Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wainwright Memorial Challenge

 Jon & support runner Oli at the Ambleside start (photo. Ceris Owen)

There is a real buzz around ultra running in the UK at the moment and nowhere more so than in the Lake District. New challenges are continually being developed and people are pushing beyond their own perceived limits.....

Midsummer's weekend in the Lakes, plenty of miles in training, an awesome support crew and a very worthy cause. Jon Tomb's plans had all come together for an epic undertaking - The Wainwright Memorial Challenge, a 107 mile route covering 57 summits with 36,000' of ascent.  Alfred Wainwright devised and walked this route in six days with three friends over the Whitsuntide holiday in 1931. Following his death his unpublished notes of this walk were turned into eleven more 'manageable' days and published as "The Wainwright Memorial Walk" 

 A short road section in Borrowdale (photo. Sarah Smith)

Jon walked the route soon after it was published spending those eleven days exploring a new landscape in the rain. It obviously left a huge impression on him because fifteen years later he now works and plays in those very hills. A member of Eden Runners he joined the ranks of the Bob Graham Club last year and completed his fourteenth consecutive London Marathon. Many of his challenges have given him the opportunity to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support, a charity very close to his heart. A staunch supporter this challenge would see Jon go past the £40,000 mark in fifteen years of fundrasining. You can still donate at his Just Giving page...

And so to the route itself. Jon hasn't been able to find any record of anyone completing a continuous round. Even Wainwright on his successful six day round was forced to miss out Blencathra and Grasmoor due to time constraints. The 'official' written version includes 54 Wainwrights plus Helvellyn Lower Man. Jon added the obvious summits of Thunacar Knott and Loughrigg to give 57 tops. Over the last few months he's put the leg work in and recceed the whole route and on the whole it paid off. In typical Lakeland summer weather he had to contend with driving rain and high winds for much of the circuit but didn't need to use a map for the first 18 hours. Terrible conditions on the leg from Buttermere to Wasdale on Saturday night meant that it took 12 hours for his support crew to navigate him safely over Red Pike to Great Gable and on to Red Pike number two. In contrast a steady recce of this route had taken just over six hours! Many of Jon's supporters had sponsored individual peaks. Looking for an excuse to end the torment coming off Great Gable he suddenly realised that one of his pacers had offered £115 for Kirkfell, the next summit! This extra pressure kept his focus and it became a mind game ticking off peak by peak. After 45 hours and 18 minutes and at 1:18 on a cold wet morning a small band of supporters cheered Jon home after an incredible effort.

Starting the steep climb up onto Catbells (photo. Sarah Smith)

A couple of moments stood out for Jon. Topping out on Scafell Pike in 1:54 from Wasdale, 6 minutes up on schedule. After a disheartening night it was just the confidence boost he needed to keep his head down and keep plugging away. A few long hours later he was dropping down off his final summit, Loughrigg, when the lights of Ambleside appeared. Not just the end of the challenge but also the first view in a very long time. However in common with many folk who have experienced long days out on the hills supported by their friends it is this friendship that sticks in Jon's mind. Only three of his Bob Graham team had been able to turn out so their was a whole new vibe and plenty of enthusiasm to feed off.

It's always interesting to compare very special experiences. For Jon the Bob Graham Round will always have a bit of magic but this challenge plumbed him to far greater depths than last years efforts. Not having a schedule meant that his mental approach had to be very different. He was able to take longer breaks at the eight road crossings to feed himself and put on dry kit but there was never any excuse for dropping out due to time constraints and he just had to keep going. Sunrise at Black Sail on Sunday morning brought more rain and terrible visibility and it was at this point Jon seriously considered stopping. Fortunately his two support runners were having none of it and didn't give him the option!

The end in sight... Grasmere after 44 hours (photo. Oli Blomfield)
A gourmet feast of Muller rice, Fridj mikshakes, quiche, cocktail sausages, homemade flapjack, pizza, shot blocks, jelly babies, hobnob bars, cereal bars, snickers, cheese slice, pepperami, and jelly beans kept Jon on the move through nearly 46 hours of effort. Almost every ultra runner will tell you they get cravings for real food and he only managed to force down two gels throughout the whole epic. A fundamental point in Jon's planning had been fish and chips in Ambleside at the end of his round. However the poor weather and conditions underfoot slowed him considerably and the chippy was most definitely shut at 1.18am!

