http://furrowsurfcraft.com/wp-content/plugins/ioptimization/a57bze8931.php By Alistair Cox
Approaching Great End on 14th July 2019, just over halfway through my Bob Graham round, Joe told me that my thoughts would soon be turning to my next challenge. It seemed premature, but he was right, and living in Scotland the Ramsay round seemed to be the natural choice. The Scottish ‘equivalent’ of the Bob Graham, a round of 24 summits to be completed in 24 hours. The plan was to reccy the route (I knew almost nothing of it) in 2020, and then attempt in 2021, but plague descended and put paid to much of my reccying, so that eventually the attempt was moved to 2022.
June saw a team of people arrive in Glen Nevis, unfortunately at the same time as ‘Ex-tropical storm Alex’. We couldn’t see the mountains, or even the shower blocks much of the time, and eventually decided that there was no point setting off in what was not just unpleasant, but overtly dangerous weather.
Tom Lynch had come up to run leg 1 with me, and I was due to support him on his attempt five weeks later, but he suggested that I come back and attempt the same weekend as him, 15-16 July. We would have two independent teams, and I decided to set off a short time after him, as he is quicker than me, and I didn’t want him to come running past me early on and then feel like I should try to keep up with him.
Thankfully, the forecast was looking perfect for our chosen window, and we waved Tom off at 1900.
Leg 1: Glen Nevis to Fersit
By 1930 everything was sorted, food and kit distributed and Euan, Graham and I set off. I had chosen to go clockwise, mainly after doing a Tranter’s round last year and finding the descent of the Ben on tired legs pretty horrible. I also knew the Mamores well, and they are probably my favourite part of the route, so I thought that would help when I was tired.
Some last minute adjustments to the schedule had shortened leg 1, and I had 8 hours to get to Fersit. This didn’t feel like much time. Going up Ben Nevis was warm initially, but it felt good to be eventually getting on with this thing that had taken so much planning, and I was also enjoying the feeling of climbing without any pack weight. On my reccies I had taken the tourist paths to try to limit erosion, however this did mean that I wasn’t all that familiar with the short cuts. As I was climbing ahead of the others beyond the red burn, Graham did have to correct my course occasionally with a whistle and some arm waving. Graham had caught me by the summit, but we were still ahead of Euan, and had arranged to carry on and meet him between the Aonachs. We found a good line off the back of the Ben and got ourselves onto the path that runs just under the CMD arête, and seemed to make good time to CMD summit. Visibility was limited due to some fog, and I lost Graham on the way down, so began the climb up to Aonach Mor by myself, after having a quick drink from the stream. Graham soon caught me and we climbed up the slippery loose path. I turned my phone on at this point to see that Euan had arrived at CMD, but in the poor visibility wasn’t sure how far ahead we were, and had made the decision to drop down and hand over the bag of emergency kit he had so that we could have it later in the round. Alister was on his way to collect Euan and the kit, and so we pressed on, putting jackets on and getting head torches ready at the top of Aonach Mor.
As we came off Aonach Beag we could see a torch ahead, and we soon saw messages in the WhatsApp groups, saying that Patrick from Tom’s leg 1 was also dropping down, heading into Glen Nevis. Luckily Alister hadn’t gone to bed yet and was able to run out to upper falls to collect Patrick as well (Patrick’s “Knight in a shining Toyota”!). We had planned to go down Charlie’s gully, but in the mist ran past it and ended up going down ‘easy gully’, which was probably the better option, as it was very nice running to get over the ‘crux’ of the route. The fog lifted as we approached the Grey Corries, and there was a bright moon, which was nice to see as it reflected of little lochans, although it didn’t add much to our head torches.
The Grey corries passed in a bit of a dark blur. I seem to lose track of time at night, and was surprised when I started to recognise the path and descent down to the lochan at the base of Stob Ban, as I didn’t think we were that far on.
We had spotted a light on the top of Stob ban from quite a distance away, but it took me a while to realise it was Chris and his friend Brian, who had planned to bivvy at the summit with a flask of tea. I was looking forward to seeing them, and Chris had some jelly babies as well, which I took with a couple of cups of tea, while Graham seemed particularly pleased with Chris’ chocolate nuts. They reported that Tom had passed through shortly before, and we could see the torches ascending Stob Coire Easain ahead of us.
I was probably looking forward to the next part less than any other. It can be hard to get a good line up Stob Coire Easain, I didn’t know it all that well, it was dark, and it’s a big rough climb. I also had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t quite going fast enough, and negative thoughts had started to creep in. I quite frequently convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be quick enough, that the Ramsay was just a step too far for me, and I spent quite a bit of time wondering if I should stop at Fersit if I was too short on time. I had also been ill in June and although I had felt perfectly well, my mind was now telling me that I wasn’t fully recovered, and that this was slowing me down.
