By Rick Ansell
Three Tringers entered the Trigger, but one, let’s just call him ‘Andy’*, looked at the weather forecast and suddenly realised that he had booked a weekend in the gym at great expense so wouldn’t be running. Thus two thirds of a Tring Team assembled in the dawn light at Marsden Cricket Club. Actually it might be more accurate to say one third of a Tring team and a hanger on at the back.
The evening before, Hugh texted to ask if I knew the route and should he follow the main paths. I was tempted to encourage him to stick closely to the Pennine Way all the way to Edale and perhaps do an extra loop over Brown Knoll and Mam Tor at the end. To be fair, though, even if I had managed to persuade him to do an extra five miles, he would have arrived in Edale long before me.
This race has gone through lots of permutations. Back in the day it was held in early December and organized by the great Sheffield based mountaineer Tanky Stokes and was knows universally as Tanky’s Trog. In those days the route missed out most of Kinder Scout, scooting down the A57 Snake Road to the Snake Inn and then sneaking over the ‘Three Minute Crossing’ of Kinder to drop into the bottom of Grinds Brook just above Edale.
When Nicky Spinks took over the race about ten years ago, she (inevitably) decided that road running was not appropriate and early January would be more likely to provide miserable weather. She routed the race via the four main Trig points: Black Hill, High Shelf Stones on Bleaklow, Sandy Heys or Kinder North and Kinderlow to keep the race as high and wild as possible. She has had huge, hard fought battles for access and has usually had to concede one or other of the trigs. This year, Sandy Heys was included, but Kinderlow excluded, which meant a direct crossing of the middle of the Kinder plateau, a line the old Dark Peak Club Champs used to take and one I haven’t run for 30 years (with good reason, you might agree, if you have ever tried to cross the middle of Kinder…).
As we lined up in Marsden, a group of Super Runners was lining up in Edale for the Spine Race along the entire route of the Pennine Way. Forecast overnight snow had not materialised and actually, as we made our way along the interminable track up the Wessenden Valley, the morning seemed relatively benign. But as we approached the summit of Black Hill the snow came in and visibility was reduced to a few metres. Navigation was easy, though as there were plenty of muddy footprints to follow and although I was cold I knew that soon we would be down in the relative shelter of Crowden Little Brook and losing height changed the snow to rain. My descents were rather stuttering, but in general I was feeling positive and running comfortably, and seemed to make places on the uphills.
Starting the climb up Torside to Bleaklow, Damian Hall and Kim Collison came trotting easily down leading the Spine Race, Kim with his huge trademark grin. We shouted mutual encouragement and continued in our opposite directions. Unfortunately, neither Kim nor Damian were able to complete their journeys and today, as the DOMS in my legs starts to fade, that race is still going…
I had a Cunning Plan for Bleaklow to cut a corner and miss the summit. What had seemed like a good idea in the comfort of my armchair didn’t seem so clever in the rain and mist as I left the main trail of footprints and headed across the snowy heather. There were two other guys just behind them and I told them what I was doing hoping they wouldn’t follow me but they did. Fell Running Principle No 3 states that anybody with a map in their hand should be followed. This rather added to my stress as it is one thing getting yourself lost but quite another getting other people lost as well. There were occasional footprints suggesting that others had attempted this line too and we weaved our way through the heather, found the top of Yellowslacks Brook and set a course for Shelf Stones Trig.
‘About a K to the trig’: I said trying to instill confidence into myself as much as the others. “Do you recognize anything?” one of them asked. “Well,” I said, “I recognize that this bit looks exactly like the last bit and the bits before that as well.” There were equal measures of relief and surprise when we heard voices though the mist and soon came upon figures waving us into the checkpoint. I wondered if we had made or lost places with my line but decided it didn’t matter as we had had a good adventure.
It was all downhill and easy route finding to the Snake Road crossing now. Spiners were still making their way towards us, few looking as cheery as Kim and Damian had. My spirits were high as the parked cars emerged out of the gloom and a “Well done Tring” from one of the marshalls as I checked in gave a further lift.
The next stretch is all on paving slabs across the bogs of Featherbed Moss to Mill Hill. These were slippery in the wet and at times icy and always hard. It became a bone jarring grind not improved by driving hail and rain but somewhere deep inside I was relishing this: this is what it is about, getting out there and feeling the weather, feeling alive, feeling knackered. ‘You just have to get across Kinder and there’s a cup of tea waiting in Edale, not like those poor buggers on the Spine,’ I thought to myself.
Eventually Mill Hill came and there was a short steep haul onto Kinder Edge. I was tired now and didn’t want to have to concentrate to find the trig. I just wanted it to appear out of the mist but I forced myself to work out the point to leave the Edge and take the bearing. Just as I was losing confidence I glimpsed the aerial of the Checkpoint team through the murk. Another runner stumbled out of the cloud: “Have you found the bloody trig?” “We’re just there” I replied. He followed me down to Kinder Downfall and we made our way up the Kinder River. He hadn’t realised the new race route and was questioning the line: “Don’t we need to go to Kinderlow?” I persuaded him we didn’t and he left the navigation to me but actually it was fairly easy as there was a good trail of prints in the snow and peat across the plateau and soon all the watercourses were heading our way and we had crossed the watershed and were heading for the southern Edge.
I’ve always found it quite an emotional moment on this race as you reach the edge of the plateau and look down onto Edale and journey’s end. There is something special about a proper journey like this from one point to another, especially when the day has been wet and wintry and the navigation a challenge at times.
Somewhere at the other end of the field, Hugh had been having a very different race with few if any tracks to follow and travelling at a pace that I can only dream about. By the time I was sipping my second cup of tea outside the Village Hall, he was back in Tring. It is great that the Club has this new generation of fell runners who can place in the top ten of major events.
1 Chris Phillips (Saddleworth) 3.40.52
9 Hugh Chatfield 4.00.31
89 Rick Ansell 5.41.40 (2nd M60)
162 started 143 finished
*No names have been changed.