Author Interview: Karen and Dan Parker, Peak Bagging Wainwrights
- Thursday 28 October 2021
Dan and Karen Parker have been running and walking regularly in the Lake District fells for the last thirty years and have been keen orienteerers for the past fourty years. Karen is the current British age-group champion and a former international orienteer, and in his twenties and thirties Dan has ran the elite class in many mountain marathons, winning the LAMM elite course in 1996. The pair have also taken their hand to designing mountain marathon routes and had a hand in in creating the most efficient Wainwrights route which Steve Birkinshaw used to great effect when he broke Joss Naylor's long-standing record in 2014. Their knoweldge of the Lake District is unmatched as is evident in their new book, Peak Bagging Wainwrights. The pair now live in the Lowther Valley near Penrith. In the Q&A below, they discuss further their inspiraiton and motivation for writing the book.
1. Do you both have a favourite route? If so, which one and why?
Karen: The Mardale Skyine is probably my favourite. It has everything - lovely steep-sided rocky ridges, amazing views and history. There’s also the contrast between the typical craggy Lakeland fells of High Street and Mardale Ill Bell and the gentler rounded grass hills of Branstree and Selside Pike. The fact that it’s very close to where we live helps too.
Dan: Either “The Tops of Warnscale Botton” (Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks) or the High Stile Ridge (or both together for a perfect, if long, day). The views down onto Buttermere and into upper Ennerdale are some of the best around. The huge crags and rocky nature of the terrain add to the sense of adventure.
2. How was the process for completing this book? I imagine it was lengthy.
We’ve been walking and running in the Lake District Fells for more than thirty years so most of the routes were well known to us. The hard part was trying to divide the Wainwrights up into walks of around eight hours each, without repeating either tops or paths and without creating anything that felt too contrived. The consequences of adding or removing a summit from one walk could have a knock-on effect somewhere many miles away. Once we’d settled on the basic routes we went out and checked all the sections we didn’t know – mostly the lower-level paths connecting fells. It was a real pleasure to discover some place we didn’t know.
3. What was your main motivation for writing the book?
The honest answer here is that we were asked if we wanted to do it! We know Stephen Ross through our involvement with the Saunders Mountain Marathon and he thought that with our extensive knowledge of the fells, plus experience in devising interesting courses we would be suitable people to come up with attractive and suitable routes.
4. What has been the most memorable experience out on the fells?
Karen: Probably the first time I ever experienced the fells in winter. Many years ago, before Dan and I were even married, I did the Fairfield Hoseshoe with him and his family (who were very experienced fell walkers). It was bitterly cold, with snow on the tops and the occasional snow shower but it felt magical; I didn’t know that you were “allowed” to go up onto the fells on a day like that! Another experience that stands out is the first time I ever went out for a very long fell run on my own - the sense of being totally responsible for my own well-being in harsh terrain was amazing.
Dan: Running in the Wasdale Fell Race many years ago. It seemed like a real expedition crossing some wild and rough terrain I hadn’t visited before. The only down side was getting severe cramp on the final descent (of Lingmell), but apart from that it was perfect!
5. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Jones-Ross formula?
You should probably ask Stephen about this really! But our understanding is that it’s like the well-known Naismith’s rule in that it has an allowance for horizontal distance and an allowance for vertical distance. But Naismith’s rule is only applicable to routes where you do the same amount of climb as descent, and therefore doesn’t help for sections of a walk. The Jones Ross formula takes into account the fact that in most cases you walk more slowly going downhill than you would on the flat.
6. There are some stunning images in the book, how did you go about sourcing those?
Yes, some of them are amazing but the honest answer is that we can claim no credit. The team at Vertebrate found them. Our only contribution was to look at them and make sure they were relevant to the walk – it’s easy to get mixed up between the different Grey Crags in the Lakes!
Blencathra and Sharp Edge Sunrise ©Lake District Photography
7. What’s next for you both now that the book is completed?
We will probably spend more time orienteering, both in the Lakes and further afield. The pandemic has reduced the number of events being held, but hopefully it can get back to normal now. We are also Race Directors for the Saunders Mountain Marathon so that will keep us occupied. We have quite recently bought a campervan so we hope to spend time in Scotland finishing the Corbetts and Grahams, again activities that have been a bit curtailed by the pandemic.
8. Any advice for those who have never been to the lakes before and are stepping onto the fells for the first time?
One thing that often surprises people is that paths aren’t waymarked or signed. You might find a sign to show where to access a fell but then it’s up to you. Paths can be tricky to follow too even where they look obvious on a map. GPS devices certainly help a lot with this, but so does experience.
The other thing is a bit of a cliche, but it still catches people out – remember that if you notice it’s windy when you’re starting a walk, you are likely to be struggling to stand upright on the tops.
Peak Bagging Wainwrights is available to pre-order now with 20% off and free UK postage.