View from the Middle
19th June 2010
Report by Keith Burns
What a privilege to be on Arran in perfect summer weather – for relaxing with an ice cream on the beach in Brodick; but not such a perfect temperature for this formidable circuit of the fantastic Glen Rosa cragscape. A start line of 122 runners set off in sultry warmth that was not conducive to aggressive competition at all, at least for me; but when you have so many familiar faces swarming around your own particular patch of the turf you quickly get caught up by the competitive bug despite the innere schweinehund. Comeback Kid Dougie Shiell was my first agent provocateur as we crossed the Rosa Burn at the bridge and the field began to split.
The choice for Ben a Chliabhain is between the left and right extremes of tourist path and the diretissima from the glen. I chose a middle way and at first judged that I had made useful ground on a few diretissima enthusiasts – until I met tourist-path promoter Dougie on the ridge, confirming that there was little to choose between them all (although I suspect Dougie banked some reserve energy by avoiding the copious tussock and bracken on the glen side). The gentle granite slabs on the ridge approach offered delightful scrambly relief from the undergrowth lower down.
The vertiginous descent of Chliabhain’s grassy gully forced me back down the pecking order as I struggled with very painful descending legs from too much recent Alpine holiday cycling; so much so that I spent the crossing of the desperate Coire Daingean heather jungle considering withdrawal before Chir Mhor. Resuming ascent mode on the baking granite of Cir Mhor I had a consultation with pain consultant Colin Wilson and he slipped me a double strength painkiller. The Cir Mhor descent showed that Colin’s generous therapy was working, so I shelved thoughts of retirement for a review in Fionn Choire at the base of the Rosa slabs. A good line around the slabs involved a brief glutinous man-eating bog that provided a pleasant cooling mud bath in the sweltering heat of the glen. I clawed back a few places hereabouts and this displaced any further thoughts of retirement. The Saddle is go-for-broke point and I cleared it with restored spirits despite being hauled back to the marshal who (correctly) was at the highest point of the tourist track to Glen Sannox rather than my careless choice of the real saddle a hundred meters away. This is a subtle trap for those who don’t study the course spec. carefully.
The long climb up the North Goat Fell slabs and gravel confirmed I could still muster a bit more effort to avoid serious place slippage, and I was helped by a cool refreshing breeze from Cioch na Oighe. Just at the right moment I spied Tilly Smith scooting along a goat track around the topmost granite tor and I set off in grateful pursuit. From the Stacach bealach I shot along my well-rehearsed lower ledge route like a ferret up a drainpipe and gained more places on the bold adventurers on the tapering ledges above me. Colin W and Joanne A appeared ahead, the first time I had seen them since they left me for dead on the Cir Mhor descent. Dougie S was pursuing close behind. I gulped electrolyte down to prepare for the last half hour. When Joanne asked for water from the Goat Fell marshals they didn’t have any, so I nobly offered my bottle to her with the instant thought that if I ran away whilst she was drinking, I would get a head start and she would have to bring it down for me (I had no further need for it). Not to be caught out by this sly trick she rushed after me and handed it back with grateful gasps. The curtain was up on the final act as Colin, Joanne and I plunged down the slabs. Somehow avoiding falls we left the east ridge and passed Andy M limping along with cramp in walking wounded mode. There were no more challenges other than avoiding getting lost in the forest. I staggered over the finish line pretty ragged after almost 4hrs of the most fabulous mountain running you could find anywhere. Results – who cares? Much thanks to all who make it possible, especially the organiser and his team. What a day!!
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