The inaugural X-Lakes was organised by Geordie Oliver on July 5th and 6th 2008. The race started from Keswick at 06:15 on the Saturday morning, with the competitors having 35 hours to complete the course which comprised 3 turnpoints on top of Scafell Pike (Englands highest peak, 977m), Helvellyn (950m) and Skiddaw (931m).
Steve Nash (flying a Nova Ibex) narrowly beat Roger Fowkes into second place by less than 2 minutes! The total distance that Steve ran or walked was 65km, with only 2.5 km flown due to high wind speeds!
X-Lakes 2008 Report
By Gordon Allison
Sat in the office one February Friday afternoon, dulled to a stupor by the ever-lasting tedium and boot-kissing compliance of the corporate drone’s existence, an email came through about a new event, the X-Lakes – a paragliding bivouac event around the North Lakes mountains. Paraglide or walk around the course.
“That’s the one for me!” I thought, and excitedly sent off a cheque.
In a couple weeks I bought a mountain paraglider (Gradient Delite), and ordered a combined harness/rucsac (Apco Air Extreme), and planned to start training. Lots more corporate droning later, I arranged to raise sponsorship for Kaliyangile AIDS Orphanage in Zambia. Some people have enough (or not enough) on their plates without adventure events…
Weeks later I tracked down the event organiser: “Had he got my cheque? Was there still enough room for me in the event? Was it still on?” ‘Yes – getting round to replying, still on, 16 entries!’ So I planned to start training in earnest.
Support team? Can always rely on my big sis, even though she’s only little.
I broached the subject of sponsorship money at the Malvern Hang Gliding Club BBQ.
‘Money?? For paragliding??’ “Only if I complete – and it’s for orphans” ‘My wife’s already sponsored you, we’re a team etc, etc’ “Shell out, you old b”. Best get some road miles done, soon.
The weekend came and the forecast was dismal, gales and rain. Fitz Park, the event venue in Keswick, was beautiful in the Friday evening light, as Gordie Oliver, the organiser addressed the dozen or so entrants who had still turned up, despite the awful forecast. We were briefed in a friendly fashion: there were plenty there who were casually pretending not to be scheming to get round the 40+ miles first. The rules were friendly too – just take your photo by the trig point to show you were there.
Gordie suggested doing the easy mountains first to avoid being on Scafell when the bad weather came in. The Scafell section was 7 miles of high mountains, remote from the roads; Scafell itself is an unfriendly mountain, like a cake iced with hundreds and thousands the size of TV-sets (and not pink), making it difficult to follow paths.
After a disturbed night (I was worrying about not having done any training), we rose at 5.30 for the weigh-in and start. Everyone was carrying at least 9kgs with their paragliders, helmets, harnesses, food etc. Having gathered everyone for the start, Gordie said ‘One, two, three…’ and then ‘go!’ over his shoulder as he ran towards to the bottom end of the park. Others sprinted off in different directions, just like the 100m Race for People With No Sense of Direction. I turned to the bloke next to me,
whose pack towered over his head, “I can’t believe they’re running!”
Mike Hibbit, Bob Johnson and I trailed Gordie up Skiddaw. It was mild and dry, but amazingly windy. So windy that you could make comedy jowls by opening your mouth and letting your cheeks be inflated by the wind. We almost crawled to the summit. Running down hills was my plan, but my pack was too low down on my back to do this in comfort, except on steep sections. Meanwhile, Steve Nash was flying on Cat Bells.
But it was easy navigating, and I was down in the Park again by 9, bumping into one entrant who had elected to stay in bed with his buxom girl-friend. I left a note for John and Claire – and then bumped into them in Keswick. So we headed down the main road to Helvellyn, then all three up the brutal staircase route from Wythburn at 12.30.
It was raining a little, and I was definitely feeling that some preparation would have eased the pain. Feeling pretty dull back down at the bottom, I was refreshed by tea and cakes in the heavy rain, and decided to head over to Seathwaite at the nearest road head to Scafell. It was now 4.30, and I didn’t feel fresh enough to do the 5 or 6 hours it would take me to complete the turn point and get down to the valley, but I would camp as close as possible to do the mountain in the morning.
The sun came out on the tramp up the Wyth Burn valley to cross Greenup Edge, and I bumped into another chap who had come from Scafell. He said his moving-map GPS had given him confidence to do the Scafell section. Booms of thunder came from the
clouds rolling in from the south-east, and it rained some more. Up on the pass, I could see the citadel of Scafell clear and in sunlight – but at 6 miles away, with difficult ground in between, and no phone signal, I wasn’t very tempted. The last I’d heard of a weather forecast was sunshine and showers for Sunday, with a south-easterly wind. At least that would allow an easy trip up Scafell and a fly-down from Latrigg to finish in Fitz Park in style.
I was slowing and slowing and it was after 8.30 before I passed the pub at Rosthwaite and trogged round the road to Seathwaite, in England’s wettest valley. It was nearly dark before I crashed into the tent that John and Claire had put up. I had thought of sleeping in my goretex bivvy bag wrapped in my glider. This probably would have been fine apart from arranging everything in the continuous rain on slushy ground.
Soon after dark, three gunshots came from nearby in quick succession. If someone was going postal, they would have to shoot me where I lay, after 31 miles and 15 hours on the go.
It rained all night, and I didn’t sleep well for thinking about navigating on Scafell.
Getting lost is fine if you have plenty of miles in your legs – soaked through and weary, it’s altogether less amusing. Leaving at 6, past Styhead Tarn, I was bemused to find a group of teenage girls marking the turn up the Corridor Route, and groups of people coming down. I was so delighted to be at the summit before 9, that I carelessly wandered off on the wrong route down in the mist, wasting half an hour, after not believing my compass. It was a long drag down the mountain – the stone steps that they have laid on the paths are brilliant for following but hard on the knees – I was glad I was now using my Tesco Finest* Walking Poles, and spurred to carry on by the
fact I was raising some money – I knew everyone would have finished long since. By half two I was walking across the cricket pitch in Fitz Park, and I felt quite emotional as they clapped me in. Steve Nash had won in only 11 hours.
The event could be made less hard-core and attract more people by swapping the inaccessible Scafell for a less hostile mountain, but that might take away the fun.
Next time I’ll do some training, and the weather will be so good we’ll be wafted by gentle winds from Cat Bells to Styhead Tarn, and Whelp Side to Clough Head, to tea on the lawns of Fitz Park.