Last year, in snow, wind and rain I sacked off this race. It was my first DNF and the right decision.
This year, after a lot of deliberating, I decided to give it another go. After all, I am a year ahead in experience- my kit is better suited to challenging conditions plus with the TDS in August it was an opportunity to rewrite history and prove to myself that I am up to this.
The Lakes Mountain 42 is a low-key event aimed at serious mountain runners who can properly navigate. There is an entry limit of 100 (50 entered this year, 40 started) and so you can go for miles without really seeing anyone else.
The route takes in some big climbs, Loadpot Hill, Helvellyn, Place Fell and it is pretty much open route choice between checkpoints. Most CP’s are self clip, some are manned, only one, Side Farm, Patterdale, had food and drinks (although you do pass through it twice).
We had a good understanding of the route, we’d recce’d sections a few times last year, I’d been scrutinising the map for a while and was happy with the decisions I’d made in terms of saving elevation, alternate routes and taken into account areas of technical difficulty underfoot. It is a race of endurance, navigational accuracy and strategy – that makes it very different from other ultras, it also makes it a race worth a second attempt.
Having followed the weather for the past week, we were pleased to see that it looked promising, a possibly wet start improving throughout the day with rain later. We dressed accordingly, it is a 6am start, the old saying ‘be bold start cold’ doesn’t work for me at 6am.
The day before, I’d been tasked with making the ‘energy cake’ (Read ‘Run or Die’) and Ed’s job was to buy sausage rolls and pork pies from Cranston’s. We had an early night, in order to have time to get sorted we were up at 3.50am.
We arrived at Askham in time to register, the field was small, this is always intimidating because the chances of being last are high (hey, I don’t mind being last, but by a considerable margin? And holding up the volunteers? I don’t like the thought of that). We were told that there had been some amendments to CP’s (in addition to the one we knew about- cutting out the Wythburn CP due to access issues) , fewer drinks stops, Swirral Edge a no-no (we had assumed that due to the MWIS and Weatherline reports), subsequent CP at Whiteside.
By 6am we were off up Askham Fell, we didn’t need headtorches and soon the fullness of light came pouring in. It was the most beautiful sunrise, ineffable. Must be why revelations are often experienced on mountains, no.316 overtook us.
We were pretty far behind the main group but we were content in a steady pace. It’s a long, wet, boggy climb up to Loadpot but we made it and continued on up High Street to the steep out and back section of Racecourse Hill. We’d bought some prints of the fells from the 1800’s and Racecourse Hill is one of them, yes apparently they did race horses up there.
Once we self clipped we sloshed back down through icy puddles and back up towards our next goal, the isthmus (‘google it!’) on Angle Tarn. Again, I just cannot tell you how stunning it was, the pictures could never do it justice. One of the benefits of starting early, I think, is that the passage of time is experienced differently, things move along with a greater fluidity, you were there, now you’re here, how did that happen?
Well, it happened and we were soon descending past Boredale Hause through Side Farm, the food stop was now at the road. I was told I was 4th woman- not very impressive when you consider how few had entered, 10 maybe? Not sure how many started. The marshals were so helpful and even filled up my Salomon Soft Flasks (these are a right pain in arse to do in a hurry). For a morale boost pork pie no.1 was jointly consumed and man it was good.
The next section is daunting. A steep climb out of Patterdale leads to a pass that joins up with the ascent to the Helvellyn ridge. We were in good spirits but it was so hot and I was sweating my dish. It was tough going on tired legs and we were pleased to see Grisedale Tarn as we crossed through the pass, a cheery marshal and a clip later, we were climbing the distinctive zig zag of Dollywagon Pike. Again, killer stuff. Eventually we made it up and continued a shorter climb to the summit of Helvellyn, it was around here that I dropped to 5th woman and by the time we reached the Whiteside CP my legs were spent. Luckily there was a few miles of descent into Glenridding to look forward to and we made good time.
Back to Side Farm and it was time of another bottle refill and a sausage roll, I was hungry and it went down well. As we leisurely strolled to the foot of Place Fell we discussed our next major decision- do we literally climb straight up, taking the heinous but direct route, or do we take the friendlier, steady climb, adding an extra 1-2k. We took the direct route, over scree, on all fours. It felt as though it took us a thousand years. I was suffering, we weren’t making progress, I couldn’t see the top….Was there even a top? I’ve been climbing my whole life, this is my life now, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t on this fell, I’m going to live here forever, or die. Ed: ‘Stop being so dramatic and get it together!’
Well then we did reach the top, Ed was first to see the cairn and clip, last CP. I was so happy. So, so happy, again, words fail me.
Long descent off the fells to meet up with the road to Martindale, we followed it along to Howtown and then rejoined the fell side path towards Askham Fell. In a move of navigational genius we emerged at the Cockpit and were soon descending into the finish.
We were met by a round of applause and shed loads of cake. I opted for carrot cake on account of the amount of buttercream on the top, I wasn’t disappointed, it was amazing. So a huge thank you to Nav4, organisers, marshals and volunteers, I cannot praise you guys enough.
So overall, a different kind of event, one that requires mountain experience, navigational competency mental fortitude, endurance and a strategic approach. I liked it.