The Coastal Challenge #TCC2020 – Stage 2 40.2km

The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica’s number one multi-day race moved to stage 2 after the runners had a good nights sleep near the Savegre River in a purpose built campsite.

The heat of day 1 had taken its toll with runners retiring to sleep soon after dinner at 1900 hours. It was a hot night with little air and the 0330 wake up call came all too early for many. Breakfast at 0400 and then with the arrival of the sun, runners departed for 40.2km.

The early morning sun was magnificent and the Costa Rican landscape glowed as the rays illuminated the landscape.

The day started with almost a disaster with many of the top men, including all the top-4 contenders going off course with women leader, Kaytlyn Gerbin. They lost over 15-minutes and what followed was a hard chase into the long first climb of the day.

The men’s race came back together with race leader, Mauricio Mendez catching Erick Agüero who had initially gone wrong, realised his mistake early and turned back. Cody Lind and Andy Symonds chased with Scott Maguire running on his own further back.

For Kaytlyn, it was over 2-hours before she finally caught all the women, the 2nd placed woman on GC being Natalia López Arrieta.

With order resumed at the front, the race could continue as normal over a very tough course. Relentless fire road descents making the going hard both physically and mentally. Mendez finally made a move around CP3 and pulled away from Agüero while Lind and Symonds pursued together. They would stay this way all the way to the line. Maguire faded in the latter stages of the day as the heat and course took its toll, he finished 5th once again.

“I think I was a little too focussed and early on we went wrong… Crazy! We wasted at least 10-minutes. I was in a group and we all backtracked. It was 10km before I caught Erick with Scott. I was then running alone with Rick to CP3 and then I made a move. I was feeling good, my legs were tired and the heat did not seem as hot as day 1. I was really happy to get a 2nd stage victory, but I need to be smart for day 3, I know it will be tough, I have lots to learn!” – Mauricio Mendez

Once Gerbin had hold of the front of the race she extended the gap and her lead. She looked strong, focussed and relentless for the pursuit of the line and a stage 2 victory. Behind Arrieta once again ran strong for 2nd and Norway’s Abelone Lyng entered into a battle with TCC regular and past woman champion, Veronica Bravo. At the final two water crossings, Lyng lead Vero but the gap at best was only a minute. Lyng fought hard and finished 3rd ahead of Bravo’s 4th. Ashton Keck Keck who placed 3rd on tase 1 finished 6th in 5:32:21.

“Veronica caught me and she looked strong but on the final beach sections I pushed hard and caught her again,” said Lyng. “I wanted to be finished and Veronica was looking tired so I pushed hard. It was a tough race to finish a long day but I am happy with the result. I have been worried about the heat but my adaptation seems to have worked, it is very hot but I am feeling good, that makes me very happy.”

Ranking:

Men:

Mauricio Mendez 3:50:48 – Leader on GC

Erick Agüero 3:53:58

Andy Symonds/ Cody Lind 3:56:16

Women:

Kaytlyn Gerbin 4:33:17 – Leader on GC

Natalia López Arrieta 4:44:57

Abelone Lyng 5:12:20

Stage 3 of #TCC2020 will depart with sunrise once again, ahead 47.5km to Marino Ballena. The ‘Adventure’ category will run 12.7km starting from aid station 2.

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The Coastal Challenge 2020 #TCC2020

The 2020 ‘The Coastal Challenge’ is upon us! Six days, 230.5km of racing and 9543m of vertical gain, 9413m of vertical descent – TCC is more than a challenge!

Hugging the coastline of the tropical Pacific, TCC is the ultimate multi-day experience that weaves in and out of the Talamancas; a coastal mountain range in the Southwest corner of this Central American country.

The terrain is ever-changing from wide, dusty and runnable fire trails to dense and muddy mountain trails. Runners will cross rivers, boulders, swim through rivers, pass under waterfalls, survive long and relentless beaches and finally finish in the incredible Corcovado National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site with a stunning final loop around Drake Bay before departing for their journeys home via speedboat.

