So all the training was complete, the 33 peaks crew had our final meeting, all we needed was the weather to be kind!
Checking the forecast on the days prior to the event filled me with dread and even made me think about postponing, but as this would have been very difficult to do we decided to continue.
The team started to arrive on the Friday afternoon at the Great Langdale campsite in the heart of the Lake district, the camp was already waterlogged and the first task was to find a dry ish place to pitch the tent, that completed we started to arrange the cooking tent and radio system.
While organising the event the safety of the team has always been a key element, and having a radio system was one of the elements to this, as mobiles would be of limited use, Great Langdale has no mobile coverage. The radio system would provide communication for ½ of the event from the base camp and would also allow the team to communicate with each other when out on the fells. It also looked very professional having a 35ft mast in the campsite!
While the setup continued the strength of the wind increased and the 2 communal gazeboes lifted their pegs and started to blow away! These where hurriedly moved, one being tied to some trees to stop them blowing down the valley. So if it’s this windy down here what was the weather going to like on the summits?
So setup complete, last meal heated and eaten, the walk team made our final preparations before the off. Rather than the normal just pack the rucksack, this involved packing multiple bags for each support meet point, ensuring that our support buddies knew our drink requirements and ensuring that we all had enough food to keep us going.
The start of the walk was a 40 minute drive through the Lakes and by the time we arrived the weather had cleared and it was now a sunny but cold evening. The team kitted up and started 15 minutes early at 7:45 PM. The walk team being (from the left) Andrew Burgess, Steve Green, Paul Bowie, Hugh Houlston, Dan Robinson, David Wilson and me, Peter Wilson. The first peak, Clough Head, being just behind us.
Starting at a steady pace we soon climbed away from the road and after approximately an hour we had reached our first summit.
The first section started well and we picked up the pace slightly passing peaks 2,3 and 4 before darkness finally fell meaning we needed to turn on the head torches, but as it was now nearly 11pm this was longer than we had expected to be able to see for. Continuing to gain altitude we passed peaks 5 and 6 before we started to hit mist on our way up to Lowerman and Helvellyn. By this point it was very difficult to see as the head torches simply showed the white mist a yard or so in front of us. The shelter at the summit of Helvellyn was found and as the temperature had now dropped considerably extra clothes were put on by the team.
Leaving Helvellyn, David and I knew that our hardest navigation task lay ahead trying to find the next 2 summits. In fact leaving Helvellyn we did take the wrong path, but this was quick corrected. As it turned out we found both reasonably easily despite the dark, and the now very heavy hail storm that had blown in.
After Dollywagon Pike, we needed to find an ornate fence post, which we found easily, this marked the beginning of a very steep descent down to Grisedale tarn. This descent, with the covering of hail, was very slippery and most of the team had a number of falls, luckily none of them causing any injuries. At the bottom of the descent we made another small navigation error but again rectified it quickly by traversing round onto the correct path.
While up to now the team had been going well, Steve Green had started to feel unwell and got cramp in his legs. At the base of the next peak there is a small stone shelter, and we agreed that Steve could wait there until we returned. The next climb up Fairfield, being one of the steepest, was a slow climb and once on the very flat summit, was again difficult to find the summit cairn, but after a couple of minutes it was found and we started the descent. Halfway down we could see Steve’s torch in the distance and we were soon back with him. The final peak of the first section was again steep but we quickly climbed up to the top, albeit missing it and starting to go down the wrong side before correcting ourselves. After quite a long rough descent we made radio contact with the support team, Jo & Neil Fagan and Andy Smith, and after a couple of minutes we were all together at the JMC van. Leg 1 complete, and at 3am spot on schedule.
Taking on food, water and some of the team changing clothes we were ready to start leg 2. Unfortunately Steve had not fully recovered and Hugh had sustained an injury on the first stage and had to drop out at this point. As you may have seen in my earlier blog entries the start of leg 2 is the steepest section of the whole challenge and in the dark and wet it proved to be very difficult. There is a very small path up the climb but in the dark we were unable to find it and just had to climb up the grassy and sometimes rocky slope, at times having to use our hands and feet as it is so steep. It probably took 40 minutes but for me it was very tough!
