For me, the Scottish Highlands offer the best and truest rounds in the British Isles.  The mountains are that bit higher, the tops are more prominent, the scenery is that bit grander and on the West Coast, the interplay of sea and mountains is unmatched.  The mountains can also be much more remote and committing, especially in the winter when they are at their best.  Winter rounds in Scotland are generally a very different proposition to those in England and Wales and take on more of a mountaineering quality.

Grey (white!) Corries to Ben Nevis on a winter Ramsay

The Tranter was the first recognised round of any significance and in my opinion, it remains the best quality round in mainland Britain.  This was extended to the Ramsay which has become one of the three recognised classics.  Mark Rigby added a round in the Cairngorms, and Jon Broxap's Munro round in Kintail and Affric still stands as a record for the number of Munros in a day.  However, this barely scratches the surface of what is possible in the Highlands, with circuits around long glens making obvious targets. I've completed many challenges now in Scotland, both in summer and winter.  I've endeavoured to follow natural lines, some as a round, and a couple as traverses.  I've not imposed a time limit as most of these were done solo on a 'turn up, do the route, go home' basis, but with a bit of preparation and support most would be do-able within 24 hours.

Tranter Round 38 miles, 20,000 feet, 24 hour time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!

The Tranter  Round is one of the very best mountain challenges in the UK.  It's not overly long at a tad under 40 miles, but its a very pure and logical route taking in some very fine crests and rocky ridges.  It also packs in just over 20,000 feet of ascent in to those 38 miles, and takes in the highest mountains in Britain.  In terms of quality, there's not a lot to beat it, Winter or Summer.  I've done it three times - once in the Summer, once at Easter with virtually no snow, and once in the depths of winter - and I can see me doing it again.  My quickest time is 14 hours and 40 minutes, quite a bit longer than the record of 12 hours 50 minutes.  For additional details of the fastest summer and winter completions see Scottish Hill Runners

18-19 December 2002 and 20 April 2003 - Account

Sgurr a Mhaim

Ramsay Round 60 miles, 28,000 feet, 24 hours time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!! 

The Ramsay Round is by far the most popular classic round in Scotland, conceived and first completed by Charlie Ramsay.  It extends the 18 Munro Tranter Round to make it comparable in terms of effort with the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley Rounds.  However, in my opinion, what it gains in distance and ascent over the Tranter Round, it loses in quality, as the route necessitates a long and somewhat tedious valley section and the rather lump-like hills of Chno Dearg and Beinn na Lap.  Nevertheless, it makes for a great 24 hour challenge with the magnificent spines of the Mamores and Grey Corries, and the fjord like Loch Treig.  In full winter conditions, its a different proposition altogether which is much more akin to winter mountaineering.

The first time I tried it, I ran out of gas in the long valley at night, but scraped home the second time going anticlockwise.  However, it is my winter completion that I really remember, with deep snow the whole way round and finishing in a full on blizzard on Ben Nevis at 3am in the morning.  You don't forget things like that! 

5-7 March 2006, account, schedule, photos 
12-13 July 2003, account, schedule

The Grey Corries before the blizzard

Knoydart Round, 55 miles, 26,500 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

Knoydart is one of the roughest areas of the Highlands.  Support would be difficult to arrange so its a prime candidate for a solo venture.  The distance involved in this challenge belies its difficulty.  The ground is almost unremittingly rough and steep and in the height of summer, the insects can be a problem - not just the midges but the flies too.  The terrain is almost primaeval with the wonderful juxtaposition of sea and mountain that is the Western seaboard of the Scottish Highlands.  Navigation can be tricky in the mist and dark as I discovered!

24 August 2004 - account and schedule

The view from Ladhar Bheinn

Shiel Round, 38 miles, 16,000 feet, 24 hours
Quality: ♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!   

Shiel Round II, 40 miles, 23,000 feet, no time limit 
Quality: ♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !! 

Glen Shiel is one of the most obvious places for a long round in Scotland, with fine ridges linking a multitude of Munro summits.  The Broxap round of 29 Munros in 24 hours is beyond most people including me and actually it hasn't been repeated since the inaugural round in 1990.  The round of the glen is far more achievable and takes in 16-22 Munros depending on which of the Eastern summits are included.  My initial winter round in 2005 took the short option whilst, a subsequent attempt in deep snow took the longer version.  Both are very natural lines, especially the shorter round and make very good days out.

10 February 2006 - pictures

A fantastic morning in Glen Shiel

Etive Round, 57 miles, 30,400 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

Kingshouse Round, 52 miles, 27,700 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

Clachaig Challenge, 56 miles, 30,150 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!  

