A Great Day on the Fells - Russell and Julians Bob Graham Round
10th Sep 2006
22nd June 1996, Clockwise, 12 Midnight
Quite why Julian found the need to do three laps of the car park to warm up for our Bob Graham was beyond me, but at least it meant I couldnt see the look of absolute anguish that had been on his face much of the evening since we had left the comfort of the caravan in St. Johns Vale and travelled down to Keswick
We delayed walking to the High Street and Moot Hall as long as we could, but when we arrived it was great to see all of those supporters who had travelled up the night before their sections to see us off and on our way.
Our pacers are Robin Price and Richard Kellett - Richard has been with us an hour or so since we picked him up in Threlkeld, Robin ( a veteran of the Bob Graham ) turns up in his finest wooly jumper and daft hat - the casual observer wouldnt think Robin could add much to our attempt, but let me say now he is the finest route finder bar none and knows the tracks of the back of Blencathra better than most Threlkeld shepherds.
Some other lads are off on a relay of the round ( relay ... I really do think whimps although I know I shouldnt ) and they go with their watches at 12 midnight, were a little more traditional and are waiting for the same chimes that sent Bob Graham on his way 63 years ago.
Keswick to Threlkeld - Peaks 1 to 3
Its quiet and I am anxious just to get running, Julians manic looks are doing my head in - for gods sake Jules get a grip I dont have the energy to worry about you as well as me .... finally the bells ring loud and clear in the still night air, and we are off - the wrong way up the High Street, to howls of laughter we about face and chase Robin through the back streets route finding in town is a real bugger aint it lads .
The weather is good - calm, cool, dry with a little high cloud - through the months of preparation I have dreampt of this very moment dozens of times and if I could have wished for any sort of night I would have wished for one excactly like this.
The omens are good, now all you have to do Thomas is keep going for 24 hours - you dont have to race, your dont have to beat anyone, you dont have to kill yourself up the hills or murder yourself down them - you just have to keep putting foot in front of foot for a day, one day thats all , one massive effort, one chance of glory, one chance of peace, one chance to clear your mind and think of one thing only ... 42 peaks, 72 miles, 29000 feet of up and down. Right lets get this show on the road !!
Fitz Park is black, Jenkin Hill blacker still - we travel easily, I am in very good shape - in fact I know I am in the shape of my life, if it doesnt happen today it wont ever happen I am as fit as this body will allow me to get - 11 stone 2 pounds, average of 60 miles a week for 15 months, previous year I PBd at every distance I race from 10k to marathon, I have done many ultras, I have done the whole 65 miles of the Leeds County Way in 13 hours just 5 days after doing the 3 Peaks, resting pulse 42 - I remember puffing up here a year or more ago thinking Ill never do the BG - tonight its a breeze, its like I am floating rather than running.
Jenkin Hill falls easily and we press on up Skiddaw - ease off lads, you dont need to push so hard, youve a long way to go - Robins helps us to curb our enthusiasm to bag peak 1 as quickly as we can, in any event were up it in 1.18, two minutes up on schedule.
Robin leads the way over to Great Calva, hitting every sheep track with precision, me and Jules flogged our way over here on last Saturday nights recee hitting every bog and ditch, we cant beleive our luck. We hit the summit at exactly 2am, now were 17 minutes up on schedule ... this must be a dream.
The long drag down Calva and up Mungrisedale Common is broken by pleasant banter with Richard, two thight deep bogs and Skylarks singing at 2.45am. Julian is away upfront which worries me, especially as we are way up on schedule - hell wait at the top of Blencathra I think to myself, hes not got the bottle for a black dark solo decent of Halls Fell ridge ( in fact a few months earlier it had taken a blindfold and a good deal of bullying to get him down on a sunny afternoon ).
We reach the top of Blencathra at 3.13am, thats 30 minutes up on schedule and consequently a half hour darker than we had planned. Julian is no where to be seen, so hes either got more bottle than I thought or hes just gone head first down to Scales Tarn. The flickering light of a Petzl a couple of hundred feet down the ridge marks Julians whereabouts and raises my spirits ... I throw myself down the ridge into the darkness in hot pursuit while Richard and Robin ease off having done everything to give us a fantastic start.
