Cheviot Huts Save Runners' Bacon

Eight ultra marathon runners had a happy escape during the recent snowy conditions thanks to rescue shelters on the Border Ridge in the Cheviots.

Annie Garcia being re-warmed, 132 kb
Annie Garcia being re-warmed
© Border Search and Rescue Unit

The runners were taking part in a gruelling event called the Spine Race, which involves running the full 431km length of the Pennine Way over a week, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm north of the Scottish border.

Last Friday evening, close to the finish, a party of three competitors ran into blizzard conditions and drifting snow in the Cheviots. Wisely they took shelter in the mountain refuge hut south west of Lamb Hill - known as Yearning Saddle refuge hut.

Meanwhile another group of five runners had sought cover for the night in the Auchope Rig mountain refuge hut near The Cheviot.

Because of the hostile conditions they were advised by Mountain Rescue to remain in the refuges over night, to maintain telephone contact with the police control room and to let them know in the morning if they planned to carry on with their event or if they needed assistance off the hill.

Refuge hut in the Cheviots, 56 kb
Refuge hut in the Cheviots
© Geoff Holland

The scene up on the Pennine Way were described by competitor Dave Lee (66), one of the three at the Lamb Hill refuge:

'I've been going into the hills in all seasons for five decades, and I've seldom had to deal with anything like what we had to battle through on Friday night. It was dark of course, and snowing heavily with a swirling gale blowing about our ears. It was incredibly disorientating and almost impossible to keep a track or our progress. The path was obliterated by snow, and we had drifts several feet deep to get through.'

Dave was accompanied by Annie Garcia, who had travelled from Peru from the race, and Russell Swift, a youngster running only his second ultra-marathon.

Mountain Rescue Teams escorted both groups off the hill the following morning.

Damon Rodwell of the Border Search and Rescue Unit praised the runners:

'They were pretty well equipped for general hill conditions, but the battering they'd endured the previous night had left them soaked to the skin, cold and exhausted. The fact that Mr Lee led [the group of three] across some extremely bleak country in a night-time blizzard is a truly impressive example of navigation. Bear in mind that all three had covered about 250 miles over rough country in the middle of winter in the previous seven days. I take my hat off to them.'

Andrew Miller from Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team added:

'Both parties of runners were well prepared. They did the right thing in alerting the Police and Mountain Rescue teams of their position and agreeing to use the refuge huts overnight. This is exactly what these emergency shelters were designed for and they have proven once again to be a lifesaver.'

The Emergency Shelters at Lamb Hill and Auchope Rigg on the Border Ridge were built by Northumberland National Park Rangers with assistance from the National Park Voluntary Rangers and the National Park Mountain Rescue Team, using materials flown out to the remote site by RAF Boulmer.

Though just glorified sheds with no facilities they are well insulated, ensuring stranded parties can keep safe overnight in bad weather. They are used daily by walkers on the Pennine Way (not usually in such testing circumstances), and are maintained by National Park Voluntary Rangers.

Cheviot under heavy snow, 162 kb
Cheviot under heavy snow
© Tom McNally

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