Tuesday, 15 October 2013

NEW Cuillin Ridge Traverse record

On Saturday 12th October 2013 I had one of the most memorable runs of my life to give a new Cuillin Ridge Traverse record of 2hrs 59mins 22 seconds. This traverse, in perfect running conditions, was my fourth this year. As before, the definition followed was that of previous records and took in the 11 Munro summits, plus the Sgurr Thearlaich and Bidein Druim nan Ramh tops, and the four main ‘climbing’ sections (the TD Gap; Kings Chimney on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich; the Inaccessible Pinnacle; and Naismith’s Route on the Bhasteir Tooth). I started on Gars-bheinn at 12 noon and finished on Sgurr nan Gillean at 2.59.22pm.



On Gars-bheinn a few minutes before setting off... (pic: R.Wild)


Last week I was chatting with friends and psych reached boiling point as we realised that conditions for the weekend were looking good. Very good. My dad, Roger Wild, was more than happy to accompany me for an attempt during this October weather window so we headed up to Glen Brittle on Friday. My previous fast traverses have started very early in the morning from a summit bivvy (Gars-bheinn or Sgurr nan Eag) and this seemed a good strategy in summer to avoid both crowding and the full heat of the day. It also gave the legs a rest after the walk in. With much longer and colder nights in October this didn’t seem the best strategy and we debated what to do - it was fair to assume that it wouldn't get too hot or too busy, and in fact a cold long bivvy might not be the best preparation. I therefore opted to run in the middle of the day after a slow approach, and hoped I didn’t run into snags at the TD gap.

Saturday morning was clear and dry, with just a weak easterly wind. We walked up leisurely to Gars-bheinn and I got sorted out. Looking along the ridge it was clear this was going to be a brilliant day. Stags were roaring down in the glens. It was bone dry perfect conditions and I was feeling fit. The view from that end of the ridge is one of my all time favourites - looking to the main Black Cuillin ridge, the lost brother Bla Bheinn, the Red Cuillin, Loch Coruisk, Rum, Trotternish, Ben Nevis and beyond. I took it all in as once I started running there wouldn’t be time for views. 


Walking in past Coire Lagan (pic: R.Wild)

Setting off I felt great. My last traverse (the 3.14.58 record) was done in the mist with quite a bit of damp rock. Today felt totally different, and quite a bit safer. I was 4 mins ahead by Sgurr Dubh Mor, and headed to the TD gap feeling good. I met some good friends who I knew were doing the ridge just before they started the abseil - good timing! A quick hello and I was down and then up - I enjoyed the dry climbing. By Sgurr Mhic Choinnich I was over 9 mins ahead and knew it was going very well. I made a very deliberate effort to keep focussing on the next summit, and continually consulted the map in my head. Meanwhile I was picking up the familiar lines and shortcuts I have come to know well. As much as I could, I stuck to my previous fastest route. There were a few minor deviations - some faster, some slower - but I think that is inevitable on a route this complex. I had my split times from my earlier 3.10.30 attempt (where in the heat of the moment I stupidly forgot that Sgurr Mhic Choinnich was a Munro summit and ran half a dozen metres from the cairn, so didn’t count the record) and by the time 75mins had gone by (downclimbing the In Pinn) I was already 10 mins ahead of the 3.10.30 run split times. From here on, the chances of congestion problems were much less, and I knew that if I kept at it, the fabled 3hr barrier could be in sight. But I had to focus, I had to keep the concentration and not make any mistakes. Somewhere on the traversing ground before Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh the hip pocket zip broke on my light sac and my jelly babies were trapped - I fiddled while running for a while, then decided to break it for access. Chain eating of jelly babies continued. Some gels and water. I was running in a light baselayer and shorts, with a barely noticable sac. It felt free and flowing. I knew the way so didn’t have that jolting feeling of split second route choice decision making - but I had to focus. I couldn’t make mistakes. Even after coming off Bidein Druim nan Ramh onto easier ground there are many places where the terrain is still serious. For at least the last hour I was definitely chasing the sub-3, not in a crazed sprint but a persistent push. I had learnt this over many hill races and thought I had enough fuel in the tank. At Bruach na Frithe things seemed a wee bit harder, maybe because I had pushed faster earlier on. I made a slight route error before Naismith’s on the Bhasteir Tooth and went a bit low on the scree (giving me a slower split time). Naismith's Route was and is my favourite part of the whole ridge. I got to the top of Am Basteir and had just over 10 minutes to do it. I could get there. Push. More jelly babies. My route up Sgurr nan Gillean could have been 10 secs shorter but it was ok, keep pushing. I was breathing hard and my knees were aching from all the high stepping. It didn't matter. The Window with a minute - keep going up the final small slab and there, to the summit, elated.

