Upper Calder Valley 13 Trigs – Solo Self Supported
Words by Ricky Parrish
The Upper Calder Valley 13 Trigs is an ultra-distance fell running challenge posted on gofar.org.uk which has been on my radar for quite a while now. I penciled it in for May 2021, but life got in the way and I had to cancel. Just as well really as the weather that day was atrocious. This coincided with many of the travel restrictions easing so suddenly I found myself up in the Lakes or Snowdonia every other weekend, making the most of it for fear of having it snatched away by further lockdowns. I’d spend the following months harbouring slightly unrealistic ideas of a summer Bob Graham on 31st July, putting the 13 trigs on hold and almost forgotten about completely/
31st July quickly came round and I definitely wasn’t ready for a Bob Graham Round, having strung legs 1 and 2 together at the start of the month, kicking down any false confidence and optimism about getting round this year (its coming though!). However, I had this date clear in my mind for a challenge, so I turned my attention back to the 13 Trigs
So what is the 13 trigs route? Simple really, it’s a round of 13 trig points surrounding the Upper Calder Valley moors. I believe it was put together by John Riley of Calder Valley Fell Runners. I have no idea how many people have completed the challenge, but the record is currently 8 hours and 11 minutes set by Simon Bourne in 2012. I am surprised that with the explosion of “FKT’s” (shudders) during the coronavirus pandemic that no one has gone after this record (at least not to my knowledge). I know of several people who could have a really good run at it too.
Starting and ending at the front doors of Mytholmroyd Community Centre, it’s a trig bagging round extending over roughly 45 miles with somewhere around 2000m of climbing, all depending on route choices of course. Having put in a lot of big miles in more mountainous terrain, I’d have to put a lot more running in and a lot less hiking, which was sure to be a slight shock to the system.
The list of trigs to visit are as follows:
Crow Hill (Sowerby), Manshead End, Dog Hill, White Hill, Blackstone Edge, Little Holder Stones, Trough Edge End (Freeholds Top), Bridestone Moor, Hoofstones Height, Standing Stone Hill, High Brown Knoll, Nab Hill and Sheepstones Edge
I spent Friday night driving round the valley dropping water bottles in 3 key positions. 2 bottles near the White House at Blackstone Edge, 2 at Bridestone and 2 near the National Trust car park at Hardcastle Crags. These turned out to be perfectly positioned and as a result I never ran out of water, just needing a top up right as I reached these points.
I set off around 9:20 on Saturday morning, enjoying a bit of light rain, a bit of a breeze and overcast conditions, which would remain for the majority of the day. Perfect conditions for me as I struggle with the heat. I had deliberately decided not to put together any schedule or splits as the run was all about covering the distance and learning from it. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself, which really helped me sleep well in the week leading up to it. I set off nice and steady up to crow hill, hiking up the climb to get the feel of the pace and then steady jogging along the flat common over Aaron Hill. I wasn’t too concerned over time at this point, I just wanted to get the pace right and settle in for a day’s consistent running. I knew I would go out and give it a good effort but at the same it was a new distance for me so needed to make sure those first hours in particular were done right. Since races have been back on I’ve struggled with pacing. Its far too easy to get caught up in that race frenzy and burning out soon after, so I was keen to really nail my pacing so that I could enjoy the day’s adventure.
So how do I begin describing what was actually a reasonably uneventful run? You’d think after a total of 47 miles and 2000m of elevation that there would several incidents to write about. The truth is, it all went swimmingly with very little drama, especially in the first half. For most of the run I was feeling good and running at a nice comfortable pace and trying to eat something every 20 – 30 minutes. I reached in Walsden in around 4 hours, which I felt was a good pace. I did have to remind myself though that all of the big climbs are in the 2nd half of the round, so I couldn’t really expect to keep the same pace going.
From Walsden, I settled into a strong walk up towards trough edge end up the road from the valley floor. I was conscious of not trying to push it too much on the hills so just kept to a strong hike and made sure I kept myself fed and watered. Once off the road and onto the fell, I ditched my bag for an out and back up to the trig point, which felt amazing as always. The gate at the top to access the trig point was blocked off by a herd of cows in front of it. I’m quite nervous around cows but I wasn’t running all this way and not reaching that trig, so I started waving and shouting and showing them who’s boss. You never quite know what you’re going to get with a herd of cows but fortunately this lot weren’t up for a fight! I came down off the summit and across inchfield pasture, again playing dodge the cows. Lots of calves about too so really had to be careful. I’ve taken direct lines across inchfield countless times now on the Tod Graham but never once have I got it spot on, this time ending up waist deep in a re-entrant having not hit the path I was aiming for neither getting a good line over the moor. Not sure how I did that considering the visibility was great.
