Bob Graham Round Training #BG20

#BG20 – My challenge to run the Bob Graham Round in under 20 hours

A diary of the up’s and down’s of training to run the Bob Graham Round

Planned Date: 13th June 2015

Follow my attempt live on-line: http://maps.opentracking.co.uk/bg2015.cfm?n=11

To those that know, the Bob Graham Round needs little introduction. To those that don’t, it involves running / walking a total distance of around 66 miles, over 42 peaks and some 27,000ft all within 24 hours. Its not a race, there are no prizes.

At some point last Summer, having toyed with the idea in my mind for years I decided it was time to finally give it a crack. I also decided that if I was going to do it, then I wanted to complete my round in under 20 hours. Why? Well why not. Fewer than 100 people have achieved this to date. This is my story.

May

25th ~ 31st May: Weekly Stats: TBC

Last week of ‘normal’ training before I start tapering. That said, I won’t be doing as much this week and will ease it down a bit.

Friday. Headed upto Blencathra for a short afternoon run and take another look at the Parachute descent. I am rapidly beginning to think this route is jinxed. As I pulled into Threlkeld the heavens opened, I stayed in my car as the rain thundered down. It was 8c -hardly what the end of Spring should feel like. Eventually it eased off and I headed off up the road towards the open fell. I’d got maybe 100 metres above the fell gate when it started to hail, light at first but as I headed higher, the hail got heavier, more squally and more painful. A few more minutes later and I had been reduced to a snail, crouched on the open fell, cowering from the relentless hail. It was truly miserable.

Eventually it passed. I continued upward, the path running with cold water and melting hail. By the time I reached Halls Fell Ridge, the sun had come out and other than the fact my hands were numb, it felt relatively pleasant. Albeit more like early March than late May. As I pulled onto the summit it started to snow.

I paused for a few moments, pulled on my over-trousers and turned south-west to descend the steep grassy face, the start of the Parachute descent. Within a hundred or so metres I was off-line, on broken ground that by anyone’s standards was neither fast nor particularly safe. As I descended further through tussocky heather, I strayed too far left and found myself on steep and awkward ground near the base of middle tongue.   Moments later, I lost concentration, slipped and found myself staring head first down a ravine. By any standards this was pretty stupid and very nearly was very painful.

It apparently took Billy Bland 14 minutes to descend all the way to Threlkeld via this route, it had taken me 14 to reach the beck and I’d nearly broken myself. Reached the A66 in 25 steady minutes with some more food for thought.

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Tuesday. Headed over to Dunmail Raise this afternoon again. I wanted to run directly to Sergeant Man to finally decide whether I am going to head to Sergeant man first, or go to High Raise first. There isn’t a lot of time in it. However, having ‘walked’ both options now I think heading via Birks Gill to High Raise is the better option.Why? We’ll firstly the path upto Sergeant Man just isn’t as good as everyone makes out. Yes it has a few runnable sections, but you will be 8 hours in (10 hours on a 24hr schedule) and you won’t be running much. Apart from that it is rough and boggy in sections and surprisingly intermittent. There are a few more direct lines but these are on rough tussocky ground and not on the path. Finally in low visibility, it is easy to stray off route especially in the final few hundred metres to Sergeant Man itself.  Going directly via Birks Gill is steep, but directly adjacent to the Gill is pretty firm underfoot, you gain height quickly and this will suit my body at this stage. It is also direct and easy to nav in poor weather. The upper section when it begins to flatten out is rough and a bit miserable but at least your in sight of High Raise. Once there you have the advantage of running downhill to Sergeant Man. Decision made.

After that 2 hour outing I headed to Loughrigg Fell for an evening’s orienteering with Ambleside AC. Totally different, gunned it for an hour in attempt to win, but my high risk strategy didn’t quite pay off. Missed a couple of easy checkpoints and accrued 3 minutes worth of penalty points for being over the hour cut-off time. Finished 3rd but at least had a good work-out!

Monday. After a fairly full-on weekend of running in the Scottish Highlands I’ve had an easy day today. A short 6km ‘trail’ run around Kentmere which gave the opportunity to up the tempo a little bit and run the legs a little more.


18th ~ 24th: Weekly Stats: 100km+ / 26, 246 ft / 8000m

Just back from 2 days running in the Scottish Highlands. I was up there helping Mike Vogler to recce the Ramsay Round (the Scottish equivalent of the Bob) as well as getting in some more big mountain training – he will be supporting me on my Bob Graham, and is himself preparing to complete the Big 3, having already ran both the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley (the welsh equivalent) rounds. So we spent two days running mountain marathon style over two thirds of the Ramsay Round.

It’s big, rough, remote and serious running terrain – to be honest it’s nothing like the Bob Graham, apart from the stats, it feels light years apart. I quite like it. Even now at the end of May, there was full snow-cover on the summit of Ben Nevis and some gargantuan snow-fields and choked gullies which resembled more of the Alps and the Himalaya than Scotland.

So Saturday saw us running over Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor / Beag and the Grey Corries before dropping down to overnight at Meanach Bothy. Some 20 miles or so running over the roof of Britain, across scree and boulder fields, narrow ridges and deep Bealachs, and racking up some 3000 metres of vertical ascent. The weather was good, clear and sunny to begin before a sheet of threatening cloud encroached from the Atlantic. But it stayed dry until early evening, by which point we were long since down.

After a night spent sleeping on the floor of the bothy (the bank holiday meant we weren’t alone) we headed out for our return leg over the Mamores.  The overnight rain had cleared to leave a colder and brooding atmosphere above Glen Nevis. Cloud obscured much of where we had ran on Saturday and was glancing the tops of the Mamores. It felt very different to the last time I had ran on the Mamores under a blue sky and searing sun. By the time we reached the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor it was snowing.

And that set the tone for the next 3 or 4 hours, a cold wind and frequent snow showers accompanied us across the Mamores, passing only a handful of other folk out hill-walking before we finally dropped down to the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis some 6hrs and 20 minutes after we had started.

