Feeling pretty battered, but managed to get a decent sleep. Just a low-level river walk with a bit of paddling today to loosen up the legs.
A bit more on the round itself:
Unlike the BG, I went into this not fully committed and with a few reservations, not least of which were my tired legs from last week. But the circumstances aligned and in spite of a fairly grim forecast we decided to go for it.
I was pleased to feel really good at the midnight start at the YH and had even managed a couple of hours sleep beforehand. It felt very different setting off into the complete unknown, which added to the excitement and anticipation. It was warm and still, but the rain started as we emerged from the forest so we quickly stopped to put waterproofs on. Rain was intermittent over the first hills and we kept moving through patches of thick fog that would lift to reveal the lights of Fort William and Kinlochleven way down below, giving us a sense of scale and verticality. The route finding was a little tricky off Stob Ban and Am Bodach, but we didn't waste much time (Lova was sharing the navigation burden, which really helped). Devil's Ridge and the out n' back to An Gearanach were fun and a chance to dump our heavy packs for a few minutes, and we were treated to some brightness in the sky as we backtracked towards Na Gruagaichean. Much of this section was spent hunkered down in our hoods though, and conversation was fairly minimal. I was also eating more than I had expected and was getting a little worried about the amount of food I was carrying - rationing started here!
The first mini-drama came on the descent off Binnein Mor, where we dropped off the ridge onto a very steep. boulder-strewn grassy slope. I suddenly lost traction and went sliding off down the hill at speed, and only a desperate lunge at a slab of granite stopped me. Lova was next and was similarly lucky to stop himself. We took it very steady from there feeling a little battered and bruised and regrouped at the small lochan before the climb of Binnein Beag. The path over to Sgurr Eilde Mor was spectacular and cheered us up, but the climb felt very steep - a hint of things to come!
Now for almost 15km of downhill, which was nice for as long as the ridge lasted. Then we dropped off on a direct line that took us through a few kms of undulating tussocks and bog. If there is a nice line here, we certainly didn't find it! The long path run, when we got to it, was also much slower than anticipated, with lots more bog, deep gullies and ups and downs to negotiate. I was able to appreciate the fact that the rain had stopped and that the views were starting to open up around us. This valley was properly beautiful and felt extremely wild and remote. Things got a bit more runnable once we made it to Loch Treig and we even saw a train whiz by, which cheered me up for a while.
We were expecting the worst on the Eastern summits of Beinn na Lap, Chno Dearg and Stob Coire Sgriodain, but were pleasantly surprised by the terrain, which was boggy in places, but with a few trods to follow and generally allowed us to do some running. We saw a herd of red deer on the climb of Chno Dearg and I supplemented my supplies with a few bilberries on the steep climb. This bit seemed to go quite quickly, until the horrible rough descent of Sgriodain that is, where we kept losing any kind of good line. We rolled into the dam bang on a 21-hr schedule, getting the first bit of positive feedback on our timings, and were pleasantly surprised to see clubmates Helen and Ian waiting with some coffee, soup and, most importantly, salt n' vinegar crisps! This really lifted our spirits in spite of the black clouds of midges that attacked us, and we set off feeling a lot perkier.
That didn't last long, sadly, as the climb of Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin sapped our will to live. Lova was feeling it on the climbs now and Tom on the descents, so progress was a little slower, although we still weren't hanging around. I was feeling OK and still eating, but low on food and still rationing myself carefully. My R ITB was threatening, but I worked out that if I stopped to clunk my back, it solved it immediately. Stob Coire Easain was a nice easy one (relatively) before the last of the really big slogs up Stob Ban (no. 2). This whole section was again pathless, tussocky and rough and was painfully slow going at times. It was also getting warm which had the advantage of revealing some great views from the summits, but the disadvantage of making it all feel like harder work. Once up, things got a little easier with some more ridge running and for the first time we could see the Ben in the distance (looking tantalisingly cloud free). We got stuck in some horrible rocks on the way down Stob Coire an Laoigh and lost a chunk of time, but I really enjoyed the climb of Sgurr Choinnich Mor, which I think was my favourite hill of the round, with its concave slopes and white marble summit. Then it was a big descent to the edge of the Nevis range.
We had no idea of the best way up Aonach Beag, so opted for an obvious gully, which included a scramble under an enormous rock slab. We were moving pretty slowly now and losing time on the schedule, but still making good progress. Aonach Mor was another nice easy one, although the rain came in again so the cags went back on. We were upbeat at this point and starting to celebrate a successful day out. Then it all got a bit serious on the descent to the final coll before Carn Mor Dearg. The map showed a line straight off the side of the ridge, which we tried to follow, but quickly got stuck in some ridiculously steep craggy gullies. Tom took a line out around an exposed crag, which I tried to follow, but decided was too risky. It was also impossible to backclimb, so Lova had to pull me back out so that we could backtrack around on a higher ledge - a salutary lesson in the value of company! The rain had got much stronger, accompanied by near-darkness and a cold wind, and I was starting to get very cold after all the faffing. I stopped to put on all my layers, but still felt cold. I had a brief moment of doubt as we reached the coll - should I get down into the shelter of the Glen Nevis valley, or should I push on over the last two summits? I decided the climb would warm me up, so pressed on, but I was painfully aware of the limited margin for error that we had left kit- and food-wise.
The CMD arete was mercifully sheltered and was actually a lot of fun with some rock hopping to occupy us mentally. The final climb of the Ben seemed to take ages over piles of wet rock and we were greeted by a misty, wet and deserted summit. Off down the tourist path shortcutting the zig-zags, which seemed OK after Tom had been hyping the unpleasantness of the final descent all day long. Tom's legs had gone by now and it was clear that there was a lot of suffering going on, but we kept up a decent trot as the light faded. Headtorches on and we could see a light waiting for us in the valley - finally I heard Alex calling to us and he soon came into view, bouncing up and down excitedly. He paced us on the final stretch across the valley floor and had no trouble matching us! The finish felt like a relief more than an achievement initially - running as a three, route-finding, dealing with unknown terrain and weather all made for a day where there was a lot of uncertainty to deal with. But on reflection, this all added to the experience. It was great to share it with two really strong runners and although all of us had our moments of doubt during the day, it was never voiced - as Tom kept reminding us all day (and night), 'it could be worse!'