Saturday 21st May – Old County Tops Fell Race

Saturday 21st May – Old County Tops Fell Race

Report from Tom Lynch:

Tom Pomfrett and I ran the Old County Tops Fell Race on Saturday. For those not familiar with the race, it’s a paired event of roughly 56 km and over 3000 metres of climbing, taking in the highest points of the old counties of the Lake District – Helvellyn (Cumberland), Scafell Pike (Westmorland) and Coniston Old Man (Lancashire). As the event starts early on the Saturday in Langdale we camped the night before in Chapel Stile, it rained continuously from setting up the tent the night before until just before the race start when we got a brief respite and was also gusting with strong winds on and off.

You are free to pick your own route on the race with the main checkpoints on the summits, and some intermediate locations, with the exception of some small flagged sections. However, most people follow a generally accepted route, with minor route variations along the way. One of the more major choices being the descent off Scafell Pike to Great Moss, going either straight down via Dow Crag, or the easier but longer double back to Little Narrowcove. The race route takes you from the start in Langdale, traversing round to Grasmere, then up Helvellyn, a descent to the well-stocked Wythburn feed station and then follows the boggy valley of Wythburn up towards Angle Tarn. From Angle Tarn the route goes up Scafell Pike via Esk Hause, and then descends to another feed station at Cockley Beck which has a cut off time of 4pm. After Cockley Beck the route climbs up to Coniston Old Man, before doubling back to head back towards the Langdale finish via Three Shires Stone and Blea Tarn.

We were rained on for about 5 hours solidly as far as we can remember, pretty much from the start of the race, one of the lowest points was the slow boggy climb up to the aptly named ‘The Bog’ at the top of Wythburn valley in torrential rain. It was also gusting wind on and off, but thankfully the forecast 50 mph gusts on the summits didn’t seem to materialise. We also had a bit of navigation wobble at the top of Scafell Pike in the fog after stopping for a brief rest and refuel, and almost wandered off to the out of bounds Mickledore route. Thankfully we happened on a small group who had also made the same mistake and followed them down the quicker route straight off the Dow Crag side of Scafell Pike, an interesting ascent down scree and angular boulders, which apparently reaches over 45 degrees at times!

We both had low points in the race trying to keep energy levels up, and ironically trying to keep hydrated, but running as a pair helped keep up the motivation, seeing an easy escape route to the car and the pub down Mickelden valley before the Scafell climb (25 km in) definitely didn’t help though! We entered the race for the challenge, and to get the fabled t-shirt only awarded to finishers, and so getting a fast time was not so high on our list of priorities. We reached the Cockley Beck checkpoint about 45 minutes before the cut off time, but managed to finish about an hour and half before the 8pm cut off time. The results are only in grainy Facebook picture form at the moment, I think we finished in 10:30:54, 69th of 93 finishing teams, and the winners were Paul Tierney and Matt Reedy from Ambleside AC in 6:53:51. At least 126 teams were registered, so a high number of DNFs/DNSs looks likely. Full results for all categories to follow here.

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