Finlay Wild

Finlay Wild
Hill runner, mountaineer, skier
Supported by Norman Walsh Footwear and Mountain Equipment

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Winter Tranter Round Record

On Monday 26th February 2018 I set a new Tranter Round record.

Here's some of the key info, in reply to questions posed by Dan Bailey of UK Climbing / Hillwalking:



OK Finlay, here’s a few Qs:
14:24:48 … wow! Did you set out from the outset to try for the winter record?

I mainly decided to go and do the round because I was aware conditions were great. I’d just read Helen Rennard’s account from her traverse the week before, and I’d been out in the hills and seen how fast and firm conditions were. I was also aware Monday was the last day I could fit in a traverse before March (and so the last day I could do it within the 3 core winter months).
So my main goal was having a great day out in some of my favourite mountains, but the record was of course an objective. I’ve been round faster than the winter running record on skis, with Tim Gomersall (in 17hr 35m on 28th Feb 2016) and although of course this is a different discipline, I feel I can draw several parallels when thinking about the mountaineering tradeoffs between skis and on foot in different conditions and situations. So I was pretty confident I could beat both the ski and running records in the current good conditions, body willing!



What time did you start (on Monday, was it?)

4am monday. Very windy - almost bailed out actually, but decided to keep going and see if wind abated. It did ease, just enough. Which made for quite a cold, wind battered day out!
5am highlight on Mullach was seeing a deep orange moon which then faded behind the horizon.


You’ve also got the summer record (10:15:30). Would you say you’re pretty familiar with the route?!

Yes! These are my local mountains and I’ve been round the route 3 times in its entirety now (ski, summer run, winter run) as well as doing sections of it many other times too. Earlier this winter I did a random ‘Tour of Stob Bans’ taking in the 2 mountains of the same name which both lie along the Tranter route. I looked at the map once to triple check something on the Grey Corries (I’ve got a thing about checking summit cairns now…!) but visibility was good for the majority and there were no route finding issues.


The previous winter record of 18:59:06 must have seemed a tall order to top. How confident were you?

I suspected the current conditions were totally optimal - very firm neve, so no trail breaking or scree hopping - so I was pretty confident to be honest. I also had the advantage of going at the very end of ‘proper’ winter, so knew it would be lightish from about 6am till 7pm. Starting in the dark but then knowing that I should hopefully finish (just) in daylight was a bonus - the cumulative gains of seeing a clear route, not having to stop to navigate, morale boost of a view, etc. A slight concern was that I haven’t done many long runs over the winter, and had had a full on weekend skimo racing both days. Time spent on my feet mountaineering in various forms this season must have kept my endurance levels reasonable however.









Your summer record was solo and unsupported – did you have any company or support this time?

No.


Did you go clockwise or anticlockwise?
Anticlockwise - finish on the Ben, then it’s ‘just’ the descent back to the Youth Hostel. The neve in the Red Burn extended all the way to the bottom of the Grassy Bank, something I’ve not seen for a long time.


How were ground conditions?
Firm neve, quite a bit of scouring. No soft snow. Cold. Some old frozen tracks at places; in other places blank and bullet hard.


For a winter round, what would you consider to be helpful snow conditions, versus unhelpful – how much difference does snow state make to your pace, basically?
The optimal conditions are something I’ve pondered quite a lot. And particularly how this would vary for skis vs on foot (it’s all mountaineering!). I think skis were the way to go for our 2016 round as there was quite a bit of soft snow that would have meant slow trail breaking on foot. Whereas this time, foot and crampon was totally the way to go due to the scoured solid conditions. I love the fact that it is so entirely dependent on conditions - a traverse earlier this year in the deep fresh snow we had would have been unthinkable either on foot (trail breaking exhaustion and avalanche danger) or skis (even more avalanche danger)


How about the weather?
Very windy initially, settled to just windy. But clear summits except about 30mins on Sgurr Eilde Mor when cloud passed through. The Grey Corries were in and out of cloud while I was approaching them from the glen, but pretty much cleared by the time I was on the ridge. Finally, in the afternoon, the sun came out and the wind eased further making for a glorious evening on the Aonachs and the Ben.







