Monday, May 21, 2012

Old County Tops Fell Race 2012

The Old County Tops is a 37 mile race with 10,000' feet of climbing that visits the summits of Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man, the highest points in the former counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire. It is a team event where you compete in pairs.

My partner Hanno who after talking to Paul a fellow pacer on my winter BG attempt, convinced me that we as a team should give it a go.

After only a couple of beers the night before, and a poor night's sleep, we awoke to Lakeland drizzle in Langdale. A hasty breakfast, last minute equipment choice, race registration, and we were off on our way towards Helvellyn.

Worried by my dodgy knee I set a pace that can only be decribed as steady. Our game plan was to get to the first checkpoint at the foot of Helvellyn feeling fresh, and we achieved that. We even had time for Hanno to call in at a shop in Grasmere enroute.

Hanno was a little concerned that as we climbed up Wythburn we could see very few people behind us. Not where we are used to being in a fell race for sure, but this is not an ordinary fell race.

At Angle Tarn we were 25 minutes within the cut off time. All good I thought.

I'd heard that if you had time in hand at Angle Tarn, then the next checkpoint at Cockley Bridge was near a given as long as you kept a similar pace. After getting down the tricky direct descent of Scafell Pike, I did some quick calculations, and realised that we were not guaranteed making the next cut unless we really got a move on. For Hanno this was news that didn't come at the right time as he was feeling a bit rough. But nevertheless we both dug in and  upped the pace to make Cockley Bridge with a mere 8 minutes in hand. Lots of tea cake and sandwiches were consumed there, before the last big climb towards Coniston Old Man.

Spirits lifted as we now knew that we would get round, and one each of the Old County Tops finishers T-Shirts would be ours.

It was then that I sort of switched off thinking about exactly where we were going. Hanno asked if  "that was Coniston Old Man" to which I replied without thinking, "Yes". Thankfully we were still in the company of others who'd already got the T-Shirt, one of whom kindly informed us that the hill I'd decided was the Old Man was in fact Dow Crag. If I'd thought about it I actually knew that, but I'd given up thinking about much by then. Apparently the Dow Crag variant detour is a common error, and we met one of our lot who after admitted to going that way before he realised they were going the wrong way.

On Coniston Old Man.
After Coniston Old Man there was no longer any time pressure, and I was hoping for a trundle down the hill back to Langdale. However with about three miles to go Hanno decided we should move ourselves a little way up the results list. So we lengthened our stride and legged the last bit to the finish. This stretch now on our own, was the first time all day we actually had to get the map out to work out exactly where we were going.

It was good to know we still had something in our legs after all those miles and hills.

My knee held up though it certainly limited our speed on the descents. Thanks Hanno for your patience. Still, we had a fantastic day out on an amazing course which was extremely well organised by the Achille Ratti Climbing Club. We finshed somewhere very near the back of the field in an unofficial 11 hours and 6 minutes.

Next year we'll be back. Somewhere nearer 9 hours hould be achievable, but whatever it'll be a great day out.

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