The Lakeland 42 peaks

Starting and finishing at Moot Hall in Keswick the traditional Bob Graham Round (BGR) takes in the following peaks:

Skiddaw, Great Calva, Saddleback, Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside, Helvellyn Lower Man, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon Pike, Fairfield, Seat Sandal, Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Thunacar knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle, Rosset Pike, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crags, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Scafell, Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts, Dale Head, Hindscarth, Robinson.

A rough measurement (including wiggles) gives 27000ft, 72 miles , although the distance can be brought down to around 65 miles with good route knowledge. To bring the total to 50 peaks (and beyond) there is a natural selection from the following:

Lonscale Fell, Skiddaw Little Man, Little Calva, Munringsdale Common, Foule Crag, Blease Fell, Calfhow Pike, Hart Crag, Great Rigg, Pavey Ark, Loft Crag, Hanging Knotts, Allen Crags, Stirrup Crag, Little Scoat Fell, Black Fell, Looking Stead, Base Brown. High Snab.

Choices in the above selection are also a little dubious as some only need 6ft of extra ascent! As opposed to say a 40 or 50 peak route, etc, this particular 42 peak round is quite `popular' and now more so. However the popularity is only in the weak sense: the numbers attempting this are similar to those who climb Everest. The total ascent is close (Everest at 29000ft), although you don't need to carry oxygen up Scafell Pike. Historically Bob Graham completed this route on his 42nd birthday in 1932, and what made this challenge slightly more enigmatic was the fact that no one was able to get round within 24 hours again until 1960. Pre-1932, the Lakeland 3000's was certainly walked by many, and there was the `Wakefield Round' of a similar scale to the BGR (but much less ascent). The pre-1932 rounds however could all be done by strong walkers. The BGR generally requires running although for demonstration purposes it has been walked (but no doubt `very forcefully'). Of course the time around the BGR now is down to under 14 hours, and the 24 peak record in the region of 77 peaks. There is also a vast array of literature on the BGR, from climbing Broad Stand to ways of mixing rice pudding with lucozade.

Scotland and Wales have their equivalent 24 hour running routes (resp. `Paddy Buckley Round' and `Ramsey Round') but these are not so popular at present. In fact the Welsh 24 hour round doesn't go over all the 3000ft peaks, and is not designed as a natural extension of the Welsh 3000's. The outlying peaks that include Foel Fras don't make a good line to get to back into central Snowdonia. The Scottish 24 hour round includes Ben Nevis and the route is hard to support as there are no road crossings. This latter round is certainly a difficult mountaineering exercise and you can expect snow all year round, and a winter Ramsey Round is yet to be achieved in under 24 hours.

Personal encounters with the BGR (and variations).

Attempts on this have been post 2007, and I detail below some of the the highs and lows! On those occasions I made it about half way or 2/3 of the way around before falling too far behind schedule. A detailed overview of a more serious attempt in 2010 is given HERE. I would say good luck with the weather is a key, but it's also good to know how you'll feel after being on the fells for a good 16 hours with another 8 hours to go (or so). It's possible (and not uncommon) to run a "blinder" but its also easy to come unstuck about half way around - and you need to know how to motivate yourself to go further.

Most of my attempts have been semi-supported or "alpine style." Semi supported in the sense of being met at road crossings and/or having supporters on a few of the five legs. Done alpine style usually means not having any fell nor road support - so you have to carry all your stuff and seeing what fate decides! You also need to get yourself off the mountain safely if things go pear shaped. In my case, logistical reasons have usually dictated what available support there is. In particular having large support groups can put added restrictions on the days for which an attempt can be made (usually planned around June). On the whole it is good to have friends running around with you on these long fell adventures, but I think the alpine style approach is most favourable if you want to go off into the fells ad-hoc.