All that was left was to grab a bite to eat, jump in the car and head south back the Lakes.

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

In Glen Nevis after a 2-day recce of parts of the Ramsay Round

Thursday. Another day-off, another training run. But crucially, the best I’ve felt in weeks.  I was keen to re-look at the direct line up onto Fairfield, as well as treble-check that my times coming off Seat Sandal are as consistent as I think they are.

So I parked up at Dunmail Raise again, and ran down to the car park at Wythburn before beginning the long climb up the Western slopes of Helvellyn. My intention was to run all the way to the summit of Helvellyn, after which I would drop down to BG pace for my route over Dollywagon, Fairfield and Seat Sandal before returning back to Dunmail Raise.

It was brighter and consequently warmer than forecast, a steady breeze blowing above 600 metres, with the sound of Skylarks all around. The head felt good, the legs felt ok, the lungs were ticking over. I reached the summit in an hour.  There was a cold wind blowing on the tops and after a brief stop for some food and to chuck on an extra layer I turned back south and headed over Nethermost Pike before sticking to the left hand skyline as I picked my way onto the summit of Dollywagon.

From Dollywagon there are two accepted descents, the most popular is to take a line down to the western side of Grizedale Tarn following a line of old fence posts. The other is to pick your way (or follow the path) down to the Eastern side of Grizedale. I favour the latter, its more direct, with the right line, more runnable and the only issue is you’re then left with a steep climb up on Fairfield.

The trick with this line is to not head too far left and end up on Cofa Pike, I don’t think going this way is very quick. Where you choose to strike upwards is therefore critical. I was wanting to check a slight variation on the line I’ve taken before. It seemed fairly quick, although there was some loose scree sections which were not very good. Despite that I reached the top of Fairfield in 29 minutes (from Dollywagon).

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

Seren at a much needed watering hole

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

Bright but chilly on Helvellyn

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

A quiet day on Helvellyn. Striding Edge beyond.

Wednesday. With a day-off today, I headed around to Dunmail Raise this afternoon. Want to hard-wire the trods into my memory that skirt around all the lumps and bumps around Steel Fell and was also keen to try the ‘High Raise first’ option instead of automatically heading for Sergeant Man.

With a fresh out of the box pair of Mudclaw 300’s on my feet, I began the never gets any easier slog up Steel Fell. 14 minutes to the end of the Steep Ground, 18 minutes to the summit. A bit fast but its training so no worries. From here it was a pleasant if slightly breezy run across Calf Crag and onto towards Brownrigg Moss.

From here I headed straight for Birks Gill. The ground is lumpy, a bit boggy in places but once your adjacent to the stream, its up, on ok ground. You cant or wouldn’t want to really run, but that doesn’t really matter. The easier ground above Birks Gill is a bit of a damp slog in places but I was consciously trying not to try to hard, and still made it High Raise in 26 minutes (from Calf Crag). From here it was a slightly faster 6 minutes to Sergeant Man and the run around to Thunacar Knott is little different to that of coming directly off High Raise. So I’m not sure now, may need one more foray back to the ‘Sergeant Man First’ option before I finally make up my mind.

After Thunacar Knott, I made a beeline for High Raise, before heading north and retracing my steps after a slight detour via Greenup Edge.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

One slightly muddy border collie. On Steel Fell.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Near Thunacar Knott, on the way back.

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Looking north towards Skiddaw. The line coming off High Raise can easily be seen.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Looking across to Seat Sandal and Dollywagon Pike from Steel Fell

Monday. Feeling some of my energy and motivation trickle back so in an effort to do something without over-doing it, I headed around to Hartsop, back to my winter training grounds for the ‘short’ run upto Hayeswater and around High Street and Thornthwaite. It was bloody cold on the tops again, with fleeting hail and sleet showers. Glad to have opted for my hooded Squall Jacket today.

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Evening light strikes through the shower clouds. Looking across Hayeswater towards Fairfield etc.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

I wish photos could convey a strong, freezing cold head-wind. I started swearing quite a lot after this. On High Street.


11th ~ 17th: Weekly Stats: 70km / 12,132ft

This has been a tough week. My body has felt so drained and ‘not right’ that I’ve struggled to run whilst the pain in my lower leg has been reluctant to leave, despite my attempts to ‘stretch it away’. Needless to say my head has been full of self-doubt this week. Apart from the Old Counties Tops, it’s been a quiet week.

Saturday. Old Counties Tops Fell Race / 37 miles (59km) / 10,000ft (3,200m)

So it was with a degree of nervousness that I drove to Langdale this morning for the start of this years Old Counties Tops. I was still feeling far from 100% and if it wasn’t for not wanting to disappoint my running partner Wil, I am not convinced I would have got out of bed. At 37 miles it’s as long as Lakeland fell races get, visiting the summits of Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man – the highest points of the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire which are now consumed by the county of Cumbria.

Racing with Will Spain we started steadily, but after a few hours it was clear that Will was faring worse than I. At the pace we were going I was feeling ok, Helvellyn was easily reached in 2 hours, Angle Tarn 4 hrs or so but from Wythburn it was clear that Wil was struggling to eat and struggling to go uphill. It suited me, the pace meant I could try and just get my body back into running and being out on my feet, I stayed ahead, tried to conserve energy and treated it as a training run.

We finished in 8hrs 48 minutes, 28th place I think. No dramas, no low points, no where near feeling 100% but happy to have got out running again.

Tuesday. Exhausted and feeling under the weather. Managed a short run up Wansfell from the Low Wood Hotel, but even that felt like hard work.


4th ~ 10th: Weekly Stats: 78km / 16,496ft

Sunday. Legs better today but still with some lower leg pain, but unfortunately work has got in the way so I went for a short run before heading home to do some more stretching and crunch some presentations I need to prepare.

