2005 began for me with the Ramsay/Tranter’s round attempt with Gary Tompsett and ended with a Tranter’s attempt with Paul Currant. In between I’d had another go with GT at Easter and one with Tim Lenton in the summer. This thing is haunting me and I was determined that 2005 would end with a final make or break attempt at one of the classic Lochaber rounds.
Tranter’s Round is a round of the Mamores, Grey Corries, Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg and finishing off with Ben Nevis. That’s 18 Munro’s and about 40 miles with over 21000 ft of ascent (and descent!). The Ramsay is a longer and tougher version of the Tranter’s Round, but that really would have required some training and less mince pie eating, which is a bit of an extreme sacrifice in the name of sport!
The weather forecast all week was looking perfect for the attempt. Mild temperatures had thawed most of the early snow fall of a few weeks ago, and the fresh snow that fell in the few days before our attempt only grazed the Eastern and Northern Highlands, leaving our hills snow free….mostly. The sky was clear as we set off up onto the Mamores from Glen Nevis just before 1pm, after a chaotic packing session for Paul following a Christmas work’s night out the previous evening. Paul had assured me he was unfit as he hadn’t done any running since pushing (literally at times) Gary T’s arse around the elite KIMM course. Anyone that knows Paul will know of his modesty and outright ability to be a complete fitness machine at all times; perhaps why he’s a former World Champion sportsman. So I didn’t believe a word of his chat.
The Mamores provided some great running along the range with a couple of out and backs to complete the famous Ring of Steall. At about four-thirty the last of the daylight slipped away in a glorious orange sunset, with the sun dipping behind the distant hills of Moidart, not before casting reflections across Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven, all familiar locations to Wilderness ARCers. Three and a half hours in and the last of our daylight was gone. (And so was my digital camera when it fell off my pack on one of the summits…)
The lack of any significant snow and the clear sky were great factors of luck, but our guiding light had been picked specifically for this weekend. The moon was full and at its highest and brightest in the sky for 18 years, meaning that for most of the run we could really have run without our headtorches; if we didn’t have to keep alert for hidden patches of ice hidden in the rocks. Steep ascents of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnean Beag were a wake up call as were the lights of Kinlochleven far below us where thoughts of fish, chips and a beer were drifting towards. The awesome grip that my new Inov8 Mud Claws had on the frost covered, near vertical descent of the latter hill made for a lot fun, and new Sealskins were superb when we crossed the marshy, semi-frozen ground of upper Glen Nevis.
Our ascent of the first of the Grey Corries, Stob Ban, was our first sleepy moment when the Christmas night out factor kicked in, but ProPlus banished the nods pretty quickly helped by the sharp drop in temperature to around minus 7 when we reached the summit. At this point we were still under clear skies and guided by bright moonlight, reflecting randomly off myriad puddles and lochans, and giving the whole of the Western Highlands an eerie light. Once up on the Grey Corries proper, sparks flew and we breezed along the ridge helped by small cornices of grippy snow and a hard frost that coated the rocks like sandpaper. Where we could we made use of the snow covering the tricky rocky sections and our time was maybe quicker than it normally would be in daylight.
A descent to the col before the ascent of Aonach Beag led us down to meet Nicola MacLeod and her fella Willow, who had arrived minutes before us to set up camp and cook us a few surprise goodies. It was 4am and we were 15 hours into the run. We had four hills left to do and a record time was on the cards. The record stood at 26 hours and 40 mins for a winter round, but we were set to smash that by some way…
Several bacon and hummous sarnies, a splash of warm soup and a mouthful of Port and we were on our way up onto Aonach Beag and the first of the 4000ft mountains on our trip. Sometime after the start of our brief rest in the tent and our ascent onto the hills again, the weather had changed dramatically and the clear sky was replaced by growing winds and low cloud, then later as we reached higher altitudes the snow began. Suddenly there was a sheen on every rock we stepped on and at these heights the spaces between the rocks were now full of ice. The summit of Aonach Beag became a convex slope of ice with a thin covering of snow. It was getting dodgy.
Running onto Aonach Mor, we passed the top of the path we’d have to descend to go onto Carn Mor Dearg although the whole area was capped with treacherous ice right to the edge. The wind was howling again and thoughts immediately turned to the conditions endured in the WARC, this time though it was driving snow, not rain, so we were comfortable so long as we kept moving. The wind was still strengthening, making us struggle to stay upright and the windchill was way down near minus 20 odd at this stage. A decision was made pretty quickly that the ice at the top of the descent to Carn Mor Dearg and the probable ice and ridiculous winds we would have on the CMD arête, were too dodgy to risk our lives on. A hobbled descent down the ski slopes of Nevis Range and the downhill mountain bike track was the sensible end to a phenomenal run. Until near the end, the conditions were absolutely superb and it will be a very very long time before they are in a similar state for someone to have as good a crack at the record as we did. In hindsight we may have been better ticking off the 4000ft hills first in the daylight while we knew conditions were good, but that’s another lesson learnt in a fantastic year of experiences. Good luck to anyone that may attempt the winter record in the near future, you’re welcome to it. After such a beautiful experience I think I’m ready to walk away and leave the Tranter’s round for a good while now….I think…