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The Great Gifts Round

At the end of the First World War there were 14 peaks donated by various parties to the National Trust. They would serve as memorials to those who had fought in the war, and popular peaks such as Scafell Pike, Castle Crag and Great Gable even have memorial plaques adorning their summits.


The Scafells above Wastwater on the drive in. I knew I was in for a good day.


The 14 peaks all sit in relative close proximity to each other and a chap called Hamid Reza Kashefi proposed a challenge to runners to link them all up in any fashion they see fit. There are few rules regarding the challenge. A runner must visit the highest point (actual summit) rather than any Wainwright summit, and for it to be classed as an official round it must start and finish at St Olaf's Church in Wasdale. The churchyard proudly hosts the former plaque that sat on the summit of Great Gable, and whilst looking at the plaque it doesn't take much of a head tilt to see said mountain looming over the head of the valley. There is one final rule worth noting - a runner must complete the round within 11 hours, a figure aligning with the war ending at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month.


For 8th March 2023 I saw a weather window, looked at my list of 'training challenges' and was drawn to getting this one ticked off. I packed my bag, dithered with kit, checked the forecast, dithered some more, rechecked the forecast, and was tucked up in bed by 9pm, alarm set for 5am.


The old plaque from Great Gable now situated in St Olaf's Church, Wasdale. Great Gable stands beyond and would be my penultimate peak of the day.


At 7am I hit start on my Suunto, took my hand off the plaque in the churchyard and started my first big fell run of the year. I don't think that apprehension or feeling of potential overwhelm when setting off on a route such as this will ever leave me, or maybe it was just excitement and it was too early for me to digest it!


As above, the route can be run in any fashion to suit the runner, but as with these things a route or two come to the fore, with minor tweaks being made by each challenger. The obvious decision though is whether to run clockwise or anticlockwise. Despite guiding for over a decade, only 2 years ago did I ever take my first journey up Kirk Fell Nose. The steep, seemingly never ending ridge had always looked pretty awful and I did all I could to avoid it. After completing that first time I came to realise it's more a 'right of passage' and that any keen fellwanderer should get it ticked off. Despite this newfound affection, I was not going to start my 36km journey with it!! I opted for Lingmell Nose instead, which although isn't drastically different in design, is a shorter pull on the steepest bit.


I've been struggling with a grumpy Achilles of late and after running 40km over the preceding two days I was worried this was going to derail my plans. It started nagging at me on the way up the nose but thankfully it was bearable. It remained this way for most of the day. Just under an hour passed by and I found myself atop my first peak. A short drop to Lingmell Col followed and I started my hike up the super familiar motorway up Scafell Pike.

Views from Scafell Pike



Atop Scafell Pike - England's Highest War Memorial....and mountain of course.


Now firmly in the snow and the sunshine, I was gawping at the stunning vistas surrounding me. I snapped some shots, video called my family as they got ready for school, and went on my way, doing my best to not slip on the sugar-coated rocks as I went. Broad Crag followed soon after, and a bit more boulder hopping and finally some actual running brought me to the summit of Great End.

Next up is an 'out and back' on Seathwaite Fell. Going off the map alone you'd expect to run out to Esk Hause and drop onto it from there, however I, like a fair few runners before, opted to head down the North-West ridge known as 'The Band'. The route is cairned but it is plastered with boulders so keeping an eye out for the worn track is key too. I was spat out under the cliffs of Great End and ran out to the summit, turned around retraced my steps back to the main path heading up to Esk Hause.


Poling away once more with my Leki sticks, I dug in and drove myself up to Allen Crags, bringing me to 6 peaks. The next bit was the bit I wasn't looking forward to, and another reason why I decided on anticlockwise over clockwise. In September I ran the 'No Cure, Always Hope Ultra' and heading across the rock ridden humps of Glaramara was draining and felt slow. Granted, today it felt better, but it still wasn't pretty. I was glad to hit the summit, and I jogged and tripped my way down Thornythwaite Fell. Right towards the bottom I slipped off the side of the path and landed sitting on a perfectly placed verge, so I took this as a sign to strip my clothing down (as I was firmly out of the -7 degree forecast wind) , to grab some more food and paracetamols from the pack.


Stoked to be on top of Glaramara


Easier KMs now followed as I ran woodland tracks to Borrowdale YHA (water refill point) and then beyond to Castle Crag. This short by sharp dimple of a peak sits right in the middle of Borrowdale and despite it's small stature it'll certainly get the blood pumping. It was on this ascent I decided to throw down my first caffeine gel too. The large memorial, poppies and crosses on the summit of Castle Crag was a reminder as to the purpose of my run, and in truth even by this point of the run my mind had drifted to the war and what it must have been like for not only the men who went off to war, but also those left behind in the villages of the Lake District.

