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Wild West Night Out

Wild West Night Out – 214 summits in 214 days

Late spring snow has hampered my Joss Naylor Challenge preparations, much of the higher route lying hidden under a white blanket for months. Now I’m nearing the end of my training and I still haven’t checked the route from Great End to Pillar. This evening, my final chance arrived. Finishing work early, I drove over to Wasdale Head.

I love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone, and I’d already planned a good route to Great End, first taking in Lingmell then Scafell Pike, bagging an extra two Wainwright summits.

Longer evenings mean setting off for a run in the mountains late in the day is such a liberating experience, as everyone else has gone home. It’s a steep climb out of the Wasdale valley to Lingmell. I followed a sheep trod, rounding a scree slope and joining the main path high up the ridge.

The summit was cloaked with cloud, and I needed a compass bearing to find the correct direction off towards the main path up Scafell Pike. 

I’d never been on this path before. The boulders worn smooth and polished from use, reminding me of Croagh Patrick in Ireland, where religious pilgrims climb the mountain path, many of them barefoot. Tonight, I had England’s highest mountain all to myself, alone amongst the clouds. Another compass bearing off, down a rocky scramble to the col, then a short climb to the shoulder of Broad Crag, boulder hopping, choosing the biggest and most stable ones as my stepping stones. 

I reached Great End, and the cloud started to lift, Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns sparkling down below. The descent looked suicidal. A sheer, vertical, boulder strewn drop, requiring nerves of steel and the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, not really skills a man of my age has anymore. It was a relief to find the final scree slope, then the more gentle grassy slope to Styhead Pass.

I ran back down the valley, the late evening sunshine filtering through, lighting up the patchwork of stone walls and green fields. I changed, then drove out to the Screes Inn at Nether Wasdale, for good food and good beer.

As there’s no mobile phone coverage in the valley and I knew the pub had WiFi. I could email home to let them know I was safe and sound.

I had an early night too, camping in the back of my van, parked up near to Joss’s farm at Greendale Bridge.

I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, and made a strong coffee. I hid my bike behind a stone wall near Greendale Bridge, and drove to Wasdale Head. It was early, just after 7am, clouds hung low and the westerly wind was tearing across the lake, making huge white caps. At Styhead Pass, I started the climb up the stone path to Great Gable, stopping in cloud near the summit to get out my map and compass. 

This is the final leg of the “Joss”. I would now find out what it was like to run it with tired legs. A good rehearsal for when my time comes. The wind was very strong on the summit, and the rocks had a sheen of moisture from the thick cloud, making them as slippery as ice. I took a bearing into the full force of the wind and soon found myself on steep scree slope, making the most of gravity. 

On to Kirk Fell, wandering off bearing slightly, cloud as thick as pea soup. Another scree run in the tight gully down to Black Sail Pass, then the long, long climb to Pillar. I got completely blown off my feet nearing the col at the bottom of the rocky descent, the wind at gale force in the compression zone. Stoat Fell, then Steeple were both in cloud, and I made good progress to Haycock.

Another mistake coming off the summit, getting pulled off my bearing by the sheer force of the wind, having to contour back around to get on the right track, then suddenly out of cloud and Seatallan clear in the distance. It was hard work on the final short, steep climb, before another descent to Greendale Tarn and the final climb to the summit of Middle Fell. 

I wondered what I’ll feel like when I get here in a week or two, when I do the whole 48 mile challenge. Joss’s farm looked very small way down below. It was a relief to finally stop running when I reached the bridge.

I found my bike, and cycled along the narrow lane back to Wasdale Head, the strong wind pushing me along, making it feel effortless. As I started the long drive home, the sun came out, and the cloud lifted off all the tops.

6 new Wainwright summits, that’s 138 down, 76 to go.

© Graham Patten

May 2016 


Late in the Langdales

Late in the Langdales – 214 summits in 214 days

Appalling weather over the Bank Holiday weekend forced us to make our way back home to Kendal earlier than planned. As the afternoon wore on, the rain finally stopped. I had an unplanned chance to make the most of it. 

I drove against the traffic into the heart of the Lakes, a steady stream of cars heading the other way. I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale to find plenty of places to park, and headed off, contouring under the crags, jumping over all the puddles.

Water was streaming off the hillside, streams in full spate, from a combination of melting snow and the incessant rain. I crossed the footbridge and jogged up the steep path to Stickle Tarn, a single tent near the weir marking a great place for a wild camp.

The clouds were breaking up, blue sky was showing through. I’d hoped for clear tops, as I wanted to recce the Joss Naylor Challenge route from High Raise to Great End and this evening was perfect. 

I found a faint path next to a small, lively stream, making a bee line for Sergeant Man, great views of the Langdale valley opening up below, patches of old snow scattered about. The summit stuck out, an obvious rocky lump amongst an expanse of flat wetland and bog.

It was hard to believe the last time I was here was in a whiteout and I couldn’t even find the summit first time around. It was a short, more or less flat run on to the plateau of High Raise.

New territory for me from here. I’d not been on this section of the “Joss” through to Rosset Pike, and a thin brown trod line marked the route, winding in and out of gullies. It was fast running, and I was soon at Stake Pass, then along the ridge with Mickleden stretched out below, watched over by the near vertical Langdale Pikes.

Someone’s been busy. Small cairns marked the route up to Bowfell, a mixture of steep sheep trods and scree, the views making the tough hands on knees effort worthwhile. It seemed to go on much further than I remembered from all my training runs for the “Bob” last year.

A scramble over the final summit rocks, the jagged Scafells outlined clearly. Familiar territory through to Esk Pike, following the ramp of horizontal rock jutting out of the hillside, a natural road.

Great End was shrouded in cloud, so at the col of Esk Hause, I decided to give this a miss, and veered off right to bag the small summit of Allen Crags. 

 

More dark cloud was gathering now and looking ominous above the higher peaks. I made good time on the descent to Angle Tarn, short cutting the stone path zig zagging alongside Rossett Gill, taking the steep grassy option instead. I ran alongside the path, weaving in and out of small rocks, jumping over streams. 

A flash of a small brown bird from under my feet, and I stopped, finding the Meadow Pipit’s nest hidden under dead bracken stalks. Four olive brown eggs in the tiny cup lined with dried grass.

Along the side of Mickleden beck a half remembered bird call. A sandpiper? Could they be back from Africa already? I slowed down, thinking I must be imagining things, then caught sight of two common sandpiper, already staking out their nesting territory. 

Huge hailstones pelted me on the final section, urging me to run faster back to my van, then the clouds parted again and sunshine streamed through.

I changed into warm dry clothes and set off for home, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to live in such a fantastic part of the world. I saw no-one on my evening run and had the mountains to myself. The roads were quiet too all the way back to Kendal, one of the bonuses of setting off to Langdale late in the day.

My little boy Ash had just gone to bed, although he was still awake, so there was still time for another bedtime story. 

