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Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge   5th August 2019    by Mary Ockenden W60

August 25, 2019

In the fell running and orienteering community, everyone knows exactly how old you are, so an approaching milestone birthday cannot be quietly ignored.  So, after being inspired by supporting Nick Hewitt with his 4th (!) JNLC success in October 2018, I considered the possibility of making my own attempt to mark my 60th birthday.  Hence, after months of preparation, including some trail racing in France and plenty more time out on the fells, I decided to go for it.  As my husband, Gavin Smith, had come with me on all the route checking and training he decided he would also like to make his own attempt.  He proposed that we do it together.  Although initially I had reservations, I did finally agree, based on our very similar times on races up to 6 hours long or days on the fells up to 12 hours.  But neither of us knew how we would be after nearly18 hours. We chose the date: Monday 5th August 2019 – a weekday, which made organising a support team more restrictive, but the only date when all three of our children (also keen runners and orienteers) would be available to support.

The birthday came and then before we knew it our son John was driving us to Pooley Bridge for a 4am start in the dark with Chris Roberts.  It wasn’t actually raining when we set out but it wasn’t far off and within an hour we were all back in rain jackets and into the cloud.  After a weekend of thunderstorms and very heavy downpours, the ground was very soggy.  I was very grateful for waterproof socks, which definitely kept out the worst of the bogs but did not stop the rain running down from the top!  We squished our way steadily up the ridge, trying to eat and drink little and often.  According to Chris there was a tent near the top of High Street, but I didn’t see anything in the cloud and rain.  

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Descending from High Street in the cloud (photo: Gavin Smith)

Somewhere on the way down to Kirkstone Pass it stopped raining, but we didn’t drop out of the cloud until we got right to the pass.  That didn’t give the support team much warning of our arrival, but fortunately they were brilliantly prepared with hot tea and porridge.  I didn’t really know what I would feel like eating at the end of each leg, but I found the warm food and drink very easy on the stomach.  Thanks John, Tom, Helen, Julian and Nick for your welcome at Kirkstone.

After a short break and a restock of water and food to munch on, we were off again, this time with Julian Lailey.  As we climbed Red Screes, the cloud began to break up a bit and we got a few clear patches down to the pass where we could still see the support vehicles.  The weather steadily improved during this leg, and although the tops were still in cloud, we had some wonderful views down the valleys, with a bank of threatening cloud above.  The support team at Dunmail Raise could see us on the skyline, and once again they had tea brewing.  Smoothie, tea, cheesy bean slice, rice pudding and tinned peaches this time.  In retrospect, maybe this was too much, as my stomach was a bit uncomfortable on the following leg.  Thanks, John, Helen, Annie, Abi, Ian and Mike for food, drink and chairs at Dunmail!

Still on our schedule, we started the pull up Steel Fell, led by our daughter Helen and with Mike Johnson accompanying to take over on Leg 4.  We still hadn’t seen a single person apart from the support team.  With the weather still brightening, we had our first glimpses of the sun, and a beautiful view up to High Raise.  The first people we met were at the top of Far Easedale, at about midday.  The climb up Birks Gill and the tussocks near the top of High Raise felt harder than usual, as legs were beginning to feel the effort.  With a slightly uncomfortable stomach I found it more difficult to eat, but managed to nibble on Hula Hoops, nuts and dried apricots.  I love the climb up Bow Fell, especially when you get the line just right and pop out on the plateau just below the summit.  

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Nearing the summit of Bow Fell (photo: Mike Johnson)

The tops were all in cloud again by this time, but views below the cloud base were beautiful.  With some trepidation I knew we were approaching the steep and rocky descent off Great End, my least favourite section of the whole route.  Luckily, the rock was almost dry and after the most rocky steep part in the cloud, we were met with a fantastic view all the way down to Sty Head Pass, where we could see our son John, daughter Annie and her friend Abi already waiting for us.  For them, watching, it must have seemed like a slow descent (it was, but I had allowed for that in the schedule).  Hot, sweet coffee with more peaches and rice pudding set me up for Leg 4.  Thanks John, Annie and Abi for carrying an assortment of goodies up to Sty Head (and then carrying all the things we didn’t want back down again!).  It was great to have a choice, because we both found that some foods, that had been great during previous runs, we couldn’t face on the day and some things that we hadn’t asked for but they had brought anyway were just right!

Mike led us ably on Leg 4.  Helen was having such a nice time she decided to carry on with us too, which was particularly useful in case Gavin and I were moving at different speeds (but in fact we were still very similar).  John joined us for Great Gable and Kirk Fell before descending to move the car to Greendale.  After Sty Head we were back into the cloud again, and didn’t see any more clear summits.  Fortunately, the forecast possible thunderstorms did not materialise.  Our schedule allowed for slow and cautious descents off Great Gable and Kirk Fell, including the impressive red gully.  

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Descending from Kirk Fell (photo: Mike Johnson)

The SW wind was quite strong on Pillar, but perhaps meant that Steeple was not as windy as it can be.  After Steeple, and the end of the rocky terrain, I began to believe that we could actually complete the route in time.  A possible rendezvous with Ian Roberts near Haycock failed due to the wind and clag; we assumed that he had not wanted to wait in the inhospitable conditions and had gone back down.  Middle Fell has always been one of my favourite fells: not too big for horrible weather days, generally quiet and great views in good weather.  As a child. growing up in Gosforth, I often climbed it with my parents.  Subsequently, Gavin and I introduced our own children to it when they were younger.  But I have never been as happy to reach the summit as I was on this challenge!  It was great to be met near the summit by Abi.  John also ran half way up to meet us and then skipped back down to get the tea brewing!  We made it to Greendale Bridge in 17 hours 33.  There was some consternation as Ian Roberts had not yet returned, but fortunately he appeared as a headtorch on the hill about half an hour later!  Unfortunately Joss was ill, so it was down to Ian Roberts to perform the ‘meet and greet’ when he finally returned.  

What a fantastic day!  My overwhelming memory is the fantastic support and enthusiasm of all those involved.  What can be better than a day in the hills surrounded by family and friends, including many Bowland members.  Thank you to all of you.  Thanks also to all who have donated to my chosen charity, The Alzheimer’s Society.

Support:

Driving: John Ockenden

Leg 1: Chris Roberts

Leg 2: Julian Lailey

Leg 3: Helen Ockenden, Mike Johnson

Leg 4: Mike Johnson, Helen Ockenden, John Ockenden (to Black Sail Pass)

Food supplies, welcomes and enthusiasm:  Annie Ockenden, Abi Plowman, Tom Matthew, Nick Hewitt, Ian Roberts

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