“Can I ask why you’re doing that?”
It wasn’t the first comment that had been passed my way that day but it was certainly the most direct. I had the choice of my parking ticket expiring or needing to get to the pub in a hurry, after all who would be running around the peaks and fell-sides of Langdale for fun? I chose the excuse of needing to get to the pub.
I was just under 2 hours into my first proper recce of the Langdale Horseshoe fell race, 14 miles of some of the finest fell running going, clambering and descending it’s way from the Old Dungeon Gyhll hotel over the Langdale Pikes, across to Esk Hause and onto Bowfell before heading for home across Crinkle Crags and Pike O Blisco. After taking a poor route in search for the racing line around the rocky tops of Crinkle Crags I was back on course climbing up to Long Top at 860 metres. The air was still, my brow dry and my legs feeling the grassy incline that marked the direct and fastest line onto the summit top.
My day had started just after 11am after a leisurely start as I waited for the morning mist and fog to clear. Having parked up in the field adjacent to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel I set out steadily traversing across the hillside towards Stickle gill I was soon on the sustained climb up towards Stickle Tarn. The going is never horrendous but it is relentless, a thousand odd feet of climbing with little in the way of respite with the steepest ground left until the very last section.
I made my way up the left hand side of the gill, avoiding the bulk of the steady stream of tourists making their way upwards on the right hand side of the stream. But I couldn’t avoid the hoards for ever and the steepest section was reached, timed perfectly to coincide with a large group of walkers who had crossed over from the right. I picked my way past, weaving and dodging amongst the rock steps and grassy tussocks, losing a bit of rhythm and being reminded of my exhausted legs in the process. Within a minute or so I had reached the small dam that’s marks the foot of Stickle Tarn. Time for a moments rest.
From Stickle Tarn my route was to take me around it’s edge before climbing up and behind Pavey Ark. I had a poor climb up towards Thunacar Knott, my legs felt powerless but as the incline eased and the terrain opened up in front my spirits picked up. The air was clear, the going good if a little waterlogged and with no haze, an unhindered view across the central fells.
It mentioned in the race notes about crossing your fingers as you cross Martcrag Moor, i hadn’t. I pulled myself from the choking soup that had just swallowed my left leg. The bog had been deeper than I bargained for, I’d gone in right down to the top of my thigh, only my lightweight frame and quick reactions preventing me from going in further. I was caked in layer of peaty soup. I stopped to wash myself down before continuing my descent down towards Stake Pass. Dropping down slightly further brings you to a deceptively fast trod that picks it’s way towards the top of Black Crags before a flat and reasonably fast run across open ground brings you to Angle Tarn.
Having reached the exposed col of Esk Hause my eyes traced across the fell side looking for the ‘direct but awful’ trod that traverses underneath Esk Pike. A quick scan of the map showed a level traverse and having set off, I was quickly on a distinguishable and reasonably runnable trod, nothing like the race description would indicate, it’s not a path but then this isn’t road running either, I soon found myself at Ore Gap.
Feeling relatively fresh I picked my across the faint trod that runs parallel to the main tourist path, pausing briefly on the summit of Bowfell at 903m before thundering down the scree to emerge at Three Tarns. From here I attempted to find the racing line that skirts to the West of the main Crinkle Crags ridge path, but must have wandered to far Westwards. 50 metres is nothing when running, but having dropped down 30 metres lower than anticipated, I was faced not only with the climb onto Long Top but an unnecessary and calf sapping charge to get back on the right line.
The passing walker who threw his comment into the air probably hadn’t realised that when he saw me, nor realised that my legs were burning every bit as his probably were earlier in his day. But then maybe he had, maybe that’s exactly why he thought I was clearly mad. But everyone should remember that running is only one stage on from walking, as walking is to crawling, it’s all relative.
In less than 25 minutes I would be arriving on the summit of Pike O Blisco. I had rarely seen it’s lofty summit top as busy as it was that day. And a fine place it was to be supping a warm coffee from it’s elevated position high above the Langdale valley. I stuck to my word, I was in a hurry for a pint and so continued my charge to the valley floor.
Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race ( Recce ).
Distance: 14 miles Ascent: 4000ft Time: 2 hrs 55 minutes