The Lakeland 42.

Late summer of 2010 was to be chosen for another assault on the Lakeland 42 peaks: classically the Bob Graham Round (BGR) if start/end Moot Hall Keswick. The plan was to do the route either supported, partially supported, or even solo-unsupported (as an alpine style approach). Such considerations depended on who was around and how ad-hoc I was going to be. My previous attempts on the BGR (or the Lakeland 42) are documented HERE. However I give below some specific musings on what is involved and my personal experiences, especially if going for long solo-unsupported rounds.

General preparations

Personally, preparations involved a multitude of 24 hour (or 2-day) mountain-marathon style trips in the mountains. I would pick weekends of good weather in the April/May/June period and then pack a lightweight bivvy/sleeping bag (with other relevant mountain equipment). Route length chosen was typically 40-50 miles, 15000-20000 ft with an aim of completing in 24 hours (allowing for 6 hours sleep/bivvy en route). I have documented some of these individual adventures HERE. Moreover I interspersed such trips with conventional long runs (6-10 hours), non-stop rounds/traverses of intermediate length (eg. extended Welsh 3000s), and various week-long mountain trips within the Lakes/Scotland: each with cumulative ascent 30000-35000ft (over the week). Indeed, in July I took one week within Borrowdale and another week within Torridon (with a group of walking/climbing/running friends).

As many would say, the best part of the BGR (or Lakeland 42) is perhaps not doing the specific round itself but the journey involved of getting to the start line. I don't mean the journey up the M6, but rather the months/years spent out in the fells/mountains doing mini-rounds and long runs. This can be very satisfying, and so perhaps deferring the completion of the BGR can only be a good thing! The mini-rounds (a la mountain-marathon style) provided some reward in their own right. They also gave good insight into what was personally acheivable, and insight into food/equipemnt requirements. They also provided crucial mental experience of getting through bad-patches of various guises, especially when you've been out for many hours and there's still a long way to go. Being out in the dark also involves a significant amount of mental effort, especially when descending rough ground. However head-torch technology has improved in recent years and I've found that a lightweight 50 lumens torch can get you down almost anything.

Taking the bivvy bag and sleeping bag adds some peace of mind during the night, but invariably you will end up being tempted into using it (and oversleeping!). If you don't take such a bivvy bag, then you have to keep going. The worst time is around 2am-7am when the mind drifts and the body slows down, but once the sun is out you tend to become relatively alert again. If the weather turns bad overnight, then basically I head for low ground (by planning a suitable escape route in advance): but it still does mean a miserable few hours.

Returning to The Lakeland 42: 2010

The Lakeland 42: July 2010. On July 9th, 2010 I coaxed one friend (with a car) to provide roadside and fell support for a traditional BGR anti-clockwise round, starting at 00:30. The round was to be attempted solo, and the plan was that my friend would meet me on Scafell Pike at 10am (bivvying near Angle Tarn beforehand), then at Dunmail Raise, Threlkeld and finally Keswick. The weather forecast indicated light rain, but at 9pm the views across Derwent Water towards Castle Crag gradually disappeared in low cloud and drizzly rain. The next three hours waiting around in a Keswick car park lasted for ages, and I more or less just wanted to get going. Midnight-30 approached and so the two of us walked casually up to Moot Hall, I touched the gates and off I went: in a subversive manner so as not be heckled by various Kewsick night-club-goers. I trotted down the lanes towards Newlands Church before beginning the main climbs. The weather did not let up, and all I could see through my headtorch was a continuous stream of bright flecks of rain - it was all slightly hypnotic.

The cloud base was around 300m and as I climbed Robinson in the dark, the wet rocks provided an interesting scramble experience: a little bit "too Alpine" for my liking. I optimistically chose to wear a new light-weight pair of trail shoes (rather than fell shoes) and this was an initial folly. At the 500m mark the wind then picked up and so did the rain (now about 2am) and I was already behind schedule on Robinson's summit. Alone on the fells in the dark, mist, heavy rain and stong winds is an interesting experience and I think I was already starting to have second thoughts. I made a cautious decent off Robinson on slippery rocks/grass: which my shoes did not like. The weather improved slightly on Hindscarth (for about 5 minutes). However the wind/rain picked up again on Dale Head and then all the way to Honister. My typical 10 min descent time suddenly turned into over 30 minutes. It was daylight at Honister (circa 4am) and I was now certainly behind schedule. Carrying on to Wasdale over the Gables and the Mosedale group was going to be adventurous in deterioting weather, especially as I would then have to extricate myself back out of Wasdale to find my awiting friend on the Scafells!

