As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Friday, December 14, 2012

With just inside two weeks to go until the Tour de Helvellyn I took the day off work and took myself up into them there hills for the final long run prior to the event itself.

I drove to Thirlmere and parked in the village hall carpark. I got changed and parked all my gear whilst sitting in the back of the van. As I emerged to begin I noted the 555 bus just leaving the stop opposite the road end..... Would have been V handy to have caught it into Keswick.

So I set off jogging North along the main A591. Its not a pleasant road to run along but at least theres a pavement for most of it and a wide grass verge for the rest, so no issues with vehicles coming close by.

Its a tad over 5 miles to the Keswick town centre and it took us (Scamp was with me) 50 minutes exactly. Not fast, but I was carrying a decent amount of gear and also stopped twice to attend to calls of nature and take photos.

At Keswick I stopped by the Moot Hall and made note of the exact time. Then set off toward Skiddaw. 81 minutes later I was on top of Skiddaw.

Skiddaw was V V V cold and windy and had about 10 metres visibility. I'd slipped and slid around since the first high gate. I didnt put on my Kahtoolah microspikes as I thought it not worth doing so as I would be descending out of the snow and ice soon enough. That was an error. I lost a lot more time after I'd crossed the fence and was going down toward Hare Crag.

Over Hare Crag is always very wet. This time it was partially frozen and I fannied about trying to keep my feet dry by avoiding the deepest, wettest bits where the ice would give under my weight. Of course I got wet feet anyway so may as well have ploughed through regardless. At least I didnt now need to wonder how to keep dry at the Caldew crossing later on.

Living in Cumbria means having to look at this kind of thing on a regular basis!!!

Gt Calva is largely uninteresting. After the summit I dropped down along the fence that naturally brings you to Wiley Gill. I would nomally take a more direct line off Calva, through the heather in a beeline for Mungrisedale Common. I took the fence route just to remind myself of it and now I remember why I dont like it......very steep and rocky, and holding the fence can cut into fingers.

I then took a terrible line across to the Caldew. Struggling through thigh high heather and reeds for a couple of hundred metres to reach the river. Although my shoes were soaked, my tights werent, so I rolled them up (a la uncle at the beach), and waded through. Halfway across I couldnt remember if I had stowed my camera in the drybag or just inside the top of my pack. As I didnt fall in it was of no consequence either way

Climbing up to Mugrisedale common seemed harder and more annoying than I ever remember. The tufty grass was surely never this long in the summer? And the boggy bits seemed to be strung together in a line matching exactly the one I chose.

On the common plateau there was enough height to allow the ice to return. I stopped and rooted in the bottom of my bag for the microspikes. I hadnt worn them once last winter and forgot how buddy brilliant they are. It was like someone had flicked a switch. Where I'd been walking and struggling I was now jogging with ease. No more skirting round the glassiest sections of ice - just run straight over through the middle.

I hadn't been looking forward to being up on Blencathra. Not if that awful wind was present again.
Turns out the day had improved. On Blen' it wasnt that windy at all and the sun was weakly shining through the clag. Near the summit I met an older couple who had come up Sharp Edge!! They had crampons, ice axes etc and were clearly well experienced people. But they were no spring chickens and certainly have more bottle than me for tackling that route in winter.

I left the summit and descended toward Scales fell. Foolishly I missed bearing to my right to gain Doddick and once I realised my error was reasonably far down Scales. I should have climbed back up to the correct path intersection but instead decided I could traverse the steep sided bowl between Scales and Doddick. This was almost certainly slower than if I'd climbed back up. At times, the only reason I was able to progress at all was due to my footwear getting a good hold in the small pockets of snow that remained on this South facing hillside. Anyway, eventually I got myself onto the proper Doddick path and descended to Threlkeld village.

On my drive through that morning I had stopped down the track to Newsham House and left behind some food and drink, stashed away by some sleepers at the roadside. The savoury snack was buddy delicious, as was the milkshake. I began the ascent of Clough Head feeling great. I wasnt covering the ground particularly fast, but 61 minutes to Cloughy is just a little over the slowest BG schedule, and of course you would normally take 5-15 minutes stop at the A66 on a BG, where I spent probably just  2 mins getting my stash and putting away my spikes.

Putting away my spikes was an error. When will I learn? The descent off Clough Head toward Calfhow Pike was very icy, but also easy to avoid slipping by keeping wide of the main path where it was more grassy. As soon as the climb up to Gt Dodd started, the ice and snow was again a real issue. I reached the summit of Gt Dodd some 6 minutes slower than the slowest BG schedule and finally I stopped and looked out my spikes again.

Looking West from nr Calfhow Pike

Immediately leaving Doddy I was unable to walk properly. The snow was about 10 inches in depth and frozen. But not frozen enough to stop me breaking through with 8 out of 10 steps. This was not only then pitifully slow, but also hurt quite a  lot as shins clattered against the unbroken sides of the holes made by feet.

I decided enough was enough and didnt bother visit the next two Dodds summits. I probably wouldnt have found them anyway. The only way I could tell where I was at all, was to peer across to my left until the steep drop into Browndale Beck ended, then the drop on my right to Stanah Gill began. I also kept an eye on the compass to check I was going South, as I reckon it would be very easy to run in circles in such conditions.

Finally I reached Sticks Pass and headed West to drop into Thirlmere. I got back to the van at 1650hrs, having set off at 0910. I reckon it was probably 24/25 miles in total. Certainly the longest 'winter conditions' run I have ever done. Hopefully it will serve as good training/experience for the TdeH next weekend, and who knows, maybe for something longer in 2013......


  1. Its probably best If I don't leave a comment... so I wont.

  2. Sounds like an adventure! And I agree - microspikes are brill.