4 Wainwright summits today, that’s 132 down, 82 to go.

© Graham Patten

May 2016


Breakfast Run

Breakfast Run – 214 Summits in 214 Days  

I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run. 

This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.

I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.

Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.

The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.  

A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.

Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.

Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.

By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.

There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.

Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.

Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.

Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.

There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position. 

A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”

Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.

I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.  

A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds. 

What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.

11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.

© Graham Patten


Long Run Home

Long Run Home – 214 Summits in 214 Days 

I was the only one on the bus. Understandable really, as it left Kendal bus station at 5.45am. It was surprising that I was actually on it myself. A rare night out with Claire, drinking far too much white wine with our meal. Then “one for the road” at Burgundy’s Wine Bar. This turned into another bottle of red with friends we hadn’t seen for years, ending up a very late night. 

Remembering a vague plan to catch the early morning bus. With a sore head, I thought I’d spend some time power napping on the way. The friendly bus driver had other ideas, keeping up a constant stream of chatter, with me in full view of his mirror, sitting in the back.

Amazing to see how much engineering work had been done already around Thirlmere, since the devastation by Storm Desmond. I couldn’t believe the scale of the landslides on the east side of the lake.

My new friend dropped me off at the footpath near the dam. Jogging up the steep climb through the forest, many trees fallen over like skittles. It was a gorgeous morning. There was a cold, northerly breeze. Blue skies and hardly a cloud in the sky. 

Sunlight filtered through the trees, the air having an Alpine feel. As I neared the summit of Raven Crag, there were new wooden steps and a boardwalk, frosted white. The view down towards Thirlmere was breathtaking.  

On the switch backs, preferring the rough, underfoot conditions of the steep woodland, to the monotony of the graded forest road.

I run through the quiet campsite of Shoulthwaite. Crossing the deserted A591, I follow an ancient trail around the corrugated mound of High Rigg.

Veering off the trail, climbing steeply through snow flattened orange-brown bracken stalks. 

Reaching the summit, with spectacular view of Blencathra and Skiddaw. I run down to St Johns in the Vale church, taking photos of the daffodils in the pretty graveyard.

I find a path meandering down to St Johns Beck. A dipper flying out from under the new footbridge. It’s domed nest crammed full of youngsters, balanced on the new steel bars underneath.

Skylarks serenaded me along the Old Coach Road to the climb of Clough Head. The last time I was here was during my Bob Graham Round last May, when it was pitch dark.

This morning the ground was white with frost. Leaning into the steep climb, pushing on my thighs to keep up momentum.

From the summit, a lovely run down towards Calfhow Pike. The ground rock hard up to Great Dodd. Clumps of grass, white with frost near the summit. 

An easy run to Watson’s Dodd. Along the ridge, visiting Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside and Helvellyn Lower Man.

The mesmerising ridge line of Helvellyn, edged with snow, getting ever closer.

Old snow marked the descent down Swirral Edge. Crouching down, skiing the short, steep slope on my studs, using my hands as brakes. 

The haphazard, broken rocks were scored by winter crampons. I run along trying to bring life to my freezing cold hands. From the small cairn on Catstycam, a steep grassy descent down to Red Tarn.

Suddenly I’m spreadeagled on the ground, sprawled amongst rocks, bleeding from my hand. I pick myself up, my toes bruised and sore, my fingers red with blood.

I take a great route off Birkhouse Moor, straight off The Nab, amongst steep rock, picking my way down through the rough terrain. Eventually meeting the rocky path near Mires Beck. 

Refuelling at the Helvellyn Country Kitchen Cafe, with a late brunch, a full cooked breakfast, with a flat white coffee.

I found out they’d only recently re-opened after the floods. Michelle, the owner, showed me photos on her iPad, with flood water one metre deep inside the cafe.

Missing the bus to Ambleside by a few minutes, I find out the next one is nearly two hours away. I look at my map, seeing a line from Hartsop, climbing up to Thornthwaite Crag, and along my favourite ridge, Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke. 

I shouldered my pack, and set off on my long run home.

7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 109 down, 105 to go.

© Graham Patten


Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Sixteen – 214 summits in 214 days

All my best adventures start in darkness. When this one started at 4.30am this morning, it was pitch black. After a strong coffee and porridge for breakfast, I was out of the door, driving towards Shap in the gathering light along deserted roads. I always smile at the ‘Welcome to Shap’ road sign. It reminds me of when I first moved to Kendal. My friend Chewy asked me “do you know why they call it Shap?” I had no idea, and he answered after a suitable pause “because they couldn’t decide between Shit and Crap”.

There was a Roe Deer on the road just before Pooley Bridge. It was in no hurry. I had to almost stop the van. I reached for my camera and as I did so, it squeezed through a beech hedge into someone’s garden.

I parked up by St Peter’s Church, near Howtown. In less than nine minutes I was at the huge summit cairn of the baby peak of Hallin Fell. It was clear, although hazy, with very little wind. The reason for my early start was last night’s weather maps. A front was due to move in from the west around midday. So I wanted to make the most of the dry morning on my day off work.

Steel Knotts was my next summit. A toddler peak this time, startling the first skylark of the year. I took a lovely, inviting ridge line down towards Howtown, one I’d not run before. Then the steep vertical climb of Bonscale Pike, taking a detour past a huge badger sett, hoping to see one. Arthur’s Pike was only a few minutes away, overlooking Ullswater, and for the next hour or so, I’d be on the Joss Naylor Challenge route.

The ground was dry as a bone, and I enjoyed running on the firm peat. A splendid male hen harrier was quartering the ground ahead, unaware of me as I was into wind. It’s silver grey wings tipped with black, then suddenly, with a tilt, it was up and away. A magic moment for me, a first, as I’ve never seen a male hen harrier in the Lakes before. 

It was fast, easy running up Loadpot Hill then Wether Fell. I found it easier to hold my poles rather than use them. The ridge was disappearing into mist. I stopped to get out my map, then followed the dry stone wall, crunching through old snowdrifts, towards the summit of High Raise. The nearby summits of Kidsty Pike and Rampsgill Head were also in light cloud. Brief glimpses of the view towards Riggendale Crags, the home of the Lake District’s only golden eagle.

Running down out of cloud, up back up the short climb to The Knott. Across tussock grass, looking for a way across an old snow filled gulley, not liking the look of it one bit. I found a narrow section to cross without snow. Looking up at the dark cave of eroded snow drift above, a man trap. 

A herd of red deer, maybe twenty strong, watched me run towards them. They let me get quite close before they were off, heads held high.

I contoured around the steep rocky slopes of Rest Dodd on one of their trods, littered with deer shit. Leaving my poles and running pack by the stile, I ran up the easy slope to The Nab. Across dried up peat hags, back collecting my gear again before the short, steep climb to Rest Dodd.

My legs were tiring, although I was still going well. My spirits lifting by the views from Brock Crags towards Brotherswater.

