Tuesday, 21 March 2017

#029 Kinder Surprises - In search of Kinder Cavern


Some days all you need is a nice day on the hill. I looked out of the window this morning and saw fresh spring colours under a rich blue sky. Decision made, I threw a few items into my rucksack, fed Rafa, put on his overcoat and set off.

The Kinder Round, from Hayfield, offered a straightforward route to blow away some cobwebs. A pause for coffee at the William's Clough footbridge. I poured an Africafe from my flask, strong, dark, no sugar. Offered a silent thank you to my pal Darren for re-supplying, having brought a big tin back from leading ion Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago.

I paused, savouring the aroma. It kindled happy memories of my previous expedition for World Challenge to South Tanzania. Circumstances meant I wouldn't be returning to the Old Country this summer. Enough introspection, saddle up and I pushed on at a brisk pace up Sandy Heys.

A strong southwesterly gusted across the trail when we crested the gritstone edge of the Kinder plateau. Rafa and I jogged onwards. As we approached the downfall, there was the iconic plume of water being blown back upwards. The Dark Peak's very own Mosi-oa-tunya!

Closer to the waterfall, the canyon created a funneling effect so that the spray became super cooled, sticking to grass and moss, creating vertical icicles.

Above, dark clouds had built up and the odd hailstone pinged off surrounding boulders. Rafa and I retreated to the leeward side of a small bluff and pulled the emergency bothy over us just as the hail intensified. Underneath we were warm and comfortable. I sipped another coffee, Rafa crunched some biscuits and layed down for a rest.

Shower gone, blue skies returned, we jogged southwards, past Red Brook re-entrant, the trig point and towards the bronze age tumulus. Here we deviated off the slabs, descended a few metres and contoured around Kinderlow End. Our Kinder Surprise for the day was to find the elusive and somewhat fabled Kinder Cavern, or as it's more properly known in the caving community as The Belfry.

In the Geological Survey 1887, there is the following description...
"Kinderlow Cavern is not easily accessible. The entrance is through a fissure nearly vertical, and it is likely that the cavern itself is a large rent caused by the rock having parted along a joint end slipped slightly forwards. Appalling legends prevail in the neighbourhood of rash explorers who have lost their way and been imprisoned for a whole night in the cave."

The 'rash explorers' are likely to have been two local men, whose escapades were published in the Manchester Evening News in 1843...
A search party soon set off headed by the anxious uncle, the party armed with ropes lights and all that was necessary to unearth the wanderers if they were found at the place mentioned. To return to the cavemen they awoke at last from their long sleep and the first sound they heard, possibly, it was that which awakened them, was the halloo of the rescuers. 

It sounded to faint for the two men to be sure of this, but they both shouted out together with all their strength and were rejoiced to hear a reply, louder this time for they were wide awake now. It did not take long to get them out to the light of day.

Billy said he felt very foolish and he would never forget how ‘th’ ester’ first looking at them ‘dreeply’ tapped his snuff box twice, then taking a long pinch said “Well have you had enough.” They had been in the cave 21 hours.

There are also stories of the the cave entrance being blocked up with timber by game keepers. And of there originally being two separate entrances.

I located the vertical fissure. Rafa settled down on a patch of grass outside while I shone a torch into the first vesibule of the cavern. The structure did indeed appear to have been formed by an ancient slip. At the rear of the first vesibule a shaft of natural light shone through a gap in the ceiling. Looking to the right there was a shaft leading down into darkness. This is cavers' territory and certainly not for the unaccompanied hill walker. So I left, content with a couple of photographs and having found what could be the infamous Kinder Cavern of local legends.

If you would like to experience Kinder Surprises and guided adventures, get in touch with
local Mountain Leader, Stu Westfield from Hayfield.  Email: rangerexped@hotmail.com
Ranger Expeditions

Our upcoming 'open group' adventures includes
The Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge

A fully supported and guided big day out on the hill, including transport to the start point and low cost accommodation options. We are offering our 6th May 2017 Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge at superb value prices: £60 walk including 2 nights Bunkhouse accommodation. £30 walk only.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

#028 Legends Trails 2017 - Ardennes Magic


Waiting for the late flight back to Manchester, after Joop De Wel had kindly given me a lift back from the Ardennes.

