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Oh la la! Portage!

Rob Howard / 13.08.2019
Portaging on stage 4
Portaging on stage 4 / © Rob Howard

Stage 4 of ITERA is proving to be a huge test of endurance for the teams and some of the French teams I met portaging their kayaks along the road to Achiltibuie this morning were feeling the strain. They were pointing fingers to the heads and shaking them, and muttering ‘Crazy’, ‘Crazy’ – ‘too much portage, it’s too difficult!’.

It wasn’t just the French teams of course, all have been through the same experiences, some taking it with more ‘sang froid’ than others.  Joe Faulkner of Nav4 – JRP said, “The paddle in to Suilven was really pleasant, but after that it’s been combat racing.” 

David Harcourt from Dreaming Team commented, “We’ve not done much paddling yet really, but a heck of a lot of kayak carrying. These things are heavy and you can’t use portage trolleys on open moorland so we had to carry them, and it was up hill and down. The ups were really hard work!”

Helen Champman of Beacon Adventure Racing was feeling she wasn’t pulling her weight as she could not pull the kayaks. “On the rough ground they are just too heavy for me to carry so it all has to be done by the other three, and it does not seem fair.”  Her team were not worried and explained that’s how team work is in Adventure Racing, adding; “You lead us the whole way on the riding and your nav was amazing.”

The teams had set off from Elphin last night with the mighty ramparts of Suilven as their first objective, and some had memorable experiences.  Terence Vrugtman of Adventure Life said, “That was the closest I’ve come to my limit in adventure racing.  We were going up in monsoonal rain and were close to the edge in every sense.  It was exposed in places and I was thinking ‘should I be doing this’.”

Ross Philips from Beacon Adventure said, “It was a stunning sight when the sky was clear before sunset, then in the dark you could see the lights of teams spread out up the mountain and there were meteor showers too. I’m definitely coming back!”  Maybe it was easier for him to appreciate Suilven as he didn’t go up it! That team opted to move on and take the penalty, and so did some other teams.

Another was the Dreaming Team. David Harcourt explained, “We are all first time adventure racers and having a blast, but we didn’t expect so much kayak walking!  Before the start we were all gung ho to climb Suilven but in reality there was no chance. We’d still be up there if we’d tried!”

It was after Suilven, on the cross country trek/paddle to the coast, that the tough portaging came, with some added by the need to move CP8 to a new location. Then after CP8 there was only a short paddle to reach another portage, across a peninsula to Achiltibuie, starting with dragging the boats uphill across the heather to reach a road, then using the portage trolleys for another few kilometres.

Then finally came a longer section of paddling across the mouth of Loch Broom, then a portage over to Little Loch Broom for the final part of the paddle. 

At the front of the race Columbia Vidaraid moved ahead of SWECO on the main paddle but they do have the advantage of Craig Tweedie being on the team. He is a west coast paddle guide and his reading of tides and any eddies around the islands may have made the difference.

The intense rain showers during the night have eased today and for the most part it’s a fine sunny day with fair sea conditions, but the teams are battling to a headwind that looks to be increasing. 

The difficulty of the stage has slowed the race down considerably and its now well behind schedule.  The latest teams can get to the canyon stage at the end of the paddle is 16.00 (it’s being managed by a commercial canyoning company) and it is looking like not many will make it.

When Beacon Adventure Racing reached Achiltibuie and assessed the paddle time ahead of them they realised they would not  get to the canyoning in time.  “So we could have done more mountain biking,” said Chapman.  “We are just doing the short course and the bits we most want and were aiming to get to the canyon by cutting the ride and missing Suilven in the dark, so it’s a pity not to make it.”

They have to complete the paddling and portaging stage first however, before thinking too much about what is next ...

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About The Author

Rob Howard
Rob is Editor of He's traveled the world reporting on and photographing adventure races and day-to-day he keeps his finger on the pulse of AR to ensure SleepMonsters is the heartbeat of the sport.

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