I could see the cloud was moving in from the west, and with just three summits left, hoped I would have enough time. Canada geese echoed across the still waters of Angle Tarn. 

On the summit of Angletarn Pikes, my first humans, three Wainwright baggers from Leeds. “Go on then, how many?” one of them asked me. I loved the look on his face when I replied “Fourteen so far this morning”.

Hard going up Place Fell, with more walkers at the summit cairn. Down the steep grassy slopes to Boredale Hause. I follow a deer trod, contouring to the ridge line of Beda Fell. My final, and sixteenth summit of the morning. From here, I run down the lovely single track path, winding along the rocky ridge, all the way to Howegrain Beck. I couldn’t resist the cold water of the river. Wading in up to my knees, standing in the flow for a few minutes by the bridge. Soothing my tired legs, a natural spa.

Walking up the final tarmac lane to my van, my studs squelching and oozing water. I changed into dry clothes, and as soon as I fired up the engine, it started to rain. I drove off, heading to the farm cafe at Tebay Services, for good coffee and local food, not fancying a Shap lunch.

As I was eating, I gazed through the big windows of the cafe at the misty moorland outside. As I did so, a merlin flew past, almost touching the ground. Another first for me in the Lakes.

16 Wainwright summits today, that’s 86 down, 128 to go.

© Graham Patten

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Scale and Polish

Scale and Polish – 214 summits in 214 days

I had my first appointment today with my dentist and long time running friend, Brian Clough, in Windermere. I always choose his earliest 8.30am slot, so there’s no waiting if he’s running late. I get whisked in first as soon as he’s ready. I’ve been seeing too much of Brian in the last couple of years, professionally at least. It was some relief to hear I would only need a scale and polish.

My day had started much earlier, before 5am. I’m always an early riser, waking up like clockwork around the same ungodly hour each morning. It really is the best time of the day. I love having the house all to myself before the family wakes. I can get through a lot of work in my office without any interruptions.

A second appointment of the morning was with the Wainwrights around Coniston Old Man. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. As I’ve got such an understanding employer, me, I can be super flexible with my working hours.

The drive from Windermere, through Ambleside and along the road to Coniston was spectacular. I had to pinch myself that soon I’d be up high in the snowy hills on a ‘normal’ working day. I parked at the Walna Scar Car park, jogging the bridleway to the quarry road. Now the steep climb up the little worn trod that winds to the summit.

I’ve been up this route many, many times. Coniston Old Man is one of my favourite launch sites for flying my paraglider, especially on those long summer evenings. Today the trod soon disappeared under snow, and my rhythm was shot to pieces by superb views. I just had to capture them with my camera.

This snow was perfect. Frozen hard so I didn’t sink. The surface giving just enough for my studs to grip. A light north easterly breeze made the air cold. I made good progress. The Old Man trig point was half buried in a windblown cornice. The summit ridge another world of snow and ice, under a blue, blue sky. In the distance, the Isle of Man hung above the sea.

The shapely domed cairn on Brim Fell is only a few minutes from the Old Man. My route from here was going to take me down the steep snow slope to the col, then up the climb of Dow Crag.

Bounding strides were the way forward. Enough to make deep prints, braking my speed.

I was soon at the col, making the climb through snow and rock. Hard snow had filled gaps around the summit rocks, making it easier than usual to reach the top.

I contoured round Brim Fell, grateful that someone else had broken the trail yesterday, compacting the snow and helping with my own progress. Spindrift had filled in some of the foot steps in places, so they suddenly disappeared for a few metres, starting again on the other side.

I was confident crossing some steep snow slopes that plummeted down over crags, although I didn’t look down until I was safely across. Near the col, lovely sculptures in the snow, made by the wind, a mini Alpine world. A jet black raven flew overhead, so close I could see the glint in it’s eye.

A short climb to the cairn on Grey Friar, with dramatic views of Scafell.

Downhill through softer snow and another short climb to Great Carrs, passing the memorial to the crashed aircraft from the second world war.

Hurdles of drifting snow up to Swirl How, then a joyful descent on compacted hard snow, padded down by walkers, with views of Levens Water glistening below. 

Wetherlam was the morning’s final summit, and the toughest climb of all. The midday sun now softening the snow, my feet going down to shin level on every step.

This made the descent great fun, and it was with some sadness that I left the snow line behind. Reaching partly frozen bog near the tarn, I ran along easy familiar trails back to my van.

I drove to Ambleside for a late lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery, bumping into my friend Aled Butler and his little boy Charlie. He told me he’s been enjoying the Wainwright posts, a good enough reason as any for a name check. I was home in good time to pick my own son Ash up from school.

7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 70 down, 144 to go.

© Graham Patten

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Three before Tea

Three Before Tea – 214 summits in 214 days

A family day. Swimming at Holgates near Silverdale in the morning, Claire watching from the pool side, full of cold. We’d had our fancy coffee and lunch together. Now we were back home. It was still early. The consensus was to get the wood burner fired up, then watch the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory video again this afternoon. We’d all watched it together only yesterday. 

Spring sunlight and shadows highlighting the snowy mountain tops. I decided to skip the video re-run and nip out for a couple of hours or so. Enjoy this remarkable weather. I changed into my running gear, put my bike in the back of the van, and drove towards Ambleside.

One of the great things about living in the Lakes is that everything is on your doorstep. Afternoons on a sunny weekend are a great time to head out into the honey pots. Most of the tourists are down off the hills, enjoying a well earned cream tea or a pint or two. 

I parked up in a little lay by on the back road to Red Bank, just beyond Loughrigg Tarn, jumped on my bike, and free wheeled down to Elterwater. Up the pot holed back road towards the Drunken Duck pub, leaving my bike behind a big stone wall, next to the start of the footpath up Black Fell.

The trail first winds through lovely old oak trees, up into dark plantation conifers. Then clubs a rough, rocky path, more like a stream bed, through open bracken, juniper and larch trees. It’s one of the smallest of the Wainwrights. My son Ash climbed it when he was just four years old. Yet the views as you reach the summit are tremendous. 

On a day like today, I was lost for words. Taking photo after photo. Every direction was a perfect spring Lakeland scene, with snow capped summits, blue sky, fluffy cumulus clouds and pristine light. 

Within half an hour I was back at my bike, stepping on the pedals, climbing to the Drunken Duck pub. I counted seven personal registration plates amongst all the flash cars parked haphazardly on the verge outside.

Memories flooded back. I first cycled this back road just after I’d moved to Kendal, when foot and mouth disease closed down all the footpaths. I’d recently joined Ambleside AC, and as we couldn’t run on the hills, we all simply got on our bikes instead. Great rides exploring these little known lanes that wind their way all over the Lake District. 

Today, I wanted to ride past Tarn Hows. I knew the views from there would be stunning. I left my bike near the disabled car park and jogged round to a favourite rocky ridge to take some photos.

