An attempt on 3rd July 2004
Within a matter of days of the June attempt I was feeling fresh and willing to try again. The next full moon was the first weekend in July so I informed all those who had helped me on the first attempt plus several who had been unavailable for that weekend.
Unfortunately, the chosen weekend was also that of the Saunders Mountain Marathon so several could not make it. In the end I ended up with Cath in support; three pacers and one person to fix Broad Stand. In addition Alistair who was going to pace the first two legs announced that he had sprained his ankle running the previous weekend and might not be able to do it. At this point I was 70% in favour of calling off the attempt.
Andy, who was going to fix Broad Stand for me, reckoned that the weather forecast was improving for the weekend. Indeed most of the web-based forecasts reckoned on improving conditions though one did still mention thunderstorms! So, on the Thursday afternoon, I said that we would go for it. This was going to be a lightweight BGR. This time it was to be a midnight start so that we would get the night section out of the way.
Friday evening and it is very windy at home: what will it be like on the tops? As we drive over to the Lakes the skies darken with heavy clouds. At Ingleton, the heavens open - it does not look good. By the time we get to Dunmail to meet Alistair, things have improved however. We help Steve put his tent up - he was going to sleep there before pacing the third leg again. We pulled into the car park at Keswick with an hour and a half to go.
There was another party that looked like they were doing the BGR - it turned out to be a group from Northumberland runners. They were doing a midnight start as well, also going clockwise. There were loads of them! It made my attempt look positively malnourished. They were aiming for a time of between 22-30 and 23-30.
My watch was our official timepiece but it is three minutes fast. Since I have forgotten how to alter the time on it, we leave three minutes before the Geordie group. This time we get the directions in Keswick right and jog through the park to cross the A66 and start up the bridleway. This attempt is a straight-forward 23.5hr round, no fancy ideas about getting a good time: 23-59 will do.
As soon as we enter the woods we walk, a fast walk but walking nonetheless. It is warm out of the breeze but on gaining Latrigg car park we catch it and its cooling effect. There is a solitary car in the park, slightly odd but... I am determined that we do not go too quickly here and we walk the level section out of the car park towards Skiddaw, our torches creating little circles of light on the ground in front of us. The ground rises and we pass through the first gate on the track. Behind us we see the lights of the Geordie team. We march ever upward, sweating a little despite the cool night air. “What the ... ! Oh no!” cries Ali as his torch fades, “I was sure there were fresh batteries in it” “What the! Oh no!” cries Ali as his torch fades, “I was sure there were fresh batteries in it” Now just using the one torch we gain the second gate on the hour mark and climb into the cloud, the wind getting stronger with every metre height gained.
As we near the rise to the summit ridge, we see lights ahead through the mist. Half a dozen teenagers pass us with only a quick “hello”. What are they doing up here at one in the morning? The summit of Skiddaw is wild tonight and we just remember the time before dropping down to the fence and heading for Great Calva. With only one torch it is slow going, the complete cloud cover negating the full moon. As we near Hare Crags, a light appears ahead. “Not more kids out at night”? However the light does not move and we decide that it is a marker for the Northumberland team.
At the track we meet the owner of the light, unfortunately she does not have any spare batteries. Looking back we see the approaching lights of our pursuers. As luck would have it, one of them has a spare torch and lends it to Ali. Refreshed after our stop and taking of food, we pull out the GPS and aim for the post on the ridge. Ali is most impressed when we arrive at the correct point. The summit of Great Calva is reached four minutes down on the schedule: not bad given that we only had one torch for the descent of Skiddaw.
We pass the other team on the south summit and use the GPS to direct us to the river crossing. “What was the summit time?” a voice asks. We look round and find we have gained a body! It becomes apparent that he has mistaken our lights for those of his friends, it is a moment before he reaches the same conclusion and heads off looking for them. Since they are taking a different line to us this is fortunate!
As we descend the heather gets deeper. After crossing the track it is as if we are walking about a foot off the ground as we walk on the heather rather than through it. At the River Caldew, the boulders are damp so rather than risk hopping across them, we wade across to our second stop. More plum loaf and water. The ascent of Mungrisedale Common is, to be blunt, tedious and there are several false horizons. Looking back down we can see the lights of the Northumberland party still gaining the river, following the fence off Great Calva is not the best way. Once again the GPS comes up trumps and we get to the small cairn that marks the highest point of the common. The good track leads off into the mirk.