Saturday. Broken Record. Struggling a bit these past few days, partly with a lower leg strain / pain which I think is my peroneal muscle having taken a bit of a beating. I’ve been trying to stretch the pain away but its not quite working. Either way it seems to be directly connected to my head, and is causing that to develop an acute form of cant-be-bothered-itus. So it took me until 1430 today to summon up the will to don my running shoes again. Should I run, should I not run, if I do run – how far should I go? Can I afford to not run far or climb lots? Having given a thought for the guy running the Bob Graham Round last night in horrendous weather, I decided I needed to get on with it. So I headed over to the Howgills for a change of scenery and ran the 14 miles of the Sedbergh Hills race route, bagging an extra 1800 metres or so of ascent over a steady if somewhat laboured 3 hours.

Bob Graham Round Training: In the Howgills

Classic Howgill scenery looking towards Tebay and the M6

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Hmmmm……..bit warm, bit tired, bit slow

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Seren enjoying another day out

Tuesday. Tonight was grim. A run around Kentmere after work. There were few Skylarks singing this evening, I saw one, struggling to stay in level flight in the gusting cross wind. Hood down with plenty of time for thoughts since apart from hide from the torrential rain and gale force wind there was little else to do.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

It’s not always nice! On Ill Bell.

The 'view' from Ill Bell just before things took a turn for the worse!

The ‘view’ from Ill Bell just before things took a turn for the worse!

I’ve doubted my commitment to this cause lately, perhaps I’m just tired and my mind cannot help wonder about the level of commitment it takes to complete a challenge like the Bob Graham and whether I’ve got it in a similar vein to those who may wonder what it takes to excel as a runner or indeed any other sport or activity as opposed to merely take advantage of a natural ability, stay within a known comfort zone knowing they will never do badly but never reach their theoretical potential. My frequent questioning as to how great my motivation is nothing new, despite others views and the proof (if that’s what it is) of nights like tonight when no other soul was to be seen running around the Kentmere Horseshoe in pretty foul weather.

And so as I ran around this evening, my thoughts unable to escape the hood wrapped tightly around my head I also wandered onto question the statement of being ‘lucky to live in the lakes’. A strange question you may think, of course you’re lucky. You live in a National Park, you have mountains on your doorstep, you can train and head into the mountains at will. And in that sense I couldn’t disagree – being able to access mountainous terrain living where I do is a massive plus.

I can be home in minutes not hours after a day on the fells, I can head out at the drop of a hat and not to have to plan my outings in advance. I can run in the morning or late in the evening. My decision to move to the Lakes is one I’ve never ever regretted. Despite that I know of people who’ve tried it and moved away again, who’ve decided that there is a price worth paying or a price worth being paid and been tempted away. I know those who will never make it here, but say they would like to, because they have too much to give up.

Which brings me back to my question of commitment. Is it running a hundred kilometres or more a week? Climbing 20,000ft or more a week? Or is it simply having the motivation to try, to get by with the bare minimum, to dream simply about getting round, to live hundreds of miles away from the Lakes, have no choice but to train on roads or canal tow paths, doing lap after lap on the biggest bump you can find? Or is it the person who gets up at 5 or 6am to train because that is the only time they can fit their training in before they have to get their kids ready for school and have no choice but to fit training around the demands of having a family? The latter I have no experience of, have no need to understand, but those I know who do that meet my definition of being committed and in that sense do something I don’t think I could.

Living and always training on the Lakeland fells comes with its own unique challenges of course, challenges which get few votes of sympathy.  Training in all weathers. This is hardly news but it really does rain a lot, the wind really can blow a lot and especially during the depths of winter, conditions can often be pretty grim and at times arduous – ground saturated with icy water, chilling winds which gradually erode every vestige of strength from your body. Live here and you don’t have much choice. Equally the temptation to bale, when things don’t go to plan is that much greater – the realisation that I won’t have squandered a rare chance to be in the lakes, I won’t be wasting a long journey that going home is quick and easy.

So commitment I guess is as much about wanting it as anything else. Even when you live here, you’ve got to want it. Unless you are very lucky things are never handed to you on a plate. Take today. I left home at 730 and drove 1 and half hours to Manchester, where I often spend my mid-week time working. I then drove home again, getting home at 630 having left the office a little early, gulped down a cup of tea and then jumped back in the car and drove around to Kentmere. 2 and half hours later I was back at home, soaked to the skin and freezing cold. Having eaten dinner, cooked by my suffering other half (Bob Graham Rounds rarely affect just yourself) it’s now 11pm and I’m drying out in front of the fire. I’m tired.

Monday. Today I ran the 28km / 17-18 miles around the ‘Skyline’ of the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay. Someone should organise this as a race in itself. A great route taking in quite a few Lakeland tops and bagging around 2000 metres of climbing. Luckily the bank holiday traffic never seems to result in the car park at the top of Kirkstone Pass being full and being only a 20 minute drive from my front door ticked the box for a hassle-free day. A steady pace saw us round in around 5 hours.

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

On St. Sunday Crag. Last week’s snow melted back to a trace on Helvellyn.

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On the climb out of Patterdale. Steph & Seren heading for Angle Tarn

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Looking North from the Knott en route to High Street


April

27th ~ 3rd (May): Weekly Stats: 74km / 15,695ft

I’m knackered and my left leg won’t stop aching so I am going to take a few days off. The past 3 weeks have been fairly relentless, not running every day but it’s been 20,000+ ft a week and the battering both up and down is getting to me. My head also feels a little drained. Plus the weather is shite. Its freezing, there’s snow on the fells again and it generally feels blustery and damp. I’m making excuses but at the moment they’re convenient. So 3 days of complete rest, some self-diagnosis to conclude my Piriformis was causing the pain in my leg before a light run over Potter Fell on Thursday and plenty of stretching to get my legs working again. Friday would be a new month and a long run.

Fear & Doubt. So after a quiet mid-week I today (Friday) ran legs 1, 2 and part of 3 (as far as Sergeant Man before dropping down to Langdale). A total distance of some 30+ miles.

