The Semples on Tour
Callum and Dad’s 10 Peak Challenge
(Please note who had top billing)
Once upon a time not so very long ago my eldest son Callum wanted to be just like his Dad… sadly that time has passed and now all he wants to do is be better than him!!
Part of the problem is the gene pool, both his mother and I are very competitive, not painfully so, but enough to niggle.
In 2012 I competed and came 14th place (can you tell that I’m still dining out on that?) My children and chiefly Callum helped me write a blog for the 10 Peaks website. This seemed to capture his imagination and he went on to help me pre plan my 10 Peaks Brecon course and nav with some adventure camping over a weekend. I eventually didn’t compete due to a blown knee and so my heart was set on 2014.
Callum was an Army Cadet, a strong athlete with good navigation skills, but and it’s a big but…. he was 14! The race, because of its very nature has an 18+ age limit.
Paul and Mark (the organisers) handled it very maturely and professionally . I approached them and discussed both his and my capabilities, and a total exclusion of liabilities – but safety was the priority . They were unnecessarily apologetic. He could not enter, but I totally understood that. Safety first, and apart from insurance, litigation and that ugly world, anyone incapacitated in the mountains endangers many. It was, and remains the right decision.
I would therefore enter and Callum would accompany me, affectionately called (as per the Paris Dakar team support rider) my “water carrier”. We had a little under 3 months to prepare. Physically and more importantly mentally.
It was now a team, and he was the unknown element.
Callum is particularly fit, quicker than me over… any distance I guess up to half marathon, thereafter my old head may offset his advantage, of course this is supposition.
Explosive fitness is one thing but running and pushing yourself for 24 hours is more than this – the body has to be capable but the handbrake can be physcological. However, I had seen Callum’s resolve previously.
We had a slight indiscretion with some cigarettes and so we went on a little run with a bergen full of logs. 12 miles later and every river and hill we could find he had an epiphany about the dangers of smoking. He was told he was precious goods and that I would kill him before he did it himself.
Abusive yes, illegal possibly, successful absolutely!
My mum’s dad had allegedly locked one of his children under the stairs and invited them to smoke their pack of Players so again I blame the blood line.
Callum therefore possesses a steely determination but with body fat in single figures he had no reserves to draw upon and would need close management.
On race weekend we drove the 6 hrs (don’t you love Friday traffic) to Keswick and signed on.
Paul Smith the organiser shook Callum’s hand, wished him luck and nicknamed him “the plus one”.
What a bloke, he started this whole event in memory and homage to his Dad and could never have dreamt what a success and premier event this would turn into.
After my 2012 debut, I offered the feedback that it was very underpriced at £50 for the level of support and quality.
Over the years it has raised thousands for MacMillan nurses which unfortunately touches us all – enough said.
We soaked up the atmosphere and then went for a late dinner which is on the actual route. I pointed with a heavy steak laden fork at the road outside
“if we pass here in daylight tomorrow I will be a happy bunny”.
We fell asleep in the back of the car at about midnight full of excitement for the next days events. 0245 and up and at them. Muesli for me and a cold can of all day breakfast for Callum – nice. I began chatting with the guys parked next to us (who eventually smashed all the records) It turned out to be the winner’s enclosure Jonathon Albon 10.50 hrs on our right and the Litherlands on our left, Catherine went on to smash the ladies record in 13.20 hrs in 5th overall and hubby Ross was 2nd in 11.13 hrs. I was so engrossed I lost all track of time and the last 10 mins were a frenzy to get on the coach, not like me at all.
On the coach were a group of Marines – you can spot them a mile off, even in civvies – great bunch – might hear about them again!
Ready, Steady – Go and people were frantically dibbing in as Paul wished them well on their journey.
We raced our way up Helvellyn, Callum was like a lurcher off the lead – I ran on his shoulder and we were leading for a while. This is déjà vu, and it ended in tears last time. As you guessed early start, no warm up, a little nauseous and I started going backwards – Callum was gone. Toward the top I monitored his progress in the snake of people before me, he began to slow and back into me. He was as white as a sheet.
“Just slow to a speed where you can keep your stomach contents on the inside, you will need them soon!”
After topping out in 1.02, fully recovered he decided to make amends. My strength is descents, not from being a supreme athlete but more a combination of a slight recklessness and little respect for the quads. Callum being aware of this wanted to test his metal.
Again – he was gone – we passed the Marines at pace for the first time of the day.
“I can hear sweets rattling” I said licking my lips.
“Who’s your mate?” they said pointing at the ever decreasing spec in the distance.
“That’s my pain in the ……son; who’s supposed to be following me!”
There is a slight nav on the descent and at this rate Callum would sail on past it. He did eventually wait in circumstances that were explained to me climbing Great Gable. You obviously to and fro with people throughout the day until one party eventually shakes off the other. One of 2 guys that we initially met on Esk Pike described “I was running down Helvellyn and heard much quicker footsteps behind me – thinking it was a top runner I held open a gate for him and was surprised to see this young lad bound through and then stop dead. I asked him if he was alright and his response – quite nonchalantly was Yes – but I’ve got to wait for my Dad!!”
It still makes me titter, and I thought I had caught him!!
CP1 came and went. Again Paul was overseeing – help yourself to gel bars he said to Callum.
I must start a Paul Fan Club I thought.
Up towards the Bog.
We have a number of 10 Peaks Tales but this is the one most regurgitated. When arriving at a particularly boggy area I stated to Callum with the authority of a Sergeant Major, that it was imperative to keep your feet dry.. “Watch me and copy my technique” Planting firstly the poles to spread the weight and then skipping through them to bound across the quagmire. The 2 poles went into the handles and with all the finesse of an ice skating hippo I followed them up to the crotch. “I’ll do my own route planning thanks” he said scampering past like a Water Boatman, not even dirtying his shoes. I was left thrashing like a scene out of Tarzan in the quicksand he always managed to find – where’s that bloody elephant when you need it?