What did you wear on your feet?
I suffer from cold feet so have tried various combos. I used Salomon XA Alpine shoes - basically a light trainer with a gaiter - and seal skin socks. Unusually for me, I didnt get cold feet! Although it was cold enough that there was so little water around and no meltage so feet stayed dry, which probably kept them warm. I used a set a aluminium strap on crampons which I took off and on multiple times. Also 2 ski poles and a lightweight axe.


Can you talk us through the route a bit – how you felt at various stages, energy levels, psyche etc?

I won’t repeat the stuff Ive already said about the route, but =
Excited to start, up Mullach in very strong cold wind, satisfying to see the familiar mountain shapes take form around me with first light. Jogging the flatter sections felt solid and fast going on the firm neve. Often there was just enough grip to eschew the donning of crampons and continue with poles and shoes. I’d say the most dangerous part of the route was in making a continual assessment of snow firmness, terrain steepness and consequences, to allow me to travel fast but also to take the time to put on crampons or to take out the axe when needed. Energy levels waned a little going off Sgurr Eilde Mor to the geographic low in the middle of the route. I ate plenty of bars, nuts and chocolate which picked me up. I had a few gels (not classic winter mountaineering provisions!) - one of them froze so was a bit more like an ice cream! Getting onto Stob Choire Claurigh is alway a boost as after that you are basically heading in the homeward direction! Up Sgurr Choinnich Mor I was pretty tired, and was a bit fed up with the incessant wind and constant battle to keep hands warm. Luckily, that was the point where the weather improved and got better and better across the Lochaber Traverse to the Ben and down. I only looked at my watch a few times - on Sgurr Eilde Mor where it was almost 7hrs elapsed I knew it was just a case of keeping going. It was much more fun to guestimate how much daylight I had left by the height of the sun and the quality of the light, so I was confident by the afternoon that I could get in in around 15hrs or less.
The final few hours were quite difficult physically as I felt generally fairly exhausted - but mentally I knew what I had coming and just had to keep going. CMD arete was fun with a build up of snow filing in some of the bouldery parts and smoothing the way.






Saturday, 6 January 2018

South Glen Shiel Ridge Ski Traverse


Many times I have passed through Glen Shiel, looked up to the South Cluanie Ridge and wondered what it would be like as a ski traverse. Having run it once many years ago, my memory was of grassy amenable slopes, and with this in mind it was certainly on my radar for a ski traverse on lightweight ‘skimo’ gear.  But would I ever manage to get there when it was in condition?

On 16th December 2017 I was able to be in the right place at the right time and complete a traverse on ski, starting from just east of Cluanie Inn, ascending to Creag a’ Mhàim and then taking in all the Munros heading west to The Saddle, before descending again to the A87 in Glen Shiel.
 
Skinning along the old road

Setting off a little before sunrise I skinned along the old Fort William road right from the car. Heading south and up into Coirean an Eich Bhric there was some fantastic morning light and I was amazed by how close the Nevis hills looked. A short section on foot took me up the north ridge to summit Creag a’ Mhàim, the first of the nine Munros I hoped to visit.
 
Nice light early on

Creag a' Mhaim

Skins off before the first descent

Heading west along the broad ridge I ascended into the mist, managing to keep the skis on past some narrow rocky sections. After Aonach air Chrith I ran a short distance as again the ridge was narrow, rocky and scoured. Snow showers would blow through making things a bit unpleasant but then would recede as quickly, leaving me alone with the silent untracked snow again.
 
Looking back east along the ridge
Getting further along the weather improved and I had more expansive views down to Glen Quoich, fully blanketed in snow. Following the old fenceline for a lot of the route made for mostly easy navigation through the intermittent cloud, although some careful contouring used the skis to their advantage in enabling a more direct line that avoided several sub-summits. The snow cover was good, although the base was variable. In practice this meant for quick uphill skinning but required careful descending to avoid rocks, fenceposts and unconsolidated drifts. Due to the nature of the undulating ridge it was quicker and more efficient to leave skis in ‘uphill’ mode for some of the short, gentler descents. As anyone who has free-heeled downhill with skins on will know, this can be pretty ungainly!
 
