Kendal Mountain Festival is an award-winning event that has grown in size and diversity over the last 16 years. It's also the main social event of the year for outdoor enthusiasts in the UK! Lifesystems Adventurer James MacKeddie tells us his highlights of 2015's KMF and why.
Specialist sessions: Endurance Highlights
I’m no stranger to Kendal Mountain Festival. I have been attending for the past 4 years and seen my fair share of talks, films, legends and sites. Once a year, the small Lakeland town of Kendal lays host to the biggest outdoor social of the year, attracting a global audience and pulling in the ‘who’s who’ of the outdoor pursuits world.
Endurance is a growing area within the festival as a whole. Epic big wall routes, polar traverses, ultra runs and open water swimming… just flick through the brochure and you’ll be hard pressed not to find something that appeals to your self-punishing dark side! To top this all off, film makers and athletes alike have now realised that a minute by minute breakdown of events isn’t going to win an audience, let alone a prize- Comedy, interesting angles, those strange moments that “didn’t happen” and much more go into each session, entertaining the viewer whilst engaging with them over an epic adventure.
So what were my 5 favourite moments from Kendal Mountain Festival?
In 2015, Tommy Caldwell completed the first ever free-climb of The Dawn Wall at El Capitan (considered the hardest climb of its type in the world). Tommy flew over for the weekend and gave a one off UK talk documenting his life from the early days right through to when he topped out in Yosemite with the world watching. Humble, hilarious and heroic, Tommy’s talk was nothing short of incredible, from the time he was held hostage, to when he cut his index finger off…. each tale is epic in all proportions and exemplifies his attitude to life. When a helium balloon appeared on stage, the crowd united in Tommy’s attempts to capture the intruder. Spending 19 days climbing and in a portaledge takes immense physical and mental endurance. And balls. Big balls!
As I said, this was a one off UK appearance, however, luckily, Tommy recently did a TEDx talk which gives a flavor of one night in Kendal; you can watch it on YouTube here.
The Fell Queen, Nicky Spinks, was part of a special endurance session featuring herself and Sean Conway as part of the Spine Race film. After watching her record ‘Bob Graham Round’ video, we were treated to a talk and Q&A session. To top things off, myself, partner and friend were introduced to Nicky in the interval by Lee Procter from Inov8, which had my partner singing her name for the next 48 hours. She was a little excited!! The most humble of sporting stars, it’s always worth checking the start list of a Lakeland race- you may just catch a glimpse as she glides past you.
When I heard Sean was stuck on the M6 with Kenton Cool, part of me expected the combined skills of an endurance powerhouse and high altitude great to work out some crazy plan to make it on time. The other part worried. However, Sean made it! A slick session followed, following his Great Britain Triathlon – a World first. Before Sean swam from Land’s End to John O’Groats, no one thought it was possible. Well- it was, and a man who was possibly the least qualified endurance swimmer in history achieved an amazing feat- the magnitude of which is really hard to describe. Now somewhat resembling a lion with his flowing ginger locks and manliest of beards, you can’t miss him. I own one of Sean’s swimming caps from the swim, so was great to finally meet a hero!
We’re used to seeing Kilian Jornet on the big screen. Running with ease up the toughest of mountains, charging down the gnarliest of terrain, providing us with inspiration and a grounding simultaneously. Well, you are about to see him in a new light. When out in Nepal recently for an attempt on Everest, the Nepalise earthquake hit, causing mass destruction in a remote and economically poor country. Using his skills on challenging terrain, he and friend Jordi made their way to Langtang village providing aid and expertise where they could. This one is not easy viewing, but shows how we all have something to offer from our time spent in the mountains. I should also point out that this isn’t an athlete making a tragic opportunity into a marketing story. The proceeds of the film will go to help rebuild 116 houses in the Langtang Valley.
This is a trail run on the fellside surrounding the town. It’s a windy route with 280m of climbing, providing unspoilt views of snow-dusted mountain tops within the National Park. I ran this with my partner and friend. I spent my time running up and down taking photos, as well as offering support. A crisp and chilly day, it was a great run, and a thoroughly enjoyable route. Best of all, I was running with friends. Spending a lot of time training and racing alone is tough, and taking the time to slow things down and socialise is imperative to keep life balanced. Plus- I got some fun photos!
For me, Kendal Mountain Festival is always worth the trip and the effort. You may see something amazing, meet a hero, inspire yourself, and much more.