By now the moon is trying to make an appearance and there is enough light for me not use my torch. When the path fades we already back in the cloud and we fail to head right to the screes at the back of Blencathra, instead we end up on the main path and follow this across the saddle to the summit.
The rocks on Halls Fell are very slippy and it now begins to spit with rain. The descent is tortuous, much of it on our backsides. Occasionally we stray from the path and have to scramble over slippery slabs to regain the better line. Ali stumbles and knocks his hand as he tries to steady himself, I tweek my shoulder doing the same. The batteries in my torch now begin to fade, despite them being fresh at the start and not having used them for a good part of the last hour, there is light in the sky though as daybreak approaches. Eventually we reach the easier ground and trot down to the stile and then the road. The Geordie support team is by the council depot and Ali returns the torch. Cath is waiting on the other side of the main road.
We are now 13mins down on schedule. “Not bad, given the conditions” remarks Ali. It has taken us nearly forty minutes to descend Halls Fell - we did it in 22mins last time. We cram as much food and drink into us as we can and pull five minutes back by shortening the break. Having the intermediate stops has helped as it has meant that we have kept eating.
We trot along the road and emerge onto the fell. We take the same line as previously, though this time the rain means that we are not dryshod. We gain the old coach road about 300m from the hut and elect to continue directly to the ridge. Once there we make good time to the point where the angle eases, this time I do not have to keep stopping. As the angle eases, the path moves to the very edge of the north slope, however the wind is so strong that we are forced to keep ten metres or so down to the lee side. We gain the summit in just 50mins. We are now back on schedule.
Today the track is obvious and we run down to the broad col between Clough Head and Great Dodd. We stop at Calfhow Pike to record the summit time of Clough head as it is out of the wind. The cloud definitely looks like breaking up. Great Dodd is reached in the cloud, but two minutes up. A bit of time is lost coming off the top but soon we are running along the path to Watson’s Dodd where we take on more food.
The cloud is coming and going: we get good views across to the North West in the breaks, the wind is still strong though. Stybarrow passes easily enough and we gain the good path leading to Raise. It is about now that the rain begins in earnest. There is a solitary walker out “Walking the parish boundary” as we cross the summit this time we get the right line to White Side and on to Helvellyn Lower Man. The rain increases in intensity. As we begin the climb up to Lower Man the wind becomes so strong that we are pushed off the path. It is now getting very nasty - the rain is not slackening and neither is the wind. Despite this we get to both Lower Man and Helvellyn on schedule. Ali is thinking “If I were Bob, I'd quit before too long”, a minute later I say we should bin it. While in the shelter on Helvellyn the Northumberland team trot past - surely now on a 23.5hr schedule. We put on another layer of waterproofs, grab some more eats and head along the path.
We catch the Northumberland team up just as they head off the track to look for Nethermost Pike, but they are in the wrong place. I shout this over to them but the wind rips my words away and they continue. At the point where the two Helvellyn paths divide we talk - they announce that they are carrying on. We head down the Wythburn path, not at speed as there is no urgency now. We are discussing what lies in wait for them (high head winds and rain) when we meet yet more teenagers heading up. This at 7am! They are doing the “walk for the world” apparently.
As we drop out of the clouds we see the lower fells laced with ribbons of white where all the becks are in spate. The path is steep so we take our time and get to Dunmail about ten minutes after Cath has arrived. Also there are the Northumberland lads who have also decided to call it a day. The weather at Dunmail is bad enough that the dog does not want to get out of the car! I ring the rest of the support team to let them know that we have quit. After drying off we decide to head for Wilf’s Cafe for breakfast. It is still raining.
Well, yet again the weather conspired against us - just bad luck and eternal optimism. Having breaks mid sections to take food and water certainly helped as I find that I just cannot get large amounts of food down my neck at the road crossings. The pace was very easy, if Halls Fell had not been so slippery and the batteries in Ali’s torch not faded we would have been well up on schedule without really trying.
There's always next year!
Despite the weather we did pretty well with respect to our schedule. The only real disappointment was the time taken to descend Halls Fell, but given the conditions we found it in, it was better to be safe than sorry.
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.