10 Peaks Report by Nick Sheard

10 Peaks – 23 June 2018

Midges may be small but they hunt in packs. And they were hunting me, releasing pheromones to attract other midges, my carbon dioxide a magnet for them. Swarming, pregnant females biting, hungry for protein. I was hungry for flapjack at Checkpoint 1 of the 10 Peaks race in the Lake District.

The checkpoint officials were kitted out like extras from an episode of Dr. Who with midge nets over their heads and necks, not one millimetre of skin exposed. Sweating from the fast descent off Helvellyn (peak 1), the midge swarms quickly stuck to my forehead and attacked my bare legs like a marauding pack of velociraptors that hadn’t eaten for 30 days. I didn’t stay long, moving quickly up the Wythburn valley, a ‘lost world’ of moraines and peat and sphagnum moss reassuringly squelchy underfoot. This is the place to come to if the world was about to end, a not so dried up tarn bed and snaking stream that gently rises through the valley towards the geographical centrepoint of the Lake District, High Raise (peak 2).

Four weeks earlier I had made an attempt at a Bob Graham Round – 42 peaks in 24 hours, and ‘retired’ after 30 peaks, 6,300m of ascent and 80km travelled. The critical part of that attempt had been a failed short cut up Bowfell (peak 3 on the 10 Peaks) following a direct line straight up from Angle Tarn and missed the sketchy path by what must only have been a few metres, but in so doing ended up cragfast and stationary on a near vertical scree slope. It had been a huge effort to haul ourselves back on track and up to the summit. From that point on I struggled to keep any pace over the rocky terrain and boulder fields of the Scafell massif. Today was a different story, clinging to the side of the fell like turbo-powered limpets we nailed the route through the boulders and scree and marvelled at the small tender plants poking their green fronds from the shelter of the loose rocks, and before long were heading back to Ore Gap and towards Esk Pike (peak 4). The ‘we’ was an intensive care anaesthetist, Dave, from Dumfries, and Adrian, a Yorkshire builder of few words but a mighty frame and route-finding abilities any magnetic compass would have been proud of.

A hop skip and jump to Great End (peak 5) and then over to Scafell Pike (peak 6) before descending the ‘corridor route’ to Styhead and then the long climb up Great Gable (peak 7) which saw the fracture of our small group of three with the Eynsham Roadrunner blazing the trail! From Green Gable (peak 8) I took the direct route over Brandreth and Grey Knotts in the early afternoon sunshine before descending the grassy spur to the slate mine at Honister where Checkpoint 2 and more food and drink were waiting. On the climbs up High Spy (peak 9) and Maiden Moor (peak 10) my legs started to complain and I visualised a nice cool pint of cider as the final few miles of the route flattened out and meandered through gentle sun-dappled woodland towards Keswick, where I tapped out a reasonable rhythm to reach the finish line in a time of 9 hours, 11 minutes, and a finish position of 9th overall. Top 10! Delighted, I made short work of the vegetarian curry and naan bread that the race organisers put on in the finish tent and then promptly made my way to the pub for the aforementioned pint(s) of cider.

This was the day that a ‘roadrunner’ became a ‘fellrunner’ and felt more than just a little bit of Eynsham pride…