/ UTS Ultra and Moved Route Markers
Sorry if this is the wrong forum for this. I couldn't think of any better to get the word out though ultimately this is maybe/probably something that is better aimed at a dedicated scrambling forum if there is one. Please also accept that this my "best effort" retelling of what I know - i am not an organiser of the race (just a participant) but I am taking the initiative to get the word out here as the ultrarunning organisers might not otherwise reach out here.
This weekend a pair of joined ultramarathons took place in snowdonia - the (Ultra Trail Snowdon) UTS50 and UTS100. On a mile per mile basis, these were tough ultramarathons - my pace ended up being nearly a kilometre slower per hour than I have done in any of my 40 or so previous ultras - that's quite a difference and despite as far as I can tell the field consisting mostly of quite experienced participants, the 100 (mile) version had a drop out rate of something like 70% give or take. In other words, these were very hard races by the standards of the activity encompassing all the usual ultra-runner favourites of wind, pain, rain, pain, dark, pain, hallucinations, and more pain.
So, just to get the word out - at around the 75% point of the 50 (and therefore around the 87% point of the 100 - the 50 was the second half of the 50), just as the trail was going up what I believe to be cnicht and where our race-provided maps were already showing a "..." (dangerous terrain) indication, it appears that somebody had moved approximately 4-7 (I think) trail markers from the intended route to a considerably tougher and more vertical scramble. Whoever did this (and it would be highly highly unlikely to have been a competitor) must have known the more difficult scrambling route fairly well as the markers were more or less competently placed for the more vertical route. It also surely must have taken whoever did this ~15 minutes of conscious effort to do this as this would mean going up one route, collecting the markers, going back down, and then scrambling up the harder one while placing them.
I and probably at least 10 others did the tougher bit. Others, including those who had recce'd the route in advance and therefore recognised the markings as wrong or who happened to be able to see others going up the correct safer route avoided it. At least one person's race was ruined (and possibly a few more) because they reached the face, found it too dangerous, and turned back despite having basically have completed the bulk of the race's real challenges at that point. And let's all be grateful that a dropout or two were the extent of the damage - this could have gone far, far worse.
By that point in the race (especially on the 100-miler), competitors are not operating at anything near 100% mentally or physically - some will have been out for 30 continuous hours at at that point. We not unreasonably make small 'local' route choices but generally trust the route to be reasonably signposted - as it basically had been to that point. Had it been a bit wetter, a bit darker, or had somebody's near cramp muscles seized up doing a difficult reach, the result could have quite easily been death. I'm not trying to oversell this - I actually had a lot of fun scrambling up it. But when I caught up to my friend at the top who was just ahead of me, his legs had gone to jelly and both of us were disgusted at how a reasonable race could have done something so beyond-the-pale dangerous. Only when we go to the next checkpoint did we hear of the evolving 'sabotage' story plus news that a team had been sent to fix the markers - thankfully before the bulk of the still active 100-mile competitors reached that point (in darkness!).
Don't get me wrong - we are all big boys and girls responsible for ourselves and who make our own decisions and I'd even venture that pretty much everybody on the race could do the scramble comfortably in nice day conditions. But this wasn't that and it could have gone badly. If you know who did this, please drive the point home to them that it well may have been culpable homicide. Please - if you have some philosophical objections to ultramarathons in your/pristine/whatever area, make them through proper channels. If you are trying to send a message about your philosophical opposition to the use of course markers (which were as far as I knew professionally labelled and geotagged for later pickup - these were not just bits of plastic tape). Whatever the reason for the apparent vandalism, the realistic potential consequences were not worth it.
Thanks for reading / sorry for the length.
Interesting reading. A problem that I suspect will be repeated in years to come as more events come to Snowdonia. Route-marking often sparks some kind of debate.
*Warning - unsubstantiated claim below*
A friend of mine competed in the 50 and told me last night that he had overheard that the original placement of the markers was incorrect and the tale of sabotage was made up to placate annoyed competitors.
It was difficult to move in Snowdonia this weekend without hitting an event/race marker at some point. I think there were 3 separate races on at the same time, plus the usual charity challenge crowds? I know that some of the "will be removed by the last runner" tape markers are still there this afternoon.