I strolled up and down Terminal B. Coughed at the ridiculous price of Talisker. 60 Euros a bottle! It's supposed to be duty free! So I bought some Belgian chocolate champagne truffles and a bottle of Amarula cream instead.

I had plenty of time to reflect upon the weekend's action on The Legends Trails race. There was never any doubt that this year's second edition would not live up to the racing adventures set by the 2016 event. Race Directors Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans had invested significant efforts into The Legends. Several racers had returned, either to wipe clean the record of previous DNF, or with their sights on being the first legend of 2017.

Tim, Stef and racers gathering at the start.
In the HQ too, there was a great mix of experienced volunteers and new faces. The traditional spirit of camaraderie was felt by all as the race machine started up, first with registration, kit check and then medical check by Dr Geert Meese and his superb team. Wim Bastiaens and Patrick De Kunst, both safe hands from previous Legends events, joined me as Safety Team coordinators. Sadly no Deiter Van Holder this year, he is working in Iceland as a mountain guide and having good adventures there too.

Wim in Race HQ
A new feature for the logistics team this year were team managers, Joop Werson and Kurt Demets. The logistics and safety teams did a superb job. Often to holes crossed over, both teams helping each other where possible with the common goal of another successful race.

Joop De Wel and Mich Van Deun looked after the Legends racer tracking system, providing quality data and visual displays for the race organisation and spectators in the common room.

Joop, Mich and Patrick taking care of business.
This year, both in the weeks prior and during the race, the weather was much milder. The trails had not suffered from several weeks of rain and then days of snow melt. That said, the conditions were far from easy, with several squalls of gusting wind and freezing rain blowing through. In 1944 the Ardennes winter caused the 101st Airborne considerable problems. Today, the terrain remains largely unchanged. 2017 finisher, Allan Rumbles, said for the Legends course if a racer could change shoes to suit the ground underfoot, he would need a dozen types of trail shoe, further emphasising that attrition on the feet is a significant factor.

Safety Team Coordinators occasionally sleep too!
Forests cover the region. Mature densely planted pine forests effectively obscure sight lines and disguise contour features. Deep riverine valleys cut through undulating terrain and are overlaid by a cryptic matrix pathways, firebreaks and sketchy trails. Some of the Legends course follows way marked GR (Grande Randonnee) routes, some other sections follow Promenade Routes. However, these fall in and out of popularity and so may be overgrown. The frequent changes of direction and complex environment places a premium on navigation and route finding skills.

Navigation challenges.
This years winner, Tuen Geurts-Schoenmakers, used only map and compass...and he still took 13 hours off the course record. But most racers do use a GPS to some extent. The combination of fatigue, sleep deprivation and cold caused a few competitors to have difficulty route finding even with a GPS - once again proving that whilst GPS is an important item in many racers' navigation tool box, it is not always the whole solution.

Also, for UK racers, the Belgium mapping system is very different to the Ordnance Survey we are used to...

  • Belgium maps are highly pictorial rather than symbolic as the OS. 
  • Contours interval is 5m with index contours at 20m. Can make the map look quite busy in steep terrain. 
  • The map grid uses Mercator Projection therefore is not as intuitive as OS Grid. Hence Belgian navigators do not use the grid as much as we do in the UK.
  • The scale is 1:20,000 so at 1km = 5cm there is detail in the built up areas at least as good as 1:25,000 OS.
In 2017 saw the first British finisher of The Legends. Ryan Wood rocked up to a very creditable 15th place. Allan Rumbles with his own brand of solid, relentless, forward progress toughed it out to 26th place, finishing to loud applause and several La Chouffre beers in celebration.

At 250km the Legends is the longest and most arduous, ultra challenge in the Benelux countries. In 2017 a total of 29 Legends were made from 61 starters. Willemijn Jongens and Sarah Johnson finished in 22nd place, proving that 'this girl can'.

The 2018 Legends Trails promises even more adventures, even more Legends. The question is, will you be there? 

