A record breaking human power relay over every Scottish mountain over 1KM high!
The ARCHIE Foundation's Mountain Challenge
It would be tempting to infer when reading these accounts that the Archie challenge was one mad dash across the Scottish Highlands and that all those involved were living of coffee and energy gels for the duration. Whilst I would agree with the former, the complexity of shepherding so many willing volunteers into the correct place at the correct time resulted in a lot of sitting about. And very pleasant it was too. Since completing my first leg at 11am on the Thursday, I had had dinner in Glencoe village; camped at Rannoch Moor; had a picnic whilst waited on a kayak on the banks of Loch Etive; sunbathed at the bottom of Ben Cruachan; drove to drop of cars at Glen Lyon; and returned to Bridge of Orchy. It’s worth noting that for Paul, this was a fairly typical day for the entire 3-week duration of the challenge.
It was now 5pm on the Friday and I was itching to get going. This leg would be my second and final contribution to the challenge and one that would take me from the heat of the day on the edge of Rannoch moor to leafy Glen Lyon in the falling dusk. My fellow-runner was Katie Boocock[NC1] who I had met the previous evening in Glencoe. She was one of an army of like-minded folk that were seemingly able to drop everything at the mention of running up a hill in the dark. It turns out that Paul knows of few of these people.
Brian Stevenson passed Rabbie over to us in Bridge of Orchy having cycled up Glen Orchy from the foot of Ben Cruachan. From there, a steady ascent allowed us to gain the col between Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. Katie’s pace was a welcome relief from the rather more intense session up the Ben the previous day. With the excellent visibility, our route to Glen Lyon was obvious. The curved summit plateaus were lacking in drama but were a welcome reminder of the topography that I associate with home. We shared back-stories and discovered mutual acquaintances and interests before progressing on to the more meaty topics of family, politics and even religion! As the sun dropped in the sky and the light adopted warmer tones, we notched up some easy miles on the plateau. I was in a reflective mood as my attention shifted between the sun setting over the very hills that Rabbie had recently scaled in the northwest and my lengthening shadow that ran beside me on my right, over tussocks of now iridescently golden grasses. It felt wonderful.
Not for the first time, my mind wandered to the timelessness of such journeys, and how multiple generations have travelled similarly for reasons of work, food and security. Whilst our rationale for doing so was no doubt more frivolous, I like to think that the sight of Loch Lyon (our final destination) evoked similar feelings of relief that the hills had been successfully navigated and (as the light was now rapidly fading), solace in the knowledge that we could safely descend. And descend we did. Grasslands springy with moss over undulating terrain resulted in a gambol down to the loch side before the inevitable long trudge out.
We handed Rabbie over to the omnipresent Paul, faithfully waiting on his bike and headed in the Archie van to the car rendezvous point halfway up Ben Lawers. I escaped the midges and folded myself into my car. There were plenty of recruits to take on the challenge from here on in, and so I made my way home. By two in the morning I was safely tucked up in my warm, clean bed. The contrast between this and the previous 72 hours was so stark as to make it somewhat surreal.
Whilst I wouldn’t say that taking part in the Archie challenge has changed my life, it has opened my eyes to a whole sub-culture of hill running that I was previously ignorant of. The simplicity of running through beautiful surroundings and over varying terrain holds a great deal of appeal to me. It’s no coincidence that a year after the Archie challenge that I completed my first mountain race, by taking part in the Lairig Ghru marathon. A few familiar faces on the day reminded me how special the Archie challenge was and how proud I am to have taken part in.