Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Old County Tops – 22 May

On a day when “debilitating” would be to understate the heat, 90 pairs assembled in Great Langdale for the Old County Tops fell race organised by Achille Ratti Climbing Club (details and results here). Run in pairs over 37 miles with 10,000 feet of climbing it is arduous in any conditions and last Saturday was particularly difficult.

OCT - 001 Paul & Geraldine from Horwich RMI and Albert, my partner.

Even before the 08:00 it was clear it was going to be hot, too hot for this sort of race and the one word heard over and over again amongst the competitors was “survival”. We were never going to threaten the prize giving or the course records – Albert wanted a long slow day out and knowing I can do slow, quite comfortably, he invited me to accompany him over Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man. Despite the distance, this race usually starts as though it is a 10K with a sprint along the valley to the first climb but this morning even the sprint was subdued as runners tried to take it easy.

OCT - 002 Striding Edge – one of the eastern ridges on Helvellyn

OCT - 003 Summit marshals on Helvellyn

Over Helvellyn and into Wythburn for the climb to Greenup Edge on the way to Scafell Pike looked like the least pleasant part of the route today as it is a long climb in a sheltered valley under a hot sun. Taking it steady and drinking at every opportunity we made good progress and enjoyed the gentle breeze traversing under High Raise.

OCT - 004 Albert with other runners in front heading towards Greenup Edge and, hopefully, a breeze


At the start of the approach to Angle Tarn check point I realised Albert had been very quiet for a very long time. He was fighting a loosing battle with a migraine and our only realistic option was to retire at Angle Tarn. I suspect I got off really rather lightly, about one third of the field didn’t finish. Other runner’s tales can be found on the FRA Forum.

OCT - 006 The ‘water station’ at Angle Tarn

OCT - 007Angle Tarn check point 


OCT - 009 Angle Tarn – the only way to cool down

After a sitting in the sunshine for a while and seeing Paul and Geraldine on their way we headed back, rather slowly, to Great Langdale to register the end of our Old County Tops 2010 adventure – no tee shirt this year. Although we didn’t know how many had already dropped out it soon became obvious it was plenty as runners just keep appearing from all directions, all heading directly to the finish.

OCT - 010 Rossett Gill with Great Langdale beyond

OCT - 011Two other retirees making their way (slowly) to the finish

OCT - 013 Another two making their way down Great Langdale

OCT - 014Pike of Stickle with Loft Crag (on the right)

All that and we managed to miss Pauline & John who had run up to cheer us on (we had retired and left Angle Tarn before they arrived) and we also missed Colin who carried food and water up for us for much later on the route. There is always next year and this wouldn’t be complete without a huge thanks to the organisers and marshals who make it all possible – thanks to everyone involved from Achille Ratti

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Emma’s BGR Leg 2 – 14 May

Cruising north towards St Johns in the Vale with Albert & Alex late on Friday night and more than an hour ahead of Emma’s scheduled arrival all seemed to be going smoothly when Alex’s phone rang. A garbled conversation ensued and it became apparent that the small group of torches we could see descending from Blencathra were, more than likely, Emma and her pacers considerably ahead of schedule. Something a bit short of panic occurred as we now raced through the night to beat the torches to Threlkeld. Happily we did with sufficient time to get our own kit sorted before Emma arrived.

Emma's BGR-001Anxious wait for the road crew and Derby Tup & Brett – peering into the darkness for the Leg 1 team

Emma's BGR-002 Leg 1 Done

The prospect of arriving late invoked something less than panic which couldn’t be said about the next few minutes. The Leg 2 team comprised of Brett, Derby Tup, Alex Fowler, Albert Sunter, myself and Mark Smith who is to navigate. As Emma was about to stand up and set off Mark announced he was unable, having navigated Leg 1, to continue on into Leg 2 but he would endeavour to meet us before the descent to Grisedale Tarn. Someone asked Emma who should navigate this leg in the absence of Mark – to my horror (as was apparent from the look on my face, I believe) I heard my own name called out and a map was thrust into my hands.

While last minute changes are not uncommon and even late changes of navigator are not unheard of it is considered prudent to select someone familiar with the leg in question. This is a clockwise round and, as one or two others began to realise, I am an “anti-clockwise” man and had never run this leg in a clockwise direction, not even in daylight, and so navigating in the dark is going to be interesting. By now it is too late to do anything else, Emma is off and I am trying to obtain, from Mark and Ian, directions to Clough Head (the first summit) as Mark hands me a GPS. Clough Head was fine but even before climbing into the clag on Great Dodd I knew things were going to get more difficult when I discovered my reading glasses had broken and lost a lens. Overshooting Watsons Dodd triggered the active use of the GPS – huge thanks, Brett – and by and large the rest of the leg wasn’t too bad, apart from a very short walk-about on Dollywagon Pike led by Mark who joined us just below the summit.

