Ramsay Round 15th/16th July 2022 – 24 Munros 99.3 km 8675 m ascent (62 miles 28500 feet)
Report from Tom Lynch:
Having completed the Bob Graham in 2019 and the Welsh ‘equivalent’ the Paddy Buckley in 2021 after Covid allowed a good recce period in Wales, I set my sights on the Scottish version of a big round, the Charlie Ramsay Round. Charlie Ramsay first completed the round in 1978 basing his round on the extension of the Tranter Round with an additional 5 Munros to make 24 peaks in 24 hours – he has a detailed site about the round here https://www.ramsaysround.co.uk/. The round starts in Glen Nevis at the foot of Ben Nevis taking in Ben Nevis, the Grey Corries, the Loch Treig Munros and the Mamores. On first look, this might seem the softest of the rounds, only 24 peaks, shorter than both the BG and Paddy, and with a bit less climbing than the Paddy Buckley. However, this conceals the numerous challenges of the round including the complexity of support, the technical terrain, the remoteness, weather and availability of experienced supporters, not to mention the fact that each Munro is nearly the height of the biggest Lakeland fells, and you are often starting from close to sea level for several of the climbs.
Each of the big rounds has a general idea that 24 hours is a target to aim for, for completing the round (and this is what they evolved from in some cases – how many peaks in the area could be climbed in a day). While the BG is strict in that you can’t enter the club unless you beat 24 hours, Paddy Buckley will record any continuous completions of the Paddy Buckley in the list (and in fact the first completion did not beat the 24 hour time). The Ramsay is somewhere in between, and only 24 hour completions are recorded on the site, although a completion is still generally recognised as an achievement due to the difficulty of the round, and most people agree it ‘counts’. Having done the other two rounds in 24 hours, this was my target, and there is a little known list kept by Martin Stone (who did the first solo unsupported mid-winter completion of the Bob Graham) that lists all those on record that have completed the ‘Big 3’ English, Welsh and Scottish rounds in under 24 hours. Once I had completed the Paddy Buckley in sub-24hrs this became my target. At the time of attempting the list, up to the end of 2021, it only contained 67 people and I was aiming to be number 70 something if I could pull off a first time completion of the Ramsay….
Leg 1 – Support runners – Patrick Wardle and Ross McCall
I decided to go clockwise for my round, it’s against tradition some might say (but the most popular/successful way round according to the stats), but saves you the epic climb over the back of Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg arête at the end of your round, and punishing descent of the full height of the Ben to the youth hostel. This means however that you start your round with the biggest climb up the Ben Nevis tourist path. The first leg takes in 10 Munros and takes around 8-8.5 hours depending on your schedule. It is quite a daunting leg (like most Ramsay legs) for both the contender and the supporters, there is very little in the way of escape routes once you are a few Munros in, and help has to come in from a quite a distance, so the leg feels very remote, and past a certain point you feel committed to carry on if on a round, as it’s often the fastest way out in any case. To add to this, when you arrive at the end there is no van offering warmth and safety, the nearest you can park is around 1 km away, so the ‘road support’ also need to walk in and hang around for you, especially if you are off schedule! Speaking of schedules, my target for the Ramsay, was just under 24 hour completion, but experience from previous rounds suggested I could go faster, and if the round was comparable I could hope for at least an hour under the 24. I have history of running faster than schedule and causing issues for my supporters, so I opted for an ambitious 22 hour schedule, using timings borrowed from my friend who was also attempting half an hour later – Alistair Cox. At the last minute we had both revised our schedules to make the first leg a bit faster, and last leg slower, based on advice from previous rounds giving me just under 8 hours for this leg (more on this later!), I had also set my start an hour later to 7pm rather than 6pm, again to avoid surprising my road support, and making sure the time I told them to be at the changeover was the earliest conceivable.
