Find out if you’ve got what it takes to run 29k over rocky, ex­posed moun­tain ridges with 2500m as­cent in the Mamores

Trail Running (UK) - - Contents - Words Claire Maxted Pho­tos Ian Cor­less, Guillem Casanova, Jordi Saragossa

Take on the rocky 29k Ring of Steall

There’s a rea­son it’s called the Devil’s Ridge. One slip to the left, and that would have been it. Game over. Not just a race DNF (Did Not Fin­ish) but a messy splodge of some­thing that used to be Claire Maxted at the base of the moun­tain­side, be­tween the clas­si­cally pointed peaks of Sgorr an Lub­hair and Sgurr a’Mhaim. Chant­ing the mo­ti­vat­ing, yet not en­tirely fall-to-cer­tain-death-avert­ing mantra, ‘My feet stick to rock’, I scram­bled round huge rocky pil­lars, grab­bing at blocks of grey gran­ite, pulling my­self along the knife-edge ridge as fast as I dared. At the time I thought this was the most test­ing part of the Salomon Ring of Steall Skyrace (RoS), a skyscrap­ing, dou­ble roller coaster of a route in the Mamores moun­tains in the Scot­tish High­lands. Lit­tle did I know there was a ma­jor bat­tle in­volv­ing a bog, a shoe, and a par­tic­u­larly dry cheese baguette the size of my arm to come.

The RoS is one of four races on the Salomon Sky­line Scot­land long-week­end; a 29k route with 2500m as­cent, the day be­fore the main event, the Salomon Glen Coe Sky­line (GCS). It’s a fan­tas­tic event if you’re a moun­tain run­ner keen to chal­lenge your­self on tech­ni­cal, high, ex­posed sum­mits, but don’t quite feel ready to com­mit to the 55k and 4750m as­cent of Sun­day’s epic race. There’s also a Ver­ti­cal Kilome­tre and, new for 2017, a 110k Ul­tra, each start­ing from a buzzing event cen­tre in Kin­lochleven, the Ice Fac­tor out­door cen­tre. That Satur­day morn­ing, even reg­is­tra­tion was a thrill, as awe-in­spir­ing Bri­tish fell run­ners of the likes of Jas­min Paris, Jonathan Al­bon and Tom Owens milled around with us ‘nor­mals’. Adding to the glam­our, French and New Zealan­dish was heard from top in­ter­na­tional ath­letes like Bap­tiste Rol­lier and Ruth Croft from Team Scott Sports, who I was trav­el­ling with. With such a star line up, each race was go­ing to be as ex­cit­ing to cheer as to take part in.

“Have all your food to hand so you can get to it eas­ily on the move,” said Ruth, as I did a last-minute kit faff. “Start slowly at your own pace,” said Bap­tiste as I jogged to the start line. The gun fired, the front run­ners sped off, and I coasted along with the back of the pack, cheese baguette firmly posted be­hind me in my pack, be­tween the shoul­der blades like a quiver, ready to be reached for at the first sign of hunger. Soon out of Kin­lochleven, we were cheered on by Jas­min, her hus­band Konrad Raw­lik and col­lie dog Moss as we climbed up a boggy, then rocky,

river­side path to the first peak, Sgorr an Lub­hair. Chat­ting to a charm­ing lady named Janet, we agreed that way­marked, mar­shalled Skyraces like this were bril­liant for ex­plor­ing the gnarlier moun­tain parts of Bri­tain in great com­pany and rel­a­tive safety.

Sur­pris­ingly for Scot­land in Septem­ber, adding to that sense of se­cu­rity was post­card-per­fect weather, with blue skies and low winds as we reached the sum­mit of Sgorr an Lub­hair and crossed the bro­ken, rocky tightrope of the Devil’s Ridge to the sec­ond sum­mit, Sgurr a’Mhaim. Sup­port­ers, sit­ting gnome-like at the top of one out­crop, cheered us through, say­ing, “What a day you’ve got for it; this is the best view of Ben Ne­vis we’ve ever seen!” And for a mo­ment I was en­vi­ous of their chance to linger here. When you paused and looked up from the beck­on­ing drop, the re­ward was a 360 panorama of the kind that pho­tos can never do jus­tice. Vast waves of green moun­tain­side crested with grey rock ridges, layer upon layer, fading into haze at the hori­zon. The peak of Ben Ne­vis stabbed at the sky. Ahead, we could see the rac­ers hurl­ing them­selves down the steep zigzag slopes to the food sta­tion at check­point (CP) 5, like lines of hun­gry ants in leg­gings.