I catch Julian half way down the ridge just as the dawn finally lights our way - I had to prove it to myself mate he chirps out before I get the chance of giving him a bollocking - my real doubts of his nerve are still for Broad Stand but thats 9 hours away, so I grunt acceptance of his words and push on ahead of him down into the beckoning dawn.
Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise - Peaks 4 to 15
I decide to wait for Jules at the bottom of the ridge and we run into Thtrelkeld together. We give our pacers a real shock - were 28 minutes up on schedule - Paul Conway serves us up hot tea and malt loaf while Steve Burnett and Peter Hill get themselves hurridly together with frequent Dewsbury expletives. Julians proves he cant go to the loo and drink tea at the same time and while hes cursing his split tea I tell him to get a grip as were off again in less than 2 minutes.
Steve and Peter lead us up Clough Head and the dawn is really flooding in now and as we climb the whole of Cumbria is set a glow, a truly wonderful sight. Steve waits for me as we get to the top, Robin had said an hour would be a good time for the climb after such a fast start - we hit the top in 51 minutes and I relax and look forward to a easy run along The Dodds.
We knock off peak after peak, listening to some cracking banter from our pacers. At sticks pass heres Joe Warburton who has waked up from Stanah in the middle of the night with 2 flasks of hot tea, brilliant stuff and a great surprise. Then were off again up over Helvellyn - Steve applies Vasaline to his nether most regions on Nethermost Pike as a couple of dawn watches stir from their sleeping bags - not quite the sort of full moon they were expecting I guess !!
Then were off again down to Grisedale Tarn where Steve exits right to warn our support at Dunmail that were nearly 40 minutes up and going strong. Julian and Peter forge ahead up Fairfield ( hell pay for this I think to myself then try bury the negative thoughts ), this climb is a real bugger - steep and rocky - we regroup on the top and run straight back down the same way to the tarn then up and over Seat Sandal.
The decent into Dunmail has been a real focus for me through the months of training - night sections over, peaks in the bag, friends, family and loved ones waiting expectatnly below - I get a lump in my throat.
Coming over the shoulder I see a dozen cars below on the pass, people are milling about and waving up at us - this is as good as I have dreamed of.- I do hope Jeanette doesnt cry when she sees me or she will start me off. Good news, shes in organising mode - chairs waiting, rice pudding and peaches thrust in our direction, lemon curd sarnies by the score.
Dunmail Raise to Wasdale - peaks 16 to 30
At Dunmail we take advantage of the fast start and take an extra 5 minutes rest, my Mam and Dad are looking on a bit awe struck by all the activity, they didnt realise how much of an event this becomes when its all in full flow.
All the lads are buzzing about, weve planned two groups of pacers from here so theres a real crowd - Ken Kaiser ( a Horsforth clubmate ), Dave Hinchcliffe, Chris Martin, Robin Price ( yes, again ) and Bernard Disken ... however Bernard isnt there, probably caught out by our speed - no time to lose we set off one man down, not too much of a problem here but it could prove costly if we get split up as one of us tires, which will definately happen on this leg.
Steel Fell is just horrible all grass and very very steep the worst of all types of terrain for my lanky legs - by the top my calves are screaming and the guys are pulling away from me. I take a moments rest, look down at our supporters like little ants 1000 feet below. I see Jeanette in a small group looking up the hill side I wave, they wave back and then I move over the skyline on my own - it will be 5 hours before I see them again - I feel lonely and tired, a funny sort of unease ... get a grip Thomas, no time for sentimentality, just put one foot in front of the other and get going again.
Robin has waited for me at the very top - its a wrench isnt it lad, dont worry youre doing fine just switch off your mind and try to think about nothing but moving - this middle section has just to be got out of the way .. no doubts, no celebrations, just steady progress.
