Standing in Braithwaite at 2.50 am Saturday 11th July I was nervous and excited for the adventure ahead. The outcome was far from certain yet I was full of confidence and I believed the record was possible.
To break Mark Hartell’s 1997 record of 77 Lakeland Peaks I would to have to run the same peaks, finishing at the same point as I had started and either gone quicker than 23 hours 47 mins or add an extra peak finishing within 24 hours. In 1989 the rules for an extra peak were stipulated by the Bob Graham Club, as a fell over 2000 feet, 1/4 mile away from previous top and with 250 feet of descent and re-ascent. The next logical tops were either Haycock or Fleetwith Pike and my plan was to go for Haycock.
I had only decided to attempt the round 4 weeks prior and did my best to recce the lines I did not know before the attempt. With an incredible support team at the road crossings and on the fell, I knew I would largely get the best lines, be well fed, encouraged to push on and make every second count. I had gone through the process of visualising the route, effort required, where to eat, what the hard parts were likely to be and how I would keep pushing my boundaries when it got tough. My legs were conditioned with a massive block of specific fell miles, my form was peaking where running up a fell at a hard pace felt easy and I was fresh, ready to race.
At 3 am I raced down the A66 at a pace, turning towards Applethwaite and skipping up the hill to Lonscale Fell via a route well rehearsed. I had made a positive start with 4 mins already gained and this reaffirmed by belief and desire to make this the day to break the record. I pushed on at a comfortable hard effort being careful to pull back from pushing too close to the red line and certain implosion. Navigation took my focus from Great Calva to Blencathra with a few extra tops and a few pathless sections to negotiate I did not want to look a fool so early in the day with a tracker detailing my every move. The drag up to Bowscale Fell is slow going and full of tussocks but my memory is one of admiration of a glorious sunrise. I just love those moments of awe in the mountains. With dry rock I descended freely down Hall’s Fell feeling the flow when absorbed in the moment.
Flying straight through Threlkeld I was determined to cement the progress I had made so far. Clough Head, the Dodds, onto Helvellyn via a quick out and back to Catstycam making sure not to catch a toe on Swirral Edge. Now I was following the footsteps of Adam Perry and Mike Ainsworth keeping me entertained and cutting every corner which could be cut with near perfection.
Arriving at Dunmail with 27 minutes gained over Mark, my mood had changed from free flowing bouncy legs to steely determined focused mind. I pushed through my poles and drove through my legs up Steel Fell. I often find the first few tops on leg 3 of a BGR mentally challenging, so I focused on keeping the motor driving forward towards the Langdales with no such challenge this time. I was now on to the big dipper descending the great scree chute into Langdale with a brief spell on my back writhing in pain with calf cramp, relieved by Rhys, and then crawling up the steep fell side up to Pike of Blisco.
Over the rocky, central fells from Blisco to Lingmell with plenty of decent and re-ascent and tough terrain there is no let up and easy miles. I feared this would be the crux of the round where I would crash and burn but I was still going strong and holding the schedule. However the pace was starting to take a toll, food was not going down so well but I was still in good place mentally until I reached Broad Stand. All of a sudden while getting tied into the rope the spaced out feeling of a sugar low was upon me. I found it difficult to co ordinate while scrambling up the cliff, focusing on each step with blurry vision and sipping a bottle of cola asking Paul repeatedly which way to go. After stabilising the initial crash by the summit of Scafell the energy crisis would last until Red Pike and I had started to lose some ground. The climb up Yewbarrow was brutal and despite not wanting to eat, I stuffed food down and kept grinding upwards.
So climbing Red Pike coming off a low patch, looking over to Haycock looming large to our left I quickly changed plan, taking Scoffer’s advice and decided Fleetwith Pike would be a better option with more time to decide wether the extra peak was still on. The energy returned and I picked up the pace and started to make a few gains. Ticking off the big tops of Pillar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable brought me ever closer to the crunch point. By Grey Knotts there was only one way I was turning and this was towards Fleetwith Pike. We did not get the optimum line but it was good enough and the extra peak was tagged before descending into Honister with 15 minutes on Mark. The thought passed my mind that this was going to happen today but I was getting weary and my stomach was churning.
The euphoria drove me up Dale Head and I over cooked it by running up Hindscarth which hit me on top of Robinson.The same jelly legged feeling returned trying to run down the steep path, tussocks and gully which led to Newlands Pass. We ran through a wild camp party having a good time or at least I think we did! Somehow I managed to find the strength to power straight though and onto the last leg. This now became a battle of the mind over the body and the body was winning on the climb to Ard Crags. Adam choose to give me the tough reality on the summit and give me the kick I needed to fight hard. I dug deeper than ever before, shouting at myself to push on, stopping briefly to heave on the way up Sail. The tension rose further as we were enveloped by mountain fog, barely able to see our feet. With Matt out front doing an awesome job of keeping us on track, Adam being the enforcer and Jim the encourager we kept getting closer, losing a little bit of ground but keeping the losses under control. Finally standing on the top of Grisedale Pike I knew it would happen, the pain disappeared and the smile spread across my face as I danced my way down the hill, finding the strength to race down the road to break the Lakeland 24 hour peaks record with 78 peaks in 23 hours 45 minutes.
A big thank you to Ally Love, Simon Franklin, Jim Scott, George Foster, Martin Mickelson-Barron, Adam Perry, Mike Ainsworth, Andy Thompson, Rhys Findlay-Robinson, Steve Birkinshaw, Rob Jebb, Paul Aitken, Carol Morgan, Scoffer, Matthew Atkinson, Carmine De Grandis, Matt Stapley and Adam Godwin for whose support I am grateful for making this dream a reality.
Thank you to support to achieve these dreams from my sponsors La Sportiva, Petzl & Mountain Fuel