Conditions were clear for the evening start, some clouds around, but much better than any of the recent supports I had been on, and importantly the wind was fairly gentle, even for the forecast on the tops, it was actually pretty warm and muggy as we set off up the Ben tourist path past the usual groups of walkers that are still coming down (and going up!) at this time. I tried to go light on water to start to help out my pacers, and we were to fill bottles at Red Gully part way up. In the event we got chatting and totally missed the Ramsay cut through at this point, and took a wide extra (more gentle) loop on the tourist path, not a great start, but nothing major. We filled the bottles at the base of where the zig zags start, and following Finlay Wild’s line (in the opposite direction) we went direct up, cutting the corners of the zig zags following the line of the stream. The clag had come in by this point, no surprise, but everything as going fine, I did realise I was going well, as I was leading the pace, and go the odd comment from my pacers about the speed. It’s a tough round to support, as you need to carry everything your contender needs for the next 8 hours, plus extra safety kit, then all of your own stuff for the same reasons on top of this, this makes for a heavy load and hard climbs. We topped out on the Ben a little over the expected schedule in about 1.5hrs, about 10 minutes over the expected schedule. This wasn’t overly worrying, as having done the Ben on a Ramsay before I thought this was pretty optimistic (and possibly a bit foolhardy going this fast). Not concerned, we set off down the rough back of the Ben to find Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) arête. I could talk in minute detail about the whole round, but the start of this leg does deserve these few words, as it one of the most technical bits of the round other than the Mamores ridges. On a clear day we would have had a breathtaking arête curving round before us, and would have easily picked our way to where it joins the shoulder of the Ben, however we were rock hopping our way over jagged boulders tip toeing along the gpx line I had on mine and Patrick’s watches, hoping to find the tiny trod that skirts below CMD and saves a very slow (but exciting scramble) along it, and also trying not to fall off the edge. Not far off the true start of the arête it became apparent we were heading down a rocky chute, and trying not to alarm the others I suggested we take a hard right and climb out, as I was fairly sure we were heading to a cliff like overhang, unbelievably I am pretty sure I made this same mistake last time I did the ridge in heavy clag. Not a big loss of time, but a bit heartstopping, and I was hoping the others were blissfully unaware! Carrying on, with some more slow scrambling I was pleased that we suddenly dropped onto the trod, I’d not been able to find this on the previous time in the clag, and I knew we could now crack on and make good time to the next summit CMD itself (holding to the time lost on Ben, with no loss). A scramble along, and some great views in the breaks in the cloud down into Coire Leis, and it wasn’t long until we summited and started the slippery technical descent…basically par for the course for every Ramsay descent! A big drop down to 830 m a refill at the stream, and the start of the climb back up to Aonach Mor (1221 m), this is quite a demoralising part of the route as it’s a lot of drop and climb all in one go, and the going is steep, and we still hadn’t really settled into a rhythm. I was still leading Ross and Patrick up the climb, but I noticed now that Patrick was feeling the strain and was dropping off the back, and I think he was feeling that he was losing me time. We had a quick chat, and I tried to reassure him that it’s a hard start for the pacers, and thing should get better as we got going, and that I was happy with the pace we’d made. We continued our way up, and got to the more gentle travers to the end of Aonach Mor a small out and back, and then heading off down to the small col before a short climb up to Aonach Beag. The next part is a fairly precarious drop off Stob Coire Bhealaich, which can be done a few ways – Spinks Ridge, Charlie’s gully, or if your me on previous supports, a mangled version somewhere of Spinks Ridge over pretty rough ground. On this occasaion I had discussed with Alistair and switched to his trace here to try and find Charlie’s gully. In the event I think I missed it (so did Alistair), but is was a much better, if very slippery way down.
