Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sunday 6 December - fitter, happier, more comfortable....

Great Gable and the Scafells from Kirk Fell in winter - brilliant!
This one really does look great if you click on it.

That was the last week of full training, and so the taper begins....

Fortuntely, it was a brilliant training week, made up of three outings which have filled me with much needed confidence. I feel now that i'm strong enough, will be prepared enough and have enough support to do a midwinter BGR. Only the weather, and as I've relearned this week, the ground conditions can stop me and I really can't do much about those. I'm as ready as I'll ever be.

My first outing this week was on a cold and windy Monday afternoon. I ran one of my timed routes which i always do fast as a measure of my fitness and strength. This one was my Moel Y Gamelin ridge run, an out and back run over 8 miles and climbing a very runnable 3100' - all on good, often steep stony paths. As this training has gone on, the time for this run has decreased from 1:33 in August to 1:23 in November. That 1:23 run was on a still, perfect day and I considered that a tough time to beat - I'd have to run really well. The cold wind and hints of dusk towards the end of the run didn't put me off though and I ran with purpose and pressure. Imagine my shock when i got back to the car in 1:19:30!!!

I felt great, the climbs were all ran strongly and I was really pleased. Finally something to celebrate!!

Then Wednesday - a lovely day in the Howgills with Nick. We ran the Sedbergh Hills fell race route, 16 miles and 6000' on a cracking chilly winter's day. We had a great day out and my legs felt brilliant, especially on the climbs when I just wanted to run and run. Better still, i felt fresh as a daisy at the end. A good sign.

Nick emerging on the summit plateau of the Calf

Nick on Arant Haw in the swirling mist

Then Friday, and a bigger day in the Lakes. I drove up the night before and got a bit excited as I could see the snow covering the last few hundred feet of the bigger fells. I decided on a route that included some non-BGR fells that I'd not set foot on for some time, starting and finishing in Buttermere. The start of the day was interesting, with mist on the High Stile range, where I started heading but other fells being clear, including the gorgeously reflected and shapely Fleetwith Pike.

Fleetwith Pike and Buttermere at Dawn

After a steady climb onto Red Pike, an early morning whiteout ensued on what can be a confusing top. Although armed with a GPS, I opted to use the map and compass to navigate to High Stile to keep my hand in. The whiteout continued through to High Crag before I dropped out of it at Scarth Gap.

From there I decided to tackle Pillar via its famous rock on it's vast and impressive northern side. Wainwright's guide described a steep climb up a break in the forest plantation, but recent felling meant a desperately steep clamber over heather and tree stumps as far as Pillar Cove and the easier ground below Pillar Rock. It was tough ground and very testing but I felt strong and kept eating on this tricky climb. Eventually, having seen a few deer prancing around this otherwise desolate valley, I decided to tackle the Shamrock Traverse below which was loaded with snow. I also decided to back off if it got dodgy - it's a route i've not done for years and I know that straying off this route leads to troublesome crags which are the terrain of the climber, not the lone fellrunner.

As i climbed higher, i lost the route. The view from Robinson's Cairn seemed to suggest an easy passage but closer inspection revealed verglas, rime and enough snow to make this very tricky area tricker still. The photos below show what i mean.

The Shamrock Traverse from Pillar rock, looking easy

Mixed, icy ground with steep slopes all around - time to back off

I backed off, having climbed to 2650' and got back to Robinson's Cairn after some unsteady moments on very steep slopes. I was probably off the main route, which was not easy to see in the snow and I was pleased to exercise some judgement, having already navigated through the day's earlier whiteout.

From Robinson's Cairn I pushed onto towards Black Sail, striking steeply up onto Pillar's long southeast ridge when the first chance came to maximise my climbing. From there, it was BGR all the way over Kirk Fell (went via the main path and not either of the gullies and it was much easier) and onto Gable. The snow was deeper but the route was safe and I was miles quicker than the BGR schedule. The view from Kirk Fell was impressive (see top photo) and Gable was a really cold place (see photo below).

The frozen war memorial and poppies on the summit of Great Gable

From there to Honister in a rapid time, feeling strong and then into leg 5. By the time I got to Robinson, after 20 miles and 9000' climbing the darkness was approaching and I dropped down to Buttermere a little tired but by no means spent, not even close. As I sat in the Bridge Hotel scoffing soup and a sandwich, i felt contented and not too fazed about impending three hour drive home.

I felt ready, and that felt great.

Week summary - 19,000', 50+ miles

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