Last weeks adventure was Rob & Judes annual pilgrimage north of the border to sample some of Scotlands most iconic routes. The long range forecast wasn't looking promising but we perservered and initially headed for the Isle Of Arran and the amazing granite climbing on Cir Mhor. The worst of the weather appeared to be confined to the Saturday so we went for an extremely soggy scramble round Glen Sannox and over the summit of Goatfell. by Sunday it had all changed again and the next pulse of rain had arrived. Our search for dry rock eventually led us back to the Lake District and a sunny evening's climbing on the reliable Shepherds Crag. Shepherds Chimney (VS) and Monolith Crack (HVS) both provided good entertainment.
An early start on Monday saw us enjoying Irony (HVS) and Mandrake (HVS) on Quayfoot Buttress before yet more rain drove us back to Shepherds Cafe and an afternoon of rescue training, coffee drinking and cake eating. A break in the weather saw us take a punt on the quick drying properties of Esk Buttress. There were still a number of seepage lines but we were able to climb the 3 star Bridge's Route (HS) in the sunshine.
Weary legs on Wednesday steered us towards the roadside crag of Brantrake in the Eskdale valley for a day of leading practice, a few rescue scenarios and top roiping of some harder lines. Suitably refreshed we commited to the climb up to Buttermere's Birkness Combe under threatning skys. The clouds parted in front of us and we enjoyed the classic link up of Harrow Buttress (D), Slabs West Route (HS) and Oxford & Cambridge Direct Route (HS) to the summit of High Stile.
If you've been following the news you may have noticed a spot of bad weather has hit the Lake District once or twice this winter. Cumbrian's are a resilient bunch and there's been a concerted effort to show the rest of the UK that the Lakes is open for business as usual. February half term and the blue skies, snow and cold temperatures of a far more enjoyable weather pattern have arrived. Monday was spectacular so we went for a quick blast up, down and around Helvellyn to see how conditions were shaping up. First stop was Brown Crag Cove where the turf in Central Gully was well frozen and a couple of icy steepenings maintained interest through some impressive scenary. More Gr II than I at the moment but a comfortable solo none the less. Most of the other regular routes looked like they'd seen some traffic as well.
With the cold north easterly dieing away we continued our day over Helvellyn and down Swirral Edge. There's a good boot track in place through the snow but it was well compacted and turning icy with the cooler temperatures. The East face looked in good condition with a couple of teams on Viking Buttress. Continuing our theme of a classic day it was back up and along Striding Edge, sunset on the summit with a large collection of photographers and an easy descent through the dusk :)
It was all based on a very simple idea. Run from one side of the Lake District National Park to the other taking in a a bit of everything the area has to offer. In the event Open Adventure devised a route which ran from Caldbeck to Cartmel by way of the Northern Fells, Helvellyn ridge and the west side of Windermere, a total of 50 miles.
All week the forecast had been looking a bit dodgy with heavy showers and thunder & lightning forecast. An early and chilly start meant that I mistakenly opted for a lightweight fleece rather than my normal t-shirt and arm warmers. However I was glad of it on the first climb over High Pike where a couple of heavy squalls hit us. The limited visibility meant that that there were some interesting route choices over the tops all played out in real time on the big screen courtesy of the trackers we all carried. Nothing too dramatic on my part and I dropped back down into the sunshine and the temporary bridge over the River Caldew having passed around 30 folk in the murk.
The long drag up the back of Blencathra was as mind numbing as usual but once in the clouds I was able to pick up the Bob Graham trod which cuts directly up to the saddle and on to the summit. Halls Fell Ridge was greasy with a lot of very nervous runners sliding down on their bottoms. Knowing they'd all overtake me again as soon as we hit flat ground I was making good progress when I noticed that I was missing a section of my trekking pole. I briefly climbed back up the ridge but with no idea how far I'd have to go turned back around and continued down to the first checkpoint at Threlkeld.
Crossing under the A66 we were soon back on Bob Graham territory slogging up Clough Head. The weather was improving fast with some stunning views between the great banks of cumulus clouds which were blowing through. I went too high on Great Dodd losing a lot of time of a large group of runners ahead. Everytime I popped out of the cloud they were a little bit closer and I was able to start picking them off as the weather rapidly improved to give a glorious afternoon. Now rather warm in my fleece the blast down to Ambleside from Fairfield was great fun getting to the second checkpoint in just under eight hours.
The second half of the route was more trail running than fell. I always seem to suffer on long flat sections and my pace drops right off. True to form this was my weakest leg with a spot of knee pain not helping the situation. In the gathering gloom navigation was becoming important as well. Some sections were waymarked but care was needed to stay on track through the forests. The final checkpoint was at Finsthwaite with only a short 11km to go. A sausage roll and a brew were lifesavers before back out into a very still and chilly night. Mist was starting to form in the hollows and it was a very atmospheric evening to be out and about. A team of four ahead of me were moving well but I was catching them as they were working hard on the navigation. Attempting to follow an indistinct footpath across farm land at Speel Bank we all ended up on the wrong side of a drystone wall staring at thick woodland. A spot of bracken bashing and a quick climb soon had us back on track and making our way through the forest to the final road run in. Just before my Garmin battery went flat it looked like we had 20 minutes left to beat the 14 hours and approximately 4km to go. It all came good crossing the finishing line in 13:51:58 and 32nd position. Yet another classic race in the making to add to peoples bucket lists!