Emma's BGR-003 Leg 2 Done

Job done by Dunmail, Alex took a lift back while Albert & I headed back into the hills hoping to see the sunrise on our way back to Threlkeld. The weather conspired against us and robbed of the sunrise so we dropped down off the tops after Helvellyn to get out of the wind and below the clouds.

Emma's BGR-004 Thirlmere under a threatening sky

Emma's BGR-005 One of the waterfalls on Fisher Gill

Emma's BGR-006 Early morning companion – sure to get the worm at this time of day

All the way back north it seemed the weather was deteriorating and our thoughts we with Emma on the long leg to Wasdale. We needn’t have worried as she seemed to get stronger after Dunmail finishing in 23:08. More details here Emma's blog. Ready for breakfast by Threlkeld, we woke Alex (who had only just fallen asleep, he says) changed and headed off for a “full English” after another all-nighter on the fells.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wainwright’s Seven Summits – 08 May

Between 1955 and 1966 Alfred Wainwright wrote the definitive 7 volume set of Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Selection of fells in the Pictorial Guides is completely uncontaminated by any objective criteria which has the advantage of avoiding any revision of the original list of 214 fells. More than mere lists and more than mere guide books these volumes are unique in their depth, detail and style with handwritten type and sketches of the fells. Dividing the Lake District into seven areas naturally creates, amongst other sub-lists, a list of the highest summit in each area - “Wainwright’s Seven Summits”. I am not aware of any recognised route visiting the Seven Summits although it has been acknowledged by long distance walkers as an informal “challenge” for some time it has been run round only once, by John Fleetwood in 2008. The challenge is simple – visit each of the seven summits in any order and finish at your starting point. The distance is about 62 miles with 19,000-20,000 feet of climbing depending on route choice. Unlike other big days in the Lakes, Bob Graham Round or Joss Naylor Traverse I wanted to solo this one, albeit with road support from Pauline & Keith, carrying my own kit and doing all the route finding.

At 09:00 on Saturday morning I set off from Cow Bridge car park to visit High Raise (1), Scafell Pike (2), Great Gable (3), Grasmoor (4), Skiddaw (5), Helvellyn (6) and High Street (7).

AW 7-001 Keith & Pauline at the start

AW 7-002 Grisedale Tarn with Scafell Pike (2), Great Gable (3) and Grasmoor (4) on the distant skyline

AW 7-003Helvellyn (6) in the centre of the skyline

AW 7-004 Leaving Dunmail for High Raise (1)

The first couple of hours running took me to Dunmail Raise for the final approach to High Raise. This was long enough to establish that the bitterly cold wind was going to be troublesome for the rest of the day and was going to need heavier clothing than I had first hoped. The fell top forecast suggested 25-30 mph winds gusting to 40-50 mph but this seemed both very pessimistic and in complete contrast to conditions in the valleys.

AW 7-005 From High Raise (1) with Scafell Pike (2) just left of centre, Great Gable (3) right of centre in shadow and Grasmoor (4) further to the right.

AW 7-006 On High Raise

AW 7-007 Great Gable (3) with sunshine on the summit and shadows on near face

AW 7-009 Looking back to Scafell Pike (2) – highest point on the skyline

AW 7-010 Grasmoor (4) in the centre on the skyline

AW 7-011 Looking back towards Scafell Pike (2) over Great Gable (3)

AW 7-012 Looking west from Grasmoor (4)

AW 7-013

Last look over the fells to the south and west from Grasmoor (4)

The wind was a problem throughout the day and although I lost a little time over the first three I recovered it to descend Grasmoor back on schedule as the day drew to a close. Another couple of Rucksack Club members, Rae & Helen (whose BGR isn’t far away, see BGR Recce) looked in to see how I was doing and provide some very welcome encouragement. Rae was optimistic the wind would drop as darkness fell and I hoped he was right. After a couple of breaks for food and additional clothing I started climbing Skiddaw (5) about 30 minutes down but still happy I could get through the night without losing much more time.

