ith seven mountain marathons ‘under our belts’ in the last two years, we have favoured really well weather-wise with only the odd day less than decent. Probably the worse being day one of the Mourne in 2010 and that was not horrendous. The 2011 LAMM looked just as good with an excellent forecast for the north-west Highlands where the event was taking place this year. As usual, I was running with Scott but this time we were being accompanied up north with Mike, a guy I had met on my Mountain Leader Assessment a couple of years back and his mate Russ. We all met up at my house and set off up to Ullapool mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, a serious car accident on the notorious A9 caused huge delays but we were in no rush so we just took our time and arrived early evening at the event centre just south of Ullapool. We registered and chilled out for an uneventful evening.
Heading off towards Sgurr Mor and Sgurr an Fhuarain
The next morning whilst we were getting our kit sorted I pulled my jacket off over my head which in turn also removed the hat I was wearing. Somehow, the elastic cord that secures the hat around your chin stretched and when it was released, the adjustment toggle walloped my in the eye. To say it was painful was an understatement but more concerning was the fact that the vision in my right eye had gone. It was like looking through a steamed up window. Scott thought it was hilarious and took the rip big time but I was less than humoured. Not the start you want before a mountain marathon. (It took a full week before my eyesight returned to normal.) I put on my sunglasses, which alleviated the issue to some extent and then headed for the coach that would be taking us to the start.
This year we were running in Class B so this was a decent ‘step-up’ from Class C the previous year. We arrived at the start, a plantation near Loch Droma. We dibbed in then set off up towards the first checkpoint, a spur located just near the Allt Leacachain. We ‘ran-walked’ up to the checkpoint without any issues, dibbed then set off to checkpoint two’ located on the summit of Beinn Dearg. We discussed route options. We could head up towards the path that runs from Lochdrum towards the Corbett, Beinn Enaiglair then head up over the top, Iorguill and up the north-west ridge to the summit. The other option was to take a direct line to the summit by dropping 150 metres into Mucranaich then follow Allt Beinn Dearg into the Coire Beinn Dearg and then up to the summit. We took the second option, although this would mean some additional height loss and gain but it did look the quickest option. We dropped down to Mucranaich and with blue skies and the sun out, Beinn Dearg looked amazing.
It was a fair old slog to the summit but the views from the top were amazing. The formidable An Teallach to the west, Suilven and Stac Polliadh to the north-west. Amazing! My eye was giving my no end of grief and trying to focus on the map was giving me a headache so Scott took control of route planning and navigation. The third checkpoint was located on a stream-bend on the Allt a’ Chuaille and Scott suggested staying high and rather than dropping down to Loch Tuath where there was potential for slow progress on boggy ground. We would then skirt around Coire Loch Tuath and then head around the top, Cnap Coire Loch Tuath and then down the east shoulder to the checkpoint.
We followed the wall down from the summit to, the Bealach an Lochain Uaine then directly north, contouring around to Plat Reidh, ensuring we did not lose any height. It was a bit of a scramble along towards the top but Scott did a great job in getting us to the col at 815 metres. Scott had planned to head northwards around Cnap Coire Loch Tuath but for some reason we changed our minds. Maybe, this was because everyone else was heading down to the loch and we panicked that we were losing time. The end result was that we wasted significant time, firstly looking for a way down the steep cliffs then eventually heading directly over the top. Ironically, the route Scott had initially planned was identical to the route-planners choice. Once we had ran over Cnap Coire Loch Tuath, the stream bend was easy to spot and we had no further issues located the checkpoint and dibbing in.
The fourth checkpoint was located in a re-entrant north of Loch Sruban Beaga. We followed the Allt a’Chuaille towards the amazing Glenbeg bothy then forded Abhainn a’ Ghlinne Bhig. There was a path marked on the map that led up from them main path to the weir but we decided to gradually climb up below Cadha nam Frisealach and then pick up the path below the loch. The climb was brutal, well to me it was but Scott powered up as usual and I lumbered up behind. The sun was beating down and it was really hard work. Once at the top, we skirted around the side of Loch Sruban Mora and Loch Sruban Beaga and hit the checkpoint straight on which was good news. We were not moving fast however. I suspect that Scott would have had no issues in stepping up the pace but I was really struggling. The climbs felt tougher than usual and I could not get any rhythm when running.
The next leg was another re-entrant located just off Meall an Daimh Mhoir and a rough estimation was that it was a good 8km run. We climbed up to the head of Coire Mor and looked down to the loch. My performance may have been lacking but the views certainly were not. Once we had skirted around the steep cliffs we picked up a decent looking trod towards Craggan a’Chait, a top located north-west off Carn Bac. It was good to be able to get some decent running in and we made good progress over Craggan a’Chait and down the north-eastern shoulder and north towards Meall an Daimh Mhoir. We played it safe and used the ridge as an attack point to the re-entrant.
Although we had not been running at a decent pace in between the checkpoints (down to me) our navigation had been reasonable. There had been none of the issues from the Highlander where we had lost focus and made schoolboy navigational errors. I remember thinking that the day’s work was almost over with the last checkpoint, located at a bridge near mid-camp a ‘gimme’ and the penultimate checkpoint located a couple of kilometres north on a stream bend. Well there are no simple checkpoints in a mountain marathon and we screwed up badly. I am not sure if we did not take the correct bearing but somehow we navigated to the wrong stream and lost a good 30 minutes searching until we found the correct stream and checkpoint. Just goes to show that when you ‘switch-off’ it can come back and bite you big time.
With the mid-camp and the bridge where the last checkpoint was located in view, even we could not make any mistakes on the last leg. Or could we? It was just a case of taking a line direct for the checkpoint. The checkpoint was located on the southern side of the bridge but for some reason we actually traversed the river and then headed back across the bridge.
