An attempt on 4th June 2004
On Friday 4th June/Saturday 5th June I attempted the Bob Graham Round. Duncan Copley from Ulverston was to accompany me for the whole round with other pacers for individual sections. We were attempting a clockwise circuit on a 22hr schedule. The following is a short account:
We set off from Keswick at 1900 under clear skies with a fresh breeze. We jogged to the start of the incline up the track to Latrigg then walked the rest of the bridleway to the car park, avoiding mountain bikers out for the evening on the way. After running the short flat section beyond this we got into walking mode up the big grind to the gate by Skiddaw Little Man. A couple of hundred metres of jogging then it was back to walking to the summit getting there 10mins up.
We ran/jogged down the fell to the Skiddaw House track where we stopped for a couple of minutes for water and a snack. There is a solitary post on the south ridge of Great Calva so we headed up right following a small trod to that then kept to the good path on the south ridge of Great Calva and reached the summit 18mins up on our schedule. Took a southerly line off Great Calva ( basically the direct line to Blencathra), in the process crossing the River Caldew dryshod (!) near a sheepfold on the far side of the river that is unmarked on the map. We then all got wet feet by falling into bogs! We then continued in same line over tussocky grass to gain the summit cairn of Mungrisedale Common.
The only decent track on the moor leads from here to Blencathra. Going up the last slopes of this Duncan fell behind as he began to feel rough and gained the summit a minute or so after Ali and me. It was now just beginning to get dark and headtorches were needed. The descent of Halls ridge went far better than I expected, we just seemed to get the best line and we trotted down to the main road 22mins up on schedule. Cath (my wife) said later that I looked totally fresh and really strong - I certainly felt that way.
Somehow I had only got 4mins down for the rest! I had always said that if we were ahead on time that I would take more at this point so we took 12 of the gained minutes. (I have since changed the schedule to give 15mins)
With John H as pacer we left Threlkeld at 2238 and walked along the road to Newsham house. We took a line across the moor to gain the left hand skyline of Clough Head. This way is much drier than the direct line but is through long grass at times. I was starting to find it hard to keep up with John H and Duncan and had to pause for a breather every few minutes. We eventually crossed the old coach road and found the track up the ridge to reach the summit 2mins down on the expected time but still 8mins to the good.
The full moon failed to materialise and we wasted a moment or two finding the main path. I was still finding the going tough for some reason and we lost a further 4mins on the way to Great Dodd. Even running most of the way to Watson Dodd we lost time again (turning too early and missing the path did not help) and on the way to Stybarrow I got sudden cramp in my left thigh so time was spent sorting this out. At Stybarrow we were now in the cloud and it became increasingly difficult to see: our torches would only illuminate a circle of mist at around waist height and not the ground. The next two summits were disasters: we took 34mins where we should have taken 19.
Somehow we gained a little time getting to Helvellyn but lost it again on the next leg. It was nearly impossible to run as there was no way of telling if there were stones sticking out of the path or whatever. We dropped down the old fence line off Dollywaggon and circled round to Hause where we left our packs and set off up Fairfield. The Fairfield screes are interminable and tonight was no exception, we lost 14mins on this bit. The descent went well and back with our packs we gained time going up to Seat Sandal but lost it on the descent, finally dropping out of the cloud to see the lantern by Steve’s tent. We were now 30mins behind schedule and a photo taken at Dunmail shows me starting to feel the strain.
After a 15min feed and change of clothes we set off up Steel Fell with Steve Brock pacing us, I was far quicker on this ascent than last year but we still lost time. We were now back in the cloud and wind so back on with the top. Calf Crag and Sergeant Man came and went in times just outside what was needed but High Raise exposed us to the high wind again. Coming off Thunacar Knott we got lost in the mist again and wasted time figuring out which was the correct path. The Langdale Pikes appeared and disappeared through the mist but the constant wet and wind was draining us and by now we had dropped behind the 23hr schedule. When we got to the beck in Langdale Combe we stopped for our planned 5mins recuperation.
By the time we got to Rossett Pike we were 40mins off the 23hr pace and 80 off the 22hr. The ascent of Bowfell was not as bad as it could have been and we gained some time in crossing Esk Pike and Great End, but it was not enough and the ascent up to Scafell Pike saw me fall well behind Duncan and Steve. I took nearly 20mins for this 12min section - I had just had enough of the constant driving water which now was full on rain, so I said to the other two that I was packing it in and was going down from here. Steve gave me some Jelly Babies to eat on the way down and they set off for Broad Stand. A couple of minutes later they pass me! One of us is wrong, unfortunately it is them and they scurry off to find the correct path. I staggered down the steps to Brown Tongue and then the track at Brackenclose, Duncan and Steve are just descending the steep gully off Scafell and are about 10mins behind me having lost a further twenty minutes or so.
Duncan then decided that he might have a chance of getting round so he set off with John Preston (of Keighley and Craven) but by the time they got to Black Sail Pass they were losing time again and Duncan said that he was feeling dizzy and not in control so they called it a day at 1410.
In retrospect I made the right decision when I did as I was in the early stages of hypothermia and I was still cold 12hrs later when I got home and went to bed. Duncan said that he feels that he should have quit at Wasdale as well but was on auto-pilot and not really thinking it through, again likely to be early signs of hypothermia especially since he is of slight build. As the mountaineer Don Whillans used to say, “the mountains will always be here. The trick is to make sure you are”.
The times tell their own tale. Much of the time lost was down to navigation on the night-time section: it was nearly impossible to tell if you were on the path or not. Also moving at night with only a fuzzy circle of light proved to be somewhat disorientating.
The following shows our times at for each leg. Times quicker than or the same as the schedule have a green background, those that were slower have a red background.