09 July 2006

A Long Day Out - by David Aspden

I recently did the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District - 74 miles, 42 Peaks, 28,000 feet of ascent all in 24 hours, Dave Shinn asked me to pen a few words about it, so here goes:-

I had been planning to do the BG for a year or two but never really got round to it when the opportunity arose to blag a place with Dark Peak Fell Runners on their attempt. After a few words in the right ears I found myself with a place and a full one and half weeks to prepare for it, the deal was I could run round with Dark Peak as long as provided my own support crew. This caused a bit of a panic getting a crew together at short notice but I had no need to worry and a few phone calls later I had a motley crew of willing “volunteers”. The rest of the week was spent resting and eating (I found I was good at that bit) and the Thursday night before the attempt soon came around when disaster struck; - I picked up an injury. I was chewing my way through a large bowl of rice and talking excitedly about the BG when I bit through my tongue, my mouth filled with blood and I nearly passed out, how will this affect things if I can’t eat properly? Anyway too late to bother about it now so I went to bed with a Horlicks and brandy nightcap and soon forgot about it. I had taken the Friday off work to eat and chill out. In the afternoon we went up to the campsite to meet the rest of the team.
After a bit of faffing about and a few trips to the toilet we assembled nervously outside the Moot Hall, I was glad to see my supporters for Leg 1 Dave Griffin and Phil Rigby were already there and Dave nearly collapsed under the weight of the rucksack that I gave him to carry. At 6.45 the jolly little party set of at a fair lick through the streets of Keswick, I thought ‘I can’t keep this pace up for 24 hours’ however the pace soon slowed down. We reached the top of Skiddaw ahead of schedule which I thought was good, but apparently it was bad, and Richard (the leader on this leg) told us to slow down. Phil had been told to make sure I kept eating and drinking right from the start and he did an excellent job of shoving Mars bars, and sandwiches and jaffa cakes in at regular intervals and Dave kept the water flowing. I ended up eating so much I felt sick, a feeling that would not go for the next 24 hours. Leg 1 soon passed, the weather was calm and it was light enough to see all the way round, the last descent down Halls Fell ridge on Blencathra was a bit tedious but soon passed.
We arrived at the change over 20 mins ahead of schedule to find my support crew of Gary Dowthwaite and John Leech eagerly awaiting our arrival, and after a brief stop for rice pudding and tea we were soon of up Clough Head and over the Dodds in the dark. There was no moon but it was a clear night and we could see quite well with our headtorches on, Helvellyn soon came and went, and in the rush to get on we nearly missed Dollywagon out and had to back track. After descending down to Grizedale Tarn one of the navigators disappeared in a bog right up to his waist, luckily the rest of us managed to take evasive action. Again Gary and John did a great job of keeping me fed and watered, and as we chattered away my spirits were high. We got to Dunmail about 25 mins ahead of schedule and I was glad to see Emma there with a bowl of warm soup.
Set off up Steel Fell as dawn broke with Chris Speight carrying my gear and it was good to have a chance to talk to him, as the morning wore on we noticed the weather deteriorating but we were still making good progress and I allowed myself to dream about finishing in less than 23 hours. By the time we got over the Langdale Pikes and on to Bow Fell it was about 8.00am, I was starting to feel tired now and was struggling to get any food down, then it was my turn to fall off a rock into a muddy bog which left me soaked, but it did wake me up. Chris was as cheerful as ever and forced me to eat a jam butty he had brought. By now the clag was down and visibility had dropped to about 30’ it had turned wet and cold and was slippery underfoot. My gloves had got left behind at one of the change over points so I had to borrow Chris’s, which was alright for me, but not so good for him. At Great End the navigators left us to go and set a rope up on Broad Stand, this led to a bit of dilly dallying and messing around as we tried to find our way off Great End and on to Ill Crag, eventually we found the right path and continued over Scafell Pike and up Scafell where the rope had been set up for us. We took it in turns to climb up which I found quite difficult with stiff legs and slimy rocks and I slithered up on my belly in a most ungainly manner, more like a seal than a climber. As I was last to climb the others had gone by the time I got to the top. Chris had waited and we worked out the route down which involved and excellent scree run down into Wasdale.
At the Wasdale change over it became apparent that we had lost a lot of time and I was hardly allowed to stop before being ushered off with Jeff navigating and Hazel and Alison in support. By now I was feeling stronger again and was anxious to make up for lost time, I enjoyed the climb up Yewbarrow it was good to be on softer ground again and the banter from Hazel and Alison was great as we trotted over Red Pike, Steeple, and up on to Pillar. As we climber Pillar it was great to meet Richard Bellariase and the Clayton boys doing an anti-clockwise circuit, we shook hands and wished each other luck as we flew past. Mike Robinson caught us up at Black Sail pass as the lad he was with had dropped out, so Jeff suggested we go with Mike as he was faster and I was going well at this stage. We shot up Red Gully and onto Kirk Fell, as we came off Kirk Fell in the mist we went slightly off course, Mike scrambled about trying to find the right path while Hazel fed me custard and pasta. We got back on track and it was good to see Dave Shinn come looming out of the mist at Beckhead Tarn with a tray of flap jack and a grin, by this point I was feeling a bit disheartened because I thought we would run out of time, I thought ‘at least I will be able to stop at Honister’. The climb up Great Gable was a bit of pull scrambling over the rocks on all fours, but we got there in the end, after that I knew it was reasonable going down to Honister. As we trotted along I was feeling emotional and very drained, as we got close to Honister word came back that I still could still do it in the time left if I really pushed, so I thought I might as well go for it.
There were a lot of people waiting at Honister but I could not stop and I could not look at anyone in case I broke down so I just ran through, Emma passed me a tin of rice pudding which I ate on the way up Dale Head. Mike Meadowcroft and Andy Walmsley were my supporters and navigators on this final leg and Alison came along as well. As usual the supporters were excellent keeping the banter going and passing the drinks, I could not face food by now. I dug deep and then a bit deeper and managed a good pace over the hills and down into Little Town. Only the road section left, 4.5 miles, I took my watch off so I did not know how much time was left, we were joined on the road by Duncan Hurtley and Dave Deason, John Hodgeson was there as well. As we set off along the road it was good to see friends and family waiting at the road side, and with the energetic encouragement of Mike, Duncan and Dave we managed to keep a reasonable pace going all the way to Keswick. Duncan stopped the traffic and moved pedestrians out the way as we raced into the town centre, I managed to sprint up to the doors as everyone cheered and clapped “Have I done it?” I asked, Emma said “You’ve done it in my eyes” and we both had a little cry. I then collapsed and started shivering completely physically and mentally drained.
My official time was 24 hours and 8 mins, does the 8 mins matter? Not really, I’ve still done the round, and climbed all the peaks. People have since asked me if I am going to try again, and I probably will because I now know I can do it, and I am sure with a bit of luck I could do it quicker. That Bob Grahams got a lot to answer for.

I could not have done it at all without the help and support of everyone involved and my sincerest thanks go out to you all – Dave Griffin, Phil Rigby, Gary Dowthwaite, John Leech, Chris Speight, Hazel Jones, Mike Robinson, Dave Shinn, Mike Meadowcroft, Andy Walmsley, Duncan Hurtley, Dave Deason, all the Dark Peak team, and most of all Emma Aspden.