Friday, 26 June 2009


Ian Charters' 55 peaks at 55

On 13th June, Ian made his third and final attempt to complete an extended round of 55 Lake District peaks in under 24 hours. Having completed 51 of them in September last year, it was a fair bet that if conditions were perfect, he could make it.

Ian was on bang on target coming into Wasdale as I stood in delighted disbelief at once again being in the company of Jos Naylor. He had arrived in David Powell-Thompson's Subaru, perhaps more mobile office than means of transport. It was stacked, layer upon layer with first paint spattered tools, then dog-eared and yellow books on the history of the Duddon Valley.

Jos, David, Ian, Alistair and my arm. Photo by Pauline Charters

As the time came for Ian, Colin, Alistair and myself to leave Wasdale for Dunmail Raise, Jos fixed Ian with his timeless, raven-like stare. 'Now don't give up, lad... however hard it is...' he said, gravely, and you knew Jos had been there, lived those long hours of pain. A salvation through suffering that Ian would relive again, one more time.

In the shattered landscape of the Scafell massif, the light flicked on and off through fast moving veils of low cloud. The rocks turned intermittently gold and grey as the sun went down, and the atmosphere was electric.

The sun eventually disappeared, and the wind dropped. This was a heady, charged silence to be running through in the dot-light of a head torch. Hour after hour of black silence and mountain, and then the single melodic warble of a skylark.

Ever so slowly, time had been trickling away as each black peak came and went. Ian had been feeling sick, and wasn't able to eat enough. And the gut wrenching moment came when he called it a day, after something like 18 hours on the run.

Looking in on the sidelines of these long distance attempts, it is hard to really understand what it is like, how much you really have to put in, and what it takes out of you. Being part of a support team, you invest a little bit of yourself, and add your hopes to the heap. So we all felt for Ian when he made this tough decision.

It would be easy to see only disappointment after this, but that would be just half the story. So few people dare to contemplate such extended rounds, let alone in their most unforgiving and committing original versions. So few are prepared to give what it takes to try.

It was not the outcome that defined the level of Ian's achievement, but what he chose to measure himself by in the first place. And for the experience of running through mountains with Ian and his friends? I think we are all the richer for it.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A Party in the Forest

Beside a perfectly built Celtic Roundhouse, the band played another impeccably executed tune. Without a word, a fire thrower moved into a space between trees.

A day to remember in a beautiful space, and a wonderful way to celebrate Pen and Al's future life together.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Blencathra and the Summit Shelter of Doom

Ricky Lightfoot sets a new course record - 58 mins 13

Racing up to the top of Blencathra to marshal on the summit, Andy, Ron and I felt the immense chill of a cold, clear night setting in. The wind belted around the summit like a jet stream, and clothes that seemed excessive at the car park were now painfully thin.

'Indiana' Sharples being eaten by a killer storm shelter

Andy quickly unfurled the summit shelter, an oversized burkha which had to be tethered with summit stones, feet rucksacs and hands. It didn't take long for the first runner to romp over the hummocky grass, and it was Ricky Lightfoot, closely followed by James Bulman and Jim Davies.

Steve Birkinshaw nearing the summit

Heading down the mountain after the last runners had gone through, I joined the other marshals who'd swept the course. It's always a crashingly fast descent, racing each other in our own quiet ways.

The hunt for the Terry's chocolate orange..

The Blencathra fell race is beginning to feel like a milestone in the year- everything is different, yet all is the same. Last year I hobbled up Blencathra, grappling with new orthotics, pain at every step to a summit steeped in rose petals and ashes. Someone had been carefully placed there, while a fell race went on around them.

This year the race was also lodged in the calm before the LAMM. Taking it easy, but afterwards crashing down the mountain regardless. From the ice cold summit to the warm fug of the car park, it was another good race to watch, another good time to have been part of.