The Castle Crag War Memorial


I was now just over half way in terms of distance run and about half way in terms of ascent accumulation. Now heading southward again I enjoyed more runnable trails on the flanks of the valley and tried to carry as much momentum as I could up towards Honister Pass. I managed to run the bulk of it, but knowing the amount of steady ascent to come over the next couple of hours I opted to not burn myself out. From Honister it's another sharp hike up onto Grey Knotts, where much like Glaramara, the summit takes while to actually appear. With every run there is a point where you know you're going to get to the end, and this was it for me. Now established up onto the second set of high fells, it was just a case of small descents and ascents to get to the finish line.

The view from Grey Knotts. All but Castle Crag, Glaramara and Lingmell on the route visible in one shot.

The view from Green Gable is pretty special too..


Brandreth was tagged soon after and then there is a minor 'out and back' on Base Brown to take on. I eyed up a route under the obvious crags that you see on the climb up to Green Gable from Brandreth, but as a solo runner I decided it was probably wiser to stick on more obvious terrain. I climbed up and contoured round as early as I could before heading out to Base Brown's summit, turned around and began heading back up towards Green Gable. Now firmly back into the snow I hiked up the boulder-strewn paths to the summit of Great Gable, where a nice smart looking plaque sits on the most prominent rocks of the summit. On a day like this I could stand and admire the views on offer from Great Gable for ages. I believe it holds one of the best 360 degree views on offer here in the Lake District, but the clock was ticking and I was still keen to get back in under 8 hours - a time that I'd just picked based on an average pace I expected to achieve throughout the day, plus breaks. As it was, to this point I hadn't really paused much at all, but I wasn't going to dither and let the time tick by. The start of the descent down to Beck Head wasn't without a few slips and trips, so I gave my head a wobble and just pulled back the pace to ensure I would actually get down in one piece!


Atop Great Gable.


I managed to rattle off the last 200m ascent up Kirk Fell in good fashion and that brought the end to the 14 peaks that made up the round. The sacrifice of not heading up Kirk Fell Nose at the start of the day was I now had a crushingly steep descent down it with about 2100m descent already in my knees - probably the biggest inhibitor of me as a fell runner sadly. I also spied St Olaf's sat in the patchwork valley of Wasdale, looking fittingly small for the smallest church in England. I got stuck in to the descent and found a good rhythm. A chute of scree was a welcome change just off to the left of the nose for a while, but all too soon I was back on the grass skipping my way down. Thankfully the descent was over far sooner than I thought it would be and after just a few hundred metres of flat running past the Wasdale Head Inn and then across a field or two, I was back into the churchyard looking at the plaque once more. I pressed stop on my Suunto and the time read 7 Hours, 23 minutes, 10 seconds. Job done!


 

I'd highly recommend anyone keen on big fell days, or someone training for something like a Bob Graham Round to consider taking on this challenge. The fact that you go from valley level over high fells back to valley level brings in a great mindset training element, and the fact that this happens at about half way through the run essentially means you've got to accept you're about to do everything you've done to get there again! Also with it being a big circular it's one of those routes where on the first half you try and avert your gaze from the other side of the run, knowing you've got to do a lot to get there, but then of course when you are finally there, you can't help but admire where you've been. For me, heading from Base Brown to Great Gable was the highlight for this reason.


There is a Facebook group for the challenge here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GreatGiftPeaksRound






 

Kit: The weather forecast was for sun all day, but a low teen wind, gusting in the high teens. The forecast windchill was -7. Due to the fact I was going to be high and low it made my kit choice a bit awkward. I opted for my Inov-8 winter softshell leggings and matching softshell top. For the early stint up high this kit was perfect. Both items have a softshell front and a lighter weight fabric on the back to allow for breathability.

Later on in the run, after my stint in a t-shirt, I chucked on a Outdoor Designs wind shirt which was perfect for the early afternoon temps.

On my feet I opted for the Inov-8 X-Talon 212 - probably the best fell shoe I've ever had for a day like this.


My pack today was my fairly new Montane Gecko VP12+. Back when I ran the 'No Cure, Always Hope Ultra' it was my fuelling that really let me down and that came from a lack of access to food. A friend of mine has this pack and the fact you can stash loads of food in reach meant I had to give it a whirl. Today confirmed my purchase was a fine one and I look forward to many more mountain adventures with it. I think it'll be perfect for the Lakeland 100 later in the year.


Nutrition wise I mostly used High 5 Nutrition gels, muesli and chocolate bars, and wraps filled with peanut butter.

 

Who am I? Find out more about me by clicking here: https://www.lmgpersonaltraining.com/about


Get in touch if you're interested in getting a Personal Trainer that fully understands the rigor of mountain sports who can design you fully bespoke resistance or ultra-running training programmes


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