This time I knew I had done it. No doubts about summits touched, or route taken. I surveyed the ridge, counting off each top in the sunshine. I did some shouting. Some Fort William friends coincidentally arrived via the south east ridge and had to listen to my ecstatic chat. After I had taken it all in for half an hour, enjoying the view and sensation, I headed down to Glen Brittle. I had a better line for the descent to the Fairy Pools - you never stop learning in the Cuillin. I relaxed with a cup of tea. I relived a thousand memories of different handholds, technical sections, snatched views, and different weather conditions on this and previous traverses. I’m still Cuillin dreaming.

 On top of Sgurr nan Gillean after finishing the 2.59.22 traverse (pic: A. Rodgers)

Looking a bit crazed down in Glen Brittle (pic: R.Wild)


The splits:
Gars-bheinn

0:00:00
Sgurr nan Eag
0:14:13
0:14:13
Sgurr Dubh Mor
0:15:42
0:29:54
Sgurr Alasdair
0:16:56
0:46:51
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich
0:10:46
0:57:36
In Pin
0:15:53
1:13:29
Sgurr na Banachdich
0:15:22
1:28:52
Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh
0:16:15
1:45:07
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh
0:07:26
1:52:33
Bidein DNR
0:20:15
2:12:48
Bruach na Frithe
0:27:04
2:39:52
Am Basteir
0:09:30
2:49:22
Sgurr nan Gillean
0:09:59
2:59:22

Comparison with my 3.14.58 record:


16/06/2013
12/10/2013
Difference
Gars-bheinn
0:00:00
0:00:00
0:00:00
Sgurr nan Eag
0:15:51
0:14:13
0:01:38
Sgurr Dubh Mor
0:33:41
0:29:54
0:03:47
Sgurr Alasdair
0:55:28
0:46:51
0:08:37
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich
1:07:01
0:57:36
0:09:24
In Pin
1:24:09
1:13:29
0:10:39
Sgurr na Banachdich
1:40:27
1:28:52
0:11:35
Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh
2:00:07
1:45:07
0:15:00
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh
2:07:48
1:52:33
0:15:15
Bidein DNR
2:28:52
2:12:48
0:16:04
Bruach na Frithe
2:55:52
2:39:52
0:16:00
Am Basteir
3:04:36
2:49:22
0:15:14
Sgurr nan Gillean
3:14:57
2:59:22
0:15:35

Comparison of splits over the 3 fast runs

12/10/13: 2hr59.22
16/6/13: 3hr14.58
9/6/13: 3hr 10.30 (Sgurr Mhic Choinnich summit cairn not touched)



12/10/2013
16/06/2013
09/06/2013
Gars-bheinn



Sgurr nan Eag
0:14:13
0:15:51
0:15:19
Sgurr Dubh Mor
0:15:42
0:17:50
0:17:47
Sgurr Alasdair
0:16:56
0:21:46
0:20:23
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich
0:10:46
0:11:33

In Pin
0:15:53
0:17:08
0:30:59
Sgurr na Banachdich
0:15:22
0:16:18
0:16:10
Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh
0:16:15
0:19:40
0:15:37
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh
0:07:26
0:07:42
0:07:40
Bidein DNR
0:20:15
0:21:03
0:20:18
Bruach na Frithe
0:27:04
0:27:01
0:25:32
Am Basteir
0:09:30
0:08:44
0:09:49
Sgurr nan Gillean
0:09:59
0:10:20
0:10:50

(Fastest split time of all three attempts shown in red)

From a brief look at these it looks like I made most of my time in the first part of the traverse, before Sgurr Alasdair. Remembering that my 3hr10 run was unexpected (having run 4hrs the time before that), and the 3h15 run was in damp conditions, I'm not too surprised that I gained so much time early on - I now knew that I could 'race' it, and was pushing from the start. Of course, being even more familiar with the ridge after each traverse also helped. I can also see some small mistakes, particularly near the end, where I slowed down on previous times. But I can live with this. Also in general terms, 2013 has been a great year for my running and I've done easily three times as many races this year than in any previous year. So I am as fit as I have been, with more experienced racing strategies. This all came together to give me the sub-3hr result. Did I know I could do it – of course not! But I thought 3hrs 05min was possible…and hoped maybe faster.



Anyway, this is probably getting too technical! 

Thanks to everyone who's been involved in these trips to Skye - and hopefully we can do some more - at a more relaxed pace? It's such a fantastic place.
'That' view onto the Northern Cuillin (not this trip) (pic: F.Wild)


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn Record?

Bla Bheinn, Clach Glas and Sgurr nan Each

The Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn traverse is regarded as a classic mountaineering outing in its own right, despite being a much smaller brother to the main Cuillin traverse. Being geologically part of the Black Cuillin, the terrain feels very similar - fantastic rough scrambling with lots of interest.

