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The Connoisseurs Mountain Marathon

A LAMM’s Tale from Kintail -  The LAMM 2009
by Brian Jackson

Scroll to the bottom to see a few photos of the area

Sat 30 May

A magnificent drive up to Kintail from Oban after a ferry crossing from Mull.

21.30

Meet the event controller Andy Spenceley and his wife Hilary. They are wild camping at the SE corner of the event area. I put up my tent and join them and the midges. They have already put out a few controls. Andy proposes that I put out a mere couple tomorrow. One of them does seem a long way over a big ridge containing two Munros.

Sun 31 May

Another beautiful sunny day.

09.30

Andy and Hilary have set out about 6am to put out controls and bag the odd Corbett. I find my first control site. It is marked by a length of white plastic tube. Although at a stream junction, the stream is not in the location shown on the map. The one on the map is too feeble so I stick to the planner’s location and will discuss altering the grid ref and description with Andy.
A very steep climb up to 950m then down into a world where walkers rarely go. No problems with this control and I site the flag, fill it with stones to stop it blowing away, attach the SI unit and complete my paperwork. Such a good day, I have to get the most out of it and return the hard way along the ridge and over the two Munros.

17.30

Drive off and after ½ mile I wait in a traffic queue for an hour. The air ambulance helicopter is parked on the road which is blocked off by police cars whilst paramedics give treatment to an injured motorcyclist before flying off. Some things are more dangerous than mountain marathons.

19.00

Find the bunkhouse. Andy is already there and so is Mick Garret who is also going to put out controls. There are 62 controls in an area of about 500 sq.km. The three of us will be joined by Andrew Davies making four of us in all.
Andrew decides to sleep high on a summit tonight and takes a bag of controls for putting out on the way and tomorrow.

Mon 1 June

Flaming June!

09.30

Andy, Mick and I drive off for another day in the sun. From the bottom of a big glen we fan out and onto the hillsides to set out controls. These comprise a standard orange and white orienteering kite with an attached Sport Ident unit. This has the control number on it. I put out 7 controls and meet up for the return.

17.00

Andrew returns from his bivvying trip having had a midge free camp on the top of Ben something or other. He had a problem finding one of the control markers and we conclude that an error in the description has misled him. Another visit is required. The only problem is that it involves a 12 km walk in and a 12 km walk out.

Tue 2 June

A misty and cool day. Perhaps it will clear.

09.00

The others drive off to Glen Big from where Andrew and Mick will walk back to the bunk house setting out controls on the way.
I have a relatively light load – just two controls. A nice cycle ride and then a climb into a corrie. By the time I reach it the mist is clearing it looks beautiful with the remnants of cloud on the summits wisps of mist in the glen. The Munros above me have thousands of visitors per year but this place must see nothing but deer from one year to the next. This is one of the joys of putting out mountain marathon controls. You visit places that you never even think of going to in the mountains. Normally you see these corries and small glens from the summits and the big glens. A great place for an early lunch.

13.00

Return to the bunkhouse for a second lunch and then leafleting the B & Bs. I seem to have become the LAMM billeting officer. Martin wants to make sure that local businesses benefit from our presence. I am to deliver letters to all the B & Bs and hotels in the area. This offers to list the B & Bs and hotels on the website and update the website when they are full. This might reduce the number of calls when the phones go red-hot on Thursday afternoon.

14.00

Cycling seems the easiest way to do the leafleting, and the most pleasant on a day like this. I make a tour of Loch Duich going as far as Dornie. Some of the proprietors are in their gardens or come out to talk. Many will be full on Friday night. All are very friendly. It seems that the Highlands are already having a good summer. As soon as I mention “mountain marathon”, one lady asks “Are you Martin Stone?”. I worry what has our organiser has done this time. No need to worry. She remembers him from 9 years ago, the last time the LAMM was round here. Martin is clearly not just famous for 15 minutes.

16.00

The leafleting is going so well and the Dornie Inn looks so inviting that I have to call in and celebrate. I sit in the sun and enjoy a lovely pint of Deuchars.