Stu Westfield
Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

#027 Dark Peak Winter Report 2017 & Montane Flux Jacket Mini-Test

Thursday 16 February 2017

One thing's for certain, the annual Daily Express' doom laden forecast of the 'worst winter in 500 years' hasn't come true.

Here in the Dark Peak we have seen a fair amount of the white stuff, but it's character has been a sudden dumping, settling on high ground typically over 400 metres, followed by a fairly rapid thaw.

November 2016

In November, Ranger Ultras organised the inaugural Peak South 2 North Ultra over two stages. Saturday's White Peak trails stage was run under blue skies in crisp fresh air. The pin sharp light made a perfect showcase for the limestone dales and vales. Sunday's Dark Peak Challenge could not have been more different. Overnight, an un-seasonal early snowfall left the course covered in several inches of snow, with deeper drifting just off the trail.

Prior to the start Race Directors, Stu and Peter, took the decision to omit the more wilderness elements of the event. We considered the modified course (following the Pennine Way over Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill, then down into Marsden) difficult enough under snow. Most of the entrants were also Spine Race competitors, so they were very happy to have a route which gave them a complete reccie of the Dark Peak section of The Pennine Way as part of their Spine build up.

Supporting the Peak South 2 North, we had a superb team of friends and volunteers, many of whom are Mountain Leaders. Safety teams were positioned at each road head, with hot soup and food for racers as well as being ready to help any racer in need on the course. (We look after our volunteers equally as well as racers. So every volunteer in our events receives a personal free entry into one of our later races or stages) For additional safety monitoring, each racer carried a tracker from Legends Tracking:   http://www.legendstracking.com/

From a race director's point of view, it is always the wish for racers to be engaged in ding-dong battles all the way to the finish line. Indeed, just like what we had seen a month earlier on our Ranger Ultras, Yorkshire 3 Peaks Ultra, where Richard Lendon and Tom Hollins had pushed each other to the limit all the way up to the last 200 metres. At the final field, where there is a narrow path where to overtake would involve unsportsmanlike barging, they agreed that if they were within an few metres of each other they would rock into the finish at Hawes as joint winners. But this was no soft option joint finish. When I greeted them at the finish line they were truly a sight. Battered, bloodied and bruised, they sat down and like a double act, without pausing for breath, told me the whole story of their race. Their faces beaming with wide smiles.


A couple of months later, Tom went on to win the 2017 Spine Race in a inspired strategic, go big or go home, finish along the Cheviot, overhauling previous winners Pavel Paloncy and Eugenie. He would never describe himself as such, so I'll say it here. In those final miles, Tom became a Spine Legend.

The PS2N Stage 2 story was very different yet no less satisfying from a Race Director's perspective. Among the racers was experienced International Mountain Leader, Paul Gale, elite ultra runner Jenn Gaskell and several competitors who had joined our Ranger Ultras Complete Racer Training Days. By the time they had reached the A57 it became very clear that the race had become an expedition of attrition. The field had combined into two distinct groups, each with team members taking turns to break trail, navigate and check navigation. As they approached Snake Pass, it was a superb sight to see the bonds of camaraderie, forged out of adversity, with everyone working towards the common goal.

We had hired the Parochial Hall at Marsden until 22:00 on the Sunday, thinking this would be a very generous time for racers to complete the course. We were glad we had, as the second group took some 13 hours to complete. Every racer arriving felt it was truly an epic adventurous day out.


Looking to 2017, the Ranger Ultras races are now open for bookings with Si-Entries:
YORKSHIRE 3 PEAKS ULTRA: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/yorkshire-3-peaks-ultra/

PEAK SOUTH 2 NORTH: http://rangerultras.co.uk/index.php/peak-district-south-2-north/

To help racers prepare for Y3PU and PS2N Ultras, our Complete Racer training is available:

September - December 2016

During the autumn and early winter, as official training provider for The Montane Spine Race, we welcomed many runners to our Ranger Expeditions Complete Racer events and one-2-one training. The courses look at all aspects of the Spine Race, drawing upon 6 years race history as well as remote expeditions and competitive racing. We investigate the factors contributing to success - i.e. finisher's medal - and the reasons why so many racers DNF across the whole spectrum of entries. Navigation is a major concern for potential racers, so we dedicate penty of time to skills and practice. Our courses have helped many Spiners journey with greater confidence and proficiency. The Complete Racer approach has raised awareness of important aspects of strategy which racers have often not devoted sufficient attention.

