A record breaking human power relay over every Scottish mountain over 1KM high!
The ARCHIE Foundation's Mountain Challenge
“Summited my friend, the 360 pano is beyond belief. Awe inspiring scenes. I may cry. Hope to be off this bad boy in next 30 mins and hand on to real athletes”.
Kate descended this mountain at an incredible pace and seemed totally without regard for the health of her knees. We could clearly see the power station where Dave and Graham and Joe were setting up the kayaks to cross Loch Ericht and when we eventually arrived at the loch’s edge we were greeted with wide smiles and a barely contained energy as they ripped on their drysuits and spraydecks and launched out on to the loch. Kate was also still bubbling with energy and accompanied the lads across the loch and then helped Dave to tow a kayak back after dropping off Graham and Joe who apparently went off up the mountain like a couple of Alpine goats. I passed out on the boat slip for 20 minutes in the warm sun and had a very surreal moment on waking and wondering where the hell I was – not since University days had I experienced such disorientation on waking in unfamiliar surroundings. Dave was also somewhat groggy as he had not slept either since our summit a few hours earlier but was still buzzing and riding the adrenaline wave as we drove out of Loch Ericht and back towards Drumochter Pass to reunite with our vehicles.
Time was nudging midday as I loaded up van and headed towards Dalwhinnie. I knew that there was a café that served a decent lamb Kashmiri and it had been dominating my thoughts for some hours so after a decent re-fuel I continued up to Loch Laggan to await Joe and Graham’s return and then ferry them back to their vehicles back at Auld Atholl. With little to do except wait I grabbed a welcome couple of hours sleep in the back of the van and saw that Kate had opted to do the same but had slung a hammock between two trees and was enjoying some shut eye in the sun – nice move! Five and a half hours after saying goodbye to Joe and Graham they re-appeared having covered an incomprehensible distance. Both of these lads exist on a different level to us mortals, it was humbling to see what the human body is capable of doing.
Russell had appeared by this stage and after a briefing meeting he somehow managed to talk himself in to taking on a backshift, which included an attempt at Carn Mor Dearg and The Ben. There was a little trepidation about this stage as many reports indicated it may be tricky with winter conditions still prevailing despite being June! I think this just made Russell want to do it more and in Jay Hardy he had a willing companion to take on any challenge.
After hydrating Graham Gatherer with some posh coca cola at Laggan Village and sampling Joe’s partner’s incredible brownies we returned to Blair Atholl and from there I decided to head home to Dundee for the night with the plan to head to Glencoe early for an RVP in the Village. Late text from Russell (1am) indicated that there had been some difficulties getting The Ben squared away and that there may be a later requirement for runners in Glencoe that day.
“Bring your legs, reckon you and I are on late shift again. The Buchaille”.
Nice one! My favourite mountain and with Russell, what could be better? Stunning drive up from Dundee and I will never tire of that view when you come over Rannoch Moor and look west and the Great Herdsman of Etive looms up in front of you. Seems a bit surreal to think that I will be on top of that behemoth in some hour’s time. Incredible efforts from all the teams today and finally Russell and I head off to pick up Rabbie from Simon Crawley and Andrew Dalton who have taken on Bidean nam Bian. We arrive at the pre-designated Cairn around 10pm and can just make out some figures on the ridge. Simon and Andrew launch themselves down a snow cornice, which looks pretty airy from where I’m standing and within 30 minutes are standing next to us. We take off at pace, full of catecholamines that have been building up during the day. Russell has covered in excess of 100km in last few days and however many metres of ascent, but still drives us forward. A pretty sketchy dance around a couple of crags and then a good run up to a bealach before we ascend the Buchaille complex. Genius bit of navigation from Russell see us knock off a fair bit to intersect with path which heads upwards in to the dark. We take it in turns to set pace over the ridge until we reach the get out point, which looked a bit touch-and-go from bottom of hill. We both shine our head torches over the edge of the cornice and reassure each other (without much conviction) that it “looks fine”. All I can see is a dark abyss and the headlights of cars way below. We summit shortly after 1am and disturb a chap who is spending the night sleeping on top of the hill. We have a good laugh with him after we have recovered from the fright of almost standing on him in the dark. Swift descent and cut a few snow steps in to cornice as we dropped off ridge. Huge relief to be past the crux and a good run off the hill swapping tales and talking story before reaching Gary and Tim who are chomping at the bit for their night run. Rabbie is handed over and Russell and I part company with plans to head East and sleep in our own beds. Arrived home at 0430 and snatched a couple of hours sleep before the household wakened and normal service resumed.
What a privilege to exist within the Archie bubble albeit only for a few days. I met some incredible people and am in awe of the vision and logistical management required to pull something like this off. A total reinforcement that life is about experiences and not about having more “stuff”.