17.00

I complete my cycle ride near the event field and drop off a leaflet. This family know all about the event. It is not only is the place where Martin and Debbie are staying but they are involved in transport arrangements too.
The others report a successful day. This means that the only controls that now need putting out are down by roads and near the finishes, with one exception high up and not so far away. Is this a record to have them all out on the Tuesday?

23.15

In bed reading. Andy is the only one not in bed, updating his records. The bunkhouse phone rings. It is Martin. Andy speaks to him. He has received a mountain weather forecast for the weekend. It could be rough. Snow? He says he will email all competitors to warn them to bring heavy duty kit. OMM weather for the LAMM?

Wed 3 June

Andy and Mick are off hill walking. Andrew goes to do the remaining high one and then do a long Munro run or walk afterwards. I volunteer to sort out the problem control.

08.45

I start the long glen walk finishing a climb well up the side of a ridge. Success I find the white plastic pipe. Now I have to find Andrew’s kite on a revised site. I am apprehensive, but soon spot it. It is only 40m away and soon it is in its position. I put the tube in my bag. Yesterday I was admonished for not bringing them in. I am used to planning and controlling orienteering events where the control tags are not brought back until after the event.

16.30

A final leaflet drop. This time the Cluanie Inn. Yesterday I managed a ratio of one pint per two controls. Today the ratio is 50/50. Isle of Skye Red Cuillin in the sunshine. Not a patch on yesterday’s Deuchars, and £3.10 per pint compared to £2.90.

18.00

Dave Coustick arrives to join the controller’s team. Chris Hall a bit later. After the usual catching up the evening turns into a kind of course planning Brain Trust as courses are dissected, final adjustments made and descriptions and grid references honed to precision.

23.00

Go to bed. No sign of Martin, Debbie, dog and white van full of kit. He had said he would be here around 10pm.

Thu 4 June

Pleasant dreams.

03.00

Martin arrives.

07.55

Martin comes in the bedroom to tell me that I start my job taking phone calls from the B & Bs in five minutes.

08.00

The first phone call. Martin takes it and records the details. More come in during the next hour or so.

10.15

We abandon the bunkhouse and move to the village hall. No beds. Hard floor and karrimat. We set up tables for the computer kit and map work. Much tea is made and consumed.

13.00

Dave and Val Johnstone, and John and Sue Denmark arrive for the usual pleasantries and banter before moving off to their accommodation.
The village hall is quietly busy. Martin is busy at his computer. Debbie is putting circles on maps. Chris is drawing up courses and measuring them. They keep querying their locations and the grid references. This all helps to reduce the possibility of errors and ambiguities. Andy finalises changes to the D Class. Site visits to a couple of the starts come back with support for a change to the start of one class.

19.00

Go across the road to the Kintail Lodge Hotel to eat. Quite a few helpers are there. We are delighted to find real ale. This flows well but the banter between old friends flows even better and is much sharper. Eddie Speak arrives. He has forgotten his sleeping bag and seems to use this as an excuse to find alternative accommodation on the hard floor of the village hall.

23.15

Turn in. Martin and Andy are still working at their computers putting yet more finishing touches to control descriptions.

Fri 5 June

Only 5 of us have slept in the village hall. Some of the helpers must have found more luxurious lodgings.

08.00

Breakfasting. Martin arrives and fires up his computer. The weather is much chillier but it is still sunny, with a few clouds. Perhaps the weather may stay kind to the competitors.
This morning’s task is to prepare the master maps for the Score class. These are for display when competitors are marking up their maps at a pre-start. Fortunately it is quiet. Most helpers are elsewhere. Tony and Vanessa Peacock report for duty and a cup of tea before heading for the event field.
Later in the day the control descriptions will be printed off.

The planning side of the event is just about complete, but so far the planner has not appeared. This is because the planner, Angela Mudge, is in the Alps competing in and hopefully winning prizes in mountain races. Before her annual disappearing act she has visited and tubed all the control sites. This is a mammoth task. She has also planned the courses. The LAMM does not operate like a standard orienteering event so alterations and refinements to courses can be made in the absence of the planner. The controller does this whilst taking lots of advice from his team of helpers, all of whom are experienced in these things. It would be impossible to run it with the usual division of labour at orienteering events.

