Fear. part 2!

Following on from my last post here is the conclusion to the saga of my first real experience in the Lakeland fells as told by Matt Beardshall. 

As you will see I am petrified of heights and have little sense of navigational direction!

The escape plan proved our salvation, but not for the expected reason. We set off crawling down a steep stream gully that looked like it would dive kamikaze-style into Langdale. This looked just as dangerous as sitting down and doing nothing. Cogs began to churn inside my weary brain, thoughts somehow gelled into coherence, and that allowed the proverbial penny to drop.

Another stare at the map demonstrated the tiny gorge we were sliding down. I suddenly realised where we were. I don’t know if it had been lack of concentration or just over confidence, but our error was that in the mist we hadn’t properly ‘summited’ Rossett Pike.

This was a schoolboy error, and one I had made a couple of times previously. If you find yourself lost despite having been following the right path, it is usually because you haven’t gone as far as you think. We had assumed that a ‘false summit’ was the top of Rossett Pike. It wasn’t. What was worrying was the length of time it took me to realise our error.

However I was now certain of our position. This did a marvellous thing to our state of mind. Fear fled, the fires of confidence re-ignited our spirits and the cold was no longer noticeable. We turned back and reached the true summit of Rossett Pike. Then Rich and I had a short chat. Should we still take the safe option and get off the mountain, or should we gamble and go for one more peak, even though the next mountain was the huge beast, Bow Fell, over 900 metres high.

We chose to gamble.

With compass back in hand we set off on a bearing that headed straight for the crags up the north-east face. Immediately the ground shot upwards, and a massive dark shadow loomed over us, more sensed than seen.

The climb was ridiculously steep – more a scramble. The higher we got the steeper it became. Swirling thick mist clouded any view beyond 30 metres. Looking down was terrifying. An alarmingly steep, rocky and slippery mountain side disappeared downwards into the fog. One fall could prove fatal. Upwards the view was identical. We pressed onwards, feeling a little trepidation. Trepidation turned back to fear when we reached snow.

This was mostly patchy, and we could skirt around it, always making sure we returned to the correct compass bearing to continue the climb. But then we reached a snow filled gulley, some twenty feet wide and stretching maybe a hundred feet downwards. With the only alternative being a full-on rock climb up a high crag the gulley had to be crossed. Fear intensified with the prospect of a fatal slip off the mountain.

Thankfully the studded shoes held firm. I crossed slowly and carefully. Rich looked well out of his comfort zone, but followed in my footsteps. This wasn’t fun (but a little exciting) and we endeavoured to avoid any further snow fields.

The fear prompted us to reassess the wisdom of the climb. My altimeter indicated we were at a height of 750 metres. It was shorter to go up than back down, and upwards on such a steep gradient is safer than downwards, so we continued with hearts pounding and adrenaline filling our tiring bodies.

After several more minutes of clinging and climbing I hauled myself onto the summit plateau, and called back to Rich to let him know it was the top. It was like another world up there. The visibility was terrible. The wind howled and hissed through piles of rocks that were tall, sharp and angular, all looking like they had been dropped from space and impaled onto the mountain top. It was as if we had been teleported to a different, hostile world.

The true peak was 500metres to the south, at the other end of the summit plateau. Getting there was difficult. The rocky ground was extremely hard to move over. A few times I pulled ahead of Rich by 20 metres or so and he had to shout loudly to call me back so as not to get separated.

When we reached the cairn at the top we were relieved, but didn’t hang around to savour the victory. It was a scary place to be in those conditions and self preservation instincts were in overdrive. Every sense was screaming at us to get back down to safety.

Our escape route involved taking a tiny path that dived down into Langdale from the summit. The path was completely invisible from our position and we had to take another compass bearing to climb off the right point of the summit, before searching around in the mist until we found some footprints that headed downwards over compacted snow. Once we were confident we were on the trail we set off down it, carefully at first, hoping the valley bottom would come quickly. It didn’t.

The gradient was severe, the rocky ground extremely slippery and the visibility almost non-existent and worsening. The track swung left and dropped less steeply. Rich’s niggling leg injury was slowing his descent, but for too many long, foggy minutes we plodded onwards.

And then a remarkable thing happened. As rapidly as falling through a trap door we dropped below 300 metres and the world was reborn. The air was clear, there was no wind and we could see for miles albeit only downwards or horizontally. It was as if we had suddenly clambered out of a deep pool of water in which we had been drowning. Here, peace and tranquillity abounded. Sheep lay in the fields, quietly chewing grass. Farmers ambled around doing whatever it is that farmers do. But above our heads fear still darted around in the mist, looking for victims. The interface between cloud and valley was so defined you could almost stand with your feet in the clear air and your head in the clouds.

