Helvellyn Run and the Wansfell Race, Sunday, December 27, 2009

Helvellyn: WH / 4.6M / 2500’ - Wansfell: AS / 2.5M / 1500'

Dougie Nisbet


Dougie and Phil. When my alarm sounded at 3:30AM and Charlie (my cat) purred soothingly into my ear to tell me that staying in a nice cosy bed would be a lot nicer than driving to Thirlmere to climb a snow-clad Helvellyn there was a long, long moment when it was touch and go. But curiosity and a thirst for a bit of adventure won out and it seemed like no time before I was approaching Keswick and peering through the windscreen at big thick snowflakes. I spied another vehicle parked ahead and almost literally bumped into Phil Owen who had paused to assess the situation. It was snowing heavily and the roads were slidey but to turn back at this stage would be such a shame so we jumped back into our cars and slid our way south towards Helvellyn.

At the Thirlmere car park we met Will who helped us shove our cars of the road and then briefed us on the fun ahead. The idea was to hit the summit for sunrise. And so at 7AM six head torches bobbed their way upwards into the impenetrable blackness that may have been cloud or night. Who could tell. We followed the faint glow of Will’s GPS and his upbeat encouragement giving us regular updates on altitude and distance to go. The snow varied from a couple of inches to several feet and the climb upward was a surreal experience as the light gradually increased and one by one we switched of our head torches. We followed Will and his GPS through the featureless cloudy white-out to hit the trig point around 0830. Pausing for a few chilly seconds for photos, and for Phil to chase one of his gloves that had flown perilously close to the edge, we turned back into the wind and the descent.

With the wind now blasting in our faces it was really cold and we had to get moving to keep warm. Following Will, our outward footsteps and the GPS we slipped, tumbled and sometimes ran back to the car park, pausing occasionally to chat to bemused hikers who were making the ascent. Back down we discovered Will’s car was an Aladdin’s cave of soothingness, with tea, coffee and eats. The climb had been a challenge and I was very pleased to have achieved it, and a big thanks to Will for leading the run so competently and professionally. I doubt I would’ve tackled such a venture without someone experienced at the helm.


We slid our way out of the car park and headed for Ambleside and breakfast at Bilbo’s cafe where me and Phil I draped our wet socks on the radiator and filled in our entries for the fell race while tucking into breakfast and coffee. This was all very civilized! We were both hungry after our Helvellyn adventure but at the same time wary of the fell race just an hour or so away. Some coffee, some shopping, some chat and some company, and soon we were all milling around outside and ready for the race.


For as long as I race I shall no doubt continue to think that short races will be easy and long races will be hard. This race was only 2.5 miles so was bound to be a piece of cake. A depressingly large number of minutes later, at the summit of Wansfell Pike, acknowledging the marshall’s “well done lad” (in that familiar reassuring tone of voice reserved for runners at the back) , I accepted that this was not going to be one of my better races. It was like Roseberry Topping all over again, but with snow. I nipped in front of Phil before the top and we both hit the summit in around 31 minutes. Will had crossed the finish line about five minutes earlier to finish in 9th place with 25.25 and to secure his place as winner of the NFR championships, 2009. Nice one Will!

As we descended I heard maniacal laughter behind me and, familiar with the Doppler Effect, realised it was approaching fast. I stepped aside to watch Phil fly by using his backside as a very effective sledge and overtake me in a bizarre but effective manoeuvre. My heart was now completely out of the race and I saw no one else on the trudge back to the finish. I was slightly miffed to discover that I wasn’t last but that two ladies had rather unsportingly hung back to deprive me of that accolade. Although Phil was the only Strider there in the home strip the organisers must’ve thought he had a DFR look about him and changed his club accordingly on the results sheet.

Heading out of Ambleside back home Dorothy (my Satnav) was very insistent that the best way was over the Kirkstone Pass. We had words. I explained about the snow and ice but she wasn’t having it so I switched her off and reflected on a great day’s adventure. The sort of day you think about afterwards for a long time.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Rob Jebb Bingley M Open 22:07
9 Will Horsley NFR M Open 25:25
102 Phil Owen M40 39:34
105 Dougie Nisbet DFR M40 40:37

107 finishers.

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