A record breaking human power relay over every Scottish mountain over 1KM high!
The ARCHIE Foundation's Mountain Challenge
We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon picnic and waited for Rabbie to come off the hill and make the final journey of the challenge down to Loch Long where fittingly he paddled into the sea with Paul Fettes.
So, thanks Russell for making me see the error of my ways. Great to meet a whole bunch of like minded folks and thanks for some new friendships! Well done everyone involved!
The Sunday at the end of the second week had Joe and I paired up again. Fortunately for me, his efforts the previous day over a number of Archies slowed him to a more reasonable pace! Still , the long slog up Ben More near Crianlarich was done hastily and I was glad of more typical Scottish drizzle to keep me cool. We enjoyed massive snow flakes on the top and remarked on the total contrast in weather to our previous outing. Compass bearings were the order of the day and we made fast progress over Stob Binein and then over to Cruach Ardrain the penultimate Archie of the challenge. It wasn’t long before we were under the cloud again and descending the ridge down to Glen Falloch. Once again keeping things in the family, we handed Rabbie over to my kids Struan and Mairi who raced along the layby to hand Rabbie over to their mum. Lynn joined shortly after by Des Crowe and John Hepburn made short work of the cycle southwards via Loch Lomond, Loch Long, Arrochar and on up to the Rest and be Thankful where Rabbie was handed over to make an ascent of the final Archie summit Beinn Ime.
Joe is without doubt the most talented runner I know. His road marathon time is nearly world class but it’s his mountain running where his strengths lie. As the former British fell running champion and the holder of records across the UK, I knew the run ahead in his company would stretch me to my limits and beyond. We made excellent progress up our first Archie together but I was operating at an uncomfortable pace throughout. I could feel the 17 miles in my legs from the Sunday and that discomfort never really left me all day! It was a wonderful run however over some of Scotland’s more remote mountains and a journey rarely taken in entirety. We used the lingering snowfields of the winter to make rapid progress in descent whenever we could and enjoyed views as far as the eyes could see in every direction. It was a very hot day and even the herds of deer were using the snow to cool down. Drinking from streams and consuming gels on top of every summit it remained a challenge to stay properly hydrated.
After a long descent into the glen from Carn Dearg I was suffering from the heat, the pace and energy levels. I refuelled but it took some 20minutes to feel strong again. Urging Joe to push on up Beinn a Chlachair which he did at speed, I slowly skirted the hill and then we joined forces again for the 7th Archie of the Day – Geal Charn. From our final top we could see the finish line and ran at good pace down the fine singletrack path through Ardverikie forest and past one of the UK’s best known classic rock climbs- Ardverikie Wall. For the second time that day Joe’s sister Amy accompanied this time by Tom Fardon cycled off with Rabbie to the next runners. Meanwhile Joe and I congratulated each other on what had been a simply fantastic run, one of the best we’d done! A cold dip in the River Spean was merited and tales of the day were enjoyed with the others.
David, Joe and myself made the long journey up the dirt track from Kinloch Rannoch to Loch Ericht to await the runners coming over from the A9. David who had been up all night seemed so much more organised than us and made us cups of tea and fed us in preparation for the day ahead. Our task was to complete the Ben Alder and Laggan group – This comprised 7 Archies , or 8 Munros in old money. It certainly wasn’t long before Colin and Katie appeared running swiftly down the heather slopes towards us. Soon we were kayaking almost effortlessly across a near still Loch Ericht to the foot of Ben Bheoill. The day was cloudless with eternal blue sky and warm temperatures forecast so we planned to travel fast and light carrying minimal kit. David and Katie took some photos and then set about towing the spare kayaks back across the loch. As we made our way up the interminable slopes they slowly disappeared form view and we were then a very lonely pair in a very remote part of the country.
On return to the car park a quick partner swap was made and then it was back uphill again to climb Chno Dearg this time with Phil Lacoux. Unfortunately we endured bog most of the way and as temperatures slowly rose we found ourselves in a constant fine misty drizzle. I think Phil was very glad of our swift descent on a big snowfield to outflank the slippery boulder field we had climbed through on the way up. A quick handover to Tom Fardon on the farm track and he duly sped off up the road on his cyclocross bike definitely dressed to impress with his funky sunglasses and full COG velo cycle kit. It had been a 17 mile day and was rounded off with a team lunch in Dalwhinnie. Not a place you’d expect to find a good bowl of sea food chowder but it ticked all the boxes at the time!
Well that was for starters! My main course was served up in large portions 3 days later. Rabbie had covered some vast distances in the meantime throughout the Cairngorms and I was desperate to get involved again. This time my partner was to be Joe Symonds. A handful of years earlier he had been a medical student in my practice and we had enjoyed a few afternoon runs and bike rides in the local hills. I remembered him as a young very enthusiastic learner with a great passion for his sport. Our 4am meet up at the Bridge of Tilt car park confirmed my memory- he was buzzing with enthusiasm and simply raring to go albeit now with a wee bit of facial hair! ….
Moments later David Henderson and Colin Donald came riding into the car park with beaming smiles and tales of punctures and midnight mountain tops! No rest for the wicked though as Rabbie was handed to Joe’s sister Amy and off they went up the A9 followed quickly by Colin who was scheduled to run the next stage thereafter! Who needs sleep eh?
Finally my chance came along to help guide Rabbie safely over some Archies at the start of the second week. A rendezvous at Fersit in Glen Spean prompted a quick discussion to decide who was doing what and then we were off… John Irving and I made good progress over Stob a Choire Mheadhoin and Stob Coire Easain in a stiff breeze with just some light snow in the wind. On our descent we met a group of runners including Jon Ascroft out on a recce for a forthcoming attempt at the Ramsay round. (he went on to smash the record and complete the run for the first time under 17hrs- an incredible solo feat).
A cursory glance at Russell’s email led me to believe that the Archie’s Mountain Challenge was nothing more than another charity walk. I duly donated and made my excuses as I had my own race in the Alps to prepare for over the summer months and free time would be at a premium.
Russell promptly replied and convinced me otherwise in no uncertain terms! What followed was 3 fantastic outings in the Scottish mountains that will live with me for a long time to come.
Once fully signed up it was wonderfully addictive to follow the online tracker, imagining what others would be experiencing at that very moment in their journey over the mountains in the north west of Scotland. The first week saw atrocious wintery weather but some fine days too so there were feelings of “thank goodness that’s not me” followed by some genuine envy!