The big ones! Part 1 – Leg 3

Posted on March 18, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I’m starting to spot a theme these days. If I go up to do a BG recce, then it snows. So far I’ve done three, granted they have been in the winter months, but there are plenty of days and weekends that have seen no snow and clear visibility… just not when I’ve been around.

Andy Robinson and I headed up on Friday night – Andy is also taking on and attempt of the BGR this year, and he kindly organised this weekend. Starting at the Grassmere YHA (very impressive I thought and have since become a member) we managed a couple of beers before heading back trying to ignore the weather forecast.

Unfortunately the weather forecast was spot on, so we faced very poor visibility, wet/ boggy grass and high winds. Four of us set off up the very steep  sheep trod to Steel Fell from Dunmail; Andy R, Andy… Martin Wilcock and me. Finding the top of Steel fell seemed pretty simple, although it all looked very much the same from then on. I had “virtual Simon” with me as Simon Noble had kindly shared his waypoints for Leg 3 so I was trying to follow and find the  little short cuts and trods that he’s found over the years. Unfortunately in poor vis’ it’s very difficult and I found myself head down looking at the watch rather than the path. This was coupled with the two Andy’s knowing pretty much where they were going and thus not convinced by virtual Simon.

The idiot goes solo

We split up slightly and despite not travelling any quicker, I made it to Calf Crag a good few minutes ahead of the other boys – in my mind, virtual Simon ruled the route from then on. Back together as a team we cracked on as I understood it to head to High Raise – leg 3 has a route preference here as both Sergeant Man and High Raise are very close. We ended up splitting up in the poor vis’ and at that point I figured I’d just crack on to High Raise using the GPS and meet the others there.

I must have waited for around 15 minutes with the visibility coming in and out.  No sign of them, so I figured they must have gone to Sergeant Man first. I was chilling down in the strong winds and rain/ mist so I had to move. I thought I’d either missed them and was now behind, or I would pass them as I went to Sergeant Man, so I left voice mails and set off. I reached Sergeant man passing two other blatant BG hopefuls and they told me they were ahead. Phew! I was confident I could catch them and it was an opportunity to run some sections at pace and check back after to see if I was going to be quick enough.

Traversing some boggy ground to cut a corner between SM and Thunacar Knott I heard the shouts and saw the Andy’s running across just behind the other two boys. My heart sank as I realised that Martin wasn’t with them. Thankfully he’d not got lost, but unfortunately he’d had to go back. A bug had been going around the family which meant that he was not in a happy place running wise – things were running, but it wasn’t his legs, so a wise retreat and second time drop out for Martin. A real shame, but he’s got his MdS coming up soon, so it’s not worth taking chances. At least his “OMM suit” got an outing – very smart it was too

Back together again we battled the wind and rain to start ticking off the tops. I was blown off my feet on Thunacar Knott and getting to the tops of the Stickles (Pike O’ and Harrison) is frustrating as it feels like one loses so much time picking over the rocks to the summit.

The clag clears… for a second

Next came what was one of my favorite parts of the day. I enjoy it when I find a mellow but quick path and shave off large chunks of distance. We’d agreed to take the long way around – to head over to the Stake pass and contour on the very runnable path – the theory being that the alternative down then up is more energy draining and time wise it was thought there wouldn’t be much in it. (Un)fortunately we didn’t go wide enough and thus ended up at the head of the path for the down and up (Black Crags). Quick route change and we’re squelching our way through marsh lands to the base of Black Crags. The Trod up to Rossett Pike is so easy to find, super easy to cover and no effort on the ankles (I hate contouring usually as it ankles the feet out and can be really tiring). Route choice for the day made!

I guess at this point it’s worth me diving out into a kit review as I’d taken the plunge and bought myself some seal skin socks (it’s the name of the make, they aren’t really made of seal skins). The socks are supposed to keep your feet dry and are a bit like a thin neoprene sock… frankly they are totally weird to put on and if I hadn’t been warned of this then I’d probably have left them behind. I’d chose to put on a really thin sport sock liner underneath and tape my feet and pray they didn’t blister!

Running fells means wet feet, it’s something one just gets on with as a fell runner; however in winter this can result in frozen and very sore feet as they feel like lumps of wood at the end of your legs. I’m delighted to report that this is not so with the sealskin socks! My feet felt dry for almost the entire day (I did go up to my hip at one point in the marshes, so I don’t feel that is a fair test) and even when they were wet, they were warm and it was only slightly damp rather than sopping wet and then having to carry that with me for the rest of the day (unlike Goretex shoes!). It may sound odd to normal people, but having warm and (mostly) dry feet was a revelation! I am totally converted. My only complaint is that I got the large which is rated as 9-11 – I’m a 9.5 in an Inov8 shoe. The heel part of the sock barely got past my heel and subsequently sunk down over the course of the run. Given I’m at the lower end of the sizing that seemed odd to me, so do try them on first – but don’t worry if they feel totally weird.. they do!