At this point you can see the ridge of the Grey Corries stretching away, and we could see the silhouette of a few of the sharp peaks in the fading light. On the col Coire a’ Bhuic before the traverse round Sgur Choinnich Beag to climb Sgurr Choinnich Mor (5th Munro) Patrick pulled me up and queried if there were any exit points left on the leg, he wasn’t feeling any better, and at this point it dawns on your what is left of the leg. This was the perfect place to discuss this, as it was the last one before the wide valley before the Loch Trieg, and a good place to call it, as the exit still easily takes you back down to Glen Nevis and so a shorter night out/trip home. This is also one of the important qualities of supporters you pick on this round – being confident that they know their limits, when to pull out, when they can push on, and that you’re also not worried about them on their own in the hills, as splitting up can happen a lot more easily on these rounds. Patrick headed off down the streams that run off down to Glen Nevis from hear, and we could see his light disappearing over our shoulder – I have to say I was pretty envious at this point, we were heading into the darkest part of the night a few hours still lay ahead of us, and some big mountains, and Patrick would probably be in bed fore we done a couple more of the hills. Ross didn’t seem to bat an eyelid at being left as the only pacer, he had all my kit, some of my water, and all I had taken was some of the food. We settled into a good pace now, Ross led the climbs, with some direction from me, and I led down the descents, and we made good progress over the rocky corrie to Stob Coire an Laoigh and the ridge beyond to Stob Choire Claurigh, 7 Munros done. I had lost track of the schedule completely now, I knew we were at least 30 minutes over, and was now just thinking that I’d try and get 24 and see what I could get done on legs 2 and 3 in daylight, when things always feel better. I generally feel my worst at this point on a round, so try and set the night leg first, I was dreading the 700 – 800m climb back up to Stob Coire Easain, but first we had to get Stob Ban out of the way, and I was looking forward to seeing Alistair’s friends who were bivvying out for the night – they had a fantastic view of the orange super moon that was reflecting off Loch Trieg overnight, and we were treated to it for the whole of this last part of the leg. We said a quick hello, I had of tea they kindly offered, and set off down the huge heathery descent to climb up Easain. Ross was doing an amazing job, and is always cheerful, but I could tell even he was hating the Easain climb a bit, and we were so glad to slog our way up. I was now just looking forward to getting the last Munro on this leg done, getting food, seeing Tanya at the changeover, and the dawn coming, and we jogged our way down the last descent. I started to get a headache at this point, and shortness of breath I usually only get with pollen, with the muggy night I convinced myself I was coming down with Covid, and that maybe it was a really stupid idea, and I’d probably have to give up when we got in. I told my concerns to Ross, and switching into paramedic mode, he gave me some paracetamol, and the little bit of electrolyte drink he had left, about ten minutes later I suddenly felt alright again, and thought maybe I could see how I felt at the changeover. Both our batteries were failing our torches at this point, and we slid our way down the descent, I had stupidly turned mine on full when Ross had previously changed his batteries, and had wiped mine out, but we weren’t far off. We jogged into the changeover to cheers from the supporters, and I slumped onto a pile of fence posts, in some need of revival. At this point I assumed I was just racing 24 hours, and had thought that the headtorch of Alistair I could see behind at some points was rapidly catching me up. I don’t think I took in the reassurance that I was doing well from Tanya, and didn’t know it but I was running almost perfectly to my original schedule before I tweaked it, and about 45 mins down on the new schedule (see comparison below). Total leg time 8:26:20
Leg 2 - supporters Steve Rhodes, Simon Franklin, Paul Calderbank
Feeling a lot better with some food, and more electrolytes in, and the prospect of a really beautiful day, judging by the overnight moonlight I set off across the Fersit dam with Simon Franklin, Paul Calderbank and Steve Rhodes navigating. Steve and Paul are one of the reasons I’d first started to get a look at the Ramsay, having had a few attempts between them, and Steve only recently eventually being beaten by terrible overnight weather on his A/C attempt. The start to Leg 2 is an interesting possibly unique bit of running where you cross the dam of a now possibly defunct reservoir, and head straight onto a railway line, which you then proceed to run along until you find a way off and up onto the hill. This is quite a strange experience for an 80s child