Hard to know where to start with this one, so how about a couple of quotes?
Five years ago (after completing the Tranter’s Round that’s niggled me ever since for starting so well but breaking down badly towards the end), I wrote…
Although the elite hill runners have now moved on to Ramsay’s Round, Tranter’s (at upwards of 36 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent) is still both a taxing expedition and a very worthwhile objective for the rest of us!
And, just a month ago (while ‘thinking aloud’ here), that ‘E’ word was still rearing its ugly head as I wrote…
we’re talking about an absolutely elite hill-running challenge in Ramsay’s Round, and one that’s maybe beyond me even at the top of my game.
So how am I going to get out of that one now I’ve actually done it? Can’t deny calling it ‘elite’ more than once, but I’m not an elite hill runner by any means. Just a guy who likes running, put in a lot of training (maybe too much in the end?), wanted something very badly, got some friends to help bully him into achieving it and ultimately just had to keep going because the thought of having to do it all over again another time was scarier than forcing himself to finish it there and then!
Now, planning these things weeks out when you’re at the mercy of the Highland weather leaves plenty of scope for uncertain outcomes and we got Uncertainty with a capital ‘U’ this weekend with low cloud in spades (no nearly full moon to light up the most crucial part of the night!), periods of rain and cold, gusty winds all stacked up against drier spells and one briefly glorious section of early morning sun from Stob Choire Claurigh to Stob Coire an Laoigh.
Setting off on our anti-clockwise round from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 12:10pm Saturday (we’d been aiming for 12:00pm but been held up by heavy traffic), Jon and I were almost immediately subjected to a heavy shower as we ran up the forestry track towards Mullach nan Coirean. But (whether despite or because of the persistent low cloud) running conditions stayed good for some time after that with pleasantly cool air and little real rain or wind contributing to a Mamores traverse that went like clockwork apart from my usual stunt of losing the path on the rocky descent of Binnein Beag (see map, 1). Times as follows:
- Mullach nan Coirean 1:26pm
- Stob Ban 2:01pm
- Sgurr a’ Mhaim 2:47pm
- Sgurr an Iubhair 3:07pm
- Am Bodach 3:24pm
- Stob Coire a’ Chairn 3:49pm
- An Gearanach 4:08pm
- Na Gruagaichean 4:55pm
- Binnein Mor 5:17pm
- Binnein Beag 5:56pm
- Sgurr Eilde Mor 6:48pm
So on to the gloriously runnable descent NE from Sgurr Eilde Mor towards Luibeilt, a bonus crossing of the Abhainn Rath to pick up the better path on the north side when we’d have been happy to take the south had the river been up and a rendezvous with Gavin (who’d managed to read just four pages of his book before our unexpectedly early arrival!) at Creaguaineach Lodge. Then to Beinn na Lap in daylight and the steeper (and darker!) slog up Chno Dearg to take us an hour ahead of Charlie Ramsay’s original schedule, but it’s suddenly very dark (now, where’s that moon?), cold, wet and windy and we’re quickly spending that precious time we’d banked with half a sole off one of Jon’s new shoes and needing repair, more clothing required for everyone and tortuous navigation (map, 2) round the surprisingly indistinct ridge to Stob Coire Sgriodain. After which yet more time goes begging as our path ‘northwards’ off a dark, dark Sron na Garbh-bheinne (map, 3, taken because we thought we’d cut west to gnarly ground a bit soon last Saturday) turns out to be nearer eastwards and we have to loop right back towards the Loch and our meeting with Ritchie and Noel at the Dam. Some moon starting to show through the clouds by this time, however, and (with a fresh Ritchie to boost the running team to four) we’re still over the Easains and heading for the Lairig Leacach (and dawn!) about 20 minutes inside Charlie’s schedule…
- Beinn na Lap 9:52pm
- Chno Dearg 11:17pm
- Stob Coire Sgriodain 12:32am (!)
- Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin 3:22am
- Stob Coire Easain 3:46am
Now, while I’d been feeling so strong and full of beans throughout the Mamores that I’d been (prematurely) imagining myself telling folk, ‘och, it wasn’t really that hard’, and Jon had (very prematurely) suggested that I was ‘a good 20% fitter’ than him, I’d also been conscious at times that my legs felt quite dead from the knees down and just weren’t driving me on the climbs like they should be. So who knows whether I’d simply overcooked my five-week post-WHW Race recovery/training/taper cycle or what, but Jon simply kept getting stronger and faster as I began to struggle from about halfway on.
Coming off Stob Coire Easain in the remaining rainy dark was still quite tricky for at least the steeper, rockier top part (map, 4) as Jon found a short ‘cliff’ barring the way, I fell down it as I followed his slippery traverse line along the top and Ritchie and Gavin retreated to take avoiding action higher up. After which our gang of four came close to becoming two instead of the intended three as Ritchie came galloping down out of the mist and into the Lairig trying to relocate us as Gavin turned for Spean with his ‘shift’ done. But then a real treat to follow the grind up the second Stob Ban and Stob Choire Claurigh (still with c.20 minutes ‘in hand’) as the clouds parted to let that early morning sunshine through for an hour or so.
