Sunday, June 18, 2017

Adventures of the Bump – Part 1

Ski Touring

Since my first outings, carried over the local moors on my parents’ backs, to the wild camping trips with my brother in my teens, and the fell-running adventures of recent years, moving fast and light through the mountains has become a joy. This year for the first time, I experienced the feeling in winter, when Konrad and I joined Loic Tregan for a ski touring adventure in the Glarus Alps, Switzerland. Below is a brief summary, and a few photos of our experience - which I hope will be the first of many in years to come.

Clariden Ridge (photo Loic Tregan)
Fridolins Hut (photo Loic Tregan)
Setting off on skis straight from the car, we started the tour with a 1700m climb, up through the debris of a huge avalanche, to Claridenshütte, where we enjoyed excellent food and a comfortable night. Day 2 turned into rather an epic. After a fantastic morning on Clariden Ridge, our return route transpired to be more challenging than anticipated, and after additional navigation and technical (ski binding) delays, we were forced to re-route, and head for the rather basic Fridolinshütte winter-hut. After a smoke-filled hour, we succeeded in lighting the ancient stove, and having re-fuelled with stock and noodles sourced from the hut cupboard, we curled up together on the mattresses least covered by mouse droppings or snow. Not exactly five star accommodation, but as we all agreed, a great deal better than the outdoor alternative. 

Gaining the pass (photo Loic Tregan)
Early morning glacier (photo Loic Tregan)
The next day was spent getting back to where we were supposed to be, and eating copious quantities of bread, cheese, ham and pickles. On day 4 we skied up the Clariden glacier and, aided by Konrad’s mountaineering experience, crossed a steep col before a super 2000m descent cutting fresh tracks into the valley. We climbed up to the fantastically situated Cavardiras Hütte, and left early the next morning (picture below) to cross the Brunnifirn glacier, on our way to Oberalpstock summit (3300m).

Leaving the Cavardiras Hut (photo Loic Tregan)

Sunrise (photo Loic Tregan)

With a spectacular sunrise to start, a 3-summit ridge day from Oberalppass rounded off a brilliant first week of ski touring.

Above Oberalppass (photo Loic Tregan)
Of note, I found the week rather harder than I expected to. In contrast to previous mountain trips, I was pushed to keep up with the others, even after a week of altitude acclimatization. At the time I put it down to my skis, which were relatively heavier, but when I got back I discovered the happy explanation – I’d been carrying an extra passenger 😃

Scottish Islands Peaks Race

Reever (photo Liz Barker)
The advantage of doing SIPR 13-weeks pregnant is that you are used to feeling sick, so you’re already prepped for what’s to come. The disadvantage is that you have the added challenge of wave motion, and are unable to take any anti-sea sickness medication. As it turned out, my worries were unjustified. In the end, only one person on our team vomited, and that was a sailor – on the running section 😃

SIPR is a race for teams of sailors and fell runners, which takes place every year off the West Coast of Scotland. The race starts with a short hill run in Oban, then a sail to Salen on Mull and a run up Ben More, followed by a sail to Craighouse on Jura and a run over the Paps, then a sail to Lamlash on Arran and a run up Goat Fell, and finally a sail to finish in Troon. All in all, it’s a long weekend of non-stop adventure, and a lot of fun.

I’d agreed to run SIPR as part of an all-rounders team, at the start of the year. After I discovered I was pregnant I debated pulling out, but knowing that I would be running with my good friend Liz Barker (who knew the situation well in advance) gave me the confidence to stick with it. Luckily for me, Liz had raced SIPR the previous year for the boat Reever (a lovely class 3 monohull) and knew what it was all about.

The other members of our team were Nigel Holl and Gordon Callander - primarily excellent sailors, but handy runners too – and Jon Gay, a true all-rounder, brilliant at both. As an all-rounder team every member was obliged to run at least one of the three islands (Mull, Jura, Arran), and our overall result would be defined not only by our finishing time, bit also by the total number of man-mountain runs. In reality, this meant that the best plan was for Liz and I to run everything, with Jon along for Mull and Jura, and Gordon and Nigel along for Arran.

The race started at noon on Friday 19th May, from Oban boathouse, with a short (roughly 6km) dash over some small, bluebell covered hills adjacent to the town. The main purpose of this mad sprint seems to be to spread teams out to minimise the chaos that inevitably develops as the boats leave their moorings in Oban and race for a place on the open sea.
On this occasion however, the initial run times paled into insignificance given the complete absence of wind in the harbour. Crews of small and medium vessels pulled out oars, and thus inched their way past the larger boats, although one would still have been hard-pushed to describe it as a ‘race’. A youth team added to the general comedy of the situation when their young crew lowered themselves back into their dinghy with the intention of pulling their boat along, only to get left behind when the wind suddenly picked up.

On Ben More on Mull (photo Liz Barker)
We reached Mull at 5.27pm, roughly two thirds of the way through the field (21/36 overall). The Mull run comprises roughly 10km of small road/track, followed by a loop over Ben More, then a return the same way. It was a glorious summer evening, but I found the out-and-back hard work (for me, pregnancy had cardiorespiratory effects from very early on, most apparent on fast flat terrain), but the mountain was splendid, in particular the technical scrambly sections higher up (where I was in my element, leading the way). Buzzing from the evening light and views, we arrived back at the boat after 4 hours 41 minutes (having made up 6 places), and were soon on our way to Jura.
An interesting aspect of SIPR is that the race fractures into several separate races determined by groups of boats making, or alternatively missing, the tides (critical in the Sounds of Luing & Jura, and around the Mull of Kintyre). On this occasion for example, only the two leading boats made it through the Sound of Luing on the sail to Jura. The majority of the fleet milled around, waiting for the tide to turn, but a few (us included), took a calculated risk, and decided to sail around the West Coast of Jura instead, where the tide is less of a problem. Unfortunately for us, the wind subsequently dropped, and so in racing terms we lost time. However, we did have the pleasure of being joined by a pod of dolphins at one point, which I took as a rather marvellous consolation prize.