No real dramas apart from a small nav error off High Raise and down to Angle Tarn – passing the Marines again – still no sweets!
Bowfell, Esk Pike and Hause were ticked off. Up onto Great End we once again met the 2 lads – I navved us onto the dibber although they had satnavs (white witches)
Callum lost his spring a little over to Scafell Pike- so we did some food management on the move. By the time we went up the Rake he was firing again.
When we once again descended we had amassed a crowd of followers – I navved onto the Corridor Route under Pulpit rock, the Marines holding a higher tighter route and pulled 10 mins on us.
We pushed on and were neck and neck at the foot of Great Gable. It’s wonderful mountain but as your 8th of the day, not including High Raise and Esk Pike – it has never been one of my favourites. Callum set his stall out early – no Marine would pass him to the top and he started with a pace my body could not sustain. He topped out first with me amidst the Navy’s elite.
It was almost a sport now with the lads, we would stretch the descents and they would counter on the ups. But still – no sweets. Southern coasters – not very generous with their ration pack sweets.
We exchanged stories on the way down ; one of the lads had a 40 miler with weight on the coming Wednesday. Good luck with that one.
They were all in their second year and therefore still very fit out of basic training. My boy was putting in a good performance to keep up with these monkeys.
At CP3 Beck Head an experienced Marshall was monitoring and testing the responses of the assembled.
“Wrap up warm, prepare your nav for the Pillar out and back”
“We don’t need our nav – we’ve got a Rob” retorted one of the Marines. The Marshall just glared (well I thought it was funny)
Out to Pillar we pulled time on the Green Berets and caught up with the 2 guys again. They were impressed with Callum’s resolve this late in the game. We tucked in with them all the way to Honister.
Half a jacket spud and little foot TLC. My early dip had taken its toll, they had been painful from Great Gable but when you look at them they always hurt more. They looked like Keith Richards – these last 7 hours were going to be particularly unpleasant.
Mark Bottomley co organiser came over and told me how all the CP Marshalls have commented on Callum’s progress and asked how he was going.
“I can’t believe how well he’s going – at this pace we will hit just over 21 hours – subject to a wobble on Skiddaw”
“and there’s always a wobble on Skiddaw” Mark responded knowledgably.
He accompanied me over to Callum, “When you’re 18 I want you to come back and smash the record”
From memory of 2012 the climb up to Dale Head was markedly easier but I was nearly 3 hrs behind my time then so understandably fresher. We hammered down the valley toward Nichol End.
As we jogged into Keswick we exchanged how easy it would be to slip into last night’s restaurant and have another steak. Gels would stay off the menu. We were ahead of our daylight pledge and it wasn’t until the foot of Skiddaw when last light started to fail. Let’s walk for 20 mins before we put on head torches, lets use our night vision.
When we eventually donned torches we were under a thick blanket of cloud, just about to be engulfed. Here we go, that looks wet and cold.
We looked to our right and could see a headlight in no mans land pushing up the valley.
“Where’s he going?” Callum questioned.
I didn’t know but it wouldn’t be easy he was completely off piste.
Our paths eventually intersected and Tim asked if he could tag along. Of course you can was our response but we are not moving quickly – I was now lame. We pushed on through the cloud – I was constantly forcing food and gels, sweets into all 3 of us. The balls of my feet were now heavily blistered. One big sac of ever filling fluid – burst, empty then refilling.
You know the feeling when you stand on a plug in the bedroom. The body has a fail safe “pain alarm” and you instantly buckle to relieve this. Every 20 steps or so that is what would happen to me, I would end up on my back completely involuntarily just by reflex. I had to assure Callum I was compos-mentis and not becoming a liability. Tim kept chipping in that he couldn’t believe Callum’s tenacity. He was a Lakeland 50 & 100 competitor and spoke very praisingly of his performance.
We had now donned hats, gloves and down jackets, it was probably 15 m visibility which made the nav increasingly tricky. A stony path on a stony mountain isn’t easy to follow in such conditions.
With my feet, Callum and Tim beginning to tire I thought even the slightest nav error might be a major incident. Compass and map had my full attention. We topped out with a growing wind and even when we met with the track I refused to relax, was it the right track? A slip up now might be a bridge too far. We descended and my confidence grew at every predicted feature.
Callum asked for the first time “how far?”
“15 minutes” I lied expertly – he was now falling asleep on his feet at every nav check stop. I plyed him full of Strawberry shoelaces – thankfully its all down hill from here.
After a handful more “how fars” we rounded the corner – navigated the fence and climbed the steps to the Football Club.
“I’m going to bed” Callum said.
“You bloody well are not,” I said “the finish line is through those doors and it’s your privilege ”
Most honourably Tim held the door open and Callum led us in.
I thought Mark was going to shake his arm off and he instantly congratulated him and adorned him with a medal around his neck.
My heart nearly burst!
I could not have been any prouder. Tim and I patted him on the back and shook his hand.
“That’s some paper round!!!” What a result 22 04 hours!! Tim and I had nearly forgot to dib in!
Mark slammed a pizza in, with others unfortunately arriving before it was ready and Callum bailed for a well earned rest.
In retrospect I take my hat off to Callum. I have witnessed some feats of endurance from top athletes, on expeditions on forced route marches and across difficult terrain and this is right up there.
He started a boy and finished a man; I struggle to talk about the entire experience without all the emotions coursing through my veins. What a bloke!!
We beat the Marines – that will serve them right for not sharing their sweets!
Total respect to Paul Smith, Mark Bottomley.
Top blokes – Top Event
Keep up the good work.
Come on 2015.