Looking down to East Glen Quoich

Approaching the top of Creag nan Damh

By Creag nan Damh the sun was out and I had great winter vistas south and west, as well as glimpses through the cloud to a pristine looking snowy Saileag to the north. Following the fenceline down to Bealach Duibh Leac and up onto Sgùrr a’ Bhac Chaolais was fun although undulating and not totally straightforward. Sgùrr na Sgine was a beauty, its steep eastern cliffs a barrier that I would have to go around. Skis off for a steep rocky descent, then a lovely gentle slope traversing southwest under the cliffs. I spotted two climbers doing one of the chimney lines on the cliff, and then startled a fox from its snow covered hideout in an old wall. I watched with primitive delight as it shot up the wide white slope, helter skelter, disappearing over the horizon. Following it more slowly I arrived at Sgùrr na Sgine and looked across to The Saddle, which was still bathed in cloud. The snow was less consolidated here, closer to the sea, and the hills seemed rockier too. An awkward traverse down to Bealach Coire Mhàlagain was not free of rocky scrapes, but certainly would have been more arduous on foot, sinking deep in the soft snow.
 
Looking to Sgurr na Sgine

Heading up Sgurr na Sgine (fox top right)

Heading up The Saddle I felt tired. I had only taken a litre of water and not enough food, so I needed to concentrate. The cloud lifted as I got to the 1010m summit and I had evening views to Loch Duich and Skye. This peak is quite complex and knowing I had only about half an hour of daylight left with which to commit to my descent route focussed the mind, adding feelings of urgency to those already engendered by the lonely harshness of the land. Skiing down the featured corrie heading east did not look totally straightforward, but walking off by any route would have been slow and exhausting in these conditions. Carefully avoiding rocks I skied the corrie and then traversed back to the base of the Forcan Ridge.

Ascending a final time I passed Meallan Odhar and joined the stalkers track before jogging out the final 2km on foot, just as it became fully dark, and 8.5hrs after setting off. Thumb out hopefully, walking along the road in the darkness, I was a lucky boy as the first vehicle passing stopped for me! Thanks to Helen and Neil from Cioch Outdoor Clothing who gave me a lift back to my car for some food and rehydration.

The next day was nasty, milder weather, and so I had hit the end of the skiing conditions window. Reflecting on the day gives me a lot of pleasure for a variety of reasons but foremost is the satisfaction of using the ski as a tool for travel in winter mountain terrain when it is also the best option. Walking or running the same 32km route would have been implausible in these conditions due to exhausting slow trail breaking: the skis were not perfect but they made this journey possible in these conditions. Maybe the resultant jubilation in part explains the allure of trying to eke out long ski traverses in Scotland, where ski conditions are very often marginal, and the outcome is far from predictable.



Monday, 10 April 2017

Round of the Mamores

On Saturday 8th April it was fantastic summery weather and the hills were all but free of snow following the mild winter.

I've run the Mamores Round twice before, as well as done it several times as part of longer linkups. Previously I'd clocked in at just over 7hrs, so was fairly sure I could get it under that. At least.

Setting off from Achriabhach at noon I decided to run clockwise, therefore getting the long runnable section done on fresh legs - I ran up the road and through to Steall Ruin. Onward to the summit of Binnein Beag I was pleased to get there in around 1hr 12mins.

Knowing the route pretty well made for a fairly stress free journey, keeping eating and drinking and taking in the views. I only touched snow on a handful of times, never more than a few strides to cross small patches.
Looking to Binnein Beag from the slopes below Sgurr Eilde Mor

As I ran I felt pretty strong and started doing some sums from my Tranter splits to see if sub-6hrs was do-able. It seemed like it was so I keep pushing on.

I loved seeing two ravens playing in the updrafts near Binnein Mor. Also bumping into Adrian and Eilidh who I've not seen for ages - just enough time for a quick hug! Coming up from Kinlochleven side was a massive line of people, I'd guess at least 50. Not sure what their story was as I didn't pass them directly.

