Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blakes Heaven Fell Race 2013

This is the course that we checked out last week.  Today was the event.  Lots of snow had fallen in the Lake District overnight and we really were not sure how conditions would be.  When I woke up this morning there were clear skies and I thought that we were in for a mild day.  Bearing in mind the forecast and the snow overnight, conditions were as good as we could ask for. 

course and elevation.  It's pretty constant uphill for the first half and then downhill with some moderate uphill the rest of the way with a very steep descent at the end coming down Owsen Fell.

From the top of the first hill looking towards the woods.
Blake Fell, the highest point on the course is the right hand
hill.  I think the other hill is Sharp Knott.
This was my first fell race.  I was a bit nervous but have done plenty of road races and we did the recce last week so I felt like I had a bit of experience.

We got to the race fairly early but parking at Lamplugh was still tight.  After signing up, Jonathan and Gerard set off for a warm up while Andy and I had a walk up the first hill and back.

We watched the juniors race.  There were some impressive performances but I'm always struck at the difference in size and build of juniors, it really doesn't seem fair for some of the smaller ones when their fellow racers have obviously matured quicker and are taller, stronger etc.

The juniors did one or two laps of their course, depending on their age.  It was amusing to see the pushy parents living vicariously.  Soon enough, it was time for the seniors race.  Gerard, who is still injured, was going to pace Jonathan around.  Andy did the race last year in about 47 minutes.  Normally, that would be his target and I thought it might be a good target for me, but conditions today meant that times were likely to be a fair bit slower.  Reports were that there was a lot of slush on the track through the woods and deep snow beyond.

grumpy farmer
Jonathan was hoping for a sub 1 hour, which I thought was a bit conservative but, again with today's conditions, it was probably more realistic.

The farmer that owns the fields that the race starts and finishes on is fairly emphatic about people not trespassing.  We did have a run over on the recce last week and there are plenty of signs reminding you that it is private land, some more polite than others.

With a "5,4,3,2,1" we were off.  The first half mile or so is a climb and it took me a while to warm up into it.  The course then cuts across to the woods where a queue had formed waiting to hop over a fence.  This gave me a much needed opportunity to catch my breath before hopping over, following the path down through some mud and then joining the forest track.  This is the long gradual climb which goes south into the forest before a hairpin turn back north and through to the edge of the forest.

I paced myself on the climb through the forest, sticking behind the runner in front when I perhaps had the energy to overtake.  I knew there were steep climbs coming up.  I was pleased to be able to run all the way to the edge of the forest.

At this point, the course climbs steeply up to Sharp Knott.  The snow at this point was deep and, thankfully, the runners ahead had made footsteps.  

Pre-cut footsteps in the snow did mean that the procession up the hill  to Sharp Knott was pretty much single file and the pace was comfortable, allowing me to get some energy back.

From Sharp Knott, there is a small downhill before the steep climb up to Blake Fell.  The snow wasn't quite as deep here and I took the opportunity to overtake a few stragglers but it was a hard climb and I was glad to be at the top.

footsteps up to Sharp Knott
The top of Blake Fell is the highest point on the course and also marks the point where the overall uphill changes to an overall downhill.

I've still got a bit of a knee niggle so wasn't able to go full pelt on the downhill sections.  I did put the camera away at this point though because I was going a bit too fast to take pictures (most of the time).

There is a nice section from the top of Blake Fell down and then back up to Burnbank Fell.  There were some deep snowdrifts on this section, people disappeared to waist level and I soon learned that you can't keep going when the snow gets deeper and found myself sliding along on both knees, a bit like a footballer who has just scored a goal, except that I sank down into the snow as I slid.

The snow took a bit of the harshness out of the descent but overall, it was fairly tough going.  I tucked in behind a runner and followed them the rest of the way.