Conditions on the summit ridge were worse than anything I had experienced all day. Zero visibility, near freezing temperatures with the wind gusting to close to 40 mph (the fell top forecast wasn’t unduly pessimistic) and I felt awfully alone in the darkness. Struggling to keep warm and keep moving I was glad to see the first fence emerge from the darkness to confirm I was on the right route and dropping down on the correct side of the fell. The long descent to the next road crossing where Keith and Pauline were waiting gave me time to consider whether I wanted to repeat the experience again on the next summit and I didn’t. 5 out of 7 ain’t bad, as Meatloaf might have sung, 42 miles and about 14,500 feet of climbing isn’t a bad day out and all I have to do now is find another weekend to try again.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Wansfell – 02 May

With only a “leg-stretch” required after yesterday’s long session on the Anglezarke Moors Wansfell looked inviting, not least, because as is often the case small hills nestling between big one provide the most interesting views. Wansfell stands above Ambleside and provides an attractive, if busy, route out of the town. The other end of the fell is bound by the Kirkstone Road and provides a quieter (and flatter) approach as well as impressive views to the north.

Wansfell -001 Rattle Gill in Ambleside

Wansfell -002South west to Wetherlam with Wet Side Edge in sunshine


Wansfell -003 Pauline with Red Screes on the left above Kirkstone Pass

Wansfell -004

North west to Langdale Pikes, Bowfell and just visible in the far distance Scafell Pike 


Wansfell -005South over Windermere with Morecambe Bay beyond

Wansfell -006 Langdale Pikes and Bowfell again with Ambleside below

The two mile trot along the ridge was just enough to loosen our legs and provide an excuse to sit in the sunshine, sheltered behind a rocky outcrop away from the crowds trooping up from Ambleside and enjoy the views. The threat of rain which eventually materialised as a very brief flurry of snow drove us back along the ridge to car where a hot drink awaited.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Joe’s Cup – 01 May

Thwarted by a poor weather forecast for Saturday night in Cumbria I settled for a long run over Winter Hill and Darwen Moor returning over Great Hill for a second climb, from Horwich, up Winter Hill. Up out of Horwich just as the sun begins to burn off the mist.

Winter Hill-001One of the many disused reservoirs on Winter Hill

The clouds lifted too slowly to see anything from the top of Winter Hill and dropping down into Belmont it looked as though Darwen Moors might need longer to rid themselves of the clag.

Winter Hill-002 Over Belmont towards Darwen Moors


Winter Hill-003 Reservoirs in Belmont with Winter Hill in the distance 

By the time I reached Darwen Moors the clag had gone and some blue sky appeared with the Jubilee Tower, as ever, looking like a 1950’s rocket. (Wikipedia has more details.) The moorland shows little sign of spring growth with only the shortest grass seeming to be growing.

Winter Hill-004Darwen Moor with the tower on the skyline

Great Hill and the moorland south to Winter Hill drain into the Anglezarke reservoirs and when the land was purchased in order to build the reservoirs and provide drinking water for Liverpool all the farms on the land were closed and abandoned, including the ironically named “Drinkwaters Farm” on Great Hill. Many of these ruins have Oak trees nearby and these are my favourite ones.

Winter Hill-005 Ruined farm with Oak trees on east side of Great Hill

Drinkwaters Farm was so named because of a nearby spring which still flows, rather gently, just below the path from the summit of Great Hill. Not far from the farm ruins is a small, discrete memorial to a local fell runner, Joe Whitter (1939-1991).

Winter Hill-006

Joe, a member of Wigan Phoenix,  was one of Lancashire’s true fell running characters well known for his ultra-distance runs over these moors. The spring at Drinkwaters was used regularly by Joe and his companions on Sunday morning runs.  The February 1992 Fellrunner magazine contained an obituary where it was observed

“Joe Whitter was one of those essential characters that make fell running what it is. The Anglezarke Moors will be a poorer place without him and he will be sadly missed. Typically, Joe requested his ashes be scattered on the moors he loved, and there are many fell runners who will now be unable to run past Drinkwaters on Great Hill without remembering him.”

Why “Joe’s Cup”?

Winter Hill-007

Careful removal of a stone or two and the cup itself is revealed (before being carefully replaced) 


Winter Hill-008 Below Great Hill is the village of White Coppice with its delightful cricket club

Winter Hill-009A lone Canada Goose on another disused reservoir

Not many weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, I saw Pauline and her companions running below Winter Hill out of hailing distance and way beyond catching even had I been going in that direction. This Saturday an even greater surprise awaited us both – climbing out of Horwich for the second time I saw Pauline running ahead of me. Eventually, I caught her and we shared the last five of my 31 miles.