Great Lakes (3 Days) by Sue Mackie

Silva – Great Lakes 3 Days (GL3D)

This was a challenge that Dave had heard about in his marshalling of the ‘Dragon’s Back Ultra’ and he managed to convince me to enter with him, as it was shorter than 50 miles(a day) and very relaxed.

I can confirm that it was both those things, but so much more. My training had not really gone to plan post Lakes in a Day (fallen off a cliff edge), and the USP of GL3D is that you can choose the course on the day, which meant in my head I had a get out of jail free card. They also transport your camping gear, allowing you to run with just the mandatory kit.

We had had a few mountain days where Dave had tested my navigation and route-planning by setting me challenges to practice the ‘orienteering’ aspect of the event. I was to find that invaluable due to the weather that came in at the end of day 1 and persisted into day 2. We also decided that the lightweight nominal 2 person tent wasn’t really going to be big enough, so used a larger 2-person tent we already had.

Each day has 4 routes and sets of checkpoints that give varying degrees of distance and elevation, with the final day being generally shorter and flatter than the first two, to allow an earlier finish.

· Café – 60km and 3,000m of elevation

· Wainwright [short] – 80km and 4,500m of elevation

· Wainwright [long] – 100km and 6,000m of elevation

· Expert – 120km and 7,500m of elevation

Dave and I arrived at the start point after a lovely meal on the Friday with my Mum and brother and our registration was dealt with swiftly, meaning our packed kit bags (mandatory size and max weight) were deposited, safety tracker attached to running packs(with mandatory safety kit) and we got our map to look at ready for the next days’ adventures. We returned to mum’s figuring that we could get a better night’s sleep there and despite a 30 minute drive in the morning we would save by not having to pack the tent and deposit our ‘camp bag’ then. Also we had noticed in the final briefing that dogs were welcome for the event and even got a 5kg allowance (We decided that might me taking the mick as Willow is only a shade over 5kg when wet!)

After some faffing and planning the ‘best route’ for day 1 we finally got to bed for 11pm ready for an early start. We both decided to start with the Wainwright Long and see how we went.

The morning was clear and we woke up and were out of the house by the allotted time, ready to tuck into the breakfast Dave had pre-ordered. Driving along the side of Thirlmere Dave swore and said – “Gosh darn, all our cutlery and plates are packed!” We pressed on and turned into Keswick to see if we could find some early on a Saturday morning, the Gods were smiling on us and a service station that was just opened meant we had a hot coffee and buttie to go.

All that was left was to arrive on the start line, punch the clock and the event began! There was a fair crowd going up to the first checkpoint and Dave kindly ran with me, so we chatted and stayed together up to just below the summit of Sail, where I could see DM was chomping at the bit, so said I would see him at the end of the day. There were various route options to Hindscarth, but all of them involved losing quite a bit of height. It was possible to see the view of the days finish at Buttermere, with the camp set up. All the courses coalesced around lunchtime at the Honister Mine Cafe, and I spent 40 minutes getting food and water, which was to prove costly as the day went on, but competitors were happy to dogsit and I gave them tea and cake in recompense.

The trod up to Great Gable started fairly easily, but mist descended, and despite having a gpx file on my watch, a compass was needed to check the descent, which was clagged in. I started down the scree slope, managing Willow, who sensibly stayed above me, and I tried to avoid sending rocks down on my own ankles. I have never liked Great Gable, and I am no more enamoured of it now. The mist made navigation more difficult, but I reckoned I had enough time to make the cut-off at Kirk Fell, which I did – but there was still Haystacks CP and another CP to find, in the mist.

Haystacks is reputed to be ‘Wainwright’s favourite place’, and where his ashes are scattered, all I can say is that in the mist and rain its charms were lost to me. One more CP to go and the downward run to the end. I reached where I thought the CP should be, but no sight, of it and I spent a good 1/2 hour searching around, before giving it up as a bad job and descending to the finish with under an hour to go before the course closed and about 2km to cover. On my way down I found the final CP and Willow and I had a relatively easy canter to the end, with me thinking…. I wonder how I’ll find Dave.