Energy wise, I felt just about right, I had a bit left for the climb up to Owsen Fell and was then on to the part I was dreading, coming down the steep side back to the field.  I slowed down and took my time descending, getting down without hurting myself.  The track got very slippery at the end and then there is the section where you have to run between the fence and the wall.  This had been made very slippery and was not fun to run along.

section between the wall and fence
Once back over the fence, it's a pretty easy run over the grumpy farmer's fields back to the start.

My time, according to my garmin, was 49.38.  This seemed like a good time and I was more than happy with it, beating the 50 minutes seemed like a good goal.  Andy came in a few minutes later and then Jonathan, paced by Gerard, came in at 53.34.

As well as a rest, there was much appreciated hot drinks, cake and flapjack at the finish line.  

climbing up to Blake Fell

my stats

Monday, January 21, 2013

Low Fell and Fellbarrow

from the Birkett top of Loweswater Fell looking over Crummock Water and surrounding fells

The Birketts are a list of the 541 Lake District fell tops over 1000ft.  Bill Birkett's Complete Lakeland Fells details the fells with 129 circular walks taking in the whole list.  Most of the Wainwrights are also Birketts.  Wainwright was more subjective in his selection of peaks, some of the Wainwrights are not peaks at all, just prominent points on a spur or a ridge.  At the time of writing this, I have no idea how many Birkett fells I have completed, I would estimate in the region of 300.  Today's walk was with the purpose of bagging the Wainwright peaks of Low Fell and Fellbarrow but also with an eye on the surrounding Birketts.

The walk we did was more or less the FELL 1 - Fellbarrow Round from Loweswater described by Birkett.  As well as the Wainwrights of Low Fell and Fellbarrow (also Birketts) we took in Darling Fell, Loweswater Fell (which Wainwright included as Low Fell), Sourfoot Fell, Smithy Fell and Hatteringill Head. Here is the route, circles are Wainwrights, triangles are Birketts:

climbing up to Darling Fell
We set off from Loweswater up the track signposted "Askill B&B/Bridleway" that links to the old Mosser Fell Road, a road that I once made the mistake of driving down having mistakenly read a sign to say, "Not suitable for large vehicles" when it actually said, "Not suitable for vehicles".  

I recently made the, less serious by far, mistake of cycling along this road on my road bike.  

The road is in far worse condition now than when we first drove along in our car (about seven years ago), no doubt damaged further in the 2009 floods as well as by other idiots such as myself driving along it (actually, my wife was driving, I was hanging out of the window bending branches back to allow us to pass).  

The bottom part of the road, towards Loweswater is deeply rutted and it would be impossible for get down it with a car now.  On my cycle ride, I did meet about four landrovers out for a drive coming the other way, no doubt laughing at me for taking this route.  As a walk, it is perfectly fine though.  Just don't try it in a car.

looking back down the steep climb up to Darling Fell
A year or so ago, we did try to make Low Fell one of Hannah's Wainwrights but she decided she was tired quite early on and neither I nor my wife were keen to carry her the rest of the way so we turned around.

As we climbed today, I recognised the point that we turned around, near the rusty old tractor or mower.  Today though, a bit further on and we were up onto the open fell.  Although this is open fell, there are lots of fences to climb over on the route we took.  

Wainwright commented on this in Book Seven, "Sheep normally live their lives on the heaf they were brought up on, convinced there's no place like home, and need no fence to persuade them to stay."

Before long we were climbing alongside a fence, using it as a handrail navigation feature to the top of Darling Fell.  Shortly after crossing another fence, we were at our first Birkett of the day.

Loweswater.  Carling Knott above the trees across the lake.  I was running around that area yesterday

Darling Fell summit cairn.  Loweswater Fell summit cairn can just be seen in front with the climb up the fence.

descending to Crabtree Beck and then a steep climb back up
with Low Fell on the left of the fence and Loweswater Fell on
the right.
There are some brilliant views from the top of Darling Fell but David told me that the views from Loweswater Fell were even better so we didn't hang around, especially as there was a bitingly cold wind at this point.