My pace was just under 19 hour schedule. Exactly as planned. But rapidly into leg 2, the wheels started to come off. It was really hard and my head is now full of self-doubt. I arrived into Langdale a broken man. Nicky Spinks, who recently beat her own record to become the fastest woman to have completed the Bob Graham has been quoted as saying that in order to complete a challenge you need to be scared of it. Well I’m not sure whether I’m fearful of the challenge I’ve set myself, have a rapidly deepening respect for it or am simply shitting myself. Failing that I was having a bad day, was dehydrated for 2/3 of the route, am tired, unprepared, my pack was really heavy or I’m simply not good enough to go that fast. Take your pick.

I left Moot Hall in Keswick shortly after 7am. It was cold, but clear and sunny. The trog upto Skiddaw doesn’t get any easier or any more enjoyable. I hate it. But at least the views were at their best and a covering of snow greeted me as I pulled past Jenkins Hill. I’d seen no-one.

Bob Graham Round Training: Leg 1 recce

On Jenkins Hills en route to Skiddaw

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On Skiddaw looking across to the Dodds & Helvellyn

I punched through the 2-3 inches of frozen snow as I descended off Skiddaw to Hare Crag, before it was back to business as usual, traipsing through the boggy ground across to Great Calva. Taking the direct line off Great Calva I made quick progress down towards the beck, stopping to take on-board water and eyeing the line onto Mungrisdale Common. After numerous recce’s I’d finally found ‘the line’ – and its worth searching for. I  reached Blencathra 6 minutes ahead of my schedule.

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‘The Line’ across Mungrisdale Common is there…..somewhere!

I opted to not search out the Parachute descent, the rock was dry and Halls Fell wouldn’t be too slow and instead enjoyed the technical rock hopping down to Threlkeld. I arrived at the A66 in 2 hours and 58 minutes, 9 minutes ahead of my schedule. I felt good.

It had been a while since I’d last been up Clough Head and this time opted to run to the right of the fence that leads beyond Newsham House onto the open Fell above. Pointless, despite the obvious trod, the left-hand side is more direct and faster. My lack of time on this part of the route showed and I fired up Clough Head, my pacing shot to pieces, 6 minutes ahead of schedule and 17 overall. Probably a mistake although it didn’t feel it at the time.

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On Clough Head looking towards Great Dodd

From Clough Head it was a hard mixture of running and walking, sometimes on firm ground, sometimes on an annoying crust of partially frozen snow, some legs I was quicker, some I was slightly slower as I made my way towards Helvellyn. But by the time I reached the summit my reserve had slipped back, only some 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

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Plenty of snow by the time I reached Stybarrow Dodd

From Dollywagon I currently favour the direct line, down to the Tarn outflow before hitting the steep trod besides a small stream before following another stream straight to the top. Its real hands on knees / hands on ground stuff. But even today, wobbling, tired, dehydrated and snow masking the firmer grassy lines it got me to the summit of Fairfield in 31 minutes, 12 minutes ahead of schedule.

By the time I arrived at Dunmail, the benefit of descent had seen me take more time out of the schedule. I finished Leg 2, 19 minutes ahead of my schedule in 3 hours 32 minutes, 6 hours 39 minutes since leaving Keswick. But I’d had enough. I was dreaming about coke and bowls of pasta and bacon. I munched through my remaining sandwich, swallowed some cake and stared at Steel Fell. I could ring home. I could call it quits here. I didn’t need to do this. I sat at Dunmail for 18 minutes, got the phone out twice before deciding to get on with it.

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On Steel Fell looking north across Thirlmere

I pulled my pack on, and stumbled upwards. Ok, Steel Fell in 2o minutes, bang on schedule. Calf Crag in 18 minutes, slightly behind my schedule but I’m never quick on this section even when fresh so no problem. 5 minutes to talk some ‘knowledgable’ Americans who’d read ‘That Book’ (Feet in the Clouds of course!) and a quick photo since I was ‘de-ranged’ and ‘one of those people mentioned in that book’  on Calf Crag before on towards Sergeant Man. I reached Sergeant Man, 8 hours and 9 minutes since leaving Keswick and I’d had enough. The call had gone in, and I was heading down.


20th ~ 26th: Weekly Stats: 100+ km / 21,391 ft

This week has been a mixture of fast-ish laps of the Kentmere Horseshoe, a partially successful fine-line recce of leg 1, a successful fine-line recce of the ‘direct’ line up Fairfield plus a moderately long 20 mile run around some other Lakeland Fells, looking at the Old Counties Tops route for a change of scene. The pounding around Kentmere seems to be taking its toll a little, or maybe it’s just the cumulative effect of mileage and ascent, but either way the legs are feeling a little tired. The one saving grace is that the weather has mostly been amazing……….until winter decided to return.

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A moment of rest and recuperation above Grasmere

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Winter returns….Will head down into snow on Greenup Edge

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Looking as bad as I felt! Near Fairfield

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Take the two highest patches of snow, and go straight up between them!


13th-19th April: Weekly Stats: 20,367 ft ascent / 95km

This week has been split in two by a brief foray north of the border for some late season ice climbing on Ben Nevis. The two days on the Ben were in themselves pretty long days with plenty of uphill training but either side it’s been business as usual. Monday evening saw me out on another lap of the Kentmere Horseshoe, Friday night I was back to my winter stomping ground of Red Screes and Scandale Beck whilst Saturday was a 4 hour sortie around the Duddon Fell race route.

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A warm evening above Kentmere

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Clear skies on Harter Fell during a round of Duddon

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Two Grade V ice routes on the Ben were a welcome diversion


6th ~ 12th: Weekly Stats: 21,863ft / 100 km approx.

Ran 5 out of 7 days this week, the longest outing of which was a recce of legs 3 and 4 combined. Early in the week the weather was fine and warm and Monday and Wednesday found me running around the Kentmere Horseshoe, of the which the 2nd round resulted in my fastest non-race time ever, excluding the summit of High Street itself, in 1 hr 48 minutes. Proof that I don’t buy into the one-size fits all argument for not neglecting speed work when training for long distances. Speed will come to those who are strong.