Moreoever my recent attempts have not technically complied to a formal BGR as I've recently chosen to start and end in Grasmere but still with the intention of taking in the conventional 42 peaks. This option is sometimes more convenient especially when done solo and when relying on public transport. Going clockwise you can choose to start late morning after a good night's sleep (tpyically depart Grasmere around 11am) and try to get the difficult peaks out the way first. Steel Fell is the first peak encountered via a gentle climb, while the last peak is Fairfield with options to add in more peaks on the descent to Grasmere. However this route (and going via Foxes tarn) adds in almost 1000ft extra compared to the conventional round. On such an attempt(s) I made it as far as Skiddaw summit (circa 18000ft, 48 miles) but with 6h30 left on the clock and tiredness getting the upper hand and I opted to head direct to an awaiting car at Threlkeld. Another occasion I bivvied off the Honister pass after getting benighted in the Great Gable section (and so lost considerable time).

General comments

For some of the June/July (conventional Moot Hall start/finish) attempts I opted to do the Helvellyn ridge at night. This is easy in the day time with clear weather. However trying to run along the ridge in the misty/rainy dark and then bag all the tops (with precision) you find that time is quickily eaten up. I found that I took 40 mins to come off Steel Fell as I got trapped by the boulder fields above Dunmail Raise, so you're best doing this in the daylight too. On another attempt I got stuck in a bog near Calf Crag, again in the dark, and this added to the delays. Such antics lead me in the first instance as far as Wasdale an hour or two behind schedule. In the second instance I tempted myself into sleeping on Helm Crag (which in retorspect turned out to be a nice bivvy site overlooking Grasmere).

For Broad Stand, I have found the rock at the time very wet and the various climbs have turned into a mini-epics. I've had climbing friends supporting this, although I have been up this before in dry weather. A good survey of the climb on the Wasdale MRT website, and the left hand exposed edge that Coleridge ascended in 1802 is certainly not easy when wet. I must have slipped off this bit various times on trying to ascend it albeit being slightly less cautious here as I was clipped on to the rope! The right hand part is less exposed but some climbing moves are needed (easy with rock shoes on and with legs that can stretch). With various ropes and loops I was eventually pulled up the crucial step, and then guided up further rock steps towards the summit. Incidentally, these upper rock stops are also notorious when wet (Grade 2 at least), and in fell shoes you have no grip. In retrospect I should have asked supporters to bring old socks to put over the shoes. Other attempts (especially when solo) have gone round via Foxes Tarn, taking in the cunning climbers traverse. This route might in fact be faster than broad stand, especially when factoring in time for setting up belays, etc.

For reference it is about 18000-19000ft, 45-48 miles from Keswick to Wasdale. So `only' 7000-8000ft, 20 miles left to Keswick, although Section 4 (with Yewbarrow) is another steep/rocky section. The half way stage in climbing terms is around Calf Crag/High Raise, and certainly by Bowfell you're well over half way overall.

Various other anecdotes on the round include:

  • Two of us trying to follow cairns off Helvellyn in the dark and also down Fairfield. We were then being confused as to why these cairns had vanished. We discovered on close inspection that we had been chasing after sheep! (Fortunately not over the Eastern Face of Helvellyn). It was also disconcerting to see the sheep's eyes reflecting back off the head torch. `They aren't any wolves up on the fells are there?' my friend asked. I've known mountain goats with their long horns on the Welsh hills to instill nervousness amongst some, especially when out in the dark hours.

  • While doing Dunmail to Scafell I was met by friends at Broad Stand. They had camped there overnight, and told me of amusing tales of trying to guide walkers late off Scafell Pike. These walkers had map and compass and claimed to know where they were going. They where setting off down Mickeldore in the Eskdale direction when my friends asked `are you sure you know where you are?' These walkers said they where off back to Wasdale! Although saying this, I've had some `entertaining' incidents of navigation of my own (which I dare not repeat here).

  • On an occasion when reaching Wasdale I was met by another supporter with a car. This was to be the case, but only just. I say this, because my supporter was being urged by a passing walker to offer a lift, the walker even volunteering to pay money for the lift. My supporter went on to explain that he couldn't possibly leave as he was supporting a `BGR'. ``So, what's a BGR?'' the walker asked. He went on to explain: ``well briefly it starts in Keswick, goes up Skiddaw, then Great Calva...'' and before he was able to list all 42 peaks I arrived on the scene. There was another small group of other walkers on the scene, obviously listening with amusement. I was duly informed by the walker that `I was completely mad.'

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