van Lieshout - Bob Graham Round

It was near the end of August 2016 and I had just heard about an epic challenge called the ‘Bob Graham Round’. In case you didn’t know, The Bob Graham Round is the 66 mile, 27,000 ft circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District that has to be completed in 24 hours. So I started doing some research on the internet, and found this community that was made for people who plan to do the bob graham round, or people who have already completed the challenge. After a couple of chats, I decided I was ready and flew over to Keswick to go for my attempt. 

In my ‘research’ phase, I wrote a post on the community where I introduced myself and asked if there was someone doing the attempt near the end of August who would let me join him or her to do this challenge. It didn’t take me long to find someone who was planning to do the attempt at the same time as me. This person, Kate Elizabeth, who was preparing herself to attempt the Mount Everest summit in 2018, the Bob Graham round was a great challenge for her to prepare for Everest. She was already preparing this Bob Graham round for several months and was almost ready to set off. She was happy to find someone who wanted to join the challenge from the start till the end and from there we were set to do it together.

From this moment that I found someone to do the challenge with, there was only a few things which left to do, booking my tickets and a guesthouse. I booked a ticket to Manchester where I met with Stuart King (Owner of Etchrock) he picked me up from the airport and together we drove to our guesthouse in Keswick.

I arrived one day before my attempt at the end of the day in Keswick. The owners of the guesthouse asked me: “What are your plans here in the lakes district?”  I was talking to them about my attempt for the Bob Graham round and the only thing what they say back to me was:  “Goodluck…”  I didn’t really know what to expect of this challenge, but I was getting a little nervous! At the same time thought, I couldn’t wait till the next day to start with my attempt. I went to Keswick together with Stuart for a good diner, which I would probably needed for the next day, and then went back to the guesthouse to get an early night to have a good rest for the next day.

Waking up in the morning, I was feeling ready for the day for which I knew would probably be one of the toughest days in my life. After a good breakfast I went for a small walk in the area to see if we can spot some trails which I had to walk during my attempt. I built a ‘Bob Graham’ sign with stones in front of a beautiful lake to take a moment for myself and to focus on the challenge at hand.

The strange thing about the Bob Graham round is that the challenge starts around 6pm. The start/finish point was at the town's Moot Hall where I met with Kate, who was also with the same navigator for leg one. Also, the navigators from leg three came over to wish us good luck and give me some last minute advice about what to take with us on the first leg.

The clock started ringing, it was 6pm and we were off! I start running out the city of Keswick on our way to the lakes for leg one. For the first couple of hours everything went alright to say the least! I must admit, I was a little nervous because I didn’t really know what was waiting for me out there.

As time went on, I was getting a bit more in my zone with the challenge and started to get in my stride. By this time, it was starting to get later in the night, so it was getting a little bit darker every minute. Before I knew it, the light was completely gone and we had to start walking with the headlights.

From this moment the circumstances starting to change a little bit. It was getting harder to navigate because you could not see anything around you. There was no help anymore from the area for navigation. From this moment, it was the job for the navigator to use their navigation skills or remember the route from the last time they did this leg. Being honest, I was starting to feel that my navigator was not really comfortable with navigation in the dark and was starting to ask many times for confirmation to Kate. She also showed the same hesitation and I could tell she was starting to come out of her comfort zone.

I got a feeling  in our team that everyone was starting to feel a little panicked. After crossing multiple rivers, bridges and walking for a long time, the navigator was saying that he was not sure anymore if we were on the right path. He was asking Kate: “What do you think Kate, are we walking the right way?”. Not the most comforting thing to hear from your navigator… In the beginning, I didn’t want to say to much because I was thinking: I have joined this challenge and they are locals and have been here before, they should be prepared and know where to go. After more searching in the dark, I said to the navigator, “Lets make a plan, we remember how to come back to the bridge and we know where that point is on the map, if we just go back to that point and start to navigate from that point we will come back on the right path, and it’s important that we keep moving because I feel that we are getting cold and we have to stay warm”.