Jura, as always, was brilliant, and it was a pleasure to run the now familiar Paps (at least for me and Jon, who have raced the Jura Fell race several times), as a team. Once again, we had beautiful evening light and views, and I was reminded how special the island has become for me, since getting married there last year. We arrived onto Jura on exactly 24 hours after arriving onto Mull, in 29th overall, but made up 5 places during the run (4 hours 27 minutes), and as a result we just sneaked around the Mull of Kintyre with the tide, although I can’t claim any credit for this night-time success, given that I slept through it soundly in my bunk below.

Breaking our 5.27pm island arrival pattern, we sailed into Lamlash at lunchtime on Sunday. We made good progress on the run into Brodick (Nigel’s brightly coloured leggings attracted some attention in the process), and up towards the summit of Goatfell. We were intrigued to pass a great many beagles on the mountain (it subsequently transpired that it was an organised event, rather than a coincidental accumulation), one of which was carrying it’s own GoPro - Nigel and his dazzling leggings did their best to get into the shot.

Arran (photo Liz Barker)
On the way back our early speed and the afternoon heat conspired against Gordon... So much so, that when a shopper in Brodick saw us, she said ‘You’re not going all the way to Lamlash like that are you, do you need a lift?’, at which point Gordon perked up, whereas the rest of us in unison said ‘No!’ and forced him onwards... Getting back to the boat was a team effort in which we all played a part, but the greatest credit has to go to Gordon, who unmistakably earned his ‘All Rounders’ certificate that afternoon.

By the time we reached the boat there was little chance of us catching any team in front, and the remaining boats were several hours behind (courtesy of a tide gap), so we had a pleasant sail over to Troon. The final dinghy drop in the inner harbour was still exciting though, and we had to sail around twice before Liz and I were set free to row into the marina, and officially finish our race.

At the finish (offical photo)
SIPR is a race I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and as so many people predicted, I loved it. I’m already looking forward to it becoming a regular on my racing calendar... although given my circumstances, I’m not sure the experience will ever be quite as unique as this first time!

We finished in 26th position overall, after 42 hours 42 minutes of sailing and 14 hours 32 minutes of running, as 3rd All-Rounders. Although as has been pointed out to me since, since we did actually have an extra team member on every summit, we achieved more man mountains than the eventual winning team (and since they were all men, I am making the assumption they had no secret crew).... 😉


Whilst parent-offspring teams are routinely present at mountain marathons, three-generation teams must be exceedingly rare. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to be listed as such, and following on from our successful debut partnership at the Highlander in 2016, my mum and myself teamed up once again to run the score class at the LAMM. Set this year in the spectacular location of An Teallach, Fisherfield & Fannichs, with weather that defied the prior ominous forecasts, and almost no midges to be seen, it was a LAMM to be remembered.

LAMM Day 1 (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

To me, these mountains have an old, forgotten, remote feeling quite unlike the summits we typically frequent further south. As a result, we were enjoying ourselves so much on day 1 that we felt compelled to remain on the ridge and bag the Munro (Sgur Mor), rather than taking the racing line, and an extra 10 points, to our next checkpoint. We arrived there at roughly 4 hours of our total allocated 7, at which point I began to doubt we could make it back in time to the camp... It didn’t help that I was unsure exactly how long we had left, having forgotten to start my watch when we set off (this could never have happened if I had been with Konrad!). In the end we made it back only 2 minutes over (collecting 4 penalty points to our total of 150), although the last half hour was a rather frantic dash along the loch-side, and mummy did fall in a chest-deep bog just before we entered the camp, in her commitment to the cause.
The evening was spent eating and socialising with friends from all over (I love mountain marathons for this reason, especially the LAMM), with a brief thunderstorm interlude, during which everyone retired to their tents for a sleep.

LAMM Day 2 (photo Jasmin Paris collection)

On Sunday we did the majority of climbing in the morning, and then headed back towards the finish in the shadow of An Teallach, eager to make it with time to spare. Nevertheless, a tricky encounter with dense rhododendron bushes in the last km cost us several minutes, and we were forced to sprint (well, in my mum’s case, as much as one can following a hip replacement), finishing just inside the allocated time of 6 hours.

We finished in 38th position of 76 overall, 5th Females, and 3rd Female Vets. As my mum pointed out over the 2 days, with a total 13-hour allowance, we raced for 12 hours 59 minutes and 59 seconds. Now that’s what I call getting your money’s worth 😃

Final Thoughts

To some of those reading this blog, these adventures might seem overly ambitious, even foolhardy, in a pregnant state. I just want to stress that I am very aware of the fact that I now have another being to consider besides myself, and that it has definitely changed my approach. All the medical advice is to continue with exercise up to a moderate intensity during pregnancy (providing you did it beforehand). Since I've known I was pregnant, I've consciously made sure not to push myself, always staying well within a comfortable limit. I'm simply taking each week as it comes, with the plan to run for as long as it feels right, and then transition to walking instead.