Not much snow left on the Ben

Binnein Mor

Moving into the final stages of the run I was regretting not taking my sunglasses - it was glorious! Quick descent off Mullach down a short cut that I just about remembered, back to Achriabhach. Great cup of tea and proper catchup with my friends who had by now finished the Ring of Steall and were relaxing at Lower Falls.

I ran 5hrs 18mins 38secs (start and finish at Achriabhach bus stop sign). I wouldn't be surprised if this is a record although I can't see anything recorded elsewhere. Happy for any further information if anyone has any?
Devil's Ridge

Back at Achriabhach

Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/935312640


Splits:

Start Achriabhach

Binnein Beag 
1.11.22
Sgurr Eilde Mor
0.32.30
Binnein Mor
0.31.18
Na Gruagaichean 
0.12.40
An Gearanach
0.29.49
Stob Coire a’Chairn
0.14.00
Am Bodach
0.17.32
Sgor a Iubhair
0.12.24
Sgurr a’Mhaim
0.17.03
Stob Ban
0.31.34
Mullach nan Coirean
0.24.45
Finish Achriabhach
0.23.33

Sunday, 26 March 2017

All Ben Nevis Grade 1's Linkup

Today I did this link that I've had my eye on for a while. The weather was stunning and it was great to be out on the Ben.
Looking up towards No. 5 Gully etc

I came up with the idea while looking at the Ben Nevis guidebook and realising that there aren't that many Grade 1's on the Ben! I had a look at the UKC Logbook list too and amalgamated the two. Not much info out there about Arch Gully, on Carn Dearg Summit Buttresses - quite cool with a big chockstone.

My Route:

Start North Face car park
Up No. 5 Gully
Down Colando Gully
Up Arch Gully
Down No. 4 Gully
Up No. 3 Gully
Down Tower Gully
Up East Gully of Douglas Boulder
Down West Gully of Douglas Boulder
Finish North Face car park

I didn't include CMD Arete as I think you can argue that its not really 'on' the Ben.

2hrs 51mins 08secs
16.8km
?1677m ascent

Under the chockstone in Arch Gully

On the plateau

Looking down Tower Gully

Looking back up Tower Gully

Observatory Gully

Looking down West Gully of Douglas Boulder


I took 2 light axes and used Salomon XA Alpine boot/shoes with strap on crampons.

Strava:
https://www.strava.com/activities/915691046


Lovely day!

Speedy Tours 1 (2016) Video






My video from last year's trip got its 'premiere' at the Ski Night of Fort William Mountain Festival in February

Video at:
https://vimeo.com/195288221

"In March 2016, 4 British ski mountaineers set off from Menton on the Cote du Azur and headed for the snow! In 7hrs we reached it, and in 7 days we had travelled over 130 miles to reach Aiguilles in the Queyras. Next year we plan to return and continue this journey, following a route along the Grand Alpine Arc. Our hope is to continue returning over several years, finishing eventually at the other end of the Alps in Vienna"

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Tranter's Round Record

I set out at 0805hrs on Saturday 1st October 2016 and completed an anti-clockwise Tranter's Round in 10hrs 15minutes 30seconds.

I have been interested in the Tranter Round for a long time. Last February, myself and Tim Gomersall completed a Winter round on skimo ski mountaineering equipment in 17hrs 35mins (see http://gomountaingoats.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/skimo-tranter-round.html)

My focus over the past year or so has moved to longer races and runs. Competing in the Tromso Skyrace (3rd place, 6hrs 55mins) and Glencoe Skyline (4th place, 7hrs) as well as long runs in the hills have improved my stamina and distances. Supporting Jasmin Paris on her Ramsay Round Record (I did the third leg which was about 35km I think) was eye opening and sociable. Interest in long distance records seems to be on the increase. I like this: racing is good, but just going out and doing a long route for the challenge / fun of it is probably even more appealing to me.