The path follows the fence line steeply down to Crabtree Beck and then steeply back up to Loweswater Fell and Low Fell.

It seems that Birkett views Loweswater Fell and Low Fell as separate summits whereas Wainwright saw them as different tops on the same fell saying that, "It has many tops, uniformly around 1350 feet, rising from a ridge.  The most southerly eminence [Loweswater Fell] has the main cairn and a perfectly composed view of mountain and lake scenery, a connoisseur's piece."

Low Fell, the northern peak, is the higher of the two.  This is the grid reference I have for the Wainwright summit.  Others suggest that Wainwright considered the southern peak as the summit, in a similar way to as on Seathwaite Fell, choosing a more prominent area with a better view as the top rather than getting tied down to silly little things like it not being the highest point.  Either way, we visited both.

from Loweswater Fell, the connoisseur's piece!

just beyond the summit, beautiful views down over Crummock Water with Melbreak prominent on the right.  Rannerdale Knotts looks tiny on the left of the lake.  A bit of Buttermere Lake is just visible beyond.

Melbreak, another fell with two tops, is distinguishable by its M shape.

left to right, Whiteside, Grassmoor with Whiteless Pike ridge leading down to Rannerdale Knotts at the edge of the lake

closer view of Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike behind and Rannerdale Knotts.  Robinson is to the right of Whiteless Pike and then it looks like the square profile of Fleetwith Pike and the domes of Haystacks are also visible at the other end of Buttermere Lake.

the north top or Birkett's Low Fell

boundary stone
We continued along the ridge, feeling admittedly a little bit disillusioned with the Birketts as we had difficulty distinguishing Sourfoot Fell and Smithy Fell as distinct peaks.  I suppose the same could be said of some Wainwrights, it's just that the Wainwrights are better known.

On Sourfoot Fell, we found a boundary stone, shown on the OS map, it is maked with F on one side and M on the other.  I have seen these before along High Street where an L marks the boundary of the Lowther estate.  

There are lots of M's around, Melbreak, Mosser, Miresyke?  My guess would be Mosser.  For F there is Foulsyke which would be my best guess.  I have tried to look for more evidence but could find none so if anybody knows, I would be interested in finding out.

death on the fell!
There is a small prominence to the west of the boundary stone and I ran around to the top of this just in case this was the Birkett summit.  It's so small that it does not appear on the maps, it rises and falls again between the contour lines.

Moving on towards Fellbarrow, the other Wainwright Fell we were going to today, we were pleased to see a small hill between Sourfoot Fell and Fellbarrow.  This was Smithy Fell.  After a bit more fence climbing, we appeared to be at the top but were not entirely sure (some online research has confirmed that we were).

We think that the top of Smithy Fell is marked by a, not very exciting, fence post.  We took some pictures and carried on towards Fellbarrow.

Fellbarrow is marked by an OS trig point column and a small cairn.

Smithy Fell?


Hatteringill Head
From Fellbarrow, there is an obvious further hump which David correctly identified as Hatteringill Head.

It didn't take long for us to get up here, take a few photos and then head back over grassy, what would usually be boggy, land.  In hindsight, it would probably have been better to head back over Fellbarrow.

A few more fences were crossed until we got back to the road which took us back to the car.

I really enjoyed the walk, it was a very cold day and I think it would have been unpleasant to be on the higher fells.  These two Wainwrights are among the nearest to me, Loweswater is about 10 miles from home, yet I have neglected them.  Perhaps this is because I thought I would save them for a day when I didn't have a lot of time or perhaps it's because I wrongly assumed that they were a bit dull.