"*Warning - unsubstantiated claim below*
A friend of mine competed in the 50 and told me last night that he had overheard that the original placement of the markers was incorrect and the tale of sabotage was made up to placate annoyed competitors. "
As a mere competitor, I don't discount this as being outside the realm of possibility and I had discussed this with a companion at the time. An argument against this is the statement from others that they avoided the 'bad' section because they had done a recce previously. But, there are other circumstancial arguments for and against it as well - I don't want to fall into the trap of quantifything this as "both positions being equally likely" or speculating overly wildly. For now, I've given the by-all-indications honest volunteers there that I heard the "sabotage" theory from the benefit of the doubt, as I think at first pass would be reasonable. If what your friend heard turns out to be true, well, that (and the cover up) would obviously reflect very, very badly on any parties responsible or complicit.
I didn't notice 3 races on this weekend (just our one) but maybe the others were in tryfan, etc where I on the 50 didn't see. but yes, it very much could be an issue. but obviously putting people's lives in real danger (if that's what happened) doesn't advance the conversation productively under any circumstance.
Indeed. If markers were moved then it was at best misguided and at worst malicious, especially if it was on the scramble just below the summit on Cnicht?
I have sympathy both ways. I used to own part of Brutal Events (Brutal Triathlon, Midnight Mountain Marathon, The ONEr etc) and we chose not to sign the route up the Llanberis track for that section and made it a requirement that competitors could navigate/were responsible for their own route finding. As I was one of the partners that lives and works in North Wales I copped most of the flak for signs being left behind or paying to rent the field in Llanberis and preventing locals playing football there.
This was the other big race on Saturday, mostly centred around ByC:
There was also this:
There was this walk as well:
When you look at participant numbers the challenge events/treks are the biggest factor, but the waymarking for races seems to have more of a visual impact for the wider hillgoing community. Possibly because markers inevitably get missed or are not retrieved quickly.
Just an update - some of those markers must have been VERY securely placed...
...so much so that over the past week or so since the event I have personally collected 10 of the race markers abandoned on Snowdon and in the Moelwyns by the race organisers, and a couple of freelancers working for me have also collected a few. They're wooden stakes with nylon ribbon and metallic stickers, not exactly biodegradeable.
I know Snowdon is hardly a pristine mountain environment these days but it would be nice to walk to the summit at least once without having to go litter-picking as I go.
Future race organisers - if you're going to mark routes then either collect them ALL back in or use something the biodegrades or washes away very quickly. Or just make people navigate...
Well it certainly does happen that markers get moved - on the Heptonstall Fell Race a couple of years ago the markers from one section descending into the woods were moved so they went up hill instead and eventually petered out.
And of course someone stole the fixed ropes from Pinnacle Ridge before last year's Lakes Sky Running Ultra, which was fortunately noticed before the runners arrived.
That's pretty poor form but well done for clearing them up.
Re the question of removing route markers, how are people supposed to know if the race has yet to be run or if was run a week ago and the markers have been left as litter?
Unbelievably stupid and totally unforgivable! Which area was it? We did the Welsh 3000's last Saturday (not for charity, just because) and found the markers useful in places, especially finding the route up Pen Y Ole Wen. We did comment on that little scramble that it seemed strange for a running race to go up a scramble!
Edit: some of the markers on rocky ground were cable tied to rocks so seems a lot of effort for someone to move them!
Theres been some up on kinder plateau for ages! (not complaining too much as they have helped me out a few times whil wondering around in bog)
> Re the question of removing route markers, how are people supposed to know if the race has yet to be run or if was run a week ago and the markers have been left as litter?
It's an interesting point. These say:
"DO NOT REMOVE! Property of apexrunning.co to be officially collected with last runner"
Date marking would make sense, and possibly encourage organisers to properly collect their crap?
guessing the dislike is from someone who hasn't been up there in the clag? map and compass ain't as much use as it should be at those times.
I got a spineless dislike too for my comment agreeing that it was bad form to move the markers!
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