At 3am on Saturday 19th June, I touched the Norwegian Stone outside Glenmore Lodge, and set off anticlockwise around the loch. My last big challenge had been the PTL race in 2019. With a baby and a pandemic between then and now, this was to be my first big run for almost 2 years, and I was excited by the adventure it promised.
I made good progress on the run out to Braeriach, and felt strong on the climb, buoyed by the brilliant pink sky of dawn. As I reached the summit the cloud came in, and visibility dropped to a few metres. Given the excellent forecast, including “80% chance of cloud free Munros”, I was hopeful that the mist would burn off as the morning progressed. I pulled out my compass and continued into the murk of the summit plateau. The cloud lifted for my next Munro, Sgor Gaoith, but settled back in for the steady run across to the gentle top of Mullach Clach a'Bhlair.
I ticked off Beinn Bhrotain, came back over Monadh Mor and then dropped down before re-ascending to the ridge of Sgurr an Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul, and Devil’s Point. I enjoyed the technical challenge of the rocky path, but the mist removed all sense of space, and felt oddly claustrophobic. I was glad to drop out of the cloud on my descent to Corrour, although the steep ascent awaiting me to Carn a'Mhaim loomed large, and I squinted to make out the best line up through the crags above.At this point I was running roughly to the splits of Sam Alexander, who’d finished in 19:36. However, as I started to climb again, it began to rain. I dragged and slithered my way up the waterlogged gulley and my mood fell as I re-entered the mist and my field of vision closed in. With my hopes of a fast finish fading, I started to question my ability to complete at all. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for this stuff anymore? What was I doing up here in this isolating fog, when my children were in the valley below? I reached the summit of Ben Macdui, passing several hunched shadows of figures on the summit expanse. With cold fingers I took a bearing for the descent, failing to find the obvious path that should have been there. I stopped to put on a warm mid-layer, hat and gloves, then muddled my way through to the climb for Derry Cairngorm. By Beinn Mheadhoin I’d warmed up, and things were seeming more optimistic, although I was aware that I’d lost a chunk of time in the preceding hour.
|A representative view from the day.|
The cloud cleared as I descended between heather and boulders into the valley, and for the next 90 minutes I delighted in my ability to see the landscape. Beinn Bhreac was a long plod over marshy ground to pick up a track, before retracing my steps towards the ascent of Beinn a’Bhuird. To my disappointment the cloud swirled in again then, and I spent several minutes on the plateau searching for the summit cairn, which I knew must be only metres away. I pushed on towards Ben Avon, once again on a bearing, and now heading into wind and rain. With evening approaching, I wondered whether what I was doing was sensible, feeling far removed from any hint of civilisation in the hostile weather and dim light.
Turning towards home was a boost for morale, although my pace had dropped, and progress over the tussocky peat hags seemed grindingly slow. Thankfully, my fastest option for getting back was now to complete the round, so I plodded on. I summited Ben a’Chorainn, descended to the Fords of Avon, and climbed Bynack More, hearing my phone bedtime reminder tune (one can but try!) as I neared the summit at 10pm. I kept my eyes glued to the compass bearing on the descent, promising myself hot tea and dry socks in a couple of hours’ time. As I neared the valley, the sound of the river rose to meet me and I paused to assess the view that was emerging from the mist. My tired brain struggled to match the landmarks below to my supposed position, and I turned the map around a couple of times to try and make things fit. Why was there a big expanse of water over in the valley to the right? And where was the loch I was supposed to be above? With a sinking feeling, I realised that I must have descended the wrong spur, and was now almost back at the Fords of Avon.
The light was nearly gone, and I fell thigh-deep into a bog as I tried to contour across, vainly trying to save height. I gave up, put on a head torch and dropped to the river, where I began my gradual climb to the saddle and thereon to Caingorm. The night was dark for mid-summer, and the patches of snow stood out eerily in the foggy light of my headlamp, as I climbed straight up alongside the sound of the swollen stream.
At the summit I sat for a minute leaning against the weather station, then filled my mouth with sweets and started the long descent, knees angrily chiming in protest. As I stumbled into holes, rocks and heather, I cursed my decision to follow the ski lift down from the restaurant – there might be a good line in daylight, but I certainly couldn’t see one now. I was relieved to finally reach the road, and its promise of an end.
After 22 hours and 19 minutes of running (72.5 miles, 21,142 ft ascent), I finally touched the Norwegian Stone for the second time. It had been the longest time I’d been away from Bryn since he was born, the longest solo run I’d ever done (even on the Spine, I came to checkpoints at 50-mile intervals), and certainly the longest time I’d ever spent running on a compass bearing! I’d made plenty of mistakes, and I hadn’t been fast, but I was proud of myself for persevering. I slowly got up, and hobbled down the road towards the warm light of the van, where at least one person was still awake to greet me.
|Tired but happy to be done.|
Postscript: Little did I know that some 24 hours before me, Viv Scott (an Edinburgh friend) and Oli Johnson (a Dark Peak friend) had individually set off from the Norwegian Stone on their own Rigby Round attempts. Making use of good conditions that day both had completed, with Oli finishing in an incredible new record time of 17 hours 13 minutes. Simply astonishing!