Freesteel Blog » Lakeland 3000ers minus one

Lakeland 3000ers minus one

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 at 12:28 pm Written by:

I’ve always hated fell walking. It’s character building, good for a family trip out, and uses lots of time. It’s boring. As a kid you’d rather spend the day on the beach building sand castles or learning to windsurf.

Yes, there are so-called wonderful views. But they’re not the point. If they were, then how come the walk doesn’t get cancelled when the hills are in fog? We don’t try to windsurf when there’s no wind.

Admit it, you’re doing it because of tradition and for the pointless exercise. It’s a particularly painful exercise because you’re only using the lower half of your body, pounding it for hour after hour with hardly an interval of rest. At least when you go cycling there are those downhill bits where you cover the ground and your muscles have time to recover.


The idea of the Lakeland 3000 is to walk all 4 peaks in the Lake District that are over 3000 feet in altitude in 24 hours. This is a stupid idea, but that doesn’t stop people from getting hooked on it, and then inviting Becka and me into the plan. It was the caving conference weekend. The caving conference is always the same each year. One thing lead to another, and I found myself walking towards Keswick town square at 10:30pm on a Friday night after an extremely grumpy day due to a headache and no sleep the night before.


We walked up Skiddaw as a snake of 8 bright white LED headtorches, nearly got blown off the top in the dark, then back down the same path, through Keswick again and then sleepwalked along 9 miles of B-road in Borrowdale to the foot of the route to Scafell. My left hip and right knee were hurting the whole way. I popped ibuprofen prophetically, and also tried some of this Paracetamol-Plus stuff which Becka bought me years ago when I was trying to stay in bed with the flu. The “Plus” part turned out to be caffeine, which defeated the point as far as I was concerned. But maybe here on a walk at 3:30 in the morning with a headache and bits of your body in pain we had a viable application.

I’m told we weren’t taking the prettiest route through the Lakes. This route was chosen just to get the job done, which makes sense only once you’ve chosen to do this job in the first place. Dawn broke on the Styhead Gill track. I don’t know my way around the Lakes, and I don’t intend to become familiar with it.

You do have to admit that the English National Park high traffic hill paths have got to be the most discrete and tastefully made in the whole of Europe, if not the world. A lot of the path building looks as subtle as a dry river bed, though sometimes the stones embedded in the ground become too regular and step-like. But there’s never a wooden walkway, metal retaining spikes or cables, or even one single wooden signpost at any of the major junctions. There’s not a speck of paint anywhere, other than the few remaining bits of white left on the historic concrete trig points. Contrast this to a mountain path in Austria where there are so many lashings of coloured paint on the rocks that they must have used one tin per 100 metres so it shows up from space.

Natural material path building does have limits, so there are scree cones where you are left to your own because to fix them would require walls of reinforced concrete.

This was about where we entered the fog and didn’t see anything else for a good few hours, although the crowds of walkers seriously thickened. I was in such a foul mood I stayed at the front or the back to avoid talking to anybody. Actually, being anywhere except very far at the back was not an option because I was by far the slowest, and I don’t like the clattering of those stupid metal walking poles on my heels. I’ve never walked with poles and don’t understand them other than to make your arms feel like they’re doing something useful.

We skipped the roped shortcut between the Scafells and did the down up bit instead. Three down and one to go, chirped Becka. My joints had stopped hurting, but I was beginning to think there was something wrong with my muscles. But that’s only soft tissue, so they don’t count. Also, I didn’t have very good socks. Becka had carefully separated out all the proper walking socks from the drawers at home without telling me with the intention of bringing them along for the weekend (even though she only needed two). So I couldn’t find any on the night and had to wear just a couple of crappy odd nylon tube socks which, combined with my feet slopping around in my cheap pair of walking boots, meant I got rope burn across the tops of my toes. Also, the left big toenail has gone weird.

I knew so little about this walk that I thought High Raise was the fourth peak. But no, we went over it and down into a boggy valley towards Helvellyn.

You have got to be joking, I thought looking up at it. At this point tempers had totally unraveled and frayed between me and Becka. Becka, who had never heard of this challenge before, was determined to complete it, and I was holding everyone up and would potentially spoil everything if they didn’t get it done in under 24 hours. The clock was ticking on. “Hurry up,” she kept coming back to me to say.

“Why don’t you just bugger-off with your real friends and leave me alone!” I cried.

And she did.


I spent some time lost and in pain, then eventually found the road, got to the spare car that had been staged at Wythburn, drove back to Keswick and crashed out in the back of our Berlingo. Something was badly wrong with my muscles. My calves felt as though a fridge had been dropped across both of them. My legs are still not right five days later.

For some of the folks on this walk it was their third attempt, so it was perfectly reasonable for me to fail. No I don’t want some better walking boots for my birthday, because I don’t like walking. Next time this idea comes up I’m converting to the Metric system and doing the Lakeland 1000ers by walking all zero peaks in the Lake District over 1000 metres in altitude in less than 24 seconds.


In the morning the conversation moved on to even more nutty Lakeland challenges, such as the Bob Graham Round, which was established in 1932 by Bob Graham traversing 42 peaks in 24 hours.

You have to run the whole way, and people require pace-setters to lead them along each section of the route so they don’t lose the way or depart from the optimal speed. I said it would be a good idea to forget the main fell-runner and have the pace-setters relay-race a dog around the route. Dogs seem more natural at running than humans to me.

How did the route get worked out? Amazingly, no one had heard of the famous travelling salesman problem which can be formulated as:

Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?

It’s a shame the problem got named by an american mathematician rather than an englishman familiar with the Lake District so it could have been called the fell-runner’s problem, as it would have pointed to a slightly better generalization, because while the distance between each pair of peaks is the same, their differences in altitude means that it’s often quicker to go in direction than another. Consequently, the matrix of distances (with zeros down the diagonal) would not be symmetric.

The travelling salesman problem (or the problem of finding the shortest route between all the peaks in the Lake District) is one of the important problems in the field of computer science.

Someone then decided that they’d like to do a walk around the coastline of Britain.

How many miles do you think that would be?

Ah, well, actually, there’s a very famous mathematical paper from the 1967 called How long is the coast of Britain? which gave rise to the field of fractal geometry. The true answer is that it is infinitely long because it is very jagged. The length depends on the size of ruler you use to stake it out.

At this point everyone got bored with mathematics because it’s not something you’re supposed to talk about in polite conversation. I don’t know why. Does it make people feel stupid or something? On the other hand, it’s okay to go on about mountain climbs and caving trips you find easy that are always going to be too hard for me to do. What your body can or cannot do isn’t personal, like your mind. Is it?

1 Comment

  • 1. Sarah George replies at 3rd October 2014, 12:29 pm :

    You enjoyed it then 🙂
    Come walking with us, I refuse to walk inside cloud (once you’ve seen the inside of one cloud you’ve seen them all) and there’s generally a pub involved

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