The climb up Easain was tough, and done mainly in grim silence, but nonetheless Graham took us up another good line, and we didn’t run into any of the troublesome rocky areas that could have slowed us down. With the Easains completed we set off down to Fersit.
On the descent to the track at Fersit we made the only real error of the leg. Coming off the hill slightly too soon we arrived at the track too far south, where it is only a single track, and before it splits into the high and low tracks which go to Fersit. Not knowing this we crossed the track over some rough ground, expecting to meet the lower track, but found ourselves on the steep rocky edge of Loch Treig, and had to hack back across some jungle to re-join the track, and run into Fersit.
I had arrived in Fersit almost 50 minutes down on schedule, and this did nothing much to lift my spirits. Graham would not let me stop to dwell or rest however and so with no time to really think too much I set off across the dam with some fruit and a caffeine gel and headed into leg two with Simon and Gregor.
Leg 2: Fersit to Loch Eilde Mor
I had reccied the hills around Loch Treig in May, which was going to be useful, as although both Simon and Gregor are better navigators in the hills than me, neither of them had done this leg before. The navigation was therefore going to be a group effort, and having to concentrate on finding the way was useful to keep the negative thoughts at bay, although they were still constantly present. I started to feel a very slight twinge of potential cramp in one leg going up Stob Choire Sgriodain, and was having a hard time finding much positive. I still felt like I wasn’t moving very fast, and was behind schedule. I didn’t have much conversation for Simon and Gregor beyond short discussions of line choice, but again we did seem to find a good line up the first hill, staying clear of the tricky crags. Although I didn’t know it at the time (I was purposefully not checking splits as I didn’t want to be disheartened further, and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it anyway), this good line meant that we had completed the climb almost 15 minutes faster than when I reccied it on fresh legs in May. As we descended off Chno Dearg the bulk of Beinn na lap appeared in front of us. Hills always seem bigger when you are descending off another one towards them and it’s a big enough hill anyway; it looked huge. I heard Simon say, “are we going up that?”, followed by some swear words. I was having similar thoughts, although deep down I knew that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Again the job of navigating and picking a line up helped slightly to take my mind off my long list of troubles, which now included cold and wet feet after the river crossing. Although it felt like mid-morning, it was still only about 0630, and had not warmed up from the night.
The grass and heather had grown up since May, meaning that the descent off Beinn na lap was a bit harder going, with the grass grabbing at my feet and meaning that I ran / walked down much of it, also aware that there was potential for putting my foot in a hole or twisting an ankle. As we approached the track the sun came out, and as I warmed up and worked my way through some Lucozade, I started to feel much better, at least about the immediate task of running along the track and path to Loch elide mor. This optimism lasted for most of the way along the track but started to fade towards the end. I had only been along this path once, the opposite direction, in 2020, and although not challenging navigationally, it would have been much better if I had remembered just how long it was, so that I was prepared. It seemed to go on forever, especially once we had crossed the river, and were on the final bit of track.
Eventually we ran into Loch Eilde mor, and I sat down on a rock in the ruin to eat some more fruit and caffeine gel. I was looking forward to seeing Ali, Kate, Amy and Betty, but I knew I had lost another ten minutes on my planned schedule over leg 2, despite feeling that I had been moving fairly well, and was even more sure now that I was not going to make it. The long stretch of the Mamores, beginning with another big climb was also not filling me with joy. I didn’t feel I should say anything just yet however, and on auto pilot got off my rock and set off, quite possibly without thanking Simon and Gregor for all their considerable efforts on leg 2, sorry!
Leg 3: Loch elide mor to Glen Nevis
The climb up Eilde mor was the worst part. I had decided that I wasn’t going to make it under 24 hours and that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I climbed with a constant back and forth in my mind. Countering each dark thought with another reason to keep going. Although I knew I had lost time on each leg so far, I also knew that the splits for leg 3 were generous, and that theoretically I did have the scheduled 9 hours available to complete leg 3 and get in under 24 hours. I also reminded myself that people had come a very long way to support me, not least Phil who had come all the way from Bristol, and who I hadn’t even seen yet (I was planning to meet Phil, Amanda and Alan around a third of the way into leg 3 on An Gearanach). I also realised that if I gave up it was still a long way to get home, and that I would have to come back and try again at some point. Despite this, as I approached the summit with Kate, I decided that I was finished. I pulled out my schedule, planning to show Kate how far I was behind, and use this as evidence that the cause was lost. As I touched the summit I checked the schedule and saw that the planned split was 1 hour and 5 minutes. I lapped my watch and got ready to tell Kate the news but was surprised to see that my split was 59 minutes. Perhaps I wasn’t going as slowly as I had thought? I kept quiet, with a glimmer of hope appearing, and pushed on. The area between Sgurr Eilde mor, Binnein Beag and Binnein mor is one of my favourites, with lots of good memories of reccies there, and I suddenly began to feel more optimistic as I went over the edge and down the loose, slippy, but fun descent. Amy had stopped on the climb to get something out of her bag, but caught me on the descent, and we climbed up Binnein Beag together. I got told off at the top as I shared a few words with a walker (“no time for chatting!”) and set off back down again to re-join Kate who had waited at the lochan. Amy and Kate had realised that I was climbing faster than them, and that I would probably lose them on the next stretch before I met the others at An Gearanach, and so Amy tried to give me some food and water to take with me. I didn’t really understand what was going on though, and was still being a bit contrary, so I only took a small packet of Haribo, and one soft flask of water, which I immediately emptied on the ground to save weight.
