James Forrest in action during his unsupported round of the Wainwrights. Photo: www.inov-8.com/Dave MacFarlane

James Forrest in action during his unsupported round of the Wainwrights. Photo: www.inov-8.com/Dave MacFarlane

In a year that has seen numerous UK outdoor records falling, walker James Forrest has added to the tally by posting the quickest time for a Lakeland challenge.

The 37-year-old adventurer and journalist from Cockermouth has completed the fastest known self-supported continuous round of the Wainwrights.

The peak-bagging feat was achieved in 14 days and 11 hours.

Hiking alone with no support crew or pre-arranged help, Forrest carried all his kit and camping equipment in a large rucksack. He occasionally re-supplied along the route with food and gas that he had earlier stashed in secret locations along the route.

The inov-8 brand ambassador walked 525km (328 miles) with 36,000m (118,110ft) of ascent, the equivalent of four times the height of Everest, and wild camped for 14 consecutive nights during the adventure.

The journalist and author hiked an average of 13 hours a day, battling often brutal weather conditions. He wild camped amid the remote fells, and also slept overnight in a cave, a barn and a church.

The challenge beat what is believed to be the previous record of 25 days, set by Jack Roberts in 2017.

Forrest said he adhered to leave-no-trace principles during his trip, camping responsibly by carrying out all litter, never lighting fires, and pitching late and leaving early.

The fastest supported completion – and overall record – is held by inov-8 ultrarunner Paul Tierney who, in June 2019, ran the Wainwrights round in 6 days, 6hrs 5mins, beating Steve Birkinshaw’s previous best by almost seven hours. Both runners were supported by pacers and a roadside support team.

Forrest said: “I have a newfound respect for the ultrarunners who have run the Wainwrights in under a week – I have no idea how they got around so quickly.”

“My approach was very different, however. Hiking alone and without a support crew added an extra layer of difficulty to my expedition, particularly the discomfort of camping in depressingly damp conditions after a long day of hiking.”

The former bored office worker turned intrepid adventurer who has set a number of mountain-bagging hike records across the UK and Ireland said: “I am ecstatic with the time I’ve set and so relieved to have finished.

“The atrocious weather transformed the journey into a rather gruelling and traumatic experience. I’ve never felt so utterly miserable and unhappy on a mountain before. I thought the torrential rain and strong winds would never stop.

“But I’m so happy that I found the strength and resilience to keep going and make it to the finish line. It was really emotional arriving into Keswick, cheered on by friends and family. That moment will stay with me forever.

“It has been the challenge of a lifetime. I love the Lake District and – if I can somehow forget the thrashings I took from the weather gods – I hope the enduring memories of my expedition will be the times when the sun did shine and I relished the peace, beauty and escapism of Lakeland.

“The Lake District is a special place and we should all respect and look after it.

“In some ways I loved the solitude and tranquillity – and I relished test of being entirely self-reliant. But dealing with the rather crushing mental lows by myself was incredibly difficult. There were a few times when I was in tears, ready to quit and throw in the towel, but I managed to pull through.

“I hope my journey has inspired some people to seek out the mountains and adventures in the great outdoors – they can have a massively beneficial impact on your mental health. Just make sure you pick a good weather window.”

The adventurer completes his record-breaking round in Keswick. Photo: Nicola Hardy

The adventurer completes his record-breaking round in Keswick. Photo: Nicola Hardy

The challenge walker followed the route Steve Birkinshaw planned in 2014, which Tierney also used. Starting and finishing in Keswick, it traverses the 214 summits featured in Alfred Wainwright’s seven-volume Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.

Forrest said: “Steve’s route is incredibly clever and efficient – and I thank him for sharing it with me. He even came to see me on Blencathra and that was a lovely moment that really gave me a boost when I needed it.”

Throughout the adventure the inov-8 ambassador wore just one pair of the brand’s boots, the Roclite G 345 GTX with Graphene-Grip.

Lee Procter, inov-8 global communications and ambassadors manager, said: “It was a case of Hike, Forrest, Hike! What James achieved is amazing. He got to grips with some of England’s toughest hiking terrain, moving fast over it every day for almost three weeks.

“He has banked up many stories from this epic solo adventure and we can’t wait to hear them all.”

James Forrest previously completed a triple-crown of peak-bagging expeditions covering 1,001 peaks across the UK and Ireland. In 2017 he climbed all 446 mountains over 2,000ft in England and Wales – the Nuttalls – in just six months, the fastest known time. In 2018, he bagged all 273 600m mountains in Ireland and Northern Ireland, known as the Vandeleur-Lynams, in just eight weeks, another record. And he finally completed his 1,001-mountain challenge by bagging all 282 munros, mountains over 3,000ft in Scotland, in 2019.

He is the author of Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six Months. One record-breaking adventure.

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