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Skirting High Street looking north

But by Saturday the weather had changed. At 630am I left Dunmail Raise in horizontal sleet, which soon became horizontal snow, my plan to run legs 3 and 4 didn’t seem such a good idea. Running across to High Raise, I was only just under a 20 hour schedule, the driving wind and snow was taking a massive toll on my energy and speed. I was cold.

But the weather was forecast to improve somewhat and by the time I reached Rossett Pike the cloud base had risen, just the wind remained. A slow line to Rossett Pike (following one of the recommended lines over the ridge itself – last time I do that, it’s definitely faster to follow the trods further around to the west after reaching the col at Black Crags and not follow the ridge itself) meant I was only ‘on 20hr schedule but re-gained time heading onto Bowfell via the ramps and across to Esk Pike, despite the snow and slippy conditions.

Given the snow, wet rock and ice, Broad Stand probably wasn’t the hottest decision that day but I needed to remind myself that it was straightforward. Having nearly had a moment, once fully committed I reminded myself that it was, just not in those conditions. I ran down to Wasdale a humbled being and told myself that ‘going’ on Broad Stand would be a crap way to bow out.

Despite deliberately taking it easy up Yewbarrow, I flew up it and reached the summit in 38 minutes, Red Pike, Steeple all came and went. I was now well up on my 20 hour schedule and eating into a sub 19 hour pace. Climbing up Great Gable I was blown off my feet, I was battling but physically not knackered, just mentally drained from fighting the wind and the cold.

I arrived at Honister 9 hours and 2 minutes since leaving Dunmail. I was cold but physically in reasonable shape. I felt pretty good.

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Looking back towards Scafell Pike from Scafell

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Looking down a snowy Broad Stand. My footprints can be seen bottom left.

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Keeping fuelled and trying to stay warm on Steeple.


March

30th ~ 5th (April): Weekly Stats: 40km / 9,711ft

This week was a rest week. So I opted to do practically nothing during the working week. But on Saturday I found myself heading out with Mike Vogler, who is currently training to complete his Big-3 (having already done the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley Rounds), on a modified version of the route that the Great Lakes Race follows. Sunday and it was back out around the Kentmere Horseshoe.


23rd ~ 29th: Weekly Stats: 60km approx / 13,733ft

Gone backwards. I’ve rarely felt so bad as I did on Sunday. Having reached the top of Garburn Pass I stumbled back, barely able to walk I was so low on energy. That was the very definite low point of a week that saw me run the Sedbergh Hills race route in under 3 hours and venture back to Kentmere to run the first of no doubt many laps of the Kentmere Horseshoe over the coming months.

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Beautiful evening light on Froswick

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Seren watching the sun go down over the Kentmere fells


16th ~ 22nd:Weekly Stats: 80km approx / 17,260ft

This week the shorts have finally had an airing. Although the week started mirky and damp, mid-week briefly felt like Spring. A run around the northern side of Langdale allowed me some fine-line recce’ing of the route around Rossett Pike and up onto Bowfell whilst I also ran most of Leg 3 on Saturday.

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On Martcrag Moor during a recce of leg 3

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Pike O Stickle and the central fells from Harrison Stickle



9th ~ 15th: Weekly Stats: 35km approx / 6,693ft (excluding cycling!)

I’ve been in Majorca this week, reminding myself that I’ve not ridden my road bike since August and also reminding myself that you cannot therefore hope to cycle hundreds of kilometres on mountainous roads and not feel considerable pain. I temporarily hate cycling. On top of that a run around the Kentmere Horseshoe, up and down the Old Man of Coniston and Loughrigg Fell have kept the legs ticking over.

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After 3 days of Majorcan warmth this was a shock to the system

 

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Winter not letting go on High Street


1st ~ 8th: Weekly Stats: 15,528ft

March started as you would expect. It felt exactly like the start of the Meteorological Spring – dumping with wet snow as I ran over the Langdale Pikes. Mid-week found me working in the Cairngorms on some winter training courses for our staff. Yet by the end of the week, the weather was finally warming up and with it the running needed to move up a gear and so  I ran around the ‘Skyline’ of the Ian Hodgson Memorial fell race route, four hours of great running.


February

February started as January had ended very cold and snowy. Snow lay to low quite low levels and initially lay, in lee areas, in very deep drifts. But high winds quickly began stripping much of this snow and with low temperatures remaining, the fells became runnable again with hard-packed snow and ice. Training runs at the weekends consisted of slightly longer runs (between 3 and 4 hours) around Troutbeck and Kentmere as well as the Langdale fells whilst mid-week laps continued on Red Screes and High Street.

Finally the running started becoming more consistent and as the light levels began to increase so did the average weekly ascent, creeping back up to the levels I’d been aiming for. Quieter weeks hit the 9,000 ft mark with busier weeks just shy of 13,00oft.

Monthly Ascent: 41, 475ft / Average Weekly Ascent: 10,368ft

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Seren and me above Hayeswater

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Weak winter sunshine on Thornthwaite Crag

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Seren enjoying some winter sunshine on Red Screes

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Early February on Crinkle Crags & Bowfell

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January

Early January lived up to its reputation as a stormy time of year and Atlantic gales rolled in to batter the Lake District. Running was hard, picking routes to avoid the worst of 70 mph winds,fighting the onset of blizzards and coping with the trudge of wet and endlessly boggy ground which sought to suck every last bit of strength out of your legs. Helvellyn from Swirls Car Park became a popular choice for its chunky height gain, solid underfoot terrain and ability to hide from the very worst weather until above Brown Cove Crag.  In little more than an hour, the best part of 800m of vertical height gain could be absorbed and you could be back in the valley.

Luckily or unluckily work took me away for 10 days mid-month giving me some enforced rest.

At the very end of the month winter would make its presence felt again as deep snow and persistently low temperatures brought the most sustained winter conditions of the season. One planned run around the Kentmere horseshoe was abandoned near to Thornthwaite Crag, after deep snow had totally wiped me out. It had taken me 2 hours to get just beyond Froswick, a distance that would normally take around 50 minutes.