We quickly regroup with the rest of the lads - quite a posse now - and we chatter our way over the easy ground of Calf Crag, Sergeant Man and Raise. Chris Martin cracks jokes the whole of the way, Robin keeps us pointed in the right direction and in all honesty we have a pretty relaxing time - it was great fun over this section, the lads were all very supportive, while I know their constant banter was to keep their minds off the real difficulties lying ahead just as much as to distract me and Julian.
The day is warming up, but its still very comfortable, theres a few whisps of high cloud and a very gentle breeze - perfect conditions someone chirps up, they are if you havent been on the go for 10 hours with no sleep you w*nk*r I think to myself, I must be getting tired my patience is starting to wear thin - must keep a lid on that these lads are really putting themselves out for us and they really deserve a more positive outlook from me !
We maintain our lead over schedule with some ease and soon were onto Harrison Stickle where Kath Kaiser ( Kens wife ) joins us with drinks, having trecked up from Langdale - her efforts are much appreciated by all and the feminine company brings a semblance of order to the increasingly bad language from the group of lads who are getting into the real spirit of the event.
At this point Robin orders Jules and me to stop and lay flat on the floor with our legs up at 90 degress against a large boulder ( the old fella is losing it, I think to myself ) the effect is immeditate and brings new life into out aching limbs as we set off again scrambling up to the top of Pike O'Stickle .... try the poor mans massage yourself someday it really does work.
The treck over to Rossett Crag is a real long drag and seems to take an age, so the sight of Bernard on the top is a real welcome sight especially as he is with Joe who again comes to the rescue with flasks of hot sweet tea. Bernard insists he arrived on time at Dunmail, but as we are so far up on time he got there in just enough time to see us exiting the top of Steel Fell - so off he goes around to the end of Langdale where he scrambles up to join us in our quest.
Now I really dont like Bow Fell, its big ( 2900 ft ) and the way up is a diagonal incline, plays havoc with the feet and calves at this stage in the day - the first of the real brutes and less than half the day done, this is where it really starts I remind myself.
Bow Fell falls in 33 minutes by a direct line and that raises my confidence level - were maintaining the lead on schedule, extending it if anything, and were both going well, conditions good, support team in fine fettle - just keep going and dont think just do.
The run over Esk Pike and Great End is very rocky and I know I am going to take time out of Julian over this sort of terrain - always have, always will. Its horrible stuff, leaping from rock to boulder, hamstrings complaining bitterly and as predicted - step by step, minute by minute, the little fella falls back and loses touch, the team is going to split any minute and that sends the first real waves of doubt through my system.
We always knew it would happen, in fact we specifically planned our support on that basis, but none the less it isnt good when it happens - I look back and he looks up at me, we dont speak, we dont need to - he says something to Dave Hinchcliffe and Dave sets off in pursuit of me leaving Julian with the rest of the team ... the Bob Graham attempt is now two separate ventures and would stay that way for many a long hour.
More rock hopping over Ill Crag and Broad Crag and I am pulling a long way ahead, Jules looks in real difficulty and one of the worst bits awaits him in 15 minutes. I know how worried he is about this climb so I decide to push on as fast as I can - the plan being for him to arrive at the bottom with me already up and scampering over the easier ground above. If he sees me up there, he will follow.
Dave is a considerate and calmy spoken partner- he doesnt need me to tell him my plan, the telepathy has alreday been transmitted.
Scafell Pike is easy, I run up the final stretch to the summit - so why is this so hard after 2 hours on Borrowdale when I have just pissed up it after 12 hours on the go? Dave offers me his own personal brew cold herbal tea with something added - I dont ask what, but it works.
We jog on down to the col just below Broad Stand, Gill Cutts is there shouting our arrival to the guys up with the ropes on the rock face - theyre here, theyre here the old lump in the throat comes back - is this excitement all for me?
Everyone seems thrilled that Im doing so well, Steve Burnett is here again and ties me onto the rope and I am around the exposed corner and up onto the platform before I know it. Dave doesnt bother with the rope and looks very calm about the exposure over his left shoulder. Kev Hill waits on the platform and shout 'tight rope' up into thin air, one long reach and a good pull up on decent hands holds and theres Kev Jenkins with daft hat and beaming smile at the belay holding the aforementioned tight rope.
