The Ramsay Round
The Ramsay Round is a 56 mile circular route taking in 24 summits, 23 of them munro's, over 28'500ft of ascent along the way around Glen Nevis and Lock Treig.
Set by Charlie Ramsay in 1978 after wanting to extend the Tranter Round of 19 Munro's around Glen Nevis. Charlie set a bench mark for runner to follow, but since 1978 only 97 other runners have completed this challenge, until Damian and I set our minds and bodies for a successful completion this year.
There have been quite a few successful rounds in the last few years and as momentum gathers you will see the numbers grow, as they have for the Bob Graham Challenge, but it took 11 years before Martin Stone completed the second successful round.
Damian Hall has some great running credentials and we met on the Ourea Events, where I was the planner and Damian was a competitors. We had met briefly on the Spine in 2014, but our knowledge of each other grew as Damian would repeatedly come into camp complaining my courses had jiggered his legs.
On the Dragon's Back Race in 2015 Damian asked an innocuous question; "Was it possible to complete a BGR without training on the actual course?", I answered that if you had the right attitude and could run the terrain in general, then yes its possible. He said, "but I haven't the navigation skills or the time to support others", which is the tried and tested method to get a support crew of your own, and so possibly idiotically I said I would run it with him and guide/do the navigation for him. So the plan was hatched for last years dual BGR that we completed in 21:59.
Quite quickly we decided we needed to do this again so the natural progression with the Ramsay Round. I wanted a winter attempt, but we couldn't match diary dates and so we settled on May, around the 17th.
Training for me is work and I have plenty of BGR clients right now, so going out with these guys has given me plenty of ascent and descent in my legs. It gives me the opportunity to be out in the mountains hour after hour in good, indifferent and inclement weather. Damian is a training machine, but doesn't get the same mountain experience I do, but he runs longer bigger weeks than I do, possibly running double the distance, but then I do double or more of the ascent/descent and over mountainous terrain.
Could we apply the same logic to the Ramsay Round?
I love "onsight" attempts, my 1st BGR was done in this style. I'm a mountain marathon runner through and through. I love navigation and I love a good surprise.
The date was set, Damo kept watching the weather intently in the final 2 weeks running up to the day. He booked a photographer (Damian is an adventure journalist for those that don't know him well) and we started to mentally prepare.
I picked Damo up from Glasgow Airport at 21:30 on Tuesday, 16th May, and we headed up in my van to Glen Nevis, both tired, but quietly confident.
We met Ed the photographer at the Nevis Cafe in Nevis Sports, after a good nights sleep in the Braveheart Car Park up Glen Nevis. Together the 3 of us went to Loch Treig where Damian and I stashed our food, as we planned this to be unsupported, just the 2 of us, like a mountain marathon. This would mean we would have to carry our own kit, feed ourselves, make sure we were hydrated, motivate each other and navigate on the move.
I had knowledge of the Ben, CMD and some of the Mamores, but had never done any of the 'actual' route. I had a short conversation with Shane Ohly, who did the first onsight continuous winter round that took him almost 30 hours to complete, Shane did this solo and had a serious time whilst he was out there, his account makes an interesting read...... Shane gave me some very minor knowledge of a few good lines, but this was over the phone, so I transcribed what he said onto my map. The lines turned out to be valid and I was glad of the conversation, so maybe to the 'purist', our traverse of the Ramsay Round isn't quite 'onsight'?
We had an easy day, rested in the van and planned to set off at 19:00 from the Glen Nevis SYHA. I managed a hours snooze in the van prior to setting off... oh and I had quite a bad chest infection/cough...... that wasn't to help on the round, but I thought it would be ok, so we just went with it.
At 1900 hours we set of, running until the gradient steepened a little and we moved to a walk, we were on a 23 hour schedule worked out by Damian, but this was loose, 24 hours was the goal really, anything else was a bonus. Most approach this type of challenge with a support crew to nav, carry and feed them, we were a pair supporting each other.
