Ennerdale Horseshoe Race (10th June 2017), Report by Simon Roberts
Almost a carbon copy of last year’s Wasdale Horseshoe, in that we arrived in calm conditions on Friday afternoon, enjoying ‘beer tapas’ while awaiting an accurately forecast unseasonal depression that arrived in good time for the notoriously arduous race. As a result, the event became a survival mode plod in standard issue awful summer weather, one of many we have participated in over many years, at least three of which have ended up on BBC news (I don’t really feel an urgent need to add more to the list!). This always makes for a memorable and enjoyable experience, though, and it was particularly so this year as all four of us did the majority of the horseshoe together and crossed the finish line at exactly the same time, over 23 miles and nearly 8000ft of climbing later. The quartet of Buckley club mates ready to do battle were Hayley, Andy, Jez and myself – the same four that completed Wasdale in similar conditions last year – all excellent, uncomplaining and extremely tough companions in the hills.
Waves lapped the shores of Ennerdale as we set off in high winds and driving rain, bellies full of real ale, a full cooked breakfast and local black pudding, in preparation for the imminent loss of thousands of calories. The initial climb up Herdus steepens continually and is very sharp at the top: from here, easier ground leads to the rockier summit of Great Borne, by now completely exposed to the full force of the wind. This remained an arduous headwind most of the way up Red Pike. I knew the rest of this ridge to an extent, but always lack the in-depth knowledge I have in Snowdonia. Indeed, I lost my nerve when following the contouring racing line below High Stile on the Ennerdale side in thick mist, driving rain and a headwind, and myself and Jez climbed back onto the ridge through mobile scree: we did skirt the summits successfully though, avoiding both High Stile and High Crag to emerge on the scree run leading down to Scarth Gap along paths that were now torrents of running water. Despite missing the summits, and getting a good skirting line round the confusing and lumpy terrain of Haystacks, we still lost time over this section. From Scarth Gap, contouring leads to a steep climb up a fence line to emerge at Innominate Tarn – bleak rather than scenic in this weather – then down across a deep river crossing to the Blackbeck Tarn checkpoint.
I was last here during the Rab Mountain Marathon in 2014, shirt off in glorious September sunshine! The next leg, to Green Gable, struck us all in the pub the night before as being potentially the trickiest navigation on the route, so it was quite pleasing to get it more or less bang on. We caught up with Andy and Hayley (they had taken a better line over High Stile) then contoured round below some crags to pick up Moses Trod and hit the col below Green Gable without losing or gaining any height (I now had map and compass out the whole time – and Andy brought his knowledge of this part of the Lakes and instinctive reading of the terrain). The weather remained appalling, but we had a bite to eat and began to feel more optimistic about our prospects as we descended from Green Gable and went our separate ways again. Jez and I dropped down to Windy Gap and traversed Great Gable to the north before taking a very direct (perhaps too direct) line right up the front of Kirk Fell. This was up very steep mobile scree and small crags but still brought us out at the plateau and double summit of Kirk Fell – rather confusing in the mist although the rain was at last beginning to get slightly lighter. The wind was at its worst, however, almost identical to the Wasdale race last year as we descended the very steep and rocky north-west ridge to Black Sail Pass. Wet rock and high winds made this tricky and demanded care. The climb up Pillar from here is very long, but was quite enjoyable, and not too windy until we approached the summit. We had gathered a few more runners around us for the navigation for one last tricky section south-west from Pillar to Wind Gap then, staying cautious over the summit of Scoat Fell to finally pick up the wall leading to Haycock.
Finally, it was possible to relax a bit although the run-in is very long, over Haycock, Caw Fell and Iron Crag: still misty, although the rain was beginning to ease and the terrain is kind underfoot, grassy, and this is the real difference with Wasdale, which obviously climaxes on Scafell Pike. So, although Ennerdale is longer, indeed the longest traditional fell race in the UK, it is probably true to say that it is a tad easier than Wasdale. The forest below the final low summit, Crag Fell, has now been cleared so the ascent route was a tad confusing initially: we took the obvious small path and dibbed the final checkpoint before the final, indirect descent back to the Scout Hut. The weather, ironically enough, began to clear (although we were much lower by now) and we finally got a view of Ennerdale! A series of waterfalls led to a section through conifers, then a meeting with Jos Naylor, before the final run to the finish line, which we crossed together. Lots of drop-outs and non-starters: another memorable outing and a brilliant day out. We have been gradually ticking all of the long British classics – Ennerdale is the longest proper fell race (by that I mean a non-commercial, not-for-profit traditional and long-established race where the competitors look after themselves) albeit with slightly kinder terrain than Wasdale, Jura or Pedol Peris. Only Duddon left to go!