Ascent of Skiddaw on 2014-10-04

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Date:Saturday, October 4, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:3054 ft / 930 m

Ascent Trip Report

3x3000 80k

The weekend of my first skyrunning, fell running, and ultra-distance race – started off on Friday, leaving Cardiff at 12:30pm, in order to make it to check-in by 8:00pm in Keswick (5hr drive if you’re lucky). I picked up friends Grace (Texan) and Erin (Aussie) and we hit the road up north to the Lakes. Thinking we would be ahead of the traffic, there just doesn’t seem to be a way around it in the UK… the M4/M5/M6 are terrible, and it seemed like there was no chance for us to make it on time staying on those roads, so we opted to take “A” roads instead – which took us out to the country. As soon as we had a chance to start moving faster, I hit a pothole and got a flat…. Great. This was at 4:30pm, and now there was no chance to make it in time for race registration. With the help of the girls (they kept me level-headed mostly), I managed to change the tire in 15 minutes, and we drove up to the nearest town (Bridgnorth), where we found a garage – they changed the tire for 24 pounds and did it in 30 minutes. We were back on the road by 6:00pm. I phoned the race coordinator and he said that I could register in the morning, so that was a relief. We finally arrived in Keswick around 9:45pm, I dropped the girls off at their B&B, and then went off to mine. Everywhere was closed for food, so I ate some cashews and set my stuff out for the morning, including an alarm for 3:45am…. I had a familiar feeling – like the night before an exam that you thought you were prepared for but you know you actually are not at all…. I slept soundly from about 11:30pm and hopped out of bed at 3:45, hearing hard rain outside.

I shaved, got dressed, filled my water, downed a bowl of cereal, 3 boiled eggs, and 2 bananas, grabbed my gear and got in the car. I got to the race check-in around 4:30, rushed to get my kit checked, realizing I forgot my headlamp at the B&B!! The organizers went out of their way to find me an extra headlamp, and let me start the race with it… the only problem was that the light wasn’t even strong enough for me to see the ground in front of me… I was just going to have to deal with it. I scrambled to get a drop-bag prepared and then went over to the start.

The race started at 5:00 on the dot, in the pouring rain. We all roll out (field of 189 runners), and my plan was to hang out at the back in the beginning, and find a running buddy with a strong headlamp… this ended up being an old guy named Ian, who was a great guy, and we stuck together for the first 12km. This stretch was supposed to be the easiest part of the course, just following a river with not much elevation change, but the river was RAGING from the heavy rain throughout the night, and the trail we were supposed to run on was virtually submerged under water. In the beginning, I tried to avoid the deep puddles on the course, but soon enough it became impossible to avoid getting wet. I started counting the streams we had to cross, but lost track quickly, sometimes water went up past the knees. I was very happy to have my waterproof pants – they did very well. My shoes felt good wet also, and the cold water felt good on the feet. However, these conditions made the first section really tough, sometimes climbing rocks to avoid rushing water, and it wore me out a lot more than I expected. I reached the first aid station at Seathwaite 15km into the race. Filled my water, had some food and carried on. It was still raining at this point – one old guy from Manchester cracked that in England “if you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining, and if you can see the mountains, it will rain later.”

The next section was the approach to Scafell Pike. This, again was supposed to be a relatively moderate section, but because of the wetness, it made it difficult – slick rocks everywhere, streams to ford, etc. I felt good on the first climb, and when we got to the next checkpoint at 21km along the Corridor route, we were informed that we will not be summiting Scafell Pike today due to it being deemed a “Death Zone” by race marshals. I was pretty pissed about this, since reaching that summit was one of the main reasons for me to even sign up for the event. I’m sure it was in our best interest to leave it out though – a wet boulder field at 900m is an accident waiting to happen. It was at this stage in the race where I went from treating it as a “peakbagging” event to treating it as a race (my original approach was just to be happy with finishing, and getting the summits). Now I wanted to finish well. I started picking off runners one by one, catching up to the next runner in front of me. The 15km stretch from this checkpoint leading to the aid station was muddy as hell, and it was still raining, but I felt good and did some passing, running all the short flat sections. It was also in this section where I was introduced to BOGS. I was getting ready to pass these two guys, and all of a sudden, one of them just drops down to his waist into a bog. I made note of this and tried to avoid puddles. However, it’s not as easy as that, as sometimes they are totally disguised… I hit one where my entire left leg went in up to my waist, and another where both my feet went DEEP in some THICK mud. I was able to maneuver my right leg out, but my left one was stuck… and I could feel suction under one of my feet, and it was actually a scary situation, thinking I could lose a shoe here… but I managed to slowly extract my foot from the mudhole… I went to a nearby stream and washed off my legs, and carried on… it’s just part of the experience. I did well on the ensuing descent, even though the terrain was rocky (slick), I was able to keep a decent pace, passing more people.

