Exploring Norway – JOTUNHEIMEN

Norway has long been a desirable location for the mountain enthusiast. One only need to add the word ‘Norway’ to a Google search engine, and you will be rewarded with photos that make the jaw drop.

At roughly 33% bigger than the UK and 1/3rd the size of USA, one begins to understand the scale of this Scandinavian country and its 5.3 million inhabitants.

Just think about it, Norway is 33% bigger than the UK, but the UK has 66.6 million inhabitants…

Needless to say, outside of Oslo (681,000), Bergen (271,000) and other key locations such as Trondheim and Stavanger, open space and amazing landscape is available for all to explore.

In a series of articles and posts, we intend to introduce you to the magic of Norway.

Norway is the longest country in Europe and therefore, travelling anywhere is not a quick process. It has 60.000 miles of coastline, towering mountains and dramatic fjords. Remarkably it has 2-300 peaks over 2000m+, Galdhøpiggen the highest at 2469m closely followed by Glittertind at 2464m. There are over 1000 peaks over 1650m, so, if you love mountains, Norway should be at the top of the ‘to-do’ list!

We started our articles with HARDANGER which you can read HERE.

The list will grow as we progress through Norway, but expect posts on:

  • Stavanger
  • Senja
  • Tromso
  • Lofoten Islands
  • Romsdal
  • Lyngen
  • Svalbard
  • And more…

JOTUNHEIMEN

The ‘home of the giants’ contains the 29 highest mountains in Norway, and as such, it is a playground waiting to be explored. It has 250 peaks over 1900m! Established in 1980, Jotunheimen National Park covers more than 1,000 square kilometers of Sogn og Fjordane and Oppland counties. Reinder, elk, mink and wolverines live in the park and most certainly, in the more remote and quiet areas, it is possible to have a sighting.

In terms of distance and travel, the entry to the Jotunheimen region is roughly 4-hours of driving from Oslo or Bergen.

The area is vast with a multitude of possibilities and therefore, this article will be very much be a ‘part one’ to be followed up with additional posts as we explore more of the area.

It is a popular area and in the months of June, July, August and September, you can fully expect routes to be popular with hikers, climbers and tourists. July and August being the key months due to more stable weather. However, June is a wonderful month as snow can linger on many routes.

Any visitor to Jotunheimen, particularly on a first visit, will have the iconic Besseggen top of the list along with the highest peak in Norway, Galdhøpiggen at 2469m. We will include both of these here in this article and introduce you to other options: Knutshøe, Surtningssue and Besshø.

PRACTICALITIES

First and foremost, this is an introduction to Jotunheimen, and we hope that you will read this article, digest the information and then plan your own adventure.

Jotunheimen is expansive and in all honesty, best travelled on foot.

DNT – CABINS

Jotunheimen has a plethora of cabins (DNT) which link all the major trails and routes and certainly, the DNT option provides the easiest and most logical way to link routes for an amazing multi-day experience. There are 550 cabins in Norway looked after by The Norwegian Trekking Association. There are different cabins: staffed, self-service and no service.

  • Staffed – Staffed lodges serve breakfast and dinner. Many have showers and electricity, either from the power grid or from a local generator.
  • Self-Service – The self-service cabins are equipped with all that trekkers need for cooking and sleeping. Firewood, gas, kitchen utensils, table linen and bunks with blanks or duvets and pillows (hut sacks, also known as hut sleepers, are required!)
  • No service – No service cabins usually have the same equipment as self-service cabins, but they have no provisions. There also are a few simpler no-service cabins where you’ll need a sleeping bag and perhaps more equipment.

Use ut.no here for what is available, there is also a very good phone app.

If you plan to use DNT it makes sense to become a member as you will save money, join here.

In nearly all cases, particularly in high-season and for popular routes, booking ahead (here) is a good idea. But rest assured, DNT will never turn you away, ‘…but everyone who comes to a cabin will have a place to sleep, either in a bunk or on a mattress on the floor.’ A 2020 price list is available here. A full board option is a great idea as you get a bed, 3-course dinner (always excellent), breakfast and a packed lunch. So, if moving from DNT to DNT you can really travel fast and light and make the most of the days. NOTE: You do not need a sleeping bag, just a sleeping bag liner – great for weight saving!

WILD CAMP

Jotunheimen is a paradise for wild camping, so, if you are on a budget, looking for a raw experience or want to fastpack, this is the place for you. In most cases, you can camp close to or at a DNT cabin. So, it can be possible to save on lodging and still eat at a DNT. Especially useful if venturing out for multi-days, that way you can really save on food weight.

Screenshot of DNT meal prices:

HOTEL

Hotels are in abundance in Jotunheimen and they provide an option to be used as a base or as stops as one travels around. They are great as a start and end to a holiday in this area, but not the best option if you really want to explore.

OVERVIEW

Bygdin is perfect entranceway to Jotunheimen and you could start the journey with a little luxury at the Bygdin Fjellhotell. It is also possible to wild camp in this area, even close to the hotel. Located at the end of Bygdin lake, it’s a perfect start point.

This fjord has a ferry which you can use to access Torfinnsbu or Eidsbugarden – both of these provide great start points for a fastpacking journey.

Fastpacking Journey:

Although not discussed in-depth this article, you could leave your car at Bygdin, take the ferry to Torfinnsbu then take the trail to Gjendebu. From here you could then head north via Storådalen, Urdadalen and then to Spiterstulen which is the gateway to Galdhøpiggen. You could then climb Galdhøpiggen and return to Spiterstulen. From here, proceed to Glittertinden, on to Glitterheim and then follow the trail down to Gjendesheim via Tjørnholtjørna and Russa. From Gjendesheim take the trail via Vargebakken and Valdrersflya to arrive back at Bygdin Fjord. GPX here.

Fastpacking Hints ‘n’ Tips HERE

Route Extension:

From Gjendesheim you could take the ferry to Gjendebu (you were here on day 1 or 2 of the fastpack) and now follow the trail to Memurubu. At Memurubu you have several options? A great day out is to take the trail to Surtningssue summit heading out on the lower trail that passes Memurudalen. At the summit, return via the way you came and then the trail splits and you can return to Memurubu via different route (full details listed below). From Memurubu you can now take the Besseggen route (details below) to Gjendesheim.

Proposed Trip:

 

As mentioned, Jotunheimen has many options and while the above fastpacking route and option is probably the ‘ideal’ way to explore the area, we wanted to break options down into manageable junks.

Areas to explore:

  • Knutshøe
  • Galdhøpiggen
  • Surtningssue
  • Besseggen
  • Besshø

Schedule:

  • Day 1 – Travel and overnight at Bygdin area.
  • Day 2Knutshøe route and then drive to Spiterstulen (2 hours) to either wild camp or stay at the DNT hut.
  • Day 3 – Climb Galdhøpiggen and then drive to Gjendesheim to stay in the DNT or wild camp.
  • Day 4 – Take the first ferry from Gjendesheim to Memurubu. Pitch tent or check-in at DNT and then do the Surtningssue route. Overnight at Memurubu.
  • Day 5Besseggen ridge to Gjendesheim – You can send luggage/ tent on the ferry so that it will be at Gjendesheim when you arrive from the trek. Overnight in either DNT or wild camp.
  • Day 6 – You can either travel home OR add an extra day with the climb to Besshø and return to Gjendesheim for an additional overnight wild camp or DNT.
  • Day 7 – Travel

Please note:

Make sure you book the ferries in advance here. They get very busy, particularly the first one from Gjendesheim. If you have a car, you need to stay at the Reinsvangen ‘Long Stay’ car park (here,) make sure you pay for parking to cover the duration of your stay. A shuttle takes you to the ferry or you can walk, approximately 1.5 miles. When possible, book the DNT’s you require in advance.

