Back in July I undertook a bit of a challenge to raise some funds for some families in Nepal. When the earthquake struck and caused an avalanche that wiped out most of Everest Base Camp we lost 3 members of our staff. Guys I had worked with for 12 years. They had left behind 9 children and I wanted to do something to help their families.
For some reason, that seemed quite logical at the time, I decided it would be a good idea to cycle the Fred Whitton (having only ever ridden a bike in my teens to go to the pub) and then swim 2 lengths of Derwentwater (having only swum a mile before) and then complete the Bob Graham Round (having previously only ever linked 2 legs together).
I started off with some training where I swam and / or cycled and / or ran every day for 50 days. Realistically this was nowhere near enough training for such a massive venture but I realised that if I didn’t get it done by the end of July then I wouldn’t be getting it done at all. So 50 days it was. Which actually proved to be a whole lot of fun. It was a great motivator to get out training no matter what the weather and no matter how busy I was with other things that I might have otherwise managed to fill my time with.
Meanwhile there was money coming in and a lot of people offering their support … which really put the pressure on to make sure that I could complete the crazy venture.
Next thing you know I was meeting a bunch of people in the market square in Keswick and getting ready to set off in to the unknown.
|Some of the team ready for the off …
|and I still had the house keys in my pocket.
I was honoured to to meet up with 6 riders who were going to cycle with me for the first 3 passes as well as having 2 support vehicles and some photographers and well wishers. And then we were off. The conditions were perfect and we made good headway down Borrowdale and tackled the first of the passes – Honister. To be honest it’s a bit of a bitch low down (around 1 in 4) before easing off to about 1 in 5 until another section of 1 in 4 brings you to the cattlegrid and a sectrion of a kilometre or so of easy cycling until the final haul to the col. Where we were met by Charmian and Steve who were ready and waiting with food and drink. Back in the saddle, down to Buttermere (a brilliant descent but you need to be on the brakes for quite a while otherwise there’s a very good chance of being wiped out on the chicane at the bottom when you cross the bridge), along the side of the lake with amazing views over the Red Pike, High Crag and Haystacks and then on to the second pass … Newlands. It’s slightly easier than Honister but it’s still a L O N G way and there’s a sting in the tail right at the top … where we were met by Charmian and Steve again for another fuel stop.
Down off Newlands is a seriously fast, fun, descent and then there was some great riding all the way along to the village of Braithwaite before tackling the next pass up to Whinlatter which, compared to the others, is a piece of cake.
More fuel and then 3 riders departed to return to Keswick. Down to Lorton where another 2 went their separate way and that left myself and Stuart Holmes to continue to Fang’s Brow (another fuel stop) where we were joined by Les Barker. Bearing in mind that it was soon getting dark Les was a huge asset to have along because his knowledge of the route, the forthcoming dangers and the best line to take was invaluable.
After various other fuel stops Charmian and Steve were relieved of their duties for a couple of passes on account of the fact that their motorhome probably wouldn’t make it over Hardknott and Wrynose and in stepped Frances Clark who fueled us over the next 2 passes.
I ought to mention that Carl, Chris and Hannah (who were doing quite a bit of photography as well as taking some excellent drone footage) were also trailing us … every inch of the way. I’d chosen to take on The Fred first so that a) I wouldn’t be going from cycling legs to fell running legs but also b) to do it at night so that the roads would be quieter. But even bearing that in mind it was still very reassuring to have a vehicle along behind us every peddle rotation of the way.
Next thing you know were are at the top of Hardknott (1 in 3!!) and then on to Wrynose either side of midnight. Down to Elterwater and through Clappersgate and then I did the route to Grasmere … and back again. It’s only a few miles but I knew that if I didn’t do this bit then someone somewhere would say that I hadn’t actually done The Fred (which for the last few years has started and finished in Grasmere).
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Martin Bell was sat in his car a couple of hundred meters up the road in Grasmere watching us on the tracker and getting ready to join us. But the tracker went round the roundabout and headed back to Ambleside! So he jumped on his bike and started out to catch us up … but we pulled in to the Ambleside car park for soup and sandwiches and Martin sped past desperately trying to find us. When he got to the top of Kirkstone, and we weren’t there, he realised what had possibly happened and waited for us to arrive … and then he joined us for the rest of the route.
So now we were four (and 2 support vehicles) and whizzed down off Kirkstone (another awesome, fun descent), alongside Brotherswater and on to Ullswater before heading up to Troutbeck via Dockray. It doesn’t count as a pass but it still has a substantial amount of climbing and by now I had been on the go for around 9 hours. So it was utterly delightful to be met at the next fuel stop by my wife Ali and our good friends Fiona and Suzanna (as well as Charmian, Steve, Carl, Chris and Hannah).
|A welcome stop after 9 hours in the saddle.