From Coniston village, I cycled along the main road back towards Ambleside, leaving my bike behind a wall at the far end of Yew Tree Tarn. Another scenic woodland start to the climb of another “toddler” peak, Holme Fell, already ticked off by my son Ash. It took less than fifteen minutes to run to the summit, including all the stops for photos. 

The reward for such a small amount of effort? 

Views to rival anything in the Alps, with a backdrop of the Coniston and Langdale fells.

Now it was late afternoon and if anything, the light was getting even better, the views totally inspiring. Full of energy from the amazing scenery I was soon making the final climb on the road to my van. I put the bike in the back, jogging up the road, before turning right. Up the steep path that follows the most direct line to the summit of Loughrigg. 

Half way up I stopped to look behind me. Everything was picture postcard perfect. I reached for my camera in my jacket pocket. It wasn’t there! I must have left it behind in my haste to get going. I thought about going back down to the van to get it, then decided the clouds were over developing, and the views at the top wouldn’t be up to much anyway.

At the summit, the views were the most fabulous I’d ever seen. Ever. The clouds had subsided in the cooling air. Light was filtering through to all the peaks, picking out the contours. Lakes and tarns shining silver. 

They say the best photographs are the ones you never take, and this was one of those. A magical end to an afternoon that wasn’t planned. I jogged back down and drove home to Kendal for tea, stopping to pick some daffodils for Claire which were growing wild by the side of the road. 

3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 63 down, 151 to go.

© Graham Patten

Sign up to my blog to have a chance to win FREE trail running goodies. There are some great gifts on offer, such as trail running product, entries to the Lakeland Trails events and lots of other items too. On the 15th of each month, everyone on my subscribers list will go into a prize draw and the winner announced on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page, as well as by email.

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High on Helvellyn – 214 in 214

It took an age to get to Grasmere. I kept on having to stop and get out to take photos of the sunrise, the sky lit up red, not a breath of wind on the lakes.

High on Helvellyn 1

My pack was reassuringly heavy as I jogged up the verge by the deserted road to Dunmail Raise. today I’d remembered my micro spikes. I took a vertical line up Seat Sandal, marvelling at the changing view, the sun casting shadows on the surrounding snow capped peaks. It was going to be an amazing morning and I was going to make the most of it.

High on Helvellyn 2

Hard snow patches surrounded the rocky summit cairn. I headed north east, knowing this was where any lingering snow would be. Micro spikes are a great invention, although they probably encourage people like me to take more unnecessary risk. I was looking for a steep snow slope to have some fun, and came up trumps. A ribbon of white dropped down towards frozen Grisedale Tarn. My technique is simply to lean forward and take big strides and go as fast as possible, making a lot of whooping noise. Absolutely exhilarating, especially at this early hour with no one else around.

High on Helvellyn 3

Climbing the steep, frozen, grassy slope of Dollywagon Pike, I made it more difficult for myself by stopping to take photos every few minutes. The views were stunning. At the top, a huge spectacular cornice meandered it’s way to Helvellyn in the distance.

High on Helvellyn 4

I ran along the ridge, over Nethermost Pike and soon I was standing at the summit cairn, marvelling at the criss crosses of ice on Red Tarn way down below. I was going well and my ankle was holding up, so decided to extend my planned run and make the most of the good weather and being up so high.

High on Helvellyn 5

Dark cloud was building up in the east, and the wind seemed to be getting a bit stronger, or maybe it was just more exposed here. The next three summits were a roller coaster of joy. Hard snow with patchy ice in the shade on the way down, then frozen grassy ground in the sunshine on the way up. I’d taken the spikes off after Seat Sandal, and enjoyed the skittering and sliding in my studs on some of the snowy sections.

High on Helvellyn 6

In quick succession, I ticked off White Side, Raise, then Stybarrow Dodd. The ski tow on Raise was working, although I could only see two people using the slope, then again, it’s still quite early in the morning, especially as the skiers need to hike in to use this particular ski resort.

High on Helvellyn 7

Wainwright must have had some time to kill when he included the next summit, Hart Side. It’s some way off the main Helvellyn ridge, although an easy run on a well defined trod around the steep upper reaches of Deep Dale. 

High on Helvellyn 8

Further on, contouring round Green Side, a pair of Ravens were waiting for me on a rocky outcrop, as though willing me to take their photo. They gave me a deep croak as a pre flight warning and took off, tumbling in the air like show offs, even coming back for another fly past.

High on Helvellyn 9

This is most likely their territory. They probably have eggs in a nest on one of the nearby crags, and I remember they’re one of our earliest nesting birds. Their eggs hatch just in time to feed their young the protein rich afterbirth from new born lambs.

High on Helvellyn 10

Sheffield Pike is one of my favourite hills. The views towards Ullswater and back to Helvellyn are sensational, although it’s the ridge line I love the most. The narrow path winds down steeply  through the heather inviting you to hop around tight cambers and skip over rocks, a balancing act between watching where you’re putting your feet and getting in a quick glance at the views. 

High on Helvellyn 11

Finally Glenridding Dodd really is a doddle when you’ve made this descent, being a short climb through heather to the summit cairn, perched on the edge of the ridge overlooking the lake. 

Max the van was waiting in the main car park of Glenridding village, where I’d left it two days ago. I changed into my freezing cold, spare clothes and drove back to Kendal for a well deserved lunch.

10 Wainwright summits today, that’s 47 down, 167 to go.

© Graham Patten

February 2016

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Foolishly Fabulous – 214 in 214

It was a stupid idea really. I’d badly sprained my ankle only a few days ago, and hadn’t even managed a run since. The forecast looked great for a day in the hills though. After a bout of man flu, then half term family holiday, three weeks have gone by and I’d not done any Wainwright bagging. I was getting way behind my schedule. So, in a way, I’d no choice really. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Going over on my ankle again? OK – then I’ll strap it up.  

Driving over Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding after lunch, I could see grey clouds building up, the early morning blue sky and sunshine had disappeared. I was a bit surprised by how much snow there was on the tops after I’d gone over Kirkstone Pass. 

Foolishly fabulous 1

I parked the van in the National Park car park, signs telling me it’s free. Maybe an attempt to encourage people to the deserted village that took such a battering from the floods? First I strapped up my ankle with gaffa tape. I tried to remember who it was that put me onto gaffa tape for ankle strapping.

Foolishly fabulous 2

Definitely someone from my old fell running club Pudsey and Bramley. Rupert maybe? Or was that the Super Glue for blisters, or Araldite for cracked skin? Anyway, I remember strapping my ankle before a fell race with some expensive, zinc oxide tape when someone said gaffa tape would do the job just as well. A few weeks later I tried it and haven’t used anything else for almost twenty years.

