Cross the UK: Going Solo – Part 2
After doing a 6am airport run for my parents I headed directly to the Lakes. Day 1 was longer, distance wise and this was a bit of a risk since I had to ensure I had enough daylight for making some big climbs and getting to the bothy in plenty of time. I did have a backup plan where I could take a short cut to the bothy if needed and I was carrying my OR Helium Bivy as a second back up. With a quick change into my running kit, an adjustment of the pack and a quick stretch I set off.
Upon leaving the lakeside car park at Ennerdale I headed straight across the grass aiming for the hills which rose immediately up from the lake. The route took me along a decent path up to the saddle behind Anglers Crag where I would then have to find my own way up onto the fell top. I had spotted a field boundary on the map I thought I could skirt along and reach the top. The reality was more mountain goat terrain than running and there were several short climbs which were fun but made for very slow going. The story of the day would turn out to be an inability to find any rhythm in running for me. I hopped, climbed, slid and scrambled up and around aiming for the fell top.
As on most Lakeland fell tops, the views were spectacular. Behind me was the coastline with unobstructed views up the valley and back to the coast and it was well over an hour before I saw anyone else on the tops. I followed a stone wall (choosing the wrong side: being much more difficult to run on than the other side which annoyingly, I discovered after covering over 2km) pretty much all the way to Haycocks, stopping only to snag my thigh on some very rusty barbed wire. After a few scrambles up and around rocky sections I was off across Scoat Fell but by this time I was well and truly in the clouds. The idea of taking a selfies at each of the peaks for evidence was abandoned quickly when I realised there was no view to be seen and I’m not that fussed about the selfie at the best of times anyway.
It was slow going. With a greater pack weight than I’ve ever run with, cold conditions and some pretty technical terrain I was well behind time. When you are out on your own, especially running, you have a lot more time to think. I don’t do music when running because I don’t want the distraction, I enjoy the sounds of the outdoors and the time to think through things and eventually clear my mind. The solo running in these conditions meant that I was lacking motivation and conversation so the focus went to the route, the time, getting to the bothy but I did neglect the fuel issue which has always been a problem for me. Normally, I notice that I need food when I’m struggling which is generally well after the point in which I need to have got it sorted. Spending so much time and energy focusing on my footing and balance over really technical terrain meant that I was well past Pillar by the time it hit me. With energy stores low and now needing to find a source of water my plans started to change. Time was getting on with a few hours of daylight left and to complete the Gables part of the route it would mean finding the bothy in darkness. I decided that it wasn’t worth pushing on with all this in mind and planned on dropping down Black Sails Pass and heading up the other side of the valley beside Loft Beck.
The descent down allowed me to fill up all of my flasks with beautifully cold, fresh water from Sail Beck and although the route was wet and slippery it did help raise the spirits knowing that I would be able to relax and refuel properly in a short time. Of course, the climb up the other side of the valley was pretty hard going by this stage but when you know the goal is close it spurs you on. I hopped and skipped across the saturated ground near Blackbeck Tarn knowing that Warnscale Bothy was nestled into the valley side just ahead. Even knowing where it was from a previous visit the bothy blends into the broken slate on the hill perfectly making it difficult to see from the back or side.
Upon entering the bothy I realised it would be a snug night. I was joining two others and their dog who had headed up from the car pack at Buttermere and were dining in style with red wine, steaks and rum making my dehydrated meal look rather less appetising. Unfortunately for me, the sleeping cots that were stored under the wooden seating had gone and since there was only room for two on there it meant I was on the floor. Despite my companions bringing a bit of fuel for the fire it was a bitterly cold night and we were all pretty cold inside the bothy. With my lightweight, 2 season Marmot Atom sleeping bag I knew the emergency heat bag would be useful so I put my X-therm mat and sleeping bag inside when the time came and had a genuinely warm and comfortable nights sleep.
I awoke to a thick frost and -3˚C outside. Not the best conditions for starting day two running back to the car. I went to fill my flasks from the picturesque, frozen water source near to the bothy. Sat and has my hot breakfast meal and readied myself for the day. Some extra stretches and a few extra layers (I love synthetic insulation so much more than down these days) and I was ready to get going.
While weaving my way around the frozen tarns and up over Haystacks the views were breathtaking. A cloudless sky, thick white frost and the still morning made it a fantastic, if very cold, place to be. That being said, my legs were feeling the effects of the day before and the frost and ice covering every wet surface made tricky, technical terrain even more problematic. Upon climbing down to Scarth Gap I decided, with around 14km to go that I would descend to the valley floor and at least get a good pace and run properly for the last leg. I should have stuck to the mountain tops. After picking my way down through broken rocks, wooded trails and muddy paths I reached the track at the bottom. I got maybe 150m along it before falling. My brain had obviously switched off thinking that this was easy compared to the technical terrain I’d been on and my ankle went after standing on a rock and I landed heavily. A swollen, sprained ankle, broken Garmin watch and a broken rib were the result.
I was helped up by a kind walker who chatted with me while I game to my senses and got ready to go again. I can tell you know that being over 13km away from your car in freezing weather with an ankle and ribs that are in agony is no fun. I soldiered on, trying not to show how much pain I was in as the morning walkers passed me in the opposite direction. Still, it only took two hours under those conditions to hobble and wheeze my way back to the car. I couldn’t get changed and get the heater on fast enough!
The route and the run in general was definitely a lesson. It taught me a lot about my body, my skill and fitness levels and doing this kind of thing alone. I would definitely do something like this again as I really enjoyed it but deep down I think I’d rather have a companion given the choice. That’s my personal opinion and I know many people wouldn’t dream of going out alone while many others love nothing more than the joy of going alone into these areas. I’m somewhere in the middle, happy to go alone but I’d rather have someone to go with. It has dented the start of my training that we are doing to be ready for the Hardmoors 55 mile Ultra Marathon in March but what can you do?! I’m glad I experienced it in all of the spectacular pain and glory for myself. I will plan something similar for next summer where the light and cold are not such a limiting factor. I would encourage people to have a go at going solo but start small with somewhere you know and are confident with.