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Harvey Howgill Tops Round

Words by Mad about Mountains

on 09/09/2020 22:38:56

Ok, so before I proceed I must first confess…this wasn’t the Harvey Howgill Tops Round that is recognised online and which people may be familiar with. Truth be told, during my research when I was looking at the this Ultra-Distance Challenge= 40 summits over 40 miles, I also read about Alan Evans’s top to top round from Wandale to Winder, which consisted of 31 summits, over 28 miles. Certainly not to be sniffed at! This shorter one started and finished on a summit, and missed out the long and sorry 6mile trail slog at the end. I’d be more confident in my ability to complete this one and maybe even enjoy it.

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My mind was made up! Following Hugh Symonds’s 1987 schedule available on, I was able to access the list of summits in order of completion. I grabbed my phone and begun plotting on View Ranger what I thought would be the best route between the summits; trying to keep as much height as possible (if possible) between the many ups and downs. There were so many Howgill tops that I’d never heard of before (quite the education.) One of the main motivations for undertaking this challenge was to be able to explore this wonderful hill range which lay right on my doorstep.

Things all moved rather quickly after the initial planning and within 1 week we had decided on a day. “We” being myself and my one man support team in the form of ‘Tom’. Now I didn’t tell many about the event. I wanted to do it on my own with no pressure or expectation, for this would be the furthest distance I had ever attempted to run/hike in a one-er.

We picked a perfect weather day, not too cold and not too hot, with minimal wind and at a leisurely 8:45am we headed as close as we could get to the first hill, Wandale. A bit of an underwhelming start as this first hill ascent didn’t even count. I reached the cairn and tapped it…”here we go” I said to myself with a deep exhale and headed straight back down the way I had come up. Tom was parked on the road at the bottom. It was this point I apologised for my ratty, snappy behaviour earlier that morn. On this day I was experiencing the same nervous, belly churning feeling I used to get on race days. It had been so long since I had experienced these feelings, and this wasn’t even a real event! No one was watching and no one cared. I tried to persuade my little brain this and suppress the over production of adrenaline. This was going to be a long day; I needed to preserve and manage my energy.

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The 2nd summit, Harter Fell was over with quickly and I descended again to the road where Tom was waiting. I swigged some water, topped up on chamois cream Smile with tongue out and exchanged a quick hug before bidding Tom farewell. I would not see him again until Carlin Gill, 19miles into the challenge, and another 16 summits later! (Big gulp)

Even though I plotted the route on a 2D scale and had the knowledge I was heading in an anti-clockwise direction…I never really studied the route. I thought this would make my day more interesting. When I reached one summit I would look at the map and navigate my way to the next. The unknown kept it exciting. There were times after slogging up an ascent and reaching the summit I thought maybe I’ll keep my height? Or when I reached a valley bottom…maybe I’d stay low on a flat trail path. Absolutely no chance! This was the summit challenge, once I was down it was straight back up again.

The first 9 Summits did go pretty quickly, and I even messaged Tom at the top of Yarlside to tell him I was making good progress and I’d be with him sooner than we had predicted. I dropped down from Yarlside into the Bowderdale Valley, where I came across a couple of gents, and the first humans I’d seen all morning in the Howgills. They asked what I was up to having just observed the straight line off Yarlside and the cutting across their path for Hazelgill Knott on the other side of the valley. They wished me luck and in good spirits I headed upwards.

This was a meaty climb up to Hazelgill Knott, and where I began to feel the subtle beginnings of fatigue. It was a steady undulating jog along the tops before the unexpected vertical drop off Langdale Knott into the Langdale valley. I remember thinking just how slow I was coming down this hill, fearful of the consequences if I was to trip and roly-poly to the bottom. It was a relief to reach the valley, and what a lovely valley it was. I could have easily basked by the side of the stream for the remainder of the day. Onto the next climb (sigh)

It was on the climb out of the valley up to Middleton at which I felt my lowest all day. Dizzy, dehydrated and lacking in energy. I ate a natural gel at this point which turned out to be honey. The gel helped but my pace had dropped significantly and it was getting on for 5hours since I said goodbye to Tom at the road. The next set of ascents were steady going and unmemorable, accept from the plaguing craving for a glass of cold water and being sucked into a peat bog up to hip height on my left leg. It did help wake me up if nothing else.

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One almighty final descent off Blease Fell to Carlingill where Tom was waiting. He had a massive picnic laid out, with all sorts of bad things my body craved right now. I consumed: 1 x coke, 2 x litres of water, 1 x tuna sandwich, 1 x large Danish pastry, 1 x Kit Kat chunky and a handful of nuts. I could feel the energy returning to my muscles and it was marvellous.

Refuelled and with a replenished rucksack I was ready for the 2 nd leg; Carlingill to Sedbergh, approximately 10miles. Not before a strip, splosh in the stream and a full change of clothes, including socks and footwear. It was like I had just set off the first time, apart from the muscle aches and general fatigue. I had feared the climb out of Carlingill as it was a long slog up Linghaw and having just eaten I predicted the food take a while to settle. To my surprise there were no repercussions from the fizz or the high sugar intake. Not even a single burp. I was imagining my stomach a bit like a furnace and the food had just been burned right up, my body must have really needed the fuel. Perhaps it had been bad planning on my part; not eating enough for the first 6 hours.

Fell Head to White Fell Head was a pleasant stretch and I actually started jogging again. On the approach to The Calf, I saw people. The Calf tends to be the farthest summit of choice for folks to walk to from Sedbergh or up Cautley Spout. I had enjoyed the time up to this point on my own, and the exploring of new Howgill territory. Although there was a bit of excitement upon reaching familiar ground, with the realisation the end was near!

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After a little out and back to Great Dummocks my legs seem to find another gear and the last few miles to my surprise were the probably the fastest of the day. Up to Arant Haw, down to Stickers Fell, across to Crook and one little last climb to Winder. Winder…the last summit! Tom had planned to walk up from Sedbergh and meet me here. As the shiny white cairn of Winder flashed into sight so did Tom!

Tapping the top of the cairn signified completion of the challenge. Job done! Even though I had taken my time, I was surprised at how fast the day had gone and how good I actually felt. Maybe I could have tried harder/gone faster? It was nice not to be too broken at the end. Tom had brought a mini bottle of Prosecco to signify the completion of the challenge. It tasted bloody awful but it was fun fizzing it up and pretending I had just won like they do on the tele.

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Big thanks to Tom for being the one man support team of the day.

Keep following Mad about Mountains on social media for ideas for local challenges. If after reading this you fancy giving it a go yourself, please get in touch and I’ll share with you the GPX file for this route.

Until next time


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