10 Peaks and 4 Cheesecakes

An alarm went off, are my eyes actually open? It’s too dark to determine that, an abrupt awakening revealed it was 3am and time to get up and get ready for the 10 Peaks Challenge, the inaugural Charity event around the 10 highest peaks in the Lake District. After a quick breakfast consisting of a 500ml bottle of spring water and a white chocolate chip cookie I was away with the rest of the team, Rambo, Gromit and ShatNav to the start point – Swirls Car Park on the Eastern side of Thirlmere Lake. We (including ShatNav, who was joining us up the first three peaks) set off from the car park around 4am along with around 50 others, up to the first three of the ten highest peaks, namely; Helvellyn Lower Man, Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike. Going was very good as the biting wind cooled us down nicely once we reached each summit. Rambo making sure we left the path to reach the summit of Helvellyn Lower Man, this reassured me (not that I needed any reassurance) that we were being led by a man who not only knows the area like his own back yard but has the ability to navigate to anywhere in any situation, whilst allowing for and regularly checking the ability and the condition of his fellow team members.

Dawn broke as we started descending the range and we made reasonable time as we reached the first check point at the United Utilities car park, where we were greeted by a swarm of welcoming midges, ready to feast on exposed flesh, which we had plenty of! Bon appetite!

After taking on a banana and some liquid we set off again, heading in a south westerly direction towards the heart of the mountainous Lake District. We followed a stream, heading to its source as we crossed the appropriately named area that is ‘The Bog’. As before, we didn’t manage to brake out in a run as the terrain consistently remained soft, wet and slippery. We eventually made our way up out of this area, onto a very welcome path which headed up to High Raise. From there we headed straight over and down, to be greeted by some lovely views, one amazing sight was in the direction we were headed – to Bowfell. Rambo showing us other peaks as they emerged from the cloud, especially those ones along the Bob Graham route. We moved well on this good, solid ground, following a footpath that could be seen far into the distance. However, I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been doing in the area as my right foot caught the edge of a rut in a downhill section and I was over. Luckily, the pain subsided after a few minutes and revealed I hadn’t sprained the ankle to the extent I did a few months earlier, nonetheless Rambo invited me to stand in the stream and submerge the ankle, which was actually a welcome relief and I am sure helped a lot.

We carried on and arrived at the foot of Angle Tarn, where two fellow 10 peak companions (the scousers as they were affectionately known) who we had been with for some of this leg sat down and had a bite to eat. At that stage Gromit and I thought of what lies ahead and we started to look forward to our own refuelling stop with ShatNav, who took our order of BLT sandwiches and cheesecake the day before. On On up to Bowfell, where I noticed for the first time that I could hear panting and our progress had slowed as our poles were put away and the journey continued over rocks. I followed Rambo closely and found the rocks an enjoyable challenge, Grom progressed more cautiously as he didn’t seem as confident over this harsh terrain. We reached the summit, found some visitors in the fog to take a photo and we were off again, back down the same way initially, then continuing in a north westerly direction to our next peak – Great End. Progress was slow as we experienced our first shower of rain whilst crossing the continued rocky, but now more slippery path. There was however plenty of opportunity to take in views of this outstanding region as the clouds occasionally parted and revealed another ‘postcard’ scene, which was described to us so accurately by the wonderfully knowledgeable Rambo.

We reached the summit of Great End, where again a couple of people arrived just in time to take a photo for us, which was very nice of them. We then headed off to Scafell Pike, passing Broad Crag and Ill Crag (we declined Rambo’s offer to climb the second of these two Bob Graham peaks) as the rain became more consistent over the rocky surface. After a final ascent up some difficult, loose and smaller stones we arrived at peak number 6. As we arrived I could hear echoes of people singing happy birthday and I am sure I heard a champagne cork pop, Rambo ‘welcomed us to Centre Parcs’, as it was so busy we basically joined the queue to go up the stone platform marking the highest point in England. There was no shortage of photographers here.

A quick check of the map and compass by Rambo for the direction to Scafell, peak 7 and we left the party. Rambo hesitated as he looked at the boulders on route in the direction of Scafell. However, the rain was falling heavier and we headed in this most direct route. Unfortunately, as we descended Rambo was regretting his decision to take this direction as progress was slow, Grom gaining a couple of knocks on his legs from the rocks, resulting in the pace reducing more in the increasing rain. That’s when I first had the thought that we may not finish the event in the 24 hours, at that time however I dismissed it and carried on positively.