brought up on graphic rail safety adverts of people getting their legs trapped in train tracks etc. and the first time I reccied this we did actually meet an oncoming sleeper train heading to Inverness. It must be a regular occurrence to find people on the track, as the speed was slow, and I am fairly sure we got a wave. This time it proceeded uneventfully, possibly as it was about 4 in the morning. The first climb up Stob Choire Sgriodain is big, steep, but nothing out of the ordinary for the Ramsay, and the terrain is ‘relatively’ good going. After what seemed an age (because it always is on Ramsay climbs) I reached the part where it flattens off, which always brings hope, but then realised this went on for some time (a theme of this leg). I was quite relaxed on this leg, I had needed to nav all of the first leg, as Patrick and Ross had not run any of it previously (apart from the Ben), and so it was good to hand the mental load over to Steve. The beautiful day that was promised did not materialise, and we were running in fairly cold and intermittent clag, but things were going well. I still didn’t really have my head round the schedule, but Steve reassured me, we were only a couple of minutes off the split time to the first summit – I took this to mean we were holding pace well, so not dropping any closer to 24 hours, however we were actually almost bang on my original schedule. The next hill Chno Dearg came and went, it’s probably nice if you can see the view, but I didn’t have much on the recce either, and next is a big descent down to the valley for the steep then long climb up to Beinn Na Lap. We came a bit detached at this point, resulting from me needing some water and food, but I was caught again on the steep climb up, and then we jog walked the longest summit plateau I think I’ve ever done, it took an age to get to the summit. You are rewarded with a great springy run down though, and at this point we saw some self supported A/C contenders coming up, both copying Finlay’s line it seems. At this point you hit an estate track near the famous Corrour station (from Trainspotting) and then follow the estate track, as it turns into a muddy river track for quite a few miles, before finding a river crossing and following another estate track from near Luibelt bothy (a ruined supposedly haunted bothy). I couldn’t tell you how far this was, but the river track took what felt like forever, and then I still had at least a 5k run in to the changeover. My only focus was on this now, and Steve marshalled me in to a fairly speedy (relative for Ramsay pace) run along the track, just watching his feet and following. I am not sure if Steve did this as he was worried about my schedule time as I had given to him (we were getting on for 1hr over the scheduled pace), but we were actually not bang on my original schedule, and so all I really needed to do was keep going on the last leg. I was so pleased to see the changeover by a small ruin at the side of Loch Eilde Mor and the timings meant that Alistair’s support crew were also there. For most of the second estate track I had been running with a good few stones in my shoes, and one particularly sharp one which meant I’d been running with contorted toes for the last 20 minutes or. Again I slumped to the floor here to get a shoe change, rice pudding, tea, salt tablets, a mars bar or two all sorted by Tanya, and summoned up the will to climb the towering Sgurr Eilde Mor behind me. Total leg time 5:30:54
Leg 3 - supporters Carol Morgan, Adrian Kennedy and Paul Colley-Davies
At Loch Eilde Mor I sat with my back to the big climb ahead, I am not sure if purposefully, but this definitely looms large in your head, and feels like the key to cracking the final part of the round, a bit like a mega-Yewbarrow on the BG. At 1010 m it’s not the biggest of the Munros on the round by any means, but is climbed from a starting point under 350m, so the climb is significant. I had Carol Morgan and Adrian Kennedy on this leg, with Paul Colley-Davies planning to meet me mid way along, on the out and back ‘Devil’s Ridge’. As we slowly started up the very steep rough climb in the intermittently sunny clag (for most of this leg), I did sneak a look at the time on my watch, and even in my fatigued state could work out that I actually had quite a lot of time to get this done. On my new schedule I had accounted for something like 8:45 for this leg, and I could see that I had about 10 hours to do it in to beat 24 hours, so this did start to lift my spirit, as I realised barring incident I would probably get it done under 24. This climb does drag though, and Carol can probably attest to how much I complained on it, not helped by the frequent false summits. Finally though we neared the summit, and with just one more rocky scramble, then a bit more false summit we crested the top, to start down the almost immediate scree/rocky descent back down before a run over to Binnein Beg. I do enjoy the Mamores leg, and particularly enjoyed this descent