So we tracked back to the bridge and followed the small river which should end in a bigger river which we had to cross. Earlier in the week, there was a lot of rainfall so the river was really high, but we had to cross it to get on the right path to the end of leg one. Once we found the best place to cross the river, we walked in a line hand in hand to the other side. The water was freezing cold and was thinking to myself if I fall in the water I won’t get warm anymore and don’t have enough spare clothes to change on the other side! But we made it to the other side with only feet and legs getting wet, result! After the river cross it was getting really cold so we have to keep moving up the hill which was on the other side of the river. There was a lot of fog on this side of so navigation was even harder now without any compass or gps gear. The navigator has only a map with him so I was thinking to myself this is going to be really hard to find the right way up…

As if there wasn’t already enough on our plate, from this moment also the weather conditions start to change, it was starting to rain. After searching and walking in circles on the plateau near the top, I started to feel that we are now officially lost in the middle of the Lake District..great! With not that much spare food anymore, no dry clothes (the navigator advised to go light weighted on the first leg) and no signal on the mobile to ask for support or help.  We standing in the rain looking each other, and finally the navigator admitted that we are lost. Now the panic and frustrations really started to kick in I was thinking if we walk a bit more to the other side of the hill there is a chance that we can see some lights in the valley which we can use for navigation. Kate was also sure that path was near and we had to keep searching but it was hard because we didn’t know how we came to this point in the valley.  It now a getting a serious situation. We were getting colder and if we walked the wrong way back to the lakes we could walk for hours and hours without knowing where to go and no chance for asking for help because we had no signal.

So we had to have a discussion about which option to take. Option one, keep searching for the path up which would point us in the right direction.  Option two, we walk closer to the valley and search for a light to navigate by, which will bring us back to the town where we can call Stuart to pick us up. This of course has the huge risk of being a long hike, because don’t know how long the path is to go down.

So after walking a bit closer to the valley we did see some lights from the town and a road with some cars. Hallelujiah! We decided to go towards the light and search for a place where Stuart can pick us up. After walking down for about a hour or maybe longer we found a small bridge over small river which come out of a small waterfall. We filled our bottles with water and finally got some well needed hydration, a weight was suddenly lifted off our shoulders. After we kept walking for another 30 minutes, we came to a parking place of a small building. I called Stuart to say that we are safe, he was already waiting for few hours for us at the parking place of the end of leg two. He already knew that something had gone wrong as we were well behind schedule and he was happy to hear my voice again. We meet near the parking place and there was Stuart with the navigator for leg two waiting for us.

I had to say to Stuart and the others that it’s not safe to carry on the route from this point, especially if we don’t put dry clothes on and eat some food. This situation got really serious already in the first leg and I certainly didn’t want to be underprepared again. We had to get some sleep and maybe we can do another attempt tomorrow.

frank bob graham

Stuart, Kate and I were sitting in the car and talking about what happened and realised that we were actually really lucky that we are sitting here safe in the car again. I was still positive and Kate was really surprised about that. I came over to England especially for this challenge and couldn’t finish it because of the circumstances and a navigator who haven’t been fair about how prepared he was. Sometimes these things happen, it was a lesson learnt and I certainly won’t make the same mistake twice. But Kate was really thankful and also her parents with whom I talked with, because as the circumstances changed, I was positive and calm from the beggining till the end.

Next morning I went for breakfast and picked Kate up from here home to start leg two for another attempt of the Bob Graham Round. After a few hours walking, Kate wasn’t feeling great and to be honest I wasn’t either after a very long and stressful day yesterday.  We decided after a few hours of walking to stop and bring her back down to a place where her parents could pick her up. They also brought me back home to my guesthouse and I called Stuart to meet me there. This was the end of my Bob Graham challenge and it was officially. Absolutely gutted that it didn’t turn out the way that I had planned but this is the way these things go sometimes. I have to take the lessons learnt and use that knowledge in round 2 of the Bob Graham Round, I will be back!


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