Few races conjure up feelings of endurance, suffering, scenery second to none and pain both physical and mental. The race itself has a loyal following unlike any other race family in the industry and competitors are drawn from across the globe to compete in the West highland way race. The course runs from Milngavie just outside Glasgow and follows a line through glens, along lochs, over mountains and past the most iconic scenery in the British isles finishing in Fort William – a total of 95 miles and an overall ascent of 16,000 feet. The entire course must be run non stop and be completed in under 35 hours.
During the race there is little room for error, from nutrition to kit, it all has to come together. One small blip can be magnified ten fold and become a reason to retire, ruining a years worth of training. With this in mind I returned to Camelbak after a few years using a competitor brand that was low price and hence low quality.
The Camelbak venture was foremost in my mind for the WHW race, the pack itself sits on the hips as a belt arrangement which has the added advantage of easy access to the pack compartment and hydration bottles whilst running, a constant pace is essential during such an event and any faff with finding gear whilst running leads to seized muscles and loss of focus. The storage compartment is a slight 2 L which doesn’t seem much but will hold the essentials of anyone wishing to move light and fast, within mine I managed to get my emergency whistle, emergency foil blanket, map, compass, x4 energy bars and a light weight waterproof jacket with elasticised straps on the outside to store extras.
The start gun goes off in the dark at Milngavie 0100 hrs leaving the competitors 35 hours to get to Fort William. Initial feeling of the venture are that its mega comfortable. The perforated foam waist bands have been cunningly split in half allowing the belt to contour the body avoiding any rubbing. The first check point is 14 miles at Balmaha at the side of Loch Lomond where I meet my support team who feed me and refill my pack with energy bars and water into the bottles.
The trail winds along the East side of Loch Lomond to Inversnaid then on towards the 50 mile mark at Auchtertyre outside Tyndrum. The juxtaposition of starting in Glasgow and running to some of the most spectacular places in Scotland doesn’t pass me by, this is one of the joys of this event, it is a true journey of magnitude, in some ways you can appreciate that the country isn’t that big if you go from glen to glen and hill to hill as our ancestors did, rather than by winding roads that are built due to the need of the road builders.
One of the most striking additions to the Camelback Venture are the two Podium water bottles that come with the pack. Each bottle holds .6 of a litre of fluids, have a jet valve outlet which in laymans terms means you don’t get any airlock whilst drinking, meaning the water is in continuous delivery, very impressive! Even more of a surprise is that the bottles double up as flasks due to the gel insulation surrounding the inner container, keeping cool water cool and warm water warm. This is another area Camelbak have outstripped the competitors, other brands have nasty cheap plastic bottles that compress.
Leaving Auchtertyre for Bridge of Orchy the ergonomics of the belt become apparent. The drinks bottles are canted out slightly making it easier to reach round and draw one from the holster. Thankfully the holster doesn’t have superfluous bungee loops to hold the bottle in place, which to me is just another faff to overcome, getting on for the 60 mile mark and having not slept in 36 hours the body starts telling you to stop for the most minor things, including getting water bottles out….the less reasons you have to stop the less the body can trick you!
The next section is the one I looked forward to most but unfortunately is the section I suffer on. Coming down into Glencoe I’m hit with excruciating shin splints which turns a run into a jog and a jog into a walk. Leaving Glencoe after meeting the support team competitors are hit with the Devils staircase which climbs the flanks of the south side of glencoe and leads you down into Kinlochrannoch. A five mile descent on harsh underfoot conditions considering we’re now 80 miles into the race seems unfair to say the least, and in the dark the mind plays games, making figures out of the most benign features.
I hit Kinlochleven and begin the long climb up and over to Glen Nevis, the final stage of the race. Camelbak are one of those companies that you, as the customer never have to do much thinking about the product, it does exactly what it says it will…and some. As I hit the tarmac and the 30 mile an hour sign into Fort William I know its over, and as my hands touch the doors of the leisure centre I feel nothing but acute tiredness and the need for sleep having spent 30 hours on the trail.
The Camelbak venture is a great piece of equipment and has been thought out brilliantly with ultra runners, as well as road runners in mind. If you want value for money mixed in equal measure with quality then get yourself one, stay with the original and the best.
For more details and to purchase please follow this link http://www.nightgear.co.uk/Camelbak/466ngb.htm
Neil Foote – Backcountry Survival