On Sunday 7/7/13 the weather cleared to give a beautiful sunny day on Skye. I decided to have a go at the Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn record, having seen a round recorded on the Scottish Hill Runners 'Long Distance Records' page where Alastair Matthewson recorded a time of 1hr 57mins 20secs in 1998. I'm sure others must have done fast times on the traverse as its such an obvious objective. I knew the scrambling section of the traverse reasonably having been up there about a month ago, but Sgurr nan Each was new to me.

In keeping with the previously recorded round I started and finished at the bridge over the Allt na Dunaiche (GR 561217), next to the Bla Bheinn car park by Loch Slapin. After a fast run in on the path I headed off right and up to the scrambly summit of Sgurr nan Each (720m), then onwards to Clach Glas "The Matterhorn of Skye" (786m), and then via the grassy Putting Green and the short 'Difficult' graded climbing to summit Bla Bheinn (928m). After an all too short glimpse at the main ridge, it was a quick descent back to the starting point, in a time of 1hr 31mins and 53secs. A dip in the Allt na Dunaiche near its mouth was extremely refreshing.
Ascending Bla Bheinn (Pic: Misha Somerville)

Splits:

Bridge   start
Sgurr nan Each   0.34.46
Clach Glas   0.51.15
Bla Bheinn   1.08.25
Bridge   1.31.53

Another great adventure on Skye!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Cuillin Ridge Record

On Sunday 16th June 2013 I recorded a time of 3 hours 14 minutes and 58 seconds for a Cuillin Ridge Traverse, under the Hyslop 'rules' (all 11 Munro summits, plus the Sgurr Thearlaich and Bidein Druim nan Ramh tops, including the four main ‘climbing’ sections. Starting Gars-bheinn and finishing on Sgurr nan Gillean).

This was my third traverse in three weeks – a week ago (9/6/13) I ran a time of 3h10m30s in perfect weather only to realise I had inexplicably omitted to touch the summit cairn of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, despite passing 10 metres from it! This dawned on me slowly and horribly while walking down from the ridge, so later that day I made the tired journey back from Glen Brittle to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich to consider what had happened – unfortunately this confirmed I had made a 5 second important omission. The next week was lived in a sort of limbo of checking weather forecasts and mental preparation for the next run.

So it was that I returned on Saturday night for an optimist’s weather window Sunday morning. Myself and Suzy hid from the midges and rain showers at Glen Brittle campsite, then headed as far as Sgurr nan Eag well into the night as the skies cleared. I hoped the ridge would dry out nicely overnight, and in the morning a beautiful cloud inversion below us boded well. I left Gars-bheinn at 5am, expecting the cloud to lift and the temperature to shoot up. The weather didn't improve but as I was making good time I kept going. As it turned out, the majority of the traverse was done in misty and slightly damp conditions. Due to such a lot of recent time on the ridge the route finding went very well, except for an error descending Sgurr na Banachdich.

I gradually dropped behind my own split times from a week ago, and at Bidein was 4 minutes behind. The whole traverse certainly felt more serious than in the previous bone dry conditions, but it was still going well so I pushed on over the next more runnable section and by Bruach na Frithe was just behind Es Tresidder’s 2007 split. I knew it would be close so shoved some more jelly babies in and continued onwards to Naismith's and arrived delighted at the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean in 3h14m58s, as the sun decided to briefly show face.

After descending back to Glen Brittle I had a relaxing time on the beach and a fantastic meal at Sligachan – by now the cloud had cleared a bit and I spent a lot of time looking up at the Cuillin, repeatedly.

Thanks to Rob Beaumont, Peter Herd and Alli Pettigrew for carrying my bivvy stuff down from Gars-bheinn a week ago, and to Suzy Devey for being the beast of burden this time - and having her own adventures in the mist! Also Roger Wild with whom I did my first traverse 10 years ago, and lots of reccy’ing since. Es Tresidder has been helpful with discussion and info – very sporting given that I was chasing his record. 

Split times:
Sgurr nan Eag 0.15.50
Sgurr Dubh Mor 0.33.40
Sgurr Alasdair 0.55.26
Sgurr Thearlaich 0.58.29
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich 1.07.00
Inaccessible Pinnacle / Sgurr Dearg 1.24.08
Sgurr na Banachdich 1.40.26
Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh 2.00.06
Sgurr a' Mhadaidh 2.07.47
Bidein Druim nan Ramh (Central Peak) 2.28.50
Bruach na Frithe 2.55.50
Am Basteir 3.04.34
Sgurr nan Gillean 3.14.58

I wore a GPS watch and the details from both runs can be viewed at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/328909415 
There are limitations – I lost satellite signal in King’s Chimney (on the previous attempt), and the trace doesn’t seem infalliable on such complex terrain.


 Finlay Wild at the Fairy Pools after his traverse. Pic: Suzy Devey