Irish Mountain
Running Association

Nav challenge 3 - Wicklow Gap


Angus Tyner

Angus Tyner

Nav Challenge 3 – Wicklow Gap.
Since I rose to the challenge of compiling reports for first 2, its only fitting that I write one for this as well! In fact I was not going to do this one due to clash with orienteering event, but as fate would have it, the orienteering was postponed. Also during the week my competing was in doubt. A cold has been running through the family and I knew during week that I was fighting it. I felt the cold was winning on Thurs but the nights sleep seem to fix that and I was fine on Friday and managed an easy run. A big effort such as these challenges require would also allow cold in to take hold, but as i write this the following day, I think I've kept it at bay.

The detail for NC 3 mentioned a 1:25000 map. I decided to wear a single contact lens in case the map had more detail than the previous Nav Challenges and also the rain would render the magnifying glass practically unusable. The single lens in my weaker eye helps me to see the map more clearly and doesn't affect seeing where I run too much. In the end the map was very clear and I could have managed without.

Terry kindly gave me a lift and it was kind of surprising to see so many others in the car park considering the weather. Many familiar faces and some new for this years series, such as Conor Short and Sean Harte

So here I was with about forty other hardy (insert adjective of your choice!) souls at a wind and rain swept Wicklow Gap wondering what Paul Nolan had in store for us. There was an extra element to today's challenge. It was the 3rd and last race in the series and the overall title was up for grabs. While i was leading after the first 2, it was only with a 5 minute margin over Brian O'Meara and Sam Scriven with John Bell only a handful minutes further back. Basically one mistake whether in route choice or navigation would allow any one of the 3 to get ahead. Considering the weather and low cloud, errors were more likely to happen. John didn't make the race but Brian and Sam were among the starters.

This posed the question of do I keep an eye on them and make sure I didn't loose touch? Or perhaps just do what I have been doing the previous 2 challenges. This has served me quite well. With the visibility looking iffy it seemed to make sense to ignore them and do my own thing and trust in my own navigation.

We got our brief from Paul. Nothing of too much concern except that we would be crossing the main Wicklow Gap road. We got the go and was immediately presented with an interesting choice. While I pondered this Conor stormed off as if in a sprint! No one will catch him today. The first control was actually lower than where we were and there was a route that involved almost no climb. This is what Conor seemed to aim for. Now anyone who has read through my first 2 reports will know that I avoid climb almost like the plague. The direct no climb choice looked really rough and I took what I reckon was the easier option and went up the Turlough Hill reservoir access road. A few others went this way as well, some trying to cut out a long way round a loop in the road. I stayed on the road and took opportunity to find my legs easily and have a look at rest of course. I caught up with Terry and we chatted about the course and we seemed to agree on route choices.

The plan for checkpoint one was to go to a corner in road, contour across to tip of trees then across ridge of Fair Mtn to trees on other side. As I continued along road in company of Terry, it was with surprise and delight that both Sam and Brian popped up from below onto the road. My delight being that my safe route choice was not going to cost ground on either. I left Terry and closed the gap to Sam and Brian and we left the road together. When we crossed the ridge we could just see the forest corner in distance which marked the decent down to checkpoint one. I was marginally ahead till the downhill, but as is often the case I was slower on descent and both Brian and Sam reached checkpoint before me. (Time 21:05 with Conor nearly 3 minutes ahead)

It wasn't long before I got in front again as I knew my route choice I was going to descend a wide ride to pick up end of road which would take me to checkpoint 2. Sam and Brian took a more direct route across open and I failed to see how their route would be any quicker so I ignored them and felt that this was an opportunity to get clear of them. But about half way along the road they appeared from above behind me. I heard Brian call out and I acknowledged. They must have found a good route down through felled area. I probably had about 30 seconds on them and I tried to up my pace determined not to let them catch me. We had to leave the road along the powerline corridor to get to checkpoint 2. This was really rough, but there was a half reasonable route in. I saw an early starter struggling in the rough ground to my right and I decided to avoid that and take this half reasonable route back out to road that would lead me towards checkpoint 3. I reckon this gained me a couple of minutes as Sam and Brian both investigated going direct across rough ground. They aborted and came out the same route I took. Once I left the powerline corridor I never saw either Sam or Brian again, in fact I didn't see anyone during rest of challenge! (Time to checkpoint 2 18:48, 2nd quickest just a minute down on Conor)