Foolishly fabulous 10

Setting off along the road to Patterdale, I cut across the football pitch to start the climb to Arnison Crag. The ground was frozen, and I was wary about my foot plant. Soon I found a rhythm up the climb, using my poles and making good progress. From the summit, I took a contouring trod around the spur and then a big, steep climb to the summit of Birks.

Foolishly fabulous 5

All around the views were impressive. A big cornice snaked along the whole length of the Helvellyn ridge. Higher up on my route, St Sunday Crag was white. I started up the slope, picking my way along frozen snow to the top. 

Foolishly fabulous 6

Ahead lay Fairfield, and as I started the climb up the arete in the snow, I remembered I’d taken my micro spikes out of my running pack before going on holiday. Ah well, I probably won’t need them. Higher up, the snow became hard and frozen. Fortunately there were some snow steps filled with spindrift and it was easy to kick steps into the holes. Nearing the summit, above me there was a bank of 50-60m of flattened cornice. I started up the steep slope, first kicking into old steps. The snow now became as hard as iron, frozen solid. 

Foolishly fabulous 7

There were only the imprints from crampons, and now I was half way up and committed. I couldn’t kick steps into the rock hard snow, so instead I used my poles, picking away at the snow until I had a small ledge. As it got steeper, I found a small hole in the snow, obviously from an ice axe. By taking my glove off, I found I could insert the forefinger of my right hand into the hole – it was even curved down slightly. It gave me some reassurance in case I lost my footing. 

Foolishly fabulous 7

Working my way upwards, I kept chipping away with my poles, and finding the small hole from the ice axe with my finger. The most difficult bit was just after the steepest section of the cornice. Suddenly, the hole from the ice axe had disappeared. Whoever had been up before me had simply used crampons on this flatter section having no further need of their ice axe. Yet I had nothing to hold on to anymore, and felt foolish for getting into such a situation and extremely vulnerable. One slip, and I was a gonna.

Foolishly fabulous 8

On the frozen, iced up, rock before the summit, I realised I’d made it and let out a whoop of delight. I was amazed to find it had taken me more than 45 minutes to overcome the snow slope. Running off the summit of Fairfield was interesting. The snow had thawed and refrozen, and the descent was treacherous with ice. Up Great Rigg, then dropping out of the snow line to Stone Arthur, before contouring round the valley and climbing to Heron Pike. The final easy descent to Nab Scar, trying to be as careful as possible on the frozen rock. 

Foolishly fabulous 4

Reaching the bus stop, I found I’d missed the bus by just 3 minutes. I had a cup of tea and a date slice at the Rydal Hall Cafe, then walked the last section along the bridleway to Ambleside to catch the 555 bus home to Kendal. Fabulous!

8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 37 down, 177 to go.

© Graham Patten

Thursday 25th February 2016

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55 at 55 – An Ultra Run Too Far

I couldn’t see a thing. Like a blind man, my arms outstretched trying to feel in the darkness, making contact with a wooden gate. I climb over into deep, wet grass. Where the hell is the path? Not the best start to the biggest ultra run of my life.

Minutes before I’d set off from the Moot Hall in Keswick, just after 6am on Thursday 5th October. A kiss for both Claire and Ash, then I jog through the square, weaving around people busy setting up their market stalls. I wore my half eye orienteering reading spectacles with a map in my hand. Over the bridge, turn left, then … pitch black.

I didn’t have my head torch, thinking the dawn light was good enough to see by. I waited in the field for a couple of minutes, letting my eyes adjust to the dark, retracing my steps. More by luck I found the footpath. I started running through the puddles, laughing to myself at such a ridiculous start to this big ultra challenge. Suddenly I get the fright of my life. I’d almost run into another person walking the other way, silent like a ghost. He hadn’t a torch either.

55@55 – Leg 1

Along the tarmac road I realise I need to change my plan. It was far too dark to run through the paths in the woods. My only option was to keep to the lane. I was wearing fell running studs. Not ideal on this hard surface. Originally I’d planned to wear trail shoes for this section, then remembered the steep grassy descent from Dale Head. With all the rain it would be suicidal in anything other than studs. Another decision had been made for me.

Gradually the light improved and I could see my map. The dark bulk of Robinson lay ahead. A relief to finally get off road and hit the trails, water oozing everywhere. Hands on knees, relaxing into the steep climb. A compass bearing through low cloud, a strong north westerly cross wind to the summit cairn.

With the first one of my fifty-five peaks ticked off, I start to find my rhythm to Hindscarth then Dale Head. The first shafts of sunlight appear, some blue sky through the summit clouds. I couldn’t believe I was finally on my way. I’d almost given up hope. The weather had been bad for weeks. It was now or never. I thought back to where the idea had come from. How a freak accident many months ago brought me to where I am now.

The Ski Trip 

One moment I’m skiing fast nearing the coffee shops and terraces at the bottom of the ski run. The next, I’m flat on my face, winded, out cold. I could vaguely hear a cheer and hands clapping from the cafes. I thought I’d been shot. Then I realised what had happened as my boots were still hooked over a thick rope that was still moving, my skis scattered. I’d skied under the beginners drag tow rope. With no-one on it, the rope was lying on the rock hard snow and I hadn’t seen it as we were racing down the slope. Claire was laughing her head off, tears were rolling down her cheeks. I could hardly move, the pain in my chest was unbearable and I still couldn’t get any air into my lungs. I wriggled on the ground like the hunted prey that I was, got my boots free and kneeled down first until I could breathe again. I put my skis back on and slowly skied down to a sunny terrace. Claire couldn’t look at me without laughing. The shame of it!

It was February earlier this year and we were out in the Pyrenees for half term holiday, and had found the quiet, friendly, very French ski resort of Mont D’Olmes to be cheap with no queues for lifts and wide slopes perfect for families. As I sipped my expresso, the feelings were coming back to my body and I remembered watching someone else a couple of days before perform exactly the same face plant trick as I’d just done. We skied the rest of the day, although I started suffering more and more as the bruising in my ribs built up. By the time we arrived home three days later the pain was excruciating and Claire drove me to A&E for a thorough check up. Cracked ribs. Strong painkillers, take it easy and I’ll be unable to run for 5-6 weeks.

To think the morning before the ‘Ski Trip’ I’d set off in darkness with my head torch to run up the 2000m summit of Mont Fourcat for sunrise. I ran using micro spikes to negotiate the final exposed ridge on hard, icy neve, feeling euphoric surrounded by spectacular Alpine views. The run was effortless, I was enjoying my current fitness levels, looking forward to running a fast ‘solo’ Bob Graham Round in May.

Now I was grounded. Literally. Even breathing was painful. All winter I’d also been training for night orienteering, after nearly 20 years away from the sport. The British Night Championships were on my doorstep at Great Tower Woods. I would’t be doing them now. Nor the Northern Championships at Bigland the next day. I was gutted.

