So where do I start with a race report on this one? So many lessons learned:
Lesson 1, never drink loads of beer before committing to an event!
We started the epic journey with a compulsory cold environment survival course of 4 days – absolutely key to getting to grips with some of the finer details of not becoming an icicle. Meeting up with all the proper athletes the days before the race was also great, an array from all over the world, these guys and girls are superhuman……. I’m in awe of their abilities.
Second lesion, pack lighter!! Man those pulks are heavy at 30+kg with food and minimal warm water. Race day was a bit frantic at the start- always trying to slightly under dress so you don’t boil once going means that any hanging around becomes very chilly! Day 1 had us racing through spectacular scenery of snow, over icy lakes and rivers, waterfalls and forests. We reached the first of our daily compulsory medical check points at around 8pm (primarily this is to check for frostbite injury). The first checkpoint was after one of the most gruelling climbs of the course…. Let’s just say that gravity is not your friend when you lugging all this gear up a mountain (OK it was more a large hill but felt like Everest!). Conditions at the top were bitter cold, I’m guessing -20/25 with wind chill. Luckily a bit of downhill followed and we eventually called it a day at around 12:30am. Found a suitable spot to camp and set up a bivi by 1am.
Day 2 started with a 6 am rise and shine, cook a breakfast, down camp and into trail. The weather was not great, sideways snow burned your face. This was amplified when crossing these massive expanses of frozen lakes, which although beautiful we’re so exposed to the elements. The tracks and markers became difficult to follow and the deeper the snow got, the more you sank, so snowshoes were the way of the day. Medical check point we hit at around 8pm again with Dave my buddy (a veteran ultra runner) having a severe hypoglycaemic episode and almost delirious – so we took some time to gather ourselves here before heading back out that night. Camping again around 1am and up at 5:30am to make up some time.
3rd lesson, open your shoes out to the max before sleeping, these are literally rock hard blocks of ice the next day that you can’t get feet into otherwise!
Day 3 was a long old slog up and down some of the most stunning terrain. The snow had started to harden so we could finally get out of snow shoes. The body was in all sorts of pain from muscles to cracking lips and what felt like sandblasted face. Our medical check point that day was around lunch time, but other than that it was the same pattern of set up camp around 1am and up at 5:30.
4th lesson be very careful how you position your snowshoes when going to the morning bathroom…..
Day 4 we knew was our finish day so spirits were high and pace was good. Helped by a decent amount of flat terrain and one glorious 800m downhill (I never understand how there always seems to be more uphills than downhills on any event?!?!). Conditions underfoot had again improved although around -10 to -12 degrees. At the end of a long lake crossing I reduced layers (as it is indeed possible to sweat at those temperatures), and without exaggeration the small amount of moisture on the inside of my gore-tex became ice in the time it took for me to remove a layer (the advantage of that being one can then just shake out the ice and presto dry jacket😂). Final long lake crossing towards the finish line, the kilometres seeming to drag, but such a fantastic feeling to cross the line.
Without doubt the toughest, most relentless event I’ve ever done, but also one of the best experiences ever….., would I do it all again…. Already looking at dates!!