I am up and its easy ground above, I untie and ask Dave to wait until he sees Julian is up before chasing me up Scafell - if I know hes up I will feel a lot easier on the decent to Wasdale, if he doesnt get up ........ well what will I do, go back or press ahead - I hope thats a decision I dont have to make and move on up over warm dry rocks. I climb on, alone and exilarated at my acheivment.
My prayers are answere near the top of Scafell as Dave lopes along side of me and tells me of a scene more out of Laurel and Hardy that a fell run - anyhow it doesnt matter who needed a blindfold, who nearly cried and who had to stand on whos back for the long reach - theyre up, theyre in one piece and theyre still going, thats all that matters.
Dave leads me off down towards Wasdale and a welcome rest. Ive visualised this decent hundreds of times - the longest section completed safely, running confidently and fluently down towards friends and family - and here it is coming true and 3/5 of the Bob Graham completed, an hour up on schedule.
Dave takes a super line down what is a really long decent and were descending very rapidly towards the melee at the car park, after a slight argument with a difficult stile were round the back of the wall - I look up to see where Julian is but I cant see him, I get a mental picture of him stumbling along falling further and further behind, I try to snap out of the negative thoughts.
We run into the car park to find our supporters startled and amazed its us - they had seen a couple of bodies running quickly down but dismissed the thought it could be us because there werent enough people, we were going far too quickly and it was far too early, yet. Jeanette is there with a kiss, a chair, food and drink - cant face any more rice pudding and peaches, but melon is refreshing as is the usual gallon of tea.
Wasdale to Honister - Peaks 31 to 39
Gary Johnson massages my poor tired calfs and I bathe my battered feet in a bowl of water. Geoff Bell applies the plasters - I dont look at my feet, I dont need to, I know they will be a mess its part of the territory. Despite this, everyone is chatting excitedly about how well I look and sound, not as supprised as I am about my condition though, when is it going to start hiting me full force I think ... I didnt have, long to wait for that answer.
Geoff Bell and Chris McGuire are ready for the off - that 15 minutes has passed very quickly - I look up at Scafell and see Julian negotiating the aforementoned stile, he must be 25 minutes behind me and I am really choked about leaving Wasdale without even a few snatched words of encouragement, but Geoff is insistent that I get going and do battle with Yewbarrow (last year this climb was Goeffs bete noir) and I know I really shouldnt ask him any more questons - I dutifully oblige.
Now this climb is a real bitch I am thinking to myself no more than 10 minutes later - its long, rough, steep and my legs are cramping by the minute - I feel dizzy and sick, I want to lie down and go to sleep in the heather - this one is really hard mentally Geoff reminds me it usually hits Bob Grahamers at this point , yes I think I can see that one Geoff , and it only gets worse as you get further into this leg - I reply to his comments Geoff, I get the picture, thank you my man lets just get back to the task at hand - well thats what I should have said, you can imagine the reality of the expletives !!
I can see down to the Wasdale car park and theres still a crowd around the cars, why isnt he moving off by now I think, but dont say - Geoff reads it wonderfully, offers me a drink and reminds me just to focus on what I have to do you can do absolutely nothing to help him Russ, just get on with your own round and leave it to the lads to get Julian on his feet again.
We lose time up Yewbarrow, nothing significant but for the first time we are falling off the pace, still loads in the bag so nothing to worry about but a pointer to what the next 10 hours are going to be like.
We scuttle off on a good line and start up Red Pike, which goes much better than expected - maybe Yewbarrow is a real turning point for me as well as Geoff - the lads feed and water me and we maintain a steady pace. Just near the top we hear voices much lower down the climb, my spirits leap as I see Julian, Gary and Paul Conway following on behind.
I feel refreashed and ready to do battle once more - while Ive been defeating myself and slowing down, worring about Jules pulling out - the little bugger has been chasing me down, he must be feeling ok, phew !!
Up and over Steeple it gets a bit cold and windy - got any hot soup Geoff - I enquire hopefully, the look gives me the answer as does the lack of any reply.