The Race:

Stage 1 34.6km 1018m of vert and 886m of descent

Stage 2 39.1km 1898m of vert and 1984m of descent

Stage 3 47.4km 1781m of vert and 1736m of descent

Stage 4 37.1km 2466m of vert and 2424m of descent

Stage 5 49.8km 1767m of vert and 1770m of descent

Stage 6 22.5km 613m of vert and 613m of descent

Total 230.5km – Vertical 9543m/ Descent 9413m

Stage 1

It’s a tough day! Runners depart San Jose early morning (around 0530) for a 3-hour drive to Playa Del Rey, Quepos. It’s the only day that the race starts late and ‘in the sun!’. It’s the toughest day of the race, not because the the terrain or distance, but because of the time of day! The runners are fresh and feel great. That is until about 10km and then they realise the heat and humidity is relentless. It’s a day for caution – mark my words! The 34.6km is very runnable with little vertical and technicality, it welcomes the runners to Costa Rica.

Stage 2 

From here on in, it is an early breakfast, around 0400, the race starts with the arrival of the sun! The only way is up from the start with a tough and challenging climb. It’s a tough day with an abundance of climbing and descending and a final tough flat stretch on the beach, just as the heat takes hold.

Stage 3

It is basically 25km of climbing topping out at 800m followed by a drop to sea and a final kick in the tail before the arrival at camp. For many, this is a key day and maybe one of the most spectacular.

Stage 4

It’s another tough start to the day with a relentless climb, but once at 900m the route is a roller coaster of relentless small climbs and descents, often littered with technical sections, rain forest, river crossings and boulders. At 30km, it’s a short drop to the line and the finish at 37.1km.

Stage 5

The long day but what a beauty! This route was tweaked a couple of years ago and now has become iconic with tough trails, plenty of climbing, sandy beaches and yes, even a boat trip. The finish at Drake Bay is iconic.

Stage 6

The victory lap! For many, this stage is the most beautiful and memorable. In just over 20km, the route manages to include a little of all that has gone before. It’s a stage of fun and challenges and one that concludes on the beach as a 2018 medal is placed over your head – job done!

THE 2020 ELITE LINE UP

Katlyn Gerbin

Kaytlyn joins the line-up of the 2020 TCC with an extremely solid and consistent resume, known in Canada and the USA for a string of top performances, it was a podium place (2nd) at Transgrancanaria that introduced her to worldwide attention. Winner of the Pine to Palm 100 in 2016, Kaytlyn has mixed races distances for the last 3-years, excelling at 50km and 100km with victories at Gorge Waterfalls and Sun Mountain amongst others. In 2017 she won Cascade Crest 100 but her calling cards are 4th place and 2nd place at the 2017 and 2018 Western States.

Manuela Vilaseca 

Is a last-minute entry to the race but that is no problem for the experienced ultra-trail and mountain runner. In November, she once again made the podium at the Everest Trail Race. She has two top-10 finishes at UTMB and a high-ranking in the UTWT. Born in Brazil, Manuela will embrace the Pura Vida approach of The Coastal Challenge.

Abelone Lyng

Hailing from Scandinavia, Abe has gained a reputation in just 4-years for tenacity in ultra-trail races. She recently won the 230km Ice Ultra in the Arctic wilderness and placed 4th overall. TCC no doubt will give this cold weather expert some new challenges but Abe embraces a challenge!

Rebecca Ferry

Becks, as she is known to her friends, has gained a reputation in recent years for achieving great results, be that Everest Trail Race or on the UK trails setting course records. She comes to the TCC with excellent experience of multi-day racing and is a prime contender for the podium.

Brittany Peterson and Kelly Wolfe were due to race and both have sustained injuries preventing participation in the 2020 race. Brittany however will still join us in Costa Rica.

