The Frog Graham – done and dusted
The Frog Graham is a running / walking / swimming event around The North Lakes, it covers 60km including 3,350m or so of swimming, 4,714m of ascent and the idea is that the person doing it is self supported (i.e. carrying their own gear).
Having arrived back from Everest a bit earlier than anticipated and feeling fit from all the trekking (but not debilitated because of the ultra high altitude) it was the perfect thing for me to get my teeth in to. It was a great motivator to get out and do something and meant that I was out training every day for 6 weeks either running or swimming or both as I fine tuned my fitness and recce’d bits of the route at the same time.
Without much in the way of data it was difficult to know what the schedule would be but I plumped for a pace that would be slightly slower than Bob Graham pace for the mountain bits, around 2kph for the swimming bits and 20 minutes either side of each lake for changing and eating.
I’d been in touch with Peter Hayes, the chap who came up with the concept, about whether it was in the spirit of the event to have folk along for the running sections for a blather (as long as I didn’t have any assistance from them) and he was in agreement – so I recruited a bunch of folk to run alongside and the scene was set.
The date was scheduled for Saturday 21st June, the B&B was covered in my absence and the weather forecast was great. But with less than a week to go I was unsure about how to transport my dry gear across each lake. Then Craig Dring mentioned that there was a company making what they call tow floats and ‘hey presto!’ the final piece of the jigsaw fitted in to place.
Two days later my ‘Chillswim Tow Float‘ arrived in the post. I did a trial swim with the tow float full of tins of baked beans and the scene was set for my attempt a few days later.
Unfortunately the Friday day and evening turned out to be a pretty busy affair and so it wasn’t until 23:30 that I managed to turn off the light and try and get some sleep. The alarm went all too early at 02:00 and I had less than an hour to get some breakfast down, get changed and get to The Moot Hall.
I started out with Stu Edginton and Paul Maxwell at 03:00 (we were waved off by Jonathan Nicholson) and by 03:45 there was no need for the headtorches. It was a gloriously still, cool morning with wispy clouds on most summits except for Skiddaw. There were a whole bunch of folk bivvying up there and we tagged the summit at 04:17 (which is slightly ahead of Bob Graham schedule). I put the brakes on a little bit because it’s all very well being up on schedule but if you are too far up too early then there’s a chance you’ll blow it later.
The route down to Bassenthwaite Lake was a steep slatey path down to Carl Side and then a fab run down to White Stones and on down through Dodd Wood. We arrived at Bassenthwaite Lake at 04:59 and I was in the water for 05:16. Paul decided to swim as well but had said that he didn’t want to hold me back, so after I checked back on him a few times I ‘swam like a torpedo’ (his words) and was across at 05:33.
Jonathan Nicholson was there to do some more filming along with Ian Boit who was there to accompany me on Legs 2 and 4 and we departed the lake shore at 05:45.
So far so good and 55 minutes up on my anticipated schedule. I had a little bit of a twinge in my calf so after a while we walked along the road towards Thornthwaite and then had the endless approach through the woods to Barf.
I planned on taking water from streams along the way and having filled and drank in Dodd Wood the next filling station was where the footpath leave the forested area and branches across the top of the fell side to the summit of Barf (06:35) and then on to Lord’s Seat (06:50). We kept to the track coming off Lord’s Seat and then a bit of cross country to Ullister Hill (07:01). Shortly after that I made a bit of a navigational error in the woods arriving at a track junction and turning left not realising I was a junction too early! It just didn’t feel right so we were back and forth along the trail for a few minutes and then I realised where we were and we continued on down through Whinlatter with a red squirrel sighting to lift the spirits.
The next access to water wasn’t going to be until Coledale Hause so it’s quite a way only only a litre. The sun was pretty bright as we left the woods and started up the Grisedale Grind but it was still early and consequently not too hot. We met a chap on the summit of Grisedale Pike (08:12) who was flabbergasted to be told by Ian what I was doing and he asked for a photo which was great.
On down and across to Hopegill Head (08:35) eating fudge along the way and then over Sand Hill (08:40) before stopping for a good break and litres of water at Coledale Hause. Up to this point I’d been using Vimto (my first 1/2 litre) and Mountain Fuel (my next couple of fills) and now it was over to Nuun tablets which are a bit easier to carry and use en route.
We picked up the steep ascent path and scramble up to the summit of Crag Hill (09:13) and then the trod across to Wandhope (09:23) and on down (and up) to Whiteless Pike (09:37). I’m pretty crap on descent and it’s always further than I realise off Whiteless Pike but we made good progress – although I was very aware that I was no longer up on my schedule.
I nearly made a bit of a major error as I took the path down Rannerdale when thankfully Ian reminded me that Low Bank was on the route. A quick look at the map and then a lovely run along the undulating summit to the end of Low Bank (10:10), which I’d never been along before.
And thence down to Crummock Water arriving at 10:23.
Now I was only 2 minutes up! The stop at Coledale hause had been a bit longer than I had thought and running / walking carrying my own gear whilst feeding myself along the way had evidently put me on to a slower pace than I had reckoned. I was trying to be disciplined about taking on food and whilst the jelly babies and fudge were to hand in pockets on my rucksack waistbelt I made a point of stopping every so often (usually summits) to take on ‘proper food’ … which in my case wasn’t proper at all and consisted of a pack of some small savoury eggs and a plastic box of some breaded chicken things which were on the cheap at the supermarket the other day.