A few words from our Complete Racer participants....

"A big thanks for all the help and tips that made it possible for me to finish the Spine race...wow what a journey and at times it didn't seem possible but I did it. Cheers"

"priceless advice on your masterclass. Really helpful, thanks"

Bookings are now open for 2017, Ranger Expeditions, Complete Racer, Spine Race specific training.

2017 also brings the first 'summer Spine' Fusion and Flare races, for which we have the following training event:

Sunday 12 February 2017

The mild winter had confounded my best efforts to match location and timing with a excursion into the white playground. During my annual stint on The Spine Race as Safety Team Coordinator I had arranged a few hours of down time with fellow Safety Team crew at the Auchope Refuge Hut on the Cheviots. But the weather up there was like summer. It looked like a planned trip to Chill FactorE in Manchester might be the only snow I would make contact with this winter.

So to my delight, last Sunday, the forecast looked promising. From my house I can't quite see Kinder, but by midday Mount Famine had a dusting. I threw some kit into my Millet ProLighter sack, pulled on a pair of salopettes and decided to test drive the Montane Flux Jacket given to me by the race sponsor at The Spine.

Worn directly over a base garment, the Flux jacket felt a generous enough fit so that if I wanted to wear another layer underneath it would still be comfortable. As I ascended Sandy Heys, the spin drift started to sting, so I swapped my wrap around sunglasses for proper ski goggles. Combined with a buff to protect my cheeks and nose, the Flux jacket hood made a good barrier and closure against the freezing ice crystal missiles. Cresting onto the Pennine Way wind gusted over the edge of the Kinder plateau blowing drifts across the trail. It was time to get a shifty on.

Moving at a brisk pace was sufficient to generate enough heat to feel comfortable in the Primaloft Silver insulated Flux. When blown against the jacket, it shed the snow without soaking into the fabric. Of course, this was a first excursion for the jacket so its water repellent surface treatment was at it's optimal newness. I fully expect to have to regularly renew with treatment products to maintain this level of performance. However, in these conditions a insulated jacket such as the Flux would never be my ultimate protection against weather - in my rucksack I also carried a shell jacket in case the falling snow turned to sleet or heavy rain.

As I progressed along the Pennine Way, I mentally ticked off the features memorised from the many previous walks on Kinder. Of course, map, compass and GPS, were carried in case of total white out, but I could see enough of the way ahead, through the flurries and greyness, as well as the contours to be confident I was on track.

A quick stop for hot black coffee and Eccles cake among the sheltered rocks above The Downfall. Past the Red Brook re-entrant. Taking care not to let the pull of gravity take me too far westward. The large cairn at Kinder Low, tick. Follow the faint flat impression of the trail in the snow in a southerly direction looking for the slabbed branch to Swine's Back. West of Swines back a drift had accumulated nearly up to the top of a dry stone wall. I chuckled at the enjoyment of being the first person to wade through it.

Descending down the Oakden Clough bridleway, I reflected on the micro-adventure with satisfaction. I hadn't seen anyone since ascending Sandy Heys. The experience felt visceral and good for the soul. The Monane Flux Jacket had done everything I wanted from it. At 400 metres ASL I dropped below the snow line, pulled off my goggles and unzipped the hood.

No time to pause though, there was a fresh black coffee with my name on it at The Sportsman Inn, Hayfield.

Stu Westfield
Mountain & Expedition Leader
Ranger Expeditions:   www.rangerexped.co.uk
Ranger Ultras:   www.rangerultras.co.uk

Monday, 30 January 2017

#026 They Were Legends

On the first weekend of March 2016, the first edition of The Legends Trails was held in the historic Belgium Ardennes.

