack and a drink. Remembering how Alexander a Russian helper had treated some of us to smoked salmon, stilton and vodka at the 2003 and 2004 LAMMs, I put together a similar treat for a few us. Unfortunately, by now the midges were in full swing so we had to snatch nibbles and drinks between quick lifts of the midge nets.


Soon it was time for a quick midge-ridden briefing from Martin about tomorrow’s arrangements – mainly about the start. I am to hand out course descriptions.


Eat a bit and turn in. Avoid the midges.

Sun 8 June

Reveille by piper. This is a traditional part of the LAMM but Neil our usual piper could not make it and Martin had not arranged one for today. He thought he was hallucinating when he heard the pipes. We had asked the Hinks if they knew of a piper who might be available and they mentioned it to their neighbour 4km along the loch. She came and played for us, to everyone’s delight and Martin’s surprise.


Get up, muesli, tea.


Wander to start on other side of bungalow. Wake up. Get sorted out ready to hand out control descriptions to D and Elite teams after they start.
Drizzly weather means I have to be careful not to get the sheets wet.


First competitors get away.


Last competitors start. Clear up campsite. Help take down finish tent. Load van. Make a few more pots of tea. Help take down latrine screens and load into van, Take my tent down and pack car. Sky now clear and sun now shining.


Set off to collect controls. Very warm. Bog. Now very steep. Horrible underfoot. I climb up to a ridge to collect 3 controls. As I get to the first one (157) a team is just punching. It is about 12.30. They say that there is a team behind them that might be on the same course. I look down and see the team just below the hill and watch them passing by on the north side. I sit down and have my lunch. They do not appear. I look and can’t see them. I return to my lunch and having finished go to have another look. I spot them. They have caught up with the other a pair and are now well to the west. I conclude that they must be on another course and certainly not seeking the control so pick up kite and box. I then pick up the other two controls. When I get back I find out that they were also on the B course and had double backed to find no control. However, it would have been optimistic for them to have got back before the course closed in just over 4 hours when it had taken them around 5 hours to get that point. Even so, had I known …sorry.
The best route to the remaining two controls is over the Munro, Gulvain, then over the ridge south of Loch Arkaig. It is an exhausting route, rough underfoot, a very steep descent and then the dreaded bog to finish with. I pity the D and N competitors who had to come through here yesterday.


I expect to find that Chris and Frances have been back for hours and chafing to get away. Not so. They have not been back very long and have found the terrain very tough and slow.


Martin treats all the helpers to dinner at the Glenfinnan House Hotel. Excellent fare, fine beer brewed on the premises and great company. Everyone is recycling old yarns and starting to hone new ones for use next year.

Mon 9 June

Control collection. Dave and Val drive Dave the controller, Andy the planner and I to Morar station where we meet Martin, Debbie and Cass (the dog). Immediately a problem:  Debbie has left her rucksack on the train! Dave will collect it later. It hardly contains anything. I lend Debbie a balaclava.


Martin has hired a boat to take us to Oban bothy at the west end of Loch Morar. It is of the landing craft variety and is remarkably fast. Dave’s GPS clocks doing 42kph! Sadly for such a magnificent place, it is a drizzly with very poor visibility.


We gather ourselves at the bothy then separate to collect controls. My route is eastwards to the overnight camp where I have left my car. It was originally going to be a two-person job so I know I am in for a long day, in poor weather condition and in a remote place with few tracks. I take very safe routes, going over the Corbett of Carn Mor before picking up the controls on the north side of the ridge and then the ones at the east end.


I get back to the car. A very hard day on the hills. I had worn good waterproofs but my other clothes were not really good enough for such a day. At the end of the glen I ring Dave to let him know I have got down. He sounds relieved.


Back at Glenfinnan. A shower and change of clothes. I am not too late to eat the meal that Val has cooked in the next door cottage. All five of us from the Loch Morar party has had a hard day and decided to stay another night. All controls are now in. Everything, almost is cleared up. Even the marquee has gone. Martin and Debbie are to leave in the white van early in the morning. Before he turns in Martin uses his silky persuasive skills:  “the rubbish in the temporary compound on the …….”

Tue 10 June

All packed up. Drive away from cottage. Meet Stan and Andy at the event field. We demolish the compound, move the large number of plastic bags of rubbish and cardboard boxes about 50m to a convenient place for the binmen. Alistair, the estate manager, drives by in his Land Rover, smiles, waves. We must be doing it right.


Job done. Persuade a passer-by to take a photo of us standing proudly by our neat pile of bags and cardboard.


Drive home. Reflect on an excellent LAMM and that there is no such thing as a free dinner, let alone a free T-shirt. I hope that the competitors have enjoyed the weekend as much as the helpers. Now where it will be next year?

Saturday Evening Rescue

Saturday evening. Setting off from the beach to locate the injured

Injured competitor found. Walking back to the beach. Martin Stone
carrying half the un-needed stretcher.

The Vital Spark returns to pick up the injured competitor

The boat is loaded with injured competitor and rescue team leader.

Willie, the owner of The Vital Spark

State of the art anti-midge clothing

Russian vodka, Scottish smoked salmon and Shropshire blue cheese

Alexander and his Lada in St. Petersburg

Sunday - mid-way campsite back to microlight landing strip

Control Collecting Monday

Heading up Loch Morar with the mountains shrouded in cloud and drizzle

Martin and Dave Coustick on the boat

Martin paying off the ferryman at the landing stage at Oban bothy

The view westward across the midway camp on Monday evening. The white spot is Strathen cottage

The end!  The rubbish is neatly stacked rubbish and in its new location. Stan, Andy and I standing proudly by

Climate Care

Route planning above Loch Duich

The clouds over mid camp

Racing together - the spirit of the event

Lowe Alpine Mourne Mountain Marathon