Monday, 29 June 2015

Lake District: A 5 in 5 for MS Society 2015

Team Social Hiking 5in5 Division at the start. Photo courtesy of Phil Sorrell
I awoke too early on Friday morning, after yet another night of interrupted sleep. Almost instinctively, I reached for my phone, my fingers hovered over the keyboard, itching to type a text to Jim declaring I was going to have to pull out of the trip. Suffering from an, as yet, undiagnosed digestive problem for quite a few weeks now, I had little compulsion to drag myself up a hill, let alone five of them, even if it was for a good cause!

But the overriding obligation to friends and those who have donated got me up. I held fire on the cancellation text to see how I felt after breakfast and a coffee. I downed an Omeprazole, and began to feel better.

Today, we were heading up to the Lake District for the 10in10 / 5in5 Challenge for Multiple Sclerosis Society. This was the second year that Phil Sorrell had gathered his merry legion of Social Hikers and had two teams tackling either ten peaks in ten hours, or five peaks in five hours. Team members, this year, were:

Jim and I left mine about 11:30 am. The Sat Nav declared we would be up at Braithwaite by 4:15 pm, but I was all too aware than when it comes to my luck on this particular journey, it is wise to add another four hours. True to form, the worst road in the universe; the M6, was clogged thanks to a succession of accidents, choreographed to happen just as one was cleared. When we pulled into the camp site, at 8:15 pm, to see Phil and some of the Social Hiking Team about to head to the pub it was fair to say I was a right miserable sod who was in no real mood to be "social" or "hike". Jim and I still had to dive into Keswick, find a supermarket and get food for the hike, as well as eat tonight!

Thankfully, I slept really well, best I've had under canvas for many a year, likely shattered from the journey and likely aided further by a bottle of ale.

Team Social Hiking 10in10 Division. Raring to go at the start! Photo courtesy of Dale Bird
Jim and the 10in10 Division rose and left early, leaving us 5in5 Division to kill time, sitting around perfecting our "Lakies Wave" to fend off the midges. By 9am, the remaining nine and Tim's wife, Chris, squeezed in two cars and made our way to our start at Buttermere.

As we drove along the long winding road, above Newland and Keskadale Becks, Phil worryingly eyed up the scale of the mountains around us. The easy undulating ridge of Maiden Moor and High Spy, to the east, looked high enough but it was the immediate north face of Robinson Crags that made for a daunting prospect. 

Signed in at the start, we faffed for about ten-fifteen minutes for a team photo; Me, Phil, Tim, Adrian, Cath, Rik, Sarah, Dave and Mick, and then eventually set out up the road for the path up onto the route.

On the subject of the photographs in this post, they are all from team members on the challenge. I placed my phone in my rucksack for the ascent at the start and failed to retrieve it, instead concentrating on getting around the route!
The climb out from Buttermere. Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
At first, it was a good grassy trail, that meandered and climbed steadily. It was as best we could hope to a start that involved a climb of five hundred metres to the first peak. En route, we began to spread out as a group. It was immediately clear that nine is too big a group to keep together. I had to stop twice to sort out an issue with my platypus; I had an air bubble in the tube between the bladder and the Sawyer Squeeze Mini Filtration system and it was bugging the hell out of me. Eventually, with some help from Rik, it was cleared, and I could concentrate better on the ascent.

Cath, Sarah and Rik on the up! Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
Phil and Dave amongst other 5in5ers. Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
I moved up the pack steadily, to catch Phil, Tim and Dave at the head. The path was starting to become busy.  With the added hazard of the 10in10 runners hurtling down the hill, in the opposite direction, it made the going more precarious than it would normally be. Rounding out onto the boggy plateau below Robinson, we had to make a side trip to the first summit; High Snockrigg, at 526 metres. 

This was an unremarkable peak, not even worthy of Wainwright status. Your attention is diverted by the huge dark bulk of Robinson rising up, another 210 metres, the ominous path a visible scar ascending it. The majority of the team regrouped at High Snockrigg and decided to take a breather. On hearing Tim had already gone ahead, I decided to set off across the bog to begin the ascent, and join him.

I made no impact on that objective, was soon caught by Phil, Dave and Mick, and they were first onto the wet slippery path of loose slate. The bulk of the 10 in 10 teams were now descending and I lost count of the exchange of nods, smiles, greetings and words of encouragement.

It was a relief to spot the summit cairn at 737 metres, signalling the worst of the days ascent was behind us. There was a large crowd of marshals and other participants, including the Social Hiking 10 in 10 team. Everyone was in good spirits. I offered Jim the car keys in case he wanted to drop out at Buttermere, as he had pondered doing in the build up to the event. I was pleased that he dismissed any thoughts of negativity and was prepared to see it out, no doubt buoyed by the companions he was making this journey with.

