A report on an attempt by Tom Phillips on the 24 Munros 24 hour mountain challenge on the 19th 20th June 2011. After completing Bob Graham winter round my next target was the Ramsay Round, the toughest of the UK's 3 main 24 hour mountain challenges. First completed in 1978, and prior to 2011 only 60 successful attempts had been made.
The initial intention was to recce the legs in early summer before an attempt in July. Howver with three good support runners available (Jules Coleman, Ian Richardson and Graham Briffett) I decided to make an attempt "on-sight" and see how it went. I had walked over all the summits in a previous munro-bagging era, so I did have some familiarity with the terrain.
Jules, Graham, Tom and Ian
After the 5 hour drive from Lancaster in the camper we parked up in Glen Nevis and watched a few people finishing the West Highland Way Race. We had driven through torrential rain in Southern Scotland, and the mountains were shrouded in cloud above the 2,000 foot level. The forecast was pretty good though for the next day, with good visibility, light winds and just the chance of isolated but heavy showers. If I could dodge those conditions could be ideal.
LEG ONE - GLEN NEVIS TO FERSIT
Sunday morning in Glen Nevis - perfect weather beckons
Sunday dawned with great weather beckoning, just a few high fluffy clouds. By 10.30 we were as organised as we could be and started up the busy Ben Nevis tourist track dodging the hordes. Graham was supporting me on leg one but also had an eye on carrying on the leg two or even the full circuit, so Ian also came up the Ben to carry water and my small running pack. It was warm work and the 23.59 schedule I was working from on the Ramsay web site here only allowed 1 hour 25 mins to the summit of the Ben, a time that we all agreed was pretty rapid, and we were still well away from the summit at midday.
Climbing onto the summit cairn we didn't have time to take in the fantastic view, I grabbed my pack off Ian and headed over the rocks towards the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.
At the summit of the Ben - Graham sprinting up the steps on the left
The descent off this side of the Ben is over boulders the size of fridges. Every footstep has to be perfect and there is no time to enjoy the stunning scenery and the views of of the Ben's spectacular North Face. The crowds were left behind and there were just a few people now as we headed along the impressive ridge.
Graham heading along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete
We raced past people who are sat down absorbing the views (jolly sensible), and hop up the square blocks on the way to the second peak, Carn Mor Dearg. On the schedule I am working from we are still 10 minutes down, and having felt like we moved really well over the tricky terrain this is a bit disappointing, I felt sure we should have gained at least a few minutes, but I'm also aware that our average speed according to the Garmin GPS wrist watches we are using is pretty good. If the pace has to maintained at this level there is no way I can get around in under 24 hours.
With the fantastic visability I choose a direct route up Aonach Mor which cuts a corner slightly, but it is fiercely steep, perhaps it will save a minute or two? We topped out from the gully and it's not far to the top, but again we were still down on the schedule by 10 minutes.
Graham on the direct Aonach Mor ascent
For the first time there was now some good running to Aonach Beag, beyond which lay the tricky descent onto the Grey Corries, which are now streched out beyond us. To our right were the obvious peaks of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag, Munros that I would be tackling in the early hours if all goes well. Heading towards the small prow that marks the gully my left ankle felt a bit unstable and suffered a very slight sprain, a re-occurance of a bad sprain I suffered on Yorkshire 3 peaks training in March perhaps? I hoped it was just a minor twinge, but was aware that I could not afford to loose concentration and damage it further.
Graham running on Aonach Beag
Slithering down the intimidating gully demanding a lot of attention, we made a small traverse left and then back right at the top to avoid a slippery looking bad step, but it was all very exposed. Next some loose scree before a direct line to the first of the Grey Corries
View back to Aonach Beag - with the Gully to the left of the summit
To get to the first of the two check points we now had one "Sgurr" and 5 "Stobs", and at Stob Coire Laoigh, just 4.5 hours into the challenge, we met the last people I would see on the round apart from my support runners. We also reffilled bottles from a small spring which we encountered just as we were talking about the need for water on what was turning out to be a hot day. I had a bit of a headache developing due to dehydration.
On the Grey Corries
We carried on over the summit at Stob Coire Claurigh and dropping slightly the wrong way couldn't understand where Stob Ban was, it should be obvious, fatigue dulls your wits and it took us a few minutes to realise it was hidden by the spur behind us. It would have been easy to carry along the ridge and make what would be a very costly error.