This weekend I'm working for SkiAscent helping prep Mac & Andy for a trip to the Alps with Mont Blanc firmly in their sights. We spent Saturday battling the elements on Pinnacle Ridge which had turned into a waterfall. Despite this we made a smooth ascent looking at a variety of different techniques for moving together on alpine terrain by themselves and with a guide. We were buffeted around by some strong downdrafts and we were pretty chilled when we got to the top so we quickly bagged the summit of St Sunday Crag and left the planned technical descent of Pinnacle Ridge to another day.
If anything the weather on Sunday was even worse and we decided discretion was the better part of valour. Scratch plan A of Corvous and bring on plan B - Cam Crag Ridge in Langstrath. After a quick splash up the valley we had an early lunch in the howff before braving the torrential rain and gusting winds on the ridge following the crest throughout. We finished the day by retreating to Shepherds Cafe to practice taking coils over a coffee and slab of carrot cake.
It's taken 3208 days but I've finally summited all the Lake District Wainwrights. A wee bit longer than Steve Birkinshaw's recent record of 6 days 13 hours but a great challenge none the less. I saved Mellbreak for last as there was a pint of Loweswater Gold waiting for me in the Kirkstile Inn at it's foot! For a slightly different approach we opted to swim across Crummock Water, stuff the wetsuits in our rucksacks and and follow the Frog Graham route up onto the summit, hence the tri shorts. The legs were still feeling good so we extended the day to include Red Pike and High Stile before retiring to the pub for the aforementioned pint and a roast dinner.
In 2013 I'd been working on the Lakeland fells and seen several competitors from the 10 Peaks race looking lost on Great Gable. The challenge of climbing the 10 highest peaks in the Lakes nonstop seemed entirely logical and so I signed up for this years event. Conditions were looking pretty good with warm temps but a little bit of cloud and rain on the tops, great for those with local knowledge. With plenty of miles in my legs this year I made the conscious decision to race rather than just get round. Visability was down on the first summit of Helvellyn and I passed a few of the racing snakes who were taking the scenic route.
The long traverse over to Bowfell went well as I picked up some very useful trods before nipping up the Bob Graham rake which saved me at least 20 minutes on some of the competitors around me. My challenge suddenly increased when like a total numpty I managed to let my map blow away. Nonetheless I made good time to Mickledore and the choice of Foxes Tarn or Lords Rake. I went for the scree gully of Lords Rake cutting back left up the main fault line from the chockstone. Touching the summit it was straight back down the gully continuing down until I could pick up the traverse path which leads to Lingmell Col below Pikes Crag. Other runners were taking the more direct route to Pillar by the floor of Wasdale but I figured I'd be quicker going via Corridor Route and Great Gable. This bit felt like a score event with runners moving every which way.
Over the top of Great Gable still feeling strong I arrived at the checkpoint at Beck Head to the surprising news that I was the 14th runner through. It was a bit more complicated than that as competitors were free to climb Pillar and Gable in either order and the mathematics of the situation occupied my mind as I commenced the long drag up to Pillar. There were plenty of runners descending towards me, some who had already climbed Gable and others that hadn't. By the time I arrived back at Beck Head I reckoned I really was 14th overall. This was confirmed when I arrived at Honister Pass where I devoured a plate of pasta bolagnaise, a strong coffee and a can of Coke in quick succession.
Out of the door I opted to descend to Borrowdale and pick up the Cumbria way rather than the organisers recommended route via Dalehead Tarn. As I rounded the foot of Cat Bells I surprised the runner in 12th position who was following his map. Ludovic Maillard and I ran together to the base of Skiddaw where it quickly became clear he was a far better climber than me quickly dropping me and disappearing into the distance. We both managed to overtake Sue Savege in 11th place who was having a moment on the final scree slope. The weather was deteriorating fast as we topped out and turned for the final run home. Towards the bottom of the hill my energy levels crashed and my vision narrowed. Swallowing three gels in a row I was startled to see Sue closing fast behind me. The two combined spurred me into a sprint finish back in to Keswick. Right at the death I made my only navigation error of the day having neglected to recce the finish. Taking the long way round via the hospital I sprinted up to the front door of the football club in a time of 15:42 for 12th position and probably my best ever ultra result. A few minutes later Sue arrived by the correct route while Ludovic had finished more than 20 minutes ahead.
Wee video from John Pennifold showcasing the 10 Peaks experience! Just squeezed in in under 24 hours :)