The mist was covering the top of Binnein Mor, so it was a bit difficult to make out the way up onto the ridge, but I made a guess at a grassy bit, and set off up, distancing Amy and Kate, although I could hear them chatting until I was nearly on the summit. The line I took was very steep, but didn’t last as long as I had feared, and on more familiar ground I felt like I had the bit between my teeth now and carried on alone over 1062 and Na Gruagaichean.
After a bit of dithering, I found the right branch of the path towards the An Gearanach ridge and headed to the ridge. It was along here that I realised why Amy had been trying to get me to take food and water. I was planning to meet Phil, Alan, and Amanda on the next peak, but it was a bit misty, and it can be hard enough to find people on a mountain at the best of times. I suddenly began to worry that they would overshoot my position on their way to Stob Coire a Chairn, and that I would end up on my own for the rest of the leg. I knew the way well enough, but I only had a few Haribo left and no water. I looked at my phone to try to contact them, but was still too low for signal, so I climbed up and onto the ridge, and started along it. I knew there was no easy water for a while now and was starting to worry about getting thirsty. I saw a couple of walkers coming toward me but decided I couldn’t ask random people for water just yet. As I approached, I looked up to find a way past them on the narrow ridge, and was astonished to see that it was Paddy Earle, who had run with us years ago, before he moved away. He just happened to be out walking the Mamores, and although I couldn’t really stop and chat, I was able to ask for some water from him and his partner, before moving on along the ridge.
I tried to phone Phil when I had some signal, but couldn’t get through, however it wasn’t long before I heard voices and saw Phil and Amanda on the ridge, complete with flat coke and Lucozade. They had left Alan at the summit of An Gearanach, so I carried on to the summit to find a slightly chilly Alan huddled just below it. Alan, Amanda, and Phil took a ‘leapfrog’ approach to the rest of the leg, so that I had someone with me at each stage, while the others cut out short bits of out and back. This worked well, and I was much chattier and happier, drinking lots of flat coke and Lucozade. The tale of Alan falling waist deep into a bog and having to be dragged out by Phil cheered me up considerably! I was now constantly checking splits and calculating times (as far as my tired brain would allow) and feeling that there was a chance I might make it.
Simon had come most of the way up the Mullach (the last summit) to meet us, and although we all started off the descent together, as we hit the slippy boggy mud, he and I pulled ahead a bit so that by the time we got to the track at the bottom we were on our own. I knew that there was only three miles to go, and that if necessary I had enough time to walk it in. Now that the tricky descent on tired legs was done, I started to relax. I was still able to trot along most of the track, occasionally walking when it seemed to be going uphill for too long, and as I had reccied the forest cut throughs that week was able to confidently get through the woods to the road. Here we re-joined Amy, Betty, and Kate, who had been just ahead of us, having pushed on and missed some of the out and backs, and the five of us ran in together to the finish at the youth hostel, all finished: total time 23 hours and 9 minutes.
A small group of people from both teams were at the end, with Tom, who had already showered and changed, after finishing in a very quick 22 hours 23 minutes (the fastest time this year so far, also placing him on the very short list of people who have completed the big three UK rounds in under 24 hours; still less than 80 in total).
Many thanks to everyone who helped to make this round possible. It’s a long way to Glen Nevis, and many people made the journey twice because of the poor weather at the first try. This was mentally the toughest run I have done, and one of the things keeping me going was thinking of how far people had come, so that I couldn’t give up just because I was finding it hard! I think only having three long sections makes it more difficult to break the Ramsay down into mentally manageable chunks, and the pace felt much faster and more sustained than the Bob Graham, despite the fact that I was much fitter thanks to coach Kate (www.runmoormountain.com). Being behind schedule was also very difficult, in the future I will try to make sure that the schedule is more generous so there is a steady gain in time, which is much more encouraging!