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A cold end to a short day on Red Screes

 

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Deep drifts on the Kentmere fells

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Looking towards Helvellyn from Red Screes early in the month

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Cold, damp and a little weary in the Howgill Fells


Christmas

For once, a lack of snowfall in the Alps was not the end of the world. A light, high and stable snow-pack allowed for a running-packed few weeks in the Ecrins, interspersed with a small amount of skiing and ice-climbing. Laps around the forests high above Vallouise coupled with a lung-busting ascent of the Tete D’Amont provided some valuable altitude training.

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Training on Christmas Day. After a morning’s skiing, a run with 700m of vertical ascent to earn that Turkey.

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Training on Boxing Day. Running to the summit of Tete D’Amont.

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Making the most of the sunshine and high snow-level in the Ecrins Massif


December

Weekly Average Ascent: 7,700ft of climbing.

As November went and December came, winter finally began to arrive on the Lakeland Fells. Temperatures finally started falling below freezing and with daylight in short supply my mid-week training concentrated on rounds of Red Screes as well as the occasional run around High Street from Hartsop. Both of which could be squeezed into extended lunch-breaks twice a week. My plan was to focus solely on climbing hills and running as much if not all of every route I went out on. Distance could come much later.

Mid-month saw the first proper snow-falls of winter and some seriously tough but fun running ensued but no sooner had winter proper arrived than it went again in the run up to Christmas as gales and milder / stormy weather returned.

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Very snowy and slow conditions on Pike O Blisco mid-month

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The week before Christmas and it was VERY WET. On Silver Howe.

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Definitely winter. Looking North across to Pike O Stickle

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Thornthwaite Crag can be a lonely place at night. Just Seren for company.

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The fells start to become a cold and bleak place

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The summit of Red Screes…..my most visited fell-top of the whole winter.


November

Weekly Average Ascent: 7,037ft per week

The late Autumn training period was characterised by a distinct lack of anything particularly cold. There had been few crisp and clear days but nor had it been particularly unpleasant ensuring that I was out on the fells in shorts all month. With the days rapidly shortening, running at night on the fells became an increasingly common occurrence as I chased the setting sun on numerous outings. At the same time illness seemed to coincide with planned rest weeks to wipe out any meaningful training for days and weeks at a time which both physically and psychologically was a real blow. Now of all times, was the time to be laying foundations and getting stronger for the long winter ahead.

Despite this, my motivation to get out remained. I’d already decided that the winter was going to largely consist of relatively short runs with as much vertical height gain as I could throw in. Minimising my exposure to the cold, trying not to wear myself down whilst building core strength in my legs.

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Running above Threshthwaite Cove as Autumn draws to a close

 

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Less than an hour later…descending through the darkness towards Hayeswater


August to October

Average Weekly Ascent: August – 8,831ft / September – 9,486ft / October – 8,228ft

It was mid-Summer. I recently supported Rick Stuart on a leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge, I’d had a few good run-outs with little in the way of training including a 5th place in the Elite Class of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon and niggling away at me was my stomping ground. The Lakeland Fells. The most obvious challenge of which was the Bob Graham Round. The effort, commitment and dogged determination immortalised to the masses within Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds.

And so in true-to-myself, very non-committal way I began training. First Step, develop the motivation to get out running every week. Secondly get out running every week. Thirdly prepare for the long months ahead by finding routes I would run in all weathers, day and night. Fourthly, DON’T GET INJURED.

That final step was nearly in the bin before I’d barely got going. Competing in the Rab Mountain Marathon at the end of September I made some stupid navigation and route choice errors and attempted to out-run my mistakes and in the process buried myself. I could barely walk afterwards. But I didn’t stop. I focussed on stretches and conditioning and within 10 days was back up and running.


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Late season ice on The Ben

‘I’ve got a couple of days holiday left, you still keen for winter climbing?’

The daffodils were blooming, Southern England was basking in sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20’s and we were back on the M74 heading north late in the evening. It was shortly before 9pm and only the fading twilight signalled that the depths of winter had long past. Yet winter on The Ben was far from over. As in most years, April can be a magical month to climb snow & ice routes on Britain’s highest mountain and this year has been no exception.

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Ben Nevis in April. Seen from the CIC hut.

 

Hadrians Wall Direct (V,5)

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Chris outside the CIC hut.

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Working my way up the first pitch of Hadrians Wall Direct

 

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Me high on Hadrians Wall Direct, Point 5 on the far right.

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Looking down pitch one to Chris

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Chris overcoming the bulging ice on pitch two

 

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Chris enjoying perfect placements on pitch one

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Me with burning calves on the upper snowfields nearing the summit

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At the summit shelter on Ben Nevis

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Chris coiling the ropes after dispatching Hadrians.

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Spring returns on the descent

 

Smith’s Route (V,5)

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After Twenty plus years since watching ‘On the Edge’ – finally on Smiths Route

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Staring down pitch one of Smiths

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Chris followed by one of the few other teams out that day

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Chris in the ice cave at the top of pitch one of Smiths Route

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Is it steeper than it looks? Try cutting Steps! Chris on pitch two

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The difficulties over, heading for the summit

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Me tackling the final summit headwall….perfect neve

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Me on the summit, peering over the corniced edge

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Chris nearing the top of Smith’s Route. Tower Ridge behind.

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Mission accomplished. Me and Chris after climbing Smith’s Route.

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Sunshine and snow on Ben Nevis

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Just about packed up and ready to go home

 

 

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Late Summer in the Alps

Early September and we’ve been back in the Chamonix valley. The inescapable mix of a small tent, pasta meals and some cheap plonk signalling an end of summer season hit of alpine climbing.

Other than the buzz of helicopters whizzing overhead everything had the quiet feel of late summer winding down into Autumn when we arrived – the sun taking that little bit longer to grace the campsite, the cooler mornings and the dusting of snow from last weeks storms, unmelted on the higher faces. In short conditions felt just about perfect.

We had toyed with the idea of heading straight up to do the Kuffner route on Mont Maudit but thought better of it. Instead we headed to the easier and slightly lower objective of the Forbes arete on the Aiguille du Chardonnet.