THE ROUTES

Knutshøe

A short drive from Bygdin, Knutshøe is a great introduction to Jotunheimen. Many consider Knutshøe a more challenging route than Besseggen? However, it is very much considered the younger brother or sister.

The total route is approximately 12km taking an anti-clockwise loop. You reach a high point of 1517m and in total you will accumulate 700m +/- while covering the distance. It is rated as ‘difficult’ and without doubt, it does have some exposure. Depending on experience and speed, the route could take up to 6-hours. However, moving fast and light and combining running and hiking, it is easy to complete in well under 3-hours. All the difficulty is in the first half of the route when you climb up and then descend. Once down, you have a flat 6/7km valley to cross back to where you started. GPX here.

Access to the route is from the main road and there is a small parking area that can accommodate approximately 20 cars. It is possible to wild camp here too. Either way, arrive early and start the route as soon as possible.

Note! If raining, this is NOT a good route to take. There is a considerable amount of rock both up and down and it can become very slippery.

Leaving the car park, follow the trail and when at a fork, go right and head up the climb. The route requires scrambling, some climbing and at several points you will encounter steep drop-offs.

Depending on experience, you may find some areas of the route really rewarding or terrifying. It is not a very difficult route; however, it does demand respect and patience.

At all times, the views are spectacular and ahead of you, on the other side of the lake, you have Besseggen completely in view pulling you in.

At the summit, you have a wonderful 360 view and if timed correctly, you will be able to see the ferry boats going back and forth on the lake below.

The descent is rocky, challenging and requires patience. Make sure hand and foot holds are secure and take your time.

Rock eventually becomes trail and before you know it, you will be at the bottom and next to the Gjende river. It is now possible to get water if needed?

You now go left and follow the trail back. At times, it’s easy to lose the trail so be attentive, as a recommendation, stick with the tree line and not the river. Your feet will get wet, guaranteed!

Once back at the car, take time to rest, change clothes and then make the 2-hour journey to Spiterstulen. En-route, there are possibilities to stop and buy food/ supplies.

Galdhøpiggen

The drive to Spiterstulen brings you straight to the start point for Galdhøpiggen. Having the journey out of the way allows for good recovery in the evening and an early start the next day. As mentioned, you can stay at the DNT or wild camp in this area.

The highest peak in Norway (2469m) and Northern Europe is understandably a huge draw. For many, they take a guided trip leaving from Juvasshytta mountain lodge (1841m.) Guides take groups across the glacier. The glacier of course sounds appealing… However, it is an easy route with far too many people.

The route from Spiterstulen mountain lodge may not contain a glacier, but the 1400m vertical climb offers far more challenges. Especially if one travels in June as snow will still be present. The route is up and down is via a well-marked trail, GPX here.

Considered demanding, the route can take 8-hours plus, again, we completed the route in half the time.

During the adventure, you will scale two peaks, totaling over 2,000 meters in height, Svellnose 2272m and Keilhaustopp 2355m! The terrain is tough and requires concentration at all times. Made up of rocks and boulders, for much of the time you are constantly piecing together a jigsaw puzzle to find the best route through. In wet weather, the route is very dangerous. Remember to follow the red “T”s that indicate the trail.

At times, you will cross snowfields and of course, stick to well used routes. Take no risks on the snow!

Several points can take you very close to the edge of the ridge. At all times be attentive, not too much of a problem in good weather, but in poor visibility you need to make sure of the route.

As you go up you feel several times that the summit is ahead only to reach a peak and then see several more in the distance. The final push becomes obvious as a hut is at the final summit and you will probably see a stream of people coming in from the right who have crossed the glacier.

At the summit the views are magnificent and well worth all the effort. An early start may well guarantee you some quiet time and space.

You descend via the way you came and in all honesty; due to the amount of rocks, it may well be more difficult to go down? Certainly, if you have tired or sore knees, you will feel every meter of the 1400m.

The route out and back is approximately 14km.

If you had an early start, you will be back by midday/ early afternoon and then you can take the 2-hour drive to Gjendesheim.

At Gjendesheim you can stay at the DNT or wild camp. This allows you a good night so that you can get the first ferry the next day.

Surtningssue

Make sure you have a place booked on the first ferry from Gjendesheim to Memurubu. This is typically 0745 arriving at 0805.

On arrival at Memurubu you can pitch your tent (got to cabin and pay) or go to the cabin and check-in for your booking. Note, the cabin here is not a DNT and we recommend you book here.

Once ready, you can then start the Surtningssue route. This, in our opinion, is a hidden gem and is often neglected as Besseggen takes all the glory.

At 24km long, it’s a great day out that offers many challenges and importantly, you will see hardly any other people. On our trip, we saw nobody.

Leaving Memurubu the route is clearly marked. Make sure that you branch left when the opportunity arises. This will provide you with a clockwise route to the summit at 2368m and then back to Memurubu via a different route.

The first 8km’s are single-track trail that is very runnable. The views are stunning and only get better as you move up the trail. One advantage of experiencing the trail in June is lingering snow.

Once through the valley you start to head east. It is definitely worth having the GPX route (here) available either on a phone or watch so that you can stick with the route. Although marked, it has considerably less markings than other routes and often you are following stone cairns.

From 8/9km the route now winds up to the summit through rocks and boulders. Care is needed! At approximately 11km the trail will split with a very clear red sign showing a left and right option. This is where you go left to the summit. On your return, this is the place where you split and take the ‘other’ route back to Memurubu and therefore creating a loop.

The trail up is now steep with several false summits. You will finally see a stone hut that is open and available for shelter if required. The final push to the summit is approximately another 200m. For those in the know, they say the summit provides the greatest view and panorama of Jotunheimen.

It’s exposed at the top, airy, with plenty of potential hazards, so, take care.

The descent is via the same route until you reach the red marker. Now you veer left. Once again, the terrain is challenging as there are countless rocks and boulders.

For most of the way, the route is well marked until the final km’s. We lost the trail but could see Memurubu ahead and therefore self-navigated back to the cabin.

This route is a stunner. We felt alone and isolated. We saw nobody and encountered wild reindeer with their young.

Besseggen

Besseggen is a classic ridge that ‘must’ be done. Some Norwegian’s say that you cannot be Norwegian until you have done the route. It’s a point-to-point route, so, plan ahead and send any luggage/ tent with the ferry boat. They will have your luggage waiting for you after the trek at the ferry port in Gjendesheim.

At 14km long, with approximately 1100m of vertical gain it may not appear to be a too demanding route? However, many consider it is! Many take 8-hours to do the route and 10/12-hours is not unusual. GPX here.

For perspective, there is a mountain race that takes on the exact route and the course record is an unbelievable 1hr 15min 40sec by Thomas Bereket. Trust me, if you experience this 14km point-to-point, you will wonder (continuously) how is it possible to run this so quick? Kilian Jornet ran the race in 2016, along with Thorbjørn T. Ludvigsen, Kilian won in 1.17.54.

