Tales of clear skies and driving snow : Bob Graham mid-Winter Round support

One of the best preparations for running round 42 peaks in the Lake District is to support someone who is running round 42 peaks in the Lake District. The 24 hour round of the Lake Districts finest mountains 1st completed by a Keswick gardner and guest house owner in 1932 has had in excess of of 1500 people complete the Round in Summer. Less than 5 people have completed the mid-winter round which gives some idea of the added challenge that cold, wind, ice, snow and 16 hours of darkness brings over and above the serious challenge that is a summer round.

I was very pleased to support Mark Smith, a somewhat more accomplished disciple of Bob Graham (No not this one, but this one. I expect the later ended up living a more enlightened life than the former). Beyond seeing someone else attempt their goal, it also gave me a chance to go over some of the ground I had not been over before, understand the logistic needs and get an understanding of what is involved which is impossible from just the web and talking to people.

I have no photo's to include which would add some interest, but both the legs of the round I supported were in the dark and flash photography in a snow storm tends to be impractical. Some very good photos and links to here can be found for leg 3 here. I was probably still curled up in my sleeping bag when these were taken.

Just before 8pm we assembled at Moot Hall in Keswick. Along with 2 other runners, I was supporting leg 1 over Skidaw, Great Calva and Blencathera. I got Mark's food to carry. Standing around Moot Hall was freezing, even in a extra fleece and down jacket. At about 7.50pm Mark decided he could wait not longer and off we went through a short tunnel on Keswich high street, across the car park, over the bridge and up the path to Skiddaw. This 1st climb is the longest of the round at about 900m. I am not good at remember names at the best of times, and with all that was going on I have forget the names of my two fellow pacers, despite having a very enjoyable walk up Skiddaw chatting with them. It was cold, but once you were moving, I got very hot due in the most part to my aging Buffalo jacket and no wind, you generate a huge amount of heat when walking fast up hill and even a stop for 30 seconds you would start to chill immediately. Even so, it was so cold that water in a water bottle or bladder was freezing, so I put both Mark's water bottle and 4in1 energy drink down the front of my jacket. I managed to drop his 4in1 about on the climb up Blencathra out of my jacket (you clown Clive), so he had my water. The navigation between Skiddaw and the start of the asscent to Blencathra is quite a challenge and a GPS really came into its own. Around the stream between Great Calva and Blencathra we split into 2 groups as 1 other pacer was struggling to keep up. Carrying the food, I then struggled to keep up with Mark on the 1800ft climb up Blencathra, and the other 2 followed behind finishing the leg about 30 minutes behind. I spent the 2nd half of leg one feeling like the Pigsy character from the 1970's TV series monkey carrying a rucksack and struggling to keep up. At one point we turned both torches off for a couple of minutes as we walked up hill and the stars were amazing and your night vision adjusts very quickly. At the top of Blencathra, we stopped for about 30 seconds before starting to descend and at that point the Buffalo jacket which had tried its best to live boil me even with the side flaps open was just about enough to keep the worst of the cold out. The decent went well, we used Doddick Fell and I handed over to the next set of pacers for the runner at Threlkeld well ahead of the schedule. I had been run ragged and without going into detail, I was not that well. Still, mission 1 accomplished with the 1st 14 miles and 5700 ft of ascent out of the way and the next 2 pacers were down about 1/2 an hour later. Back at the hut the water had frozen, so I could get nothing to drink, so I just went to bed.

Myself and 2 other supports had intended to go up to Broad Stand to rope it up. I had been up to look at it on Thursday and it was OK to climb roped. By 5am on Saturday morning I had the BGR pacer version of a hangover and there was no way I could have roped up Broad Stand and I am told conditions had changed to make the route a lot more icy over the 36 hours since I was there, so they used Foxes tarn instead and I went back to bed.

I spent the day drinking tea, washing up and wondering round Keswick market. Mark's expected time of arrival at Honister pass, then end of leg 4 and start if leg 5 was about 4pm. I think he got there about 4.30pm, but I lost track of time. It was snowing, real snow that arrived horizontally. The stop was short and for the final 3 peaks there were 6 pacers. Mark was still climbing really well and made good time up Dale Head, a 400m climb and the last big one of the round. The weather was very unpleasant by this time with driving snow, though the visibility was still OK at about 10m. Mark found the downhill very hard, but persevered. The arrival at the last peak was noted by the comment from Mark of "let just get off here". The decent from Robinson took a while and had some steep rocky sections which slowed things down quite a lot. The snow covered the paths, so navigation for took a bit longer.

Arrived at Newlands Church, Mark was feed a bit more, his shoes changed and then was pushed, encouraged, etc, etc, over a very icy road, but with 4 miles to run which would have needed sub 8 minute miles, he had been in the game long enough to know he would not complete in sub 24 hours and he started to walk, getting back to Moot Hall in 24 hours and 22 minutes. I think if he had kept the peddle to the metal, he would have finished in about 24.08, but that is not really the point. The difference between 23.59 and 24.08 can be as simple as not eating on an ascent which has a future knock on effect. Whatever the time, it was hell of an achievement for Mark and by far and away the hardest thing I have ever seen anyone do. Some educated guesses suggest that a Summer round burns in excess of 20,000 calories, a winter round may increase that by 50%.

I was expecting Mark to turn into a jelly the second he reached Moot Hall for the 2nd time, but no, he managed to go to the next door pub, have a coffee and then go for a Curry.

I got a lot out of playing my small part as a supporter (1 of around 15) and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it and the 2 minutes of decorating the road side grass were because I had not looked after myself enough as a pacer on leg 1. Struggling to keep up with Mark on the climb up Blencathra I really had serious concerns that I just would not be capable of doing a Summer Round myself this year, but I hear it is not uncommon for pacers to be burned off on the 1st 2 legs.

Just as impressive as Mark's performance was the diverse group of people who turned up to support him, it was my pleasure and privilege to be a small part of it.

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