You might won­der, with a food sta­tion at half way, why I had packed such a long and un­wieldy cheese baguette. We’ll get to that in a mo­ment, but at CP5, while I hoovered up three Mars Bars, course plan­ner Gary Tompsett ex­plained, “The land­slip on the other side of the Ne­vis Gorge has made the route dan­ger­ous, so be pre­pared for ex­treme bog in our di­ver­sion south of the river.” So I thought, ‘I’d bet­ter eat some baguette be­fore it gets too

boggy to eat and run at the same time,’ but I hadn’t filled it with enough gooey­ness (mango chut­ney works won­ders), so it was a tad dry and dif­fi­cult to chew. Hence, I was rapidly ap­proach­ing the most treach­er­ous, shoe-suck­ing bog on the en­tire race, with a half-eaten cheese baguette in hand. Who knew dis­as­ter was lurk­ing just around the corner?

I glanced at the ex­tremely use­ful race-gra­di­ent-pro­file tem­po­rary tat­too on my lower arm; it sort of makes you feel like an in­de­struc­tible ro­bot un­til you clock that there’s no ‘You are here’ blob chart­ing your progress like a satnav (I give it 20 years). I cal­cu­lated I had about 30 min­utes un­til the sec­ond sig­nif­i­cant climb on the RoS route, a leg-burn­ing, hands-on-thighs 800m up An Gear­anach from the Steall wa­ter­fall, made fa­mous by var­i­ous scenes in Harry Pot­ter. So, I re­solved to fin­ish the cheese baguette be­fore then for en­ergy. Worst plan, ever. In the first bog, up to my hip, the cheese baguette got plunged into the mud. I know it tasted dry, but I didn’t want it bog-moist­ened.

But for­get the baguette, uh oh, the climb ahead was now loom­ing like a mon­strous beast. As we zigzagged slowly we met the par­ents of third­placed lady Jess Tul­lie, out to hike the course back­wards (in di­rec­tion, not lit­er­ally!). Jess’ dad

Alan said: “The win­ners are back af­ter four to five hours of rac­ing,” We still had at least two hours to go, they must have climbed and scram­bled al­most twice as fast – how ex­cit­ing was watch­ing the top ath­letes on to­mor­row’s GCS race go­ing to be? That thought kept me go­ing along the airy An Gear­anach ridge, up fourth peak Stob Coire a’ Chairn, and the fi­nal twist­ing, calf-burn­ing as­cent to the wind-ripped sum­mit of Am Bo­dach. Ex­posed as it was, here I stopped and looked back at the as­tound­ing moun­tains we’d run across, and asked a mar­shal to name the sum­mits jag­ging to the hori­zon. “There’s The Grey Cor­ries and Ben Ne­vis, the Mamores, and across the glen, the Aonach Ea­gach ridge the run­ners will climb on to­mor­row’s Glen Coe Sky­line race,” he said.

Awe­some! I couldn’t wait for to­mor­row’s main event. My “Thank you!” to the mar­shals whipped away in the wind as I ran the fi­nal de­scent. It was a glo­ri­ous, big-dip­ping, bog-hop­per of a trail, the kind you have to fully con­cen­trate on no mat­ter how tired you are and no mat­ter how much your legs protest. The wel­come scent of fresh pine hit home on the fi­nal de­scent through for­est to Kin­lochleven. Although the Ring of Steall Skyrace had taken 7.5 hours (it was a heavy baguette) I en­joyed ev­ery mo­ment and was now even more ex­cited to watch the ath­letes in the Salomon Glen Coe Sky­line the next day. Will you try one of the four races this year?

Tech­ni­cal, high, ex­posed sum­mits pro­vide an epic chal­lenge – and stun­ning views

One mis­placed step could spell dis­as­ter

Hold tight on the ride of your life!

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