Watch Damian Hall and Beth Pascall attempt FKT on Cape Wrath Trail

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE 08.30 9th Dec - They have started! The official start time is 7.48 which is when the Camusnagaul ferry left Fort William. A short boat trip and they are off running.

 

Damian and Beth in the Alps. Photo Jim Mann

It’s all Ellie’s fault. About two years ago I was scheming up winter adventure ideas with my good friends Ellie and Matt Green from Summit Fever Media. We’d only just started, when Ellie said, “I know! Running Cape Wrath. In winter.”

We stopped scheming immediately. We knew that idea would be hard to top.

Firstly, we didn’t know of anyone who’d run the Cape Wrath Trail in winter – probably for good reason. Secondly, in doing so we would hopefully demonstrate how Britain – a comparatively small island with a lot of people on it – still has areas of magnificent wildness and unsettling remoteness. We’re all passionate about showcasing this country as a place for genuine adventure (we met on the Spine Race after all). And thirdly… wait, er, who exactly is going to run it? Oh pants.

Starting at Fort William and heading inexorably north to the northwestern tip of Scotland, the Cape Wrath Trail is 230 miles long, with around 12,000m of ascent. And it’s not really a trail. There’s no waymarking, it’s not on OS maps and there’s not really an official route; we’ll follow the one suggested by Iain Harper in his excellent Cicerone guidebook, Walking The Cape Wrath Trail. It usually takes trekkers around three weeks.

The route is often many hours’ walk from a road, there’s little to no phone signal (both a good but also potentially bad thing) and river crossings can get pretty seriously (people have gone for their last swim in them). The winds from the Atlantic can also get a bit feisty. There’ll be about six hours of daylight per 24. And when we get to Cape Wrath, we’ll probably need to cover another 15 miles on foot to get to the nearest road. I can see the last aspect especially making me a bit grumpy.

Damian racing the Ice Ultra. Photo: Ice Ultra / Mikkel Beisner

We don’t know yet what the weather will bring, but I’m hoping for colder temperatures and snow. I learned on February’s Ice Ultra, how much I like that: how silent snow makes the world, how pristine, how it makes you run faster (to stay warm), how much better tea tastes. Unless things get ridiculous, a cold snap may also mean better underfoot conditions and less hazardous river crossings. I’m nervous about the rivers. The rest of it, I can’t wait for.

Related: UTMB 2018 race report

I’ve had a decent rest, I think, since Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. It was an intense training block leading up to the race and psychologically I needed a break. So I wanted to wait till I really felt an urge to lace up my daps again, which surprisingly, only took about a week. Since then I’ve mostly been just running for fun. No big mileage, just pootling along at around 50 miles a week with some longer bimbles in the Brecon Beacons carrying a pack. Encouragingly I won a local 7-mile multi-terrain race. Hardly good training for Cape Wrath, but a boost nonetheless. Though mainly to my waistline, as I won a huge cake no one else in my family liked and I hate to see good food wasted. Still. Stuffing my cakehole is good practise for a 230-mile run, too.

Matt and Ellie, the award-winning film-makers who made Underdog, are bored of my dad jokes. So to mix things up for Cape Wrath, we’ve invited fellow GB trail runner Beth Pascall along. I met Beth on the Spine Race too. In one way she’s an excellent companion, because she’s a doctor. So when I get in trouble she’ll know which pills to give me to end it all (unless I’ve told too many dad jokes, then she might not).

In another way though, she isn’t a good companion, because she’s nails and likely to show me up. On the 2015 Spine Race, we ran most of the second half of the race in close proximity. I was in third place, hurting, but desperate to hold onto the last podium spot. She was in fourth place overall, as fresh as a daisy and speeding up. I clung on. At the finish she looked like she hadn’t broken sweat. I couldn’t run for seven weeks afterwards. This time I may have to furtively transfer my custard rations into her pack so slow her down.

We’re primarily running the Cape Wrath Trail to have an adventure, to explore somewhere new, to get our wildness hit (even if much of it will be in the dark). To spice things up a bit, we’ll also be trying to set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT). The current FKT, set by Poland’s Przemek Szapar in April this year, is seven days and nine hours.

I haven’t attempted an FKT since my bimble along the 630-mile South West Coast Path in May 2016, which was a really memorable experience, but really tiring (averaging three hours’ sleep for 10 nights). We’ll be self-supported, meaning we can visit the very few shops en route, but though Matt and Ellie are meeting us at intervals to point cameras at us, they won’t be giving us any supplies or any other advantages. We plan to get some shut-eye in bothies.

Hopefully this jaunt will be mostly type one and two-level fun. But that may depend on what the weather wants to fling at us. Kit will be key and I have a feeling I’ll be grateful of my Protec-Shell Jacket and new Winter Tights, which worked really well at the Ice Ultra. I’ll also take a merino wrag, Extreme Thermo Mitts and neoprene socks. I imagine the Long Sleeve Zipper Merino Hoody – which, it will be thrilled to know, is in my top three favourite pieces of inov-8 clothing – will get some use. I’ll likely take a Thermoshell Pro Insulated Jacket, too, but hopefully won’t need to wear it much. I’ll probably also wear a merino baselayer. I’m really liking the new X-Talon 260 Ultras too, which are designed for just this sort of thing.

Good kit’s important. But the right mindset is probably more important. I’m a little bit frightened. But a big bit excited. I can’t wait for all the glorious ouchy stuff, a proper British winter adventure, to begin.

I’m going to regret that sentence, aren’t I?

Damian Hall and Beth Pascall will start their Cape Wrath trail FKT attempt on the morning of Saturday 8 December. There will be daily video updates here and our facebook page, plus live tracking here. Damian will update his Instagram and Strava when reception allows.