3 day Ramsay's Round Recce

The final 24 hour round takes me to Scotland. Fort William is the new focus of my attention and specifically the 24 Munros (well technically 23 as 1 got demoted since Charlie’s Round in 1978) that makes up Charlie Ramsay’s round. I have previously been to Fort William on several occasions. At the end of my 2003 walk of the West Highland Way, on completing the WHW race in 2004, on doing the Lochaber Marathon twice (2005, 2006) and in doing the Ben Nevis Race in 2006. Even after all these trips the only 2 Scottish Munros I had “bagged” were Ben Lomond – a detour whilst walking the WHW – and Ben Nevis. So I embark on a real adventure. Over the coming months I will learn the Rmasay Round route in the same way I did the BG and PB.

Day 1 : Ben Nevis to Stob Ban and Back via Water of Nevis. A 12 hour Epic

19th Nov 2008
25 miles 11,000 feet

My first foray into the round beyond Ben Nevis was always going to be interesting. It was even more so because Bill Williamson and Will Houghton accompanied me to do the 3 days of recceing. Bill and Will both had set their sights on the CR as their next big challenge, after their completions of the Bob Graham round earlier in the year. Unlike me they decided to leave the Paddy Buckley round to be the last of the “big 3”. It meant that we could all contemplate making an attempt on the round together, and as the round is tough to get support for, we would all need to learn the route well as we could not guarantee good navigators on the hills on the attempt. After a long drive up the night before we set off on our recce at exactly 08:00 hrs from the Glen Nevis youth Hostel.

It felt good to be setting off from the start point of the route – I never did this on my recces in the lakes or in Wales until I had reccied most of the other sections first. So my first proper run into the Scottish hills would be the same as the start of the round. The weather was heavy and the forecast was for strong winds, the mild temperature was in our favour though, no ice hopefully. We made the top of Ben Nevis in reasonable time, our ascent was not on the ideal line, but 1 hr 50 wasn’t too bad. The top was cold and windy, so thicker jackets and gloves were adorned. Now the discovery began for me, and for Will it began when we set off from the Youth Hostel. Bill however new this ground pretty well and expertly guided us onto the Canr mor Dearg arĂȘte, a ridge line that ascends to the next Munro as a ridge for 1.5 miles all the way to the summit.

We then descended to the Col ready for an out and back to Aonoch Mor, up until this point the wind was noticeable but not too strong. But it seamed to pick up to storm force now and at times it was knocking us about. But the ground was good and the small pockets of snow were a help if anything. The descent off Aonoch Beag was interesting. Instead of taking a slightly safer longer route round, we decided to ease our way into a gully and ski (on fell shoes) down the snow filled gully. We all had a shot with varying degrees of success, but it as worth it for the entertainment value. At the Col my camera came out for the 2nd and last time. After this I wasn’t in any mood to get my camera wet in the incessant drizzle and horrific wind.

I don’t remember too much of the next few Munros except that some of the ridges were a battle against the wind, at times we were almost lifted off our feet and at other times we couldn’t move against it. I do remember being blown up the last steep part of Stob Coire an Laoigh and trying to stop myself before being blown into the summit nest cairn, and descending a rock strewn way off Stob Choire Claurigh whilst Bill and Will to the left of me made much better progress. Only a race decent, when I finally cleared the boulder field, allowed me to catch them at the bottom of Stob Ban.

Not fancying the battering that would come from the vicious wind again on the top, Bill had decided to miss out Stob Ban. Will and I continued up taking a pounding from the wind. We struggled to get off the top in the correct direction due to the incredible force of the wind. But once part way down, we soon made our way towards the alt Coire Rath. We caught Bill up after about ½ an hour of following the stream. We then decided to split up from Bill again. The plan was for Will and I to run ahead, do the 7 miles of bog hopping followed by 3 miles of road running back to the car. Then drive back up to Glen Nevis to pick up Bill. This would shorten the day a bit. Well that was the plan anyway!

It was all going well; even in the early 4 pm gloom we were making good progress, down the boggy side of the water of Nevis. But as we continually crossed over the river – to find better ground – we found ourselves on the left hand side of it. Unknown to us this is the wrong side. We continued to go up and down through boggy land that now and then forced us up away from the steep sides of the river. Eventually, just as will and I were tiring, and getting tired of the blackness in front, we came up against a 200 foot crag that jutted straight up from the river. Bills head torch now seemed nearer than ever, so knackered and having run out of food and water, we decided to wait for Bill.
In the mean time Will attempted to cross the flooding river and after almost getting swept away thought better of it. Bill reached us and shouted over the noise of the raging river, that we had to back track to the bridge. ½ a mile of back tracking got us to what Bill and the Scots call a foot bridge. I would call it more of a high wire with hand supports. One at a time we carefully edged our way across the 2 bits of steel cabling that was the foot part of the bridge 100 feet or so to the other side. Now on good ground we both felt happier. I was on the verge of bonking and so asked Bill for some food, he supplied me with a small amount of fruit cake. This revived me, and Will and I ran most of the 3 miles down the road to the car. We saved Bill about ¼ of a mile by picking him up. We all vowed that recce day 2 would have to be an easy one. We were all wasted, although the Indian and a couple of beer that night did partially revive us.

