Posted on March 5, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes
Late last year I sat down with Laura to set dates where I could either race or recce; this ensured Laura could schedule in fun stuff for herself – visits or visitors for the weekends and I could slip away unnoticed and guilt free to concentrate on my training. Of course everybody else involved in the BG attempt have their own system too and getting coordination turns into a nightmare. I faced the prospect of heading up to the lakes alone for a recce as I knew Andy wouldn’t be around and both Martin and Sam had not been able to make it when I first shared the dates with them. I was happy to give it a go though and in my disorganised style set about organising the day and logistics.
In the final fortnight, slowly but surely everything fell into place – as the reels spun and clicked into final position I almost hit the jackpot; a last minute drop out from Martin due to illness was the only imperfection – although that did mean that we would all fit in the one car!
I went from a solo mission to being joined by Sam, Simon Noble, Karl and Wayne. Wayne kindly offered to do the driving, whilst Simon and Karl showed us the way – all Sam and I needed to do was to get a feel for the route and try to remember the path turnings… oh, and stay on our feet!
Mudclaws and Microspikes
Staying on our feet was an additional challenge due to the conditions. The snowline lay around 2000ft and only a week before (contemplating the run with just Sam and me) a call to a taxi firm for a quote revealed we may not be able to drive to the start due to ice! For me this added further excitement as I’d finally get to try out my microspikes!
Gimp – the versatility of Microspikes
Logistics sorted , on Friday night I sat watching random TV waiting for Sam to turn up, only to realise I had a call block set up on my phone – turns out he’d been waiting outside for quarter of an hour (sorry Sam!). I was mortified, but no harm was done and just enough time to get some sleep in before an early leave
As Wayne drove us up to the lakes it became clear we were in safe hands. In University challenge terms, Wayne’s specialist subject is the BG and the history of the run. Having supported countless attempts, and having completed it himself in well under 22 hours (He was running for Helsby at the time – the only Helsby runner I know to have done it) Wayne’s knowledge is invaluable and I tried to pick his brains clean.
Coming into Keswick a different way than expected meant my directions were useless and we were delayed getting to Simon’s to pick him up. We should have trusted the milkman’s directions! No harm done though and after the obligatory faffing we were off just in time to discover my camera battery was flat! Typical: Lesson one, never assume the spare has been charged.
Simon, Sam, Wayne and Karl @ Honister
I was buzzing walking up Dale head. It’s one of the few familiar paths for me and holds memories of a fated Gold D of E expedition as well as a fantastic weekend away with Laura where she swept me clean off my feet… literally! She did this by doing exactly as I suggested: “Just let your breaks off and run down it, I’ll stop you”. I braced to stop Laura and at the last second realised it wasn’t going to end well! Looking back now she displayed total trust in me and no fear of the descent… she’d make an excellent fell runner!
An aggressive combination!
Hitting the snowline the Microspikes came out for Simon, Karl and myself; Sam put on his Yaktraks. Dale head is an easy navigational exercise so as we hit the clag we were confident and had little issue reaching the summit. The snow formation on the summit cairn was spectacular and the photo really doesn’t do it justice!
Way too much lycra!
The snow on the day switched between enjoyable and frustrating and never lent itself to predictability. Each step was either straight through (I can deal with that), firm (ideal) or firm until one pushed off whereby it gave way (worst case) bringing that altogether meant a random step generator and no one approach could be relied upon – a lot of extra muscular effort was involved as a result. Damn fun though and whilst all the clag surrounded us didn’t life, the metaphorical clag from all the stresses of general life lifted easily and I was once again awash with a sense of freedom I don’t have the vocabulary to describe any further.
Navigationally leg 5 doesn’t seem too difficult although I can only confirm that once I’ve been there again in poor visibility and not relied on anybody else for guidance. There are plenty of places to go wrong, but a few notes will surfice rather than relying on bearings. Of course by this stage of the attempt I’ll be mentally banjoed, so even straight forward navigation will prove a challenge… I guess we’ll see. There are also some clear runnable sections unless visibility is down to zero.
Beneath the clouds – the view that awaits those that get to the final descent
Descending below the clag, the beauty of the valley raced ahead of us. Debate raged over the fastest and best routes off Robinson, but unless pushed for time, either will suffice. As the gradient eased we were able to stretch our legs a bit and reach the car park where Wayne was waiting. We jumped in feeling pleased with ourselves and breathed a collective sigh of relieve at not having to run the road in – especially in mudclaws!