Most of way to checkpoint 3 was along forest road, but there was a choice near the end of leg. Do a long loop along road and track or cut up direct through unknown immature forest. I measured the lengths and the loop was nearly 4 times longer. Also I could see mature trees above which I thought would definitely be okay to get through. A road junction was my mark to head uphill and I reckoned it was a reasonable gamble to head up into it rather than the safe long route. Much of this climb was on hands and feet and this helped keep under the branches My progress was good enough that I felt no one could be climbing quicker on the road. I reached the mature forest to see it was quite clear ahead, but there was also a lot of wind blow to left, so I was lucky not to end up getting through this. I felt on my climb I had veered towards right a bit so tried to readjust. This was clearly correct because when I broke onto the open, checkpoint 3 was visible! I had such a clean run to this check point I felt that I must have a good advantage over Brian and Sam despite not knowing where they were, and that the series was mine to loose. (25:54, quickest, Conor chose a longer route and was marginally slower)

I thought there were a number of options for 4. Left along forest and head up Annalecka brook valley, right and keep to the roads for much of way and a straight route. The one that involved least climb was left. I went to north side of Carrignagunneen and up valley to fence. The going was hard with little by way of sheep/deer tracks. I eventually reached forest and there was a reasonable path all around the head of valley and across the other side. Then another climb to col north of Stoney Top. There was plenty of peat hags and I was certainly feeling tired but I also knew that my progress had been good enough that there was no way either Sam or Brian could have jumped ahead. A little care was needed contouring along the east side of Stoney Top on the approach to checkpoint 4. If one hits the river in the vicinity of the checkpoint and it was not visible, would one go up or down? So I made conscious decision to keep high and descend once I hit the river. This worked a treat. (42:40, 2nd quickest 3 minutes down on Conor.

Now just to get to finish back at Wicklow Gap which was still quite a distance away and I was tired. There were 3 options though I ignored the one that went over top of involved too much climb! So it was left or right along side of Tonelagee. Right seemed shorter, but it involved climbing back towards where Brian or Sam may be coming from and frankly I did not want them to get boost by seeing me, so with the lure of the lake, I went the other way. The climb seemed slightly less as well. It was logical to go west side of lake which was more direct, but it seemed quite rough underfoot and from the turbulence on the lake the wind seemed really fearsome there as well. I took the longer route to east side along a reasonable path. The site of the lake was amazing. The wind was whipping the water up into air and the spray was being carried up the mountain! The topography of the land was creating vortices which was also lifting water from the lake. So while I was traversing the east side in relative calm the water in the west of lake was always in turmoil. And I could feel the wind increasing as I reached the southern part of the lake. I could also anticipate the gusts as they could be seen moving along the surface and then brace myself for the hit...and hit they did! I got knocked off my feet one gust hit so hard.

It was a nasty climb from the lake and it required quite a n effort in my tired state but I knew this was the last climb of the day. The going along the side of Tonelagee was slow. I didn't give it 100%, but was feeling confident that I had travelled well enough till now to seal the series win. I concentrated on getting back without too much stress. I did stop to remove the contact lens which made seeing the ground a little easier. Despite my care, I still took a tumble as my feet went from under me, but no lasting damage. As I rounded the flank of Tonelagee, more points of interest came into view. The road up from Glendalough, the slag heaps the other side of Glendasan valley, Lough Nahanigan. The cloud would sometimes lower so I would lose the view but then they would reappear again. Finally Wicklow Gap and the carpark behind were in view but still more than a km away. I made my way around the mountain till I came to the main path and descended straight to the carpark. (31:07, 8th quickest, more then 5 minutes slower)

2nd home! 11 minutes down on Conor Short which is respectable over 2 hours. Brian came in about 7 minutes later and Sam a bit more behind and I had secured the series by completing the 3 challenges in the quickest time. I went to Lynhams afterwards and duly picked up my trophy.

My route is covered by 2 GPS files because my watch got stopped while scrambling under the branches towards checkpoint 3.

Huge credit to Gavan, Brendan and Paul Nolan and well done to Paul and Hilary for putting out and taking in controls, and last but certainly not least to Vivian for going out of his way to deposit me home safely!