Haven’t really got much to say about the Grey Corries (with Ritchie and Jon now always that bit in front and waiting at every peak for me to catch up) except that I’d maybe forgotten over the five years since I last did that ridge how fine it is… and how Ritchie and I think we’d have been quicker to run over the second Stob Coire Easain (a non-qualifying ‘top’) than follow Jon’s rabbit-like dash down the bouldery scree to its south! Then, with Sgurr Choinnich Mor in the bag, Sgurr Choinnich Beag (another non-essential top) more pleasantly traversed, time running short and Jon so obviously strong enough to complete his round where (despite all Ritchie’s bullying) I could see mine slipping away, I quite simply told him to leave us and go for it. So of course he protested that he’d feel guilty, but I said not half as guilty as I’d feel if he didn’t get it now and that was that!
While we’d originally planned to make the big climb up Aonach Beag by taking the scrambly Stob Coire Bhealaich head-on as I did on my Tranter’s Round, dripping rock everywhere quickly led Ritchie and me to the alternative well-trodden ‘gully’ under the overhang towards Coire a’ Bhuic. But then another (small) mistake as we took the tempting path traversing the south of Aonach Beag (map, 5… done that before!) to leave us a slightly steeper ascent to the summit. Quickly on to Aonach Mor and a big saving on Charlie’s schedule (handy when there’s no way I’m going to emulate his 68 minutes from Carn Mor Dearg to the finish!) where we know he went wrong on the original round, a passing meeting with Jon on his way back from the summit and then a much bigger mistake (map, 6) and a parting of the ways as we took a grotty little ridge SW off Seang Aonach Mor into Coire Giubhsachan instead of the broad west shoulder we should have been on. So I’m getting down this gnarly ground quicker than Ritchie (who calls out of the mist for me to carry on), discover the mistake, can neither see nor phone him (no signal), but know he’ll sort it out for himself, should catch me easily when he does and simply have to keep going. Slowly up that long ridge to Carn Mor Dearg with neither Ritchie to egg me on nor my priceless Lucozade Sport that he’s carrying, but I’m able to get a signal and leave him a message from the top (‘if you’re ahead of me please wait, otherwise I’ll see you when I see you’). Across the Arete, taking the ‘chicken-run’ path to its SE side when I’d normally go over everything, still struggling desperately for speed on my own (guessing slower than I’d do it on a normal day out), but I’m simply pacing for a finish now (forget fancy times because anything sub-24 is good enough!), know what I have to do and know I’m almost ‘home dry’ when I hit the top of the Ben with 65 minutes left on the clock. So down the first few zigzags to get myself really going, then straight down to the ‘grassy bank’ (now with a far more obvious ‘flight’ of steps worn in than I can ever remember), two of the usual shortcuts below the aluminium bridges, past many, many walkers on their way up (some of whom mutter ‘well done’ thinking I’ve just been for a run up the Ben?) and down ‘Heart Attack Hill’ to the Hostel with my heart singing because I know I’ve done it now!
- Stob Ban 5:23am
- Stob Choire Claurigh 6:03am
- Stob Coire an Laoigh 6:42am
- Sgurr Choinnich Mor 7:18am
- Aonach Beag 8:35am (Jon 8:28am)
- Aonach Mor 8:56am (Jon 8:48am)
- Carn Mor Dearg 10:03am (Jon 9:41am)
- Ben Nevis 11:05am (Jon 10:31am)
- Finish 12:00pm (Jon 11:17am)
So that’s basically it, with Ramsay’s Round completions for me in 23:50 and Jon (the pacer who stayed to outrun his ‘runner’!) in 23:07… although I mustn’t forget to tell you (completing the happy story) that Ritchie found his way off Aonach Mor (hoping I wasn’t waiting down there for him!) and over the last two peaks to arrive back at the Hostel just minutes after me. While the track I’d plotted beforehand in Memory-Map tallies exactly with the ‘official’ figures of 56 miles and 28,500 ft of ascent, what I actually ran comes out at 60.0 miles or 96.6 km and I’d suggest that longer length as a safer figure for planning when you’re pretty well bound to do something wrong. As for ‘my first and last Ramsay’s Round’, that means exactly what it says and, while I hope to run further Tranter’s Rounds in both summer and winter and could be persuaded to pace someone for part of the big one, I’ve no intention of ever confronting Charlie Ramsay’s monster in its entirety again (think Jon’s feelings are similar)! But that’s not to deny its significance to me for one moment when it’s the realisation of a cherished ambition I long believed to be beyond me and absolutely up there with two West Highland Way Race finishes and my (sailing) victory with Sandy Loynd in the 2003 Scottish Two-Handed Race as the greatest ‘sporting’ achievements of my life.
To Jon, Gavin, Ritchie and Noel, I really don’t know what I can say that’s adequate, so I won’t say anything more here. You know I couldn’t have done it without you, and I hope that’s enough. :-)
(All photos by Noel except full team photo + Beinn na Lap by Gav and Stob Choire Claurigh by Ritchie.)