Extended faffing began in Keswick. Wayne filled us with soup and Sam produced the king of all snacks – a pork pie! A new found respect for Sam washed over me
Now up until this point I assumed all was well with Sam’s choice of traction. Alas the Yaktraks had been slipping off constantly and it had become clear that they are fine for walking but running was out. A trip to Fishers and £45 lighter, Sam was suitably shod.
The run from moot hall is easy to get wrong both directionally and pace wise. With Karl leading we got a sweat on as we ran up to the car park where Simon had started in order to get a head start on us whippersnappers. We passed Wayne and set about reeling in Simon.
The route up Skiddaw is very well trodden by tourists and no problem to follow. We still got plenty of funny looks for out outfits – two in shorts split by a man in tights. That aside we were better prepared than most walkers due to the microspikes. As soon as we hit the snow line Sam felt the difference and each change in terrain from then on was punctuated by Sam expressing his pleasure in having made his purchase.
Catching up with Simon wasn’t easy and it hammered home how much of the Bob is about fast walking uphill. To cover the distance and ascent the key is to walk all the up, being able to transition from run to walk to run is critical and to do it efficiently is the key as it appears to be a slightly different muscle set. Taking in the top was mildly confusing in the visibility as there are several bumps on the top ridge, but getting off the top is relatively easy as a few markers lead the way.
Visibility was very poor and conditions underfoot were worse. As we crossed to Great Calva we took the bog motorway which has been carved by so many BG attempts/ recces. Mix that with snow that held up around 20% of the time and it equals an energy sapping trudge to frozen feet. The waterproof socks I’d
ordered at the last minute hadn’t arrived and I was already missing them!
By the time we reached Great Calva I was disillusioned with leg 1. It’s about as miserible and bleak as the lake district gets and until I return in better weather I’ll be concerned about navigation there. Combine this with terrible conditions underfoot and feet that felt like lumps of wood and it could quite easily lead to an early sense of humour failure.
One peak left to get to and with zero vis we took a safe route down rather than the direct route. This sparked debate over the best route. Direct through the heather which is thigh high in summer and lumpy underfoot or down a mossy fence line with several attack points and catching features (oh yes, I know the
Great Calva. Great team.
navigational lingo now – see next post).The distance is greater, but it is better underfoot and far more difficult to get lost. The risk of turning an ankle is greatly reduced… but I’ve not tried the alternative line yet so the jury is out. Route choices like these greatly depend upon the runner – a great descender would take the heather assuming they aren’t nursing an injury, but I can’t see there being more than 10 minutes in it and it would take more energy so ultimately the route we took is probably best. It’s all about the effect it will have by the time you get to leg 4 really.
We reached the top of Blencathra to find a group of crampon shod walkers with ice aces. Whilst people are more used to seeing people running in the lake district, especially on the BGR route, I love the looks of disbelief I receive as a mountain runner. I think back to times when I used to walk with an enormous rucksack full to the brim of stuff I didn’t really need (but felt were essential) and would see some lunatic in the shortest possible shorts, a ‘wifebeater’ vest and plimsolls – let’s just say I understand the looks we get. I love it though, the feeling of doing something different – part of a hidden subculture of eccentrics.
We descended Doddick fell which is the slower, but safer of the three routes. I had a ‘mare. As we approached the snowline we had to remove the spikes because it was quite slushy, but the ground was still too frozen to properly take a stud; combine that with rocks and a sore semi-healed ankle and it doesn’t play for a good result.
It was such a frustrating and slow descent, but whilst my ankle is still recovering it was best to put the breaks on. My quads got a hammering as a result though, not being able to just go with the terrain. Combined with frozen feet and steep slopes meant a good few days of soreness were to follow.
Arriving back at the car everyone was beaming. Wayne had been chatting to a cousin of Fell running royalty (BG record holder Billy Bland) before chatting with Kenny Stewart, another fell running legend who’s records for Snowdon and Ben Nevis seem unlikely to ever be broken. They have already stood for well over 20 years! Sadly we missed him by minutes – it would have been the icing on the cake of a superb day.