We trotted into camp and downloaded. I did not need to read the ‘SI print out’ to confirm that we had performed below par. Our day one position was 51 out of 67 which came as no surprise. The truth was that I had not stepped up to the mark. Ok, my eye was giving my no end of grief but that was no excuse. The fact was that I had not ran well at all and let the side down badly. Of course, Scott was great about everything and we cracked the usual jokes about how ‘useless’ we were and settled down in the tent.
I hunted down Mike and Russ and went to their tent for a chat. It was their first Mountain Marathon and they had performed well in D class. It was good to listen as they talked enthusiastically about their day and it reminded me of our first mountain marathon when we had finished day one just outside the top twenty and made the chasing start. Our start had been early so we had a lot of time to kill. I cranked up an audiobook on my iPhone, “I’m here to win” by Chris McCormack and we listened to that for a few hours whilst the sky clouded over and it began to rain. I went out later on to see the full results and check if Karen, a girl I had met on a rock climbing course in Aviemore, who was also running her first mountain marathon had come in. She had completed, but with dozens of tents at mid camp there was no way I would find her unless we just accidently bumped into each other.
The rain had been falling most of the evening and you it was still coming down when I finally dropped off asleep. In the morning, the usual bag-piper not called into action and we were awoken by an official with a loud hailer informing us to wake and witness the amazing sunrise instead. True enough the sunrise was amazing and the overnight rain had ‘freshened’ everything up. The sky was cloudless and it looked like we were going to be in for another cracker of a day weather wise. I caught up with Karen whilst queuing up for the toilet and we had a chat about our respective experiences of day one. She had been caught out in the rain late afternoon but had really enjoyed her first mountain marathon.
We ate breakfast, packed up and made an early start. We ‘dibbed in’ at the start and looked at the control sheet. It was going to be another big day with two checkpoints on Munro’s. Although we had not done ourselves justice yesterday, there was a cluster of teams just ahead of so we were determined to give it our best shot and put a decent effort in. We usually perform better on day two so hopefully we could gain a few places today.
The first checkpoint was located in a re-entrant, just off the shoulder of Meall nam Pradhan. Situated at about 530 metres this would involve a 300 metre climb straight out of mid-camp. I think it must be standard practice on a mountain marathon, for the route-planner to send you straight up a hill at the start of day two! We slogged up the side, using the altimeter to get to the correct height then contouring to the checkpoint. The re-entrant looked quite big on the map so I had no concerns we would miss it and sure enough, we hit it pretty much straight on.
The next checkpoint was located on the summit of the Munro, Seana Bhraigh. The bealach between Seana Bhraigh and Creag Dhubh is at about 540 metres so we decided to drop down to that height then contour around and head underneath Creag Dubh to the bealach and then head straight up to the summit. I find it is pretty tough not to drift downhill when contouring but an altimeter, stops any drift. Most of the other teams were staying high and traversing over the top of Creag Dubh but our route selection seemed to pay off as we managed to move in front of some teams that were previously ahead of us.
Once at the bealach it was a 400 metre climb to the summit. The only way to deal with it was ‘head down’ and push on. Scott pushed on ahead, making it look easy and I will not deny the fact that I found the climb tough. The scenary made up for it though and with amazing air clarity you could see summits afar. We dibbed in and took a few moments to enjoy the views. It was a shame to be leaving the top in such a rush but I considered myself fortunate to even be up here in the first place. This is what makes the LAMM the best mountain marathon out there. You are always guaranteed checkpoints in amazing locations. There was a guy who had hiked in really to get onto the top and he was probably expecting peace and solitude only to overcome with dozens of runners. To be fair, he was really chilled out and I chatted to him briefly before cracking off a couple of photographs and moving on.
The next checkpoint was located at an outflow of Lochan Dubh Na Beiste and as the crow flies, was only a couple of kilometres away. Going direct would have meant a serious descent and then re-ascent though, so we decided to head below the South top of Seana Bhraigh, above Cadha Dearg and then south of the two tops, Meall a’Choire Ghlais and Meall Glac an Ruighe. There was a decent trod and we were able to make good progress down to the checkpoint.
From here it was another climb to the next checkpoint, located on the summit of Eididh nan Clach Geala. We joined a train of people also pushing up to the checkpoint and made steady progress up through the Coire and Lochain Sgeirich then just skirting below A’Chaoirnichain Sgeirich to the summit. Unfortunately the SI machine had ‘died’ and it was amusing watching everyone trying their own SI dibber in the machine, ‘just in case’. We jotted down the number from the machine and planned our route to the penultimate checkpoint located on a spur near Cnoc na Moine.
A lot of teams were heading south-west from the summit to pick up the path that heads from Locahan a’ Chnapaich into the Gleann na Sguaib. We decided to follow the shoulder down to the lochan and then towards Druim na Sguiab. From here we took a direct line down from the hillside to the Eas Fionn waterfall. There was still a good stomp uphill to get back onto the shoulder but it was only about 180 metres and an energy gel taken at Druim na Sguiab gave me a boost and we were up in no time at all. Scott took a great line skirting just under Cnoc na Moine and we hit the checkpoint dead on.
There was the usual LAMM ‘run-in’ at the end and it was great to unwind the legs as we dropped through the forest and then over Inverlael Bridge and to the finish. There was a decent amount of people already back including Mike and Russ who had a great day but I could not see Karen, who had set out significantly later than us. We had finished a reasonable 35th, a significant improvement over day one and this had had elevated us up to 42nd overall. Although I was disappointed with my own performance, the course was top drawer and it was amazing to be running in such an awesome location and we will definitely be back again next year.