Tranter’s Round Running Report

by Paul and Drew

18 Munros / 64.8km / +6786m

Drew – It goes without saying that 2020 has been a difficult year for all, with the impact that COVID 19 has had on all our lives. Life as we knew it is now very different indeed and this also applies to the outdoors community with 99% of races being cancelled or postponed until 2021. For those who are used to being outdoors and active, being cooped up inside or restricted from travelling to the mountains can be really frustrating. As with many runners, I had several races lined up for 2020, including two 24-hour races, all of which were eventually cancelled despite having put in a considerable amount of training. This constant disappointment sent me looking for a more autonomous challenge.

I knew about the Ramsay Round but was not aware of the Tranter’s Round until my friend Matt told me about it over summer. With a good deal of mountain experience but no experience in big mountain ‘rounds’ the Tranter’s seemed like a good opportunity to put my 2020 training to good use.

Paul – Well, I am not going to tell you anything new about 2020! The first lockdown measures put a strain on my planned debut in ultramarathon racing and meeting Westies as I managed to join the club a week before lockdown. Regardless, the training went along well and after hills were unlocked early in the summer, weekends were spent in the mountain ranges. I really enjoyed the long days on hills, linking ridges and finally ‘sightseeing’ the Ramsay Round route over two days with Saki. I felt like I learnt a lot about the route and how tough it actually is. It was incredibly helpful to have Saki’s experience to rely on if needed. When Drew mentioned Tranter’s Round, I already had some Strava ‘Local Legends’ on the Ring of Steall and had conflicting thoughts between “I have seen enough of Fort William and the Mamores this year” and “Never stop Mamoring”! It did not take long for Drew to convince me to join.

Either way, Tranter’s Round was something I fancied to try and had good knowledge of the route by then. Saki, Drew and I discussed a few ideas on the support, water refills and what goals are plausible. One thing I am glad that we did was to write down the expected splits for 15 hour round on the map (every summit acting as a checkpoint), which gave us a quick reference on whether we can finish in the daylight.

D – We arrived in Fort William on the Friday lunchtime, did some last minute supply shopping ahead of our attempt and I was in bed by 8pm after demolishing a veggie pizza (no cheese!). Sleeping the night before a race is never easy and this was no different. Having analysed the route for weeks and plotted on a schedule, compass bearings, water refill points etc. the route was dauntingly playing over and over in my head… 

Saturday 26th September 2020

D – After waking up in my B&B at 3am in the cold and dark, I staggered through Fort William to my car with all my gear in hand, thankfully the start was only a short 10 minute drive away. As I pulled up to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel it was deserted until Paul and Saki pulled up 5 minutes later when we did a final check of gear. We waited at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel sign dancing on the spot to keep warm and checking our watches impatiently waiting for them to hit 04:00 so we could start running.

P – A 2am start is never appealing! You just need to hope the excitement is not going to wear off prematurely. We managed well, got breakfast in and a coffee or two.

04:00 – Start at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel

D – As soon as we started running all the worrying and anxiety about what lay ahead of us shrank considerably and we were happy to be on the move running through the trees in the dark with a stunning sky full of stars above us. It was a dark and boggy ascent up to Mullach nan Coirean and as we approached the summit the air was filled with snowflakes, quite eerie at times. 

P – I was geeking over the start way too much. This was the only worry I had for the day navigation wise, so it was good to get that out of the way. Continuing on the road for the first kilometre was much better than trying to find the forest track in the dark, while bushwhacking and climbing over fallen trees etc. I am so glad Saki and I recce’ed the start the day before.

05:24 – Munro #1 – Mullach nan Coirean (939 m)

D – The first summit was done and we were on our way down to the beallach and towards our second of the day. This was the only part of the day where we were ahead of schedule (we were aiming for 15 hours) but a couple of minor navigational errors in the dark put us back on schedule by the time we made it to the summit of Stob Bàn.

06:06 – Munro #2 – Stob Bàn (999 m)

D – We descended Stob Bàn towards the beallach and stopped for our first water refill of the day at Lochan Coire nam Miseach which is on the northern slopes. I was carrying several sachets of Active Root to mix into the water we collected on route aiming to consume all my water before we got to the next water stop which we had marked on the map. Without getting too scientific, I was aiming to have one gel and one bar every hour with the liquid carbohydrate on top of that.

P – Talking of nutrition, I was aiming for 300kcal an hour, with a mix of gels, Chia Charge flapjacks, Clif bloks, a few stroopwafels and a bag of nuts, berries and crystallised ginger. Ginger has been a revelation this year. It is so good! Realistically, I consume somewhere between 200 and 250kcal per hour. Having tested foods that worked before was the key.

06:25 – water refill at Lochan Coire nam Miseach

D – At this point we were finally able to turn off our head torches as we worked our way up on to Devil’s Ridge for the first out and back summit and the first of The Ring of Steall summits, Sgurr a’ Mhàim, which was lightly dusted in snow.

06:56 – Munro #3 – Sgurr a’ Mhàim (1099 m)

P – Running back the way we came up along the Devil’s Ridge we were treated to a brilliant sunrise.

