Don’t wait for perfection – just get started. Never have truer words been spoken, or so it seems to me now that I have two children, a small business to run and a chaotic family life filled with travel, training and general juggling. What did I even do with my time before all this!?
Sometimes it seems overwhelmingly hard to carve out the opportunity to race, recce or even plan exciting personal challenges. Life has an uncanny knack of getting in the way: Covid, kiddi bugs, childcare problems, family commitments, etc! So it seemed this summer when, despite a good build-up of training, a series of chest infections put me out of action at a critical time in the year. I was gutted. I’ll admit it – I pretty much gave up. I might have said the words ‘That’s it. I’m never ever running again!’
But then something unusual and magical happened: things unexpectedly fell into place. There was a weather window (albeit at night), there was childcare (husband was home), there was fitness (less than planned but surely still something) and there was a will – and you know what they say about that!
‘The way’ was a Tranter’s Round, solo unsupported. I might have been a bit wheezy and would need to run alone in the darkness, but it was a lifeline of sorts. In two weeks’ time schools would be out for summer and my running would need to take a back-seat to being mummy. The time was now.
Why am I rambling on about all this? Because on the day, getting started was the hardest thing about the whole round. It required so much to come together – opportunity, motivation and support. And of course, an opening in the snidey Scottish Weather.
Keri and daughter Fionn (7yrs) before starting the Tranter's Round
What is the Tranter’s Round?
Start/finish Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. Approx. 60km, 6000m+ ascent (18 Munros).
The original Scottish mountain round, established in pursuit of the 24hr Munro Record in 1964 by Philip Tranter. The route is an aesthetic linkup of the high ridges of the Mamores, the Grey Corries, the Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis. For more details see www.gomountaingoats.com/tranters-round-1
Start the Clock…Go!
At 7:40pm I started my watch and jogged across the bridge from the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. My eldest daughter ran with me giggling whilst the other slept in the car (having had a tantrum and worn herself out). It’s always hard leaving the girls because they don’t really understand, but this time Fionn was excited and so was I.
On the way up Ben Nevis there was (somewhat predictably) a big dark cloud over the summit. It looked foreboding and I’ll confess that my first thought of giving up came within the first 20 minutes! Perhaps the weather window wouldn’t materialise! Would I press on if it just rained all night? Carrying on regardless, I found the summit to be in thick clag. Not unfamiliar with this side of the Ben I continued over the top and took a (less than ideal) line down to the CMD arete. This is my favourite bit – running away, skipping along the blocks and edges of this narrow ridge with the North Face of Ben Nevis baring its teeth menacingly behind me.
On this day it was gloomy but a strong orange light tried to penetrate the cloud, making everything glow. By the time I reached Aonach Mor, it was clear that the weatherman was right – it was going to be a fabulous night! The sky was a bruise of purple and orange and the last of the clouds were lifting off the tops.
I should probably stop taking photos.
The beginning of sunset over Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg
This close to the summer solstice, you almost don’t need a headtorch. I was at the top of Spinks Ridge around 11:30pm and still hadn’t switched mine on. Here I decided to do just that, so that I could see what my feet were doing as I tentatively lowered down over the lip (quite an exciting moment even in daylight!).
As I descended from Sgurr Choinnich Mor I glimpsed a couple of headtorches in the darkness – 'oooh Ramsayists' I thought, but I never passed them. Where had they gone? Are they hiding from me? 'Okay, I must be getting tired now' I thought. A little further along, however, I encountered some sheep, their eyes glinting in my torchlight. It must have been these that had caught my eye (I’m pretty sure they weren’t doing a Ramsay)!
The dead of night!
I still hadn’t looked at my watch for pace or elapsed time. I was running without a schedule, without a goal, without an agenda – trying to ‘run free’ really. But running solo is time-sapping. Under the Grey Corries I found the small spring I needed for water by listening for it in the quiet darkness, following its gurling song. As I filled up and faffed about putting layers on, I could feel the time slipping away and my head getting fuzzy. How do people run through multiple nights without sleep? I wondered haplessly.
The sky is never completely dark at midsummer!
Once up on the quartzite ridge I caught sight of something unearthly in the sky. Angular, huge and red-orange. Intrinsically I knew it was the moon but couldn’t make it work. It was cold and I could see my breath in the torchlight. I took some more blurred photos on the move. I hadn’t seen a soul since the summit of Ben Nevis; it was quite a surreal experience.
Dropping off Stob Choire Claurigh felt like disappearing into full darkness, the ridge blocking-out the colourful hue of the night-sky to the west. My progress slowed, finding and losing and finding and losing the wee trod down to the lochan at the foot of Stob Ban. As I left the scree behind and crested the summit, the relief was palpable. This top marked the approach of morning and the end of Leg 1.
Suddenly a handful of lights appeared from the opposite direction – 'oooh more sheep' I thought! ‘Morning’ said the Ramsayists as they tagged the cairn and disappeared down the way I had just come up. ‘Good luck!’ I bemusedly called after them as they were swallowed-up by the darkness.