We completed the route in 3-hours 30-minutes and that was with many photo/ video stops.

The route is very, very popular and we therefore recommend you start early. One advantage of running and fast hiking is you soon catch anyone ahead and trust me, you want to be alone as much as possible to experience the trail and views.

All this who stay at the cabin or camp will start (usually) before 0800 and then the first boat arrives at 0805 releasing another wave of people.

Characterized by the colourful emerald Gjende and deep blue Bessvatnet lakes, Besseggen ridge splits the landscape. It’s dramatic and bold and in wet weather, treacherous, so be careful!

Leaving Memurubu the trail immediately rises up and twists, mixing rock and single-track. It’s a fun trail and the first plateau already provides great views. You will pass Bjønbøltjønne lake, a good opportunity to get water if needed? Continuing up, eventually another plateau arrives and now you have a stunning view of the Besseggen ridge. It’s quite intimidating. To the right the Gjende lake and you will clearly see Knutshøe which looks fantastic.

The trail now drops, it is steep in places. Bessvatnet lake (1374m) is to your left and you walk along its edges with Besseggen looking down on you.

Bandet ridge is a significant point with approximately halfway covered and Besseggen the next challenge.

Rising 300m, Besseggen (in my opinion) is less intimidating when climbing, however, there is plenty of opportunity for exposure. It’s relatively steep but there are plenty of foot and hand holds. It’s worth stopping many times for photos. The views are remarkable.

The steepest section comes towards the end but does not last long and then you are on a plateau that gently and continually rises to Veslfjellet (1743m) which is the highest point.

The trail is now very flat and after about 1 kilometer you reach a trail junction. Follow that trail to the right down towards Gjendesheim. The route now twists and bends. Follow the markers and in here the trail is steepest with many rocks. Take care, they can be slippery, even in dry weather.

Gjendesheim ferry finally comes to view and then the final 1 or 2km is easy to the finish.

If you sent luggage with the boat, it will be available under the wooden shelter at the port. A shuttle bust will take you to the car park for the journey home.

Or, you may wish to wild camp or sleep at the cabin and the following day tackle Besshø.

Besshø

At 2258m, Besshø is 500m higher than Besseggen and it is a trail that sees little foot fall. In many respects, it is like Surtningssue and as such, it has a huge attraction.

From Gjendesheim it is an out-and-back route of 22km with 1300m +/-. It’s a route that could take 12-hours but if moving fast and light, sub 6-hours is perfectly achievable.

The route starts with the end of the Besseggen route but instead of turning left for Besseggen, you veer right in the direction of Russa/ Glitterheim.

Bessvatnet lake will appear on the left and eventually you will cross a small bridge in the eastern corner. Cross the river you will see two small cabins on the left, now follow the trailer 2 to 3 miles north on flat/ boggy trail. Besseggen will be on your left and at the far end of the lake is Bandet which you crossed just before climbing Besseggen.

Look out for the right turn that leads to Besshø summit. The climb is at times demanding and marked with stone cairns which often disappear. It’s easy to lose the route so it’s advisable to have a GPX available (route here). Depending on the time of year, you may need to cross snow fields – care needed. The route is very rocky and strewn with boulders of different sizes. Many are loose, so, caution is required. It’s a challenging route but visually stunning.

The return route is via the way you came.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Never underestimate the mountains and the environment in which you are exploring. June in particular is the start of the hiking season and as such, snow can be a factor on all of the above routes. This adds an additional potential for injury and problems. Particularly as the snow is melting and this can create snow holes, snow bridges and crevices. Do not take any risks and follow established routes and existing footprints.

It is definitely worth carry Micro-Crampons as a safety measure, particularly in June and September. Also, trekking poles are a great addition but not essential.

Make sure you check in with DNT cabins for all the routes and check conditions to make sure that you have no surprises.

Weather is crucial and many of the above routes would become very dangerous in wet weather. Rocks and boulders in Jotunheimen are everywhere, when wet, they can be treacherous. Boots are always recommended for hikers but if moving fast and light, top quality mountain running shoes are perfectly acceptable on experienced feet. I cannot emphasize enough that grip is essential! You need an outsole that works on wet and dry rock. Running shoes are very personal but recommendations are VJ Sport MAXx and XTRM, Scott Supertrac RC2 and inov-8 Roclite.

It may be 30deg next to the fjord and glorious sunshine, but at the summit, it can be below zero, blowing a gale and torrential rain. You must take personal responsibility and be prepared for all conditions. At a minimum please take:

  • Suitable pack
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Warm insulated layer
  • Warm trousers
  • Waterproof jacket/ pants
  • Food for the duration of the hike and some contingency
  • 1,5 ltrs of water (which can be replenished on all the routes via streams/ waterfalls)
  • Take water purification tablets as a just in case and consider a water purifier such as MSR Trailshot (here)
  • Map/ Compass
  • Charged mobile phone with a suitable App such as ‘Footpath’ (here)
  • Cash/ Card
  • Garmin InReach or similar
  • Bivvy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream

Plan your routes, be realistic on timings and always start early. One of the huge advantages of outdoor activity in Norway is daylight. In June, July, August it is light at 0300 and goes dark after 2200 hrs.

CONCLUSION

Jotunheimen is to mountain lovers, what Disney is to fair ride lovers.

It’s a playground of trails, routes, summits, views, experiences and wildlife all wonderfully interconnected with marked trails and DNT cabins.

This article is created as a gateway to the area knowing only too well that it will whet your appetite for other adventures.

As mentioned at the beginning, the best way to explore this area is by foot and we are sure that once you have followed our weeklong adventure above, you will already be planning to return and explore.

In comparison to our first Exploring Norway article on Hardanger, I would consider Jotunheimen a more challenging environment, so please consider experience and fitness when contemplating any of the above routes.

We cannot emphasize enough the role of weather and the impact it has on all of the above recommendations. The mountains will always be there, cancelling a planned route or turning back is acceptable and wise.

PERSONAL NOTE

Special thanks to Abelone Lyng who has extensive knowledge of Jotunheimen. Her experience was invaluable in planning routes and making a workable itinerary.

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Getting High In Norway – Borgersen and Lyng achieve Everest and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Covid-19, lockdown, social distancing and so on has resulted in so many crazy and inventive ideas. Virtual running and racing have never been so popular as it has provided an opportunity to daily focus on a larger goal that one can undertake with others.

Race directors, runners, shops, stores, magazines and so on have created opportunities.

In Norway, Runners World NO have a series of events, ‘Trail Challenge,’ ‘100 Minutter,’ 5 Sommernattsløpet 5k,’ ‘Soomer Maraton,’ and ’Til Himmels Race.’ The latter translates, ‘To the Skies’ or ‘Sky is the Limit!’

Fueled by the challenge of gaining as much vertical meters as possible in one month, Elisabeth Borgersen and Abelone Lyng, both decided to set themselves a challenge within a challenge. How many meters could they gain in just one day! 

Initial plans were to use a ski slope and gain permission/ access to use the chairlift down, therefore concentrating on vertical meters without the impact of running down. However, due to Covid-19 this was not possible. 