Positive from negative

I needed to search for something positive to come out of such an unfortunate negative. For the life of me I couldn’t think of anything. Despondency overwhelmed me. I’d been training hard through the cold, dark months, and it had been going very, very well. I’d been knocking off Wainwright summits again in batches of ten or more, and had run more than 80 of them before the ‘Ski Trip’, all at a good pace.

With so much wasted time looming over the next month and a half, it would be an impossible task to then get myself back into a similar shape by May. There was only one solution, abandon the idea of a fast ‘solo’ Bob, and think of something else.

Suddenly the idea came to mind. I switched on my laptop to do some research. As far as I could gather, only three other people have run this round within 24 hours : Paul Murray (23.24) in 1997; George Brass (23.44) in 1998 and Dennis Lucas (23.36) also in 1998.

The thing that really swung it for me was seeing the name of George Brass. He was my godfather, one of my dad’s best friend’s, although he’s sadly no longer with us. 

55@55

I decided I’d attempt to solo run the 55@55 within 24hrs, in George’s memory, when I reach the ripe old age of 55 myself in late September. This would take in around 75 miles of arduous Lake District terrain, 55 summits, ascending more than the height of Everest from sea level. Now I was happy. I could accept my immobility and get on with recovering from my battered ribs. I’d found a much more difficult and fulfilling challenge to get my teeth stuck into, when I do get back running again. The very idea of running a Bob Graham Round and adding an extra 13 summits along the way had an immediate, audacious appeal. All that night orienteering will come in useful too, as I would plan to start at midnight. The number of hours of daylight would be shortening. I checked which extra summits the other three had done, making outline plans of my own. 

Now I’ll have the whole of the rest of spring and summer to fine tune those plans and get myself in shape. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad ski trip after all …

Anti-clockwise

It was a last minute decision to go anti-clockwise. I’d heard the River Caldew between Great Calva and Blencathra was in flood. Going the opposite way round would hopefully give water levels a chance to subside. The knock on affect would be my starting time. I didn’t want to be running the ‘gnarly section’ over the Scafells at night. Leave early, get these peaks out of the way during the daylight hours. It was another forced choice.

Going round the route anti-clockwise was an unknown. My preference has always been clockwise, with Skiddaw and Blencathra at night, early on, whilst I’m fresh. I was confident enough about my orienteering skills. Running solo made it easy to be super flexible too.  

For now, I was just happy enough that I had a weather window. I’d trained hard for the last four months with this target in mind. The opportunity was a chance I had to take.

55@55 – Leg 2

I was going well. Taking it easy from Dale Head down the steep wet grass, wondering if Claire would be at Honister Pass. My ‘schedule’ had three hours for this first section and I was an hour ahead already. My tracker, the size of a small matchbox, used OpenTracking software to create a moving dot on a map for her to follow my progress on her mobile phone. The wonders of technology.

They were ready and waiting.

Shoes off, socks off, towel my feet dry. Claire has everything laid out in the van. Clean dry socks, fell running shoes, thermal top, my running pack, a new map. I drink strong fresh coffee answering her questions from our check list. Ash is helping too. Excited at seeing his dad so soon. Running after me to collect the empty water bottle once I’d drained it of the rehydrating drink he’d prepared. Munching on a bacon butty as the climb steepened. Picking out raised patches of ground. My feet getting stuck in anything soft.

I was soon slithering over greasy rocks marking the summit of Grey Knotts. Then another compass bearing to Brandreth. The cloud thinning now, more like a hazy mist. Wind cooling my right cheek. Legs feeling strong. In control.

Alone in the hills. I was enjoying my day out. A pattern was emerging. Between summits, the sky was clear, the cloud broken. I slowed down taking in the majesty of the views all around. On the climbs I’d enter cloud, sometimes thick as pea soup, using a compass bearing, keeping close contact with my map. Another bearing for the descent, coming out of the murk into another world of sunshine.

From Great Gable, I was on familiar territory from my ‘Joss’ run last year, although the ‘scree run’ descent back fired. This morning the scree is solidified from all the recent rain. More like an ice slope than a scree slope. I stop at the col to re-fill my water bottle, adding half a Nuun tablet. I’m eating a sandwich or a muesli bar every hour or so, a mix of jelly babies, cashew nuts and raisins in between. 

Navigation skills

My new found orienteering skills came into their own going to Kirk Fell. A route I would never have taken a year ago. Contouring round open fell and scree, coming out perfectly near the little tarn with only a small climb to the summit left. I wondered how much time I saved going this way. 

Looking Stead was a completely new summit for me, my first ‘extra’ summit from a usual Bob Graham Round. I’d been told by my dad, Alistair, that this was one of the summits Bob included in his original round. No one knows why it got removed, replaced with another. It was a nice feeling, looking down towards Ennerdale, thinking Bob Graham had once stood here too on that iconic first round.

Pillar, bleak as ever, visibility down to a few metres, windy as hell. Greasy rock on the climb to Black Fell, another ‘extra’, taking care descending. The wind blowing me off balance, using my hands for support. Steeple, Scoat Fell then Red Pike. Ticking them all off, feeling my spirits lift along with the cloud.

I glanced up to look for the route up Stirrup Crags. Vertical rock kept my gaze for a moment. The next thing I was spread eagled on the rocky path, twisting my ankle, banging my left knee hard. I got to my feet and looked back. Just one of the stone steps was wet and greasy. I hadn’t seen it, being distracted and paid for my inattention. I thought I’d got away with it. I was a bit sore that’s all. It will be OK.

All 214 Wainwright summits for 4th successive year

The climb was a rock scramble, made more difficult being in shade, a black mould like a veneer over wet surfaces. At the summit, I realised I could have avoided this steep, slow climb. I could have gone my ‘usual’ BG way around, doubling back along the ridge. It was extra summit number four, another first for me. My legs loosened up along the wet ridge run to Yewbarrow. I remember this was my final Wainwright summit of the year. My fourth successive year completing all 214 summits. I shouted out a yay, pumped my arm in the air, although it was anti-climatic. Originally I’d left ten Wainwright summits for this section going clockwise, so I could count them down as the going got tough nearing the end of the 55@55. 

Now I just felt a bit foolish. I still had a long way to go. Finishing all the Wainwrights again didn’t seem so important now.

My left achilles felt strange on the steep, stepped descent. Hard to describe, like a tightness as my foot landed. I struggled to make sense of it, took it easy, decided it would just sort itself out.

Running into the National Trust car park in Wasdale, Ash was on the lane taking photos, smiling happily. I gave him a hug, went through the routine, changing socks and shoes, running gear, pack, food. I’d been going only six hours and was way ahead of my schedule. Despite the wet underfoot conditions I was feeling strong and in control. Claire read through my check list. When she read out ‘painkillers?’, I remembered my achilles. I took some ibuprofen, just in case. My pit stops were taking less than ten minutes. We’re a well oiled team. I was soon away, Ash chasing after my empty water bottle.