Because Angela is away Andy has the responsibility for making any changes to her courses. All the control sites are OK and with the exception the D course Andy makes virtually no changes to Angela’s courses. He decides that the D course is too tough and takes this away from the highest ground. It is still a tough day out in the mountains and a good challenge for anyone who has never done a mountain marathon before. Andy is fully supported by the rest of his team.

09.00

Pencil in the control circles on Score course maps for display to competitors. These are all checked by Chris before they are inked in.

12.00

Off to the event field. Collect my LAMM2009 T-shirt from the LAMM shop sales staff – Val and Shirley. I then join the team which is stuffing 3 plastic socks, plastic bags, energy bars and car stickers into a fourth plastic sock. This is soon completed ready for when registration opens. Lunch.

14.00

Cars start arriving and I join Mick, Stan, and Tony on car parking duties. We work in pairs in hour shifts until Chris Knox joins us and we work in threes. I ask the drivers where they have come from. Many are from far away – Devon, Ireland etc. Some have flown to Inverness and hired a car. Parking goes very smoothly. The field is ideal.

20.10

Off duty. Approached by a couple of lads from Northern Ireland. They want to use the cigarette lighter in my car! Smoking? Evidently not, They want to use it to pump up an air bed. I am persuaded. Is it the traditional Irish charm or that I am impressed that they have come across the sea to compete? The air bed is enormous. The pump does not look man enough for the job.
Go to a Wilf’s meal. I have good old veggie chilli with pitta bread and tea and flapjack. Wilf’s is a café in Staveley in the Lakes and legendary with orienteers and mountain bikers because of the attendance of the mobile Wilf’s at events. The indefatigable Charlotte is in charge with the ever efficient Jane as her no. 2. They are always helped by an ever changing and never ending supply of personable young men who run around for them and cheerfully serve the customers. The outdoor side of the business is in the process of being sold so we all hope that it will continue to come to events, but will miss Charlotte, Jane and the current year’s trio of personable young men.

20.50

Air bed now inflated.

21.00

Back on car parking.

22.00

In the marquee for the briefing by Martin. Everyone is given maps. Martin asks who wants to go to the overnight campsite. This will be at Carnach on the Inverinate estate. I am to be on bus marshalling with Frances and take a careful note of Martin’s instructions.

22.45

Back on car parking which is starting to wind down.

23.45

Leave the site and go to sleep in village hall.

Sat  6 June

 

00.15

Get into bed – hard floor. No big and bouncy air bed for me.

05.30

Alarm goes. Get up. Tea and cereal.

06.00

At marquee. Have more tea. Meet Frances.

06.25

Drive to bus departure point a mile or so away with Frances tagging the route as we go. The 5 big buses are already there. They are to set off every 10 minutes and will make 3 round trips to the Cluanie Inn for B, C and D competitors.

07.00

First coach leaves full of competitors for the first of its 3 round trips. All going smoothly.

08.10

The 24 seat coach leaves for the A start, but with 4 empty seats.

08.15

Martin receives a phone call from the manager of the Cluanie Inn concerned about competitors at the C and D Start relieving themselves in broad daylight. This has health and safety implications because of the duty of care that she owes to her customers. It appears that some have been so disturbed by this gruesome view from their breakfast tables that they have been choking on their cornflakes. Ever obliging, Martin says that he will tell the lads to behave themselves. The manager tells him that it is the not the lads about whom she is complaining.

08.30

The A bus is filling up. The Wing Commander arrives but without her co-pilot who has been left behind putting on her number one uniform at HQ. Wing commander climbs aboard nevertheless. Two A class competitors arrive back aboard a big bus having got on the wrong coach, hence the empty seats on the first bus. Wing commander is hanging onto her seats and the returnees remain on standby. The flight lieutenant arrives just before take off and the standby pair are bumped off. Lift off!

09.00

The A bus full for the third trip. No spare seats. Very unusual for last bus to be full so I write note for Andy at the A start warning him that these may not be the last competitors. It leaves soon after.