The 250km course was over constantly undulating terrain. A wet winter had turned the trails into a muddy quagmire which had been covered with slushy spring snow. The temperature hovered around freezing, with more snow falling on the higher hills and sleet lower down. This chilling, wet environment made an almost perfect recipe for hypothermia and immersion (trench) foot.

The Legends Trails is the creation of Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans. Both have raced in the Spine Challenger, a 108 mile expedition style ultra race along the Pennine Way in the UK. Taking their inspiration from the Spine, they developed The Legends to be the longest and certainly the most arduous ultra race in Belgium.

Like the Spine, there are fixed checkpoints with hot food and drinks for the runners, who may also bivvy outside to rest. But the race is non-stop, in so much as the clock is always ticking towards intermediate and final cut-off times.

Many Legends racers have written engaging and captivating first had accounts of their varied experiences in the atmospheric forests of the Ardennes. These blogs should serve as an essential reference for future Legends racers. They give insights into kit and clothing selection and also indicate what strategies worked well. 

With 15 finishers from 47 starters it is also very worthwhile to read the blogs of racers who did not finish. (Race Director, Stef Schuermans, suggested that on the Legends there should not be "DNF's and Finishers", rather "Myths and Legends.")

But as always there should be a word of caution regarding using information, research and social media: What works, or indeed does not work, for them will not necessarily be the same for someone else. The only way to develop a robust strategy and select kit that works for you, is to personally test, review, develop and improve. Its a mantra we encourage on Ranger Ultras 'Complete Racer' training courses, along with the skills and shared knowledge for racers to make informed decisions regarding their personal racing strategies.

The ability to independently navigate is an essential skill for the Legends. With frequent changes of direction along the whole course, racers cannot afford to mentally switch off. 
Some sections do follow GR way marking which helps. But racers still need to be aware of their location identify where the course leaves the GR trail. Also there are numerous local 'promenade' trails intersecting and crossing the course, adding to the opportunities for navigation error.

GPS with uploaded GPX files was the navigation tool of choice for many racers. However, the environmental conditions contributed to several units failing. In previous blogs, I have recommended that GPS units are used inside a protective, transparent bag, with a silica gel sachet added for good measure...no matter what the manufacturers claims as to water resistance.

But slavishly following GPS, with 'heads down' is surely not necessarily the most efficient or engaging way to run a trail race. With some basic navigation techniques, such as orientating the map, contour awareness, timing and an understanding of location grid references, a racer can journey with greater efficiency. Also with a paper map it is easier to read ahead and anticipate upcoming route finding challenges. 

That said, I'm not anti-GPS. When a ultra racer is fatigued, sleep deprived and up against time cut offs, the ability to dial up a grid reference to relocate position can save vital minutes. Whether GPS, map or compass, your ability to observe and understand, all are legitimate navigation tools, so why not have a range of tools and techniques at your disposal.

I was delighted to help run the Legends Safety Team, along with fellow coordinators Wim Bastiaens and Dieter Van Holder, plus Joop De Wel managing the racer tracking system. Using the successful model I developed for the 2016 Spine Race, the team quickly picked up the simple reporting and monitoring system. 

The safety teams on-the-ground did a superb job of recovering racers from the course and bringing them to warm checkpoints to recover from their ordeals. It was interesting to note that racers tended to self select out of the race before their condition seriously deteriorated into hypothermia. Perhaps this was due to the Legends being a new style of endurance race of a distance previously unheard of in Belgium. 

In my past life, I worked as an aerospace engineer. Often reporting and investigating failures, quality escapes and non-conformance. I apply this process orientated approach to race safety. The aim is to have the simplest, easiest to implement solution which has capability and capacity to suit the event. Events such as Legends rely upon volunteers, many of whom are working together for the first time, so the safety system had to have minimal training and the best possible communications.

The inaugural Legends Trails was a huge success, both from the perspective of the racers and the race organisation. In the final kilometers of the race, we were treated to an incredible chase down of Belgian elite runners by visiting ultra racer, Michael Frenz and local lad Joris Jacobs. One by one Michael and Joris overtook the lead runners. It became a edge of seat 'will they, won't they' spectacular!