For a time, the running was enjoyable – a long, boggy traverse descending into some near-wading as I approached the Abhainn Rath. By now it was well and truly morning: the sky already blue but the hills blushing with Alpenglow. They looked so BIG from down here. Things suddenly felt impossible. I knew the climb up Sgurr Eilde Mor was a long one but today it seemed longer than ever, with more false summits to dash my flagging hopes. A definite low-point.
Looking back down over the Abhainn Rath at sunrise
After a brief, steep descent, I enjoyed the more gradual climb to the col with Binnein Beag and dropped my bag by the burn for an unweighted out-n-back trip to the summit. I was carrying quite a lot of food and spare layers and it was a joy to be unburdened for a time. It was only around 6am but it was already getting warm – today was going to be a hot one!
To climb Binnein Mor I opted for the east ridge, rather than the more usual line up through the coire of Achlais a’ Bhinnein Mor. It’s a steep pull from the bottom of Garbh-choire but it seemed to go quickly enough and it was a huge relief to have completed the ‘outliers’ and to be on the Mamores ridge proper. Only 8 Munros to go!
Just as my optimism started to rise, I began to feel (and hear) the struggles of my laboured breathing. As a lifelong asthmatic I knew my lungs were definitely still ‘not right’. I had slowly developed a tight and painful cough through the night and now my asthma inhaler really wasn’t working anymore. It was going to be a slow finish, but I would finish – I knew that now.
The summit of Na Gruagaichean. 6 Munros to go!
The Mamores are the hills that I know best on this round, being closest to my home. The familiarity was comforting as I began gradually ticking them off in the sunshine. Gaining confidence, I decided (stupidly) to gamble and take a higher line than I usually do, cutting across to the col between Stob Coire a Chairn and the An Gearanach ridge. To say it did not pay off is an understatement and I cursed under my breath as I scrabbled (that’s a thing) over small loose boulders, looking down longingly at the water source I’d overshot.
There are two out-n-backs on this part of the Mamores ridge (making up the Ring of Steall) and many people find them discouraging, but I quite like these technical ridges and on a clockwise round they feel like the last hurdle. Time passes quickly here on account of the summits being close together which can really boost morale, and once you’re heading up Stob Ban (the second one of two) you’ve cracked it really!
Still smiling on the Devil's Ridge
I dropped my bag again briefly, to trot along the familiar Devil’s Ridge, but I dropped it too early and had to come quite far back for it (missing-out on an early descent down to Lochan Coire nam Miseach). When you’re tired lapses of concentration and minor mistakes like this accumulate. Thankfully my legs were still feeling fine and I was able to plod away methodically.
I kept wishing I wasn’t in full length leggings and thick, long-sleeved top though! My clothing had been perfect overnight but today had dawned clearer and hotter than forecast. As I ascended Stob Ban I felt like I was in a sauna, the bright hot sun reflecting off the white quartzite and bleaching my mind.
My heart was happy (even though my lungs were not) as I jogged/walked towards my goal: the pimple in the distance that is Mullach nan Coirean. Here the rock-type changes and so does the running; undulating trail flows over reddish rounded granite until the giant cairn is reached.
I always envision myself flying down the descent from here but, in reality, I think I sort of hobbled and bobbled until the gradient relented and finally let me open up my stride. Then, just when you start to enjoy things, this hill hits you with a slippery, boggy finish. My X-Talon Ultra 260s worked hard to rescue my muddy slides until I reached the stile.
The final summit cairn of the day, Munro number 18; Mullach Nan Coirean
A few kilometres of forestry trail follow and then a dink down to the road. I’ve watched plenty of supported rounds finishing here at the Youth Hostel with contenders sprinting-in to applause, so it was strange to jog-in quietly and stop my watch alone with zero fan-fare. As I lay on the grass in the shade, trying to cool down, the bus pulled up. This was my ride! – not planned, but another timely opportunity. This Tranter’s Round had been so off the cuff that I wasn’t even sure how I was going to get home! I hopped aboard, heart still racing, and bumped along into town.
It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t fast. But it was exciting, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy Feet! - in inov-8 X-talon Ultra 260s
The waiting game
I’ve lived in Lochaber for 12 years now and have never done a Tranter’s Round. I’ve always been saving it: waiting for the perfect moment, thinking it might be better to hold-fire until I (cue pipedream) transformed into the sort of person who could do a Ramsay Round. Like with so many things, I can see now that I had let Perfection get in the way of the Possible. I would strongly recommend that you don’t do the same.
Go now! 😉
All done! The Coros Apex Pro was really useful and its batterylife is incredible!
Full run on Strava is here.
Have an adventure on your mind? Girls on Hills offer bespoke guided walks and runs in the Lochaber area. We aim to build confidence and skills so that everyone can get out into the hills, no matter the size of your challenge. More information here.