MEN

Cody Lind

Cody has been racing for some years, but may well have only come on your radar after 2017 with a very committed foray in the Skyrunning circuit – He placed 8th at Tromso in 2017 and then followed the SWS circuit racing on iconic courses throughout the world. Recently he raced them Rut in the USA and came away with victory. Cody manages to mix speed and technical ability, it’s a perfect mix for the trails in Costa Rica.

Andy Symonds 

Andy is one of the UK’s greatest mountain runners. He has traditions in fell running and has mixed Skyrunning and ultra-running throughout a long and successful career. He recently placed 5th at UTMB after 3 attempts. He has raced Marathon des Sables and placed in the top-10 but Andy will always be considered a mountain specialist. He has won Lavaredo, placed 3rd at Marathon Mont Blanc, 5th at Transgrancanaria and has represented his country at many World Championships. The technical and demanding trails of Costa Rica with plenty of climbing and descending provide Andy a perfect playground.

Mauricio Mendez

Mauricio is a rising star from Mexico who is currently an Xterra World Champion. He joins TCC as somewhat as a dark horse but no doubt he will be the hope of the locals. He started running because of his Father and in his own words, is a dreamer!

Julien Chorier unfortunately, took a fall in training and sustained a fracture and therefore is unable top race in the 2020 edition of the race. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope he can join TCC2021. Jordi Gamito should have toed the line at the 2019 TCC but injury prevented his participation and once again, while training in Africa over Christmas, he has sustained a knee injury which unfortunately will keep him away from the race.

The 2020 TCC starts in February as runners from all over the world will assemble in San Jose before transferring to the coast for stage 1 of the race starting on Saturday 8th. Year-on-year, the TCC has grown to be one of ‘the’ most iconic multi-day races. 

#TCC2020
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Mount Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Winter

Located just 75-minutes’ drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the Toubkal National Park and Jebel Toubkal(4167m) is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

 Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings new challenges as it is completely covered in snow. Winter mountain skills are required, and the use of crampons is essential.

I wrote an in-depth article about visiting Toubkal in summer months HERE and some of the information from that article is repeated below.

PRACTICALITIES

The gateway to Toubkal is Marrakech which is less than a 90-minute journey away from Imlil via taxi or private car. Imlil is the starting point for any adventure in the Atlas Mountains with a small village of restaurants, shops and hotels.

Flights to Marrakech are abundant and many budget airlines offer great prices, particularly if one can travel on a weekday.

If you have not been to Morocco before, I strongly recommend staying in Marrakech for several days before and after any trip to the Atlas. Even now, after multiple trips to the region, I still enjoy a pre/post stay in a Riad (local traditional hotel) to help provide some luxury and RnR either side of a strenuous hiking/ climbing period. There are many Riads in Marrakech all offering something unique and prices vary considerably, my favourite is the Dixneuf La Ksour which has only 6 rooms.

If you have been to the region before and want to maximize time, it is of course possible to land in Marrakech, get a taxi at the airport and be in Imlil within 2-hours. Riads in Imlil are very inexpensive and I have stayed at the ‘Riad Atlas Prestige’ on all my trips – it is inexpensive and offers great food.

A taxi to Imlil will be approximately 40 euro and a private car, usually arranged by your Riad will be 80 euro. 

TOUBKAL and the ATLAS MOUNTAINS

If you have not been to the region before, it would make sense that you visit the area in the non-winter months when hiking/ climbing is much easier and very predictable.

Please note! You now MUST have a guide for any treks/ climbs in the region. This was a rule imposed in late 2018. There are currently three passport checkpoints on the way to the refuge. This in time will change with one new police checkpoint that is currently being constructed just before the entrance to the National Park.

Our guide, Mustafa

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to plan a booking as you are able to arrange a guide and a bed at the refuge all in one email. Hamid is my contact who is always helpful.

refugetoubkal@gmail.com – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs (Jan 2020):

  • 34.5 euro per person per night full board (Dinner, breakfast and lunch)
  • 29.5 euro per person per night half board (Dinner and breakfast)
  • 19.5 euros per person per night (without meals) 

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

  • Transport from and back to Marrakech
  • Accommodation in Imlil
  • Mountain Guide 

A guide will be approximately 50-80 euro per day and is payable in Euro (cash only).

