Whenever I have climbed up Blencathra via any of the many routes, I would often gaze across to the alternate ridges and perhaps plan to come back down that way, or sometimes even to make a second ascent during the same run.
One day I found myself counting just how many ways there were to go up....
The first and most obvious would have to be the 4 ridges/fells - Scales - Doddick - Halls and Gategill, as, from near or far, these are easy to make out as very obvious lines to take.
Then there's the famous Sharp Edge, and the Western flank of Blease Fell, and finally, the 'back door' (Glenderamackin valley to the right of sharp Edge then hard Left to Foule Crag.
So, theres 7 different routes to the top. I'd done them all but one - Gategill. So I went up that way a couple of times in the summer. I discovered it to be a real tough climb - possibly as steep as any of the rocky ridges, but without much in the way of permanent rock it feels like you should be able to run up - no chance.
Right then. Seven ways to climb Blencathra. Seven ways to get to the summit. My summit.
I'd heard all about a certain Frenchman who was planning to speed climb 7 of the worlds biggest mountains. Kilian Jornets several year long project is named Summits of my Life.
I decided therefore that I would do Summit of my Life. Just the one summit, but I'd go up it 7 times. I wouldn't be going for any speed ascent records. In fact, I would probably stop for a cup of tea.
I devised my 'rules'. Very simply, an ascent was complete once the cement trig point was reached. A descent was complete once a road was reached. The ascents all had to use the main walkers footpaths (no shortcuts) and obviously had to be 7 different ones, but the descents could be any way I liked
How long will this take me then?... was one of my first questions. I knew that I could run up and down the Scales route in 45 minutes - FLAT OUT. I therefore figured that at half that speed (90 minutes) I would be just jogging along, taking it easy, and be able to carry on for several hours.
90 min x7 = 10.5 hours. I therefore based the whole thing on taking 10.5 to 12 hours to complete.
Not wanting to spend any time in the dark and with summer whizzing by I needed to finish by about 8pm so therefore start by about 8am to be sure not to.
So on Saturday 31st August I awoke in my tent in Burns Campsite and ate a hearty breakfast before driving the couple of miles to Threlkeld village where I parked the van up and prepared some bits and bobs in the rear for refreshment later in the challenge. (this was the beauty of this challenge - I could easily touch base several times so there was no requirement to carry lots of gear or enlist people to help me)
Next, I walked from Threlkeld to Mousthwaite Combe carpark where I stashed some more food and drinks, took off my fleece, and then set off, at 0805, to run up Blencathra Seven times.
At 0807, Scamp rolled in some utterly disgusting substance (I suspect fox poo or decomposed sheep etc) - never mind - only another 10 or 12 hours in his stinky company to go!!
The first climb up, (via Glenderamackin and round the back) was the longest in distance, but it was all running so only took 50 odd minutes to reach the Summit of my Life No1. A heavy shower of rain saw me put on full waterproofs, but it was short lived and the rest of the day I made do with just a coat on and off - bare legs were fine. The descent back to my start point was very enjoyable, taking my preferred lines across the fellside rather than using the hard stoney path.
Summit of my Life No2 was via the famous Sharp Edge. Although I had been up this way several times before, I'm not keen on it to be honest and usually only go that way in dry hot conditions. Also, usually stick just to the right of the edge itself. But as I wanted to stick to the walkers routes wherever possible I traversed the absolute pinnacle of the ridge this time.
Scamp struggled a bit, crying when he couldn't see how to get to where I was. But once back with me I made him stay close and guided him exactly where to go. Once we were over the trickiest bit he was off ahead again and looking down on me, waiting for me to catch up. There were a lot of folk climbing up this way, some really struggling to move up/forwards at all, but one young lad of perhaps no more than 10 or 11 appeared completely undaunted as he was guided by his granddad. I think perhaps I am NOT cut out for this merely slightly dangerous stuff.
The Sharp Edge ascent took inside the hour (just) to the summit and I was soon dropping off Scales again, though this time I would swear I was on a completely different fellside as I seemed to hit every hole and dropoff and ended up wishing Id stuck to the path.
During the earlier, runnable bit of No2 my legs felt a bit tired and heavy. Perhaps not surprising given it was less than a week since Id ran the 44 mile GT of Skiddaw Ultra race, but not a good sign, and I was worried about the remaining 5 and a bit ascents yet to do!
Back at the stash I filled my bottle and then set about Summit of my Life No 3. Scales Fell.
There is surely an argument for going straight up onto Scales itself but as I always go first to the top of the Souther/Scales 'dip' before hanging Left onto Scales, that's the way I went. Essentially, the way I had came down twice already, but sticking rigidly to the paths as I climbed.
On this third ascent I started to recognise people I had passed earlier in the day. Even though this was my third, when I mentioned I was going up SEVEN times, even I still found it to be a bit unbelievable myself!
A different descent was welcome. Especially as it was Doddick, my preferred way down on the BGR.
Knowing how to avoid the steepish rocky sections I delighted in passing walkers by ploughing through the heather to the right.
Into the village to the van this time and I changed my top while tomato soup cooked (heated up). Then I was off again, straight back up Doddick Fell. At the lane end where you would go to get to Halls I passed two pensioners looking at their map. I asked if they were going up Halls fell. 'No, Doddick' they said, so I indicated that they should try to keep me in sight as that was the way I was going.
