Mark Higginbottom’s Ramsay Round
24th and 25 August 2010

I’d been interested in doing a round for a number of years, having done a Bob Graham back in 1995, but the lure of Summers in the Alps, and not being able to try in June because of work had prevented a serious attempt.

Eventually the successes of other Carnethy members, and brother Tim’s record breaking success on the Paddy Buckley goaded me into action. Despite not racing in the hills too much in the last few years, I was still regularly running long mountain days, I had been doing some adventure racing and I had been cycling competitively. In April Jacqui persuaded me to put in a late entry for the Highlander mountain marathon, and we won the mixed class without any undue side effects from my past niggles. At the half way camp conversation was about record breaking long runs by Tim and Chris and their friends, and as is often the case, being surrounded by positive attitude it begins to rub off.

I decided to make my first attempt during our school half term, and therefore did a recce of the last few Mamores, and the descent off Mullach nan Coireann. The attempt itself at the end of May was over before it started: a bad night’s sleep followed by appalling weather over the Ben saw me coming down the ski slopes from Aonach Mor after a 3 am start. At least it meant that I was able to recce the first few hills.

Since I was going to be working through June and the full moon of July, I now changed my plans to a midday start, with the Treig munros in the dark, rather than trying to complete the round in daylight. I managed to fit in another recce, of the Treig circuit, and had a confidence boosting run at Glenshee, where I had a chat with Alan Smith about his recent Ramsay’s, and how his food at Fersit had been attacked by a wild boar. My food stash in May had been carefully drilled into by mice. Luckily it was Jacqui’s rucksack.

The end of August was therefore my last opportunity of the year. I wanted to make the attempt by myself, basically to see what happened. I quite enjoy being by myself in the hills, and the prospect of a night out running was both exciting and intimidating. Finally a hint of a weather window arrived, with rain and high winds on Tuesday morning improving to a good Wednesday morning. The timing was perfect, coinciding with the full moon, and I wanted to be running into good weather on the Mamores, rather than struggling to survive.

I left home on the Tuesday as the kids went to school, stopped for bacon butties at the Tea room in Dalwhinnie, left my tin of food and my head torch at Fersit, and headed round to Glen Nevis. I drove to the end of the Glen, and saw the forestry work, but I thought there would still be a way down the normal descent through the unharvested trees. Finally I got ready, and frittered away some minutes until 2pm.

I carried an inov8 rucksack, with full waterproofs, a spare fleece and a Wild Country emergency shelter, as well as my phone. I had resurrected an old sports watch to collect splits for the tops. Sadly for some reason only the Mamores splits survived. I had left a schedule which I could refer to with text updates, but in the end I was too focused on the job in hand to text, except after about seven hours, and it wasn’t until Jacqui rang late on Wednesday morning that we spoke.

There were still lots of folk going up the Ben, and lots descending, looking pleased that the rain had finally stopped. I kept to the main path until the Red Burn, where I entered cloud and followed the race route. I was following a schedule I’d adapted from Nicky Spinks’ 22.30ish round in 2009, and I was keen to keep to it in daylight. I lost a bit of time on the Ben, probably because of not taking enough shortcuts, but I was gaining from then on. By the time I reached Aonach Mor the cloud was gone, and although a chilly wind remained, there was enough blue sky and sunshine to keep warm. I found the right gully off Aonach Mor (recognised from the photo on Charlie Ramsay’s website) and set off along the Grey Corries, gaining a minute or so each peak, and able to take all the right lines in the good visibility. Coming off Stob Choire Claurigh I saw the only other (real) people between Ben Nevis and Mullach nan Coireann, two figures just below the lochan on the col. For a minute I wondered if they were running the other way, but they seemed to be collecting water, although I could not see any tents anywhere.

I was relieved to see that the river in the Lairig Leacach was no higher than my last visit, and I was able to follow the correct stream to the summit of Stob Coire Easain: there is a faint trod up to the left of the stream which makes a big difference on this long climb.

By the next top, however, I was beginning to be concerned by how much daylight was not left. After extensive web research on Wikipedia on crepuscular and nautical twilight, I was confident that I would reach the dam in the dusk. This was now patently not going to be the case, and I went down the hill at race speed, trying at least to get past the steep section before the light went completely. Having just about achieved this first aim, I was completely unable to spot the paths in the marsh, let alone the pillar to which I should be aiming. Instead, therefore, I made a beeline for the track I could just make out down by the loch. This is not a good route, and although the marsh was runnable everywhere, I found a lot of steep ground and a couple of unpleasant little clifflets. I was very relieved to find the track and plod down to the dam.

I always thought that Strathyre was the midgiest place in Scotland; the Fersit midgies would eat the Strathyre midgies for breakfast. They certainly devoured me, and my ten minute break was over in a couple of minutes as I stashed rubbish, crammed food in my bag and put on my headtorch and waterproof ready for a long cold breezy night.

I had expected to be reasonably brisk over the next three hills, but the moon was only just rising on the wrong side of the ridge, and Stob Coire Sgriodain was utterly black, with only the ridge distinct and far off. I hit some of the ground from my recce, but with only a pool of light from the torch it was a long and tortuous ascent. I was also concerned about the knolls and the ridge to Chno Dearg, but this went reasonably well, slowly but without any major errors, as did the descent towards Beinn na Lap. After a period of bright moonlight, there was cloud down on this hill, and having dropped thirty minutes since the dam, I was frustrated that I was not able to regain some time running down to the big track from Corrour. Not only could I not find the excellent paths which I had used on my recce, I found that little subsidiary ridges were constantly pushing me North, and I was having to readjust my bearing all the time.