07:14 – Sunrise

07:37 – Munro #4 – Am Bodach (1032 m)

08:05 – Munro #5 – Stob Coire a’ Chàirn (981 m)

D – The ridge running on the The Ring of Steall is second to none. It is a stunning part of the world with technical scrambling and some really enjoyable runnable sections and stunning panoramic views. I cannot recommend it enough to fellow mountain runners or walkers. On the day we briskly trotted around knowing we were meeting Saki on the summit of An Gearanach who had very generously ran up from Glen Nevis with a supply drop and bivvyed for an hour waiting for us to appear.

08:28 – Munro #6 – An Gearanach (982 m) + rendezvous and resupply with Saki 

D – An Gearanach was the second out and back summit of the day and meant we had completed The Ring of Steall. Restocked with bars and gels from Saki we set off south east towards the final four Munros in the Mamores.

P – Seeing Saki, wrapped up in a down quilt, down jacket and a bivvy bag made the morning! Her contribution was immense, saving us from carrying almost one kilogram of snacks. Unfortunately, the stop was very brief as we had to move on.

08:51 – water refill on the north eastern slopes of Stob Coire a’ Chàirn 

D – This next section of the route is really prominent in my memories of what was a very long day. The ascent to Na Gruagaichean was relentless, it is a steep ascent and the really strong cross winds meant every step required considerable effort just to stay standing. This was probably the first time that day where my legs felt heavy and I had to remind myself to stay positive and just keep moving forwards.

Having a clear day in the mountains is always preferable but it also comes with its challenges which prevails on a big round like the Tranter’s because you can see the numerous Munros still to come and they looked intimidatingly large and far away. 

09:21 – Munro #7 – Na Gruagaichean (1056 m)

09:45 – Munro #8 – Binnein Mòr (1130 m)

D – After some more brilliantly fun scrambling over the summit of Binnein Mòr a steep and rocky descent awaited us. As you leave the ridge and the path, the descent becomes very steep and it was a real quad killer trying not to lose control. The scenery as you approach Binnein Beag becomes very ‘Lord Of The Rings’ which is always a boost for me but as Paul has never watched any of the films, I couldn’t bore him with my endless array of memorised quotes, such a shame for us both.

P – Our first interaction with strangers! We met a father and daughter who were doing a two day hill adventure. If my memory serves right, they started from Rannoch and were planning to finish in Kinlochleven. They were doing this instead of OMM that was already cancelled. We had a very brief chat but it was still memorable. This uphill was my first low point of the day. It felt a bit premature, being 5 hours in, which got me worried while I was struggling to pinpoint what was wrong. A cocktail of water, a gel, SaltStick cap and Caffeine Bullet got my body and mind working again. This happened to be my only low point of the day, which was a nice surprise given a nature of the day.

10:26 – Munro #9 – Binnein Beag (943 m)

D – The descent from Binnein Beag is steep and loose so we struggled to maximise pace as headed south. This was also the first time of the day when we realised we were behind schedule but this didn’t dampen our spirits. We were there for a big challenging day out in the mountains, and although we had an idea about pace, by no means was this the be all and end all. We were there to enjoy it and we did. The single track descent to the water refill point was superb, probably one of my favourite sections of the route; narrow, technical and speedy.

10:52 – water refill at Allt Coire a’Bhinnean

D – The ascent up to the last Munro in the Mamores was steep and initially there was no path which made it tough going but we were there before we knew it. At this stage the sugar in bars and gels was really taking its toll and I could have demolished a packet of salt and vinegar Hoola Hoops (I’ll remember to take some next time!)

11:23 – Munro #10 – Sgurr Eilde Mòr (1010 m) 

D – Completing the tenth and final Munro in the Mamores was a real milestone. By this time, we were feeling fresh and the sun was out so we set off on the long gradual descent down the ridge towards the river crossing and Grey Corries beyond. There is no path on this section which makes it slightly tricky as it gets really boggy towards the bottom of the glen.

12:09 – crossing Abhainn Rath in the glen

12:34 – water refill on the southern slopes of Meall a’ Bhuirich

D – As we headed back up from glen the temperature was really heating up and we had to shed a couple of layers. This section of the route felt really tough and Stob Ban just never seemed to get any closer which is always psychologically tough. We were very pleased to reach the summit of Stob Ban and to have that long section behind us as it was nearly two hours without ticking off any Munro summits.

We looked at our watches at this point and realised that Finlay Wild would have finished by now with his recent new record of 9 hours and 5 seconds, unbelievably quick!

13:21 – Munro #11 – Stob Ban (977m)

P – I found going up this way to Stob Ban was surprisingly easy and felt we were always gaining ground. I like the fact that the Munros are always close by, which breaks down the Tranter’s Round to more manageable chunks. This was the only section that had Munros further than 90 minutes apart – it nearly took us two hours from Sgurr Eilde Mor!

As we descended, we met a lady coming up Stob Ban who was also doing the Tranter’s Round but clockwise and who we had met in the dark at the start. Unfortunately, it was only a few brief words of encouragement as we passed each other!

