I have done a number of fund raising challenges over the years and all of them have involved running distances ranging from 3 miles to 26 miles and 385 yards.
So when a group of close friends, all them deeply affected by cancer either directly or indirectly, suggested we all get together for a walk to raise money for a range of cancer charities I thought to myself “a walk – how hard can that be?”
The walk in question turned out to be one of toughest challenges I have ever done. The challenge was to walk from the most westerly lake in the Lake District to the most easterly; Ennerdale water to Ullswater in 24 hours. So when I heard that I thought that sounds like a decent walk but still OK and plenty of time to do it in. However, just to make it more interesting, the plan was to do the walk overnight. Hmm “time to buy a head torch” I thought…
After lots of planning, some training (although not much due to work travel), changes of route, drop outs, using the challenge as an excuse to buy lots of unnecessary gear we were ready to go.
10 hardy (ish) souls set out from Ennerdale Water at 10 pm on a humid Friday at the end June full of optimism. The first 5 miles were relatively flat and we averaged over 4 miles an hour. Spirits soared high and at this rate Ullswater was a handful of hours away we thought. Then the first climb.
Coincidentally and perhaps not surprisingly as soon as we hit our first real climb the sun went down and we lost the track. After a couple of hours of slogging uphill in what seemed to be the right direction we hit top at Windy Gap exactly where we should have been. Where it was, err, windy. Our average pace had dropped to just less than one mile per hour. I was seriously wondering how I was going to finish. Everything hurt and staying awake when we stopped was an issue. After another energy bar (now in double figures) it was time to make the descent to Sty Head Tarn. Going down can be just as difficult as going up especially when most joints are feeling the pain. We got to Sty Head and then traversed the valley before our next big climb to Sprinkling Tarn.
One of the advantages of walking over night is the sunrise. Watching the sun come up over Langdale Pikes was amazing and (almost) worth the pain. The second big climb was the worst. We lost the path (again) and as the climb we ended up on was so steep I resorted to counting 50 steps and then stopping to rest for 10 seconds and doing the same again until we eventually reached the top. From there we could see our breakfast destination at Grasmere.
I was drinking water from a Camelbak that I had last used in 2004 on a trek to Everest basecamp. With hindsight that probably wasn’t too bright. 10 year old iodine (used at the time to sterilize the water) doesn’t taste too good even after a last minute rinse before it was thrown in the car. I will treat myself to a new one at some point. Food and drink was interesting as given the timing of walking overnight I didn’t actually feel like anything but obviously needed to take on enough fuel to keep the effort going. So it was a case of forcing it down.
We rolled into Grasmere around 9 am and a few of the team promptly order a full English breakfast. I am not sure how they managed it. A roll was enough for me. We stopped for about an hour that with 20:20 hindsight was a mistake. My limbs had all but ceased to function at all and my bruised and blistered feet were giving me serious grief. Getting mobile again for the last big climb was near impossible but with the help of some hefty painkillers (“you can’t get these over the counter” said our self-appointed team medic) I managed it. Well something worked as for the last leg I rallied and as long as ignored the pain the final pull past Fairfield and Dollywagon Pike wasn’t too bad.
The walk into Patterdale and the last lake seemed to go on for an eternity but we got there eventually taking my boots off and paddling in Ullswater at 3pm was an incredible feeling. We all made it and are still raising money, which is the most important thing.
So in the end we walked just short of 27 miles in 17 hours. It seems easy with hindsight but if I think carefully about it was in fact very difficult indeed. We haven’t decided what the next challenge will be but it will almost certainly involve better training and a new Camelbak.