09.05

Speak to Andy. Tell if I don’t ring in 10 mins then assume there are no late competitors so he can dismantle the start.

09.15

The A bus calls in on his was home. I tell the driver to stand down.

09.20
09.25

A pair of A Class competitors arrive. Shortly followed by another. They have tickets for a 9.30 bus that does not exist. Panic. Ring Martin. He checks with registration. Yes, a cockup, but there are only two pairs so I can drive them to the start. I warn Andy. We pile in the car. One of the competitors navigates me to the start.

09.45

The competitors are copying their courses when a runner returns to the start. He has lost his dibber and about half an hour. Fortunately, because of the bus mix up Andy is still there and is able to supply a spare dibber.

10.00

The last of the big buses leaves. Back to the deserted marquee and a Wilf’s bacon and egg roll and tea. Excellent. Load much of my overnight kit into the van for transport to Carnach. Feel frazzled, need quick rest, tea, and clothing and food sort-out at the hall. I won’t make the 11.30 rendez-vous at the entrance to the estate and agree with Martin to go a bit later taking Hillary and possibly others.

12.15

Arrive at the overnight camp. A few competitors have come in. There is not much for me to do. I put up my tent and then start making tea for the finish team. Andrew Leaney is very grateful. He is not so pleased when he finds out that all times are shown as one hour too long. “Who programmed these boxes?” he cries. A bit later a sheepish Martin admits that it was him. A second error of the day, is our leader no longer infallible? It seems that he programmed some of the boxes and Andy did others. Unfortunately, he did this with a laptop recently used in South Africa and this was set to South African time which is one hour different! A bit of an irritation. The finish team explain the problem and that it will be sorted out by the Sport Ident UK computer team later in the day, It was.
Competitors come in thick and fast. A young Elite pair Andrew Symonds and Jethro Lennox come in. They have stormed round in 5¾ hours. This is a superb performance. They look like real athletes, very skinny and still waiting for the top half of their Charles Atlas courses to arrive. No wonder they look the part, one is the son of a famous fell runner and the other recently did 2-24 in the London Marathon.
I keep on making tea for everyone. It keeps me occupied and perhaps may make Martin think that this is such a vital role at the overnight camp team that I may be allowed to help when I am really old and doddery.
I find Andy Skellhorn and Phil Barnes camping right behind the finish tent. They are fellow Macclesfield Harriers. They have had a very enjoyable day out on the Score. I take a photo of them drinking the contents of a miniature bottle of Glenfiddich. I hope that they are taking the event seriously and upholding the fine long distance traditions of the club. Rachael and David Lawrance in the Elite certainly are.
The weather is superb, mainly sunny with a cool easterly breeze. The tops are nearly all clear. It is dry and the times are fast.
Martin starts putting up their overnight tent. He thinks that the inner tent does is from a different tent. Eventually he realises that the design of the Spacepacker Plus is eccentric in more ways than one. He can’t have used it since last the LAMM.
As the evening approaches we open some wine. I have a bottle of appropriately named Stone Road and Dave Coustick has a bottle of South African Late Bay. We rename it “Late By One Hour South African” and I distribute wine and canapés amongst the helpers. Actually the canapés are little bits of bread with smoked salmon on them. This continues the tradition introduced by Alexander the Russian marshal at Glen Shee. No vodka this year though. He has sent an email wishing the LAMM well with a photo of him standing outside the dacha wearing a Glen Shee LAMM T-shirt and cap.
Go to the latrine and I find myself standing next to one of the air bed men from last night. I ask if they had slept well. It seems they did until the air bed deflated in the middle of the night.
It is time distribute race numbers to the chasing start. Wiser helpers keep their heads down. I dive in to help Peter, Mick and Eddie at the tent. They are battling to dish out numbers in a congested tent to a lengthy queue snaking outside.
A quick briefing by Martin before going to bed. We visit tomorrow’s start area and Chris gives us a short run-through.
It is very cold. Lots of clothes are needed to keep warm in the chilly wind.

