Last weekend the ‘Great Glen Paddle’ took place in stunning Scotland. What can only be described as an epic, endurance challenge in tougher than tough weather conditions, definitely pushed competitors to their limits. This year 9 hardy paddleboarders set off on the 57 mile challenge in the early hours of darkness, with near freezing temperatures, snow covered mountains and somewhat chilly waters! It was the first year that paddleboarders have joined canoeists and kayakers for this great paddle challenge. And it sounds as though they did us SUPboarders proud!
Paddleboarder Mark Slater describes his experience of taking on the Great Glen Paddle challenge (and the Nessie!)…
So the Great Glen Paddle is an event which consists of crossing Scotland, West to East via the Caledonian Canal and takes in Loch Lochy and the mighty Loch Ness in the process. Competitors have the option of doing the 57 miles (93km) straight through in one day Great Glen Paddle or over 2 days. And 2014 is the first year Stand Ups have been able to enter. This years dates for the event were 22-23rd March so it was highly likely some rather unpleasant weather could be expected!
All of the SUP entrants decided they were going to give it a go in the non stop category which meant a 2am start time for us! The forecast was 1°C at night and climbing to a balmy 4°C in the afternoon with some heavy snow!
The start was a staggered with everyone setting off at about 30sec intervals. I was the last to start in the 2am time slot (some of the faster canoeists had the option of a 5am start), so I set myself the task of trying to make up some ground and get with some of the other paddlers.
It was a clear night so visibility wasn’t too bad and the snow on the canal bank also helped. Everyone set a good pace to the first portage 7 miles in, which involved climbing a steep snow covered grass slope then a 500m walk/jog with the board passed the lock, then back in the water. Next on the agenda was Loch Lochy and as we entered the Loch we were greeted with the skies closing in and heavy snow, which made visibility a little tricky. I managed to make up a bit of ground and paddled with Scott Warren and Crispen Jones for a while. Then tried to break away, but promptly paddled into the side and ran aground as I couldn’t actually see where I was going, so decided to stick with Crispen and his board mounted mega torch until the visibility improved. As we approached the end of the Loch the first glimpses of daybreak meant that we now had light. Crispen had his first food stop here (about 16miles in) so I pushed on and set off into the next canal section just behind Rob Stewart who was setting a blistering pace, and I managed to just keep him in my sights. I had my first food stop at about the 22mile mark and Rob stopped here too, so we had a quick chat, forced as much food down as we could, topped up our hydration packs. Just as we were setting off Crispen came passed, so the pace stayed fairly brisk as we pushed each other on to the start of the great Loch Ness, where Crispen stopped for another quick food stop.
As we entered the Loch I jokingly shouted over to Rob saying that it would be great if we had a bit of a tail wind with us like we did on Loch Lochy. But as we got further into Big, Bad Nessie it became apparent that we had far more than a little light breeze… the wind was funneling straight down through the Loch and blowing a good force 4-5, meaning I was just about to embark on an epic 20mile downwind run 🙂 My board really came into it’s own in these conditions and I had an amazing run for about the first 10miles, but after this point I started to get a little less nimble on my feet as my legs were beginning to feel the strain of the days activities! I also had an unintentional little dip in Nessie and was now starting to get chilled from the cold wind on my back, so I made an executive decision, found a suitable spot to pull in to the side and quickly pulled my long john up and put a spray jacket on over my long sleeved rashie. Back out again and the epic downwind run was starting to take its toll on mind and body. I had a few more falls and was really having to have a serious word with myself about keeping things together, along with having a bit of a chat to the Great Nessie, asking her if she would be so kind to give little old Markie a safe passage through :), and after what seemed like an eternity the end of the Miss Ness was now in sight, along with my 2nd planned food stop, which meant about 48 miles had now been covered. So it was another quick stop on the rocky shoreline to force as much food into my depleted body as possible. Then with the end now in sight (only 9 miles away) it was a last big push to the end of Nessie, down the canal and the welcome sight of the finish line.
All of the stand up paddlers who took part in the event pushed themselves beyond belief in the harsh conditions and some amazing finish times were achieved, including Jo H Vale, who I believe was the fastest woman to finish the course on any craft in a very respectable time of 13hrs 50mins. Unfortunately Scott Warren had to pull out due to injury. The eyes of our seated paddle sport cousins who took part, were well and truly opened over the speeds and distances we were able to achieve on our strange breed of craft!
All in all it was an amazing event and challenge to have been part of, in a beautiful, untouched and rather remote part of the world. And I must say a massive thank you to the following for making this little adventure possible: Ali Pereira and Mark May for being support crew extraordinaire! Jo and Pete Vale for the lift there and organising the fantastic accommodation (Pete also took on the mammoth task of single handedly driving the 1450 mile round trip) Fanatic and K-66 for the fantastic new 2014 paddle and the amazing 14′ x 25″ Falcon open water. It was the perfect board to cope with the varied conditions en route. ION for the super accessories and clothing – the neoprene beanie, open palm mits and 4 way stretch spray jacket were a godsend and made it really easy to regulate my temperature. Pression Hydration for the H2ProHydrate hydration tablets.
Will I be there next year? Who knows! 🙂
Words by – Mark Slater
Pictures by – Pete Vale
- Mark Slater 11:17:35 – Fanatic
- Crispen Jones 12:28:58 – Starboard
- Adam Chubbock 12:38:14 – Starboard
- Rob Stewart 12:40:59 – Starboard
- Adam Stiling 12:43:48 – Fanatic
- John Siggs 14:05:56 – Inflatable
- Russell Whittall 14:43:51 – Inflatable
Ladies 1. Jo Hamilton Vale 13:37:41 – Starboard
Non-stop and 2-day Overall Results :
So come on SUPboarders… who’s up for a challenge next year?!! Lets get more paddleboarders taking part in the 2015 Great Glen Paddle. Get training now or why not share the challenge and get a team together!
Some Great Glen Paddle videos
Video by Rob Stewart
Video by Crispen Jones