We reached a path along to Scafell, which was descending but headed in the direction to the planned ascent route. This path consisted of smaller rock and stone, most of which moved and cascaded down as you trod on it (scree), it reminded me of sliding on ice as we continued. Gromit and I were keen to see what this route consisted of because Rambo stated we were coming back the same way, retracing our route back to Scafell Pike from Scafell. Eventually, after altering our route to keep on a higher contour Rambo confirmed he could hear water, ‘so we must be close to the path’ said he, and there it was. I mean the water and the path, because they were one! It reminded me of a smaller version of the fantastic ‘Devils Ladder’, a wet gully climb up Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland, that I did back in 2007. However, I thoroughly enjoyed ascending that section so was eager to climb this one. First however we had to wait for two people and pet dogs to come down first, Rambo checking with the guy that this was in fact the route to Foxes Tarn and up to Scafell. I found it an enjoyable climb, the rain eased as we regularly made way for people coming down, who looked to also be enjoying their endeavours of the day. However, a dead, decomposing sheep carcass lay in a lower section of the stream and made me think that caution is definitely needed up this precarious route, also, not to drink the water in that lower section. We eventually reached the unimpressive Foxes Tarn and continued up a steep path to the seventh peak. Once again, two hikers were taking shelter next to the summit and what looked like starting on some hot beverage or something, anyway, one was more than happy to take our photo.

So, back down the same route, Gromit didn’t seem impressed as we followed the Cairns marking the steep route back. The descent seemed slower and as I waited at the foot of the climb more ten peakers arrived, happy to have found the start of this climb. They were in good spirits despite the difficult conditions and climb ahead. We retraced our route back up towards Scafell Pike, Gromit taking the opportunity to leave a present under one of the rocks, however, he confirmed he felt lighter and a little better for it. As we reached the top of the difficult path we met the scousers again, this time accompanied with three other ten peak people who I recognised from earlier, they had gone to Scafell and back via the precarious Lords Rake. We all carried on together, the decision was made not to climb back up and over Scafell Pike but to follow the contours around to pick up the Corridor Route.

We found the path and stayed together along this mostly comfortable route, eventually catching up with another ten peak team. However, the path split into two options; higher or lower. The team in front decided to go down the lower, we chose the higher. It was very wet and climbing had to be undertaken with care, however, the route got better but our pace remained slow. We reached Styhead Pass, the weather seemed even worse in this exposed area. The scousers made the decision to abandon the challenge and head for Seathwaite. We went on to look for ShatNav, who we had arranged to meet at the Mountain Rescue box. However, it turned out the poor guy had left an hour earlier, after waiting for an incredible four hours in very poor conditions. I was hungry and regretted the decision not to carry any food, only energy shots and sweets. We also met three other ten peak challengers who were sheltering against the box and taking time to have a cigarette. We had a meeting and unfortunately decided to also abandon the challenge, we decided to contour around Great Gable, over Beck Head and make our way in the most direct route to Honister Pass and Check Point three, where we would meet ShatNav.

We took the Climbers Path around Great Gable and I could see why it was called that, only occasional path existed and we mostly crossed slippery rocks and loose stone. This route seemed to go on for a long distance as it turned out to be very time consuming and slow progress, however Rambo found enough phone signal to call and inform the base of our decision to quit, we then learnt everyone else was also making that same decision, he also spoke to ShatNav and confirmed we would see him at Honister Pass later.

After a little way beyond Beck Head the route became easy, quite level and good underfoot, however we were still travelling very slowly. However, the views became increasingly fantastic as we descended from cloud.

We met ShatNav in the car park, who greeted us with a very welcome cup of coffee, a delicious BLT sandwich and as many crisps as we could eat. He then drove me, Rambo and Gromit to the nearest pub, where we were forced to drink beer! ShatNav kindly went back for the others and brought them back to the comfortable surroundings of the busy pub, before returning everyone to Keswick.

So, 28 miles, 7 peaks, 10,000 feet and 17 hours… to be continued…

Although we didn’t complete the 10 peaks I certainly enjoyed the trip and especially the day out attempting the challenge, it was amazing being surrounded by the harsh but inspiring landscape.

Although we abandoned the challenge I am sure none of the Bob Graham runners were doing that, it was incredible to see those runners and pacers undertaking such a harsh task in those conditions, an amazing accomplishment. I hereby declare that I will support Grom on his Bob Graham Round in any way I can, go for it Grom! But seriously, thanks to Grom for inviting us to join him on this adventure, also for his continuous, unrelenting enthusiasm and determination.

A huge thank you to ShatNav, who carried out the un-envious task of team support and in doing so trekked across harsh terrain in difficult conditions and waited for so long for us, also drove a hell of a long way, gave up a lot of his time and money supporting us, we couldn’t have done it without him.

Finally a massive thanks to Rambo for sorting out training runs, kit, maps, accommodation, food, energy gels, advice, cheesecakes and the navigational task on the day, it was clear that Grom and I would have attempted a very different 10 peaks if it weren’t for Rambo! I feel very privileged to have attempted this challenge with this extraordinary man.

On on,