In the final metres, Joris ushered Michael forward to claim the win. Later saying that he would not have made it as far as he had without Michael's navigation skills and strategy. It was a gesture which of a true sportsman, emotionally appreciated by everyone watching and garnering both athletes with the utmost respect.

Every racer following into the finish was given equal applause and rousing welcome to the finish. They were presented with their finisher's medal by Tim and Stef along with a sponsors gift of La Chouffe beer.

On the first weekend of March in 2016, Legends were made.
In 2017 we look forward to making some more.

Stu Westfield

Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator

Thursday, 22 December 2016

#025 Kinder "Upfall" & Story Of A River, John Muir Award and Millet Prolighter 30 on test.


The weather man said Storm Barbara is approaching and will hit over Christmas. Meanwhile, looking out across Hayfield village this morning, the winter sun lit up the rooftops. A fresh clear blue sky above, pin sharp, saturated colour. Just time to head out into the hills.

My proposal, for the first 'Discovery' level of The John Muir Award, had recently been approved. In a few months time the outcome of this project will be a short film (working title: Kinder - the story of a river). The film will showcase the geology and flora of the river, discuss current conservation issues and highlight my home village of Hayfield as a great base for outdoor enthusiasts to begin their Peak District adventures.

I saddled up my new Millet Prolighter 30 and took Rafa on a preparatory walk along the course of the River Kinder, from Bowland Bridge to just below The Downfall waterfall. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon, gradually ascending, until we reached a point just below the cascade of the Downfall.

Along the way, I took some a selection of photos from which to build a shot list and narrative for the film. I was also luck enough to get to the Downfall on a day with a south westerly wind, which turns it into Kinder 'Upfall'.

The ground was quite broken and the rocks slippy so I decided not to traverse below the waterfall this time. Rafa had been a good boy following my route, but was looking tired. We retraced out steps and meandered home where I had a nice cup of tea and the boy fell fast asleep on his bed.


With over 15 years of service on overseas expeditions and in the UK, my old Berghaus Extem Guide pack is looking a bit frayed. I'm not quite ready to retire the old workhorse, a few stitches here and there will see it right for a while longer. For a while I've been looking at what's new on the market and to have a replacement in reserve just in case the Extrem Guide fails beyond repair.

Working as a Mountain Leader means I am more concerned about longevity than ultra light weight kit. Also, whilst I do generally believe you get what you pay for, I'm not going be shelling out thick wedges of cash either. I like the un-fussy alpine style packs with a single compartment. I never did use the lower zip on the Berghaus or the two compartment divider.

Features I look for are:

  • A couple of attachment points for ice axe, or more frequently walking poles
  • Small compartment in the lid for quick access to snacks and possibles.
  • Reinforced base to stand up to 'sit down, packs off' routine (after all, any fool can be uncomfortable on safari!)
  • Comfortable back design and stable pack when loaded.
After a lot more searching than I had expected to do, I came across the Millet Prolighter 30. I actually saw it first on another walker, while I was guiding clients on Ben Nevis. I thought that it looked good and was a tidy design. A internet trawl and I acquired a red one from Tiso, reduced from £99 to £79.

Today was the first test of my Millet Prolighter 30. Loaded with the usual items of emergency kit, water bottle, my food, Rafa's snacks and his spare coat, the pack felt comfortable and stable. From our fast walk in, along established trails, to following the upper reaches of the River Kinder across rough country and a spot of rock hopping near the Downfall, I was very pleased with its performance. Time shall reveal if it lives up to the apparent durability. But for now, if its good enough for the Chamonix Guides Company, its good enough for me.

Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year
Stu Westfield

Ranger Expeditions & Ultras

The Montane Spine Race Safety Team & Training Coordinator

Monday, 17 October 2016

#024 Spine Race Training Weekend (14-16 Oct 2016)

This weekend, The Spine Team hosted Spine Racers and Challengers for our annual Training Weekend (TW), at the Hebden Hey Scout Centre. The event is a great opportunity for racers to gain skills, knowledge and insights into what it takes to finish The Spine and Spine Challenger. 