Suddenly feeling safe we breathed a sigh of relief. We could even see the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel in the distance, where the car was parked. After another fifteen minutes we were there, and were greeted by Daft B who was sitting drinking coffee, his dirty bike and biking clothes laid on the ground next to him.

His adventure had been similar to ours. In total Rich and I had made nine summits and (vaguely) learned the route between them. But we had returned safely. We had also learned some important lessons; most notably that bad weather would make the BG extremely difficult.

With hindsight it may have been a good thing that we got lost where we did. Had we ventured further before hitting trouble we might have been floundering around hopelessly on the Scafell massif, and Scafell is not a good place to be lost in the cold and mist, wearing running gear. I’m sure the coroner would agree.

Fear – it’s not a bad thing at all.The escape plan proved our salvation, but not for the expected reason. We set off crawling down a steep stream gully that looked like it would dive kamikaze-style into Langdale. This looked just as dangerous as sitting down and doing nothing. Cogs began to churn inside my weary brain, thoughts somehow gelled into coherence, and that allowed the proverbial penny to drop.

Matt did go on to complete the BGR inside 24 hours in what was an epic journey. It is something that everybody must see or experience for themselves. It's truly magical


Well folks 2013 came to an end and I did think about summing up what I achieved last year which falls in line with what every body else does but frankly I wanted to break that custom because there isn't that much to talk about racing or adventure wise to be honest.

Apart from a half marathon PB and the odd marathon run I didn't break down new barriers and move forward and that for me is why I wanted to run ultras in the first place to see what my limits are.

The main reason I didn't move forward last year was because:

"I was scared and feared of failing to complete what I set out to do"

2014 for me is all about challenging this all consuming thought and once again see where my limits are. Over the Christmas period I reflected on my short time since I started to run (all of 5 minutes) and found something that I had forgotten about almost.

The following post below was written by a friend of mine (Matt Beardshall) back in 2011. At that time I was up for any running challenge and both hastily and irrationally believed that I could tackle the Bob Graham Round (Matt had set this as his goal for 2011). I had zero experience of the mountains / hills and it was a baptism of fire for sure so after speaking to Matt for some time about this I agreed to join him.

I am Rich_S if it wasn't obvious!! Daft_B (Mal Gibb) is our crazy friend who mountain bikes up / down in the mountains :)

This is part one in the series so please look out for part two coming soon after. It's a brilliant account of that amazing day in the mountains and of a mindset I want to get back.

“Do one thing every day that scares you”. Eleanor Roosevelt

‘Slightly scared’ isn’t a bad state to be in. It sharpens the senses, focuses the mind and gets the adrenaline pumping. Or rather it isn’t a bad state to have been in, once you have escaped with life and limb intact. For several reasons, ‘slightly scared’ sums up the emotions felt both during and after our first recce run checking out one of the tougher sections of the Bob Graham Round.

Daft B and I picked up Rich S from his relative’s house in Lancaster on our way up to the Lake District. The plan that day was for Rich and I to try and get around and learn as much of the third BG leg as possible. Daft B would drop us off at the roadside at Dunmail Raise before driving to Langdale to do a similar thing with his biking route. He would leave the car at The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Langdale. The car would be our lifeline should we need to abandon the mountains, which wasn’t an unlikely outcome.

The weather wasn’t ideal; far from it, in fact. Persistent hill fog was forecast, which appeared stuck above a height of 300 metres. We would be spending nearly all day well above that height. Temperatures didn’t initially seem too bad, however, and we were all wearing shorts, although carrying leggings in our backpacks.

The summit of the first mountain was shrouded in mist, the top half totally unseen as we stepped from the car and trotted our first tentative steps over the softened boggy ground. Steel Fell towered above us; a massive wall 553 metres high and ridiculously steep. Running up it wasn’t an option – we hiked, but fast. After a hundred metres of climbing we plunged into the mist, and the valley below us evaporated away as if it had been a dream.

The pace was good, and we ‘collected’ our first summit after little more than 20 minutes. With maps, compass and guide notes constantly in hand we curved to the West and broke into a steady jog, heading towards Calf Crag. Things felt good. Ok, so we couldn’t see much, but it was a joy to be running free, feeling the soft earth beneath our studs, hearing the wind whistle past our ears as we danced down grassy banks, bounded across rocky outcrops and splashed through soft, peaty bogs. Our feet were wet and our legs dirty. To Rich and me this is freedom, this is running.