I got to the aid station 36km at 11:00am, and I was told I was in 136th place. After hearing this I told myself that my goal should be to finish in the top 100. I had a ton of grit in my shoes which I washed out with a towel I had in one of my drop bags. One thing that I realized I wish I would have packed was a sandwich. I was sick of cliff bars and shit at this point and just wanted a sandwich! I had some of the awesome homemade caramel and chocolate flapjacks that were at all the aid stations, filled my water, and set off for the long slog up Helvellyn. I felt strong up the hike, and was really happy to make it to the top, which I reached around 12:30pm. They had a photographer up there snapping some pro shots. No real views for me from the first real summit of the day, so I just pressed on, following the ridge, which I had run part of the week before. I felt good on the familiar part of the ridge, keeping a strong pace there. After clearing Rise, the weather started getting worse, and I felt what I thought was piercingly-cold rain. When I started feeling it on my face, I realized that this was not rain, but HAIL. And it was coming down hard and blowing straight in my face. I started running faster out of pure adrenaline, and shielding my eyes with my water bottle, letting out barbaric screams as necessary. This lasted for what felt like forever, probably at least 20 minutes. When the storm cloud finally blew over, it went from winter conditions, to warm, clear and sunny… I had a connection with Mother Nature here… I was so thankful for the first real nice weather we had of the day, and it occurred immediately after the worst conditions of the day… I worked my way up Clough Head at the checkpoint at the end of the ridge, catching up to a group of guys. The descent off the ridge was steep as hell, nearly a straight drop, about a 400m elevation change. The terrain was long, wet grass, and with the knobby ground, made it a really hard descent… I had also exerted myself pretty hard after Helvellyn, so this downhill really destroyed my legs. Looking back, I should have just slid on my ass down the grass… apparently that’s what the leaders were doing – baseball sliding down the thing.

When I got to the aid station (~50km) after the descent I took a break, feeling wrecked, beaten up, ready for some real food, and the need to take a number 2. When I finally got going again, I took it pretty slow, found a side trail to do my business on, and then felt a lot better and kept it going up to the Latrigg aid station and checkpoint (57km). This section was difficult for me, and was supposed to be “an easy part”, which was just running on farm roads and footpaths. I got to the Latrigg car park at 4:30pm, the start of the Skiddaw loop, and I noticed a girl coming OFF of the mountain as I was just about to start. Wow (she ended up being the first overall female). At this point I was told I was in 121st place. Feeling a little inspired, downed some more flapjacks, nuts, filled my water, took a swig of whiskey and set off to get up Skiddaw.

The approach was under great weather, and it was long and flat, so I tried running as much as I could, legs still feeling wrecked, but I knew all I had to do was get to the top of Skiddaw and it was all downhill from there. I was so hungry at this point and all I could think about was FISH AND CHIPS… but really I was just waiting to start climbing, as the approach dragged on…. Finally made it to the climb up Skiddaw, and it was raining at this point. I had removed my rain jacket at and opted for the windbreaker earlier, since the weather looked clear and sunny when I started, but I didn’t care that I was getting wet, just had to man up and get up there. The climb was steep, laborious. It was sunny not far from us on our 6, but raining where we were… this actually caused one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, a full rainbow as a backdrop, and even a faint outer-ring, making a double rainbow. Incredible and magical sight. As I went up Skiddaw with this beauty on my back, I actually started feeling so thankful for everything I take for granted, that my eyes started watering up… it gave me the inspiration required to finish the climb. I caught up to this guy who was wavering a little in his stance. I encouraged him as I passed, but he hollered at me asking if I had water. I let him have the rest of my handheld nuun tablet drink, and wished him the best…. I reached the summit at 5:50pm. Conditions were WINDY as hell up there, gusts strong enough to push me around, and then, all of a sudden the HAIL came back!! This time it was coming completely sideways, striking me in the side of the face… I was walking/running with my arms shielding my face, like people do in sandstorms… I finally made it to the other side of the mountain and from here it was all downhill, and a NICE WIDE TRAIL that I was able to BOMB down… the kind of trail running I’m used to. I passed about 7 people on the descent to the checkpoint, where they had stocked up on some SAUSAGE ROLLS… I stuffed about 5 of them in my mouth, had another swig of whiskey, and at this point it was just a matter of getting to Keswick (4.5km).

