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Stephen Pyke on the Bob Graham Round a few weeks ago I did the Bob Graham round with friends over three days in very wintry conditions recently. I had decided to try out the Kahtoola Microspikes for the first time. I was unsure whether I would need them or not, but at 360g for the pair it didn't seem like a big weight penalty to carry them. Day 1 was Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra, followed by a steep drop to Threlkeld. Refuelling, then a big climb up to the long ridge running south, crossing Helvellyn and taking in Fairfield and Seat Sandal to finish at Dunmail Raise. There were patches of snow above 750m but I didn't feel the need to put the spikes on as it was pretty flat running for the most part. I woke to fresh snow at valley level, and as we were crossing the Central Lakeland Fells I thought there was a greater chance of using the Microspikes.
It started relatively low level running through a couple of centimetres of fluffy powder in the sunshine, starting with Steel Fell then heading over to the Langdale Pikes and heading to Rosset Pike. I was last there a couple of months ago on the Langdale Horseshoe race, squelching through the permabog of Martcrag Moor. This time it was bone hard and frozen solid- quicker than previous and a lot more pleasant. After Rosset Pike the route goes very steeply up Bowfell, and here the patches of old snow were inclined at 35 degrees. Out with the 'Spikes and despite cold hands they were a total doddle to put on. 2 out of the 7 of us didn't have any and they were slithering around feeling insecure and significantly slower.
I found the grip adequate though not as good as a crampon with longer spiky bits. But clearly they come with a weight penalty. I also think that had the snow have been harder they would have gripped better, and certainly on ice such as frozen paths they were excellent. I took them off for a while until we reached Scafell. Others kept theirs on and with well padded trail shoes they said they barely noticed them. I found with thinner soled fell shoes I was aware of them, so perhaps if conditions had dictated wearing them for hours as a necessity a different shoe choice would have been a good idea. Steve wore his for at least a couple of hours with no discomfort and swears by them, running throughout last winter in his pair. Scafell loomed in the afternoon sunshine and after a quick look at Broad Stand I rapidly decided it would be a bad idea with verglas on the slab. The alternative was Lords Rake and I put the 'Spikes back on.
To access it you descend steeply and then traverse into the rake. This would have been very unpleasant in just shoes and the gully itself would also have not been much fun at all. But spiked up it was a doddle and in no time we popped out onto the summit plateau before the long descent to Wasdale. Day 3 was bluebird Alpine cold and a little windy. We headed east from Yewbarrow to Great Gable, then north crossing Honister, eventually to Keswick. My Spikes stayed in the bag but I was happy to carry them, knowing how useful they could be and how simple they are to put on and take off. So in conclusion they are a must have accessory for winter running. They certainly widen the scope of where you could safely go, and give you a lot of confidence. I could imagine using them in the Alps to approach rock routes early season, crossing old snow patches. In fact Steve said he did a Chamonix to Zermatt walk wearing only Microspikes as opposed to “proper” crampons. Light is right.
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