A sudden gap in the clouds drifted overhead as we approached the boggy plateau beneath Calf Crag. The mountains, newly exposed via the heavenly fissure, revealed themselves all around. We stopped and stared in awe as they peered down, towering over us from all directions. It was a joyous moment, but with hindsight I know what the mountains were saying to us, “Prove your worth, boys. We are in charge. You run in the palms of our hands, and we can close our fists at any time. We can crush you.”
Respect for the mountains is something I have learned, and something I hope never to forget.

Calf Crag didn’t go without a hitch, but after a brief wander in slightly the wrong direction we hit the summit and dropped off towards Sergeant Man, peak number three. Visibility lessened but remained sufficient for us to make the 250 metre high climb up the rough side of a beck and reach the conical summit of Sergeant Man without problem.

Then things changed. Having dispensed their warning, the mountains cloaked themselves once again, this time for good. A thick, impenetrable mist rapidly and persistently descended. This added immensely to our challenge. Not being able to see the mountain you are supposed to be running towards and up is a major handicap.

We took a compass bearing aiming for High Raise, and started running…..straight into a bog that ripped Rich’s shoe clean off his foot (maybe clean’ isn’t the right word). But High Raise turned out to be an easy summit, the only menace being a curious and hungry sheep that approached and threatened to mug us for our snacks.

Thick mist meant the map was useless without the compass. We could see no further than 30 yards. There were no visible reference points on which to focus. Another compass bearing had us running quickly back down High Raise and towards Thurnacar Knott, which again proved an easy climb. Our confidence was high. We were moving well, navigating well despite worsening weather, and feeling good. Legs were strong and spirits high; just the conditions the mountains were looking for. They bided their time to teach us a lesson.

Neither of us is blessed with a good head for heights, Rich worse than I. So the lack of visibility was a blessing as we scrambled (physically) the final metres onto the pointy, rocky, sky-stabbing summit of Harrison Stickle, 736 metres high. Sight of the dizzy-making near vertical plummet down into Langdale would have given both of us head-spin.

We bounded down the steep north-western edge of this mountain before climbing its equally steep and pointy neighbour, Pike of Stickle, peak number seven. There we sat among the rocks, eating flapjack and energy bars whilst the mist swirled around, shrouding us. We could have been six feet up, or six miles up. We really couldn’t tell.

Snack over; the next target was Rossett Pike, which stood a good running distance away from Pike of Stickle, with a splendid downhill in between. So splendid in fact, that our over-exuberant running across the soft, springy ground resulted in a slight detour and lengthening of our route. But this was no concern. We knew where we were, and we knew where we were going.

And that was the problem. We ‘knew’ too much. But as far as the mountains were concerned, we knew nothing. The descent from Rossett Pike dropped us at the foot of a crag beneath the massive Bow Fell, towering some 903 metres high. Or so we believed. We couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see more than 20 yards. The compass showed us the direction of our ascent and off we went.

But Bow Fell wasn’t there.

Barely ten minutes later we were floundering around on undulating, rocky, unrecognisable, confusing mountainside. The compass lied to us. The map lied to us.
But maps and compasses don’t lie. Bow Fell wasn’t where it should have been. Which could only mean one thing – we weren’t where we should have been. But no need to panic, just find out where we were and get back on track.

My phone beeped in my backpack. I pulled it out and read the text message from Mal. It read, “Can’t see a thing. Very cold. I’m out of here”. Wherever he was, he was getting off the mountain. Wise move, we thought.

Several minutes of blind wandering around proved nothing other than the close presence, seemingly all around, of many crags we really didn’t want to fall down. We reversed our compass bearings and retraced our steps. Several more minutes passed before we were back below the previous climb, still lost but now a bit colder.

Time for Plan B! To try to establish our position we took a bearing towards a tarn that was 200 metres away, and ran obliquely down the mountainside towards it. After 300 metres we had not reached a tarn. Damn! So again we reversed our bearing and headed back up to our previous position, wherever that was. That meant a few more minutes wasted and a few more concerned thoughts.

Now we were cold and lost and the rain began to hit us, driven by the persistent chilling wind. We had wasted forty-five minutes dithering aimlessly, getting more confused and colder. We had been on the fells for several hours and energy levels were dropping. Bodily warmth was rapidly evaporating into the sodden gloominess, and in its place crept a little fear. Not panic, not yet anyway, but certainly a little fear. We were lost, chilled, blinded by fog, and high up a mountain surrounded by crags.

Slightly scared!

We decided we had to get off the hill, and began to work on an emergency escape plan………………………………..