Sunday, 6 November 2016

Carry on regardless

I first read Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession, almost a decade ago. It is, among other things, the author’s tale of his own experiences preparing for, attempting and finally completing the Bob Graham. It is also a nostalgic book, one which unashamedly romanticises the sport and the characters who have become part of fell running folk lore. At times it is perhaps rather melodramatic – at odds with his own repeated references to the ‘hard-men’ of fell running – those who would cycle 20 miles to the start of a race, run, ride home, and continue work on the farm that evening. But whatever your thoughts on the style of writing, he got one thing right. COR.
Carry On Regardless – Askwith’s summation of the typical response fell runners have to injury. Worse perhaps even than climbers – though I remember very well the routes completed with friends too soon after surgery on broken limbs, following the blood dripping steadily from ankles with steel pins too recently placed. Maybe that is simply due to the nature of the injuries – tears and strains more common among runners than the breaks suffered by climbers which tend to stop play with rather greater finality. Surprising perhaps, given the speeds which many runners reach on steep, technical descents. Be that as it may, among those for whom these things are a way of life rather than simply a sport, there is a universal tendency to run through the pain, to keep pushing, to carry on regardless. Stoicism perhaps. But not in some superficial macho sense. 
It is more that the alternative – not running, paddling or climbing, not being among the fells, on the water or high on the moors, not moving beneath big skies, feeling the wind, sun and rain, is untenable. 
Seen from a twisting peaty path on the moors, or dropping off a rocky summit in the fells, hands clenched with the cold, eyes streaming in the wind, moments like these fix in the mind, keeping one sane, the sense of freedom prevailing through the days until it is possible once again to head for the hills.
Of course some cope better with forced rest than others but all too often there comes a point when that rest is simply unavoidable, regardless of how well one copes with it or not.
Short term strategies are all very well. Planning trips, studying the maps, researching new routes – it works for an evening or weekend. Possibly two. But when injury forces a longer break, something different is required. Varied interests help. The problem is that these interests are normally intrinsically linked to the thing you cannot do. What is really required is something to focus the mind on new responsibilities, something that requires a change in routine, which adds a new element entirely to daily life. 
If, after injury, that thing can become part of the norm, complementing or adding to the way of life which has come to define one’s self, so much the better.
Meet Merlin.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Autumn days above Dunsop

On the high fells, it is entirely possible to miss the change in seasons, or at least the beginnings of them, the changes more subtle than those in the valleys below. Running from Dunsop onto the low fells within the Forest of Bowland however gave one of those perfect autumn days, clear and cold, a gentle frost thawing as I ran through a riot of colour beside the river Hodder and Langden Brook. A few images below from another area which is quickly becoming more familiar as I explore new routes across the moors.
Above Whitewell, looking out towards the Trough of Bowland, Totridge fell on the left, the skyline being my route back into the valley after a short circuit on the tops behind.
Passing Mellor Knoll, heading for a short sharp climb onto the open moor beyond.
Looking down on Hareden Farm, the Trough of Bowland beyond.
A moment's pause by the trig point on Totridge fell...
...before cutting through the peat hags and dropping rapidly to the valley floor. Rather like being on the bike, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly one loses all the height on these descents.
Not the most beautiful of bridges, but a beautiful spot to finish and sit awhile, soaking in the sun and colours of autumn.

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.