Monday, 16 June 2014

5 in 5 Challenge: Recce

I can only attribute the decision to a temporary lapse of sanity, or an unusual sense of bravado. Whatever the reason, I was committed, and immediately questioning it. Signing up for the 10 peaks in 10 hours challenge for MS Society a few months back seemed a great idea; time to focus the mind on a spot of training, and have the opportunity to meet up with fellow Social Hikers for a great weekend.

But time slipped by. A lack of posting might suggest I have been doing little on the outdoor front, but that isn't so. Trip reports are still to be penned for my Two Castles Trail (Okehampton to Launceston), a Dartmoor North to South traverse, and a successful completion of the South Downs Way in six days / two long weekends.

But despite the long distance walks I managed, it was soon apparent that I was never going to be physically ready for a challenge of that nature.

I reluctantly pulled out, but Phil Sorrell, the creator of Social Hiking, persuaded me to try the 5 peaks  in 5 hours. I agreed and then took a look at the route. As soon as I had drawn it into Memory Map, I began to question whether I was even ready for this smaller challenge! You see, I calculated that to complete the trail, the team would need to be moving at an average of 6 kilometres an hour, without a break, to complete it within the five hour period. Upon questioning this with the organisers, I was assured that it had been done, and the 5 hour cut off was some distance before the end, and that it didn't really matter if we took longer.

Despite those reassurances, I was unconvinced, and this weekend, I was up in the Lake District, doing a recce of the route. Right from the start I wasn't sure of my game plan; do certain sections that I was unfamiliar with and leave a bit for the big day, or have a crack at the lot! In the end, I managed to drag my unfit body up and around the route, but it became more the "5 in 8", than the "5 in 5"!

So, as a predominately moorland walker with few excursions into the mountains of this fair isle, here is my take on the challenge ahead;

Overall, the paths were pretty good. The climb up to Rigg Head and Dalehead Tarn is easily navigable. My heart was certainly getting a good workout! From the Tarn, the official route has you heading straight up the side of Dale Head. Now, in clear weather, I couldn't make out any hint of a way straight up. To the right there is a visible steep path I have taken before, but I went left to see if I could find something easier, as suggested by Alfred Wainwright; I didn't, as it takes you too far off route and so I recommend the right hand path is taken on the day.

The track down to Honister Pass and the slate mine is good and not too steep, but once at the bottom, looking up at the next section is daunting as the majority of the climb up to Grey Knotts is steep, following the fence lines. It's an easy to follow path, could be slippery when wet, and a couple of times my head for heights (or lack of it!) was questioned.

Once up onto Grey Knotts, easily found thanks to that fence, the remaining three peaks; Brandreth, Green Gable and Base Brown, can be seen, clag permitting, and it is a straightforward walk to bag them all in good weather.

Green Gable was in cloud when I reached it, but there is a good network of cairns up the path to reassure you.

Base Brown was a formality, and then it was the small matter of descending into the delightful Gillercomb for the path to Seathwaite, and this is where I have an issue with the route for a charity walk.

As you near Sour Milk Gill and Seathwaite Slabs, you pass through a fence to a steep path and, as it was now raining, it is a little more difficult. Halfway down, you reach a small section where the path becomes a steep slab of rock requiring some nifty footwork, or in my case, "sitting on backside work"! For those used to scrambling, this would pose little problem, but for a charity walk open to all, including someone like me with a dicky shoulder, it strikes me as a little risky. Add to that, the section is near the end of the challenge, where weary legs and tired minds have the potential to slip up. Sure, I was on my own, and we will be in a team that can aid each other should that be required, but personally, I would have avoided this path, scrapped Base Brown, added High Spy at the start,  and sent everyone down off Green Gable to Styhead Tarn, via Windy Gap (as does the 10 in 10), for a simpler descent into Seathwaite.

But it is what it is, and come Saturday 21st June, I'll be setting off from Rosthwaite once again, content in knowing what to expect and with the intention to break my PB! Who knows, we may even get to rename it the "5 in 7"! ;-)

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And the route: