Some people would say it’s not normal to spend three weekends out of four on the Pennine Way in the early hours of the morning. I’m inclined to agree, but I ended up doing it anyway.

Pitch Black Pennine Way

Written by Haydn Williams

Some people would say it’s not normal to spend three weekends out of four on the Pennine Way in the early hours of the morning. I’m inclined to agree, but I ended up doing it anyway.

The first weekend in January was the “Double Marsden to Edale”, starting – confusingly – in Edale and heading across Kinder, Bleaklow and Black Hill to Marsden. Having left Edale around 22:00, you arrive in Marsden around 07:30 for a brief rest, then turn around and head all the way back to Edale again. This was courtesy of Ben and his Rucksack Club colleagues. Thankfully this year’s 17½hr trip was pretty uneventful, although the very reflective mist and low cloud made navigating by torchlight a bit tedious on the outward leg.

As always, Andy’s navigation was impeccable and we made good speed on the return leg too. I played a strategic blinder this year, and booked a place at the really lovely Castleton YHA hostel, so was able to fall into bed relatively quickly after finishing.

The following weekend found me at Hawes, specifically at Checkpoint 1 on The Spine Race. It runs the entire 268-mile length of the Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm, and the winning time this year was 4 days, 3h 25m. I was on the safety team, tasked with doing all kinds of safety-related things like helping people on the hill in the cold and the dark. Our only real incident in the first couple of days was to pick up a chap who’d fallen over about 1km outside Edale and cracked a rib, but had carried on to Wessenden Head (close to our turnaround point on the Marsden to Edale the previous weekend) before deciding he’d had enough. Hardcore!

Heading off Black Hill back towards civilisation. © Haydn Williams 2017
Heading off Black Hill back towards civilisation. © Haydn Williams 2017

The next couple of days were spent at Hawes. No-one did anything silly so there wasn’t any serious action (probably a good thing). We did head up onto the Cam High Road in the early hours to check on competitors as they came through in various states of tiredness, enthusiasm and/or general apathy.

Not much to see from the car between competitors. © Haydn Williams 2017
Not much to see from the car between competitors. © Haydn Williams 2017

The final episode in my triptych of Pennine Way outings was Marmot Dark Mountains. I partnered with Greg last year, and this year John had the dubious pleasure of joining me for a January night in a blizzard. After some Grade-A ninja navigation to the first few controls things started to fall apart – we lost a footpath in the snow, then lost all idea of where on earth we were. In retrospect, a slight uphill just seemed bigger in the dark and the snow than it would in daylight, but after more than an hour of fruitless searching for CP4 we navigated back to a known point and then decided enough was enough.

Back down nice and early. The yellow blob on the floor is John napping. © Haydn Williams 2017
Back down nice and early. The yellow blob on the floor is John napping. © Haydn Williams 2017

We had a leisurely stroll back to the event centre, arriving about 02:30 and getting some sleep on the floor as plenty of others came filtering in too. It seems the navigation was harder this year, combined with some poor weather, but it was definitely a useful lesson in triple-checking things before jumping to conclusions in difficult conditions.

We shall never speak of this again. © Haydn Williams 2017
We shall never speak of this again. © Haydn Williams 2017

I’m pleased to report that normal service has now resumed, and I’m back to venturing out in daylight hours only. Hurrah!

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