“If we were going to do it, then we would have to run down too,” Lyng said in advance of the challenge. With a little research, they found a ski slope, pretty much void of snow, the ‘Wyllerløpa’ part of the ‘Wyller Express’ series of slopes. 

 

‘The Wyllerstua’ has a car park and we have immediate access to the slope,’ said Lyng. ‘We plan to set up our own aid station and then we can go up and down as many times as we wish.’

 

On the map below, Lyng and Borgersen would use the route marked 11. With 300m vertical gain for each ascent, the distance would be approximately 1.3km up and 1.3km down.

 May 21st had been set aside by Runners World as ‘the day’ to see who could gain the most vertical meters.

‘At 8848m, Everest is a logical and mind-blowing target to aim for, so, that is the dream goal. However, for me, I think Mont Blanc at 4810m or Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m is more realistic,’ Lyng explained. ‘Elisabeth on the other hand has the potential to climb to the top of the world, albeit virtually!’

THE DAY

It was an early start to the day with the duo waking at 0300 and meeting at the Wyllerstua at 0400. Gladly, the day was already starting and the need for a head-torch was not required. One of the advantages of being in Norway.

At 0430 they were off, starting steady, the plan was to spend as much time together as possible, each pushing the other.

 Calculations allowed for 2000m every 4 hours and therefore, a projected Tim for 9000m+ could be estimated at 18-hours.

It’s easy to get pre-occupied by the vertical gain and the lofty, albeit virtual, summit of Everest at 8848m. But what goes up, must come down, and the impact and stress of descending a 300m slope would almost certainly have a far greater physical impact than the vertical meters.

 The early hours passed and soon they were taking the first of many breaks. Nothing too lengthy. Just an opportunity to consume calories, hydrate and then push on.

3300m+ was accumulated with relative ease in well under 8-hours and the challenge was starting to fall into place. Borgersen looked solid, powering up the climb but maybe more impressively, still running down the 300m/ 1.3km slope with what appeared to be relative ease.

Lyng was holding the pace but openly admitted, ‘Everything is fine, it just hurts everywhere in my body, but thats part of the game.’

 The height of Mont Blanc was achieved, and that milestone was rewarded with a smile. The duo continued to motivate each other, almost metronomic in the ascent but Borgersen always looking more at ease on the descent.

With 10-hours elapsed, Borgersen was resolute that today was the day to achieve Everest. She was hurting but it was easier to push on. The thought of coming back and trying again was too daunting. No stranger to long-distances and vertical gain, Borgersen has pedigree, she has completed TDS and the 90km Mont-Blanc placing 6thin both. She also placed 8th at MIUT.

For Lyng, she was in new territory, far exceeding any previous vertical gain for one day. A lover of the mountains, Lyng’s recent successes have come with multi-day racing, placing 4th at The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica and winning, The Ice Ultra.

‘I was getting very tired and I was well aware that the ability to continue on for many more hours would result in injury. I therefore set the target of Mount Kilimanjaro at 5895m. But I also had a desire for 6000m.’

Lyng achieved Mount Kilimanjaro in 12 hours and then the 6000m mark in 12-hours 37-minutes with a total distance of 54km. Her day was done.

Borgersen once again arrived at the car park. It was close to 6pm. But there was no hesitation, just a brief chat and then an about turn to once again head upwards.

‘I have some work left to do, but if all goes well, I think I can be finished before 10pm.’

The evening passed and gladly, Borgersen’s husband arrived with pizza offering a welcome break, refuel and then the final push. Darkness was slowly starting to arrive as the goal was achieved after 77km’s.

‘I love to challenge myself to see what I am actually capable of. Going up and down the same 300m slope close to 18-hours (17h 40m) was for sure a big challenge. But to finally reach Everest, 8880m to be exact, I am pretty darn proud of that!’

2020 will be remembered by us all as an Annus horribilis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amidst the gloom, the isolation, quarantine, the changes of routine, the loss of work, the disruption to life and the horrendous death toll, it is possible to still find reward and growth. It may come in the strangest of ways, one just needs to be creative.

 

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Episode 187 – Ben Bardsley, Bob Crowley and Stephen Goldstein PHD

Episode 187Ben Bardsley talks about his 2500km journey on the Norge Pa Langs, Norway. We speak with new ITRA President, Bob Crowley and Stephen Goldstein PHD updates us on Covid-19.
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00:10:54 BEN BARDSLEY 
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00:56:04 BOB CROWLEY – ITRA here
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01:39:00 STEPHEN GOLDSTEIN PHD
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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

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Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100km 2019 Race Preview – Fierce Mind’s Edition

The 2019 Ultra Mirage El Djerid 100k #UMED rolls closer. Now in its 3rd edition, this 100km desert race based in Tozeur, Tunisia, North Africa brings 300 runners from all over the world to experience something very special in a unique environment.

The 1st edition had just 60 runners from 12 countries, for 2018, these numbers escalated to over 150 and a remarkable 20+ countries for 2018 and now 300 will toe the line.

Tozeur is the main city of the Djerid, known for its stunning surroundings it has a mixture of rocky mountains, valleys, salt lakes and desert dunes. The Ultra Mirage© El Djerid (UMED) is the first 100km Ultra Trail taking place in the stunning Tunisian Sahara desert.

A single-stage race that takes runners across a wide diversity of terrain, the start is at Mos Espa, famous as a movie set and tourist attraction as it was the home of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie. The film set still exists and provides all involved a great opportunity for a photo before or after the race!

Soft sand, small dunes, rocks, dried river beds and multiple oasis, participants have 20-hours to finish the race with very specific deadlines to reach each of the checkpoints which will be between 15-20km apart. Starting at 0700, the race concludes at 0300.

Offering 4 ITRA points and equal prize money for the top female and male athletes, the 2019 edition of UMED looks set to be a great race: #1 EUR 3000, #2 EUR 1500, #3 EUR 500.

2018 Champions, Rachid El Morabity and Elisabet Barnes return to defend their crowns, can they beat the course records? Mohamed El Morabity has a faster time from 2017, (08:48:11) but the race route was very different! Elisabet Barnes set the 2018 record, 10:12:12. However, the 2019 route does have approximately 20% course change, and in the words of Race Director, Amir Ben Gacem:

“From cp3 at 50km is identical to last year: straight long lines in the desert. The first part will be the same for the first 20km across Chott el Gharsa. But between 20km and 50km we are probably changing the route to skip the road section in favour of plain desert. It will be more difficult as there will be no shade at all except at check points, and there will be more soft sand.”

MEN

Rachid is the outright favourite and little more needs to be said, he is the desert king. Rachid’s brother, Mohamed, will also return. The duo, both desert specialists, encountered difficult races in 2018 – the intense heat challenging them. Rachid collapsed at the finish line with dehydration and exhaustion, his brother making the podium after a very difficult final 20km. As desert experts, Rachid a multiple champion at Marathon des Sables, Mohamed equally a desert expert, but often in the shadow of his older brother, they are without doubt favorites for the 2019 title.

Sondre Amdahl from Norway will also return after making the podium in 2018 and nearly upstaging the desert king, Rachid. The final 10km really was a spectacular battle as they traded run stride and cadence to be champion. Sondre has raced at Marathon des Sables where he placed in the top 10. Certainly, the single-stage format and 100km distance will suit him as he proved last-year, however, he has been injured recently and therefore his form may well be below his own exacting standards.