The ascent onto the Ben seemed reasonable and we passed walkers coming down who congratulated us on going to the top, little did they know what we were doing! We were 3/4 of the way up and we looked at the time, the schedule seemed tight and the ascent was taking longer than planned... this worried me, as we were moving well, but we were already behind schedule. We arrived on the Ben 5 mins down.
I trusted the cairns from the summit, instead of my compass and this led us to the summit of the NE ridge (we were in clag) and this added another 5 minute error, plus a dicy move across a snow slope above the Little Bevan Face, one slip and it could have been game over..... not the best route choice. The CMD arête was fast and furious, as I wanted to make back the time, or I felt we would be off to a bad start, we raced along it and Ed, the photographer who had been waiting there for us, couldn't keep up at all. It felt like we were in a race now, it felt crazy fast... Once we hit the CMD we dropped down the ridge and up onto the Aonach's, Mor first and then racing to get to Bearg and dropping off the summit to pick up what I think Shane had described as Charlie's Gully..... we found an entry to a ridge/gully system in the right place on the map. Being a climber, I'm inclined to do things that I probably shouldn't and dropped into a secondary gully, it was steep. Damian held back and I investigated. I advised to check the other options and he found the line... I considered soloing a sloping slabby rockface/grassy slope to get out of my position.... I almost did it and then thought better of it and climbed back out of the gully on failing holds, crumbling under my feet, in failing light.... it was a little too hairy and I realised I was on a grade II winter climb in summer conditions... . not a good place to be! This was pretty much the only hairy situation in the following 22 hours, so I was really happy with that!
Back on track and picking the lines, we made out was across the Grey Cories, hitting trod after trod until we were looking at Loch Trieg, we'd had the longest and hardest ascent of the round, we'd run under perfect stars, we'd kept our feet almost dry and we'd been moving well, yoyo-ing with the schedule. Ed's light was visible at the dam at the head of the Loch and we headed down for it through some of the first wet ground of the round so far, the weather and ground conditions were perfect!
Fueling up at the Loch was a race against time, Damian had allowed us 5 mins here and 10 mins before the Mamores, but we didn't have a refuel stock before the Mamores, so we thought we could take an extra 10 mins here, meaning 15 minute break... but it seemed we were 15 minutes or more off the schedule here so we gulped tea (Ed the photographer had surprised us with this.... does this make it unsupported?) and ate as fast as we could, whilst emptying rubbish and restocking our packs with food for the next 16 hours roughly. It was a stressful stop, but the tea invigorated us and we set off up the train line with dawn now fully breaking.
The next ascent was hard, stomachs stretched from too much food and tea, made us both feel sick, but now dawn was fully on its way and the sky was bluer than blue so we got poles out and made good time up the hill. You see its really hard to navigate with poles, it can be done, but its tough so now with the onset of a perfect day I could stash the map and hold the lines to summits or valleys in my head and we could run/pole/walk and keep a good pace whilst protecting our quads and knee's. I love poles, if you use them well they work for all, meaning ascending, running on the flat and descending.... I'm a skier, so maybe it feels more natural for me?
Leki Micro Trail Pro are my pole of choice and 'today' I have some new glove attachments, which are working a treat!
We finish the summits around Loch Trieg and head down some superb running to the train line and our track back to the head of Loch Treig, running is good right now and we seem to make good time. Loch Trieg tagged and now the ascent up one of the most perfect valleys I've every been in, the sun is shinning, its 0700 hours and I'm feeling great, a little too adrenalised, but great!
We take a Mountain Marathon line that Shane suggested, the terrain gets tough, the ascent seems hard and I curse the line thinking we are making a big error, I can tell Damian thinks the same thing.... he's wondering why we are trudging dry boggy ground.. well at least its dry! We hit the col we're aiming for and start the rest of the ascent, caffeine gels ingested by me are kicking in and we're summiting before I know it. Time check and we're back on track, the 15 minutes we were down has been regained, I thank Shane in my head and say to Damian that maybe the line was good after all.