Honister was slightly protected from the wind, so I made my way up to Grey Knotts hoping for improvement. Things did not improve, and it was there I decided instead to locate my friend's tent by Angle Tarn - before he set himself off to look for me on Scafell Pike. I took a direct line to Sty Head Tarn and then up to Esk Hause. Frothing and bubbling streams had formed all over place with raging torrents - this was in stark contrast to a week previous when it was almost drought conditions. I passed many wild campers but I did not locate my friend's tent. I descended Rosset Gill towards Langdale Valley fording many streams. I eventually found the car parked at New Dungeon Ghyll (at 8am) which was fortunate, and a shivering wait ensued. My friend arrived at 1pm in the afternoon and I understood that his adventure was possibly more intrepid than mine: after watching me leave Keswick he eventually set up wild camp on The Band (Bowfell) around 2am, and during the night his tent started to flood. He did make it to Scafell Pike. The rain did not cease until the late afternoon and so it was good a I called it a day early on. On the same day I heard that the south-east was having a 30C+ heatwave.

The Lakeland 42: August 2010. A good week in Torridon provided consistent mountain training for making another attempt. However I was not going to repeat the exploits of July 9th and decided to choose a day of good weather. Unfortunately the availability of potential supporters clashed with the heavy rain clouds looming on the UK weather map. I opted for August 7th, afternoon start from Grasmere. Why Grasmere? For a solo/unsupported attempt I tend to opt for the public transport option from my home in Liverpool. I prefer to arrive in the Lakes and almost immediately get cracking on the round. Once finished (24 hours later!) I then head straight back home. Starting/ending in Keswick makes this option much more difficult unless you want to hang around for another night, or instead opt to do the Langdale Pikes/Scafells in the dark.

The intention was to go anticlockwise and I chose a loop that started/ended at Mill Bridge (Grasmere). I guess I could have started from Dunmail Raise itself - but the road walk to the pass is not so pleasant. I set off at 3:13pm, climbed Fairfield direct, then Seat Sandal, and then onto the Helvellyn ridge. The weather was certainly an improvement on previous attempts, but there was a mist hugging the summits and map/compass work was required on this section. I allowed 4h30 for this, but was pleasantly surprised to be 40 minutes up at Threlkeld: to add extra mystery to the round I only looked at the watch at each section end (or specific reference points) as the watch strap had broken and I had to keep it in my bag. Foodwise I carried everything, and this consisted of one packet of jelly babies, 3 shortbread packets, 2 pasties, 3 small flapjacks and 8 cerial bars. I carried 1 litre of water and filled from streams. As is typical I had spare food left over at the end, and perhaps I would have liked to have a wider choice in the later stages: not so easy to judge if you're carrying everything beforehand. After 12 hours on the move (at fast pace) it became harder to eat in general, unless I stopped purposely for at least 5 mins.

The next Saddleback-Skiddaw section was certainly pleasant: the cloud had lifted providing good views of the sunset over the sea and also over to Scotland. Good progress was made overall as many trods had appeared through the rough heather but the ascent to Great Calva still involved some vegetation tugging. Mungrisdale Common was also bagged on route. This peak probably only attracts Wainwright baggers (and those on the BGR) and requires about 6ft of re-ascent! The top has a cairn which forms the terminus of many grassy paths that eminate from it like spokes on a wheel. The line of the BGR route appears to be well established over this section, and indeed I spotted various gardening canes which could have been used as markers: one seemed to point straight into a bog! Skiddaw (via Hare Crag) was reached as darkness fell and then I made a fast decent to Latrigg car park, arriving circa 11pm.

