> Charlie Ramsay Round - Steve Birkinshaw

19th June 2006

The Charlie Ramsay round is the Scottish equivalent of the Bob Graham round. However, only around 40 people have completed the Ramsay round compared to around 1300 for the Bob Graham. Looking at the distance and climb involved this might seem surprising as the Ramsay round is actually slightly shorter and with a similar amount of climb. The main reason for this discrepancy is the terrain on the Ramsay round. Most of it is untracked through either boulder field or heather. For example it is only 2km from Bob Nevis to Carn Mor Dearg but it is along a narrow rocky arête and it takes about 40minutes. Another difficulty of the Ramsay round is the logistics. The route does not cross any roads. Normally support is received at two points, at loch Trieg dam (1km from a road) and at Loch Eilde Mor (6km from a road).

In order to have support but be able to run the entire route in good weather I had a cunning plan. I had booked a cottage in Glen Nevis for a week in June with my wife Emma, our two young childen (James 2 ½ and Matthew ½ ) and Emma's parents (Mary and Joe). When a nice day was forecast I would set out at 4am and run the route by myself with support from Emma, Joe and Mary and complete the route around midnight. However, the simple plan did not take into account the weather around Fort William. While the rest of the UK was dry and sunny, the forecast in Fort William was for rain or wind or both every day over the whole week. There appeared to be a small window of reasonable weather on 20th June but on the morning of the 19th June this had vanished and a low pressure system was due to arrive around midday on the 20th. I went for a walk and decided on a new plan. I would set off at 11am that morning. Even though it was raining, there was not much wind and the weather was likely to improve. Hopefully, I would be off the hills before the worst of the predicted low pressure system arrived. Making a definite starting time helped but I was still nervous. I would be doing these big hills, which I had either never or only been up once before, by myself, with wet rocks and at times feeling very tired and at night. I had decided to do the route clockwise as I wanted to get over Ben Nevis and the Aonachs while I was still fresh but now I would also be doing the start of the Mamores section in the dark. However, that was a long time in the future I would start and just see how it went.

So I took the short walk from the cottage to the youth hostel. My support team were there and James, said "ready, steady, go" and I was off up Ben Nevis. I climbed steadily and I was soon in the hill fog with really low visibility. The rain came and went but as I had hoped at least there was very little wind. I saw very few people climbing the Ben, however, maybe I just did not seem them as I kept off the tourist path. I was alone at the top but I was focusing on the map and compass to make sure I found the Carn Mor Dearg arête. The rocks here seemed worse than the only previous time I had been along this section. However, I think I was just being very careful, I was still feeling slightly nervous and was worrying about falling. I enjoyed a good drink of water going up Aonach Mor (that was one good thing about all the rain) and really enjoyed the run to Aonach Beag, as it was the first section that was properly runnable. I had never been down the drop off from Aonach Beag to the col and I had read it was rocky and steep. The top was marked with a small cairn but it was very steep and a bit scary on the wet grass. I then lost the correct line and had to be very careful with my map and compass in the very low visibility to make sure I hit the col.

I really enjoyed the next section along the Grey Corries, the fog stayed down but it had stopped raining. I avoided one of the subsidiary tops by going through a corrie and almost stood on a mother and 6 baby Ptarmigans. The mother then flew just in front of me for the next 50m to try to keep me away from her babies. It was a lovely descent from Stob Ban (the final one of the Grey Corries) and as I approached the valley floor I came out from the mist and a great view. But it did not last long as I was up in the clouds again climbing the Easains. It was a great run down the second of this group to my family at Loch Trieg dam. The good thing about the positioning of the meeting was it was near the train track so James was very happy especially when a train went past. The bad thing was the midges. They were not too bad in the middle of the dam but that meant some one had to keep a strong hold of James. I felt OK at this point but I had already been out 7 hours and was getting tired. I had plenty to eat and drink and then filled my rucksack with more food and I was off. Stupidly I forgot to take a bottle or mug with me (I blame the midges), so I did not drink enough on the next leg, which may explain why I felt bad latter.

