Finlay Wild

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

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Skimo Tranter Round

On Sunday 28th Febuary myself and Tim Gomersall completed the Phillip Tranter Round in a time of 17hours and 35minutes. This is a classic running Round of 40miles and circa 6000m ascent along the Ben Nevis, Aonachs, Grey Corries and then Mamores ranges in Lochaber. We set off from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 0421hrs and finished there at 2156hrs. As far as I can see this is faster than the winter running record of 18hrs 59 mins and 6 seconds recorded by Dan Gay, Jon Gay and Paul Manson in February 2009. We used 'Skimo' lightweight ski mountaineering equipment, as well as trainers for the first approach and last run out. We were unsupported and had no gear or food caches. We estimate we were 'on skis' around 70% of the time.

Tim Gomersall setting off

Setting off up Ben Nevis in the dark we were very excited - the forecast for the day was perfect, and the snow cover looked good too. We had debated whether to do the round as a run or a ski, and even now I am not sure what the fastest option would be. The benefits of running are of course lighter gear and less kit faff, whereas the ski mountaineering benefits would be ease of travel over (some types of) snow, as well as faster descents which would likely save the legs compared to running downhill. Snow conditions would be a huge factor as skis would have the edge in soft conditions, whereas on this day conditions were set to be fairly firm and scoured, so would the skis be a hindrance or a help? I have long been fascinated with the idea of doing this Round using skimo kit - would it be possible?

The problems of doing a round like this with traditional ski mountaineering kit are mainly the weight of equipment and also the faff time for 'transitions' from uphill mode to downhill; from skis on to cramponing, etc. With modern lightweight skimo equipment these problems are largely overcome as transitions can be made very quickly with functional 'race' systems, and also the skis are light and short allowing them to be easily carried on the back without much detriment.

First light on top of Ben Nevis. Perfect clear skies and no wind. Moonlight and stars. I let out a whoop skiing some nice snow down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Crossing this on foot we continued into the rising dawn. Very firm down to the Carn Mor Dearg - Aonach Mor col. Steep cramponing up firm neve to the plateau. After this things started warming up a bit in the sun and we made steady progress along the Grey Corries, mainly on skis with some foot sections when steep or rocky. Off Stob Ban (Grey Corries) we had a fantastic spring-like ski down east of Meall a Bhuirich and grass hopped right to the river Abhainn Rath. A quick barefoot river crossing wasn't so bad as the sun was out and we got a breather and a chance to take on water.

Tim skiing off Ben Nevis towards CMD Arete in the half light

Fast conditions on CMD Arete
Skiing down to CMD - Aonach Mor col by moonlit dawn

Up to Aonach Mor plateau

Approaching Aonach Mor plateau with Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg behind

Sunrise: descending Aonach Mor for Aonach Beag

Stob Coire Bhealaich gully off Aonach Beag

Grey Corries traversing

Stob Choire Claurigh

Descent all the way to the river Abhainn Rath on ski

River crossing

Crossing ranges, we now skinned up the long and lovely northeast ridge of Sgurr Eilde Mor. From this summit we crossed to Binnein Beag and found a brilliant half pipe gully of soft snow near the crossing of the Allt Coire a' Bhinnein's southernmost fingers. For Binnein Beag we left the skis and bags for an out-and-back. Skiiing off Binnean Mor and traversing Pt 1062 to descent to the col east of Na Gruagaichean was rewarding, but the descent from Na Gruagaichean itself was icy and chattery on skis. Another out-and-back to An Gearanach as the evening light was deepening. From Stob Coire a' Chairn down was a fun ridge-ski, and up Am Bodach felt steep. The last out-and-back along the Devil's Ridge to Sgurr a' Mhaim was a final 'crux' and we again left the skis and proceeded on foot for this. Darkness finally descended on arrival back at the skis and a surprisingly good headtorch ski down to Lochan Coire nam Miseach and some opportunistic water.

Looking from Sgurr Eilder Mor NE ridge towards Binnein Beag and Ben Nevis

Nice snow gully below Coire an Lochain of Sgurr Eilde Mor

Rising traverse towards Binnein Beag

Descending into evening light towards Am Bodach

Skiing off Stob Ban (Mamores) was unconsolidated and rocky so we had a short walk, but then got skinning again along the final section to Mullach nan Coirean. Chat was fairly minimal by now with necessary information communicated in grunts. After descending down the final northeast ridge a ways on foot we had a nice ski down beside the fence and then switched to trainers for the final 4km run out to the Youth Hostel.

Dark again: somewhere near Stob Ban (Mamores)

Finished: at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel

This was another unforgettable hill day - for pure length; for variety and interest; for perfect winter weather. From being barefoot in the warm(ish) sun at the valley river crossing, to being fully layered in the dark with increasing wind going up Stob Ban (Mamores) many hours later. I had long thought that this Round could be done utilising skis as a tool for travel in the winter mountains, and I'm very pleased that we managed to turn this into a reality.

GPS trace here:
My watch battery was running low so I switched to my phone at Sgorr an Lubhair (being careful to take this into account in the timings). Annoyingly the GPS trace for some reason hasn't worked between starting at the Glen Nevis YH and Aonach Mor.

Split times:

Start Glen Nevis YH          00:00:00
Ben Nevis                           1h53m50s
Carn Mor Dearg                      32.42
Aonach Mor                            51.04
Aonach Beag                           17.27
Sgurr Choinnich Mor              56.02
Stob Coire a' Laoigh               38.53
Stob Coire Claurigh                46.01
Stob Ban                                  28.46
Sgurr Eilde Mor                    1.56.18
Binnein Beag                           58.40
Binnein Mor                          1.00.19
Na Gruagaichean                      23.46
An Gearanach                        1.04.40
Stob Coire a' Chairn                 32.35
Am Bodach                               32.42
Sgor a Iubhair                            30.23
Sgurr a' Mhaim                          39.19
Stob Ban                                 1.18.21
Mullach nan Coirean                 52.31
Glen Nevis YH                       1.13.27

(as detailed, timekeeping switched device at Sgor a Iubhair due to low battery, so split times from there on are approximate. But total time for the round was accurate)