Attempt Date: Friday/Saturday 29th/30th June 2018
Leg 1, Keswick to Threlkeld. Our combined pacers were Steve Birkinshaw, Phil Richards, Ben Clithero, Phil Howson and Louis Wood.
We set out from the Moot Hall at the stroke of 7pm, on a gorgeous June evening of light winds, clear skies and warm sunshine. A few other contenders had also chosen the same start time and they set off a little faster than us, and were soon well ahead. The climb up Skiddaw was uneventful and we reached the top a few minutes ahead of schedule. Dropping down past Hare Crag it was striking how dry the ground was, by far the driest I had ever seen it. We took the direct line off Great Calva, avoiding the fence line unlike the team in front, a choice which was vindicated by our overtaking them as we converged on the climb up Mungrisdale Common. As we came off Great Calva we were met by Suzy, the manager of Skiddaw House hostel, who had come out to run a little with us, having met Amy a few weeks previously when she stayed at the hostel. As one of our pacers started to struggle on the climb up Blencathra, Suzy went above and beyond and ran back down to him to check if he was alright and get some kit from him which would be needed for leg 2, before sprinting back to us. To get such amazing help from someone I had never met before and wasn’t one of the pacing team was astounding. We took a few seconds and took our minds off the climb by turning around to admire the magnificent sunset as it sank behind Criffel, a hill in Dumfries and Galloway on the other side of the Solway Firth. Steve Birkinshaw led the way down Halls Fell, despite his shoe starting to fall apart, and his local knowledge was invaluable as we avoided the worst of the descent through the use of some excellent lines. Running into Threlkeld Cricket Club car-park we were met by our super-efficient road support, who had hot food and drink ready prepared for us and treated to a Formula 1 style pit-stop: a whirlwind of food, fresh shoes, Vaseline and insect repellent!
Leg 2, Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise. My pacers were Helen Davis and Richard Andrews, Amy’s were Kate Farley and Amanda Seims. Road support was provided by Adam Weilandt, Stephen Littlewood and Julie Towse.
We set off up the climb of Clough Head as the light was beginning to fade, and made decent progress up and over the Dodds and onto the Helvellyn ridge. I was eating well and feeling great as summits came and went. At the top of Helvellyn we disturbed a man who was trying to sleep in the shelter cairn, but hadn’t reckoned on BGers keeping him awake throughout the small hours! The views over Morecambe Bay were stunning; the moon was just past full and it reflected off the sea beautifully. This, combined with the amber glow on the horizon which gradually shifted from the north-west to the north-east as the night never truly got dark, made it a leg to remember, a rare privilege to be out on the hills and seeing sights normally reserved for the sheep! We dropped down off Dollywagon Pike the steep direct line and started on the out and back to Fairfield. As I ascended I ate a sandwich but started to feel a little sick, a feeling which got worse and worse until I was actually sick just after the summit. I perked up and pressed downwards back to Grisedale Hause. As we started on the climb up Seat Sandal, I tried eating some snacks to replace the food I had lost on Fairfield, but I was unable to keep anything down. Alarm bells began to ring in my head – I had a very long way to go and needed to get food on board. Arriving at Dunmail 20 minutes up on schedule, I changed shoes and ate some noodles, which seemed to go down OK. Amy came in a few minutes after me and, after her very quick turnaround, we were off with fresh pacers.
Leg 3, Dunmail Raise to Wasdale. My pacers were Dave Teggart and Andy Buck, and Amy’s pacers were John Rawlinson and Alasdair Menmuir. Road support was provided by Adam Weilandt, Stephen Littlewood and Julie Towse.
We set off up Steel Fell as the night faded away and made good progress. My stomach wasn’t giving me any trouble, and the day was shaping up well. The sun rose as we ascended Calf Crag and for now, the warmth of the rays on my back was beautiful. However the sickness returned climbing up Codale Head, and with it a feeling of complete emptiness in my legs. I was sick twice before Sergeant Man, but perked up and we quickly knocked off two of the least impressive summits of the round, High Raise and Thunacar Knott. The sickness wasn’t far away though, and I was sick again on Pike O’Stickle. I felt dreadful, both physically and mentally. Every time there was any sort of steep climb, I was feeling sick and had nothing in my legs. My pacers agreed to me taking five minutes to lie down and try to take stock and get some sort of control of the situation. As I lay there, Amy and her pacers passed me and she gave me some, let’s call them robust, words of encouragement! Suitably motivated, and with the thought of a long downhill over Martcrag Moor to enjoy, I set off again. I had realised that when I felt sick, if I could actually be sick, get a gel down me and take an electrolyte tablet, I would quickly perk up. The main issue was food, as I couldn’t keep any solids down at all except for wine gums, and I duly demolished all of Dave’s supply over the rest of the leg. Climbing up though Black Crags towards Rossett Pike, my legs were hurting from the climb, which I suddenly realised with pleasure meant I wasn’t feeling sick, as when I was they were empty and weak. Approaching Rossett Pike we could see someone at the summit, it transpired that he had gone up there to support one of the other contenders who had set off at the same time as us. Unfortunately he’d just missed him, but one man’s loss was our gain, and, like a swarm of locusts, we stripped this Angel of Rossett Pike of water and, glory of glories, the large bottle of flat coke he had with him. Liquid calories were to be the order of the day for me now, so this flat coke was perfect. I felt better than I had for a long time, and Bowfell to Broad Crag positively zipped by. The sickness returned at the top of Scafell Pike, and I remember the horrified expressions on a few walkers’ faces as I was throwing up coke out of my nose! Cue another gel and electyrolyte, and yet another almost miraculous improvement in condition. Lords Rake and West Wall Traverse were as much fun as ever, and I positively flew down Scafell and the wonderful screen run at Rakehead Crag. The 2km from Scafell to Wasdale was probably the strongest I felt all day, and I ran into Wasdale totally focussed on getting sorted and back out on Leg 4. Special mention here should go to my pacers, Dave and Andy, who looked after me, cajoled me, cared for me and threatened me in equal measure and helped me get through some very dark moments. Dave even had enough energy to drop behind to guide a straggling pacer Lords Rake/West Wall Traverse, tear down to Wasdale to give me some kit, and then head back up to help the pacer again. A monumental effort, thanks.
