Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bob Graham Round in Winter - success!

Quote from Bob Graham Club web site: "Whatever the motivation, completing a successful winter Bob Graham Round is a fabulous experience and achievement and those who have done so should rightly be saluted."

Prior to the 2010/11 winter only 18 succesful winter rounds have been recorded since the first in 1986

After a failed attempt in Early January at a Bob Graham winter round and some more hill training to boost endurance time was slipping away for another attempt before the end of February. But  following a weeks rest after what I decided was to be my last training run, the forecasts were showing a brief window of opportunity with a ridge of high pressure from Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon. By the Sunday morning (the day before) I had made the decision to have a go, hoping enough support could be found. Dick Gerrish was well practised in road support after my first round in May 2010 and the failed January attempt. He was ready to go at a moments notice. Being midweek, running support was harder to find. In stepped Ian 'Crazy' Richardson, my Triathlon training buddy, Jules Coleman and Andy Smilie from Lonsdale Fell Runners, and Tim Lezard who drove all the way up from Brighton! 'Bradford Dave' from Hesketh Newmarket also offered support for leg 1 at the last moment.

With a skeleton support team in place and kit ready the drive from Kendal to Lancaster through heavy showers on a gloomy Monday afternoon, with streams pouring down the hillsides was  reminder that  the BG in winter always going to be a tough challenge, no matter what the forecast.

The 7pm start time was chosen so I would have as much daylight as possible over the crucial central fells, when visual contact with your support runners is so important. As fortune would have it it also meant that the last of the evening rain in Keswick had passed and the quarter moon slipped out from the clouds on cue. 


It was a deserted Keswick apart from a couple walking past the Moot Hall who spotted the BG attempt in the offing and wished us good luck. The severe storms of the last week and heavy rains had swollen the rivers and we had been warned that the crossing of the Caldew could be hazardous. 'Bradford Dave' ran into problems on the slopes of Skiddaw, he had twisted an Ankle we later found out and his light trailed behind before he turned back to Keswick.

Blencathra Summit
For a while it was clear with the lights of Keswick below. Then a vicious hailstorm rolled in to test our metal, blasting into our faces we quickly donned waterproofs and thankfully it faded. Is there ever a calm day on Skiddaw? With a strong westerly plastering rime frost on the rocks and trig point we were glad to turn East and head towards Great Calva 5 minutes up on schedule. It was reasonably boggy heading to Great Calva, but not as bad as I'd feared, and another 5 minutes gained on the 23.20 schedule by the 2nd summit. The River Caldew was the next worry, and by the time we had to wade across our feet were numb from the drenching effect of the heather on the descent from Great Calva. The wade across although chilly was not too hazardous. 

My last winter attempt had started to get really hard on the ascent of Blencathra, today there was just a thin covering of snow on frozen ground, glistening in the torchlight. Threlkeld came into view and flashing my torch down soon got the welcome responding flash from the road support team. 'Parachute Route' dispatched the leg took 3 hours 29 minutes. 24 minutes up was a great start.


Road support kicked into action and I discovered I had an extra support runner (Andy S) for leg 2, a real bonus. A huge mug of warm tea is like nectar after a few hours out in sub zero temperatures, and a tin of warm rice pudding hit the spot.

The now familiar walk up Clough Head in the dark came next, ice was rapidly forming even at low levels and the temperature dropped further. Over the Dodds we gained a few more minutes even at a steady pace, and whilst I concentrated on efficient movement and the task ahead Jules and Andys chatter about the years running events ahead proved a welcome distraction as we moved along the ridges in our bubble of light.

Jules refuelling me on leg 2
By the time we reached Stybarrow Dodd we were in cloud, reducing visbility to 10 or so. The GPS tracks saved from the summer nudged us at times back on the the correct bearing. No line of BG teams and their torches tonight as there had been in May, it was to be Great Gable before I saw another person on the hills!

What was Bob Graham thinking when he turned left at Fairfield? It's one of those sections that always seems a killer, but spot on route finding down from Dollywagon meant we gained a few minutes again.

Leaving Helvellyn Summit
Once again the flashing light from the support team lifted my spirits and more tea was consumed, but worryingly I found it hard to stomach anything else, also I had hardly eaten anything on the last leg, there was trouble ahead!


