The Lake District mountains and lakes are a very special place. I feel at home here and probably the most peaceful and content I ever can be. Once in the hills, every few steps you take presents you with a different view and a continually changing perspective, enhancing the senses in innumerable ways: interesting geology, curious sheep, many shades of green in a forest, cloud inversions, water cascading down mountainsides a small tarn to one side or a lake peeping through on the horizon. Many a stop to identify the distant peaks can confuse briefly even though you may know them well yet walk on a few hundred metres and all becomes clear.
However beautiful, even on the warmest, clearest days in the valleys, the tops can become rapidly clag-bound, cold, damp and with poor visibility, catching you unawares and, unless prepared with warm layers, waterproof clothing and a sound knowledge of where you are and the ability to navigate, can become dangerous. I’m happy in those areas and on the paths I know and had never seriously contemplated taking on a mountain challenge which would take me well out of the comfort zone I’d built for myself.
Thus, from the moment I decided to take on this event it has proven the most challenging of ventures to which I have ever set my hat. The planning, preparation, training and execution of my little run around the 62 highest Lake District summits was taxing physically and mentally. But I also committed to a 62 day countdown of easily readable and meaningful health topics. Each of these took an additional chunk of time and mental energy to craft into what I hope was a worthwhile couple of minutes for the reader. The need for imagery to accompany them was less problematic given the endless supply of breath-taking and dramatic scenery available to anyone training in the Lake District.
I find that thinking about and planning an adventure is as exciting and absorbing as the adventure itself, full of smaller goals to focus the mind, and it keeps me out of other mischiefs. 😊
Tougher still has been scribing an event report that in even a small way captures my experience as there are so many aspects and memories from start to finish, and oodles of learning. The following account barely scratches the surface.
What was 62@62?
There seems to be a bit of a vogue goal to accomplish the same number of ‘things’ as there are candles on your birthday cake and the idea appealed to me. Amongst fell runners it’s quite a common feat to run 21 peaks for your 21st, 40 of your 40th and so on. Indeed, one of the best known Lake District mountain challenges, the Bob Graham Round became a ‘thing’ after Bob Graham in 1932 walked 42 peaks when he was 42.
My 62@62 was to be a continuous hike and shuffle around the 62 highest Lake District peaks, all bar one of them over 2500 feet in height. I was inspired by the idea when my friend Joe Faulkner ran these peaks unsupported along the route of the original 61 peak Steve Parr round in October 2020. Although taking in the same peaks plus one other, my route would be slightly different. The extra peak to make 62 was Mardale Ill Bell at 2496 feet.
However, at 62 and with only nine years of running behind me and not being a real fell runner, 62 peaks was an enormous ask. Some suggested I might choose a different 62 from the highest and make it easier for myself, but it’s not a challenge if you know you can do it and one of my main reasons for challenging myself is to inspire others to set and pursue their own personal goals. “You’re never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream”.
The original plan was simply to do the 62 peaks in the year I was 62 with no time limit. However, a new and exciting dimension was introduced when a filmmaker chose to make a short documentary about ‘the running granny’ and challenged me to attempt to complete the round in 62 hours.
Preparation and training
I committed to this in December 2020 with a date of June 6th to fit with other events in the calendar and I approached it in simple steps. What are the ingredients for success? What can go wrong? How can I mitigate the risks? What is my starting point in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
I’m fundamentally quite a lazy being and would achieve gold medals if laziness were an Olympic sport. However, provided I have a goal, I can focus and will give everything to the task. They say, “you make your own luck”, and I believe this to be true if you put in the effort. Trying to have a “glass half full” attitude, seeing things that don’t work out first time as rungs on a ladder to success and grasping every opportunity offered, however lacking in energy or fearful you might be, are rules I try to live by.
In considering my weaknesses this meant facing and addressing a number of demons that could prevent me getting around my route? I have a lifelong difficulty in that I freeze unpredictably in any area where I feel exposed and it sometimes takes me by surprise. That’s not to say the exposure is real, rather that input from my peripheral vision has the effect of destabilising me. This might seem like a very small thing to many people, especially fell runners, but to me it is a huge barrier to certain adventures. There were at least four sections of my route that fitted this category of demon.
