Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The bit in the middle of Bob

One of the great things about tackling established long distance routes, whether the Bob Graham or Cotswold Way - is that they take you to new places, even among hills you thought you knew well. On a recce of the Bob between Dunmail Raise and Rosset Pike, I visited five summits on which I have never stood before, and of all the miles I covered (excepting the road sections from Langdale back to Dunmail Raise) only a very short stretch was on paths I have run or walked previously.
A new perspective of familiar fells from unfamiliar paths - Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle the two obvious summits in the near distance, better seen from the Langdale valley perhaps when, especially if covered in snow, they are almost alpine in appearance.
Approaching the top of the steep climb from Dunmail Raise to Steel Fell. It is certainly a hands on knees affair, but by comparison to other notable climbs on the route, less prolonged than Clough Head and far easier than the flank of Yewbarrow.
Looking back on Helvellyn, while approaching Sergeant Man - this was the section, the bit in the very middle of the Bob when motivation is likely to be at its lowest, that I wanted to familiarise myself with most. From Calf Crag one must choose whether to head first for High Raise or Sergeant Man. On the map there is little in it - on the ground things are different. Good navigation will be essential if conditions are poor here. Today, visibility was excellent, but the snow was difficult, a tiring semi-frozen crust, too weak to support any weight and too deep to move with any speed, slowing things down considerably.
Approaching the Langdale Pikes and the weather is changing - for once it was welcome, heralding a drop in the severe winds and with less snow cover, progress was good.
Harrison Stickle on the left, Gimmer Crag to the right, with it's two classic rock climbs The Crack and Kipling's Groove both clearly visible. The Crack I remember finding relatively straightforward, Kipling's Groove requiring rather greater commitment - fond memories.
Pushing on to Rosset Pike I dropped quickly back to the valley floor via Rosset Gill - a fairly unpleasant descent but better than carrying a bike up it which is what I did the last time I was here.There followed a tiring slog back to Grasmere and eventually Dunmail Raise, the end of a fine day on the fells coinciding neatly with the first drops of rain.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Back on the fells above Borrowdale

Heading down to Rosthwaite and Borrowdale from Watendlath...
...it's been a while. Four months for some.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

First and last light beyond Ravenglass

Paddling the tidal reaches of the Cumbrian Esk is a relatively short trip - one that can be extended someway if the river is high enough - but a beautiful one, particularly following a sharp frost on morning's such as this.
First light looking towards Black Combe...
...and sunrise above the mirror calm waters of the Ravenglass estuary.
A little downstream from Muncaster Castle, Brian and Chris, testing the open boat - ideal for this trip.
And looking upstream, reflections frozen upon a slowing tide.
With little water in the river and having lost all feeling in my feet, this was our high point for the day, the sun still low, giving little warmth on one of the coldest days yet this winter.
And a little later, last light, from the low fells above Ravenglass.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Carry on regardless

I first read Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession, almost a decade ago. It is, among other things, the author’s tale of his own experiences preparing for, attempting and finally completing the Bob Graham. It is also a nostalgic book, one which unashamedly romanticises the sport and the characters who have become part of fell running folk lore. At times it is perhaps rather melodramatic – at odds with his own repeated references to the ‘hard-men’ of fell running – those who would cycle 20 miles to the start of a race, run, ride home, and continue work on the farm that evening. But whatever your thoughts on the style of writing, he got one thing right. COR.
Carry On Regardless – Askwith’s summation of the typical response fell runners have to injury. Worse perhaps even than climbers – though I remember very well the routes completed with friends too soon after surgery on broken limbs, following the blood dripping steadily from ankles with steel pins too recently placed. Maybe that is simply due to the nature of the injuries – tears and strains more common among runners than the breaks suffered by climbers which tend to stop play with rather greater finality. Surprising perhaps, given the speeds which many runners reach on steep, technical descents. Be that as it may, among those for whom these things are a way of life rather than simply a sport, there is a universal tendency to run through the pain, to keep pushing, to carry on regardless. Stoicism perhaps. But not in some superficial macho sense. 
It is more that the alternative – not running, paddling or climbing, not being among the fells, on the water or high on the moors, not moving beneath big skies, feeling the wind, sun and rain, is untenable. 
Seen from a twisting peaty path on the moors, or dropping off a rocky summit in the fells, hands clenched with the cold, eyes streaming in the wind, moments like these fix in the mind, keeping one sane, the sense of freedom prevailing through the days until it is possible once again to head for the hills.
Of course some cope better with forced rest than others but all too often there comes a point when that rest is simply unavoidable, regardless of how well one copes with it or not.
Short term strategies are all very well. Planning trips, studying the maps, researching new routes – it works for an evening or weekend. Possibly two. But when injury forces a longer break, something different is required. Varied interests help. The problem is that these interests are normally intrinsically linked to the thing you cannot do. What is really required is something to focus the mind on new responsibilities, something that requires a change in routine, which adds a new element entirely to daily life. 
If, after injury, that thing can become part of the norm, complementing or adding to the way of life which has come to define one’s self, so much the better.
Meet Merlin.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Autumn days above Dunsop

On the high fells, it is entirely possible to miss the change in seasons, or at least the beginnings of them, the changes more subtle than those in the valleys below. Running from Dunsop onto the low fells within the Forest of Bowland however gave one of those perfect autumn days, clear and cold, a gentle frost thawing as I ran through a riot of colour beside the river Hodder and Langden Brook. A few images below from another area which is quickly becoming more familiar as I explore new routes across the moors.
Above Whitewell, looking out towards the Trough of Bowland, Totridge fell on the left, the skyline being my route back into the valley after a short circuit on the tops behind.
Passing Mellor Knoll, heading for a short sharp climb onto the open moor beyond.
Looking down on Hareden Farm, the Trough of Bowland beyond.
A moment's pause by the trig point on Totridge fell...
...before cutting through the peat hags and dropping rapidly to the valley floor. Rather like being on the bike, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly one loses all the height on these descents.
Not the most beautiful of bridges, but a beautiful spot to finish and sit awhile, soaking in the sun and colours of autumn.