14:02 – Munro #12 – Stob Choire Claurigh (1177m)

D – Working our way through the Grey Corries was great, there are some really good runnable sections and we were both feeling in good shape not to mention the cracking views to the south over the Mamores that we had already completed. This was uplifting to see the summits we had already completed that day.

At this point we could see the summit of the Ben looming ahead and it still looked a fair way off. At the summit of Stob Coire an Laoigh we collected our second and final supply drop of the day that Saki had kindly left on the summit for us with a note. Thanks again to Saki, we would have really struggled without her help and support.

14:50 – Munro #13 – Stob Coire an Laoigh (1116m) and supply drop

P – Having a drop bag with water was very handy! There is not much water on Grey Corries so we were very lucky to have Saki’s support once again. When we did the Ramsay route it was brutally hot and I ran out of the water coming up Aonach Beag so it was good to have some spare water but we ended up not needing it all.

15:28 – Munro #14 – Sgurr Choinnich Mor (1094m)

D – Another section of the route that is vivid in my memories of the day was the ascent to Stob Coire Bhealaich (sister peak before Aonach Beag). It was incredibly steep and grassy with no path and we climbed up under a large overhanging crag on all fours grasping at the long grass for grip. This was the second time of the day where my legs felt like lead but we just keep chatting away and just kept moving forward and before we knew it, it was behind us.

16:39 – Munro #15 – Aonach Beag (1234m)

17:06 – Munro #16 – Aonach Mòr (1221m)

D – After the really tough steep section, the two Aonach summits were fairly easy going with a clear path and more forgiving terrain compared to what we had covered so far. After 13 hours of moving fatigue started to set in but knowing there are only two summits to go was a brilliant feeling, completing the round was within just a few hours of us.

P – Just do not mention the drop from Aonachs towards CMD… It is a long way up again!

17:23 – water refill on the western slopes of Aonach Mòr 

D – A very steep descent from Aonach Mòr to the beallach was swiftly followed by a steep rocky ascent to Càrn Mòr Dearg and our pace really suffered here but we kept chatting away and kept moving. Once at the CMD summit we were bathed in sunshine as it started to dip behind the Ben and the CMD arête looked incredibly inviting, despite feeling pretty shattered.

18:05 – Munro #17 – Càrn Mòr Dearg (1,220 m)

D – The CMD arête was a lot of fun with big boulders and lots of scrambling and the dramatic back drop, although by this point my gloves were looking a bit sad as they were full of holes after all the rough rocky scrambling that we had done to that point. As we moved along the arête we moved into the shadow of the Ben, the final Munro summit of the day, which forebodingly loomed over us…

P – This was perhaps the most memorable moment of the round for me. Having the CMD arête to ourselves with a stunning summer sunset was so brilliant. The scrambling on the ridge is quite entertaining and which helped take off any pressure of the task in hand. We were also not aiming for time anymore which made it a bit more relaxing.

18:58 – Munro #18 – Ben Nevis (1,345m)

D – As we reached the summit of Ben Nevis we had the place to ourselves and we drank in the peaceful sunset. The sense of achievement was overwhelming but we were well aware of the relentless descent that lay ahead. The first half of the descent was in the dusk light but it wasn’t long before our head torches were on again. We passed lots of walkers on their way up and down the Ben and a few speedy nods and swapped words were a really good motivation to keep pushing on.

P – I was dreading the descent as the memories from it were not that pleasant! We were moving together and fairly well at that point until I hit a rock with my big toe. It was rather painful but I tried to run it off. We were running together until we came to the long switchbacks which is when we put out head torches on again so I could see Drew’s light following.

Running was making the legs and the toe feel much better than stop / start. I got carried away. I was looking back for Drew’s head torch, but there were too many by then! I had glimpsed at my watch and it was predicting a finish time of 15h 59min. It gave me just enough of a boost to carry on, but as soon as 8pm showed on my watch, the pain came back!

19:08 – Sunset

P – Seeing the hostel was such a relief! Another long day on the hills successfully completed without any epics.

D – My toes and toe nails were pretty sore by the time we made it back to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. Paul pulled away towards the end and I managed to miss the turn in the dark so lost a wee bit of time right at the end but as the lights of the youth hostel got closer and closer I just couldn’t stop smiling to myself. Seeing Paul and Saki cheering at the other side of the footbridge as I ran across was an amazing moment. We had made it!

20:03 – Paul finish (+16 hours 3 minutes)

20:16 – Drew finish (+16 hours 16 minutes)

D – Overall our Tranter’s Round was an epic day out in the mountains with stunning scenery, a mix of weather conditions, lots of ups and only a few downs. It was the most Munros I have done in one day by a considerable margin and it made all the hours of training totally worth it. If I am honest, the thrill of completing the Tranter’s was greater than any of the races I originally had planned for 2020. A huge thank you to Saki for her support, it was much appreciated. Also thanks to Paul, brilliant running with you mate! What are we planning next?

P – Running with Drew was great. Looking back, 16 hours passed by so quickly. I was pleased with the planning, navigation and nutrition of the round. It was definitely a success and tops any race experiences I’ve had. I could have not done this without Drew’s company and Saki’s support. Thank you both!

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