Sun  7 June

 

05.30

I hear the sound of a vehicle. It must be the piper.
Reveille! The piper starts up and marches around the campsite in full highland dress. He has been at a gig until 1am last night and now he is out this early.

05.55

We are all ready for the chasing start. I recall when I did the Rock and Run (a prevouis incarnation of the LAMM) about 20 years ago that the start involved herding 500 runners into a roped off enclosure near the campsite, someone blowing the whistle and 4 helpers dropping the rope from the four corner posts and 500 runners running like hell across the glen. Life has become more sophisticated since then.
As always Chris Hall plans and takes charge of the Day 2 start. This week he has been sleeping on the stage of the village hall and we fear that this might inspire him to greater heights. We were right. This was to be a start that Cecil B. de Mille would have been proud. A true epic set against the magnificent backdrop of Glen Elchaig and at the northern edge of the overnight camp.  He uses red and white tape to mark out a massive stage 30 metres wide and 25 metres deep. At his command he has an enormous cast which includes a thousand extras and about a dozen actors who are on stage throughout the 90 minute performance. I was a mere spear carrier standing behind a fluorescent board with a large A and handing out scraps of paper to a just a few of the extras who wandered confused onto the stage before being channelled between tapes around the back of the stage and being projected by other members of the cast onto the stage apron and leaving either downstage right or left to mark up their maps. Members of the Score class were allowed to mark up their maps at the front of the stage because nobody seemed to know whether they should exit right or left. Mick and Eddie had more important jobs. They had the dual role of ushers to the pairs of extras who were about to start, and bouncers to the extras who kept wanting to walk across the stage to go to the toilet. As always the director gave the star part of “chef des chasseurs” to Sue Denmark and she gave her usual bravura performance with split second timing and magnificent voice projection. She handled all of the dramas splendidly and often had to compete against the interventions of the director who insisted staying close to her on centre stage, bellowing into the microphone such lines as – “Where are you C24? Your time is up”. Perhaps Sue’s time may be up because playing opposite her was Elena, a young Swedish starlet who was making her debut in a silent Greta Garbo role. All went well until an element of farce was introduced by the intervention of the producer of the show. Martin Stone had been standing off-stage looking on rather anxiously until the cast of extras around and on the stage had thinned to a handful. He then leapt on stage, grabbed the megaphone from the director and requested that the spear carrier with the letter A should exit the stage and make tea for all leading players. Just to show that it is the director who is in charge on the stage, the order was immediately countermanded by Chris. The spear carrier returned to his post looking rather foolish and whether he was in a performance of “The Servant of Two Masters”. He did not take up his role as tea wallah until 7.30pm when Chris brought down the curtain on an empty stage.

07.30

All in all a magnificent production. A splendid success. One of the great productions. We all look forward to next year’s. Perhaps in the minimalist style or even theatre of the absurd?

08.15

The site is cleared and the white van is packed and ready to go.

09.00

I go and collect two controls to the east of Aonach Buidhe. A fine day yet again.

11.30

Meet up with Hillary who just bagged two Corbetts. Head off to the event centre.
Flagged down by two Swedish competitors of more comfortable years. Neither is injured but they don’t fancy the climb out of the glen. One claims vertigo. I am not convinced. They squeeze in. Further down the glen and on the public road we meet a single competitor wearing a high number in the B Class. His partner has gone off to get help. He has got a pulled muscle or the like and is walking awkwardly. He is a member of the Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team. I report to them when I get back and they go out and collect him. Note the incestuous relationship between competitions in the mountain and rescue teams. The general public seem to understand this.
Competitors are streaming into the field to the finish from where they join a massive meal queue that snakes through and well outside the marquee. Some eat at tables inside whilst others lie outside on the grass, eat and exchange stories of the weekend.