CLIMBING and TREKKING

Toubkal is considered an entry level 4000m peak and as such it is a great place for training and gaining experience, particularly in summer.

In winter, it is still considered an entry level 4000m peak, however, far more equipment is required and some exposure to harsh winter environments would be strongly recommended.

In summer one can usually wear shorts and t-shirts during the day but it is essential to have trekking pants, a warm upper layer, waterproof jacket/ trousers, hat and gloves at a minimum for any summit treks. Poles are for many an essential item too!

Winter is completely different, and the environment can be very harsh and dangerous. One needs to be prepared for conditions that can be below -20 with very strong winds, thick snow and a great deal of ice.

At a minimum you will need:

  • Merino base layer, top and bottom.
  • Trekking pants.
  • Mid-layer thermal top.
  • Down or Primaloft upper insulation.
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent out layer, top and bottom.
  • Very warm gloves. Probably with inner Merino layer.
  • Very warm socks, usually two pairs made up from inner Merino and outer mountain sock.
  • Climbing boots suitable for harsh winter than can take a mountain crampon – La Sportiva G5 as an example.
  • Crampons.
  • Ice Axe.
  • Poles.
  • Pack.

Sleeping bag (the refuge is usually quite warm (in the sleeping dorm), so, with a merino base layer, a bag with comfort to -5 should be ok). 

ROUTE TO THE REFUGE

 Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours.

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous. Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to by water, food if required and soft drinks such as coke.

Depending on the time of year and how harsh the winter has been, snow may already be present on the trail. Usually, just wearing trekking shoes or boots is fine to the refuge, however, it can be possible to need to add crampons in a harsh year, so, make sure they are easily accessible from your pack when you leave Imlil.

Passport check point

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm. Bring wet wipes/ toilet roll as this is not provided at the Refuge.

Dinner is typically served at 1830 and offers soup, bread, a carb rich main meal with protein, fruit dessert and tea. A shop is available to purchase soft drinks, water, chocolate and other items.

Breakfast is bread, mixed jams/ honey, soft cheese and a selection of drinks. Depending on one’s plans, breakfast is often served from 0400 through to 0900.

Lunch is served on request.

ROUTE OPTIONS

TOUBKAL

The standard Toubkal summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0810 (+/-) in winter, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m and arrive at the correct time to experience sunrise.

Note – It is dark for pretty much all the climb and very, very cold. How cold depends on many factors but be prepared! Ambient temperature may be -10 but in the wind chill this can easily be beyond -20.

The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. The snow and ice can be unpredictable, and crampons are essential. The use of poles is highly recommended and the carrying an ice axe is in my opinion compulsory. You may very well not need it, but better to have one just in case.

 Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical. The terrain here is not as steep but depending on route options, it can be a little more technical.

Most arrive at the summit between 0745 and 0900 to experience the winter sunrise. Depending on the day, hanging around is usually not an option; it is too cold. Of course, you may want to take a photo? Be careful! Removing gloves at the summit in -20 is not a good idea. Be sensible.

 Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. Rely on your crampons on the descent, they provide great security and often, depending on conditions, it is possible to take a more direct line. Let the guide dictate, they know all the route options and will keep you safe.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day.

The above scenario is the classic Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil mini-trek that is ideal to do over a weekend, Friday to Sunday or as a mid-week adventure. If possible, I always recommend mid-week, far less people!

FAST OPTION:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer. Depending on one’s speed and ability, it is possible to leave Marrakech at 0530, meet a guide at 0700 in Imlil, summit at midday/ early afternoon and then be back in Imlil before dark.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action-packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

Once you have summited Toubkal it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very lose scree and lots of technical rocks in summer. In winter, you would need an experienced guide who understands the route and weather conditions and you personally would need a greater level of skill. The route rejoins the main trekking path and you then have an option to go left and return to Les Mouflons refuge or go right and return to Imlil. 