Looking at previous split times (mainly Jasmin and Jon Ashcroft's Ramsay splits - as I couldn't find Mark Harris's Tranter splits at the last minute!) I reckoned I could shave a bit off Mark's time. I know the route well - having done all parts of it multiple times separately. I knew Mark have been 'onsight' on the Aonachs towards the end of his round, and he had previously told me that this had cost him some time. Also, Jasmin had challenged me to a sub-10 hour record!

Despite living in Fort William, it took a while for the combination of good weather, time off, and fresh legs to occur. Saturday 1st October was a glorious sunny day with some cloud in the valleys initially, but crystal clear views from the hills all around. Setting out from the Youth Hostel and up onto Mullach I was really excited to get started on what was going to be (if nothing else) an amazing weather day out in the autumnal hills. All along the Mamores, stags were roaring in the corries, nature taking its course after the first real cold night of the autumn.

View across from east of Mullach, towards Ben Nevis

Having cramped badly at Glencoe Skyrace, I was determined to look after myself and eat and drink loads all the way round. I thought I was doing this, but had a mini power failure towards Binnein Mor, and took on yet more food. I loved the fast track from Binnein Beag towards Sgurr Eilde Mor, and remembered the snow conditions and skiing I had last time I was here (going the other direction). I made the top of Sgurr Eilde Mor at 4hrs 55mins. Some calculations in my head and I reckoned that the 10hr mark was potentially feasible, although would need some work!

Looking along the Mamores

Devil's Ridge

I seemed to take a very boggy rough line down to Abhainn Rath in the glen, and felt pretty slow going up the long ascent to Stob Ban (Grey Corries). There was a Last Munro party on the top, complete with bagpipes - a funny coincidence as this was also the case when I was here last time on Jasmin's Ramsay!

Looking back at the river and the Mamores

Getting to Stob Choire Claurigh felt good psychologically as I was turning the corner to head home. I managed to pick up speed a bit and loved how close the Ben looked in the clear autumn light. I bumped into Donnie Campbell who was doing a long run from Corrour, a bit of a chat was nice after a long time on my own (other than just saying 'hi' to walkers).

I seem to need to eat and drink loads compared to a lot of other runners! I was running out of food! Carefully rationing myself I carried on and enjoyed the Carn Mor Dearg arete, although I felt pretty slow going up the final ascent to the Ben. Now I could just relax and get down to the Youth Hostel as soon as possible. I knew I was going to miss the 10hr mark, but not by too much.


Ben Nevis summit
Descending the Ben

One really interesting part of the run was realising how fast Jasmin and Jon's Ramsay splits are. On the Mamores I was mostly faster than these splits by a few minutes for each peak, but on the Grey Corries I had run out of some steam so was about the same. The fact that the Ramsay is 20 miles longer speaks for itself. That said, with more long runs my stamina can only improve - this was my longest run to date. I'm sure it will go quite a bit faster, I felt like I slowed down a fair bit in the second half so I'm keen to have another go at some point.

Finished

I was solo / unsupported. I ate about 3 bars and 9 gels, as well as jelly babies and some nuts. I seemed to drink a lot - maybe 6 litres! Lots of places to fill up.

Link to my Strava trace:
https://www.strava.com/activities/731086077

My watch said:
59km
6080m ascent
10hrs15mins30secs

Split times:

Start Glen Nevis YH
0.00.00
Mullach nan Coirean
1.00.44
Stob Ban
0.26.21
Sgurr a’Mhaim
0.31.48
Sgor a Iubhair
0.15.35
Am Bodach
0.13.42
Stob Coire a’Chairn
0.16.25
An Gearanach
0.14.19
Na Gruagaichean
0.36.41
Binnein Mor
0.19.02
Binnein Beag
0.23.45
Sgurr Eilde Mor
0.36.46
Stob Ban
1.17.04
Stob Coire Claurigh
0.28.39
Stob Coire a' Laoigh
0.25.32
Sgurr Choinnich Mor
0.21.37
Aonach Beag
0.45.52
Aonach Mor
0.14.58
Carn Mor Dearg
0.36.26
Ben Nevis
0.33.04
Glen Nevis YH
0.37.04