Aiguille du Chardonnet – East Ridge (Forbes Arete)

Tuesday saw early Autumn give way to Summer. It was easily in the high 20’s as we left Le Tour for the short chairlift journey upto the Col de Balme, a steady hour’s walk later and we’d reach the Albert Premier. Tranquil it was not, it is currently a cramped and noisy building site.

Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Glacier du Tour

We left the hut at 340am, heading out across the glacier in pursuit of a number of ENSA teams. By the time we had reached the upper Cwm it was gone 5am and we were out in front, weaving our way through the darkness across some rather sporting crevasses before breaking onto the icy slope that led upto the Bosses. Our unacclimatised lungs were gasping slightly as we broke onto East ridge (forbes arete) just after dawn.

Approaching the 'Bosses' at dawn

Approaching the ‘Bosses’ at dawn

The AC guide gives the impression that there is only one technical section (III) with the rest being straightforward. At no time is it difficult, but in the conditions we encountered it offered sustained mixed climbing, a mix of short cracks and walls, exposed ridge lines on rock and firm snow plus one short abseil mid-way from an in-situ sling and maillon (which may be possible to avoid on the left) – all of which went on for a great deal longer than we’d expected.

Rich Bailey on the Forbes Arete at dawn

Exposed climbing on the Forbes Arete

Despite that we stayed ahead of time and pulled round the last gendarme and onto the summit at 859, 5hrs and 19 minutes since leaving the hut.

Dropping off the summit we followed one of the ENSA teams who’d caught us up again and headed for the descent. Not straightforward at the best of times (having climbed the Chardonnet before via the Migot route) we were greeted with a 45 degree bullet hard icy couloir. As the ENSA boys carefully abseiled and lowered their clients down, we turned in, down-climbing ten metres apart with some hastily buried ice screws for security, a small slip here and we could kiss goodbye to a cold beer.

Rich Talbot and Rich Bailey on the summit of Aiguille du Chardonnet

Rich Bailey abseiling

Eventually we broke onto more amenable mixed ground, sticking left (not right as the guidebook suggests) we abseiled down a short wall and found ourselves at a snowy shoulder. Sucking up the slightly thicker air, we dropped down northwards, once again sticking to the far left of the steep convex slope that hid the vast rimaye until Rich was almost in it. A few careful steps and we were on safer ground, tracking back across the glacier, arriving back at the hut some 3 hrs and 15 minutes since summiting.

Contamines – Grisolle Route (Left Edge Route) Pyramid du Tacul

The weather forecast for the end of week was uncertain. Foehn Winds, high 0c isotherms and a potential breakdown were all mentioned as we scanned the Chamonix meteo forecast. Apart from one day of guaranteed good weather all there was, was uncertainty. Our time on the Forbes the day earlier had shown that despite moving relatively quickly, above 3800m we were not moving super-fast. The guides office spoke of longer than expected climbing times on the Kuffner; that coupled with an imminent breakdown of weather at some point on what would be our main climbing day and two less than acclimatised climbers, we regretfully decided to leave the Kuffner route on Maudit for another time. Instead we decided to head to the Pyramid du Tacul, the vast accessible playground that looms over the vallee blanche.

The Contamines  – Grisolle route is one of the ‘easier’ routes on the Pyramid, less steep than the Chere, which we’d both climbed before but longer and more committing. But it was short enough that it should be possible to do in a day push from the first cable-car. The guy in the Guides Office seemed to think it would be possible, preferable to stay at the Cosmiques Hut and get an early start, but doable nonetheless for a fast team in a day from the valley.

We missed the first cable-car by 3 places. And that was already an hour later than normal since the Aiguille du Midi had switched to its Winter time-table. It was 9am by the time we reached the top-station. Heading straight out the tunnel we tracked across the Vallee Blanche as quickly as our lungs could reasonably muster.

Geared up, we crossed the rimaye, and began daggering up the 55 degree snow-slope. It was scorchingly hot, and we were in the middle of a 200 metre snow-slope that was soaking up every last ray. Soft snow gave way to bullet hard ice and back again. Not a great place to be. Keen to get to the relative safety of the mixed ground above, we ran it out, Rich Bailey taking over the lead on the second half of the slope.

Rich Bailey in a hurry on the Contamines - Grisolle

Squeezing back into the shade, I took over once again as I pulled through a small choke that saw us off the steep snow for the time-being. From here the route weaved its way through intricate mixed ground, bullet-hard plate ice every-where, interspersed by spikes and chimneys of bleached granite.

Mid-way on the Contamines - Grisolle Route

Conscious of time ticking-away, we pushed on upwards, a mixture of simul-climbing and direct belays affording us some security. Reaching the upper snow-field, I was running low on gear, out of extenders, prussiks were looped to the few wires I had left, ice-screws clipped directly, but didn’t want to stop to re-group so in the end I just ran it out.  We pushed on until we had reached the final spur that led up towards the summit of the Tacul Triangle. Here we could re-group, re-sort the rack and climb the last few metres over easier mixed ground.

Crossing the upper snow-field on the Contamines - Grisolle route

Originally we had planned to join to the normal route and continue onto the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul but with it already 1245 and cumulus cloud bubbling up all around us we took the option to descend. A short climb along the snowy ridge brought us to a potential traverse line, from where an exposed traverse brought us down to the Voie Normale.

Hours later, sat in the campsite we read through numerous UKC posts about epics on the route we had just completed, benightments, route choice errors and simply sustained climbing among the list of comments about a route which perhaps isn’t always that straightforward. In that context our 3 1/2 route time from bottom to top didn’t seem so bad.

 

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Frozen Warmth

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The central fells from High Street

Another stunning day in the Lake District, but with virtually no winds, feeling much warmer today.

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Steph and Seren running on High Street, a frozen Hayeswater far below

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Looking across to Fairfield and Helvellyn

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Running across a frozen High Street

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Rich and Seren on High Street

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Descending back towards Hayeswater and Hartsop

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No Lamb, just lions

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April in the Helvellyn range. Steph Jones with Catstyecam behind hikes up to the snowline.

