Have you even wondered how far you could go if you just kept on keeping on?
Have you ever wondered at what point your mental toughness would let you down and whether you had ever really reached your limit?
This year I decided to try and find out….
To raise money for the John Muir Trust and WaterAid, last month I attempted to complete the UK Big 3 mountain rounds in one BIG multi-day push! This includes the Bob Graham Round (England), Paddy Buckley Round (Wales) and Ramsay Round (Scotland). Overall this amounts to 187 miles, 113 mountain summits and 25300m of ascent (that's about 3 times Everest)!
Each classic round in the UK Big 3 is an ultra-distance, 24h fell-running challenge in its own right. There are several amazing fell running records for the UK Big 3, such as Mike Hartley running them all consecutively in 3d 14h 20m (1990) or Helen Diamantides completing all 3, each within 24h over one season (1989)! But I couldn’t find a record of any women tackling the Big-3 in one go (running or otherwise). My idea was to break each round into several days and try to complete the whole lot over 10 consecutive days on the hill.
After a lot of hard training, I began my challenge with the Paddy Buckley Round in Snowdonia. This round involves jogging 62 miles with 8534m of ascent, taking in 47 tops, including Snowdon, the Carneddau, the Glyderau and the Moelwynion. On arrival in Wales, I was greeted by such low cloud that I needed fog lights to find the Pen-Y-Gwryd Hotel in the middle of the day!!! Immediately I was concerned about how much longer the challenge would take me if it was necessary to do the whole thing on a compass bearing! Nevertheless, I began my round with Cribau Tregalan the following morning, starting from the Watkin Path car park on May 16th and finished with Yr Aran on May 19th. The first day was by far the worst; with 19 miles in poor visibility and drizzle, I began to seriously worry that I had bitten off more than I could chew (would I fail straight away on Day 1?!!)
Stricken with anxiety, I started up Pen Yr Ole Wen in the rain at the beginning of Day 2. Fortunately, by the time I reached the summit, I had begun to adapt to the conditions and relaxed into the job at hand despite the weather. Day 3 (Moelwyns) and Day 4 (Eifionydd Hills) brought brighter spells and enjoyable running. From my final summit I looked over to Snowdon, now totally clear of cloud, and felt excited at the possibility that it might actually be do-able; one down, two to go…
On May 20th I arrived in Wasdale to begin the Bob Graham Round. The most well-known of the 3 rounds, the Bob Graham is a circuit of 42 fells in the English Lake District, including the peaks of Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Scafell and Scafell Pike. I began my round on May 21st with a straight-up ascent of Yewbarrow. The visibility was again poor on the tops but this time the wind was gathering strength, slowing my progress on ridges and exposed summits, such as Steeple. By Day 2 the wind was gusting 60-70mph and was genuinely tortuous! On the summit of Skiddaw I was forced to crawl into a shelter made of stones near the trig-point. I had never been in wind like this and came close to being lifted off my feet several times! Therefore, when the forecast for Day 3 predicted 110mph gusts (hurricane force winds!), I decided I would have to stay indoors. On Day 4 the winds had dropped enough to be manageable and so I decided to try and tackle both legs 3 and 4 on the same day. Starting at 6am, I raced along the Dodds from Threlkeld, despite being constantly battered by evil hail carried on strong winds. After stopping briefly for a re-fuel at Dunmail Raise, I continued over the Langdale Fells and on towards Scafell. Feeling strong at this stage, the 30 miles and 3780m took me a total of 12.5 hours. Now on the summit of Scafell, the skies were clearing and I was beginning to feel invincible. Surely nothing could stop me now……
How wrong I was.
Arriving back home in Scotland for the Charlie Ramsay Round, I was met with heavy rain and brooding skies. The round scales 24 munros and covers a distance of 60 miles, with 8534m of ascent. Initially, I remained buoyant, knowing I could cope with poor visibility, rain and powerful winds. All I had to do now was run the 11 peaks of the Mamores ridge! But as soon as I set out from Glen Nevis on May 26th my morale began to dip. Soaked to the bone and beginning to flag, I wondered about the futility of it all. What AM I doing!!!
In constant rain, the ridge was eerie and intimidating and my brain didn’t feel much like scrambling either. Ten hours after setting out I was relieved to be standing on the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor but after walking a further 8km to Staoineag bothy, I was thoroughly done-in! Day 2 dawned clear and I began to enjoy myself again, admiring the view and feeling more upbeat. Even when the weather turned and winds escalated in the afternoon, giving rain and terrible gusts on the summit of Stob Choire Easain, I could taste victory. With a smile on my face I struggled against the wind down to Leacach Bothy. Just one day left to go…..
The End…. All that night, tossing and turning, I tried to ignore the wind outside and the drumming of the rain. But in the morning I had a horrible sense of foreboding, which I tried to shake but my morale was critically low. No sooner that I had started up Stob Ban it began to snow. SNOW!!!! This unsettled me greatly at first. Just when I thought that Mother Nature could do no more! It was gusting 60mph but between blizzards, the views were spectacular and the sun shone through. I managed to enjoy the Grey Corries but in the distance, I could see that the Aonachs were getting white with new snow and dark clouds seemed to stick there despite the strong winds. After a sketchy scramble up Stob Coire Bealaich, I started towards the giant Anoachs (1234m and 1221m) through deepening graupel. By the time I was on Aonach Mor the weather was starting to feel TOO serious. I was blown to my knees several times and I struggled to get back up in the wind! Thankfully I had walking poles to give me extra grip, as my fell shoes slipped about in the snow, which has drifted to several inches in places! It was definitely not sensible to push on in this weather, alone and fatigued.
Unaware that a group of friends had secretly amassed on the summit of Ben Nevis to greet me, I bailed down the ski tows of Aonach Mor with my tail between my legs.
Overall I had jogged 177 miles and climbed 111 mountains, totalling an overall height of 24,366m. By not reaching the final two summits, I fell short of completing the challenge by a mere 10 miles and 932m!
I was obviously gutted to have failed so close to the end of the UK Big 3 Challenge but felt happy in the knowledge that I gave it my best shot. Thank you to Joe Browns for sponsoring me in this adventure, through which I raised over £2000 for WaterAid and the John Muir Trust.
BUT now the challenge is out there, unfinished and waiting for some other crazy to have a stab at…..
Go on. You know you want to!