Saturday 31st July 2010 was no ordinary day. 52 very abnormal people gathered at 3:45am in a car park at the foot of Hellvellyn in the Lake district to embark on the inaugural 10 peaks Challenge. This challenge is a charity event that involves completing a route that takes in the 10 highest peaks in the Lake District, some 18,000 foot of ascent and descent, 45 miles and a 24 hour time limit.
Me? Well, I’m as abnormal as they come. Never walked in the lakes, never been up a mountain before. Luckily I had secured the services of Stewart Bondi (aka Rambo) and Martin Stewart (aka Gormless), supported by Pete Johnson (aka Shatnav) and four Sainsburies cheesecakes.
This event was billed as being walkable within the 24 hours, so we chose to run with a view to finishing in time to get a pint in the pub. Maybe wishful thinking but a goal worth striving for.
The start was dark. After some photos and the Safety briefing we sped up a path up a hill. The hill seemed to go on and on. I think is actually a big hill. It carried on. It started to get cold. It started to become misty. This big hill was in fact a mountain. Even though I was exerting plenty of energy even I had to stop and put a long sleeved top on. I think the temperature must have dropped by 10 degrees by the time we got to the top.
As we ascended under Rambo’s direction, we were sent off the main path to the peak known as Lower Man. We posed while each other took turns in taking photos.
We trotted along and within a few minutes we were at the summit of our second peak, Hellvelyn. This felt a bit like cheating as we hadn’t really ascended or descended much but hey I wasn’t complaining !!
The views were not really viewable from up there as it was still dark and the hill fog surrounded us. The only reason we knew we were on top was by checking with Rambo’s GPS device. The third peak in quick succession was suddenly achieved – Nethermost Pike. Luckily some more 10 peakers (don’t know where they were for the previous two peaks!!) were around to witness this peak so we were able to have a photo with Shatnav who would later be our support for the event.
The first three peaks on the Hellvelyn range were achieved with relative ease before we descended back down to the warmth at low level. We were able to get some running in at last and the temperature rose enough for the long sleeved top to come back off. We ran and we ran and found ourselves down back at lake level. A small trot along the road and then a right hand turn towards check point 1 at the United utilities car park. Here we were supposed to take on plenty of fluid and food as it would be a long stretch to the next stop. I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade but the midgies were feeding on us and I just needed to get moving again to get away from the little blighters. Little did I know that I would later regret not taking on more fluid and food at this stop.
On we went through a boggy valley called The Bog. The conditions under foot were not particularly pleasant but nothing we weren’t accustomed to. As we cambered we found it more tricky as we slipped about, using more energy than we’d normally expect to use in getting from A to B. We seemed to ascend and descend a little but not particularly noticeable until Rambo pointed back that the mountain known as High Raise that we had just been over. I couldn’t believe it as there was a massive mountain behind us and I had to double check that was where we had been because it looked so gigantically massive it was unreal.
At times we were able to run, but the level/flatish ground never seemed to last more than a few more minutes and we soon found ourselves walking again with our poles. Going seemed slow. Every time I looked at my watch we seemed to be doing 2mph. How were we going to make up the time? We carried on and on. Quite a long time really until we could start to see our next peak – yes that little hill known as Bowfell. We stopped for a couple of minutes at Angle Tarn at the foot of Bowfell. Two other ten peakers were tucking into sandwiches here – we could have done with some food here to be honest, it had been a long day already although only about 10am – we had been going non stop for 6 hours !! Rambo pointed up to Bowfell saying that’s where we’re off to next. Gormless and I laughed along – He is such a joker ! We climbed up and up and up. The key was to climb steadily and not push too hard. It was a relief to be off the boggy stuff and onto a rocky path. It wouldn’t be long before I would dream for another boggy path though as rocky paths would turn out to be hard work, and ultimately, put a premature end to the challenge.
It didn’t seem so bad and just as we got to the top we started to feel pretty good about ourselves but unfortunately we weren’t there yet. The mist cleared to reveal this monsterous mountain on the mountain we had just climbed !! Under foot was now a mixture of boulders and loose stone which slowed us down a little. We did finally make up to Bowfell, peak number 4. We met a couple of other ten peakers at the top although they seemed to climb up from a different direction which was odd. Next we were off to Great End. It wasn’t far away but the tricky conditions under foot were using up more energy than I had thought and it was pretty slow going. We went up a little hill on the way known as Esk Pike. We made it up to Great End with not too much of a problem but I did feel as though I was starting to run on empty. I ate sweets and drank energy drink but it only seemed to help for 5 minutes as I would feel as though my legs wouldn’t move as much as I wanted them to. I left a message on Shatnav’s phone to say where we were and to ask for chocolate for Rambo (or was it for me?).
