Some Stuff About Me ......

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I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan and this remains a serious passion, but in recent years my life has been dedicated to running on the fells and trails of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Bob Graham Round Success - Part #3

Leg 3 Support Crew:
Dave Harrison (navigation)
Dave Swift
Phil Sturgeon
Rick Air

Mid-August is getting a bit late in the BGR season, most people try and get their attempts done in June/July when there is more light available, though I don't suppose it's a hard and fast rule.  Anyhow, we left Dunmail pretty much on schedule (2.45am) and as we started the steep ascent of Steel Fell I knew that I had several more hours of darkness in front of me.  The darkness is definitely a psychological barrier, everyone wants it to be out of the way and headtorches off, things become easier and if you're on an early-evening start (as was I), you know there's no more darkness before the end - in theory at least. Nothing much was said as we went up Steel Fell, but that's how it normally is, more often than not you're breathing a little heavily, it's a bit taxing.  Dave Harrison made an interesting point actually, everyone looks at Steel Fell as being a killer point on the BGR and I suppose it is from a visual perspective (looks STEEP!), but it's actually the lowest peak on the entire round; from the contender's point of view you've just gone down Dollywaggon, up Fairfield, down Fairfield, up Seat Sandal, down Seat Sandal - all reasonably hefty ascents/descents and now you're faced with the prospect of going up Steel Fell and it all seems totally unreasonable, that's my thinking anyhow - one of those things you have to experience (and hopefully survive) to really appreciate.  I was glad to get to the top, bang on schedule and my focus was now the long trog to Calf Crag and onwards to the Langdale Pikes. This always seems to be a bit of a camel-hike and the pitch darkness meant that Dave was having to work extra-hard on navigation, it was a real relief when we got past Calf Crag and the trudge up to Sergeant Man was out of the way, as I can remember feeling really crap at about this point on attempt #1.

It's just occurred to me that I am making a lot of references and comparison to something that is best forgotten (i.e. my first attempt), I think you're going to have to forgive me for that, it was heartbreaking, damaging and yet at the same time highly instructional, so I suppose it's only natural that I'm going to use it as a yardstick.  Off away from Sergeant Man and High Raise came in 10 minutes, Thunacar Knott in 14, this was good and on schedule, but I then went on to lose a few of minutes on Pike o' Stickle and the same going up to Rossett Pike .... this, coupled with a few minutes that slipped away enroute to Calf Crag meant that all of a sudden I was down about 10 minutes and I didn't want that, I could see that Dave knew it too and was pushing me along.  In my defence, I have to say that conditions going across the infamous Martcrag Moor before beginning the ascent up to Rossett Pike were absolutely crap, it's no wonder we lost a bit of time:  The rain from the previous day(s) had meant that the whole surface of the moor undulated with your footstep and of course, there were going to be some deep bits. I think anyone with any experience of this part of the Lakes will have seen some poor soul go in up to his/her waist (and worse).

Moi on Martcrag Moor.  The picture fails to show how truly boggy the terrain is thereabouts.
By this time the dawn had truly broken and it gave me a massive lift, I needed to make up a little time and get things back on track. We dropped off Rossett Pike and began the ascent of Bowfell and I dug in. Now, I don't know if my scheduled time of 37 minutes for this ascent is a bit soft (both Dave Harrison and Andrew Kitts think it is and they generally talk sense) but I got up this one in 32 minutes and Dave gave me a "well done" on the summit. I never told him, but that little bit of encouragement did me the world of good, I felt really buoyed up - soft time target or not - and thought that this really could be on. From that point onwards you're in high, rocky territory and I needed the rain to stay away .... and it did. OK, the ground was wet but all the rock had dried off and this was hugely important, as wet, slimy rock really slows your progress. Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag came and went in a flash, making up a few minutes along the way and before I knew it we were on the roof of England, Scafell Pike. It was early morning - about 7.50am - and there were just a few people on the usually crowded summit, they must have wondered why we didn't hang around to enjoy the view.  I just touched the trig point and Dave took me straight off and down to Mickledore for our transit to Scafell. I won't dwell too much on this, as most people are aware of the difficulties in getting between these two mountains. Suffice it to say that I tried out Broad Stand on a recce last year and there was no way I would try it on a BG attempt, although I'd happily climb it under normal "controlled" circumstances. This wasn't the time.

Mickledore (that is me by the way)
Broad Stand - much harder than it looks!
So that leaves only two choices - Foxes Gully and Lord's Rake and of the two I have no doubt that Lord's Rake is the faster. I had a few bad moments with LR earlier in the year, I was stuck up there in a howling snowstorm and it was pretty horrible, particularly as you moved off the West Wall Traverse into Deep Gill, it was clogged with snow and wasn't a pleasant experience getting to the top. No problems today though, I watched Dave H as he picked his way up the Rake and followed his line, it definitely seemed that there had been more rockfalls since my last visit, but it didn't matter - within 15 minutes we were on the top of Scafell and beginning the long descent down to Wasdale.

Rick ran on ahead with the food and clothing order (more mint cake needed!) and we picked our way downwards, I was very concious of the severity of this long descent and also the fact that last time I was hereabouts I managed to pick up a partial muscle hernia in my right shin that took weeks to heal. All was good, Dave knew I was being cautious and was trying to shave off corners here and there and as we neared the ridgeline across to Rakehead Crag we cut across some rough ground where I managed to catch my left foot in some deep hole with a resultant rolling somersault across the fell. No damage done, but as so often happens when you've been on feet for a long time my calf went into immediate spasm and cramped solid. I was flat on my back with my leg in the air, Phil bending my foot over in an attempt to stretch it out.  You can see this ridge from down at Brackenclose (Wasdale NT Campsite/Car park) with a pair of binos and/or good visibility, apparently there were cries of "no you silly bugger, further along the ridge" and "not there you daft sod" etc when it was observed that I had stopped. I'm sorry, but what could I do?

Waiting at Brackenclose, a fantastic morning.  Scafell in the background
 Anyhow, the scree descent went well and Dave picked up my requested line across the beck and through onto the foot of Lingmell, before long we were running into the pitstop, I was just 8 minutes down on schedule, which is absolutely nothing on a regular BG schedule.  I was very pleased with this.

Arriving at Wasdale, Dave Harrison leading
I was mightily chuffed to see Chris Rainbow there to see me (I'd seen his wife Tammy at the start in Keswick) and what a difference, last time it was concerned faces all round and I felt like death, here there was a real sense of cheerful occasion, Mark had sent Dave's daughters over to the campsite to get mintcake for me - more on this later - and the leg 4 team were getting ready for the off while Helen and Emma sorted out my legs/feet and made sure I was fed and watered.

I'd broken the back of it and pretty much set myself up for the ultimate prize, all I had to do was keep the tempo going over the mountains of leg 4 and it was mine for the taking. It occurs to me that it's very easy to sit here and type this, but the reality of the situation was somewhat different: OK, so I'd covered about 43 miles and survived the experience to that point, but there was still the small matter of another 11 mountains, 23 miles and 10,000-odd feet of climb to surmount. Easy?  You must be kidding.  Enough to freeze the blood in your veins if I'm honest.

To be continued - watch out for the next part!

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