The Fine Line Between Tough & Stupid

The winter Bob Graham attempt looms on the horizon, the damaged to my ribs is slowly repairing, training is taking what ever form I can get it in and I’m back to running, so being in the Lakes to help with the Askham Trail Race seemed like the perfect opportunity to get leg 1 done.

The night before, there was a reasonable amount of snow, meaning most of the higher ground had a delightful layer of powder, and the ascent up Skiddaw, although tough and shin deep in parts, was fun.


Then we began to desend from Skiddaw and towards Great Calva.  The snow just got deeper and deeper.  The pace downhill slowed to a crawl as we trudged through knee deep snow and then the pace dropped even further.

The snow was close to waist deep and I was starting to lose the will to live.

I am planning on completing the winter BG in sandals, so on Sunday I was armed with my sandals, some thermal socks and some Luna Tabu, which when moving at a good pace are adequate, but when the pace drops as it did, my feet began to freeze.  2 hours in and even snails were moving faster than we were.  My feet were cold.  My feet were beyond cold.  They had started to develop that tell tale ice block feeling that’s the sign that tell you if you don’t get them warm you’re going to get frost bite.

I have been in that situation before and my feet were an absolute mess after.  That and the fact that the day was slowly disappearing as we effectively waded through a snow quagmire, we decided to ditch the route, found the straightest line to the Cumbrian way, which we could see was well trodden, and get ourselves back to Keswick.  A quick pause at the YHA, I removed the Tabu socks (that were now solid ice) and quickly put on some Injinji socks.  Now, I don’t normally run with socks and sandals and in snow, its a bad idea.  My feet soon gathered more snow than most of the trail we were following, gathering as balls of ice under my toes and the arch of my feet.  Eventually, they had to go!  As soon as they were gone and we ran down the main path from Skiddaw, the feet started to thaw out a bit, but unfortunately I think it was a little bit too late.

I also found a spot in my comfort zone I hadn’t yet poked around in.  The place were no matter what I do, I can’t move fast enough to stay warm and instead of seeing the distance shorten, I feel like I’m just treading water.  I caught myself turning that sinking feeling in on myself and the future Bob Graham Round attempt and as I did, I could feel the confidence slowly drain away.  Then the sinking feeling was put aside as the problem solving brain reengaged.  I tend to not look at maps whilst out running or exploring, but I study them before and make as many links between sections as I can.  It’s my way of always having a rough idea of how to get out if I need to, so there was no need to stop, get the map out and try and work out the solution to this snowy problem.  The solutions were pre-formulated and it was just a case of selecting the right one.  I think Rob had probably come to the same solution, and the decision to head back via the Cumbrian Way was easy to make.

Defeated by the conditions, but not destroyed.

Two days on, the sensation is slowly returning to the toes on my left foot…

‘There is a thin line between tough and stupid’

I got dangerously close to that line, and now I’m going to have to take stock.  Continuing the Bob Graham Round in those conditions is going to be on the stupid side of that line and not having some form of back up footwear would fall even further on the stupid side of that line.

To top it off, in the pub after the run, Billy Bland’s sister happened to be working and she effectively gave me a stern but polite telling off, adding more fuel to the ‘you just came very close to being stupid!’

So, if you are planning on going up any peaks, mountains or even walk in the snow make sure that you are prepared for the worse and you know the warning signs of hypothermia and frostbite.  You’re responsible for your own safety, but at the same time this responsibility spills across to anyone you happen to be with.

You are never too tough to become stupid!



2 thoughts on “The Fine Line Between Tough & Stupid

  1. A few comments: Firstly, it was a grand day out – after we made the decision to bail at the Cumbria Way, I quite enjoyed it. Second, even with fell shoes on I would have quite likely frozen after another hour wading in snow with no prospect of moving fast enough to get warm. Third, aside from the hazards you mentioned, the descent of Skiddaw (and in some other places on the round – Clough Head, Steel Fell, Lords Rake, Descent to Wasdale) could well be avalanche prone in similar conditions with a stronger wind or if there is any further fresh snowfall onto frozen surfaces. Fourth, we never even got to Halls Fell which I believe would have presented a severe fall hazard without crampons (especially in the dark).

    My conclusion is that a Bob Graham is just not feasible in anything like those conditions, both in terms of being able to get round in the time, but possibly also in terms of being able to get round safely (you and the support). Obviously you have a few days (with some higher temperatures by the weekend) to see how things pan out with respect to the snow cover, but could I just plant the idea that I doubt anyone would think less of you if you decided (a) to postpone or (b) intentionally plan for a “Barbara” Graham (>24 hours) with a more relaxed schedule, some scope for safe (slower) route choices, more changes of socks/footwear, possibly some lengthier rest breaks at Dunmail & Wasdale? Whatever – I’ll still be available for legs 1 or 2.

    • Agree with everything you’ve just said. I’m actually thinking that option a is likely dependent on weather as well as a Barbara round, since the intention is to get round for charity. The safety aspect is more important than some ego driven sub 24hr winter BG. Thanks for your company on the day again. 🙂

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