Christophe Le Saux, France, also toes the line. He is a long distance expert, has a great history with MDS and he loves the desert. The men’s race will be interesting in 2019!

 

The UK’s Ben Whitfield will not be a name you know, but mark my words, you will after the 2019 UMED!

WOMEN

Two-time Marathon des Sables champion, Elisabet Barnes, will head up the women’s race and after placing 4th overall, setting a CR in 2018, she is without doubt the favorite. A solid June and July saw Elisabet clock some great training miles which she has tried to maintain throughout August.

Bouchra Lundgren Eriksen will push Elisabet for the victory, a very accomplished marathon runner and podium finisher at MDS, she may well be the one person who challenges the MDS Queen, Elisabet, for victory.

Oriane Dujardin placed 2nd in 2018 and ran a solid and consistent race. With more experience and one year of training, she will once again contend the podium.

Rebecca Ferry has experience in multi-day racing and ultra-running, particularly at the 100km distance. She recently ran CCC and DNF’d, however, she has kept her powder dry since. If she has a good day, she will definitely contend the podium.

Chefia Hendaoui is the female Tunisian hope and she made the podium in 2018 – can she place higher?

As in any race, nothing is guaranteed. As the distance takes its toll, the soft-sand wears the runners down and the heat exhausts, anything can happen. Stay tuned for the action as it unfolds in Tunisia. No doubt, some names will shine that are not mentioned here.

One thing is for sure, the desert, Tunisia and the UMED organisation will provide a special experience for all.

Runners will start to arrive in Tunisia from Thursday 28th and transfer to Tozeur. Friday is registration and briefing and then the action starts Saturday, 0700.

You can obtain more specific information from the race website, HERE

The Coastal Challenge 2019 – #TCC2019 – Day 6

The 2019 The Coastal Challenge today came to an end on the stunning beaches of Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula.

Pere Aurell and Ida Nilsson are the champions after a masterclass of multi-day running. The duo ran amazing races and Ida obliterated the 2018 record of Ragna Debats and in the process set 4 female stage records and placed 2nd overall. Holly Page set two stage records also.

The 22km final day is a stunning day, starting and finishing on Bahia Drake, the loop is like a mini Coastal Challenge all compressed into one stage. Waterfalls, rainforest, plantations, dusty fire trail, water crossings, beaches, coves and the stunning Pacific as a backdrop as the runners make the way to the finish.

The dynamic of the day was the staggered start for the top-6 after the mass start at 0700.

They were released as follows:

6. Ragna Debats 07:01:00

5. Holly Page 07:03:00

4. Jorge Paniagua 07:06:00

3. Marcus Scotney 07:10:00

2. Ida Nillson 07:15:00

1. Pere Aurell 07:21:00

 

The race was on between Jorge and Marcus and in the early stages, Jorge opened a gap on the technical trail. However, as soon as the trail became more runnable, Marcus unleashed his natural fast pace and secured his 3rd overall on GC.

After a tough stage 5, Pere was keen to make sure he won the 2019 TCC and by the waterfall, he had caught Ida for the 6-minute time gap. He then ran to the line and secured his victory ahead of the incredible Ida, who placed 2nd overall and dominated the women’s race.

Ida won 4-stage CR bonus’ worth $250 each and $2500 for a new CR – That is $3500 for her week in Costa Rica.

Holly Page was the first to cross the line holding off the top-5 runners and catching all those before her – in the process she set a new stage CR and in addition to her female CR on stage 4, she netted $500. On timing, Pere was the stage winner just missing Tom Evans 2018 stage-6 record. Marcus was 2nd and Holly 3rd.

The finish-line was full of emotion as an epic journey has come to an end. The 2019 TCC will go down in history for the incredible performances of all the runners, but the truly inspiring story his how the top-3 women placed in the top-6 overall, with Ida 2nd on the podium – truly epic!

For now though, it’s all about Pere and Ida celebrating victory. This evening, the awards will take place on the beach with a roaring camp fire. 2020 will see the 16th edition of the race and I am sure we can expect another spectacular race.

PURA VIDA

Stage Results:

  1. Pere Aurell 2:00:00
  2. Marcus Scotney 2:06:32
  3. Holly Page 2:07:04
  4. Ida Nilsson 2:08:12
  5. Sebastian Jones 2:13:55

Overall standings, male/ female after 6-stages:

  1. Pere Aurell 23:10:23
  2. Marcus Scotney 24:01:03
  3. Jorge Paniagua 24:17:21
  1. Ida Nilsson 23:36:03
  2. Holly Page 24:50:38
  3. Ragna Debats 26:16:06

General Classification:

  1. Pere Aurell 23:10:23
  2. Ida Nilsen 23:36:03
  3. Marcus Scotney 24:01:03

Full results at www.webscorer.com

Follow the action as the race unfolds #TCC2018

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The Coastal Challenge 2019 – #TCC2019 – Day 5

It was the longest day of the 2018 The Coastal Challenge and what a day! At 49km, it was only 2km more than day 3 but coming at this stage in the race, it is always a tough one.

 Runners departed camp via bus for a short bus ride to the Sierpe river and then a ferry across to the other side with the arrival of daylight. At 6:15am, they were released.

Much of todays race is very runnable on wide gravel roads and much of that chat pre-stage was that it was ideal for Ida and Marcus. It’s great if you can run, but for many it’s a tough day. Technical forest sections break up the distance and then at 2/3rd of the race covered, the runners turn right on a loop around the peninsula, running through forest trails before finally dropping to the beach and taking a small boat from one side to the other. Once across the estuary, it is 9km’s to the line with the final sections on the beach to the stunning Drake Bay, a Unesco Heritage Site

It was a day of drama, with the main podium contenders all running close together to checkpoint. Notably, Jorge was running side-by-side with Pere at the head of the race. Ida chased and then Marcus. Just before the right turn for the loop around the peninsula, Pere made his move and pulled away from Jorge.

Behind, Ida chased and Marcus was looking strong and gaining time.

Holly Page was some way back but looking relaxed and comfortable in the intense heat.

At the peninsula. Pere was first in the boat and crossed with no sign of any other runners. Jorge and Ida arrived together and shared a boat. Minutes later, Marcus arrived. It was all going to come down to the final 9-km’s!

What happened next, could not have been predicted. Pere struggled with exhaustion, the heat and sickness from a restless night before. He was reduced to a walk. Ida on the other hand went from strength-to-strength.

Ida left Jorge, pursued Pere, passed him and once again won the stage outright obliterating the previous female stage CR set by Ester Alves by almost 45-minutes – it was an incredible performance.

Marcus bided his time. Closed on Jorge and the duo fought an epic battle to the line. Marcus was 2nd just over 30-seconds ahead of the Costa Rican runner.

Pere finally arrived 20-minutes after Ida – he looked broken!

With the final stage tomorrow, an epic battle will unfold between Jorge and Marcus for the final podium spot on GC. Also, Pere and Ida have a potential fight. Pere has a lead of 17-minutes, one would normally say that is more than enough. However, after today, anything can happen…!

Holly Page finished 2nd woman and Ragna Debats lost time in the closing miles due to a navigation error, however, she did finish 3rd on the stage.

