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.






Comments

  1. weird stuff going on with the font colour (because I copied it from an email) - so blue it will have to be!

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