For the TW we run a reduced Safety Team sufficient to provide hq, checkpoint, safety ops room and on course safety roles. Its a chance for us to welcome new volunteers as well as catching up with old friends on the team. Its also important that the TW is fulfilling for everyone that supports the Spine and to gain experience in different roles. 

To quote Jon O'Connell, regular Spine Safety Team volunteer:
"The Spine is a great opportunity to work with industry professionals. Where else could you gain this level of knowledge and experience in exchange for a little spare time?"

Friday evening began with speakers sessions. This year we were treated to four entertaining and quality talks from: Andy Mouncey (Cracking The Spine), Pete Wilkie (First Time Spine, 3rd Place Finish) Richard Lendon (Multiple Spine Finisher) & Tom Jones (Spine Racer & Spine Team). 

Each discussed their personal approach to developing a race finishing strategy. All the audience particularly appreciated the speakers sharing their stories of when things did not go to plan and self-less analysis of why this happened. Every session was delivered with great humour accompanied by a lot of laughter too. 

Saturday began with a quick safety briefing from Training Coordinator, Stu Westfield and then a kit check before participant headed out onto the 47 mile Mary Townley Loop (MTL) for a day out on the trail.

For 2016 we added several scenarios designed to get racers thinking about their use of kit, skills, route finding ability and preparedness for The Spine Race and Challenger. Each scenario was at a location where Spine Safety Team were on hand to provide support and guidance to help racers in their approach and solution to the task.

Back at the Hebden Hey Scout Centre, members of the Safety Team worked in rotation to manage the Ops Room; Receiving updates from on-course safety team checkpoints, monitoring racers as they progressed around the MTL. Occasional interventions were made to recover participants from the course who had injuries, or moving participants up the course so they could benefit from a mini-reccie of the Pennine Way approach to Hebden Hey from Stoodley Pike - a section of Spine route which has often caused route finding difficulties.

Race Director, Scott Gilmour cooked up a tasty spaghetti bolognese for participants returning to Hebden Hey. And, once everyone was safely off the course, a few tinnies of beer made an appearance.

The Spine TW concluded on Sunday morning with three speaker sessions: Tom Jones (creative footwear solutions), Matt & Ellie (Spine Film produced by Summit Fever), Dr Fiona Beddoes-Jones (Cognitive fitness for the Spine Race).

The quality and number of speakers this year has been outstanding, thank you all. 
To illustrate this and as a sample of the breadth and depth of shared staff knowledge at the Spine Training events, here is a link to Fiona's presentation: 


Also huge thanks to the dedication of The Spine Team out on the 47 mile training loop, implementing our training 'scenarios', sharing knowledge and ensuring racers welfare. Equally the Spine Team members at Hebden Hey were safe hands in the Ops Room. 

Feedback from racers on each of our TWs continues to be very positive, with many comments as to how much the training has helped them focus (or indeed re-focus) their race strategy; the knowledge they have learnt that they were not aware of; what great value the TW is; the camaraderie within the Spine Team and how we welcome and work with racers to help them achieve the best possible outcome. 

Also, a date for your diaries. After thorough planning, the Spine Team announced the first edition of the Summer Spine will be in 2017. This will coincide with the Summer Solstice. (Remember, if the race doesn't have 'Spine' in the title, its not the original and best). Just like the Spine Challenger, the Summer Spine is a superb race in its own right, as well as a progressive stepping stone for racers building up to the winter Spine. 

Our programme of Official Montane Spine Training events continues with Open Group Training at Spine Advanced Skills (4th December 2016), Spine Masterclass & Spine Challenger Masterclass. Plus 1-to-1 training available. See http://thespinerace.com/complete-racer/ for more details...

For the Summer Spine we will be offering similar group and 1-to-1 training opportunities. To stay in touch with the latest news see Join the Official Spine Group on Facebook and updates on The Montane Spine website. 

Meanwhile sincere thanks from myself, and Race Directors Scott Gilmour & Phil Hayday Brown.  

Stu Westfield 
Montane Spine Race 
Training & Safety Team Coordinator