Hyp-O-thermia on Haytor

Posted on Tue, 14th November 2017 by Jolyon Medlock
Event Reports, Off-topic

Warming up after a freezing and blustery run over Haytor.

Haytor is one of the jewels of Dartmoor National Park. The airy tor is a precipitous climb and is extremely exposed to the wind and the changing weather, but an ascent is rewarded with distant views over the Devon coastline. Having left the sun drenched wind-less valleys of “Wessex” behind, we drove through hailstorms on our way to Devon, only to find gales buffeting the registration tent, and perished car park attendants. The weather was not going to detract us from testing ourselves on a Devon moorland, and with subzero wind chill we ventured up to the Arctic start. Credit to Devon OC for actually getting the controls out in time as it was a hostile environment even in the relative shelter of the assembly area.

The moor was a delight to traverse when the sun shone, and the blue course made great use of a number of separate hills, utilising deep gullies, summit crags, old mine workings, boulders and a series of hidden pits as control sites. Even in fine weather, finding bracken occluded pits in and amongst gorse covered knolls is a game of luck, and you get lucky if you see someone running to or leading from one of these controls. The results for all courses highlight some serious time losses for most people. I wasted a few minutes at control 4 locating such a hidden pit, which contained a sunken control. It was only when I was within a few metres that I saw it.

Later on, the course traversed the granite summit of Saddle Tor at 428m, with some great legs in and amongst the boulders and crags. So far I had managed to avoid the worst of the weather, save for a brief flurry of hail that quickly passed. However on approaching another summit at control 15 I felt the full fury of the elements. The wind must have been gusting above 70-80mph and the hail chilled me to the bone. I dived behind a crag to catch my breathe for a few seconds to avoid the hostile conditions; dragging myself among the crags to control 16 trying to keep mobile, keep breathing, and wishing I was in a wet suit with full balaclava. I could feel my core body temperature plummet and now it was a case of getting to the finish as soon as possible. Even the remnants of washing powder in my Trimtex trousers were starting to foam at the knees in desperation.

Control 17 though was a challenging traverse over moorland to find a pit in a sea of pits. A strange moraine-like landscape held the backdrop, and acted as a useful catching feature for my inevitable re-location to enable the offending pit to be found. Interestingly the glacial moraine-like eskers are actually spoil heaps either side of an old granite tramway leading from a disused quarry. The quarry here provided the granite for London Bridge.

At this point I was leaping like a mad March Hare, anything to get out of the cold and back to the car. This was going well until the penultimate control – a deep gully next to a path. How hard can that be? [an Orange standard control]

I found myself in the correct location and faced with four visible controls. At this point my brain was frozen and my clothes sodden, and I senselessly but rapidly traversed all four in the vain hope of matching numbers. I was so close to calling bingo each time and I was clearly in the web of a planner’s trap. When none matched, I decided I must have made a big mistake and started to retrace steps back to the quarry to try again. This 3-4 minute dash around the surrounding topography, like a crazed spaniel looking for a shot pheasant, only confirmed that I was indeed in the right place, but still no control. I decided to climb a spoil heap and survey the landscape from above, and at this point the offending gully came into view from amongst the bracken below me. I had been standing within feet of it, only 6 minutes previously. Diving in I found my control having been blown over by the wind, and now lying at 45 degrees hidden under the fronds of bracken. Spitting like a viper I dashed to the finish, rueing a ruined run, but met with warm smiles from our Devon friends.

Pub lunch, warm fire, roast pork and a down jacket followed and I regained some life but not my pride. All three girls expressed their concern for my health, but Lyra and Rebecca were in agreement that they didn’t struggle finding my notorious control. Looking at splitbrowser later however it appears that many good navigators from other clubs made similar uncharacteristic mistakes in pits and gullies, so I feel in good company. Despite my schoolboy errors and frantic meanders, Haytor was excellent, and hopefully we can get to another of Devon’s moorland league events, possibly Hound Tor, where the weather can only be less inclement, unless it snows. However I will be wary of pits, under-bracken features and might wear a windcheater.

Orienteering Club