The Big 3 pt. III – The Charlie Ramsay Round

My recovery from the Paddy Buckley round was much longer than after the Bob Graham. My ITB was pretty sore for a while but a few rest days and some cycling seemed to do the trick. I was now much more focused on the Charlie Ramsay round. Having ticked off the others this was the only one of the big three left, and if I managed this in August when Oli had suggested then that would mean I’d have ticked off all three in one season. Pretty cool, but I needed to get sorted and back to running properly again first.

The Charlie Ramsay Round is the Scotlands answer to the Bob Graham Round. At (only) 60 miles it is the shortest of the big three, but by no means the easiest taking in 24 summits and 28000 feet of ascent. Also, with no road crossings at all the Ramsay is by far the most remote of the big three with limited support points.

The Charlie Ramsay Round route.

As August approached Oli, Lova and Myself began to get a bit more organised with our planning for the Ramsay. We were still very uncommitted and our luck with the weather would really dictate if we went for it or not. We collated a Google drive of maps and stuff which was about as organised as we got and decided to meet up after the final British Champs race, Creag Dhubh. A great highland games if you’re ever in the area! The race went fairly well on the Saturday, with the Dark Peak team securing 3rd in the British Champs, and we decided to wait and see how the we felt in the next few days and also how the weather developed. The forecast was a yellow weather warning for rain, thunder and lightning for the next few days and so wasn’t looking good. All we could do was wait and see.

Following the race the weather seemed to do the same everyday: grey with light persistent rain in the morning which cleared throughout the day and made for a rather pleasant late afternoon/evening. Lova and myself kept our legs ticking over but were conscious of recovery and made sure not to over do it. Oli was off grid and all we knew was that he was somewhere in Scotland. He also doesn’t do phones, as in he doesn’t own one, which made things interesting. Luckily Jenny does have a mobile and so we decided we should all meet up on Monday in Fort William and lay down a solid plan. We felt a bit guilty for disrupting the Johnson’s family holiday but as we were all up north it seemed the best time to get the round done. So whilst carbo-loading on pizza for lunch we all decided on a midnight start that night, hopefully finishing Tuesday evening. We also decided to go anti-clockwise and that we would just wing it with the weather and if it got too serious we could alway call it and get off the high ground. This was now stacking up to be quite the adventure.

Recovering, and erm… navigating?

Non of us had reccied any of this round, but I did have a small advantage having been on part of the route before. This was only the Ben Nevis race in 2018 and so I just knew in advance how painful our final descent would be. While passing through Fort William on one of the days we were up there myself and Lova had a bit of time and decided to have a look at a route through the woodland near the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel where the round starts and finishes. Maily because paths through woodland likely change and we didn’t want to get lost before reaching the first summit. We had a wonder round, found a few foresty short cuts and made a few stick arrows to remind ourselves which forks to take on the first few tracks. Apart from our limited wondering through the woods, the rest of our reccying was virtual. We managed to find the open tracking plot of Es Tresidder’s record breaking Ramsay round from the month previous and marked this optimal line on our maps. We also looked as some cool pictures of the Devils Ridge, which we were going over in the dark, and went food shopping.

Monday evening was very chilled involving mainly packing and eating as much as possible. Lova and myself went to bed super early for a few hours and Issy kindly gave us a lift to the start point at about 23:30. This was it. Oli rocked up out of the darkness and from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 00:00 we set off into the night on a pretty long run with Issy, Jenny and Alex seeing us off…

Midnight Start.

We maybe set off a bit too excited but soon settled into a steady pace along the woodland trails to the foot of the first climb. Heading up out of the woods into the unknown we all felt a great sense of adventure. The weather was warm but rain soon set in and we all decided to put our waterproof jackets on. Once up on the ridge it was nice running. We were in good spirits and moving well ticking of the summits of the Mamores one by one. Devils Ridge and An Garbhanach offered a great chance for us to drop our packs for a lightweight out and back. It felt quite nice not being able to see the mountains ahead at this stage. We were in our own little world popping in and out of the drizzle and mist spotting the lights of Fort William to the north east and Kinlochleven to the south. As we had no schedule we were running to feel and we all seemed pretty comfortable at this stage.