55@55 – Leg 3

The sun was out now, it was warm climbing Scafell. A long, long drag. Bog and wet tussock taking it’s toll. Behind me, a darkening sky. I could see a rain shower coming my way. It was ferocious when it hit, strong gusts picking me off my feet. Hail stones hammering the side of my face. I’d already got my cagoule on in preparation and kept going into the maelstrom. Two walkers were sheltering behind a boulder. “You’re mad. Why don’t you wait for it to blow over”. I pushed on. If anything the storm built up even more. Leaving the summit I could hardly penetrate into the wind. It was a relief to drop down steeply towards Foxes Tarn and warm up. I stopped to re-fuel and drink, then started down the narrow gorge. 

It was like climbing down a waterfall. I faced the slope, trying to pick out hand and foot holds through the fast, cold running water. Every now and again water would find it’s way inside my cagoule, freezing my back, my chest. It was slow work and at the bottom, I took off my cagoule, shaking the water out from inside.

Picking my way through the climb on rubble and rocks to Mickeldore, I warmed up again, the sky now blue, the sun shining. Cold and cloudy amongst crowds sheltering in the lee of the memorial on Scafell Pike. Relief to get to the lower peaks, scrambling over boulders, out of the cloud, down to Esk Hause. 

I could run again now and the big climb out of Wasdale had obviously stretched out my achilles. Esk Pike then on towards Bowfell. Another hailstorm, as vicious and sudden as the last one. I get battered and disorientated coming off the summit, trying to find shelter to put on my soaked cagoule. I struggled taking a proper compass bearing and get pushed by the wind, finding myself overlooking some big crags. At least I can get my cagoule on, make sense of the map, running along the ridge in thick cloud, looking for the ‘ramp’, my route down to Hanging Knotts.

I could’t find it. I thought I’d overshot it, so set off down a steep rocky slope, contouring round, looking below. Where is it? The going was tough. Slow work. Scrambling and climbing over rocks, edging round small cliffs. Only when I reach Hanging Knotts, I realised I’d descended too early. I could now clearly see the ramp above me. I’d wasted time, maybe twenty minutes or more. I stopped and ate the last of my sandwiches. I had been eating steadily just to keep up my body temperature. Now I had one muesli bar left. I decided to keep it for emergency only.

The sun tried to come out again. The view down from Rossett Pike was unbelievable. Low light bringing out contours into sharp relief. I was back in a magic wonderland and felt inspired.

A good route through Black Crags, a drink at the stream. Then a long, bog sapping drag up to the Langdale Pikes. This section is a peak bagger’s dream. With my ‘extra’ summits of Loft Crag and Pavey Ark, I was quickly knocking them off my list. Neil Burnett had come to see me and missed me by minutes. He took a photo of me running in the distance. Some very wet, peat bog to pull myself through, then the gentle climb to Thunacor Knotts. More thick cloud, a compass bearing to High Raise, another on the short, soggy downhill run to Sargeant’s Crag. I stopped to eat the last of my food, the emergency muesli bar. I’d worked out I’d now run 30 summits and had only 25 left. I wanted to celebrate.

Only 25 summits left

A wild run on a compass bearing off Sargeant’s Crag, keeping to grass, away from lethal wet rocks. I fell a couple of times. Skidded with my feet flipping high in the air, landing on my bottom. I just rolled over in the grass, my backside a bit wetter, laughing like a child.

Soft conditions slowed me down between Calf Crag and Steel Fell, it was a relief to start descending down to Dunmail Raise. I took it easy, concentrating, looking forward to hot drink and food. I could see our van and there was a welcome party waiting for me too. Ash had company. My friends Chewy, Macca and Nick had all come to see me. Their enthusiasm a welcome distraction after six hours of solitude. Claire was busy plying me with food, pizza, chocolate, hot tea. I changed into warmer gear, dry shoes and socks. Ash was in the van, smiling and ‘helping’. “Is that hat warm enough?” I remember Claire saying. My pack felt much heavier with two sets of head torches and all the extra food. 

I’d decided not to take my running poles – the Helvellyn ridge was thick with cloud and I knew I’d be map reading, needing both hands for compass bearings. After ten minutes or so, I set off up Seat Sandal. “Smash it Graham” shouted someone. I’d now been going twelve hours. I thought to myself, “All I needed to do now was keep going. Relax, just enjoy it”.

55@55 – Leg 4

I felt strong going up the climb. Evening light was fading when I reached the summit. On with my head torch. Full power, they don’t come any better than my brother’s AyUp Lights

A twinge in my left knee as I start descending and I slow to a walk, trying to work out what’s going on. I jog again and the twinge returns, more of an ache than anything. I dismiss it. It’ll work loose. 

The climb up Fairfield feels endless in the dark. There’s thick cloud too with a very strong northerly wind. The forecast was for the wind to die down, a clear night with a full moon. I guess that’s not to be and now I’m enjoying the challenge of navigation in the dark. Grateful for all those night orienteering events I’d been to, organised by my Lakeland Orienteering Club

Surprises in store

Some surprises were in store for me as I turn around at the summit. The wind is so strong I can hardly make headway. It’s freezing cold too. What’s bothering me though is my left knee. It’s now very sore. Painful. I’m unable to run properly, yet I want to run to stay warm. I console myself that I’m moving steadily though, just not as quickly as I’d like.

I slow down, taking it easy on the looser, rocky sections. Using the path, rather than cutting down the steeper grass, as I usually would. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on my knee until it had sorted itself out.

Around Grisedale Tarn I found a fresh spring amongst all the surface water and stopped to get my water bottle out. I knew this was the last place for water on the Helvellyn ridge. I’d planned to drink, then take a full bottle with me.

Shit. It wasn’t there. I must have left it behind in the van when I repacked my running pack at Dunmail.

I quickly thought through scenarios, deciding to drink as much as I can, using my hands to scoop up the ice cold water. 

A few minutes later I started off again, my knee if anything feeling worse for the short rest in the cold. I struggled up the steep climb of Dollywagon Pike, although it was sheltered, so I started warming up a little. My knee felt much better going up than down. I was still moving well, feeling strong.

Cresting the summit the full power of the wind took over, penetrating through my clothing, my hat, my gloves, my cagoule. I had maybe one or two metres of visibility in front of me in the thick swirling cloud, the glare from my head torch bouncing back. I love nothing more than challenging conditions for navigating in the mountains. This ticked all those boxes. I kept on my bearing and reached the summit cairn bang on. Two silver plovers took off, flashing away into the dark. I wondered what they might be. Dotterel? Golden Plover? It didn’t matter, they were a welcome sight amongst the gloom and I took seeing them as a good omen.

Right, I told myself. Climb over. Now you can get running, get warmed up.

This is my favourite ridge line in the Lakes, a real runner’s roller coaster, with easy climbs and gradual grassy descents.