13.15

Prize giving. Martin is MC and a competitor who works for Lowe Alpine gives the prizes. Lots of thanks and applause all round, particularly for the good weather when we had all feared atrocious conditions. Later we find out that conditions have been bad south of the border. The Welsh 1000 metres race had to have several runners rescued by RAF helicopter.
John Brooke takes photos of the winners. I am honoured to be lent a camera by the winners of the Elite, Andrew Symonds and Jethro Lennox. Although they were 5th on Day 2, theirs was a magnificent performance, particularly on Day 1. first today were the Evergreen Brothers on Day 2 who moved up to 2nd overall.
None of the helpers seem to want me to take over from them so I spend the afternoon in the sunshine alternately chatting and carrying out minor jobs. One of these is to help find lifts for people who have missed the coaches to Inverness and Glasgow. There is no problem in finding offers. This is another area where the generosity and comradeship of the competitors chows itself. The work increases until the site is largely deserted and we are waiting for a handful of competitors to come in.

17.00

We watch competitors making their slow descents of the final hill. With binoculars this almost becomes a spectator sport. It is certainly fascinating to watch one competitor climb the hill searching for his partner. He had evidently already arrived at the finish, but alone, and, rather curiously, was carrying two dibbers. He was told to come back with his partner. By some miracle he appeared from over the crest of the ridge with his partner. The moral of this story is – “Do not be creative in your interpretation of the rules and always stay together. It is safer and faster”.

18.30

Everyone is back. Mountain Rescue can go. Off to The Wee Bunkhouse and have my first shower in 3 days. Best clothes on – leather shoes!

20.00

Jac-O-Bite restaurant for the helpers’ Sunday night meal. 24 of us in good spirits after a very successful LAMM. There is lots of yarning, reminiscing and laughter. One of the young men from Wilf’s is the grandson of the first woman to complete Bob Graham Round. The conversation turns to everyone’s reminiscences of Bob Graham rounds and he is asked if he wants to do it. It seems likely. He not only has the pedigree but already competes to a high standard in cross country and on the track and fell. However, I am sure that he could find better things to do at 10pm on a Sunday night that receive a load of gratuitous advice on fell running from a bunch of retired old farts.

22.30

After a fine meal Martin stands up and speaks without megaphone. He is very happy. Everything has gone well. He thanks us all and then returns to the Bob Graham theme. He asks all who have completed the BG to put up hands. This is ten, a remarkable proportion out of a group of 24. Although you don’t need a formal qualification to help at the LAMM I suppose that a Bob Graham certificate is rather like having a higher degree in fell running.

Mon  8 June

 

10.15

I go back to the overnight camp site with Tony and Vanessa. They are to collect 7 controls to the south and I have 6 controls centred on Faochaig to the north of the campsite to pull out. We drop Andy off at the A Start and he  runs back to Morvich. We drop off Dave Coustick in Glen Elchaig after collecting low controls and tapes. He is heading back to Morvich collecting controls. Dave has meticulously planned the collection of all of the event controls like a military operation.
When we get to Carnach the toilet crew is emptying the plastic thunderboxes ready to transport them out of the glen. Soon there will be no sign that a thousand people were camping here just over 24 hours before.

16.45

I return from yet another magnificent day on the hill. Cool weather with sunny intervals. Perfect visibility. Ideal for control collecting. Tony and Vanessa have arrive just before me.
I drop off the key and a bundle of blank maps at the ghillie’s house and driver out of the glen.

18.15

Arrive at village hall. Martin and Debbie are about to drive back to Cumbria in the white van.

20.30

Go over to the Kintail Lodge hotel and have a final farewell beer with the remaining helpers

Tues 9 June

 

06.30

Set off south for the 400 mile trip backs to sunny Wagslow. It has been another cold clear night. Loch Duich is as calm as a mill pond and looking very photogenic.

13.00

I call in on Martin and Debbie to have a cup of tea and leave the remaining control boxes and kites. The place is a hive of activity. The LAMM is yesterday’s news . Sport Ident UK is preparing for other events. The FedEx man calls for a big parcel of dibbers destined for Ireland.

Job done. A great LAMM. A joy and a privilege to have helped.
Now where will it be next year?

 

Brian Jackson
(South Ribble Orienteering Club and Macclesfield Harriers)

 

Some photos taken while hanging controls...

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Route planning above Loch Duich

The clouds over mid camp

Racing together - the spirit of the event

Lowe Alpine Mourne Mountain Marathon