Les organised the group and made sure that we whizzed down the A66 getting me to Keswick in good order by creating a bit of drafting for me. And so I said goodbye to Stuart Holmes (who had accompanied me on the entire route), Les and Martin and dropped down to the lake shore to meet up with Paul Weller (not THE Paul Weller) who was on hand to paddle alongside and keep me in a straight line along the length of Derwentwater and back.
|Perfect swimming conditions
Another reason why I had chosen to ride through the night was to have flat calm conditions on the lake and get the swim completed before the launch started. And it could not have been better. It was a bit chilly but it was idyllic, and flat, and calm, and the sun rose whilst I was halfway along to the far end. All great stuff.
|Really really cold …
|and quite tried already (only 12 hours or so in)
Except … for the last kilometre or so I was swimming in to cold water where the river was joining the South end of the lake. Consequently when I got out for a breather I was quite literally chattering with the cold and verging on becoming hypothermic.
Ali, Suzanna and Fiona had walked along the lake shore and had food and supplies for me and Paul popped a couple of jackets on me as well as a buoyancy aid to warm me up. 20 minutes later we poured the last of the flask of tea in to my wetsuit and I was back in the water to swim back to Keswick.
|Taking on fuel and warming up after the swim.
|Some of the runners for Leg 1 of The Bob.
Charmian and Steve were back on duty and gave me breakfast whilst I warmed up in a duvet (not a duvet jacket … but an actual duvet!) and then I changed in to my fell running gear and mooched up
to The Moot Hall …
to be met by 9 (!) runners who wanted to be a part of the event and help me along the way. 2 guys had come up from Retford! Tremendous stuff. I’ve supported a few people when they have been doing their Bob Graham Rounds but I have never realised just how much of a difference having people alongside makes. It’s all very well feeding the runner, giving them juice, keeping them on the route, carrying their poles etc but I now know that just being there is possibly the most important psychological aspect.
So we started out in perfect conditions and it stayed that way for the whole day. Up Skiddaw (another chap joined us from half way up), over to Great Calva and along to Blencathra (where another guy joined us as well as a few folk who had made the effort to be on the summit for when I came by). Down to Threlkeld to be met by a veritable posse and a change of runners.
|A surprise welcoming committee on Blencathra.
|With great views across The Northern Lakes … but with the dawning realisation that I will need to ascend pretty much every peak on the horizon of this photo. Only 3 down of 42 so far …
|Just finishing Leg 1 of The Bob …
|to be greeted with a whole selection of goodies.
Up to Clough Head and along the Dodds to the Helvellyn range (where we were met by some photographers), down to Grisedale Tarn and then we opted for the direct route up to Fairfield.
|Another summit ticked off but many many more to go.
|The steep climb up to Fairfield by the direct route.
It’s steep and continuous but I had good climbing legs and we made good progress. All great stuff but I had a toenail issue and had done irreparable damage. However there was the welcome distraction of the fact that the light was absolutely fantastic and we enjoyed a superb sunset as we descended to Dunmail Raise.
And another change of runners as well as a fuel stop and I opted for a cat nap in the van. I was, not surprisingly, feeling a little bit jaded.
|Just before my lowest ebb … about to set off on Leg 3.
|Just starting out on Leg 3 of The Bob … into the night.
Going up Steel Fell was surprisingly ok … but it wasn’t long in to the darkness that I started to feel totally, and utterly, drained. By now I had been on the go for around 30 hours but I hadn’t slept for over 42 hours and it was a struggle. I always knew that I would be doing part of The Bob in the dark but I didn’t want to be doing it over 2 nights .. again partly why I had opted for the Fred at night to have me doing a day, a night and a day on The Bob … I definitely didn’t want 2 nights on the Bob.
The navigation on Leg 3 is reasonably tricky by day … but at night when you are working on straight lines with map and compass it is just a slog. Even with a GPS and 2 meters accuracy it is very easy to be just to one side or the other of the trod and be getting wet feet, missing the best footfall and dealing with grassy hummocks and awkward rocky steps. Martin Bergerud was doing most of the navigation and, along with Donald Ferguson, was going to be accompanying me on Legs 3 AND 4. A friend of Martin was along for Leg 3 as far as the Bowfell area and a good friend of mine, Giles Ruck, was keeping by my side throughout the night.