With the summit reached the ground flattened and we started to make reasonable progress. This climb also marked the 7,000 ft of climb point so half of the ascent was complete. Walking on I started to struggle, luckily with encouragement from the rest of the team, and some caffeine, I was able to carry on. Passing Calf Crag the daylight returned and we were able to turn off the torches. Climbing onto Sergeant Man, peak 15, we got our first sight of the final peak, and also made contact with the support crew at the campsite. Hopefully not waking the rest of the site as it was 5:30am at this point! The weather up to this point had been OK, but the clouds had started to roll in and the wind and rain was now falling consistently. Passing peaks 16 and 17, Paul and Dan also started to feel rough and decided to miss out 2 peaks, so that they would be able to continue. We continued via peaks 18, 19, 20 and meet up with Paul and Dan on peak 21. It’s a small rocky scramble to the summit and we we’re pleased when we reached top to see Paul and Dan sitting there eating. Only 1 peak in this section left to complete! It was just a long walk to get there. Down to Stake Pass and then onto Rossett Pike. The weather by now was just simply foul! Heavy rain and sleet with a very strong wind at times. Descending down towards Angle Tarn we met the support team again. It was now 9 am and we were still bang on schedule.
The support team that met us at Angle Tarn deserve an award. The team, Jo & Neil Fagan, Andy Smith, Alan Mackie, Lorraine Taylor, Jes Kay, Kanti Mistry, Lauren Steele, Mark Summers and Steve Green having recovered, set off at 6am arriving at the tarn at around 8 am, then filtered and mixed drinks for the walk team, and stayed and waited for us. Luckily they had a number of storm shelters, provided by Alan, that stopped them all getting hypothermia! The picture above shows the team in action making sure the walkers are fed and ready to go.
Having suffered on the second stage Paul and Dan called off their attempt at this point and returned with the support crew back to camp. David, Budge and I continued up into the weather. Peak 23 passed easily and then we had the long climb up to the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike. The climb is very well marked with some of the biggest cairns you will ever see, so navigation was not a problem, as we climbed however the rain that we had had lower down started to turn to snow. Climbing across large boulders, we mixed up the order and climbed Broad Crag just prior to climbing Scafell Pike. I was amazed when we got to the summit how many people were up there. In terrible conditions there must have been 30 people! Some of which did not have the correct equipment. We even saw a woman with jogging bottoms and trainers! No surprise that after the event we discover that the mountain rescue had been out to take people off the mountains. It could have been her? Continuing on we passed peaks 26, 27 and 28 to climb the last high peak being, Bowfell. The weather had started to improve and at times we were able to see our final peaks, although the wind and hail did remind us we were still at a reasonable altitude. Climbing down via Shelter Crags and Long Top, we walked to the base of the final long climb, Pike of Blisco. I was feeling very tried and sore by this point and with encouragement from David and Budge we made the summit.
The rest of the team had made their way up to the finish just below the final peak by this point and were able to take this picture of us at the summit.
Descending this peak we could see the team waiting for us and as we rounded a small rise they came into view. The feeling of seeing them was pure relief, we only had 1 peak to climb and it was only small.
We crossed the road and started up the last climb. 20 minutes later we had reached the last summit and started the short climb down, reaching the end 10 minutes later.
So having climbed in really bad weather we finished in bright sunshine! The goal was to finish the 35 mile, 33 peak with 14,000 ft of ascent in 24 hours and I am pleased to announce that we actually completed in 21.5 hours so a great success.
There are however a number of people and organisations that we owe some thanks. Pennine Telecom for the loan of the radios, Michelle at JMC for providing the food, Alan for the storm shelters, David Wilson, my brother, who I asked to joining the team to help with the guiding, and of course the support team who battled through terrible weather to enable the walk team to finish.
The final thank you needs to go to you, the people who have donated money to JMC’s charity Medequip for Kids. We aimed to raise £3,000 by completing the 33 Peak Challenge, we have actually raised £5,847 to date and I know there is still more money to come in. Overall a massive success for the charity and personal achievement for all involved…do we dare top it next year?!
Just for completeness I’ve included below the list of the peaks we completed in the correct order. If anyone wants to attempt it I know a great team of people that would be able to help!
If you would like to make a donation (as a congratulations!) please visit our Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/teams/teamjmc we appreciate all donations big or small.
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