What a sensational end to March. Our equal second coldest March on record in the UK, the fourth coldest on record in Cumbria, persistently sub-zero conditions on the fells and mountains and with easterly winds blowing for the most part, the first decent spell of dry weather we have had in certainly a year and possibly two.

Heavy Snow, Storm Force Winds, deep drifts, bullet-hard neve, sunshine, sublime ice and sunburn. We’ve had it all. Climbs that felt too easy, tours that felt like fights for survival and in between just some really nice days out. The saying goes that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, well not this year, the few lambs that were around, were mostly sheltering in barns. Rather than get warmer, March just seemed to get colder. Pictures speak a thousand words so here goes:

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Rich Bailey exits the crux pitch on No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe

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Steph looks back to ‘The Old Man of Coniston’

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Gillian Hines on a cold and snowy round of the Coniston Fells

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Short changed. Rich Bailey packs up after ‘a bit short and a bit easy ascent’ of No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe. We climbed it in a day hit from Kendal.

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I struggle with storm-force winds and skis acting as sails above Thirlmere. Photo courtesy of Richard Bailey.

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Steph Jones and Rich Bailey soak up the sun above Kirkstone. Not just a Good Friday but a Great Friday. Easter 2013.

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The hunter earns his reward. After some searching, I savour a thousand feet of continuous vertical descent from Stonycove Pike.

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Steph is quickly back in the groove, linking turns on Stonycove Pike

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Above Kirkstone Pass

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I enjoy my lightweight Dynafit set up and alpine-like conditions above Kirkstone

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Dan Shacklock and Steph Jones do battle with a late March storm

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Rich Bailey and I mull over the options in search of a snowy descent. Nr Kirktsone.

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Ski to Road. Steph Jones descends into Thirlmere.

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Chris Jakeman savours a leisurely start on the first day of ‘British Summer Time’ on Raven Crag Gully (III / IV). We left the Car Park at 5:15pm!

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Running pitches, we climb the Cold Climbs classic, Raven Crag Gully in just 2 hours. Good thing, it would be dark in one hour. It was 730pm!

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Its 7:55pm. Chris Jakeman steady away on ‘possibly the finest pitch of ice in the Lake District’ as twilight fades to night.

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Rich Bailey traversing the exit slopes of No.6 Gully, Aonach Dubh, Glencoe

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I struggle to stay upright as windslab loads onto the leeward slopes beneath Brown Cove Crags. Photo courtesy of Richard Bailey.

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Approximately 7pm on the first day of British Summer Time looking towards Skiddaw. Magical.

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I’m ready to go with one relatively light ski pack. Steph is behind, taking a photo!

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Steph Jones skinning towards Stonycove Pike

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Little sign of spring. Low Water locked in ice.

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Catstyecam (LH), Swirral Edge and Helvellyn from lower slopes of Raise.

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Me en route to Raise, Catstyecam behind.

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A cold and deserted car park in Thirlmere. Note how much snow lies on the relatively low slopes behind!

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Back on it….

I’d finished last weeks Kendal Winter League on Scout Scar in an indifferent mood, which was firmly reinforced by a Facebook notification from Mike Vogler, which I’ll paraphrase, 42 miles and 11’oooft this week. Put my five mile jaunt around the scar into perspective.

Clearly I needed to get back to running and after thoroughly tough week in which my courageous cousin lost her battle with illness, there was a renewed kick to stop wasting my time and finding excuses.

And so as the morning darkness began to relinquish its grip on the day I found myself on Saturday driving into Langdale to meet up with Mike to join him on a training run. He’s got his eyes set on a Paddy Buckley Round in May, I simply needed to get going again, and for the time being, ensure my training is at least at the same intensity as last year. That frankly doesn’t mean very much but is better than doing nothing. Mike was keen for a steady run around the tops of Langdale. It sounded perfect.

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Winding my way along the lanes out of Chapel stile I was greeted with clag and an obvious snow-line at 500m. A slight change of plan saw us heading straight up the Band, Thunacar Knott in the clag seemed like an unnecessary slog.

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By the time we had traversed into the top of the gully high above Three Tarns, a cold, damp, numbing wind was blowing. Rime Ice was steadily building on the rocks all around, and a perfect ankle busting layer of ice and snow was laid out for us to enjoy. Hardly ideal and neither of us had thought to bring any micro-spikes. And so with no views to enjoy, and both keen to keep any form of tempo up, we didnt hang about made the quick switch-back to Bowfells summit before heading back across Crinkle Crags.

We took a slightly circticious route to Long Top, the clag was down and in the white haze spotting any line, let alone the fast one was difficult. From here the clouds began to lift and as we rejoined the main path, dropping down over the bad step, we picked up the pace once more en route to Pike O Blisco. The final pull onto Blisco was thankfully short lived, and some 15 minutes after leaving its lofty top we found ourselves back at Stool End Farm.

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Kendal Winter League

2013 has come in rather as 2012 finished, a bit damp, and the conditions for the first race in this years Kendal Winter League were little different.

Training has been somewhat lacking lately, a combination of excuses amounting to a handful of runs and a couple of track sessions since mid November. And so yet again the fierce fury of Scout Scar would be the perfect tonic for underused legs.

I set off too quickly, struggling with pacing and the reality of not being as quick as I would like currently. The mist was doing its best to tear itself apart from the Scar but there were few views this Sunday. Slightly longer than last years course, we wound our way around the Scar, losing a steady handful of places as I settled into a more realistic position.

Was this year more painful than last? I couldn’t remember, but if my chest was to contract with oxygen debt any more I would be crippled, I felt my body accept a slightly lower gear, I had reached it’ll do mode. My legs had struggled to open into anything like a stride, the whole run had felt force. Remind me to not switch to that mode again.

Some 33 minutes later and I was running hard down the final incline towards the finish. The winter league is just training, it doesn’t matter. Yeah right, and I am also not competitive…some 24 hours later I was back at the track with some rekindled desire.

Position: 27th TBC Time: 33 minutes TBC

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