Leg 4, Wasdale to Honister. My pacers were Nick Burns and Louis Wood, Amy’s were Rob Davies and James Fletcher. Road support was provided by Adam Weilandt, Stephen Littlewood and Julie Towse.
At Wasdale I was in full-on diva mode, demanding drink and fresh clothes and ordering club members to anoint me with sun-cream! Amy had come down Scafell slower than I had, and had only just arrived when I was setting off. As the Harvey’s Bob Graham map states, there is no easy way out of Wasdale, and the climb of Yewbarrow was horrendous in the relentless sun and heat, but we got to the top quicker than scheduled, and I wasn’t feeling sick, which was marvellous. The climb up Red Pike is never pleasant, but the sickness returned to add to the mix, but I was still able to quickly recover with my puke/gel/electrolyte strategy. We were occasionally looking behind to see if we could spot Amy, and had seen her coming off Yewbarrow towards Dore head as we climbed Red Pike and then again coming back from Steeple as we were on the summit of Pillar. We took a few seconds to admire the view, as you can see the whole round from here and it was a wonderful sight on such a beautiful and clear day. I was still only able to take mostly liquid calories, gels and flat coke, but had been able to keep some dried mango down as well, which was a welcome boost. Kirk Fell via Red Gully was quite pleasant, in that it offered some welcome shade, but my pacers were less enamoured with it given that beforehand I had sent them way down Black Sail Pass to get some water. They needn’t have bothered, as Helen from Leg 2, along with her brother, were at the Beckhead Tarn between Kirk Fell and Great Gable with water and gels and electrolytes, which was a wonderful surprise. Great Gable is the last hard climb of the round, and as we summitted I knew that, barring accidents, I was going to complete the round under 24 hours. It was a strange feeling of elation mixed with apprehension at the thought of at least another 3 hours of hard effort, and a feeling of worry for Amy, as we hadn’t seen her for some time now. Arriving at Honister, I made the most of my clubmates’ tolerance of my diva-ish ways, and had fun ordering Phil Howson to apply sun-cream and insect repellent to my legs!
Leg 5, Honister to Keswick. My pacers were Nick Burns and Amanda Seims. Road support was Adam Weilandt, Stephen Littlewood, Julie Towse and Phil Howson. I was joined at Newlands by Andy Buck and John Rawlinson
Leg 5 is considered by many to be the easiest of the round, but I found it anything but. Psychologically it was hard knowing that the round was in the bag, so to speak, but that I still had a hard slog to complete, and the sickness had returned with a vengeance. Each time I was sick my bounce-back was less complete and the gaps between sickness were getting shorter and shorter. I was sick three times before the top of Robinson, the last peak of the round, and a further three times on the road from Newlands to Keswick. It was at Newlands Chapel that I was told that Amy had quit at Honister. I was devastated for her, we had trained together all winter and spring, and I knew just how hard she had worked and how much she had put into the round, doing it the traditional way of learning the route through reccieing and supporting others. This news, along with my sickness and general dislike of tarmac, ensured I was as miserable on this road section as at any time of the round, but once in Portinscale the thought of the imminent finish perked me up and I picked up the pace, and even managed a sprint of sorts up to the Moot Hall. I finished in 23:18, the first Steel City Strider to complete the round. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by so many friends and clubmates who were all delighted for me.
I would like to pay tribute here to the amazing people who helped in any way. You gave up your weekends to help me achieve what seemed like a crazy, impossible dream and I can never thank you enough. It truly is humbling to be have been helped by so many people, some of whom I had never met before the day. Thank you so much. I’d also like to thank Theresa, my partner, for her love and support and putting up with my, at times, selfish pursuit of my goal.