Getting a group of people together for this kind of weekend is a difficult task, especially so close to the festive season, not least because the chances of completing it are low, and the contingencies are multiple.
But Sleepmonsters (Forum) Scotland had assembled a loose but dedicated collection of Munro warriors for an attempt at this daunting challenge despite the stormy weather and forecasts. It was foolish, but it was fun, and it would firmly banish the mid-winter presence of SAD syndrome.
Long Way Round
The Ramsay Round is a 60-mile circuit with over 28,000 feet of ascent, starting and finishing at Glen Nevis youth hostel. First completed by Charlie Ramsay in July 1978 it takes in the Mamores, outliers around Loch Treig, the Aonachs and has a big finish with Ben Nevis.
It is regarded as a classic 24-hour challenge, with only about twenty people ever having completed it in that time. Until recently no one had completed the Winter Round while the UK’s biggest hills were still snow and ice covered, but then in November 2002 Glyn Jones of Dumfries did it in 53hrs 34mins. This inspired Gary to give it a crack in 2003. He ran and walked almost non-stop to complete the ’round’ in good conditions in 32 hours 48 minutes, unsupported.
This years’ attempt was to be entirely different, with Rob Priestley, Nick Leslie and Paul Currant supporting Gary and young ‘Scotty’ John Laughlin at various ‘luxurious’ bothies. (We think that whisky and open fires were included!) The team was to be bigger, with all of SM Scotland to be involved, but the excesses and illnesses of Hogmanay in Scotland had slowly eroded it.
As everyone drove North through lashings of rain, it was clear that the attempt was immediately in doubt, but Gary had insisted ‘Starting is half of the battle’.
We assembled at Achintee Bunkhouse / Glen Nevis Inn, a gem of a place often missed by the summit-bound hoards. It took a while assembling all the gear into the attempters rucksacks and the support rucksacks and stashes (food drops).
When entering mid-winter mountains in winter conditions, omissions in kit can be fatal. One notable addition to last years kit list is the use of USE’s new Exposure lighting systems.
Thanks to Rory Hitchens, the team had loan of some of the latest units, giving an incredible TWO nights worth of very bright light. USE are currently developing units and accessories that will enable these revolutionary lights to be used as headtorches and helmet mounted torches – ideal for adventure racing.
We laboured over the inclusion of every last piece of equipment. Just before bed-time (no point starting through the first night), a sneaky peek out of the door revealed utter blackness, wetness and chillness. Nice. At reveille, a sneaky peak out of the door revealed the same conditions, but this time, fresh snow was now clearly present in the dark hills.
In the Event
Having travelled round to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel for the official start, still in darkness, and with torches at the ready, we ran off along Glen Nevis road, up through the forest and out onto the hill and into deep snow. I knew the sheltered ascent would be calm and deceiving – gaining the ridge would tell all. It didn’t.
‘Looks alright’. A quick call to Rob (waiting around at Roybridge before initiating his, and others, roles) that we were GREEN to go. Ten minutes later it was then that we gained the ridge proper and all hell let loose! Oh boy, it was howling! We struggled on, glancing across at each other. At those winds speeds you can’t talk, hear or see into your companion’s eyes, so we just ‘thought’. After a bit more thinking, we rang Rob back. ABORT, ABORT. And we switched to Plan D. John and I were to bag this first Munro, then return to base.
In these wonderfully white and windy conditions, we forged on through great drifts to the summit of Mullach nan Coirean. Savoured the horrific conditions at the cairn, changing gloves
and loosing sensation in the fingers in 30 seconds, opening rucksacks and having it fill with spindrift immediately, taking photographs and having the camera jam with snow, leaping about in the wind – we were on a holiday-hike now and we were damn well going to enjoy it!
The descent, via a different ridge, brought more drifts, whiteouts and stronger blinding winds. But after entering the forest far below, a gentle walk back to the YH and a full traverse of the Nevis Sport café we were replete. I don’t think that many, if any, Munro’s were bagged that day, so we were glad for ours. As for the other 23 Munro’s, they’ll have to wait for a nicer Winter Round.