I continued the downhill bomb pace, I passed 2 more guys in this section, but then got lost in the town, since it was barely marked, eventually finding the way, and seeing 2 guys that I passed earlier approaching the finish…. I said F that, and kicked it hard for the last 400m, blowing by them, and finishing the race at 7:05pm for 96th overall. I went over to the finisher tent, bought an espresso, which one lady paid for me (so nice!), and had a seat next to this girl that was eating fish and chips… she offered it to me and I could not resist… amazing. Later I found out she was the first overall finisher for the women and the same girl I had seen earlier… she had gone back and showered, taken a nap, got food, and came over… beat me by 3.5 hours… but who is making comparisons… I heard a good quote: "A flower does not compare itself to the one next to it. It just blooms." I celebrated with a huge English feast at the Pheasant Inn near my B&B, and then went out for celebratory pints with Erin & Grace.


The next morning I had a fantastic full English breakfast at the Skiddaw Grove (my B&B - they also rent out sweet old VW vans), and made my way over to the park where I had scheduled a massage for 10am. I showed up, and there was nobody there, just some guys frantically trying to build a podium for the awards presentation at 11am. There was some confusion and the massage girl was only giving out massages the day before. Having time to kill, I walked down to the lake, and there were row boats for rent. I paid 5 pounds and took one out on the lake for 35 minutes or so – beautiful experience. The awards ceremony was great, with the legendary fell runner Billy Bland handing out awards. I spoke with him afterwards and he had some wise words to share. 3 takeaways from his philosophy are:

1- Be the master of your surrounding area – Billy holds some untouchable records in the Lake district
2- Always have the attitude that you are going to win – he said that if you tell yourself you’ll be happy with a top 10 finish, and the winning time is slow, you will still finish in the same place had the winning time been fast.
3- Training is the most important thing. At times when you don’t feel like it, think about the opponents that are out there training.

Billy is in his late 60s and is still active, now switching to road biking, as it’s easier on the body. There is a climb (I forget the name of it) that is supposed to be the hardest climb in the Lake District, and his goal was to do it 500 times this year. To date, he had done it 635 times in 2014.

Overall this was an amazing experience and looking back, I am actually glad we had the brutal conditions that we did. I feel now that I’ve been through this, adverse conditions are not to be intimidated by. I am inspired by the runners, volunteers, and legends like Billy Bland, and I will continue to experience the world in this way. We are given the gift of a body, and the world requires us to take the initiative to enjoy the beauty of it.

Lessons Learned from my first (skyrunning/fell running/ultramarathon… pick one):
- Budget more time in the morning before these races (should have gotten up at 3am)
- Getting wet is not a big deal (especially when you have full-body waterproofs)
- Bogs are dangerous and evil
- Pack a sandwich for your drop bag
- Remember your headlamp
- Even when your legs are dead, mental fortitude can lift you up
- English fell runners are hardcore and mostly older
- Harsh conditions can be endured
- The real test of endurance happens after 50km
- No matter what tough situation you find yourself in (flat tire, stuck in a bog, exposed on a ridge getting hailed on, etc), just know that you will get through it
- Billy Bland is a G

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
A mini-lake on along the Corridor Route on the trail to Scafell Pike, the highpoint of England (2014-10-04). Photo by Marcus Lostracco.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

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Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
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