The make or break leg, with fell virgin Tim ready and chomping at the bit the steep climb up Steel Fell went well, although I was now starting to struggle to run or jog on the easy ground. Feeling a bit queasy and bloated I was trying to convince myself that I had eaten enough at Dunmail to keep me going for a few hours. I chatted with Tim and quizzed him about his running, cycling and triathlon exploits, but as I grew weaker and started to tire and the minutes started to slip, a couple each peak it was becoming obvious to me that a could soon be in trouble. I was desperate for the night to end, surely that would change everything and lift my spirits? By Rosset Pike I was just 24 minutes ahead of schedule, which sounds fine, but a gradual shedding of minutes can soon escalate. I was feeling very very weary on the slopes of Bowfell, tackling the occasisional patch of hard neve didn't help matters. I told Tim I wasn't going to last much longer if I didn't start to feel better soon. Negative thoughts swirled around my head, 'who did I think I was thinking I could do the BG in winter?'  I couldn't conceive of the remaining effort it would need to get round. I tried to think positive thoughts, just keep moving, your ahead of schedule still, and when I thought about it it wasn't my legs that were tired it was just a lack of energy. I asked Tim to carry my pack, and he said to me that I simply had to start taking Gels, the thought was repellant, but over the course of a few minutes the feeling of sickness subsided and the first Gel worked almost instantly.

Returning to Tim after Bowfell summit

Energy returned to my legs as dawn lit up the winter view over the central fells. At Esk Pike I had not lost any more time, and by Great End I had gained a few minutes again. Tim was struggling on the rocky ground though, which was covered in ice and rime frost, but it was the sort of challenge I relish. I instructed Tim to take a direct route avoiding the detours to Esk Pike,Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag which meant he could just stay in touch. Scafell Pike was covered in cloud and we lost sight briefly and vocal contact kept us together.

Foxes Tarn was something I had been trying to put to the back of my mind. I knew it was going to eat up much more time. Tim was giving it everything to keep moving over the testing terrain, and I think if he had known what the traverse to Foxes Tarn was like he would have refused!  The brooding East Butress of Scafell above, exposure beneath and the icy slabs and bad steps which were just manageable in the conditions.  'Do you have anything like this in Brighton' I quipped.

Approaching the end of the climb from Foxes Tarn I instructed Tim to wait at the col near Scafell whilst I did the last summit on this leg, but when I returned he was still not at the col. I back tracked a short distance and he appeared out the gloom, looking pretty shattered. He told me to head down to Wasdale as he was going to take his time so I set of alone and Wasdale soon came into view. Over the last three summits I had not checked the time (the GPS recorded that) and as Tim had the time sheet I had no idea how things stood, although I was pretty convinced that I had lost so much time via Foxes Tarn and my bout of weakness that the game was up.

'How far behing schedule am I?' I asked Dick as I arrived at the van. 'Still ten minutes ahead' came the amazing reply!


Feeling more able to 'stuff my face' with the crumpets on offer (Dick just seems to know what I will want by intuition now) my spirits lifted. The ascent of Yewbarrow was of course tough and I was sweating hard, but my energy levels felt more normal. Wastwater lay like a mirror, not a breath of wind. I now believed for the first time that I could actually do this. With 'Crazy' Ian for company I got great encouragement and a massive 10 minutes gained at the summit was another big bonus. Ian went over on his ankle and was hobbling, it was a good job the fells were deserted and the air was blue! But he soon recovered and we carried on.

Being a lover of rocky terrain I shot ahead on the rocky traverse from Yewbarrow, but despite a disrupted nights sleep after supporting me on leg one, I knew Ian would catch me up on the lower slopes of Red Pike. He even carried my pack, what  hero! Ian sat out the return trip to Steeple and we cursed forgetting the camera as the views were amazing.

The clouds gradually lifted and for the rest of the day the weather treated us kindly. A gentle westerly breeze on the summits pushed us along as we continued to gain time. I took a headlong fall downhill on the rocky terrain off Kirkfell, bashing my knee and causing a sharp spasm in my calf that had me worried briefly, but no serious damage done. The last 'killer climb' of the round is Gable and with Ian feeding me a gel every 40 minutes as well as consuming plenty of energy drink I managed to keep a good pace going and once again I was 30 minutes up. We even met a few walkers!

From Gable the rest of the route is laid out on a clear day, this is the first time I've seen that view with a BG perspective. I guess if you are feeling drained it looks a long way, but with spirits high, tempered by fatigue it looked fine to me. I would settle for doing that in 5 hours, which was the time I had left.


Arriving with plenty of time in hand, and body reasonably intact I relaxed in the van and was fed bacon butties and tended to again by the Dick Gerrish support system, fantastic! Tim was there as well (thankfully he'd made it down from Scafell OK).