10in10 and 5in5 meet on Robinson. Photo courtesy of Phil Sorrell
There was a chill breeze on the summit and I wanted to crack on. I decided I would still try and catch Tim, and left Phil, Dave and Mick to wait for the others.

Littledale Edge. Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
I set a good pace, along the undulating Littledale Edge. Ahead, I mistakenly thought I could see Tim and used this random hiker as a pace maker to track down, managing to pass him at Dale Head. Sadly, I never would catch Tim.

The track to Dale Head. Photo courtesy of Rik Hubbuck
Enroute to the highest point on the hike, Dale Head, I developed a headache, and I began to ponder dropping down to the Honister Slate Mine and a bus back to Buttermere. I kept looking back to spy the rest of the team, with a view to drop back to them, but there was no one in sight. 

I reached Dale Head, at 753 metres, and had a quick chat with a marshal, getting a better view of the easier final ridge, and knew there and then I would not be bowing out. I even entertained the notion that I could actually complete the challenge in the five hours!

From Dale Head, the ridge home on the right. Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
I've climbed the 250 metres up from Dale Head Tarn to the summit on three occasions; this was the first time I have descended it, and I have to say I preferred the ascent. The rocky steps and crumbling slate down are knee jarring. The path is in a constant state of repair, and it's mentally exhausting scouring the ground before tentatively placing your feet. When I made it to the tarn, my head was about to explode, the mind was a little foggy and I had to rest, eat lunch and try and shake it.

I found a good comfortable spot, enjoying the views across the tarn and back up the staircase to Dale Head. It was then that I could see Phil and Dave making slow progress down the hill. I decided to wait for them, and take the time to eat some more food.

When they had joined me, I think Phil asked if I was enjoying it, or something like that, and I grumpily declared I just wanted it done with now, and I was never coming back to the Lakes again. I tend to say that every time, given the drive to get to and from here, but this time, exacerbated by my throbbing head, I declared it with more venom than usual!

Fed up of rooting through my rucksack for some pain relief, Dave had some Ibuprofen which I gratefully downed, and when we began to ascend the track to High Spy, my mood lifted as the medication worked its magic. The task was now becoming easier, the ascents more gradual, allowing for me to even engage in conversation without going into respiratory arrest!

Up onto High Spy, at 653 metres, I was finally relaxing into the day, and beginning to realise I was enjoying it. The afternoon sun was wonderful and with the walk over to Maiden Moor affording cracking views of Derwent Water to the north-east, and Newlands Beck to the west, I was glad I had come.
Derwent Water from Maiden Moor. Photo courtesy of Tim Cooper
With Phil beginning to stiffen, and Dave nursing a knee injury sustained on Helvellyn a few weeks earlier, my pace had to slow, to remain with them. At Maiden Moor, at 575 metres, the last peak of the challenge, the marshal raised our hopes when he told us it was just forty-five minutes down to the pub! That would have bought us close to breaking the five hour mark, but sadly, even if we had hitched a lift with the Vulcan Bomber making its last flight over Derwent Water, I doubt they could have got us there in that time! The deadline passed with only half of this leg complete.

Me, on the road stretch to the pub. Photo courtesy of Phil Sorrell
Leaving the ridge before the ascent to Cat Bells, we gingerly descended on a decent path to Skelgill Farm. Where we hit tarmac for the first time, and it was a gentle gradient round and up to the Swinside Inn. As we approached, we were greeted by Tim and Chris and cheered in by the crowds in the pub beer garden. We had done it in five hours and fifty minutes.

With a drink in hand, we retired to the grassy bank along the road and applauded in the other finishers, of both the 5in5 and the 10in10 Challenge. It was uplifting to see the different teams approach, and, at times, emotional, to see the pride on some of the obviously tired, but beaming faces.

Waiting for the 10in10 team to arrive. Photo courtesy of Rik Hubbuck
Rik, Sarah and Mick came in next, then Cath and Adrian arrived, from the other direction, after a side trip to Cat Bells. Those, with any semblance of a data signal, also kept track of our 10in10 Division. We waited for the first to arrive.

Rich, Dale, Shaun, and Mark came in under the ten hours, the team having amicably agreed to split into two groups. We then waited eagerly for the final five.

The first of Team Social Hiking 10in10 Division arrive. Photo courtesy of Rik Hubbuck
With none of the remainder live tracking, we only had the word of the marshals that they were over the last peak, and that none had pulled out. It seemed like forever, but turned out to be just forty-five minutes before Jim, Colin, John, Michelle and Laura came in to rapturous applause.

A highly successful year for the 18 strong Team Social Hiking, with no drop outs. To top it all, given I was feeling fit as a fiddle at the end, I reckon I will be back next year! A valuable lesson that I should never again say "never again"!

If you would like to donate to the cause, please go to

The 5in5 route: