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Jez Bragg's 2013 UTMB Training - Part 2

by Editor
Wednesday 31st July 2013

Jez makes the best of a weekend! Leaving work on Wednesday he heads for adventures in the Scotland to return to work in London on Monday, full of tales to tell.

A 2 day Ramsay Round – Scottish Highlands

A 2 day Ramsay Round – Scottish Highlands © Jez Bragg

Photos © Jez Bragg

The Ramsay Round is a 56 mile circular route taking in 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft) based in the Scottish Highlands, just to the east of Fort William, with a total of 28,500ft of climbing. It is the Scottish equivalent of the Bob Graham Round, a better known and increasingly popular fell running challenge in the Lake District. Wales also has it’s own version in the Paddy Buckley Round and all three present their own unique challenge across typically rough and untracked terrain. They pitch a solo runner against the mountains, the clock and the weather with pride being the only real prize.

Whilst successful Bob Graham completions number hundreds and hundreds, for the Ramsay Round it’s still in double digits, probably just because of it’s location away from the crowds, tucked away on the north west coast of Scotland. Although I’ve been round all three routes in training, I can’t really comment on their comparable difficulty, other than they all demand meticulous preparation to get them right. ‘Lines’ are particularly important given the nature of the terrain; bypassing the rocky crags, avoiding the knee-deep bogs or picking the right river crossing points will all save you significant amounts of time. When you’re stood on a summit, it’s hard to get your line of descent absolutely right without practice, and that takes time as well as a bit of experience.

I’ve always loved taking trips up to the Highlands to explore the remote areas on foot, but having never gone round the full Ramsay Round route, I thought a spell of intense UTMB training was a great excuse to get up there and have a go at getting round the Ramsay in two days. Call it a recce for a future attempt if you like, but perhaps a slightly more full-on schedule than most might opt for.

I took the overnight sleeper train up to Fort William on a Wednesday evening after a full day at work in London. Being suitably worn out from work, I soon nodded off in my comfy cabin, and woke up the next day in the beautiful surroundings of the Scottish Highlands. What better way to make such a journey, and to arrive ready for breakfast? Perfect.

Thursday was spent warming the legs up on the first few Munros of the round – Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor – 3 rugged 4,000 footers immediately providing incredible views of the surrounding mountains, glens and lochs. That was a 5 hour outing in itself.

A 2 day Ramsay Round – Scottish Highlands © Jez Bragg

Photos © Jez Bragg

The start of the Ramsay is Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, so I trotted up there from my B&B on the edge of town, ready for a 6.20am start on the Friday morning. Luckily, it was the start of another clear spell of weather and the views down Glen Nevis on the climb up Ben Nevis were simply spectacular with a layer of mist lying deep in the valley. The prospect of a day packed with views of this quality was mouth watering. I had shade for the majority of the climb, but soon I broke the ridgeline and hit the direct sunlight, which was then relentless for the next two days, and added a challenging twist to my journey.

The links between the summits varied between exciting narrow ridges, grassy saddles and boulders fields creating endless interest, but demanding the utmost concentration for someone without much experience on the route. I had the 4,000 footers behind me by mid-morning and Grey Corries done by lunch, however the last five peaks of the day had difficult and rough links right back down into the separating glens, which were tough going in the heat with next to no breeze. I don’t think I’ve known such high temperatures and lack of wind in the hills up there. Streams became sanctuaries, both for water re-supplies and lying in to cool down – in that order for obvious reasons. The heat was wearing me down by mid-afternoon to the extent I was digging deep to keep going, but a simple lure is always enough in these situations. The thought of a good feed up at Corrour Station House Restaurant at the end of the day, one of the highest and most remote railway stations in the country, was more than enough to see me tick off all 13 Munros planned for the day.

So after dinner, a train ride back to Fort William, a good night’s sleep, breakfast and finally another train ride back to where I paused in Corrour – I was all set to go again with day two. Incidentally I chose to take the trip back to Fort William overnight to keep logistics simple (really), so I didn’t need to carry too much on me, and I could be based in the same place for three nights running. It worked brilliantly well, despite the trains being at 4 to 6 hour intervals.

Day two started badly with a navigation error on the easiest section of the route. I took the wrong valley from the head of Loch Trieg, taking me back and beyond a crossing of the same valley I had made the day before. What a nightmare. Well, if it had been anything other than a training run it would have been. 7 or 8 miles later I was back on track and making my first ascent of the day into the Mamores. I loved every step of the Mamores, despite the continued heat. The views north to the Nevis range and Grey Corries were beyond words. The skies remained cloudless and blue; all you could see in every direction were the summits of other Munros, as far as the eyes could see. There was ever so slightly more breeze, and just enough to stay on the right side of hot.

There were far more people out on the hills than the day before so it was nice to have the passing company, but I was definitely a man in a hurry. There are one or two out-and-backs on the Mamores which are mentally quite tough, but all have to be done to hit the complete list of summits. And by around 7.30pm I was on top of the last of the Round, Mullach nan Coirean, taking a quick celebratory photo and then descending back into Fort William. Just to mirror the navigation error at the start of the day the day, I also managed to take the wrong ridge back down into Glen Nevis, but it ran parallel to the correct one, and mattered not. On the plus side it gave me four miles on the final section of the West Highland Way which brought back many memories from years gone by.

A steak and a couple of pints of cider were well earned that evening, and I felt on the biggest high imaginable after two such unforgettable days out on the hills. As a training trip it was perfect, putting strength into my legs and confidence into my mind. If you can get up and down those sorts of hills, you can get up and down the nicely graded switchbacks on the UTMB course, albeit they’re a little bit longer.

And then Sunday – read the papers and a have lie in? No, a final trip up the Ben taking in a few of the outlying tops, but at a much more leisurely pace. There’s even a shower at Fort William station now, so I could get cleaned up before jumping back on the train and sleeping my way back down to London ready for work bright and breezy on Monday morning.

But how do you respond to the inevitable colleague question ‘well, how was your weekend then?’. Do you go there….?!

A 2 day Ramsay Round – Scottish Highlands © Jez Bragg

Photos © Jez Bragg


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by yafizicist
10:02, Wednesday 31st July 2013
What an inspiration!
You do that for training. I think I'd quite like to tackle some of these rounds. Did you run solo - I was trying to figure out from the photos, or did you have some company?
Thank you for the article, and best of luck for UTMB.
TereréJordan Blood