I set off and immediately realised running wasn’t going to be an option. A sharp pain seared through my left knee every time I landed my foot. I was only able to painfully limp and shuffle along. I knew I had a lot of time in hand though, so wasn’t unduly concerned at this point. I’ll just keep limping along at a fast walk. Put up with the pain, get the job done.

No problem. Or so I thought.

An ultra run too far?

Gradually, I started to get cold. Very cold. Freezing cold. Hand numbing, feet numbing, head numbing cold. I was still on compass bearings, battling into the teeth of the northerly wind. Despite this, the summits were getting ticked off nicely. High Crags, then Nethermost Pike.

By Helvellyn, I could’t really even walk properly downhill, it was more of a hop and an ouch. The wind was 40-50 mph, thick cloud, hail at times, and pitch dark – the full moon hidden. I was dressed for running, not walking. I was getting hypothermic and making some unconsidered judgements, such as ignoring my compass in zero visibility, thinking it was wrong and going off in a different direction. This wasn’t a good move, and I found myself wandering around in circles trying to find the summit cairn of Stybarrow Dodd, even though at the time I knew I was going downhill! 

All I wanted to do was get out of the cold wind. Shelter behind the summit cairn, maybe have a little rest, a recharge, a sleep. That’s when I realised I was suffering from the early stages of hypothermia. The reality of the situation struck home. I had some strong words with myself about survival, took a compass bearing and climbed back up to the summit. From then on I slowed down even more. I still knew I had time to finish, yet the risks were stacking up against me. By Calfhow Pike, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. On Clough Head, my 48th summit, I turned my mobile on and told Claire I was calling it a day, even though I still had seven hours to spare. I just thought it foolish to carry on solo in darkness in such a state and in appalling weather – there will be other times.

It then took me an hour and twenty minutes to hobble down to meet her and Rich Walker, who were looking out for me.

I’ll live to fight another day

So it was a real adventure and I’ve learnt a lot more about myself and my limitations. Many, many lessons that will help with future successes. I’ve no doubt it was the best decision. I’m happy with that, enjoyed every step and gave it my best shot – even testing myself to the outer limits. 

I would like to thank everyone for supporting my adventure, and to all those who contributed to the amazing total raised of £1138 for the charity Cancer Care North Lancashire and South Lakeland, via my Justgiving page : 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/graham-patten2

I’m already planning another attempt next year. This 55@55 has really whetted my appetite now and I have some unfinished business to attend to.

© Graham Patten

3rd November 2017

Get Stuck In

Summary, Lessons & Observations

I have included these personal details as they may help others with planning for similar adventures, Bob Graham Rounds or indeed, the 55@55. After all my big personal challenges, including every Lakeland Trails event, I go through all the good, the bad and the ugly from the experience. I find it all helps for the next time.

Summary

Fitness – Couldn’t be better, perfectly peaked, 4 months of injury free hard training

Taper – Maybe too much ‘active rest’ waiting for a weather window- nearly 3 weeks

Local Knowledge – Poor, no recce routes of any legs, no extra peaks checked & going ‘blind’

Conditions – Unfavourable, very wet underfoot, flooded River Caldew

Forecast – Too small a weather window, high NW winds Thursday, easing Friday night with clear skies, little wind Friday, weather front in the evening bringing rain

Full Moon – Thursday 5th October plus a couple of days either side

Navigation Ability – Excellent, lots of orienteering, compass & map reading

Focus – Not 100%, too busy orienteering at weekends, bagging Wainwrights for training runs instead of recceing legs, insufficient time to do both, switching off, almost having already decided that I would not be able to do it with the poor weather and forecast

Psychology – I didn’t respect the toughness of the challenge enough, thinking a sub 24hrs would be achievable. My mind was on a fast time

Time of year – less daylight hours (11hrs) than nighttime hours (13hrs) = one tough challenge

Observations

Not enough attention to detail with course planning, meaning too much time lost finding local knowledge routes ie Bowfell, 20-30mins, Stirrup Edge climb, 5-10mins

Plans changed last minute without consideration of knock on effects of an anti-clockwise round, the main ones being these five :

a) Night stages at the end when most tired, needing to carry the most weight of food & kit

b) Totally unfamiliar with some of the local knowledge routes anti-clockwise (Bowfell)

c) Easy running for the first hour – setting too fast an early pace to avoid the gnarly peaks in darkness, then the Scafell climb a real ball breaker out of Wasdale, poles would have helped enormously on this section

d) The psychological benefits of seeing the sun rise and the day getting easier because of daylight and warmth, along with a lighter pack, not harder and heavier

e) The lack of water on the Dodds, meaning water was only available near Grisedale Tarn and carrying a water bottle would be ESSENTIAL

Insufficient thought about anti-clockwise timings, consideration given to the more convenient timings for my support crew

Inadequate clothing – very cold in the wind from Wasdale, eating everything just to stay warm, then real winter conditions from Dunmail, early stages of hypothermia on Stybarrow Dodd, too cold as not generating heat as unable to run

Kit – Unconsidered kit – poles, water bottle and winter hat were all essential from Dunmail, none of them were brought, I did consider the poles, although with cloud covering the tops, I knew I’d be on compass bearings and therefore unable to use the poles, they’d just be extra weight to carry

Water – The water bottle may have been another factor. I only had some water by Grisedale Tarn on the way to Dollywagon, four cupped hand fulls. As I slowed down because of my knee, I didn’t have another drink for around 4-5 hours. I had no option but to completely forget the importance of it, as I couldn’t carry any water with me. I must have been extremely dehydrated

Poles – would these have helped take some of the weight off my knee BEFORE the injury? Should I have used them for such a long distance regardless?

Wind – Forecasted wind stronger than expected on Thursday, lasted until 3-4am on Friday

Cloud cover until 2-3am on Friday when full moon finally made an appearance

My psychology – at Dunmail, I thought it was already a done deal, with 12 hours to spare, although aware I had to just keep going

Date – Wrong time of year – Apr-May being the preferred dates, October date only if stable Indian summer conditions

Worse Case Scenarios – No consideration of dealing with problems, a laissez faire attitude to : first aid, medications, muscle injury, endurance related trauma (blisters, damaged nails, skin); no back-up plan for failures – massages, pep talks etc

Decision – Final decision was the correct one in the circumstances – too much risk in carrying on, I was an accident waiting to happen

A better decision would have been not to have started in the first place, accepting the conditions, weather forecast, time of year and lack of recceing would all contribute to the potential outcome

I would be dead if I’d taken off paragliding with a similar attitude to this level of circumstances

Lessons

Lots of lessons learnt from this ultra run. However, despite all these, I thoroughly enjoyed testing myself and was pleased I tried, even more pleased I had the strength of character to make the decision I did. I may have slipped into bad habits, it’s not really my style to do something and set off without making sure the odds are stacked in my favour first. I’ve been doing this with orienteering over the last few months too – no specific training, just taking part. With the 55@55 I was too complacent and the main lesson learnt here is not to allow this to happen again.