He was there at the finish, as I’d forgotten that although he had the tent in his bag, all the food and cooking items were in mine! As he generously looked after the nutrition side whilst Willow and I sorted ourselves out he said, “Did you get my text?”

“Err No”

“Did you come down the front of Great Gable?”


“How was it?”


Dave also pointed out that the tent, (which had seen 25+ years of service) had a ‘bit’ of damage, ie Sun and rain had taken it’s toll, and as I slid inside I noticed that he’d put our cooking pots to collect the drips. We were quite glad of our mandatory bivi bags that night.

The camp was set up so that there was a token for a free piece of cake and a hot drink, and another for a beer at the end of each day. There was also hot water in abundance for dried meals. We made it to the beer tent at about 9pm, to study the map for the next day. I decided that I would shift to the Short Course and started looking at possible routes. At 10 we went to get some water for a bedtime brew… Dave “Do you know where the tent is?”

“Yes, I’ll get the water and see you there” I said with a degree of confidence that was entirely mis-placed…

40 minutes of looking in the dark for a tent in approximately the right area, but I couldn’t remember if it was green or grey….

I went back to the beer tent that was now deserted and wondered how warm I would be snuggled up in the bean bags in there…

I thought I’ll give it once last try, and Dave deciding that I had perhaps had a large degree of mis-placed confidence had fortunately come to find me. No one else was moving.

The next day I started slightly after Dave, after getting a welcome latte from the on-site caravan, the mist was still there and the rain, so the day started with full waterproofs. A trot back along the track I had come down the night before was the most obvious and then the trigpoint at Brandreth, it was navigating in poor visibility and I dutifully used my compass to measure the distance, took a bearing and kept not quite hitting the features I thought I should. It took me a few bearings to realise that I was measuring using a 1:50,000 rather than 1:40,000 scale.

I decided that given the weather conditions it was probably easier to drop into the valley at Black Sail and join the C2C path, rather than spending a day in the clouds. Willow and I started running along, and I thought that to make it a ‘nicer’ route, we use one of the exit points and ‘contour round’ the edge of the inbounds area, as the C2C was a gravelled track, and I was worried about her paws. I know from previous experience that traversing along boundaries is seldom easy, and the time I took to cover 4km was ages. I found myself pushing to make the cut-off at red pike, and was about 30 minutes adrift, so headed back to the finish along the banks of Buttermere – which was delightful. I finished again about 1/2 hour before the course cut-off. I had some lovely views and really enjoyed the trot along Buttermere and the support from all the team on the final run in was immense and the evening had turned into a fine one. There was a mandatory kit check at the end – which I passed, as I was still wearing most of it – but there were a lot of DQ’s due to not having full kit. Beer and pork scratchings on completion with a brilliant sunset was a perfect end to the day.

For the final day I had already decided that I would do the ‘Easier’ cafe course route, (which on still had 1000m of elevation.) Our start window was later than Dave’s so once the course opened it was straight up to Robinson’s, down to Little Town and up to Barrow.

On the way up my phone pinged with incoming messages, including a voicemail from Dave, I duly listened to it and realised it was the advice I needed two days before about not coming down the face of Gable! I met some folk, who were local and also had a terrier in tow and ran/walked with them. They were route setters and fell-runners, and the final day took in part of a route of a fell race they marked so I continued with them. They dived off for a wee, so I continued on and caught up with some Dutch runners. The climb up Barrow was relatively benign and the route off it was a delightful runable gradient down, pretty much all the way.

In the final field before I reached the underpass back to the start point I heard a ‘Sue’ and coming in from the left was Dave, so we were able to cross the finish line together.

I had a fantastic three days and would definitely recommend this event, you can choose your own level of challenge each day and the organisation was fantastic, ability to read a map and use a compass, is however, crucial. It improved my confidence no end. As an add in the lack of mobile signal was refreshing…


Willow and I : 84km and 6180m Dave: 101km and 7,358m ascent