Interestingly Giles was with me on Everest in 2011 and had a really bad time of it for a few days when we went up to Camp 2, on up to 3 (an aborted summit bid because the weather changed) and then back to 2 where we waited for the next weather window. It would have been pointless to expend all our energy dropping to EBC for possibly only one night before returning to C2 so we stayed put at 6,400m and Giles really suffered. Thankfully we were sharing a tent and I was able to chat him through a variety of different options which meant that he then didn’t go to EBC for a rest (we both realised that he would have just kept on walking and gone home). Anyway after a bit of supplementary oxygen and a morale boosting chat it turned him around and he went on to summit a couple of days later in fine style. And now the tables were completely and utterly 180° turned around and it was Giles who was talking me through a really dreadful night. I was woozy, tired, hallucinogenic, stumbling (and mumbling) and a liability to myself. And when I just asked for a 5 minute ‘power nap’ he dutifully sat by my side and allowed me to have ten. This happened a couple of times before we started up Bowfell and then, utterly spent, as the sky was just starting to brighten I needed another lie down. Out for the count.
|Unconscious somewhere along The Langdales
But, miraculously, when I woke (was woken) 10 minutes later not only was I revived but, with the sight of the sun rising and with the clouds below us, I was totally invigorated and didn’t need another lie down. There’s something about the wave length of the light that just got me going and kept me going. It’s not as if the end was in sight because I reckoned I still had another 15 hours or so to go. But something happened that just changed everything.
|Martin contemplating the route … and the view … and the fact that he had just spent an ENTIRE night on Leg 3 of The Bob
|Everything changed after this nap. Dawn really lifted my spirits.
|What’s there not to like about a sunrise in the hills?
Meanwhile we had now been on the go on Leg 3 for about 8 hours! And still hadn’t reached Scafell. Martin and Donald were going to be in for a 20 hour day at this rate. Martin rang home and before he could even ask his wife Lisa whether she could muster some troops she told him that it was all taken care of. Lisa, and Kate Simpson, had pre empted and done it already. They had both been with me on Leg 2, gone home, showered, ate, slept, got up at 5, checked the tracker, realised I had slowed down and had done the necessary ringing around. So when we got down to Wasdale there they were with Ella (from Leg 1), along with Steve and there were 2 others who were due to meet us on the hill. Bloody brilliant.
And the legend that is Joss Naylor came for a chat and a pep talk. Double bloody brilliant.
|Words of encouragement from Joss Naylor.
Yewbarrow. It’s a steep hard climb straight out of Wasdale and strikes fear in to the hearts of tired Bob Grahamers. It is a crux of the whole route and more people stop at Wasdale (or go part way up Yewbarrow and give up) than at any other part of the whole route. Rather surprisingly I found it to be pretty ok … but then I didn’t have the constraint of trying to get round The Bob in under 24 hours (and indeed I had now been on The Bob for 26 hours!!). The rain was due in at 11 and at 11:05 pitter patter. By 12 we were all fully togged. By 12:30 it was really quite blowy and by 2 in the afternoon it was absolutely dreadful.
Leg 4 has got a lot of BIG hills and ascents – Yewbarrow, over to Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable. All credible hills in their own right but linking them all together, along with the various hummocks and bumps along the way, as well as tagging on Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts on to the end, makes Leg 4 a big day out. And my toe was giving me quite a lot of grief but you just have to get on with it … and we did. All the way down to Honister to be met by another posse of fresh runners (10 in total!!) as well as the usual road support crew and a whole host of well wishers.
The end was possibly in sight and completion, at long last, seemed feasible. It wasn’t in the bag but we had definitely broken the back of it.
It’s another stiff climb out of Honister up to Dalehead but with a fresh crew and new banter we pegged it up in good order and, after Hindscarth I was finally approaching the final summit, Robinson.
|Gnarly conditions … just what you don’t really want when you have been on the go for more than 48 hours.
|41st top – just one more summit to go.
It’s still a way to go to get back to Keswick but it was (mostly) down hill all the way and then when we were on the road there were more people joining, clapping, meeting and greeting and wishing me well along the way. Utterly, utterly uplifting.
And so, 52 hours after starting out on the Fred Whiten I had cycled over 6 high passes (as well as various other hills and climbs), swam 2 lengths of Derwentwater and made a circuit of 42 Lakeland Peak covering something in the region of 180 or so miles with a cumulative ascent of nearly 12,500m. Now that, I reckon, is a reasonably big day out!
As well as the memories of my kind Sherpa friends, the company of fellow cyclists, canoeist and runners, my support crew and my friends and family one great aspect that kept me going, and made me realise that this was far FAR bigger than I had ever imagined, was that the donations came in before the event, kept coming in throughout the venture and, indeed, have still been arriving to this day.
So it is with great GREAT thanks that I salute everyone single one of you whether you watched and clapped, got sweaty and wet with me, donated, nodded your head in acknowledgement or posted an uplifting comment at some stage during the whole process. I did it … but I couldn’t have done it without you.
Many many thanks one and all.
Oh, and by the way, the total now stands at just over £52,000 and is going to make a huge difference.
Indeed I am now sat at Abu Dhabi international waiting for my connecting flight to Kathmandu and I have about my person some of the ££s that have been donated that I will be handing over to the families I have been raising funds for.
The majority of the money won’t go to them directly but instead will be used to pay for the childrens’ school fees. But hopefully, when I see the families in the next few weeks, they will realise that people out there are helping in a whole variety of different ways and that the future, whilst being bleak at the moment, at least is a future with a glimmer of hope.
Especially for their children and the possibility that they might still be given the opportunity to better themselves.