On the return back from Steeple to Pillar, Julian and his crew pass by 20 yards away - we curse at each other, smile and then drift apart once more.
The climb of Pillar goes well but the descent seems to take forever, my legs are suffering badly and a descent that I have raced down in less than 10 minutes on a good day takes nearly half an hour.
As we get down to the top of Black Sail pass I finally realise that I have lost my mind as I think I see Robin lying in the heather sunning himself, closer inspection shows aforementioned wooly jumper and tree trunk thighs - Robin jumps up and offers drinks and encouragement - steady away up Joss's gully lads, youre doing great, keep it going, Julians pullling through a bad patch, but dont worry hes only 20 minutes behind you and going strong.
Josss gully and Kirk Fell pass without problem, its ground Ive covered many times in preparation, but on the decent of Kirk Fell Chris decides to test the resistance of rocks and head with a forward roll down the scree, we pick him up, dust him off and mop the blood off his head - sorry Russ you could do without that couldnt you - I feel emotional and very proud of these guys, they are really putting themselves through it to support my selfishness and obcession.
From this side Great Gable looks immense - its bathed in afternoon sunshine and looks very very steep. The climb up is bloody awful, anyone reading this little tale who thinks they fancy having a go at the Round should try this face of Gable with fresh legs on a good day before ever doing it in earnest.
Were steadily losing time to the schedule but I have no real worries as I know I am a long way ahead on a 23 hour schedule and while every step is agony its the same agony, its not a worsening agony and I finally start to think that I am actually going to do this unless some unforeseen disaster hits - I should feel elated at that thought, through the months of preparation and years of planning I have dreamed of coming up Gable ahead of my plan and still moving well, but the gnawing pain and tiredness are just numbing my mind and I am like a hollow shell of the real me, I think thats what your body does to protect itself when youre completely done in.
By the top I am cold and shivering, Geoff takes off his jacket and gives it to me, I know hes cold himself and I know I would do the same for him - more nods and knowing looks, no need for words.
Down we scramble to Windy Gap - truely horrible, knees complaining bitterly.
Up and over we go onto Green Gable - Steve Burnett is huddled next to the cairn at the top Bloody brilliant Russ, youre looking great ( fu***ng liar, I think) , Ill wait and come on down with Jules, I will bloody kick him along if he's slowing down, you two are going to do this - start celebrating .
This is now very familiar territory to me and easy ground compared to the past 3 hours. Brandreth and Grey Knotts pass in a flash and now I am on the long decent down to Honister. Geoff picks a great line and I use his broad shoulders as an aide to my descent.
Gravel under my feet, shouts, cheers, flat place - this must be Honister.
Honister to Keswick - peaks 40 to 42
Jeanette is there with hugs and kisses, but no encouraging comments of how fresh I look now so I know I must look in a shocking state. Mam and Dad dont say much, but I know theyre just letting me get on with it. John the Dentist beams broad grins and pulls on his gear while stuffing bananas down his neck.
I turn and look back up the slopes above Honister and I see Julian and his team exit the top and start the decent, they can only be 10 minutes behind now and seem to be going strong - spirits rise again, is this really all going to come good after everything weve been through.
I dont want to eat, in fact the thought of eating makes me feel sick - I now understand why Geoff discarded that scone into the heather that his wife Val give him at this spot last year. I dont want to stop long, I could have waited for Julian but I really cant face hanging around I just need to get going and get this finished, so were off on the last leg.
My pacers are Jeanette and Val (plan being that I wouldnt dare be a whimp in front of the woman I love and would battle on regrdless if I get this far in one piece), theyre both togged up like its December and we set off with excited chatter up and away.
Dale Head, not my favourate climb even on a good day, its a horrible long drag but Jeanette and Val mother me all the way up, the climb takes 40 minutes when Ive done it in 25 before ..... but at this point I am starting to relax and enjoy it - I truly know that I am going to do this, but I dont admit it to anyone - Jeanette smiles a knowing smile at me, shes knows Im in control and she knows I am feeling confident. Easy ground ahead and the lights of Keswick in the distance - the same lights I left behind going up Skiddaw 21 hours ago.