The only down side to running on the unknown in the dark is that when it came to deviating off of the ridge we didn’t really know what line to take. This resulted in us taking a very sketchy line off of Binnein Mor, and this wouldn’t be the first dodgy line! After some slipping, sliding, shouting, and scree surfing we did make it down fairly unscathed and cracked on up the next climb. It probably got light about here but I’m not too sure. Food was going down well and the added incentive to eat more was that it made your bag lighter, though Oli was worried he was getting too carried away and started rationing himself as he didn’t want to run out.

We cracked on, taking a rough and heathery Peak District like direct line down off the last of the Mamores. The long stretch down the valley bottom to Loch Treig was tougher than expected. We thought it would be a nice cruise down a good track that was marked on the map, but this track was a myth and we were stuck with a boggy undulating trod. Still it was trending down hill so it could have been worse. A key memory from this point was nearly choking on a croissant, damn my middle class running nutrition! Upon reaching the end of the loch we saw a sign for Spean Bridge (11 miles), that’s where me and Lova were staying, it maybe crossed both our minds that this was an easy way home but nobody said anything. Lova wasn’t particularly happy at this point so it was best we both ignored it. We knew there was a railway around here and in maybe an attempt to cheer Lova up or maybe just from his own enthusiasm for trains (probably influenced by his 7 year old son) Oli asked if we think we’d see a train. Soon after me saying it was unlikely, of course a train sped through the valley with the addition of a cheerful whistle. Oli was not disappointed and it perked us all up a bit. A quick water stop before we crossed the railway and headed up the next hill. We were now on the far end of the route and after ticking off the next two tops would be on our way back.

The view from a very limited recce.

This part of the route really felt wild, you got a proper sense of being in the middle of nowhere. The initial climb up to Beinn na Lap was the nicest climb of the round and a check of the watch told us we were making good progress. Lova had worked out a few time check points prior to starting. Basically if we were on a 21 hour schedule (optimistic!) then we would be half way up Beinn na Lap at 09:30 and at the col before Càrn Mòr Dearg at 18:50. It was very approximate but to our surprise we were on schedule if you can call it a schedule. About halfway through this leg we saw a heard of deer above us on the ridge of Chno Dearg, again a nice image to lift out spirits. We were all starting to feel it now!

The descent down to Fersit Dam was horrendous, there was no line at all, just rocky, craggy and overgrown. After we complained to each-other about how rubbish it was and how our quads were on fire we got onto the railway tracks and headed towards the dam. Lova and Oli were having a great time pretending to be trains, meanwhile I was trying to get my stride length right so I could run across the railway sleepers without stepping on any gravel. It worked and I flew along for a bit before my hamstrings hated me and I missed the turn off of the tracks. So after briefly pratting about we dropped onto the dam and saw the first people of the day, some JCB drivers. A few seconds later and we spot a couple stood at the other end of the dam. This was Helen Elmore and Ian Fitzpatrick from Dark Peak, which was a welcome surprise. They knew when we were setting off and so guessed when we were passing and carried in a few supplies should we want any. We grabbed some crisps, coffee, coke and a few other bits and after very a short stop (the midges were awful!) set off up the biggest climb of the round. Ian had informed us we were still on for 21 hours, which was a nice to know although we were bound to slow. We would have to slow significantly to miss the 24 mark but you never know what’s going to happen.

A brief midgy stop at Fersit Dam.

Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin was a beast of a climb from Loch Treig and after summiting we didn’t even stay high as we had another big descent and climb up to Stob Bàn. I like to think this was it for the really big climbs but I’m sure Oli and Lova would disagree, it was still far from flat from here. I think Stob Bàn was a bit as a highlight in that it had really shiny rocks on it but that could have just been us hallucinating? I also remember a really cool blocky ridge and dropping into a grassy U-shaped valley before a super steep climb up under a big rocky slab. There was significantly less talking going on now. Oli had a yoga session every summit, I was running down hill like a tin man and Lova was quietly dying on the ups. I tried to cheer Lova up by telling him that he looked how I felt, and this raised a brief smile. We soldiered on up Aonach Beag, donning our waterproofs on the way, and then onwards on to Aonach Mòr. Two more to go, Càrn Mòr Dearg and the big lad that is Ben Nevis.