in the recce, and it was good going. Again navving was pretty much left to Carol barring specific route choice, like the way down off Binnein Beg, and up Binnein Mor. The climb to BM gets you onto the big Mamores ridge, and it really starts to feel like you can see yourself completing once you’ve hauled yourself onto it. BM down, leaves you ‘only’ 8 Munros to go, and they start to come more quickly after this point. Na Gruagaichean came easily, and despite a bit of trouble finding the trod (still not convinced there is one) to traverse to An Gearanach we found ourselves at the ridge leading to it. There are two out and back ridges on the Mamores leg, and these are a good place for support to regroup or catch contenders, and Adrian took the opportunity to rest while we did the out and back, we also left most of the gear for the quick trip. This proved to be a little bit of a mistake, I hadn’t realised it, but I was getting low on energy, and just as we crested the ridge way above where we left the bags, my legs started to go into wooden puppet mode, which is just what you need on a precarious ridge (probably the most precarious one). We pressed on, as there was nothing to be done, and I just took my way carefully across the ridge. Upon the return, we took the chance to regroup, I had more paracetamol and salt tablets, and a bit of a sit down. I also didn’t realise but I had been taking time off my original schedule and was by now ahead of my tweaked schedule. This rest reset things a little, and I started to drift back to the schedules as I went along, I piled in the food to get up the next climb, but managed to feel OK for Am Bodach and Sgurr an Lubhair, and we got onto the Devil’s Ridge to head out and hopefully meet Paul. Personally I think the Devil’s ridge is overhyped compared to some others, it’s an impressive exposed ridge, but technically not as difficult as others, and I think it’s mainly the vertigo inducing steepness that makes it feel dangerous on a clear day. We moved well along the ridge, Carol was moving really fast, I think trying to pull me along, perhaps aware we’d started to slip a little. We soon got to the foot of Sgurr a Mhaim and started the climb. Upon reaching the summit cairn, I thought we’d probably missed Paul, as no-one was to be seen, but as we were making moves to go a hand popped up from behind the cairn, and Paul had been sheltering there, arriving early. He has a bag of food, and some flat Irn Bru I’d prepared for the end of the round, seeking out the old recipe high sugar variety, for a bit of variation from the flat coke I’d been drinking most of the round. We made our way back across the ridge, nearly dropping Paul as we didn’t give him much time to gather his things, but he caught us by the end of the ridge, and we dropped down to the lochan before the climb up Stob Ban. At this point Adrian decided he would drop back into Glen Nevis, he’d been doing a great job of carrying the food/kit and sorting drinks/food to handover as we went, and had started to tire at this point. This worked out well with Paul just warming up and switching in for Adrian for the final section of the leg. We said our goodbyes and started to haul up to Stob Ban, a big white peak (literal translation), which is rocky and technical. This climb didn’t seem to bad, and we soon summited with only 1 peak to go. It’s a long ridgy undulated run to Mullach nan Coirean and there are several subsidiary summits on the ridge. I had started to let my foot of the gas here a bit, happy in the knowledge I was going to do OK. Carol also admitted that she was fairly tired by the point, this being her longest run since an impressive Wainwright’s round completion, however she was still pushing on trying to keep me from being too lazy. Eventually through the fog, we saw the last hill loom, and I picked my way up here to complete the final summit. All that was left was the technical run off, and then the ridiculously boggy descent to the woodland steps and then forest tracks that start to lead you back to the youth hostel. We navigated our way down through this, to hit the final forest track, with Carol setting a good pace to try and keep me running barring some small hills. My hips were hurting by this point, as was the calf pain I’d been carrying most of leg 3, but it gets easier when you know how close you are to the finish, and I managed to put in a sort of sprint along the road section. I was ready for the youth hostel surrounded by clapping supporters, however I passed them all about 200 m up the road all staring at a helicopter rescue in progress on the Ben with a few having to run to get ahead of me to the finish. I stopped the clock in 22:23:03, with a last leg time of 08:05:00.
A huge thank you to all the supporters, the Ramsay round is such an extra commitment, not least with the current price of fuel!
Special thanks to Tanya for coordinating the support on all my rounds, I’ve promised to focus on unsupported rounds for the foreseeable future! 😀