We scamper off the summit and on the easy path to Hindscarth and along here it finally happens - Julian catches me up, all of his crew are smiling and laughing, and as I later find out some of these guys have seen him go through every agony thats possible for a fell runner but hes out the other side of it and literally breezing along. We've been apart for over 9 hours, it feels more, in fact it feels like Ive done all the hard part on my own ... then again thats what I expected to happen and thats why we planned the support the way we did.
Now theres 7 of us in the group and it feels like a summers outing - theres talk of fish and chips, beers and pies, people who are going to do it next year, how much faster they are going to go ...... I dont react I just sense a deep satisfaction at what I am about to achieve and lets just see who does what over the next few years.
Robinson seems to pass in a flash but coming down is really painfull, I need to use Jeanette as a support as I cant stand the pain in my left thigh .. its a hobble more than anything else.
As dusk falls and darkness envelops the fells we reach Littletown - Mam and Dad are there and Ken and Cath kaiser are joining us for the run into Keswick. Robin and Joe are there to wish us well - Robin adds You'll be ok now lads its roads all the way, the note of irony hardly discussed. Roads shoes are a relief after 22 hours in fell shoes.
I had expected the run into Keswick to fly past but it really dragged, even a slow jog was agony on the legs. I thought I wouild be full of chatter but I can hardly find the energy to talk.
Anyway bit by bit, step by step we progress to Moot Hall. I remember doing this with Geoff Bell a year ago and wondering why he was so quiet - he was going to complete the Bob Graham Round for gods sake surely he was pleased about that ... now I know, now I understand.
Its black dark as we cross the bridge at Portinscale and shuffle down the path towards keswick, julian has waited at the other side of the bridge ... we will finish this together as planned.
|We hit the high street as a body and the group thrust me and Jules to the front, we hold hands and race up to Moot Hall, we touch the stone of the wall and finally stop - its over, at last, weve done it, years of dreaming, months of grueling training - it is finally over.|
I check my watch, it reads 23.20 - a time that will never leave me.
Its a bit of a surreal experience - theres a real crowd of folk, all our pacers, friends, family and loved ones. I though I would be more emotional, I though I would sit in a heap and weep, I thought I would be elated - what I feel is numbness of every sinue and tissue including the brain, theres a party going on right around me and i am one of the centre pieces, people are whooping and cheering but in my head I am somewhere else, a very quiet and personal place that few ever experience ... and when they have they dont talk about it much, nor shall I.
It seems a lifetime ago that we set off in such high spirits - Ive experienced something that will change my life and that will stay with me all my life.
We chat for a while and then walk off for fish and chips, pity we missed out on the pint.
My immediate thoughts were very practical - food, drink, sleep - I wake after a long sleep, very groggy - I hear Jeanette, Julian, Mam and Dad talking in the caravan lounge - I listen and cant quiet recognise what there going on about it sounds too fantastic a tale to be true but then I slowly realise it is, so I get up and go join in the fun.
Over the days that followed the sense of satisfaction grew and grew - immense pride in my own achievement, a common bond of friendship and camaraderie, banter on the high fells, skylarks at dawn, the love of a good woman and the very very best of friendships.
The Bob Graham is at the end of it all a very intense personal experience that is reserved for a very small number of people each year who are prepared do what it takes.
Its not an impossible feat reserved for the elite, as Bob Graham himself said anyone can do it, if youre fit enough - in my humble opinion its a little more than that and it is something that only comes from deep within, its a place few will ever care to explore, all I can tell you is thats its worth seeking even if you never find it!
The call from BBC radio to congratulate me on becoming member 1000 of the Bob Graham club was a shock, I knew someone would bag that honour in 1996 or 1997 but it never occured to me that I might stand a chance, of course thats what the records will show but to me it will always be an honour shared with another who only manged to get number 999.
Now this sounds like a good thing to have another crack at in about 10 years time .... I wonder who will be with us then?
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