The route we took would be an interesting route to run with lots of undulation and soft grassy hills.  Once at Loweswater Fell, the ups and downs are fairly manageable.  The view from Loweswater Fell/Low Fell is, as Wainwright says, one for 'connoisseurs'.  Don't neglect these fells.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blakes Heaven recce

from the frosty summit of Blake Fell looking over to Knock Murton

This morning I went for a check out of the Blakes Heaven fell race route.  Jonathan's cousin, Gerard and his mate Andy came along.  The race itself is next week, think I might have a go.  Today the course measured at 4.3 miles with a fair bit of climbing.  It was very useful to have somebody familiar with the course, pointing out key parts of the route and advising on strategies.

route and elevation

I was delighted to discover that I had bagged a fresh Wainwrigh (Burnbank Fell) as well as some Birketts.  I didn't realise this until I got home and put the route on the computer.

3d route

The main climbing is done at the start of the course.  Once in the woods, the path goes downhill slightly before joining the forest track where it climbs steadily.  There is a steep climb to Sharp Knott then a grassy downhill followed by the steady climb up to Blake Fell.  Gerard ran up this but advised the rest of us to walk and save some energy.  I picked a target a bit of the way up the hill, got just above it and then walked the rest of the way.  Once up Blake Fell, the course is quite runnable with a steep descent down Owsen Fell back through the grumpy farmer's fields.  The start and finish of the course goes over private land.  The farmer is obviously fed up of people cutting across, hence the sign, "No Footpath, piss off."  Today there was a bit of snow about and the ground was frozen hard with patches of ice on the paths.  I imagine that this is how it will be on race day.

Andy, Gerard and Jonathan on Sharp Knott about to head  up to Blake Fell behind

advice on route selection

I think this is on top of Blake Fell, looking over to Carling Knott.  Jonathan has just bought the same top as me.  Hmpf!

top of Owsen Fell, before the descent.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Helvellyn in the Snow

on the top.  Photo by David Harrisson.  Check out and Like his Wainwright Fellwalker Facebook page

The most visited summit in the Lake District and for good reason.  The eastern ribs of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge provide a perfect out and back mountain experience from Glenridding.  In winter conditions however, unless you know what you are doing and have the right gear, ascending and descending via the round western side is a much safer choice.  That's what we did on Wednesday.

route and elevation

3d route - straight up and down

I was trying out some micro spikes I had bought.  They were just the job.  The path was snowy and icy the whole way up and the spikes really worked well to stop me slipping.  There is a bit of getting used to having something on the bottom of your feet but it doesn't take long.

It felt very cold at the top, despite having several layers of clothing on.  I knew that David would want to spend some time getting photos of the brilliant edges, Red Tarn etc and we spent about half an hour walking backwards and forwards.  I was slightly annoyed that I couldn't work the panoramic setting on my camera without taking my gloves off and, due to the cold, I soon gave up on panoramic pictures!  David took some great pics.  Check out his page here for pictures of this and other walks.

On the way back down we ran into Lin and her son Evan (and their dog).  David knew them from Facebook and we stopped for a quick picture or two.  We also decided to bag Helvellyn Lower Man, correctly guessing that it was a Birkett.

Browncove Crags

this path is known as the 'pedestrian route' but it was a slog today in the snow and ice

looking back over Thirlmere

the path eventually evens out - just a biting wind to contend with now

Catstycam and Swirral Edge

Along Swirral Edge to Catstycam central and pointy, Birkhouse Moor to the right also covered in snow.  Place Fell is above Birkhouse Moor (no snow, with Ullswater visible above it), moving left is Heron Pike and Sheffield Pike.  On the left side of Catstycam, the slopes of Raise and Brown Cove are covered in snow with Green Side, Hart Side and Birkett Fell retaining some snow.

panorama - I can still feel the cold in my fingers!

the flat top of Helvellyn, lots of people here as usual.

a bit of a cornice

Gough memorial
Near to the summit of Helvellyn is the Gough Memorial.  Charles Gough fell from Striding Edge in 1805 and his body was guarded for some months by his dog.  William Wordsworth immortalised the event in his poem Fidelity.   Sir Walter Scott also wrote of the event in Helvellyn.

Frozen Red Tarn and the edges

along the cornice - yes, he's on solid ground.

David and Catstycam

that's the way back down, I'm freezing - let's go!