I looked back often once I was on the main climb but I never saw them. No wonder though, I actually met them again at the top of the first little flatter section, perhaps less than a mile from where Id seen them initially - but when I was returning back down!
So now I'm at the van again for a very quick stop. Summit of my Life x4 completed but with two real brutes to climb next.....Halls then Gategill
Halls has a redeeming feature in that its the shortest way from the village to the summit - scarcely even 2 miles. So even though I was obviously tiring now, and without any runnable sections once away from the farm etc, 30 minutes per mile was still well within me, and Summit of my Life No 5 was done and dusted.
I had been looking at my times per up/down and was always gaining a few minutes on 1.5hour (therefore 10.5 hour) pace. Even with the soup stop (8 minutes) I was ahead of that schedule.
Something I was dreading though was the walk up to the Blencathra Centre prior to the final, Blease Fell ascent. It was almost 2 miles of decent uphill on the tarmac and I knew it might take me 20 to 30 minutes, or more if I was only walking by then.
But then as I cooked up a bacon butty and the remainder of the soup and a cuppa tea, and wandered through the village, past the pubs with customers relaxing in beer gardens, my face and fingers smothered in brown sauce, I realised I'd been somewhat remiss in my planning. After Gategill I didn't need to run back to the village at all, but merely down Blease Fell to the carpark above Blencathra Centre, from where I could U turn and go back up the same way.
This revelation buoyed me somewhat, and I started up Summit of my Life No6, Gategill, with a renewed spring in my step. The spring didn't last long. Gategills angle relieved me of that quite quickly.
Then before long I was atop that section of the mountain and running East for the first time, along the summit plateau to reach the trig. Another first for No6 was taking more than one hour to get there. 65 minutes. This was solely due to having walked through the village from van to the start point. The climb itself was inside 60.
As with many a long distance event or route - once I was coming off the summit for the 6th time I felt like I had the thing in the bag. Felt I was all but done and dusted. A bit like starting leg 5 of the BGR with 7 hours in hand and knowing it would only take well inside 3. But I still had a significant part of the day to do - all the way down then up and down again. As I dropped off the West end, Blease Fell, I met the first person I knew - Keswick based Adventure Photographer and general fell enthusiast Stuart Holmes. Then at the carpark area just above the Blencathra Centre I met Huw and Sarah Massey just as they were finishing a run. I explained what I was doing and that I was almost finished. Sarah grabbed a quick snap of me and Scamp and checked I was OK for drinks & gels etc.
Then I was off again. One to go. Summit of my Life No7. My mood was great now, I knew I was close to the end and nothing was likely to prevent success. I met Stuart again as I climbed Blease Fell and we exchanged a few words. He knew what I was doing (having read it on Twitter), and it felt good to be talking about this big challenge as I was all but finishing it.
Climbing Blease Fell was tough going. A strong wind meant that the zigzag path was alternately headwind then tailwind. Alas, I was too knackered to run even the tailwind occasions and I walked all the way to the ridge. I did then manage to run along the ridge though and as I ran the final 100m or so to that concrete ring for the 7th time I felt many emotions.....
Amazement! I had just climbed Blencathra 7 times! In one day!!
Pleased - to be finishing a long days running/walking
Proud - to be completing something I'd wondered was possible
and also a little bit sad - There are fewer places in the Lakes I prefer to be than atop Blencathra and now I was about to leave her behind after a day long visit.
As I made my way off the summit toward Doddick for the final time I was still well inside 10 hours. It was a slow descent and I finally reached the tarmac and stopped my watch at 10hours 13minutes. Job done.
Back at the campsite I showered, (myself and (Scamp under a cold tap)) cooked up some pasta for tea, fed Scamp too and very soon after I fell into my sleeping bag and slept very well until next morning. But while I was busying myself cooking etc I glanced across at the auld lass, in the fading light I could still pick out a couple of ridges and I thought to myself "I went up there today, and up that other one, and another, and another four that you cant even see from here"
And now, every time I drive to or from Keswick I look across as I drive along from one end of the mountain to the other and I look, again at all those routes available to get to the top, and I remind myself that, yes, I really did do them all in one day, one continuous run.
Some people have asked me why I did it? Was I raising money for charity? No. Was I trying to beat some record or other? No.
I did it because I thought of it and wondered if I could do it. So I planned it, tried it, and completed it. I wasn't doing anything else that weekend and Scamp needed a walk anyway.
In the planning stages I heard that there was once a fellrace that went up and down 4 different ridges. And that Colin Valentine once ran up 5 times in 5 hours. But this was my challenge and my rules. I'm not claiming to have now done the biggest or longest or fastest Blencathra based ultra run. I'm just saying that I ran up and down Blencathra those 7 ways and that's how long it took me.
What I am claiming though, on behalf of my la'al Border Collie is this...
Scamp is the current canine record holder for running up Blencathra 7 times in one day
|Well done Scamp - Blen' 7 record holder|
Some stats of the run
Distance - just over 30 miles
Ascent - approx 15000 ft
Time 10hr 12 minutes
GPS trace Click here
I wore Salomon Fellcross 1 on my feet, a Montane Minimus pertex smock to keep me dry and carried a few essentials in the Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin race vest.
I ate bacon roll and tomato soup at the stops, and 9bar on the move.
For drinks it was mostly High5 Zero tabs, plain water, and one very welcome cup of tea.