We are blessed to live in such an extraordinary country and also to work with and associate with some truly unique individuals.
My partner for this next leg over Ben Udlamein was Kate Annan who I knew from work as she was one of our current junior doctors. I had texted Kate earlier to update her with plans and had received a text back stating:
“I’m in layby 81 – looked like the best one for a kip”
If it was not clear already then this message clarified that I was in the company of people who were clearly not quite right in the head, as all this random sleeping in odd places seemed entirely normal to them. Sure enough I found Kate resting in the boot of her car in layby 81 on the Drumochter pass at around 0545 surrounded my artic lorries and truckers doing the same. She seemed completely unperturbed and had had only a few hours sleep after driving up from Wales overnight having had a week of climbing in Snowdonia. We boiled up a few eggs and readied our kit for the relatively simple stretch ahead. Amy arrived shortly after and we headed off with bluebird skies overhead and some cloud inversion to add to one of the most beautiful Scottish mornings I can remember. We set off at a cracking pace, Kate is a pocket rocket and I am a lumbering carthorse and I think she had to stifle a few guffaws at my unorthodox running style but she was very polite, in fact, I had to tell her to stop calling me “Dr Donald” and that “Mike” or “Hey, you” would be fine. Kate is an experienced mountaineer and responds with Tayside Mountain Rescue Team (and she can also do the box splits and rest her body face down on the ground at the same time) so I knew that I was in safe hands. Approximately 90 minutes later we summited Beinn Udlamein and the scenes were incredible again. Text to Russell from summit, clearly a bit emotional after zero hours sleep:
Quick detour back to van and several layers later all was good again. The cycle up the glen was magical with herds of deer crossing the track, their eyes reflecting the bike lights as we passed. The night was gin clear and windless and both Dave and I could not believe our luck to be out in the wilderness and taking part in this extraordinary challenge, which we had been following remotely and virtually and living vicariously from the comfort of home up until this point. After ditching the bikes we hiked the remaining few km to the summit of Beinn Dearg and enjoyed an incredible panorama of surrounding peaks as the sun started to rise. A few “selfies” with Rabbie and a rapid descent back to the bikes followed by the most exhilarating descent (interrupted by a puncture, again saved by Dave, who had a spare pump after my one refused to inflate the tyre..). We arrived at the car park at 5am and handed the rabbit on to Amy who set off on her road bike towards Drumochter. I was blown away by Amy’s strength on the bike as she powered off up the road with next to no sleep under her belt. My awe was only tempered by the fact that I had to meet her at Drumochter and take on another leg so stashed the bike in the van and took off after her determined to get up there in time to boil a few eggs before the next leg kicked off – it had become clear that it was not good form for Rabbie to mark time!
It was almost midnight when we met Callum Grant and Steve Manning at the end of their enormous and strenuous leg. We chummed Steve’s wife, Amy, up to end of road to save the lads another 4km on the road and it was incredible to watch the head torches bobbing down the hill and towards us at some pace after they had spent many hours moving across poor terrain. Both of them looked like they had seen some action with wild hair and thousand yard stares when they arrived. A brief chat and Rabbie the rabbit was handed over to Dave and I and we cycled back towards the Glen Tilt car park and finally got started on our leg. I had made an error by believing that a single layer of lycra would be adequate for a 5 hour round trip overnight in the Scottish hills – go light and fast they said.
“So, I’ve got a job for you on wednesday….just need to know if you have your game face on?”
This was the thrust of a text I received at work on Tuesday from good friend and colleague, Russell Duncan, in the knowledge that I had committed to approximately 72 hours availability to assist with the challenge in whatever shape or form required. Initially it looked like I was being lined up to run a section with the mountain machine known as Graeme Gatherer which struck fear in to the heart of my soul as Graeme’s endurance abilities are legendary and I feared I would either need to kneecap him or fill his rucksack with some very large rocks…
"Hot off the press, we have someone of hill running legend to accompany Graeme”
Halle-effing-lujah! Good luck to whoever has copped that leg, I thought, and got my head back in to the shift.
Some hours later and a rough plan was communicated that I was to meet a chap called Dave in a car park just outside Auld Atholl (an interesting proposition under different circumstances perhaps?). Rough idea was that Dave and I would be going up Beinn Dearg “later in the evening..”. Arrived at given RVP and met David Henderson who was almost completely hidden in his vehicle by a raft of outdoor gear including 3 sea kayaks and a surf kayak as well as numerous bikes and camping paraphernalia. An instantly likeable chap, I knew that I was going to have a great adventure with Dave. It was unclear what time we would be setting off but by rough calculations it was very likely that we would be under cover of darkness which was great as I had next to no lights with me for the lengthy cycle in to hill…not a problem though as Dave had contingencies for all eventualities and patched over my kit inadequacies with ease. Top man!