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RAMSAY ROUND – May 30th 2009

By Chris Near


Having successfully completed the Paddy Buckley Round in May 2008 on “home turf” i decided to turn my attention to the Ramsay Round for 2009. The original route of 24 Munros in 24 hours looked easy enough on paper . So, i decided only to recce a couple of bits for this attempt at easter whilst staying in Spean Bridge.  This recce focussed mainly on the Loch Trieg Munros and the route into and out of Fersit. The rest i’d make up on the day. I ran the 5 munros around Loch Trieg at about the same sort of pace that i’d hope to do the round and then put the route into the computer to establish my speed over the ground and this gave me a base for projected times for the main stages of the round. There was to be no schedule as such, just  approximate times for each of the 3 main stages. Other than the record time of 18:23 i was actually unaware of other times until a couple of days after the round. Anyway, my projected speed would aim for a fast round and we’d just see how we got on. Also, due to the fact that we live in North Wales it was going to be unrealistic to expect any support ( pacers ). I’d run solo carrying the kit i needed and meet people at a few points along the way to recharge the supplies. Although i’d been up all of these Munros in the past ( some 10 years ago ! ) i had not really spent any time sussing out “good lines” or sneaky routes from peak to peak. Hopefully the weather would be good enough on the day to deal with that side of things !

Most of May had been fairly wet and windy. We made the usual trip to Jura for the Fell race and found the ground saturated. The race day saw thick hill fog shrouding the Paps and it was a concentrated effort to navigate the route whilst running. I was aiming to attempt the Round on the following weekend and things certainly needed to improve a bit if it was going to happen at all.

A few days later and Scotland’s weather  was being controlled by a high pressure system and conditions were at last looking almost encouraging. I decided to start the round on the Saturday morning at 3am. This was only 1 week after the Jura race which had no doubt taken it’s toll a bit this year. I awoke at 2am and force fed myself ...... 2 giant sausage baps, 2 bananas and a big bowl of Muesli. I’ve learned  over the years that if you want to last at these long events you need to pile the food in and keep piling it in . As i stepped out of the van i saw a wonderful clear panorama of the Glen Nevis hills and it was mild. At 02:45  i set out for the start ( at Glen Nevis YHA ) with Pilar who’d get a quick photo and start the watch. She’d offered to drive to Spean Bridge, Bike into the Glen and meet me at the far end of the Grey Corries Ridge.

Flogging up the Ben is never easy but with such a long route ahead it seemed to be just that bit tougher. It was so mild that i was already sweating buckets and the forecast was for a scorcher. Up the Red burn ( Leg Burn ! ) and hit the top of those zigzags just as something strange started to happen. Just the faintest wisps of fog swept in to cover the summit. As i picked up the cairned track to the top it became a wee bit thicker . By the time i’d reached the summit it was proper pea soup .... great! Never mind, bound to be just on Ben Nevis ..... wrong. The whole of the ridge along the Grey Corries was shrouded in thick hill fog. I dropped out of it ( just ) at the col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonoch Mor. So i guess i’d be navigating for real then . As i made my way along the Grey Corries ridge i simply had to make the best effort given the conditions. This meant hitting the main features and not going off course on tracks down to the valley. Also, it meant trying my best to contour the bits that didn’t need going up – not easy when you don’t know the lie of the land. Dropping off the ridge and heading towards Stob Ban i found the terrain fairly complex and wondered how much time this was all wasting and actually whether i’d be best quitting and having another go some other time. After all i was 5 hours in and things most definitely were NOT improving.

Off Stob Ban i picked a decent route that landed me just where Pilar was waiting. Out of the fog ( for a bit ) i was glad to refuel for the next section around Loch Trieg. I’d reckoned on 5 hours 40 mins for the first section and i was slightly amazed to find that i was a mere 2 minutes outside it . The fog had slowed me up ( may have been a good thing  ) but i may have worked a bit harder as a result , fearing that i was slipping behind on time. Anyway i was lifted a bit for the next section. Over the next 2 hills and there seemed to be a change in the weather. As i ran off to Fersit i literally ran out of the fog and into the bright sunshine. Instant heat and the Paclite was off , quickly replaced by a sun hat . The hills beyond the Loch looked totally clear and a long , long way above me !

Refuelled by food and drink that i had placed at the dam i set off up the next hill , after safely negotiating a quick dash along the railway line. False summit after false summit , i eventually reached the top and enjoyed a great ridge run around to Chno Dearg and a cracking descent and contour to the foot of Beinn na Lap. It’s a steep brute to climb up but a fantastic ridge to run down ( although i missed the good lines that i had actually reccied at Easter ). Anyway, i was soon off it and met Pilars Mum and Dad at the tunnel under the railway line. They’d taken the train into Corrour station with and food/drink for me. I took time to get well fed & watered before setting off on the slog over to the Mamores ridge. I’d taken 10 hours 40 to here so was hopefully over half way. Pilars Mum and Dad biked back to Spean Bridge via Loch Ossian – a great ride through remote glens and forest.

From here to the Mamores there are two route possibilities. The first is a no-nonsense track run along estate roads and paths. The second cuts a couple of corners but is cross country. I opted for the second option and it was rough. A good Mountain Marathon type of leg across tussocky bog – just what you need after 11 hours running. I’ll never know if it had cost a lot of time but it certainly felt like it did. Joining the “footpath” leading through the glens to the first of the Mamores i was dismayed to find a cut-up bog which was virtually impossible to get a rhythm going on. It looked like a load of motorbikes had been through after the recent wet weather leaving boggy ruts. I felt like i was going backwards. After what seemed like hours ( it probably was ! ) i was relieved to finally be climbing the first of the Mamores , Sgurr Eilde Mor. Although it was a relentless slog i was glad to be gaining height at last out of the torturous heat of the valley. Now there was  not a cloud to be seen in the sky so it was going to be a dry run home over the ridge. From the first summit the other peaks were laid out before me and looked tantalisingly close. One at a time i told myself, one at a time. Binnean Beg and Binnean Mor succumbed reasonably easily and then i was met by Pilar again who’d managed to get back to Glen Nevis and out onto the ridge with much needed water and some more food. Subsequently looking at the photos she took i was clearly suffering in the heat – good job i didn’t see them at the time i guess!

Back and forth across the Devils ridge just seems cruel. I knew there was a contour path down to the right somewhere but i was in no mood for trying something new. Take the brain out and follow the ridge back up and then down to the col. A final word of encouragement from Pilar before i set off on the last 2 , Stob Ban and Mullach Nan Coriean.

As i approached the last summit i still didn’t really know which route to take down. The light was now fading fast and so i got my torch on at the top and sticks out for the last descent. I set off down the NW ridge ( obvious straight line to the finish ) and found the going surprisingly good.... until i reached the bottom half of the ridge. In poor light ( it was now completely dark ! ) and with tired legs ( spot the understatement ! ) it seemed to be taking quite some time. I was glad to finally hit the top end of the forest and onto a route that i had at least checked out beforehand. Straight down through the woods and out onto the road with only 200 metres to go. I Finished at 11:30 pm so my final time was exactly 20 hours and 30 minutes. This was about as good as i could have hoped for given the weather conditions, lack of local knowledge and running solo. If i felt the urge  to do it again then i certainly know what i need to look at first !

So, just the Bob Graham Round left then.... maybe later this year .









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