Leaving Honister

As I set off up the long slopes of Dale Head with Ian I knew I could let the pace slip. The day had taken its toll and this was all about finishing. Looking across to Skiddaw and Helvellyn in the fading daylight with their snow capped tips brought back the enormity of the route, was that only 18 hours ago I was on those hills? The central fells remained shrouded in cloud.

Completing the last summit

Despite virtually no wind now it got very cold towards sunset but even with legs now protesting on the steep run off Robinson we were relieved to start heading down into the valley. We meet Dick and Tim at the road end and headed towards the distant lights of Keswick.The Owls were hooting in the woods just beyond Hawes End, I wonder what were they saying?

And so to Keswick, when I finished in summer I had to battle through the crowds, today there were just a few club runners doing some evening training and some locals going about their daily business, no tourist throngs or queues of traffic. The main street around Moot Hall was deserted. 23 hours 19 minutes had passed. I told Dick, Ian and Tim that that was the toughest thing I'd ever done or ever wanted to do, and I won't be changing my mind! But with good luck, determination, and great support I felt I'd achieved something really special.

Full screen slide show here

You can read Dick Gerrishs live report from the day here

List of Successful winter rounds

Location State of light Estimated time Actual Time Ahead or Behind
Moot Hall Dark 19:00 19:00
Skiddaw Dark 20:25 20:20 +5
Great Calva Dark 21:10 21:00 +10
Blencathra Dark 22:20 22:04 +16
Threlkeld - Arrive Dark 22:51 22:29 +22
Threlkeld - Depart Dark 23:06 22:42 +24
Time for leg 3hrs 51 3:29

Clough Head Dark 00:05 11:36 +29
Great Dodd Dark 00:35 12:07 +28
Watson Dodd Dark 00:44 12:17 +27
Stybarrow Dodd Dark 00:53 12:28 +25
Raise Dark 01:11 12:45 +26
White Side Dark 01:19 12:53 +26
Helvellyn Lower Man Dark 01:37 01:05 +28
Helvellyn Dark 01:43 01:14 +29
Nethermost Pike Dark 01:53 01:23 +30
Dollywaggon Pike Dark 02:05 01:36 +29
Fairfield Dark 02:47 02:14 +33
Seat Sandal Dark 03:12 02:37 +35
Dunmail Raise - Arrive Dark 03:37 02:54 +43
Dunmail Raise - Depart Dark 03:52 03:11 +41
Time for leg 4hrs 31 4:12

Steel Fell Dark 04:17 03:35 +42
Calf Crag Dark 04:37 03:59 +38
Sergeant Man Dark 05:12 04:35 +37
High Raise Dark 05:21 04:46 +35
Thunacar Knott Dark 05:36 05:03 +33
Harrison Stickle Dark 05:46 05:13 +33
Pike o Stickle Dark 05:58 05:27 +31
Rossett Pike Dark 06:43 06:19 +24
Bowfell Dawn 07:18 06:55 +23
Esk Pike Dawn 07:43 07:20 +23
Great End Dawn 08:08 07:42 +26
Ill Crag Dawn 08:23 07:56 +27
Broad Crag Dawn 08:33 08:06 +27
Scafell Pike Dawn 08:45 08:21 +24
Scafell Daylight 09:17 09:09 +8
Wasdale - Arrive Daylight 09:52 09:42 +10
Wasdale - Depart Daylight 10:12 09:56
Time for leg 6hrs 00 6:31

Yewbarrow Daylight 11:02 10:42 +20
Red Pike Daylight 11:52 11:28 +24
Steeple Daylight 12:16 11:50 +26
Pillar Daylight 12:50 12:22 +28
KirkFell Daylight 13:40 13:13 +27
Great Gable Daylight 14:23 13:53 +30
Green Gable Daylight 14:38 14:07 +31
Brandreth Daylight 14:56 14:22 +33
Grey Knotts Daylight 15:04 14:31 +33
Honister - Arrive Daylight 15:17 14:47 +30
Honister - Depart Daylight 15:31
Time for leg 5hrs 05 4:51

Dalehead Daylight 16:04 15:39 +25
Hindscarth Dusk 16:25 15:58 +27
Robinson Dusk 16:51 16:23 +28
Keswick Moot Hall Dark 18:31 18:19 +11

1 comment:

Gordong said...

congrats Tom on the BGR - enjoyed reading your blog. I host the Running and Life podcast ( and later in the year will be doing a feature on the BGR. Would you be willing to do a short (phone) interview about your BGR? No rush , it won't be for a few months yet but if you're interested please email me at Thanks. Gordon