Seathwaite, before the flood

Seathwaite, before the flood

Mountain rescue teams in the Lake District have been involved in a major exercise to rescue competitors in the Original Mountain Marathon event.

The race was abandoned at about midday as torrential rain and storm-force winds lashed the fells on which the marathon was taking place. The event’s headquarters at Seathwaite in Borrowdale were flooded and hundreds of walkers and runners taking part in the OMM were stranded.

Honister Slate Mine manager Mark Weir said he had 300 entrants sheltering at his buildings at the head of the Honister Pass, between Borrowdale and Buttermere.

Another makeshift shelter had also been set up at Gatesgarth in Buttermere and at the Lakeland Sheep and Wool Visitors’ Centre in Cockermouth. Both Wasdale and Borrowdale were flooded as torrential rain caused becks and rivers to burst their banks.

grough spoke to Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team leader Julian Carradice shortly after he got back from the rescue mission this evening. He said his team got back to base about 6.30pm on Saturday.

He said: “It has been a bit chaotic. There have been teams out all over the fells.

“Seven people, including two of our team members were winched up from an ‘island’ in a swollen beck below Sty Head, at the confluence where Spouthead Gill meets another beck.”

A helicopter from 122 Squadron at RAF Valley winched the seven to safety. One woman was then taken to hospital in Whitehaven.

Mr Carradice said: “I know two others have been taken to accident and emergency.

“In over 40 years of living here in Wasdale, I have seen nothing like this. Borrowdale and Wasdale are both flooded. The water is up to the bonnet of the Land Rover at Wasdale.”

Team members used their vehicles to ferry people through floods to where road ambulances could meet them.

Radio communication had been very difficult, Mr Carradice said, “It has been so wet that electronic equipment has just died.”

North West Ambulance Service said about a dozen marathon participants had been taken to hospital, some suffering hypothermia.

Mr Weir criticised the decision to go ahead with the mountain marathon. He said the race should never have been staged in such conditions. At one stage, he appealed to anyone with vans and minibuses to contact him at the slate mine to help transport stranded competitors to safety.

Mr Carradice said of the decision to run the OMM: “I think the forecast was pretty dire. With the benefit of hindsight, it doesn’t look like the best decision to go ahead with the event.”

On Wednesday, previewing the event, grough reported: “Weather predictions, however, are not good, with Saturday likely to have high winds and heavy rain before this abates to showers on Sunday, all of which should provide a true challenge to the field.”

Today’s curtailment of the OMM was the first in its history, both in its present form and as its previous incarnation the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon.

The event has been run for 40 years.

Abandoning the race was not easy, with entrants scattered across a wide area of the fells around the base at Seathwaite. Marshals were alerted and an announcement was made at the cafe at Honister, where many competitors had taken shelter.

Roads in the valleys were closed as floodwater made them impassable.

More than 2,000 competitors were on the starting lists published before the race. An early portent of the troubles to come was the flood on Thursday which temporarily cut off the Seathwaite base, before waters receded. The decision to go ahead with the race was made by organisers Jen Longbottom and Mike Parsons late on Thursday.

On Friday, the decision was made to use designated bad weather courses and to advise competitors to avoid high ridges, where 90mph winds were forecast.

Despite today’s events, many competitors were adamant that the right decision was made to continue the event this morning, with many posts on the OMM forums pointing out that entrants take part with their eyes wide open to the difficulties and knowing the marathon will be a challenge.

Others expressed their disappointment that the event had had to be abandoned.

For the views and hair-raising accounts of many of the participants, most of whom fully back the organisers’s decision to stage the event, read the OMM forums.