Tomorrow’s stage is a loop of Drake Bay – it’s a stunning day that manages to encompass all the previous 5 days in one loop. The top 6-runners will depart after the main group.

The starting times will be:

Mass start 07:30:00

6. Ragna Debats 07:31:00

5. Holly Page 07:33:00

4. Jorge Paniagua 07:36:00

3. Marcus Scotney 07:40:00

2. Ida Nilsson 07:45:00

1. Pere Aurell 07:51:00

Overall standings, male/ female after 5-stages:

  1. Pere Aurell 21:10:22
  2. Marcus Scotney 21:54:30
  3. Jorge Paniagua 22:00:49
  1. Ida Nilsson 21:27:51
  2. Holly Page 22:43:34
  3. Ragna Debats 23:54:00

General Classification:

  1. Pere Aurell 21:10:23
  2. Ida Nilsson 21:27:51
  3. Marcus Scotney 21:54:30

Full results at www.webscorer.com

Follow the action as the race unfolds #TCC2018

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The El Kott Twins, Lina and Sanna join the The Coastal Challenge 2019 #TCC2019

The Coastal Challenge reaches new heights in 2019 celebrating 15-years of amazing racing.

The 14th edition completed in February 2018 at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, was a record breaker! Yes, course records were broken daily and Tom Evans and Ragna Debats elevated the overall CR’s to a new level obliterating the 2017 records set by the UK’s Tom Owens and New Zealand’s Anna Frost.

Time never stands still and to make the 15th edition of TCC extra special, race director’s Rodrigo Carazo and Sergio Sanchez have confirmed a new incentive for the 2019 edition of the race.

Feel like a fast start to 2019? It comes no faster than the 15th edition of The Coastal Challenge!

We have already announced Lucy Bartholomew and Ida Nilsson, now the El Kott twins, Lina and Sanna! The twins been a revelation in 2018. They first made an appearance on the skyrunning circuit in 2016 and 2017 but it was really this year that the duo made an impact. They have raced all over the world, at times relentlessly, covering single-stage, multi-day and just recently an adventure race. The twins are going to love Costa Rica and the challenges that the race throws at them.

Lina speaks first…

What attracts you to Costa Rica? 

Lina: The exotic environment! I’ve only been in jungle when I was little so that is very exciting!

Sanna: The nature differs so much from the Swedish, it is just totally different from what I am used to, so I am eager to explore the jungle and the beaches!

This is the 15th edition of the TCC, a special one – what do you know about the race? 

Lina: That it is tough, humid and… tough. So tough I said it twice!

Sanna: I have heard stories from friends who have been running it before. And I have watched a few videos from previous races. It will for sure be a challenge! 

Heat and humidity will play a major factor in the race, how do you plan to adapt? 

Lina: I haven’t planned at all, going directly from low minus degrees in the Swedish winter with lots of skiing. May not be the prefect plan, but I think it’s almost impossible to adapt to those circumstances anyway…

Sanna: I don’t really have a plan to adapt to that. I’m by then in the middle of the ski season in Sweden, so there will be the opposite; cold and crispy days. But I think I can handle it. 

Ragna Debats and Tom Evans set incredible course records in 2017. There is prize money available for a new CR in 2019 – does that motivate you? Can you break the record? 

Lina: It’s mostly the challenge itself that motivates me. I’m not looking for breaking any record, but if I feel in good shape of course I would try to 😉 

Sanna: That’s is such a fun carrot to catch. Though for me it will be really hard. I want to say YES I can break it. But this time, I doubt that. It is many flat parts, and with heat as a combination, it will not be my strongest side.

Multi-day racing brings many different challenges to a single-stage race – what are you most looking forward to? What are you most fearful of? 

Lina: To discover new trails and places everyday! To get injured…

Sanna: That’s what I like with this race. I have done a few stage races before, and that gives me new chances every day. Motivation after another. I look forward to cross some rivers during the race, since I think it will be wanted! My biggest fear is dehydration, I have struggled with that on other races, and nothing I want to face again.. 

The elite line-up is incredible for 2019, you will need to be in the best shape, does that excite you? 

Lina: That’s amazing! I’m really looking forward to race with these strong and inspiring people. Despite I’m now suffering with a knee injury myself, I really hope that I can recover well and start training properly before…

Sanna: It really motivates me to do good training for the races because of that. And it will be so exciting to compete against so strong athletes!

February is early in the season, what will your winter training look like, so you will be ready for February? 

Lina: It’s usually a lot of snow where I live in Sweden so there will mostly be cross country skiing and skimo, but hopefully I’ll manage to squeeze in running everyday too! 

Sanna: There will probably be a lot of cross country skiing, but I always run a few sessions a week. Maybe I’ll put in some flat faster sessions, to get the legs used to those parts. (I know they can climb already).

I am sure you have looked at past editions of the race, viewed the stages, the profile – it is a tough race that suits a rounded athlete. You need to be able to climb, descend, handle technical trail and run on the flat – where will your strengths be? 

Lina: I’m definitely an uphill runner so I’m looking forward to those hills!

Sanna: My strengths.. hmm, I guess the diversity of it. That it is really variated, and definitely that it last for several days. Stage 4 might be my best day. Good elevation, everyones’ legs are a bit tired after three days of racing. I hope I still will have good speed. 

What experience do you have of multi-day racing? 

Lina: I have done Transalpine two times and Transrockies one time in duo-team with Sanna. A lot of suffering, a lot of happiness and memories! I also do adventure racing which is Non-stop racing for days with navigation, trekking, mountain biking and kayaking. So I’m quite used to being out for long.

Sanna: I have experience from both Adventure Racing (where you change diciplines between, running, trekking, mountain biking, kayak, and other sports, during several days, non-stop racing) and stage races. I’ve done TransAlpineRun two times, and TransRockiesRun, though together with Lina. This time will be the first multi-day racing as solo runner.

Racing starts very early in Costa Rica, with the sun! An early finish allows for relaxation on the beach, you can even have a beer – combining racing and relaxation is a key of TCC. It is a ‘Pura Vida’ race – tell us about your hopes and desires for the 2019 edition. 

Lina: One of the best things is absolutely to take a swim after a run, and also to eat fresh fruit, so if I have got both of these I’m more than satisfied!

Sanna: A beer doesn’t appeal me, buth maybe a smoothie? I am excited for the fruits, and hope that they will taste sooo good. I hope we will have nice weather, but that means for me, some clouds on the sky. Otherwise it will be only suffer party. 

What three music choices would sum up your racing style? 

Lina: That’s a hard one since I never listen to music when I’m running… But if I’m in real race mode, some hard rock or up-tempo music for sure fits. I usually run in a steady pace all the race, so maybe some classic music would suit my style too? 

Sanna: I’ll for sure choose Avicii. Any of his hits makes me always be a bit faster. Then some more sing along music tunes, but most likely pop, and in the finish line, Bobby McFerrin “don’t worry, be happy” for relax.

Tell us about your nutrition and hydrations strategies for the race?

Lina: I’ve done both eating too little, and eating too much on races. The key is HYDRATE with both water and electrolytes. Eat something little if hungry…

Sanna: I will probably have gels with me, and get fresh fruit, salty stuff and electrolytes on aid stations. 

Tell us about key equipment such as shoes and apparel that you will use?