First off, I needed to get into the hills and train. 2018 and 2019 had been spent running on tarmac leading up to the JoGLE and with virtually zero hill time. During 2020 between lockdowns I had done a few mountain walks and just one event. I was out of practice and neither endurance-fit nor hill-fit.
My intention was to start recceing and training in January but COVID lockdown struck three months out of my four and half months hill training calendar. Nor did it help that I fell a couple of times on ice gaining unwanted fractures including a wrist and hand.
Restricted in what I could do, I ran locally and added a strength and a HIIT session each week for ten weeks on Zoom. These had the benefit of helping with longstanding injuries to hamstrings and glutes although my upper limb fractures limited upper body work.
March 29th was freedom day when we could travel again but brought with it epic rainfall so I stayed at home. The 30th was sunny and very cold but I started as I meant to go on with a wander up to Scafell Pike. It was a long day and my legs knew about it afterwards. I also became painfully aware I was suffering from skill fade when it came to moving downhill. I’ve never been much good at this on technical ground but I had clearly lost what little eye-foot coordination I did have, simply by not being in the hills for so long.
Reflecting on the four weeks that followed, I can honestly say I have never trained so intensively for anything as I managed to recce quite a lot of the route whilst gaining much needed elevation in my legs. Two big demons were overcome with the help and encouragement of friends, those being Steeple and Halls Fell Ridge although I ultimately decided against the latter to ascend Blencathra as I was quicker using Doddick Fell.
I am my own coach and had targets which I was just about achieving throughout April but these took a hit as May brought with it snow and high winds in the first half of the month. I also took another fall coming downhill on a loose surface landing on my coccyx which made things rather uncomfortable and slow for some weeks. Due to this weather, the final two weeks of my training were reduced in distance and elevation although one does benefit from a whole body workout moving in snow.
Worryingly, with the last two weeks to go, not only had I failed to achieve my training targets but importantly I still had one outstanding demon to slay: how to get to Scafell and back to Scafell Pike. I had three options two of which involved some exposure and one which would add unwelcome time and elevation. My lovely friends again came to the rescue. Firstly, Eddie then Chris and Mike entertained themselves and me, in different ways, by taking me up and down Lord’s Rake and the West Wall Traverse. This was ultimately achieved with me on a short rope for confidence, but it worked well and I actually enjoyed the experience both in training and on the event itself. I also studied some Youtube videos of this section of the route watching how others climbed it.
Finally, we had a plan for the route although the big question was whether I would have the stamina to get around it in one go ~ 116 miles and over 46,000 feet.
I would have liked to train more but all the metrics that I monitor said I was fatigued and needed to rest and recover from the rigor of the previous six weeks so I confined myself to a few short outings to re-recce some bits I wasn’t happy about. A lot of people were giving their time and annual leave to come and support me and I absolutely wanted to make it worth their while and not let them down. These things are a team effort and I just hoped I had done enough to deliver my part of the adventure.
At 06:00 on Sunday 6th June I set off from Threlkeld cricket ground on an anticlockwise circuit of my 62 peaks. It was time to graft it out on the fells with my friends – and what good friends they are. I felt a bit like a ‘pass the parcel’ at the best party I’ve ever attended as I was handed off from one support team to another at each transition. Spending quality time catching up, hearing and recounting anecdotes and being teased all the while being chivvied towards the next waiting team – what’s not to like – and, of course, they were carrying all my gear so I felt free as a bird. At each road transition Wills and Mel fed and watered me and the team and re-provisioned each support crew with food and drink for the following leg. This meant that Wills in particular was keeping very unsociable hours throughout the whole event to keep things ticking over. Make no mistake, crewing can be harder work than doing an event.
There were nine legs of different lengths and elevations and every peak from number 1 at Blencathra to number 62 at Great Dodd is etched in my memory and embedded in my heart, each for different reasons. (See below for a full list of summits).
My crew were fastidious in getting me to eat and drink at regular intervals although as I became more tired this was a struggle for us all. It’s an odd thing to observe but each event is different and you think you have the whole hydration-nutrition tactics sorted only to find they don’t work the next time.
A new tactic for me was to use poles which some call ‘cheat-sticks’. I’ve had a pair for a few years but never really learned the art of using them. On advice, I had planned to trial them in training but my upper limb fratures reduced this opportunity. I did manage to employ them to good effect on some of the ascents but found them a mixed blessing on descents.