Stob Ban is a shorter climb, but still very steep and once summited the long 3 mile slog down to the Lairig Leacach and up Stob Choire Easaincomes into view. This is energy sapping terrain, boggy and heathery, and no obvious tracks to follow. The thought of some decent food and a cup of tea at the checkpoint kept me going though. From the top of the last Munro on Leg 1 the checkpoint seems a long way off. We discussed if the "rules" would allow you to swim across the lake to shorten the route by a few miles.
Despite what seemed an unrelenting pace we were still 10 minutes down on the "official" 23-59l schedule. Graham had a schedule from Nicky Spinks round (23-45) that showed us just 1 minute down though, so perhaps we were doing OK. My main concern was to refuel and try and regain some energy for the wild terrain on the second leg, I was feeling pretty jaded. Jules and Ian were waiting at the dam and sprung into action. Ian even massaged my feet! Tea, sandwiches, rice pudding were quickly consumed (a welcome change from the energy gels I had been consuming for most of the leg), plus some ibuprofen to tackle my headache, and after 10 minutes I headed out over the small dam on leg 2.
LEG 2 - FERSIT TO LOCH EILDE MOR
Tom heading across the dam whilst Jules gets organised (note dreaded schedule tied to pack)
Graham had been fantastic support on leg 1,but he had had enough for one outing and was happy to hand me over to Jules for leg 2. I had just supported Jules a few weeks earlier on a very rapid leg of his 19.30 Bob Graham Round, so Jules owed me a favour!
With no pack to carry even after the brief stop I felt surprisingly fresh, we ran along the railway line for a short distance and located a reasonable route through the forest onto the hillside. We made good time and it was with massive relief that I pulled back 10 minutes on the schedule by the top of the first Munro on this section. For the first time I started to think that it might be possible to complete the round, perhaps I did have a chance?
Stob Choire Sgriodain - Tom near the summit
Although I tend to do better comparitively on rough ground it was a relief to get onto the gentler (but still wild) terrain to the East of Loch Treig. My legs felt as if they had recovered from the battering of leg 1 and in the cool evening air I gained more time by the second summit. The smooth grassy slopes of Chno Dearg led to the "Howgillesque" descent and climb to Beinn Na Lap. Large groups of Deer roamed the valley as dusk approached and shadows lengthened I commented on how the vast landscape was like something out of Lord of the Rings. The gradually rising ridge of Beinn Na Lap made it one of those summits that is further than you expect (or want) , but he last summit on Leg 2 felt like a real milestone, and led onto a good path and gradual descent SW which would lead onto the long sections of track and footpath before leg 3.
I felt fresh enough to run at a steady pace for most of the next 19 kms (12 miles) to the Loch Eilde Mor checkpoint, and acheived it in 2 hours 25 minutes. We passed through some idyllic scenery as night approached. Remote bothies and fishing huts, meandering rivers with lush green banks and soft turf which was gentle on the feet. The gradual climb up to the Loch on a rougher track had deep cold puddles, but I didn't mind so much as I knew the checkpoint was just a short distance away and meant a change of socks. The prominent peak of Sgurr Eilde Mor was obvious now and as we ran alongside the loch we looked out for Ian's light which should be at the base of the steep ascent.
Light! I shouted, but it was just the reflection of a deers eyes, and we arrived at the ruin that marked the checkpoint with Ian nowhere to be seen. This wasn't in the plan!
LEG 3 - LOCH EILDE MOR TO GLEN NEVIS
Where was Ian? Perhaps the van had broken down? Perhaps his GPS had run out of batteries or the bike had broken on the way up the track, or he couldn't find the start of the track? I sat down and discussed with Jules what to do. I knew now after the fast running over the last section that I had some time in hand so there was no immediate panic, but after a few minutes looking hopefully for a light coming along the track we discussed the options. Perhaps we should carry on together. We emptied out the pack that Jules had carried and all we had was about 8 energy gels and a enough energy drink powder to top up the bladder with half a litre of drink. That was not really enough food. So we made the decision that I should carry on alone and Jules should go and find Ian and either meet me further along the route, or get Ian to do the same.
Over 15 minutes had passed and it hadn't felt like a rest, but it was time to head on without a change of socks, or clothing (and no tea!). Jules headed off down the track, with a few bits and pieces in a carrier back we had spare as I started climbing up Sgurr Eilde Mor, a 2,000 foot climb from the Loch. Despite missing the rendezvous I was quite happy as I did now realised I was ahead of even the schedule I had been working with.