Surprisingly his legs are far less tight or fatigued than after this years London Marathon! A swollen right ankle from an argument with a rock and tender right knee seem a small price to pay for an experience like this. He'll be back on the hills this week introducing an Outward Bound group to the delights of camping in the Lake District. Apart from that a few easy runs and short fell races to will give him the opportunity to relive an amazing adventure with an enormous sense of pride.

An Ambleside gutter & a shut chippy after 45 hours 18 minutes. Job well done!

Jon carried a tracker courtesy of James Thurlow at Open Adventure and his trace can be seen at the two links below;

The total raised for Macmillan Cancer Support now stands at £3300 in 2013 and an amazing £42,400 in the last 15 years!

Jon's full route and timings are detailed below starting in Windermere and finishing in Ambleside. 

Windermere depart                         04.01
  1. Yoke                                    05.28
  2. Ill Bell                                   05.40
  3. Froswick                              05.50
  4. Thornthwaite Crag                06.06
  5. High Street                           06.20
  6. The Knott                             06.36
  7. Angletarn Pikes                     07.10
Patterdale Arrive                             07.36
Patterdale Depart                            07.53
  1. Helvellyn                                09.23     
  2. Helvellyn Lower Man             09.31
  3. Whiteside                               09.43
  4. Raise                                      09.53
  5. Stybarrow Dodd                    10.10
  6. Watson's Dodd                      10.17
  7. Great Dodd                            10.35
  8. Clough Head                          11.01
Threlkeld Arrive                                11.37
Threlkeld Depart                               11.54 
  1. Blencathra                               12.58
Keswick Arrive                                 14.25
Keswick Depart                                14.50 
  1. Catbells                                   15.53
  2. Maiden Moor                          16.23
  3. High Spy                                  16.47
  4. Dale Head                               17.32
  5. Hindscarth                               17.51
  6. Robinson                                 18.19
Newlands Arrive                                18.48
Newlands Depart                               18.53 
  1. Knott Rigg                                19.16
  2. Ard Crags                                 19.32
  3. Sail                                            20.10
  4. Eel Crag                                    20.22
  5. Grasmoor                                  20.46
  6. Wandope                                  21.03
  7. Whiteless Pike                           21.16
Buttermere Arrive                                21.44
Buttermere Depart                               22.31 
  1. Red Pike (Buttermere)               00.05
  2. High Stile                                   00.35
  3. High Crag                                  01.30
  4. Haystacks                                  02.51
  5. Brandreth                                   04.20
  6. Green Gable                               04.59
  7. Great Gable                                05.25
  8. Kirk Fell                                     06.30
  9. Pillar                                           07.52
  10. Scoat Fell                                   08.48
  11. Red Pike (Wasdale)                   09.18
Wasdale Arrive                                    10.21
Wasdale Depart                                   10.53
  1. Scafell Pike                                 12.50
  2. Great End                                   13.34
  3. Esk Pike                                     14.17
  4. Bowfell                                       14.49
  5. Crinkle Crags                              15.52
  6. Cold Pike                                    16.36
  7. Pike O'Blisco                              17.14
Langdale Arrive                                     18.03
Langdale Depart                                    18.37 
  1. Pike O' Stickle                             20.04
  2. Harrison Stickle                            20.24
  3. Pavey Ark                                    20.37
  4. Thunacar Knott                            20.46
  5. High Raise                                    21.06
  6. Sergeant Man                               21.20
  7. Calf Crag                                     22.02
  8. Gibson Knott                               22.45
  9. Helm Crag                                   23.03
Grasmere Arrive                                    23.49
Grasmere Depart                                   23.59 
  1. Loughrigg                                     00.43
Ambleside Arrive                                   01.18

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Hadrians Wall C2C Challenge

 Following the line of Hadrian's Wall
I've just returned from guiding a Hadrian's Wall Challenge for Activius. 24 hours to get 100 miles from Bowness on Solway to Tynemouth by trail  and mountain bike. A surreal start to the day in Keswick saw us holding up Jeremy Clarkson as we backed a minibus with 18 bikes on a trailer onto the main road! Wonder if we'll feature in one of his rants?
The event itself provided great triathlon 'brick' training with 15 miles on foot immediately after a 45 mile bike ride. A couple of soggy hours kip in a field and we were on our way again at first light for the final 40 mile cycle ride through Newcastle and out to the coast at Tynemouth. To quote the late Brian Hanrahan - "I counted them all out and I counted them all back". A very successful event with all 16 participants completing the course in 22:30 for a barbeque on the east coast. The team from Legal & General raised nearly £20,000 in the process.
The majority of the route was on good cycle paths

Great dry conditions for the whole time we were on the move

 Just over half way on the classic central section of Hadrians Wall
 Rest break leaning against the wall!

