Bob Graham – First Recce: Leg 2… in the snow!

Posted on December 14, 2011 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Superb day out on Saturday. Just two weeks after my bad fall I found myself putting on layers hoping not only to stay warm, but to get it just right so I wouldn’t have to be in and out of my bag all the time. I was about to undertake my first recce of the Bob Graham Round and whilst we had chosen the easier leg (leg 2) there was significant snow on the tops and I had enough kit on my back to cope with an epic.

Not sure whether my ankle would hold, and wondering if this was really sensible at all, I had packed a Leki-stick, my down jacket, survival bag and lots of food. I’d already checked the map for escape routes and had steeled myself for the possibility that I could be putting my recover back several weeks.

What a great day out! Not only did I manage to get away with only one painful slip (on the ice) and two minor tweaks, but the route was just stunning. Above 600m everywhere was covered in snow and visibility held for much of the day. The plan had been to meet two other guys (Rich and Dave) who are attempting a mid-winter round in the first week of Jan and a local runner known to us as KeswickSimon. We managed to meet up with Rich and Dave, but Simon was nowhere to be seen, so we assumed we’d missed him and set out.

One of the keys to a successful BGR is support, I don’t just mean on the day with witnessing and pacing, but also the support of my family. Laura is incredibly supportive of my goal and we’ve worked out a system by which I head off to the lakes after getting the boys to bed and I plan (baring all injury) to be back in time for tea the following day. Working out a system that doesn’t place too high a burden on the family has been crucial. Setting the dates way in advance also means that Laura can plan in visits and visitors to help too. I feel very guilty about heading off out for such a selfish pursuit, but having a system reduces the guilt levels significantly. This does mean that we need to set off at the agreed times though so we didn’t have the luxury of waiting around to see if we could find Simon.

Leg two starts at Threlkeld where support can be had from the road. It’s then back into the mountains until the road crossing at Dunmail Raise. There are 12 peaks to bag on the leg which takes in13.2 miles and 5900 feet of ascent, a large portion of which is done early on before a glorious ridge run. The tops in order are: Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side, Helvellyn Lowerman, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon Pike, Fairfield, Seat Sandal.

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We set off at a reasonable pace and certainly one I didn’t feel uncomfortable with so I was pleased when I was told it was faster than I would need to be on the day. Of course we were starting on fresh legs having not just done leg one so  I was not congratulating myself just yet, rather I was just glad that my ankle was holding up.

Trods are so easy to miss whilst you are on them, but so easy to spot from above. As we looked back down from the old coach road I marvelled at how we’d missed it, but it had not been too rough underfoot, jut a bit wet.

We had good visibility going up so Clough head was easy to pot and we did take some time to study the key navigational markers to watch out for when above the old coach road. Andy Robinson (my Helsby RC partner in crime on the BGR  – we’ll hopefully set off on the same day) took an alternative path around Clough head (he has the romantic thought of completing his Wainwright tops on the day he attempts his BGR and it’s one of the very few he hasn’t had a foot on the summit yet) This left Rich, Dave and me to trudge up through the snow.

Looking around from the side of Clough head showed just how fantastic this route is. I think it is a shame that some people take on the BGR just to finish it; those that take this approach can easily miss the spectacular nature of the route. If you ever wish to plan a walk in the lakes you’ll struggle to do better than to take on one of the BGR legs. For the first, and sadly only, time on the day I took out my camera and snapped the panorama.

At the summit of Clough Head we were lucky enough to find a perfect winter mountain view unfold between the slightly patchy visibility. The wind was ferocious and we soon realised that Andy was going to be a good 15 minutes catching u up. Given that the boys were just weeks away from their attempt I told them to go on ahead whilst I would wait for Andy. Slightly regretting the decision as I crouched in a vain attempt to keep out of the icy wind I watched them crack on into the distance, all the time the minutes dragged as I waited for Andy to appear on the ridge line.

Stupidly I spent the first ten minutes or so without my waterproof on so I was pretty chilled by the time Andy arrived. desperate to warm up, it was a breif greeting and onwards and upwards to Great Dodd. Missing the Dodds is one of the great fears of leg two, but I was surprised at how easy they seemed to be to find. Of course these are famous last words, but as the great James Cleaver once told me; “if you’re not going up then you’re going the wrong way!” Great Dodd bagged there is a lovely wide and very runable path awaiting. Keep going straight and you hit the next Dodd.

Just as we reached Stybarrow we were approached by a chap that turned out to be KeswickSimon. We’d missed him by minutes at both Dunmail and Threlkeld and a chance fall and lost water bottle meant he had headed back to try and find it and meet us. I had two water bottles on my rucksack straps so since Simon never did find his water, we all shared my bounty.

Simon was a retired teacher who just like to meet liked minded people and get out in the fells. Andy had met him on the FRA forums and having him along was excellent. Not only was he a lovely chap, but he knew the route well can could advise on approach lines at the point when it was worth looking for them and being able to spot the benefit of one over the other.

Coming off Stybarrow I was quite surprised to see quite a large number of skiers. I hadn’t realised, but there is a drag lift on the side of the mountain and people were out in force. They looked just as bemused a I was – maybe it was my fancy tights!

The route continued to be outstanding and the wind relentless and biting. I’d switched to heavy duty ski gloves in an attempt to thaw my hands out but was beginning to get worried about them. I seem to have a slightly strange isue with my hands in that only one gets cold. This leaves me with a dilemma; either leave one hand cold, have one hand hot, or go for the Michael Jackson approach – one glove! Thankfully my dignity as saved in that it was so cold that both hands were like Ice right the way to the palm.

Great cornice on the way up to lowerman which really reminded me of Whistler. Zero visibility on Helvellyn meant that we just cracked straight on and headed to Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike which presented the trickiest parts of the navigation. Some top route choice tips from Simon meant that the quickest and most runable lines were identified with ease.

Obviously the conditions will be completely different when I make my attempt in the summer, but leg two is almost all runable with a nice path. In clear conditions one could really put some time in the bag, but I guess that just breeds complacency. In these conditions we were jut making sure we didn’t suddenly end up on our backsides!

A steep decent to the West of Grisedale tarn had me wishing for a sledge or my board and the circuit around to the saddle between Fairfield and Seat Sandle left us frequently up to our knees, and sometimes up to our bacsides in snow holes. All good fun.

In a stroke of perfect timing we met the other boys in the saddle so we ditched going up Fairfield and headed up Seat Sandal to finish the day. Rich and I took a very poor line off the top which resulted in a horrible descent. Like calling ‘lat run’ it’s always the place for a bad fall so I was extra careful as I slipped down the side of the mountain. Managed to avoid getting run over and arrived safely in last place at the car.

After a quick change we jut had enough time to find a pasty shop and head home – during which I confess to a reasonable snooze. It could only have been better if I had been able to hare it with the family.

Awesome day and I very much look forward to doing it again along with leg 1. The plan for the big day is to run this section in the small hours that most sane people will be tucked up in bed. The route should be easy enough in the dark so I’m convinced it’s the right approach… it also mean a successful run will be completed before the pub shuts – double bonus.


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