On the track to Treig I turned my headtorch off and enjoyed the moonlight for a bit. I felt at this point that I had broken the back of the round, and I remembered Steve Birkinshaw writing that if he got to the Mamores with ten hours remaining he could walk the rest in that time. Or something like that. I wanted to give myself as much as time as possible, so I ran the track sections quite hard, walking as little as possible. By this point I was finding eating very difficult. I wondered if I had had too much pork pie and salami bun for tea at Fersit, but I was not too concerned, and found that I could nibble little bits broken off bars and buns as I ran. I had some gels with me, and found these a real lifesaver. With hindsight, I would have taken more of these and binned most of the other food I carried uneaten from Fersit to Nevis. I am fairly sure that I ate no more than one fruit bar, half a salami sandwich, four gels and a drink powder sachet between Beinn na Lap and the end.

The path toward Luibelt was thoroughly waterlogged, although it did improve momentarily as the valley climbed. I was worried about crossing the river, but I knew that the North bank had the better path, and so I was prepared to gamble. The sound of the first waterfalls just past Staoineag did nothing to reassure me, however, and I hoped that the river broadened considerably further up the valley. Instead of a proper recce, I had spent some time looking at Google Earth, and I thought I had spotted where most people crossed higher up, but I did not want to continue all the way to Luibelt unless I had to. Eventually I found a meander where a shingle bank stretched almost all the way across the river. That left a five or six foot channel of deep, fast water, but when I put my torch on narrow beam I could see the shingle beneath the water shelving towards me: with a five foot jump from a tussock on my side I would be across. My four foot jump left me thigh deep in water, but with momentum, and thankful that Harvey’s maps are waterproof, I managed to get out the other side. I then stumbled through the dark marshes and streams to the bridge on the Kinlochleven track.

There was now a decision to be made: the direct line to the ridge on Sgurr Eilde Mor was recommended, and looked shorter, but I was going well on the track. In the end I took the direct line to the ridge which I could see in the moonlight, ignoring the compass bearing that I had tried to take. (Only when I got home did I realise the ineptitude of taking a compass bearing standing in the middle of a metal bridge.)

This was the low point of the round: the ground was undulating and indistinct, and since the moon had now been clouded once again I could not tell where hills and ridges merged into one another. Each time I thought I was onto the main ridge I found myself on another plateau, with the ridge some unfathomable distance above and beyond. About this time I also began to notice the sky beginning to lighten, and despite my earlier twilight incompetence, I was sure I wanted to be at the top of the hill before dawn.

In the end I arrived at the summit almost exactly one hour down on schedule. For a little while I was thoroughly despondent, wondering whether there was any point continuing. Then I remembered that I had been up on schedule in daylight, and could gain as well as lose time, and I might as well go over the tops to Sgurr a Mhaim anyway, because I really did not want to run down the valley. This is powerful logic at five in the morning, so I set off to Binnein Beag quite confidently. By this next top I had regained a minute: not much, I admit, but an enormous psychological boost. I had also spotted a man in blue salopettes and gaiters with his kids climbing the ridge, and an older man with a stick and a woman going round the hillside to look at the coire below Binnein Mor. These were all apparitions, and typical of the figures I would see on the rest of the Mamores.

From Na Gruagaichean I felt I was on home ground, with a watch check on every summit to measure progress. I filled my bottle below Binnein Beag, and this kept me going until below Stob Ban. Everything was about gaining valuable minutes: I am afraid that the pleasures of the mainly cloudless Mamore ridge largely escaped me at this point. The repetition of rocky descent…runny ridge…steep chuffing climb began to effect my morale. On my recce I had missed the devil’s ridge on the low traverse to Stob Ban on the voie Tridimas, but in my current state I was worried by the steep descent, and so kept high: I lost no time, but gained none either.

I reached Stob Ban at about 11.35. My schedule gave an hour and a quarter for the descent from the last hill to the Youth Hostel, but I was leaking time again, and I knew it was going to be close. I put everything into the last hill, running as much as I possibly could, and encouraging John (my drinking persona) and the unnamed individual who was eating the yogurt fruit flakes to do the same. (A contrasting phenomenon happened on my Bob Graham crossing the Gables, when I spent a good deal of time wondering who on earth was this other runner in front of me. It was, in fact, Hugh Symonds, and it had been for the last seventeen hours or so.)

I had expected to reach Mullach nan Coireann in just under the hour. Instead it took 44 minutes, and at 12.19 I had an hour and forty minutes to get home. With the arrival of real people on the hill, my separate personas and apparitions disappeared, and I chatted with some walkers about their ascent. They confirmed my fears that the normal access was closed: I continued down the ridge, prepared to try to blag my way through, “sorry mister, I didn’t know”. Sadly the Forestry Commission were prepared for me, and had made very clear at the fence corner that the only way off the hill was the way I really did not want to go. Still, I had been up this way back in 2008, and although it was a horrible path, very steep then indistinct and boggy, I knew the general direction. The steepness hurt my knees and thighs, the boggy path through the forest made me want to scream in frustration at my slow pace, but then the path improved and I knew the track was near. For some reason best known to myself, I then decided to continue to follow the zig zag track down rather than the much shorter path, but I think I knew I had time in hand, and the track held no more nasty surprises.

So to the track…. Anybody who has done a challenge like this knows what this last section is like. It should be easy, but niggling doubts keep bubbling in your mind, and you are too exhausted and tense to enjoy the final run in. Every twinge is the potential cramp that will stop you in your tracks and bring the whole escapade to a grinding halt. But eventually the last descent, the turn off to the road, down to the Youth Hostel, and a wee touch of the stairs that you last touched twenty three hours and fifty one minutes ago. In the absence of a brass band and civic reception, I phoned Jacqui and drove down to the visitor centre to have a little sleep in the back of the car as the rain hammered on the roof.

Home | Go Back
© Carnethy.com 2014