But first descending off Aonach Mòr provided its own problems as we cut off the broad ridge too early leading us into some very craggy gullies. This gradually got worse until a super sketchy bit where I got across and Oli didn’t want to risk it. This left him a bit stuck and after hearing Oli swear for a bit Lova pulled him back up for them to take a safer alternative route. After this bit of an ordeal we had all gotten a bit cold and stopped in the col to put some layers on. I also had a small panic that we had lost 2 hours somewhere as my brain didn’t understand my watch beach it was in 24 hour format. But after we figured that out we realised we were still on for a decent time. The Càrn Mòr Dearg arête was a very cool bit of running and despite our tiredness we were all in good spirits climbing the final steep section on to Ben Nevis. Lova was also getting confused at this point thinking me and Oli were brushing our teeth when in fact we were just eating Kendal mint cake.

Descending the lower slopes of Ben Nevis.

We finally summited Ben Nevis and sort of celebrated before realising we had a serious amount of descending to do on very tired legs. It was misty and so there was no views to be had but it was nice to have the summit to ourselves with it being such a popular mountain. We steadily headed down, taking the direct racing line and passing a few walkers near Red Burn. It was slow going as my quads were like rock but we had plenty of time in hand so the only reason to rush was to avoid running in there dark again. I honestly would have preferred another 800m climb instead of descent! We didn’t quite beat the light and after a few trips and stumbles we decided it  was best to fish our torches out of our bags and jog the final part of the descent.

The final push…

As we approached Glen Nevis Youth Hostel we got a glimpse of a few torch lights and before we knew it there was Issy, Jenny and Alex cheering us in. Alex ran with us over the bridge and across to the youth hostel, having no problem keeping up. What a relief, that was one hard day out but we all agreed a great adventure. Our time was 22 hours 10 minutes, which we were all pretty please with.

Finished, 22:10.

We had a few quick pictures and soon departed to get some sleep. I remember feeling pretty sick on the way back to the lodge but after a lot of sleep felt fine in the morning. Apart from my legs not working. Lova and I had agreed a debrief with Oli but thought best that was back in Sheffield as we had disturbed his family holiday enough. Between us we then decided the best recovery would be a full breakfast followed by a distillery tour and a walk. We visited Ben Nevis Distillery for a slow walk and a few taster drams, which resulted in the purchasing of more whisky. Later we did decide to go for a slow jog, mainly to sober up. Issy dropped us like a stone and we then spend most of the run stood in a Loch (Loch Lochy, yes it is a real loch!) because we thought it would helps our legs.

A very happy Lova.

Thank you to Issy for the ferrying us around and thanks to Jenny for letting Oli out to play in the hills. It was certainly a memorable day out and looking back we were very lucky with how it all just seemed to pan out with us just winging it.

This was also super rewarding as by completing the Ramsay Round I had managed to complete all the big 3 UK rounds (Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley, and Charlie Ramsay Rounds) within 46 days and became the youngest person to complete the set.
Oli went on to complete a solo Paddy Buckley Round in mid September to also complete the set.
Lova, we calculated, had about a month and a bit to complete a Paddy Buckley if he wanted to be the youngest to complete the big 3. My dad was well up for supporting him too for some reason. However, despite some loose planning he couldn’t fit it in but did attempt a round in early November. The conditions were particularly rough and unfortunately he didn’t make it, but has plans for another go at some point I think.

Some links:
– The Go Far Website – for more info on the round.
– Norman Walsh Footwear – for some proper good fell shoes.
– Strava – for my GPS trace.

and a few more pictures from the trip:

Driving home.

The start of the Creag Dhubh Fell Race 2019.

Issy goes horse riding whilst we run the Ramsay.

Alex cheers us down the final descent of the Ramsay Round.

Recovery walk post race but pre round.

Recovery walk post race but pre round.

Recovery walk post race but pre round.

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