X-Lakes 2008

Article by Gordie Oliver

Eleven brave souls turned up to put their minds and bodies on the line in probably one of the maddest races the Lake District has ever seen. With a pretty dismal forecast at 06.15hrs on Saturday the competitors sprinted away in all directions from the start line, excited by the challenge that lay ahead.

I opted to do Skiddaw first and was joined by Chris Little. We summited in just over a hour in gale force winds and had to do the summit ridge on hands and knees. Otherwise you would have easily been blown off! In the meantime other competitors had set out on different routes, with Steve Nash heading for Catbells and then managing to fly his small Ibex up to Grange (2.5 km) Running down Skiddaw, I managed to put a little distance between myself and Chris and got my head down in the direction of Helvellyn.

I fought my way up the Helvellyn path amongst the hordes of runners taking part in the Saunders Mountain Marathon. Getting a real ego boost every time I passed one of them, they looked at me strangely as I was the only one amongst them carrying a largish 10 kg. rucksack and they presumed I was one of their fellow competitors. Summitting at 10.50hrs, I ran down in a direct line to the car park at the end of Thirlmere, again passing lots of the Saunders runners who were traversing round Helvellyn. This caused a few to double check their maps, as I confidently ran past in a different direction. Little did they know what I was doing, or how far I was heading.

After a quick fuel-up and boot change for the next section, I was just setting off as Roger Fowkes ran past, closely followed by Steve Nash, in the other direction, having already done the Scafell section and 2/3 of the route distance in 6hrs! I thought I was doing well having done two of the 3000ft peaks by now, but these guys were super-human.

Setting off on the long slog towards Scafell Pike, the rain finally kicked in, bringing low cloud to make navigation over this barren section even harder. After another 4 hrs of hard walking, and a slight half-hour detour when I got lost, I finally summitted Scafell Pike at 16.30hrs. Choosing the ‘corridor route’ for decent, as another thunder storm came through, I slogged my way down in the hail and rain, passing Sty Head Tarn as it started to clear. As I reached the last 1000ft drop into Borrowdale, the sun was out and even thought the wind was quite strong, and running across the valleys, down at my level there was very little. I could not resist and, even though I only had my speed wing, I whipped it out and sprinted off down the hillside. Skimming over the ground, the slope was just too shallow to allow me to glide off into the valley. I landed and ran along, unfortunately one of my walking poles then fell out of my glider bag. I had to stop……..bollocks, now I’ve got a slight tail wind. Well, after retrieving the pole there was nothing for it and I forward launched the Nano, running across/up the slope, then turning it down hill. I did probably my fastest-ever foot launch (probably about 25/30 mph) and, luckily, the ground steepened and I was off. The little flight down into the valley took about 30 seconds and I did not even have enough height to clear the river above Seathwaite, leaving me to call on all my flying skills to land the Nano in the middle of the boulder strewn river bed at over 30mph. (Basically this calls on having to come in at full speed and then whipping the wing into a stall just before you hit the ground to kill as much momentum as possible). Wiping the sweet from my brow I was applauded by some gob-smacked walkers who, I think, were still looking for the plane I must have jumped out of.

After quickly packing, I stomped down to Seathwaite to meet my support crew (Lucy and Jan Little) and, after a quick feed and footwear change, it was off on the last 8 mile slog down Borrowdale. God, this bit really started to hurt, any uphill bits I felt like a car running on one cylinder and the only way to be slightly comfortable, due to my blisters, was to walk on the smooth bits of tarmac in the middle of the road, making any cars passing me have to go round into the opposite lane. I was still racing though, as I knew Chris Little would not be to far behind, and that Nick Ogden was still summitting Skiddaw via a different route.

After another 3hrs of walking I dragged myself back into Keswick’s Fitz Park to be met by my friends and the three competitors that had already finished. The euphoria of what I had achieved hit me at this point and managed to give me the strength to run the last 200 yrds to the finish line.

So there’s my story, a fantastic event enjoyed by everyone and, you may not believe me ,but I loved every exhaustive step. The only problem is due to the groin strain I picked up during a trip on the Helvellyn section.

I will be walking like John Wayne for the next week.


1st Steve Nash 10.58hrs Pack weight: 9.2 k.g
2nd Roger Fowkes 11.00hrs 14.9 k.g
3rd Nick Ogden 14.36.hrs 13.7 k.g
4th Gordie Oliver 15.10hrs 11.3 k.g
5th Chris Little 15.40hrs 10.8 k.g.
6th David Lowe 29.00hrs night stop 8.7 k.g.
7th Gordon Allison 37.50hrs night stop 10.2 k.g.

Peter Logan 22.40hrs (With out stopping) 13.7k.g. (Missed Skiddaw)
Mike Hibbit 29hrs on course did not complete
Bob Johnston 11hrs on course missed Skiddaw
Paul Gannon 6hrs retired due to twisted angle on Helvellyn