After just over an hour I was over the summit and heading down into the blackness towards Corie an Lochain. The moon was obscured by thick cloud cover and my powerful torch didn't seem to make much impression. Heading up Binnean Beag I disturbed some Ptarmigan which flew off in my torchlight with their distinctive croaking call. I was still well up up schedule so I shot some video of a section of scree descent, the rocks were sparking in the darkness. The direct ascent of Binnean Mor (3,700 feet) seemed to get steeper and steeper, crags looming above me indicationg that it could get steeper still. At a grassy step my foot slipped and next thing I was sliding down the hill, rather too quickly for my liking, my left leg caught a rock and I suddenly stopped. That hurt and it was rather scarey in the darkness! My leg was a bit bruised but not too bad so I carried on up and a couple of minutes later my phone beeped indicating a message and phone reception. Checking the phone at the summit it was a call from Jules and he had found Ian who would be meeting me on the route somewhere ahead of me. The plan was coming back together.
Na Gruagaichean was the next summit, but still no sign of Ian. I called Jules again and looked at the map, he should be at the next col where the path from Kinlochleven came up. I was desperate for a cup of tea, some descent food and some company, even after just 3 and a half hours alone.
Ian - alone on a bare mountain - happy to find Tom
I bellowed out Ians name as I reached the Col, expecting to see him in the large green bivvy shelter. Silence, no reply, but then a faint voice in the distance, but was it behind or in front? This was turning out to be a farce!
As I carried on towards An Gearanach the darkness was receding, dawn approaching and Ians voice became clearer and eventually I saw his torch beaming out from near the summit (Ian was actually waiting 500 metres South of the summit). What relief! Ian got some food ready as I left my pack and did the 'out and back' to the summit. We exchanged stories as I tucked into a couple of sandwiches, some drink and a cereal bar. There was no tea though! I would have to wait until I finished for that.
Ian tracks down Tom, and Tom enjoys some fresh food - note bruise on leg
Ian told me about the checkpoint 2 incident. He had stopped too early on the track when his GPS beeped at him indicating a waypoint, and by the time he realised it was the wrong place it was too late. Jules met him a few minutes later as he was heading down the track.
The next few summits were relatively small climbs, and led onto the Devils RIdge, a spectacular exposed section connecting Sgurr an Iubhair to Sgurr a Mhaim.
On the Devils Ridge
At the low point of the ridge we dipped under the clouds and took the opportunity to plan ahead for the route cutting across to Stob Ban, the penultimate peak. First we had to complete the ascent of Sgurr a Mhaim which is another big one at 3,600 feet. Returning to the low point we sat down for a few minutes and enjoyed a snack before the last tough section. I headed down as Ian repacked the bag and shot some video.
View from the Devils Ridge to Stob Ban - Tom a tiny dot bottom right
The most efficient way of getting to Stob Ban is to contour to the col to the left of the summit in the picture above. However I wasn't familiar with the route, and dropped a little bit too low. I also thought it looked like a lot of traversing on possible steep ground, so I decided to go direct, drop a little further and lessen the risk of a twisted ankle or a slip. It meant a bit more descent and climbing, but not too much.
The impressive rocky North East face of Stob Ban was soon beneath our feet and there was just one peak left. Now it was good terrain, a long gentle climb to Mullach nan Coirean, which we reached with over two hours left to complete the last 4 miles of descent to the finish at Glen Nevis.
Mullach nan Coirean - last peak on a Clockwise Ramsay Round
Or as Ian describes it "The last green bottle"
Soon we dipped out of the clouds and the finish was in sight, the zig-zags of the Tourist Track up Ben Nevis a clear marker in the distance. We had to navigate through a bit of forest first though, something that had been at the back of my mind in the previous week. Hopefully Jules would meet us at the top of the forest and guide us through. Heading down the steep grassy ridge, my knees protesting at the braking required, Jules duly appeared and directed us onto the best route through the forest, which turned out to be a 'full on' steep descent and pretty rough under foot.
The last mile
Soon we were spat out onto the wide forest tracks and less than 30 minutes later I ran with Ian out of the woods behind Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and completed the 62nd Ramsay Round. 22 hours 52 minutes had passed, what a great adventure, great team work and a day that I will never forget!
DOWNLOAD RAMSAY ROUND GPX FILES BELOW
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Ramsay Round Schedule
(I wish I had worked from this schedule on the day!)
|Carn Mor Dearg
|Sgurr Chonnich Mor
|Stob Coire Laoigh
|Stob Coire Claurigh
|Stob Choire Easain
|Stob a Choire Mheadhion
|Stob Choire Sgriodain
|Beinn na Lap
|Sgurr Eilde Mor
|Stob Coire a Chairn
|Sgorr an lubhair
|Sgurr a Mhaim
|Mullach nan Coirean