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									OLD COUNTY TOPS FELL RACE 19th MAY A report by Andy Hirst A 5:30am start saw us in the car park opposite the New Dungeon Gill Hotel at 7:00am, the weather forecast for the day didn’t bode well, giving 45-55mph gusts on high summits, significant wind chill, squally showers with hail and a chance of lightning and thunder thrown in for good measure. Sat looking through the car window at Pavey Ark shrouded in mist with the gusts of wind and rain sweeping across the valley, I thought for once they’ve got it right, And contemplating being out for 11hrs wasn’t doing much for my enthusiasm and wished I had entered the Fairfield Horseshoe instead. The Old County Tops race is organised by Achille Ratti and is run in teams of two. It’s a 37 mile/10,000ft{route starting from the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Langdale and taking in the former county tops of Helvellyn, {Westmorland} Scafell Pike {Cumberland} and Coniston Old Man {Lancashire} with a 12hr time limit. The race starts in the car park by the road at 8:00am and heads down Langdale towards Chapel Stile via a lane, then heads off over Silver How and dropping down into Grasmere, through the village along the main road towards the Travellers Rest pub, then takes the path up Tongue Gill, and checkpoint 1 which is an head count and up to Grisdale Tarn. Here you take a trod round the back of Seat Sandal and contour round the side of Dolly Wagon Pike and Nethermost Pike on to the Summit of Helvellyn checkpoint 2. Then it’s a steep grassy decent into Whelpside gill picking the tourist path up from Wythburn church car park which is checkpoint 3 and a food stop where there are bananas, flapjacks cakes, sandwiches plus hot & cold drinks served by the organisers out of a van. So a quick grab what you can, and head off up the road to Steel End Farm and the long 4 mile trudge up the Wythburn valley, trying to dodge the famous bog, which I didn’t. Next there is the short but steep climb up to Greenup edge, then try and find a good line below the bleak flanks of High Raise above Langstrathdale to meet the Stake pass near its summit, then round the back of Rosset Pike and Angle Tarn and Checkpoint 4. There was water here which was served in plastic cups from a jug which they tell you as been got from the nearest stream. Well it’s the though that counts and it was a change from drinking from bog stained hands. Up to this point the weather had been quite bad with a heavy shower at the start, hail stones through Grasmere village, strong winds, driving rain and hail up Helvellyn and the Wythburn valley. This was nothing compared to the gale force winds and driving hail we experienced as we set off up to Esk Hause and along to Broad Crag. Then, just has we ascended the last climb from the col at Little Narrow Cove onto the summit of Scafell Pike and checkpoint 5, suddenly the wind seemed to drop and the temperature rose a few degrees. As Mickledore is out of bounds in this race, some teams head back to Little Narrow cove and the decent down to Great Moss and under Esk Buttress and upper Eskdale, but I had heard of a quicker more direct way down the other side of Esk Buttress towards Penn. So having done a few recce’s over the winter, all in mist and never finding the same way down twice, getting into steep boulder fields and even steeper

rock outcrops, I was determined to find the right line, so I went back a third time again in mist, but this time it cleared briefly enough to pick out a rock filled hollow running between the cliffs and leading down to steep but grassy slopes below. I even found what looked like a faint trail, so as the mist closed in again, I followed it hoping it wasn’t some sheep who had taken up base jumping. Luckily it wasn’t and although rough boulders had to be negotiated at first, it soon gave way to loose scree and grass and soon we were safely at bottom. So again in the race, we set off hoping to find the way in the mist, which we did and probably saved us about ten minutes, which was a good job really because we only just made the last cut off time at Cockley beck at the head of the Duddon Valley with minutes to spare; the run down Mosedale being quit nerve racking. Having come this far and been on the go for over seven hours, to get timed out would be a bit cruel. Here again, food and drinks were served and a chance to sort our selves out for the final accent to the col behind Grey Friars and the traverse below Swirl How and Great How to the final summit of Coniston Old Man. Here you get a chance to see how far behind the other runners you are, as they head back towards Wrynose pass and the Three Shire Stones via Great Carrs and Wet Side Edge. We passed a few teams here as they hobbled down the steep road, probably feeling their toe nails dropping off and quads exploding. From the wall corner checkpoint 8 at the bottom of the pass, you cut across boggy ground to a rough track which takes you through the woods at the back of Blea Tarn. Then you cross the road by the cattle grid over a ladder stile down the wall side, then cut across to Side House Farm, climbing a few more ladder stiles, hoping each time you don’t cramp up. From the farm, you follow the farm track, turn right onto the road and a short sprint/crawl through the gate to the finish, a round of applause, a tee shirt and as much food and drink as you want or if you can manage it, up to the N.D.G for a well deserved pint or three. Our time was 10hrs 47mins 04 seconds. I think there were about 5 teams behind us and a few retires but who cares we finished. I ran this year with Kieran {King of the Mountains} Ashworth, who runs for Clayton. I will be doing this event again next year and hope with a team member from Wharfedale, so if anybody hasn’t been put off please let me know.

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