Onwards and upwards

Getting to Bow Fell was pretty torturous as far as I was concerned. zero vis’ and just some random cairns to follow did not make for an enjoyable climb. We got there to find we’d overtaken the other two guys that were recceing the course which was pretty pleasing as they weren’t only moving quicker than us, but they were a long way ahead by Harrison Stickle. We also came across the classic unprepared group out on the mountains – asking for directions to Scafell pike we told them they were a fair distance off but Andy offered to show them on the map where they were… only they didn’t have a map, or a compass. Andy pointed out to them the best route they should take off the mountain and unsubtly warned them of the dangers in the area in the conditions we were in… they seemed to get the point. Quick chat over and a sandwich eaten, we were off to Esk pike.

Before the hail

Still smiling

Now I’d got a little hopeful on Rossett Pike as the weather had cleared for a moment, before the poor vis’ had returned. The wind had picked up again though and as we attacked Great End nature decided to attack us. We suffered at the hands of what can only be described as a micro-hail storm. This was coupled with 40+ mph winds (at a guess) which meant that the micro-hail left marks on our skin even through our waterproofs. As we turned into the wind I heard a scream of expletives and saw the Andy’s retreating to find shelter. To be fair walking into the wind was agony and there was no way to see where one was going without ski goggles.




I joined them behind the rock and as we chilled down Andy Robinson took the decision to call it a day. By this stage the hail had turned to snow and it was pretty terrible. Andy and I decided to continue though; the forecast had been accurate so far and the suggestion was that it would clear later on. Desperate to get a feel for the full leg we carried on to bag Great End, Ill Crag before catching the other boys again at Broad Crag. Andy had spotted a really nice line and a little bit of squeezing through rocks had saved us a large corner on the way to Scafell Pike.

A moment of clarity

The other boys threw in the towel at this point but Andy and I seemed to be gathering strength. As we descended towards Scafell we came across a young couple – again, totally inappropriate kit (terrible waterproofs (if they were) and jeans. The look in the young lady’s eyes said it all, not only did she just want to get there, but her fella was in trouble when he got back!

Then there were two

I have to thank Andy for continuing, not only did it give me longer to get to know him and find out more about his attempt (he’d tried the previous year, but had called it a day at Bow Fell) and draw from his experiences, but it also meant that I was able to continue and get a full understanding of leg 3. Unfortunately I won’t be able to help him with his attempt as he’s planning to do it when we’re away camping, but if the weather doesn’t turn out I’d be more than keen to get out there and run with him again – like almost every long distance fell runner you meet, he was entertaining, opinionated, driven and passionate about the outdoors, but most of all he was genuine in character and the way he was living his life. Top man.

The route up Scafell is much debated. There are three options, one of which is a genuine rock climb known as broad stand. Leaving out the most direction options leaves the BG hopeful with either Lords Rake (the one we wanted to try) or Foxes tarn. We had to take Foxes tarn as we didn’t know Lord’s rake and didn’t fancy getting lost. We took the climbers traverse to ensure we didn’t lose too much height on our way to Foxes tarn and were soon at the summit of Scafell (the highest peak in England at 977 meters).

The first view into Wasdale

Below the clouds

Day 3 done!

On to Wasdale

We were on the home straight. Andy had promised me a fantastic scree descent which I was relishing the thought of, but following virtual Simon (as I had all day) we found ourselves coming down the southern most walkers path.

The visibility cleared and the view of Wasdale was truly magnificent. The path was very runnable but steeeeeeep, so we decided to experiment. So much fun I had to take a video!

Arriving in Wasdale we managed to thumb a lift from the second car and save ourselves the 3 miles to the YHA. Thank you lovely physio couple! To say the YHA is splendid is an understatement. A fantastic converted hall full of period features and just all together grand. I’m looking forward to heading back there  when we do the whole thing in over two days.

We Met with Andy R, sorted ourselves out and headed to the pub for some well earned food and beers. The pub brewed its own beer and the food was excellent. Top marks for Wasdale!!!!

Not top marks for us though as we were quite significantly off the timings required for a 23 hour schedule. In our favour is that we didn’t know the route, the visibility was terrible and the weather conditions were really unpleasant. We also weren’t racing, were coping with each other’s high and low points pace wise, and were carrying more weight than we would on the day, but the enormity of leg 3 has hit home for me and to cover the ground in the time required is no mean feat. I think one can only pick this up by doing it and it has sewn seeds of doubt into my mind not only for the approach we are taking (3 of us running together) and whether I’ve done enough recceing.

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