OUANOUKRIM ROUTES

Located high above Les Mouflons refuge, Ouanoukrim offers the 2ndTIMZGUIDA’ and the 3rd, ‘RAS’ highest peaks of the Atlas range. These two peaks are often neglected due to Toubkal being the highest peak, but these two are just a fraction lower at 4089m and 4083m and they offer much more challenging and technical climbing.

Leaving Le Mouflons, one heads up the mountain, Toubkal is to the left and you take the valley leading to the peaks ahead. The out and back trek/ climb is longer than Toubkal and the early gradients are less severe. However, as one moves up the climb the terrain becomes increasingly challenging and steeper.

At the saddle, you can decide to go left for RAS or right to TIMZGUIDA. TIMZGUIDA is higher and a more challenging climb that in winter requires more advanced scrambling skills, the need for an ice axe and a level head. It’s a stunning route that is perfectly achievable, even for a novice climber, as long as you have a good guide and the correct equipment.

After several scrambling sections, the mountain opens up with one last scramble to the summit.

The return is via the way you arrived, so, constantly ask yourself on the way up, ‘Am I happy down climbing these sections?’ – It is always easier to climb up than climb down. Exposure to the elements is a factor that you must consider, especially in the final 100-200m where the mountain is exposed. On my most recent trip, we had thick snow which made trekking up and down hard, we had snow flurries, thick mist, fog and very, very cold temperatures.

Of course, it is possible to do RAS and TIMZGUIDA in one day.

OTHER ROUTE OPTIONS

AFELLA 4043m and AKIOUD 4035m are two other route options from the Toubkal refuge.

AFELLA is to the west of the refuge with more complex faces. The majority of the winter lines are on the south face and are accessed by a narrow ravine. The east face requires ice climbing.

AKIOUD is accessed from the south via the ‘Assif ait Maine.’ The climb can take 3 hours based on conditions and it is possible to ski down following a south east direction.

Other route options exist that can be made up of multiple days. 

EQUIPMENT:

As suggested previously, summer on Toubkal and you can get away with standard running apparel with the addition of a warm layer (PrimaLoft or down) and water/wind proof top and bottoms for the climb and summit. Gloves, beanie, buff and so on are also essential.

In winter, you need very specific equipment which I will list below with links. Climbing boots are large and heavy and I strongly suggest you use a much lighter approach shoe or run shoe for the trek from Imlil to refuge and back.

 Base layer:

RAB Forge leggings and top

Mid layer:

RAB Shadow hoody

Insulation:

RAB Xenon Jacket (Stratus insulation) 

Pants:

RAB Torque and Winter Torque

Gloves:

RAB Forge liner glove and RAB Xenon Mitt

Hat:

RAB Shadow Beanie 

Waterproof layer:

inov-8 Stormshell

Shoes:

La Sportiva Mutant (used for Imlil to refuge) 

Boots:

La Sportiva G5 mountaineering boot 

Crampons:

Petzl Irvis Hybrid

Ice axe and Poles:

Petzl Glacier and Black Diamond Distance Z Carbon

For extreme cold:

RAB Neutrino Pro Jacket

RAB Aragon Pants (down)

Sleeping Bag:

RAB Neutrino 600

Other:

Make sure you have good sunglasses and I found goggles essential in winter conditions.

Make sure you apply sun screen.

I recommend you have an emergency tracker, I use a Garmin InReach for all outings. 

TIME OF YEAR:

Summer:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon.

Winter:

January through to April provides excellent winter conditions and snow/ ice levels will vary depending the usual weather variations. I have climbed in January and April. January provided more extreme conditions with much colder temperatures. 

RETURNING TO IMLIL

The way to return to Imlil is via the trekking path used when coming out. There is no need or requirement to visit the control points and show your passport.

This January Toubkal and Atlas Mountain trip was undertaken in preparation for a 2020 expedition to Nepal for the ‘Three Summits Expedition‘ – read more HERE

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

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facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

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