Coming through Todmorden I treated myself to a can of coke. mmmmm. This is always no. 1 on my cravings during a long run so I slowed it down and enjoyed an ice cold can during the hike up to Bridestone moor. I was feeling on top of the world! I still felt like I was moving well and with purpose, hiking hard up the hill to find my next water stash. Things were starting to hurt a bit and the run along the road and up to Hoofstones Height was a bit of a drag. I do the basic amount of road running I can get away with, so always feel sluggish and demoralized on any extensive road sections. God knows how I will respond when I do eventually attempt the Bob Graham with that hefty road section at the end!
Once off the road though it felt quite quick up to the trig point as I continued to power hike with purpose. I broke up it up in my head a bit by just focusing on the next section down to the NT carpark at Hardcastle Crag, rather than the whole thing. I knew this section should be fairly runnable with a bit of downhill to keep the momentum going. Unfortunately I came to realise that Noah Dale is almost as shitty during the summer as it is in the winter, with bog and tussocks just lurking, waiting to gobble up tired fell runners. Reading Simon Bourne’s report on Gofar, I noticed he had found this section a little depressing, and there was no difference here, as I started to slip into a low patch during this section, still moving ok but just starting to really feel the strain a bit. I think it might be down to having done that climb up to bridestone, slogged along the road to Hoofstones and looking forward to a nice runnable, downhill section, only to be faced with sloppy bogs and tussocks. I guess it can just knock the wind out of your sails a little. But I suppose a slight low patch was bound to happen at some point along the way. I persevered and managed to get to standing stone hill where things picked up a bit. I took a minute to sit down and then jogged down to the flagstones on the Pennine way where I really managed to get moving again for some nice running down towards Slack and Heptonstall. Low patch survived, crisis averted!
I picked up my final water stash on the climb up to the war memorial. Alice was watching me on my beacon safety tracker on strava and had been impressed by how well I was moving all day, but noted how I seemed to be slowing as I made my way onto the final section of the round up through pecket well and onto the moor. Again, I just settled into a hike up the hill, using the Heptonstall Festival Race route, although somehow almost missing the trig pint completely. I’d just crossed the 8 hour mark and had it in my head that I could get round the final section in an hour, which was a massive over-estimation, forgetting that the run out to nab hill is actually quite a drag and also an out and back. Even though its pan flat, at this stage it was tough to get moving and after a couple of minutes of running I would have to break it up with a short walk for a few seconds before repeating. My stomach was also beginning to finally protest at the amount of sugary crap that I’d been filling it with, so the walk breaks were becoming more and more frequent. I just made sure I kept moving forwards rather than stopping altogether. Just keep moving, that’s all its about right?
The Nab Hill section was definitely my least favourite of the day. It really is grim up there, with litter and fly tipping everywhere. Such a shame, a real scar on the landscape.
Moving on swiftly, as I didn’t fancy hanging around up there, I headed back along the drainage ditch and towards the final trig of the day. I actually found myself putting in a burst of pace across Dimmin Dale and Sheepstones Edge. Where did that come from? Moments earlier I’d been stumbling around through tussocks and the next minute I’m gunning it up the final hill and running hard and fast (at least it felt that way) to the final trig as though it’s the finish line. I thought I might be able to dip under 9:30 but I would have to really smash the downhill in about 10 – 15 minutes, which is pretty fast on a short run. It was ambitious and I soon realized pretty much impossible for me to put in one of my faster descents, but I made it back to the community centre in 9:34, timing it to perfection as Alice was just walking by on her way home from work and congratulated me with a can of coke, some chips and some chocolate. It was really nice to finish and hang out with Alice whilst I tried to make sense of what I’d just done.
I have really come to love personal challenges of this kind. I have found myself struggling with races and just not really enjoying them like I did pre-covid. I hope it comes back as I used to love racing but there is something really pure a challenge where its just me against the hills and a great way to explore. I love the planning, working out the route, trying out different options, the trial and error. I guess in a race you’re almost restricted in some ways whereas I find personal challenges to be incredibly freeing and just great adventures.
It would be good to see more take up of the round from local runners and I’m sure Simon’s current record of 8:11 is there for the taking.
Splits (Taken off strava so give or take here and there)
Crow Hill – 34
Manshead – 1:02
Dog Hill – 1:35
White Hill – 2:16
Blackstone Edge – 2:48
Little Holder Stones – 3:37
Trough Edge End – 4:33
Bridestone – 5:40
Hoofstones – 6:09
Standing Stone Hill – 6:42
High Brown Knoll – 7:55
Nab Hill – 8:26
Sheepstones Edge – 9:10
MCC – Finish – 9:34
Total Distance: 47 Miles
Total Elevation: 2000m