The wind on Crummock Water played a little bit of havoc and caused me to drift off course quite a bit but with a few corrections I was across (arriving 10:43) and met up with Biscuit and Billy – immediately offering Billy my birthday wishes.
Once I’d unpacked the tow bag, changed and downed almost a full tube of condensed milk it was time to tackle Melbreak. The bracken was chest high, the going pretty rough, my legs were tired and we perhaps didn’t take the best line. There were quite a few sheep trods we picked up that vaguely went in the right direction but after a few hundred metres we invariably lost the trail and ended up bracken bashing until picking up another trod.
We summited Melbreak (S summit) at 11:39 then dropped quite a way to cross Black Beck (quick drink) and then made our way cross country to cross Scale Force (quick drink and a refill) after which there’s quite a way across to Lingcomb Edge and so on up to Red Pike (12:57).
It was round about here that I should have been down at Buttermere and the legs were feeling sluggish. It was now that I recalled that, in the previous 12 months, my longest run had been around 3 hours the weekend before when I had supported Nick Ogden on leg 5 on his supreme effort on The Bob Graham Round – which he completed in a staggering 19hrs 52mins. I’d had a few longish days trekking in Nepal but intrinsically most of my runs had been 1 to 2 hours – and I guess that might go some way to explaining why I was now down on schedule.
The weather was perfect – it was bright but slightly cloudy and there was a gentle breeze. We continued over to High Stile (13:13) and then made good progress down the ridge in to the lower slopes of Burtness Comb (a drink in Comb Beck) and then down to Buttermere foreshore (14:05) where I changed, packed and swam (14:10) across to Crag Wood arriving at 14:20 – 55 minutes down.
As I arrived Ian Boit was there again (having had an ice cream in Buttermere Village whilst waiting for me) and I was also met by Paul Turner (we had been put in touch with each other by Jon Gupta) who turned up from Kendal to have a craic on the hill and get involved helping out. This is the kind of thing that I love about events like this (and The Bob Graham Round in particular) – people turn up at various places at various times of day to assist someone who is trying to achieve something. Unlike the Bob Graham one of the things that is a bit more difficult with The Frog Graham is that some folk are arriving on one side of a lake, for you to then be met by others on the other side of the lake. To that end it is difficult to make the logistics and car sharing dovetail together.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. The route via Hassnesshow Beck up to the summit of Robinson is steep and endless, it was good to have the guys along for moral support and when we arrived on the summit of Robinson (15:25) Paul Maxwell was there to meet me again.
The going from here was much easier underfoot than it had been on the boulder strewn paths of Legs 2 and 3 and it was nice to be able to get the legs working again. Dalehead (16:02) is the last of the big summits but it was a bit of a struggle down to Dalehead Tarn and on up again to High Spy (16:38). I couldn’t recall whether Maiden Moor was one of the tops I had to visit so we accessed the internet on the hoof, found the itinerary and jogged past it and over Cat Bells (17:18) to meet Nick Ogden whilst descending to Derwentwater. He was brandishing a can of vanilla coke that I had to decline on account of the fact that I was sticking to the policy of carrying my own gear. Tempted … but not this time thanks.
I was met at Otterbield Bay (17:43 – 73 minutes down) by Andrew Graham and my wife Ali who were there to canoe alongside (as well as Amanda, Louisa, Phoebe, Tim and Sara Green and their kids Oliver and Isobel). I felt that as the event was reasonably long, and I’d be swimming on tired legs, that a canoe alongside would be a prudent safety feature. Having said that, when I do the event again I’ll now be happy to do the whole thing totally solo. The tow bag I was using has handles on it that would be easy enough to use for safety in the event of getting cramps and, whilst the width of Derwentwater is around 1,700m the islands are evenly spaced and you are never too far from safely.
The swim was reasonably long but I made good headway and I was met on the far side by Nick Ogden (again), Kirsten ‘Tetlow’ Ogden and Jonathan Nicholson – and for the final leg Nick and Ali accompanied me along the lake shore path back in to Keswick. By now I was well and truly goosed but the end was in sight and it was great to be finally running in to Keswick to get to The Moot Hall at 18:59 and be met by Jonathan (again), Effie, Grace and Max, Sara, Tim, Oliver and Isobel, Amanda, Louisa and Phoebe and Paul Turner (I am sure there were others but can’t remember).
All in all it was a great day out on the hill and a little bit longer than anticipated. Having said that I wasn’t sure what to anticipate in the first place so perhaps my initial estimates had just been a little bit too optimistic. I’m pretty chuffed to get in under 16 hours and surprisingly didn’t feel too stiff the next day.
I’ll be doing it again some time soon totally solo – it will be interesting to see what time I get without having a bit of moral support.
There’s nothing I’ll be doing differently … apart from the vital issue of food on the hill.
P.S. Craig Dring has just completed it 2 days ago and I know another 2 that are having a go in the next few weeks. So if you want to join an exclusive club I’d get your skates on.