Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bob Graham Round - attempt #4

So its Saturday morning at just before 9 am and me and Gavin are ready to attack the Bob Graham Round together for a second time, having had a go and failed together this time last year. Last year's attempt had largely failed because we hit extraordinarily bad weather in the night time section which slowed us down badly, made navigation extremely difficult and froze us solid so much so that we had to bail out before hypothermia set in. Interestingly (or perhaps not interestingly) I also had two other attempts at the BGR last year, both of which were also hobbled by bad weather (and to be fair some bad navigation.... and some bad food eating..... and some poor tapering before hand). So bad weather and poor results at attempting Bob Graham Rounds seem to have a very close correlation to each other.

Therefore the fact that it was already lashing down with rain and that we were all wearing full waterproofs didn't bode well. Nor did the weather forecast which was predicting rain showers until late afternoon, when a rain deluge to last a 'few' hours was predicted to set in. What exactly does a 'few' mean? Added to that very high winds and significant hill fog were forecast all day, especially above 700 meters (the height above which we would of course be spending most of our time).

That said what's the Lake District without a bit of wet weather? Its the wettest region in England (by a country mile) with Seathwaite in Borrowdale being the wettest habited place in England with average annual rainfall of 3,300 mm. Sprinkle Tarn just below Great End (one of our Bob Graham peaks) is the wettest location with 5,000 mm per annum of rain on average - for comparison Manchester, which is supposed to be wet, has around 800 mm a year and the southern softies in London a mere 600 mm! Apparently the peaks in the Lakes suffer gale force winds 100 days of the year too with hill fog being extremely common. Taken all together its not like our weather forecast was anything unusual so whats to worry about........

Gav, me and Hester, who was riding shotgun as our leg 1 support runner, already wet and ready to go

The final needle in the haystack unfortunately was Andrew who had turned up with Stef to wish us good luck but, instead of giving us a rip roaring 'go get 'em' send off, the look of doom and gloom on Andy's face was more akin to Private Fraser from Dad's Army.....

Andrew's pre-match motivational speech

Anyway we were fully prepared and ready to rock n'roll regardless. All we needed to do was run/trog something like 65 miles over 42 peaks of the Lake District in less than 24 hours in less than desirable weather without getting lost, falling off a mountain and/or freezing to death and Bob was our uncle. Bring it on!

As we were running the Bob Graham route anti-clockwise (supposedly harder and for sure very few runners seem brave enough to try it this way round) our first leg was to Honister Slate Mine via five or so miles of country lanes and another five miles over the peaks of Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head. That leg, despite one pretty heavy down pour, was a doddle and we got to Honister 10 minutes ahead of our schedule.

At Honister we had Gavin's parents on hand as road support. We grubbed up, changed one or two tops and swapped Hester for Karl who was supporting on the next leg, an 11 mile toughish rocky clamber over Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike and Yewbarrow with us then hopefully ending up in Wasdale for our next pit stop. This leg too went well with little or no rain falling although we did have lots of hill fog and really strong, buffeting winds. We were cooking on gas and circa 20 minutes up on our schedule (targeting a 23 hour finish overall) at Wasdale.

By now it was about 4 pm and the bad weather was supposedly due but the weather remained surprisingly dry as we climbed almost to the top of Scafell, our first peak of the next leg..... when we were suddenly surrounded by dark clouds, the skies opened and the forecast deluge began..... and didn't noticeably stop for the next twelve hours!!! So a 'few' equals 12 in case you were wondering. 

Before long we resembled a group of drowned skunks. I say we - me and Gav had swapped out Karl and now had Roy, Dale and Adnan as our support team with Dale expertly on the navigation. This leg is the toughest and certainly the longest (16 or so miles) and crosses the boulder strewn peaks of Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike and Bowfell before dropping down to Rossett Pike and then passing through the Langdales via Pike O'Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag and Steel Fell and finally dropping down to the road at Dunmail.

We also had welcome drinks and biscuits from Mark and his beautiful collie Basil on top of Scafell and had a further team of Stuart and Brett trying to set a rope onto Broad Stand, a notoriously slippy in wet weather short cut down a cliff face with an off puttingly shear drop to one side. Needless to say the weather was far too dangerous for this short cut to be a sensible option and we took a longer but much safer line to Scafell Pike via Foxes Tarn. Thanks though to Stuart and Brett for risking life and limb and giving it a go.

The weather now was extremely miserable with the rain literally hammering down on us and making all the rocks and boulders we had to clamber over especially treacherous. Never the less we remained ahead of our schedule right across the Scafell range but were all getting chilled to the bone by the time we got to Rossett Pike. From there to Dunmail it became much slower going with the rain lashing and the ground extremely wet and swampy with what are normally tricklely little becks becoming white water rafting torrents.

By the time we reached Dunmail we were behind schedule by 20 minutes and were very cold and wet. I gratefully gulped down some soup and bread that Hester thrust at me, completely changed into a full set of warm togs and off we went again. We swapped Dale out and got in return Kev and a group of four of his friends, with Roy and Adnan staying along for the ride. So a crew of nine of us set off up Seat Sandel and our head torches soon disappeared from view to the road crew below of Hester, Hilary, Gordon and Adrienne..... into the dark and wet and wind and fog. 

This leg starts with three back to back climbs of Seat Sandel, Fairfield and Dollywaggon before following the Helvellyn range north over Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Great Dodd and Clough Head and finally descending to Threlkeld after about 14 miles. It was here that our wheels fell off last year........... and it was here again that our wheels fell off this year. The whole ridge was terribly exposed to the wind and rain with very poor visibility in the thick hill fog and, despite our best efforts, we just kept on losing time. Never the less we battled on to Threlkeld but, by the time we got there, we were all pretty cold and bedraggled (I was frozen) and we'd run out of reasonable time to make an attempt on the last 13 mile leg, the peaks of Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw, worthwhile. Dabnabbit!

All the same what an epic twenty and a half hour or so adventure in the hills! Hester was truly magnificent throughout and I was so pleased to see her at each pit stop. At the end she was busy wrapping me in towels and getting me dry clothes and stuffing me in the car to get warm. And getting me cups of tea and soup. And generally making a right mess of my car (joke in brackets). Oh and thanks for the as yet unidentified support runner on that last leg who put a full custard carton with the lid off in my rucksack..... I'll track you down never fear ;)

Next up The Lakeland 100!!!

Hester climbing Robinson on leg 1

View from Dale Head - leg 1

Gav and Karl descending the scree gully from Kirk Fell - leg 2

Dropping off of Yewbarrow into Wasdale - leg 2

Dale and Gav going up Scafell - leg 3

The weather closing in.... and my last photo - leg 3

Mine and Hester's tipi at the finish. Luxury...

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