The first three legs occupied day one and saw me arriving at 01:00 at Styhead tarn where Joe had established a camp for the night. We found him in his bivvy bag with the kettle on making hot drinks for all and then supper for me.
It had been quite windy on the top of peak 18, Great Gable, but all was calm here. The day crew arrived at 05:00 and we were away by 05:30. I had managed to get about 90 minutes sleep although rested for longer. My head was a bit fuzzy but my legs were surprisingly good with no sign of the stiffness I had anticipated after 42 miles and nearly 18000 feet the day before.
Some summits were more hard won than others; the second and third nights were the worse for the weather with bitter cold 40 mph winds on the second, repeated to a lesser extent on the third but with a very sleep-deprived me in the mix, struggling to maintain my core temperature.
During the second night struggling to stay upright in the wind, a niggle that had started in my left knee when I lost my balance and fell sideways in the wind on Windy Gap the first night now became increasingly angry with every step. I thought I could manage until the next transition but the downscramble on from peak number 38, Wetherlam, was too much for it and I had to stop and, despite the cold, strip off my three lower layers and apply a tubigrip to ease the discomfort. Another notable but pleasant occurrence that leg was finding Eddie waiting for us on a rock on the Prison Band, camera in hand.
On the last night I felt really bad for Eddie and Peter who were supporting. I was cold, tired and very slow. I needed a short rest coming off St Sunday Crag and they found me a grassy hollow behind a large rock out of the wind. I managed fifteen minutes before uncontrollable shivering encouraged me to get moving again. Mentally the break had provided enough focus for me to get through the descent to Grisdale Tarn and subsequent ascent to Dollywagon Pike and Nethermost Pike where Debs surprised us by joining us despite it being 2am. Helvellyn required another shivering lie down in the shelter when again just fifteen minutes proved sufficient.
The final dawn broke on Catstye Cam following an awkward descent of Swirral Edge. Fortunately, my legs worked better on the ascent but what should then have been plain sailing to Threlkeld felt like a tortuous crawl on account of my depleted state. I sat on each of those final summits: my legs had little left or maybe it was my ability to mentally drive them along but I was slower than a slow thing.
Then Chris and Mike appeared bearing Jan’s gift of toast and marmite. I sat briefly to eat the toast and drink some fresh coffee then continued my laboured descent. Some magic happened and suddenly it appeared as if I was magnetically drawn to Threlkeld and my legs found the energy to run the final mile or so to the finish to the great relief of my lovely team. I’m still smiling at the memory.
I’d completed my first proper mountain challenge – what were my thoughts?
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”.
I had climbed 62 peaks in 75 hours and 30 minutes with a moving time of 61 hours and 28 minutes. I had spent 14 hours and 2 minutes in transitions of which 11 hours was resting/lying down although I slept for just 3 hours and 35 minutes.
None of this would have been possible without the unerring faith of my friends who supported me in training, helped me master my demons – at least for this event – and whose determination and focus made this mission a success. Their companionship, advice, encouragement and merry banter in training and on each leg was incredibly uplifting – all the more so after the last year and the fact some of us hadn’t seen each other for two years.
The dream team in order of appearance: Chris (1), Mike, Rob, Chris (2), Paul, Jo, Lou, Eddie, Mick, Dan, Joe, Katherine, Debs, Dave, Kath, Peter (1), Peter (2) and road crew, William and Mel – an enormous thank you to you all – THANK YOU 😊
Ordinarily I would feel a little flat after such a committing and exhilarating experience had come to an end yet I continue to feel fulfilled and content as I recall and process elements of the whole experience.
Every day is a school day and these last few months have been no different with many lessons received and hopefully learned. These may be the subject of a future post.
Finally, a big thank you to Stefan Remneson and YSD Media capturing the event as it unfolded – I’m so looking forward to the film 😊
In the meantime I’m recovering by doing battle with weeds in the garden.
A few stats:
Distance: 116 miles
Elevation: 46340 feet
Elapsed time: 75 hours 30 minutes
Moving time: 61 hours 28 minutes
Total transition time: 14 hours 2 minutes
Total rest time: 11 hours (including the two shivering breaks on last leg)
Total sleep: 3 hours 35 minutes
Challenges make life interesting - overcoming them makes life meaningful