We were headed for Scafell Pike and by now it was fully raining and we were wrapped up in layers and waterproofs, which I thought I would never need. The wind added to the occasion. The boulders were becoming more persistent under foot now and unfortunately they were getting pretty treacherous and I slipped over a few times. After bashing my elbow and then my knee I elected to reduce the pace even more with a view of surviving. We eventually made it up to Scafell Pike. A very busy place indeed !
Unfortunately for us the next route was again over more slippery boulders and then down a hill of loose stone, round a corner and then up a waterfall. Yes – a very pretty waterfall but no way on earth was I going to climb it. Rambo explained that we had to go up the waterfall. After a few moments I realised he was not joking so up we went. Never climbed a waterfall before, let alone the 200m or so that this one was ! Every now and again someone would would be coming down the waterfall. I said my usual hello to each passer by and added “glad I’m going up and not down”.
We got to the top of the waterfall eventually. Strangely, we were quite wet. I asked Rambo how we were to get back down and yes you guessed it – back down the waterfall !! No wonder Scafell Pike is more popular than Scafell. We got up to Scafell by about 2:30pm, yet again across more slippery rocks. By this time I felt dead on my feet. I didn’t feel pain as such, just completely out of energy. As we stopped at the peak for a photo I took the opportunity to sit down. How was I going to get back down the waterfall? How was I going to get back up Scafell Pike? Also what about the other 2 peaks near (ish) by and then the long trek down to Skiddaw? I now actually felt as though I could not go on.
Trouble is, when you’re on top of a mountain there’s not really many options so down the waterfall we went. Going was slow but safe. Down the bottom we then had to climb back up towards Scafell Pike. Going was again very slow. My legs had nothing in them. We met up with some other 10 peakers who showed us a route that avoided having to go over the
summit of Scafell Pike. I would normally have run some of this but was suffering and just putting one foot in front of another was good enough.
At least we were now heading towards the meeting place with Shatnav and our lunch. Lunch was the make or break of the day and could have done with it 4 hours earlier (at lunch time !!) but hey ho ! When we got to the meeting place there was no Shatnav. No Lunch. Nothing but shivering 10 peakers, rain and wind. I had been trying to convince myself for the last 2 hours that I could actually go on but was well aware of my slow speed and that I was holding the team up. I desperately wanted to complete this challenge – I have sponsors, friends, colleagues – all expecting me to finish. I had plenty of time to think. The longer we went on, the more I realised that I could just not go on. I needed food. I needed to sit down. I needed to get off my feet. Also I thought “I’m never doing the lakes again!” “I’m sticking to Dartmoor”. I was defeated. Then the smallest, most decisive meeting ever took place. Rambo asked “Shall we go on?” and I replied “No”. That was that, the challenge suddenly ended or so I thought. The rain lashed down and we all started to get cold. Rambo called Shatnav to arrange meeting at Honister Pass. He also phoned HQ to let them know of our decision to retire. I put my leggings on which is highly unlike me, but my body seemed incapable of generating enough heat. The other 10 peakers that we had met up with had also decided to retire. We headed off. The decision was to contour around Great Gable rather than climbing over it’s summit. The “Climbers Path” was not particularly easy as it went from path to rock to loose stone to boulders. My speed seemed to get slower and slower and it didn’t seem to matter whether I was on a flat path or on a slippery boulder. There was no rest. The group kept disappearing into the fog ahead and then having to wait for me. I estimate that I was only able to travel at 1/3 of the group’s pace. It was not fun and I continually apologised for my lack of pace.
Eventually we got round to a path that took us towards Honister Pass via a great view of a valley with Pillar in the background. It hit home how far and high we would have had to climb and I knew that it would have taken me many hours to reach it’s summit. A daunting task indeed and one for someone with more fitness than me !
We headed down to Honister PAss and the most welcome sight of our good friend Shatnav. Poor Shatnav had waited for 4 hours at Styhead Pass in the wind and rain with our lunch. He had as much of a traumatic day as I had and I truly appreciate his patience and helpful nature. The BLT rolls tasted like the best sandwiches ever, as did the crisps and biscuits and anything else I could get my hands on.
We then went to a pub for a well earned pint of Ale, although I could not help but feel that I had not really earned it as I had only completed 7 of the 10 peaks. As it happens, none of the 10 peak teams were able to reach 10 peaks.
Ale does funny things and the funny thing it did to me this time is to convince me that the 10 peaks was not too bad and that I can succeed next year. The training begins now !
I now have respect for the lakes and huge respect for those that attempt the challenging terrain of this area. I know people that have attempted and successfully completed the Bob Graham Round and my hat goes off to them all. It is a truly tough challenge.
Graham Harbor (AKA Gromit)