These three challenges are different versions of an initial challenge centred on Glencoe and Glen Etive.  They all include fairly brutal ascents and descents and lots of rough ground with some scrambling, including the Aonach Eagach and Curved Ridge on the Buachaille.  My favoured route is probably the last of the three, starting and finishing at the famous hostelry of the Clachaig.  Although I completed all three in over 24 hours, with a bit of support and reconnaissance, the 24 hour round should be possible, if not easy, as the ground is so unforgiving.  In fine weather, you will be almost guaranteed a fantastic day out in rugged and magnificent scenery

25-26 June 2005 - diary entry and schedule
13 May 2006 - account, schedule, photos
23-24 July 2007 - account, schedule and photos

Buachaille Etive Mor from the Aonach Eagach

Mullardoch Round, 48 miles, 20,000 feet, no time limit.
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!  

The Mullardoch round normally takes in the 12 Munros surrounding the loch of the same name.  I added in the two Corbetts to the East, not having done them before, as well as the Munro tops of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan.  The basic circuit without the extensions is a fine round, easily achievable in the Summer, but in the winter, the remoteness and lack of shelter, makes it a serious proposition. 

2-3 February 2007 - account, schedule, photos, video

Ceathreamhnan on a fine morning

Highland Crossing, 108 miles, 34,500 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!!

This is my version of a Scottish Haute Route, taking the high tops from Fort William to Aviemore.  It took me three days in the depths of winter, staying briefly at three bothies en route and taking in Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, Grey Corries, Easains, Geal Charn group, Grampians and main Cairngorm summits.  By taking the train to Fort William and back again from Aviemore it makes a very satisfying linear route.

19-22 December 2007 - account, schedule, photos

Near the Gaick Pass

Cruachan Classic, 44 miles, 21,500 feet, no time limit 
Quality: ♪♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

I'd wanted to do this journey for a few years. Unusually I had company in the form of Bill Williamson for the Ben Cruachan section, but Bill soon bowed out since he was suffering from a cold.  Its a great journey with no roads or habitation from start to finish.  It takes in the Munros from Loch Awe through to Kingshouse with just one descent to the valley, and is a pure line that ends at the historic hostellery of the Kingshouse.  In winter, its very committing and a serious expedition as I found out.  Read the report to find out why!

6-7 February 2009 - account, schedule and pictures

Sunset on Ben Cruachan

Cairngorm Tops (not all completed), 74 miles, 23,800 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

There are 51 listed Munro tops of the Cairngorms and this route attempted to link them all.  As is the case with most lists, it doesn't make a very good route on the ground and I wouldn't recommend it!  My attempt ended with horribly sore feet.

28 July 2008 - account

Rigby Round, 74 miles, 18,000 feet, 24 hour time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!

Mark Rigby first ran this round which takes in the 18 Cairngorm Munros, starting and finishing at Loch Morlich Youth Hostel.  Much of it is runnable, but I find the Cairngorm landscape to get a little monotonous after a while.  My winter round turned out to be a major epic.  After a fabulous first day, the weather deteriorated to freezing rain and white out conditions which made for a particularly testing expedition, especially when I became seriously lost.

13-15 December 2010 - account, schedule, photos

Carn a Mhaim from Braeriach

Fisherfield Round, 59.8 miles, 25,500 feet or 70 miles, 28,000 feet, no time limit
Quality: ♪♪♪    Effort: ▲▲▲  Scenery: ♣♣♣  Seriousness: !!!!!

This round is my favourite of all those I've done, traversing the four fine mountain groups of the Fannaichs, Fisherfield, An Teallach and Beinn Dearg.  Its wild, its a logical route, its rocky, there's views to the sea and there's the sandstone towers of An Teallach, one of the most magnificent mountains in Britain.  The first time I completed the route, I was forced to overnight in Shenavall Bothy due to a painful knee and dreich weather.  I returned just over a month later with the promise of fine weather.  Unfortunately it didn't quite work out that way, but I had a great run until the night when I succumbed to an irresistible urge to go to sleep and the mist made for very slow going.  There's a few out and backs on the Fannaichs and I therefore elected to try again on a shortened but more logical route.  That makes it a bit more doable in 24 hours for ordinary mortals like me and I completed this shorter route in 10 minutes under the 24 hour mark.

19-20 June 2011 - account, schedule and video
24-25 July 2011 - account, video and photos
8-9 June 2012 - account, schedule
Fulcrum of the round - An Teallach

No comments: