A winter Bob Graham appealed to me, as did the idea of a minimally-supported and unpublicized round. I knew that, for me, this would be a real challenge, with no guarantee of success, and that was part of the attraction. But it was also about the freedom of it, retaining the sense of spontaneity that running in the mountains brings, and enjoying it without any pressure to succeed.
Thus, we set off at midnight on Friday (February 12th), after a busy day at work and a 3-hour drive from Edinburgh, including a minor detour at the start to collect a forgotten rucksack (I still managed to pick up the wrong one, prompting some inventive ice axe attachment strategies at the last minute). Having 'slept' for 2 hours, I can’t say I was feeling very inspired when the alarm clock went off at 23.15, but the arrival of my mum (road support extraordinaire) and Jim Mann (leg 1 and finish company) did much to raise the spirits.
It was a clear night, but dark, and rather milder than expected. The ascent of Skiddaw passed quickly, and soon we were dropping off the summit. The snow conditions were better than last time (yes, we had tried once before in January, on a ridiculous weekend when the snow was so deep that we waded for an hour on this descent), but not ideal, and navigation was obviously harder in the absence of visible trods. Consequently, we went slightly off-route, necessitating some clambering through heather upstream (in the process of which I fell in a waist-deep hole) to reach the path leading to Great Calva.
|On the way up Sergeant Man|
The second leg was probably the most miserable (competing with the last leg, but that was shorter and at the end). We ran in cloud all the way along the ridge until sunrise, which came at Dollywaggon Pike. In contrast to the deceptive calm of the valleys, there was a moderate wind on the tops, blowing the snow up in waves, and limiting our window of visibility to a few yards of whiteness. Any previous tracks had been blown away, and so we (or more accurately, Konrad, I can claim no credit) had to do a lot of map and compass work to stay on line. We wandered off-route a few times, but luckily didn’t go too far wrong (our nearest miss being after Helvellyn, when we were drifting towards the valley). Our reward for the night’s toils was a beautiful sunrise, starting with a faint glow on Nethermost Pike, and unfolding into a fabulous display of pink and orange over the summits of Fairfield and Seat Sandal.
|Konrad and the Scafells|
And then it got dark of course, and I had a bit of a wobble on Kirk Fell as I’d not been eating enough (the situation was rescued with 4 bars in a row). We were amused to see a tent at the base of the climb up Great Gable (“someone’s idea of a nice Valentine’s weekend is even odder than ours”). Coming off the summit, we dropped too far right, and suddenly ended up on some rather icy steep ground without spikes on - not a comfortable moment.
We left Honnister about an hour up on schedule. Jim climbed up Dale Head with us, and then headed back down to get his car and drive around to Newlands. As soon as he had left us, the weather deteriorated; it started snowing and the wind picked up significantly. We had a hard time deciding where the summit of Hindscarth was (although visiting multiple summit cairns was actually standard procedure for us by then anyway), and then wandered off-line on the descent from Robinson. We were pretty glad to get down into the valley, however less so to be in sleet and on the road. The final few miles passed with ‘heads down’ and at last we were running up that final square to Moot Hall. Amazing how one can run fast at the end, and yet within a few minutes one’s legs have turned to jelly and one can barely speak. The fact that several people offered me a seat in the pub probably indicates I looked a bit tired. Half pints were more than sufficient, and then it was time for a glorious, oh so glorious and warm bed.
And so we got around, fairly comfortably in 22:28. Big thanks to mum for the road support (and the rest of the family on the earlier, snowed-out attempt!), and to Jim for his company. The adventure was quite hard (at times I even questioned my prior reasoning that this, as a long run, would be more enjoyable than Carnethy 5), and it struck me that it would probably be significantly easier in summer (even just the time spent removing/putting on gloves, coats, and microspikes was considerable). Still, I’m very glad we did it, and am already looking forward to the next adventure (maybe after a weekend off).