Lina: A loose thin tank top from GORE wear, either loose shorts or tight shorts, will try both on the race I guess. Light but steady shoes, probably All Out Crush 2 or Tough Mudder 2 from MERRELL. I really like to go light weight, but on long races and stage races it’s important to have some stability too. 

Sanna: Gore Wear tank top and shorts, thin gococo sportwear socks (that never get blisters!), Merrell All Out Crush 2 and Ultimate Direction Halo vesta. There you have it!

Please list a summary of your career highlights for 2017 and 2018:

Lina:

  1. Winning Transalpine 2 years in a row with Sanna
  2. Winning Expedition Oregon (Adventure race) in 58 hours with Team Leki/Merrell.
  3. Winning Skyrace Comapedrosa and Olympus marathon.
  4. To run on amazing places around the world, in Yading, China for example!
  5. Complete the ELS2900 in Andorra 2017 with Sanna as the only female team.
  6. Racing good and being in the top ranking of the Skyrunning series.
  7. Being better and better on vertical races and manage to be on the podium on every one I entered.
  8. Travelling between races in a van during the summer calling myself an elite athlete for the first time!

Sanna:

  1. TransAlpineRun winners both 2017 and 2018
  2. Second in Olympus Maraton and High Trail Vanoise, just one week in between. (where I did a multisport race). 
  3. Sprint with Sheila for third place at Comapedrosa in Andorra. 
  4. Winner of Hornindal Rundt in Norway 2017.
  5. Winner together with TEAM LEKI/MERRELL in Expedition Oregon 2018
  6. Totally 5th in the Skyrunner World Series 2018. 
  7. A few podium places on vertical races.

*****

TCC as it is affectionately known is a multi-day race starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. It is an ultimate multi-day running experience that offers a new challenge even to the most experienced runner. Taking place over 6-days, the race hugs the coastline of Costa Rica, travelling in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range. Even the strongest competitors are reduced to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line due to the combination of technical trails, dense forest, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beach, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains.

You can read and view images from the 2017 edition HERE and the the 2018 edition HERE

Follow in 2019 #TCC2019

Twitter @talkultra

Instagram @iancorlessphotography

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

The Coastal Challenge

Facebook HERE

Website (UK) HERE

Website (Global) HERE

#tcc2019 #thecoastalchallenge #tcc19

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Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/thecoastalchallenge/

Twitter – @tcccostarica

Ida Nilsson to join The Coastal Challenge 2019 #TCC2019

The Coastal Challenge reaches new heights in 2019 celebrating 15-years of amazing racing.

The 14th edition completed in February 2018 at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, was a record breaker! Yes, course records were broken daily and Tom Evans and Ragna Debatselevated the overall CR’s to a new level obliterating the 2017 records set by the UK’s Tom Owens and New Zealand’s Anna Frost.

Time never stands still and to make the 15th edition of TCC extra special, race director’s Rodrigo Carazo and Sergio Sanchez have confirmed a new incentive for the 2019 edition of the race.

A reward purse totaling $8000will be up for grabs as the race gets underway from the stunning beaches of Quepos, Costa Rica.

Each day, $250 will be up for grabs should the stage course records be broken by the fastest male or female. For example, in 2018, Tom Evans broke every stage record, that would have been rewarded with a $1500 payout! 

Should the overall course record set in 2018 by Tom Evans or Ragna Debats be broken in 2019, $2500 will be on offer. Should the male and female record go, that is a payout of $5000.

Feel like a fast start to 2019? It comes no faster than the 15th edition of The Coastal Challenge! 

Following on from the announcement of Lucy Bartholomew (HERE), we now announce the incredible Ida Nilsson to the line-up of the 2019 TCC. Ida is the two-time champion and course record holder of the iconic Transvulcania on the island of La Palma.

Ida’s ability to run fast over mixed terrain is a huge advantage and is what sets her apart from the competition. Costa Rica and the TCC will be a challenge though… This is the first multi-day race on foot and coming from a snow/ cold climate, the adaptation to heat will be a challenge. 

One thing is for sure, when the terrain is flat and fast, Ida will push the pace making the other runners suffer as they try to keep up!

Over the coming days and weeks, we will introduce you the elite runners that will toe the line of the 2019 TCC by asking them the same fifteen questions:

What attracts you to Costa Rica?

I have never been to Central America and Cost Rica has always been a dream because it’s amazing nature.

This is the 15th edition of the TCC, a special one – what do you know about the race? 

I have mainly just seen pictures from people who previous ran the race. I know it’s a stage race along the coast with variation of flatter to more technical terrain with elevation.

Heat and humidity will play a major factor in the race, how do you plan to adapt?

My strategy will be to do it quickly once I arrive. I will come straight from Norwegian winter and unfortunately, I don’t have a sauna, otherwise that could have been an option. 

Ragna Debats and Tom Evans set incredible course records in 2017. There is prize money available for a new CR in 2019 – does that motivate you? Can you break the record?

Yes, I feel that the record and the stage records are motivating, but this year there are so many of us who could win a stage and the whole race, so I feel that the competition in itself is more motivating than the times from previous year. 

Multi-day racing brings many different challenges to a single-stage race – what are you most looking forward to? What are you most fearful of?

This will be my first stage race, so that will be interesting! I think that all the others have done something similar before, so I look forward to finding out how I will handle six days in a row. I think it’s really nice to have the opportunity to arrive to a different camp site each night. What I fear most is to get some kind of injury during the race.

The elite line-up is incredible for 2019, you will need to be in the best shape, does that excite you? 

Yes, it will be tough since I never do much running in the winter, but hopefully, I will be in good shape from skiing and exited to run in shorts again!

February is early in the season, what will your winter training look like, so you will be ready for February?

Mainly skiing, but I will throw in some runs as well to have my running legs prepared.

TCC is a tough race that suits a rounded athlete. You need to be able to climb, descend, handle technical trail and run on the flat – where will your strengths be?

Compared to the others I think my strengths will be on the flatter parts of the race.

What experience do you have of multi-day racing?

None in running. Pierra Menta in skiing (4-days) which is an iconic race. 

Racing starts very early in Costa Rica, with the sun! An early finish allows for relaxation on the beach, you can even have a beer – combining racing and relaxation is a key of TCC. It is a ‘Pura Vida’ race – tell us about your hopes and desires for the 2019 edition.

Yes, that’s the best of everything I like to do. Exploring and racing for some hours in the morning and then swimming, eating fruits and drinking beer in the afternoon.

What three music choices would sum up your racing style?

Wow, I have never thought of that! I don’t even know if I have a racing style? But two songs I listen to before Transvulcania are ‘The Dreamer’ from The Tallest Man on Earth and ‘Piece of My Heart’ by Janis Joplin. And I feel they work well for me and resonance with my feelings. 

Tell us about your nutrition and hydrations strategies for the race?

Yes, hydration is probably the key and then to fill up with food after each day to have energy for the whole week.

Tell us about key equipment such as shoes and apparel that you will use? 

I think I will use the Salomon Amphibia for this race, which is developed for swim runs and still works very well if it’s wet and muddy. Other running apparel I haven’t really planned yet!

Feel free to tell us something, anything! 

I’m very happy I got invited to the 2019 TCC.

Tell us about your greatest achievements?