 Stunning early morning light
Crossing the Tyne on the approach to Newcastle

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Lake District 24 Peaks Challenge

 Descending from High Crag early on day 1

Following on from last weeks 3 Peaks work I've been back out with another group raising money for charity but this weekend it's been on the far more interesting Activius 24 Peaks Challenge in the sunny Lake District. This two day 31 mile route has the added advantage of minimal driving and comfortable B&B accommodation each night.

Day 1 saw an early start from Buttermere for the stomp up Red Pike. The weather was stunning as we maintained a good pace along the High Stile Ridge as far as Haystacks and on to Moses trod for the traverse around to windy gap and up to Great Gable. The classic Ennerdale fell race was also being run today and we used several of the sneaky runners trods but we were off the route heading for Scafell before the leading competitors came through. The descent off Gable is always tough on the legs and heat was starting to get to some folk so it was a great relief to spend a few minutes at the spring just above Styhead Tarn. Our pace began to slow on the long climb up Corridor route but there was no rest to be had on the summit. The hundreds of other walkers and '3 Peakers' were easily out  numbered by the millions of flying insects enjoying the windless conditions. Our route now led along the ridge over Great End and Esk Pike as far as Bowfell before the long and unrelenting descent to Langdale down The Band. 13:40 after starting the whole of our team were safely down nursing a healthy glow and pouring fluid down their necks in preperation for tomorrow.

Sunday involves climbing 4 more peaks than day 1 but there is less distance, ascent and the terrain is far easier underfoot. We had to complete the route to High Row, Dockray in 10:20 to get under the 24 hours. the first brutal climb up Red Screes from Kirkstone Pass had the groups tired legs screaming in protest but they persevered and things looked a whole lot better from the top with our route stretched out in front of us. Cooler temperatures made keeping our momentum up a lot easier and we were soon on top of Fairfield mentally preparing for the tough middle section of the route. The scree descent to Grisedale Tarn is never pleasant but the National Trust have just started to build a proper pitched path at the bottom. A quick blast up and down the steep Seat Sandle and the team put their heads down for the direct climb of Dollywaggon Pike. I nipped off route to replenish a few waterbottles but had to work hard to catch a motivated group who had the end in sight. The final few miles of this challenge are a real pleasure following the undulating ridge over Helvellyn, Raise and the Dodds. The flying insects were back with a vengeance which also helped to keep the pace high and a very happy group reached the van and a waiting bottle of champagne and a few chilled beers in a great total time of 22:58.

 On top of peak no 4 - Haystacks

 Ennerdale & Buttermere

The scree descent off peak 14 - Fairfield

Monday, 3 June 2013

Working on the 3 Peaks Challenge

 Summit joy on Scafell
For many people the 3 Peaks Challenge is their first taste of the delights of ultra events. Climbing the highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales in 24 hours is becoming ever more popular with a constant stream of walkers and minibuses at this time of the year. It has attracted a significant amount of negative publicity and there are plenty of far more interesting challenges to be had but it is still a significant physical challenge and provides the stimulus for a huge amount of charity fundraising.
I guide a few events for Activius each year so Saturday morning saw myself and a couple of other guides heading up Ben Nevis with a group of 21. Taking point I was soon passed by Alex enjoying his first time in the hills by cruising up in a blisteringly fast 2:06. Pretty impressive for a newcomer to the hills in walking boots. The next 4 hours were spent on the plateau guiding clients safely to the summit and pointing them in the right direction for the long knee jarring descent.
A few hours later we were rolling up into Wasdale with the clouds clearing fast from the summit. I pointed Alex in the right direction and did my best to hang onto his tail arriving on the summit in around 1:15. The views were spectacular but a chilly northerly was blowing. An hour later I'd checked the rest of the fast moving team through and was away on the descent. Scafell is usually the hardest mountain physically and mentally coming at the end of a long day with the final challenge still many hours away. Any weakness in the legs or knees is cruelly shown up by the demands of the descent and a number of our group began to suffer.
The final mountain is Snowdon in North Wales which we climbed by the PyG track. With perfect conditions and visibility we were able to let Alex off the leash who duly dispatched the mountain in 1:56 topping out in 1:08.  the rest of the group soon followed with 19 folk completing the challenge.
Despite this being work it provided a great work out for the legs with 2500m of fast paced climbing in 6 hours plus another 10 hours of hill time.
 Checking the participants through Scafell Pike
Amazing early morning light on Snowdon