I had never been over any of the next section which included 3 summits so I was not sure what to expect. Higher up the hills were mainly grassy but I was in the clouds again and had to be careful with the navigation. Although I was moving well I began to have negative thoughts as I climbed Chno Deag. It was getting cold, I was feeling tired and starting to feel sick, there was an awful long way to go and I felt very alone. Then came the descent from Chno Deag it was steep with rocks and grassy bits and I really enjoyed it, the climb up Beinn Na Lapp was not as bad as I had expected and by the time I reached the top the clouds had finally lifted. My spirits had lifted again. The next hour was great. It was a lovely grassy descent and then a long track run along the top end of Loch Trieg. I normally dislike track runs but it was the first chance all day to just run and relax (the rest of the terrain just requires so much concentration). But then I began to suffer again, I had not drunk enough, so I was getting dehydrated and the sick feeling was coming on stronger. I reached Mary and Joe after another hour but by then I was struggling. Within two minutes I was shivering and everything was taking too long in the dark. I found it hard to eat anything but I knew I had to. I was also very nervous about the next section, the first 3 hours would be in the dark over the rockiest section of the Mamores. I worried about what would happen to me if I fell up on the mountain, if I was shivering badly down in the valley. I packed extra clothes in my rucksack with my powerful headtorch, I felt happier that I would be safe if there were any problems but the rucksack was heavy. I did not really want to continue, I could so easily have walked back with Joe and Mary to the car. But I could not do that. I had 11 hours to finish the Round, I knew I could walk it in that time so that was what I planned. I would walk round and not bother about a fast time.

After 33 minutes I eventually set off still shivering away. I soon warmed up on the big climb up Sgurr Eilde Mor, although it seemed to take ages to get to the top. The rocky descent off this top and the flatish run and then steep climb up to Binean Beag seemed to take ages. I was being a bit more careful due to the dark and was making sure my navigation was accurate. My mood kept changing dramatically from enjoying the surreal experience of being out in the mountains by myself in the middle of the night to feeling really sick and wanting to give up. I started to think that I was going too slowly and at my present speed I would not make the 24 hours. I did not have a schedule for individual summits so I had no way of knowing if this was true. I did know I was taking about 1 hour per summit and I had 9 plus getting down to do in 9 hours. So I tried to speed up but then I just felt even more sick. The climb up Binein Mor was really a scramble, but the rock had dried nicely and concentrating on finding the line and finding secure hand and foot holds stopped me feeling so sorry for myself and I reached the summit surprisingly easily. From then on things started to improve, there were no more massive climbs and as expected dawn lifted my spirits. I still felt sick so was not eating much and as a result I was climbing slowly but I was ticking the summits off fast. I enjoyed the rocky Devils Ridge to Sgurr A'Mhaim but strangely I do not remember the views from that summit or any of the other. I think I must have been in the clouds but I cannot be sure. I do remember climbing the final summit Mullach Nan Coirean and being very happy. The wind was picking up but I would soon be out of it back at the finish. I ran fast down the grassy descent, I found the route through the forest (which I had checked out a few days earlier) without any problem and started the track run to the finish. I suddenly realised I was very tired and my rucksack was heavy. But I kept up a good speed to finish back at the youth hostel at 8.02am, 21 hours and 2 minutes after I started. I was very happy to finish but still alone. It seemed appropriate to have noone at the finish as I had done the whole route by myself. It was a very personal journey.

I walked the 5 minutes back to the cottage and I was very happy to see the familiar faces of my family. They were happy and relieved to see me!! (well those that were awake were). Within a few hours the low pressure system had arrived and it was pouring with rain. I had managed to find a window in the weather, even if it was not perfect.

Looking back 2 weeks later the pain of the day has gone and I remember enjoying a long and tiring day in the hills. I did really well to complete the route in 21 hours but I cannot understand how I took so long at the two transitions and why I did not put a bit more effort in.

I also need to thank my family for their amazing help. They were happy to go and help me wherever I wanted at whatever time. Then when I had finished I was looked after as well. I would also like to thank Inov8 for supplying me with my Mudclaws 270 which performed really well and gave me real confidence on all the terrain I encountered.

Start 11.00am Mon 19th June 2006

Ben Nevis
Carn Mor Dearg
Aonach Mor
Aonach Beag
Sgurr Chonnich Mor
Stob Choire An Laoigh
Stob Choire Claurigh
Stob Ban
Stob Choire Easian
Stob A'Choire Mheadhion
Arrive Loch Trieg Dam
Leave Loch Trieg Dam
Stob Chore Sgriodain
Chno Deag
Beinn Na Lapp
Loch Eilde Mor
Leave Loch Eilde Mor
Sgurr Eilde Mor
Binean Beag
Binean Mor
Na Gruagaichean
An Gearanach
Stob Choire A Cairn
An Bodach
Sgurr An Iubhair
Sgurr A'Mhaim
Stob Ban
Mullach Nan Coirean
Glen Nevis Youth Hostel

Steve Birkinshaw

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