The next section was straightforward all the way to Honister via the Newlands fells. The rocky ascents and grassy decents much easier compared to the previous overnight experience in that location, although that was down to me using an aggressive pair of fell shoes this time rather than trail shoes. An overall cloudless sky provided good views of the stars but a low level mist was gradually forming. Despite this section being straightforward, progress was now a bit slower mainly due to a natural slow down in the night hours but also due to the fact that I was now not eating so much (I find this typical around the 10000-12000ft climbing mark). I reached Honister at 2:45am, losing some time and I rested for another 20-25 minutes on top of this to make sure I ate something otherwise progress would only get harder.

Good progress was made to Gey Knotts and then onto Great Gable arriving at 4:30am. A mist had now decended and it was still not totally light. The decent of Great Gable I knew would be tricky and indeed despite knowing this mountain quite well I ended up on rough ground and probably lost time. Fortunately the fence posts revealed themselves at Beck Head and I followed these in large part all the way to the summit of Kirk Fell: again probably not following the optimal line as I ended up going over Kirk Fell's eastern summit too. Steady progrees in mist was made over the remaining summits all the way to Yewbarrow, requiring map+compass all the way, and essentially surviving on just jelly babies. Navigation decisions probably lead to some loss of time, due to thinking time and non-optinal route choice. However a good scree descent off Yewbarrow was made and this lead me to Wasdale at around 8:15am. After managing to eat a bit more, I had about 6hours 45 to do the remaining section.

The Wasdale-Dunmail Section has a schedule time of circa 6-7 hours, but this time accounts for this bit as a mid-section, and not for someone doing this part as the finale. The ascent/travel is circa 7200ft/16 miles, and I would require some luck especially on the navigation front. Most of this ascent would be done on the Scafells, and I made it to Scafell, and then via Foxes Tarn (+climbers traverse) to Scafell Pike with 4hours, 45min to go. Unfortunately the mist was relatively thick and down to 300-600m. The sun was due to burn this off, but not until later in the day. I made mild navigational errors locating Ill Crags and then did not find the optimal route from Great End to Esk Pike (again resulting in some confusion to my exact location at times). Bowfell was reached at 12:15am leaving 3 hours to go. Still surviving on jelly babies, I was particularly flaked out by now and to finish in time I would have to proceed flat out, with some luck in the navigation. Unfortunately I took a bad line off the craggy side of Bowfell in the mist. Essentially I tend to do this rocky route in reverse and there is a good trod if you find it. I got to Rosset Pike at around 1pm with now just 2 hours 15min to go. A quick calculation proved that it was now almost impossible to reach Mill Bridge in time if I was to visit all the Langdale Pikes, High Raise, and then over to Steel Fell. However after coming all this way it was now just a case of seeing how much I could achieve in the remaining time. I had to get back to Grasmere in any case, and certainly wanted to get there before the last decent bus back to Windermere (around 5-6pm); perhaps also taking time to vegetate on Grasmere Common. By now the mist had lifted over the Langdale Pikes and finally the sun had come out. I remained on the BGR route over towards the Langale Pikes and Sergeant Man where my 24 hours ran out. Arrived Grasmere around 4:30pm in good time for the 599 bus.

Afterthoughts: Within the 24 hours the travel/ascent covered was circa 63 miles, 27000ft and I was personally satisfied with this albeit falling short of covering all the 42 peaks. The route I took via Mill Bridge (+Foxes Tarn) also adds on some extra distance/ascent relative to the standard Keswick start/end BGR: it appears that once the 24 hours had elapsed I had covered a similar ascent, but fell short by a few miles on the distance. I reckon another half hour in hand at Rosset Pike would have changed my mindset to carry on at speed over the remaining peaks - I was certainly going at a more leisurely (walking) pace once I decided not to fully complete after Rosset Pike. The effects of navigational difficulties and locating the optimal-routes in the mist between Great Gable and Rosset Pike probably ate into the schedule by over an hour. I was also slowing quite early in the round (eg. on ascent of Robinson) which suggests I was probably going too fast in stages 1 and 2. Obviously going solo/unsupported adds an extra dimension too - but that's the fun of it. I think I'll be back to finish the job at some point, though not until at least spring/summer 2011. However I'm also keen to turn my attention to long distance routes in north and south Snowdonia (and Scotland), so we'll have to see....

Back to main page.