This is the first of the Mamores and it was a real slog as we started the ascent, for me it has been the toughest part of the day so far, realising we have all the Mamores to tick now, with still a 3rd of the ascent and over 16 miles left, meaning some tough times ahead!
Binnein Beag is next and we make good time, but on the summit nature is calling and I'm struggling to concentrate and my energy is ebbing again, so we descend and I have my little nature stop, being conscious to bury and I only use sphagnum moss, as its natural and litter in the mountains shouldn't be tolerated. Now I can concentrate again and we start to head up Binnein Mor, the line shows directly up the gully buy it looks steep steep to me, I suggest a line to the right and onto the ridge, but Damian says 'lets keep left and summit directly, avoiding the boulder field' and it makes sense so we do, but wow its steep and the ground is rotten and stones have been falling out and there are cracks in the ground and my sugar levels are dropping and I'm making errors with my feet....... solid foot placement, less solid foot placement, feeling weak and my foot slips, I'm on all fours and its a 40 degree slope and shit I'm slipping, I dig my hands (with poles), elbows, knee's and feet into the slope as hard as I can, because if I don't control this now I'm in big trouble! I halt after a 4 to 6ft slip.... phew, but I'm hit with a massive burst of weakening adrenaline and I need sugar fast now, but we summit and then I re-fuel... back on track, althogh we are now 15 mins down again.
Na Gruagaichean comes easily and the An Gearanach out and back is next, the route say's over the secondary summit of Na Gruagaichean, but theres a line under the summit, faint but others have taken it so we do as well and it saves us 5 mins or more, we reach the summit of An Gearanach with 7 minutes back in the bank, so we're only 7 minutes down now!
This yoyo'ing is tough on the mind, but we're doing ok and we're both still able to smile, infact Im starting to enjoy it all again and life is getting better, then a sleet squall hits us, its roughly the 3rd or 4th one we've had, but this one has such a cold wind with it and the clag drops and I don't check the map and we run the wrong way off Stob Coire A Chairn, which was our last summit, and I feel something is wrong and I make a quick bearing check.... bugger, we've lost that 7 minutes again as we turn to head back, now, to Am Bodach and I can see Ed making his way to Sgorr an Lubhair via the Devils Ridge.
Am Bodach is a hard ascent, but when we summit this we've really broken the back of it and although we still have around 3 or more hours to go I start to taste the finish. My body is feeling quite broken and the chest infection I have is making me retch on summits when I cough, some nice green lumps are coming up, but I know it will all be over soon and we'll be in the top 100 runner to have completed the challenge and this is a major boost for me, I start to get strong in mind and body once more... come on I shout in my mind, I know we can do it now. Doubt has played with me for the last few hours, but we're on a roll and Damian is looking strong.
We meet Ed and exchange pleasantries, he snaps photo's and tells us we look strong and I don't care if he is lying because its a psychological boost to hear what he says. Devils Ridge is great and we're soon summiting Sgurr a Mhaim and heading back along the ridge.... Tim Laney gave Damian some knowledge about a drop from Sgurr a Mhaim under the Devlils Ridge, but we ignore it as it looks like a tough one for the quads and it really needs to be recce'd, I'm sure its great, but we don't want anything to scupper our chances now.
Stob Ban is a bastard, there is no other way to describe it, but we steadily climb and its the penultimate summit of the round, my body feels like a junkie waiting for their next fix of heroin, junk sick and smarting because pain is flooding in from all angles of my body, but I know we've done it now.
Damian calculates how we can sub-23 hour, just, but I just want to keep moving, he's doing better than I am right now. We hit the final summit of Mullach nan Coirean with some sneaky lines avoiding minor summits on route and we're taking a selfie before the final descent.