Day 2. The last 3 Munros

20th Nov 2008
16 miles 6,500 feet

Bill decided to have a rest day, due to the effects of the previous epic day. So Will and I vowed to have an easy run. So the last 3 Munros on the round were a good suggestion by Bill. The plan was to take a direct route from Glen Nevis up onto Sgurr a Mhaim. We started off on a well worn path at about midday, and missed the cut up directly onto the top. So having realised this we looked at the possibility of cutting across onto the ridge, we both decided that we would take the longer route and dismiss this potentially dangerous short cut. So we tracked along to Lochan Coire nam Maseach and then proceeded to do the out and back on the Devils ridge. This was a bit up and down, and in places very exposed. But we took care and made it across. Going on to the summit of Sgurr a Mhaim we got hit by a wall of wind that pushed us to the floor – we were getting used to this level of obstruction now. We fought our way onto the summit and huddled behind a, thankfully, large cairn. I, or rather Will quickly got the camera out of my rucksack, and we speedily took some photos before retreating. Luckily there was only snow on 1 side of this summit so when we set off through this snow I realised we were heading in the opposite direction, a quick about turn and we were off fighting our way back down and across, the thankfully relatively sheltered ridge.

The next 2 Munros Stob Ban and Mullach Nan Coirean Were relatively uneventfull, occasionally we would take the usual battering from the icy wind. But as we started to descend the final Munro the wind gave us a pasting so hood in hand we fought our way off the summit. In failing light I missed the descent line, and instead of taking the right hand ridge we veered off to the broader left ridge. This lead us to the wrong part of the Sron Riabhach Forrest, and consequently we got lost. After the best part of an hour of me cursing and Will trying to draw positives, we donned head torches and vowed to continue to the end of the track. The end of the track was where it joined the West Highland Way. Luckily I had done it twice and so recognised the thistle symbol. We then followed the route to the Restaurant, which ironically brought us out about ½ mile form the bunkhouses we were staying at, and about 3 miles from Glen Nevis, were the car was.

So after a quick stop to de-cloth, we ran most of the way down the road through the blackness back to retrieve the car. 6 hours 10. Not exactly an easy day. But I suppose its all relative.

Day 3. The Mamores dressed for winter

21st Nov 2008
9 miles 5,000 feet

After a day of rest Bill was keen to have a look at the Mamores so we decided on a run based on what would be the first 4 Munros of our clockwise attempt. We drove from our base in fort William to Mamore lodge just above Kinloch Leven. From here we would start our run.

It was a cold start to the day and it took a while before we warmed up a bit. By the time we headed off the shooters track and up the side of Sgurr Elider Mor it was snowing and I was now warm everywhere except for my feet. Going through the snow line meant trudging through slushy snow. This was a learning curve for me as I have, until know, avoided going for runs in the lakes in such conditions. I was about to learn the value of Seal Skinz socks over my inadequate Thorlos.

So with numb feet we climbed steadily onto the shoulder of Sgurr Elider Mor this was in the form of a plateau area. Unfortunately at the same time it stopped snowing, the wind picked up and as we passed by Coire an Lochain and we got blasted by spin drift whipped along by a fierce wind, this was another painful lesson in winter conditions. I started to – for the first time – see the point in balaclavas and ski goggles!

Eventually we ascended the steep southern slope up onto Sgurr Elider Mor, this was a tricky ascent due to the rocks being covered in powder snow. I ran up the grassier parts in a vain attempt to get some feeling back into my toes. We made the top after some precarious boulder hopping and were met by a fairly strong wind. A quick look at the snowy vista, and a shocking look at how far Ben Na Lap is away (this is will be the previous Munro on the round) and we sped off down the snowy slopes. A fast descent led us to the track that skirts Binnein Mor. We decided to miss out the out and back to Binnein Beag as the conditions were proving a bit testing and the skies looked threatening. So at the Col we took a left turn and headed for Binnein Mor. Will and Bill took a line out to the right which was a less steep incline leading to the ridge. I shouted to them “are you taking the tourist route” I was to rue those words. My steep more direct route onto the ridge was quick but the snow kept giving under my feet, so I had to dig my hands in the snow for more traction. Anyway after what felt like an extreme cardio gym work out I finally made the ridge. The small consolation was that I had warmed up and I had time to get the camera out and take some really good photos of Will and Bill ascending the ridge. Another bonus was that the camera had defrosted after its ice induced erratic behaviour on Sgurr Elider Mor.

A blasting by the wind on Binnein Mor and we quickly descended to a sheltered are for a bit of respite. We then ascended the small bit of ridge and were on the last part of Na Gruagaichean before we knew it. We even had to check the maps to make sure that we were already there. Normally you have to fight harder for a Munro on this round, but this one seemed easy, it probably won’t feel that easy next June!

From the summit Bill pointed out the next 3 Munros, and we decided that we had done enough for the day and descended down the snowy West flank of Na Gruagaichean. We made a rapid descent in the nice snow covered grass, only pausing to observe 30 deer running across the valley bottom. We carried on and 20 minutes later we were back at the car. Not a long day out – only about 5 hours, but it was fun, and my first taste of true winter conditions.

It had been a great 3 days of recceing in Scotland. We topped it off by going to a get together at Stair Village hall near Keswick on the way home. Will and I did a half day half night reverse run around the Anniversary Waltz. We then had a few beers with some good running friends. A kip on the floor, and then we set off home to end a great 4 days of Fell running.
Lancaster Half Marathon
9th November 2008

A cold windier than Ideal day was the setting for 1 of my local half marathons. It had been 4 years since I had done a half marathon and decided it was time to lower my PB from 1 hr 32, set in May 2004 at the Chester half. So I lined up determined to break 1 ½ hours. I pushed hard at the start into the head wind on the mainly out and back course. On reaching the edge of Glasson the course joins the road before looping back onto the cycle track and back the way we had come. After setting off too quickly I struggled at the end even though I had the wind at my back, and my lack of fitness started to tell. I hung on to the chance of sub 1 ½ hours. I pushed hard at the end to make sure I didn’t let it slip, and as I entered the running track I knew I had it. To my relief I achieved something I knew I was capable of, plus 1 29.44 sounds better than 1 31.54.
The winner was Dave Norman in 1 09.39 and I came in 71st out of 419 runners.