1) Zegama 2018

2) Transvulcania 2017

3) Ultravasan 2017

4) Lidingöloppet 2018

5) Transvulcania 2018

6) TNF 2017

7) Swedish x-country 4 km 2018

8) Swiss Alpine 2017

I really look forward to this opportunity to discover a new country with stunning nature and trails. I also look forward to the stage race experience and share it with the other participants.

 *****

TCC as it is affectionately known is a multi-day race starting in the southern coastal town of Quepos, Costa Rica and finishing at the stunning Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. It is an ultimate multi-day running experience that offers a new challenge even to the most experienced runner. Taking place over 6-days, the race hugs the coastline of Costa Rica, travelling in and out of the stunning Talamanca mountain range. Even the strongest competitors are reduced to exhausted shells by the arrival of the finish line due to the combination of technical trails, dense forest, river crossings, waterfalls, long stretches of golden beach, dusty access roads, high ridges and open expansive plains.


You can read and view images from the 2017 edition HEREand the 2018 edition HERE

 

Follow in 2019 #TCC2019

Twitter @talkultra

Instagram @iancorlessphotography

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

 

The Coastal Challenge

Facebook HERE

Website (UK) HERE

Website (Global) HERE

 

#tcc2019 #thecoastalchallenge #tcc19 

IG – https://www.instagram.com/thecoastalchallenge/ 

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/thecoastalchallenge/ 

Twitter– @tcccostarica

VJ XTRM Shoe Review – VJ Sport

Last year I finally got my hands on a pair of VJ Sport IRock 2 (HERE). I was blown away by pretty much everything about the shoes. The upper, the way they held one’s foot, the durability of the materials used, and the outsole was just incredible – the most amazing grip. The only reservation that I had, was how long I could run in these shoes… They are pretty minimal and although cushioned, the cushioning for me would probably only take me to 3-4 hours of running.

OCR World Champion and Skyrunner World Series Champion, Jonathan Albon, agreed. In some of the longer races, Trofeo Kima for example where the terrain is hard, rocky, muddy, has snow, maybe the odd glacier thrown in and when the male winning time is over 6-hours, although the IRock 2 was perfect on grip, the cushioning made a really long run like this tiring for the feet.

With Jon’s feedback, VJ Sport went back to the drawing board, took all the best elements of the IRock 2 and created a new shoe:

VJ XTRM.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Let me just say in simple terms everything that was brilliant in the IRock 2 has been transferred to the new VJ XTRM and what VJ Sport have done, in my opinion, they have created the most perfect mountain running shoe for when the trails are demanding, rocky and throwing all sorts of variables at the runner.

So, what is new in the VJ XTRM.

  • Two new cushioning units have been added to the front and rear.
  • A full-length RockPlate.
  • A medium last.
  • A little extra room in the toe box.
  • New Fitlock.

As I mentioned, much of the IRock 2 crosses over. For example, the outsole is the amazing Butyl Rubber which for me offers the best grip I have encountered on any mountain shoe. The outsole studs are 6mm which offers a good compromise between grip on muddy/ wet trails and excellent grip on smooth and easy single-track.

At 250g for a standard UK8, the shoe is light and 4mm drop sits in a comfortable middle ground for the zero drop fanatics and those who like a more comfortable and relaxed 8mm drop.

Kevlar and Polyester make the upper and the IRock 2 has been the most durable shoe I have ever used, so, I don’t anticipate the VJ XTRM to be any different. There is also Fiberclass stability control.

THE SHOE

Slipping one’s foot into the VJ XTRM one immediately feels the snug and precision fit. However, the slightly wider toe box is noticeable. Don’t get me wrong here, this is not a wide and spacious toe box, so, if that is what you personally need, this may well be not the shoe for you. Please remember though that this is a specific mountain/ skyrunning shoe that will be used on technical mountainous terrain, so, a shoe for this type of running should be precision.

Pulling the laces tight, the FITLOCK takes hold and provides the most secure and comfortable hold of my foot. It is the best I have tried, no question. The laces are excellent, they pull tight and stay tight.

The upper is a mix of materials and is extremely durable. Although it is too early to comment on longevity of the VJ XTRM upper, the materials and comparisons with the IRock 2 are very close. My IRock 2 have been through everything and are still going strong. The heel box has minimal padding but holds the foot secure and is extremely comfortable. The toe box is well protected and ideal for mountain terrain.

The colours of the upper are a little bright. They wouldn’t be my choice, I certainly loved the red & black combo of the IRock 2, but colours are just colours and after a good muddy run, the colours soon become muted.

Like the IRock 2, the VJ XTRM looks heavy, pick them up and you realise they are not, they are super-light!

The bottom of the shoe is what helps VJ Sport stand out amongst the competition and why they have such a following. The Butyl Rubber they use is the best outsole I have ever tested and on rock terrain, dry or wet, they are the most reassuring footwear ever! The 6mm studs are the same as on the IRock 2 and this is significant, the IRock 2 provided the best grip ever, so, to see this transferred over to the XTRM is superb.

IN USE

The IRock 2 last-year was the best mountain shoe I have ever used. This has now been replaced by the VJ XTRM and for me, moving forward, I would always purchase the VJ XTRM and not the IRock 2. For me, VJ Sport may well have killed the IRock 2 because the VJ XTRM is so good.

 sport

WHY?

To all intents and purposes, the IRock 2 and VJ XTRM are very similar shoes. One difference is 6mm drop for the IRock 2 and 4mm drop for the VJ XTRM, this may be a decision maker for some? However, the new additions to the VJ XTRM just make it a much more versatile shoe without compromising what made the IRock 2 great, no, superb!

  1. The added cushioning doesn’t compromise feel for the ground, control, stability for faster shorter mountain running but what it does allow is more cushioning and comfort for longer runs.
  2. The RockPlate is a no brainier, it is added protection and added comfort for little to no additional weight.
  3. The new Fitlock holds the foot as well, if not better than the Fitlock on the IRock 2.
  4. The toe box has been widened to allow for a little more room and toe splay when running longer but not at the compromise of precision and feel.
  5. The upper is as the IRock 2 with Kevlar and outstanding durability.
  6. The outsole is the same, 6mm studs in the amazing Butyl Rubber.

The additions make the VJ XTRM the perfect all-round mountain shoe be that for short or long outings. Whereas, the IRock 2 was a shoe that I personally would not want to be out in for much longer than 4-hours.

SUMMARY

This is the best mountain running shoe I have ever used. For skyrunning, it is THE perfect shoe and for me, all other shoes that I test for that intended use will be compared to the VJ XTRM. Jonathan Albon’s influence can be felt in this shoe and I am sure his feedback with VJ Sport has been paramount in retaining all that was brilliant in the IRock 2 and then tweaking it to add what Jonathan and many other runners wanted; more cushioning, a RockPlate and a slightly wider toe box.

I personally am unable to find any negatives.

Obviously, the Butyl Rubber outsole works so well because it is soft and grippy, so, if you start running on roads and pavements, be aware, the outsole won’t last.

But the VJ XTRM is a formula 1 shoe and not a Ford Escort or similar. Maybe the VJ XTRM should make an appearance for those special runs or races?

However, if you are like me, I think the shoes are so awesome that if I am going to run anything technical, wet or dry, I want these shoes on my feet.

VJ SPORT website

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