The descent is good, we move well and everything is looking good. The map shows the line crossing a fire road and then straight through the woods but when we get to the fire road I'm sugar crashing and the path isn't there, just felled trees!! Gel time, more caffeine... how much caffeine can the body handle? Mine's had too much today, we scout, can't find the track and concede to run the longer line on the fire road and I know we'll run past the exit to the track we want on the lower fire road and so we do... oh well, in hindsight I remember this track when I ascending it with Andrew Burton a few years before.
Damian wants to run the whole fire road but my body is giving up. I'm over heating and I'm suffering, so any slight incline and I'm walking, I'm about done.
We move well still and look for the final right turn into the woods to gain the Glen Nevis Road, but no sign of it, its hard to know exactly where we are on the fire road. We pass a mini cairn, 3 stones, but it seems to early and there isn't evidence, or at least obvious evidence, of a path so we move to the next corner and spot a path into the woods. We dive into it and scale some trees, the path weaves and so do we, under trees, over trees, there are felled trees everywhere, its becoming more and more dense, we pass an abandoned tent and I feel we've followed someones camping route... f**k... we've dropped a bollock right on the final home straight. I curse internally about not recce-ing the final section, a very stupid error, but we're here now so lets correct it. Sub 23 is now gone, but we can still do sub 23.5, so we back track and find ourselves even deeper in the woods, we can't find the path out... I would really like to cry, but we decided instead, which is a much better idea incidentally, to make our way to the road by tackling the fallen trees and under growth. Finally we find a wall, scale this and cross a farmers field, we can now see my van and we scale the final fence to gain the road. Ed, the photographer, is waiting up the road and see's us, he walks towards us and we wait momentarily before we run for the Glen Nevis YHA 'Red' sign that we set off from almost 23.5 hours ago....
A wave if euphoria, relief and joy hit me all at the same time and I'm completely spent. We touch the sign, Ed snaps some shots and I sit down, coughing and hocking, but we've done it and I'm on the best high I've experienced from running. I don't remember feeling this spent though, although I'm sure I have before.
We finished the Ramsay Round, onsight, with limited knowledge of the round in 23:21, we have become numbers 98 & 99 respectively and I know I can rest for a few weeks before I tackle anything major with running.... or can I? I have an 8 hour day with a client in less than 7 days, best hope I recover for that!
I'm so proud to be in the top 100, my son Winter, will be able to tell his mates when he understands what I have achieved, that his Daddy is in the top 100 runners to have completed this ultra hard mountain challenge and I'm just loving this fact. I've spent one of my best days running in the mountains with a great friend and I know we can sit in the pub in years to come and remember the day and smile and laugh and what a great feeling that is now and will be to have shared this day with my friend Damian Hall. I know he's thinking similar thoughts and we hug and make plans to get to the pub, eat some real food again and have a beer.
Life is perfect in times like this and I'm completely in the moment and have been for the last 23.5 hours.
Thanks go to Damian Hall for joining me on these crazy missions and making them tolerable or really fun, I'm not sure which it is? Thanks to my wife, Nicola, and the rest of the family for putting up with my training, bad moods when I'm tired and the fall out the week after as my body and mind struggle for recovery. Thanks also to Leki UK for supplying me with poles, the Micro Trail Pro might be slightly heavier than some of its counter parts, but they far out weigh that with the gloves and shark tooth attachment system.Thanks to Montane for giving me the clothes I wore on the day a few years ago, the kit is old but still works well and thanks to Mountain Fuel on this occasion for keeping me hydrated on the route, it worekd a treat and I would recommend it highly. And of course thanks to Inov8 for supporting me with footwear, you really can't beat Inov8 for running off road in the mountains of the UK, nothing grips better. Oh and finally Ed Smith, our photographer, for surprising us with the tea!
Look out for a separate article on clothing, equipment and how to stay fuelled for challenges like this.
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