Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Best and worst of the Bob Graham

Whichever way you go about climbing Yewbarrow, the ascent is steep. If you’re intent on completing the Bob Graham, it is perhaps the worst ascent of the entire route taking a direct line up the fellside above the lake. Running is out of the question. It’s a hands on knees, head down, just keep scrabbling upwards type of a climb, its saving grace being that it ends as abruptly as it starts.
On recce days, one can stop a while and appreciate the view. I suspect on the day, the last thing we will want to do is look back on Scafell – though it is not until the descent of Great Gable (some five summits further on) that it is possible to truly turn your back on the Wasdale fells, at which point it starts to feel as though real progress is once again being made.
Back on Yewbarrow, looking across to Seatallan, there are decisions to be made – the steep drop to Dore Head or what I suspect is a quicker traverse of the screes on its northern flank to reach the same point. Another one to go back and try again. That’s the thing with the BG as we are quickly finding out. It’s not enough to know these fells from days spent walking, climbing or running in the past – and I have been over Yewbarrow countless times – most will need to recce each section more than once to find the best line, even on those fells which were thought to be familiar.
Unlike some of the climbs on these fells,the view into Wasdale is one I will never tire of.
Red Pike follows – an easier climb but one on which I have always found it hard to find any kind of rhythm, short rocky steps interrupting the flow. But the summit ridge leading towards Steeple is a joy to run with dramatic views down into Mosedale and across to Pillar. In fact I would go as far as to say that this, the penultimate leg of the route contains all that is best and worst about the Bob Graham.
We stopped here for a short while – snacking and staring. Food is another question. I’ve talked to people who have used everything from the latest energy gels - not something I favour - to cheese and jam butties. Also not ideal.
Another pause approaching Steeple, looking back across Ill Gill Head and the Wasdale Screes towards Black Combe on the coast. Steeple is a fantastic summit, perhaps one of the best in the Lakes, but it is another which lies annoyingly off route. I wonder how many contenders have missed it by mistake or otherwise en-route.
As we began the rocky climb of Pillar, so the rain began to fall. 
Short but heavy showers accompanied us across the summit, easing as we approached Black Sail pass before the skies cleared almost completely to leave one of those stunning evenings which you wish would never end. 
Unless you’re attempting something daft like the Bob Graham when the end will almost certainly not come soon enough.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Bob Graham - Kirk Fell to Robinson

After linking the first two legs of the Bob Graham earlier in the summer, we were keen to link the last three - these having several summits which neither of us had been over before now. In the event, injury and extremely poor weather forced two rest days and a change of plan, though we covered all of the eight summits from Kirk Fell to Robinson on the first day's running before clambering out of Wasdale - the steep flank of Yewbarrow being an ascent on par with the worst the fells can offer - and ticking off the remaining four on this penultimate section of the round, thereby at least linking the last two legs.
Starting in Buttermere, we followed the lake before climbing Scarth Gap...
...and Black Sail passes in quick succession to pick up the route at the start of the climb towards the broad summit of Kirk Fell.
The view back towards Scarth Gap at the start of climb towards Black Sail pass and Kirk Fell.
Looking down on the moraines - a distinctive feature at the head of Ennerdale...
...and across to Great Gable - another steep ascent though by the time we reach it on the day I suspect it will look much the same as so many before it.
With reasonably fresh legs, it is an enjoyable climb...
...the descent fast and loose leading all too quickly to another short pull up onto Green Gable after which things ease, Brandreth and Grey Knotts passing almost unnoticed before the sharp drop to Honister. Beyond which lies Dale Head. It was one of those I had not been over to date and the climb was one I was concerned about - it is the last major climb on the route and steep. But it is far easier going than those which precede it...
...and leads to a ridge which is a joy to run despite the summit of Hindscarth being situated annoyingly 'off-route'. Robinson followed - it is the last of the Bob Graham's 42 summits and from here the route turns north, leading back towards Keswick. 
But not today. As evening fell so we dropped as rapidly as knackered knees allowed, heading down on steep grassy paths, through the bogs and eventually back to Buttermere...
...not so many miles, but a fine day of the fells and one which put the route as a whole into perspective for us both.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Another bit of Bob

A few images from two days on the fells, linking sections of the Bob Graham - just the last and hopefully the easiest few miles left to run now, those from the summit of Robinson back to Keswick.
Mixed weather gave way to a beautiful evening on the last day - looking back towards Bowfell.
The climb of Dale Head from Honister and the ridge towards Hindscarth proved easier and more enjoyable respectively than expected - Red Pike (the one not on the route) the prominent summit in the distance.
And the steep descent to Honister, late in the afternoon. But not too late for the café and cake. All good.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Running the Ribble Valley

After spending so many years so close to this part of the world, the only surprise is that I haven't spent more time here before now.
Another early start and another beautiful morning, running the Ribble Valley.
Nb. Both the pictures in this and the previous post were taken on an iPhone - while I will happily run with the SLR in a small pack, I find myself doing so less and less, principally because on mornings like these, I would be stopping every few minutes to take photos. It remains a dilemma and on many occasions I have sorely missed the camera, but more often, especially on these longer routes, I am grateful to be free of the pack and the weight.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Sharing highs and lows on the fells

Away from the races and ultra-events which appear to be growing in number, fell running remains to many, a peculiarly solitary sport. More a way of life than sport in fact. 
Long, often gruelling runs give rise to extremes of emotion from frustration and dejection to joy, elation and sometimes, simple relief. As with long crossings by kayak, there is plenty of time to think. It is cathartic - a means of exorcising the demons as well as exercising the legs, of finding balance in the space and freedom of the fells and so finding peace among the varied pressures life brings. 
Alone, one is free to work through the lows, dealing with the extremes without imposing upon others, but in sharing them, in silence or otherwise, there is something unique. It is a rare combination that allows for such behaviour, a partnership built on trust and empathy, one which is worth every low to share the highs that inevitably follow.
Sunrise and a moment of contemplation above the clouds on the summit of Pendle, on what has become a regular route of around 18 miles. One of many which continue to build not only fitness, but the ability to pull each other through the mental lows which we know will be the greatest of challenges on the Bob Graham. It remains a daunting prospect but one I think we are becoming increasingly well equipped to tackle and not only finish, but enjoy in its own right. And what a high to share that will be.