Sunday 6 October 2019

The Mamores, Twice

"We are off to do a race at the weekend," a friend told our mutual colleague who likes to hear about our adventures. "How far this time?" she asked.

"One kilometre," came the reply.

"Well, that's not very far."

The route of the Vertical Kilometre on Na Gruagaichean above Kinlochleven:

I'd been here in April with another friend. We walked from Kinlochleven up unremitting slopes to the summit of Na Gruagaichean in around an hour and a half (plus time to catch our breath!), then carried on over Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag, the final descent hard going on feet that hadn't been out much over winter and weren't used to wearing boots.

On Na Gruagaichean in April:

Descending Binnein Mor:

Long way down off Binnein Beag:

But the April walk in beautiful weather inspired Graham and I to try an organised event called the Salomon Mamores VK. This is a short, 5km fell race from Kinlochleven at sea level to the summit of Na Gruagaichean, 1050m higher, our other friend trying to persuade us that the race was easy as we didn't have to run down again. But we would still have to make our own way back down from the top...

The two of us arrived at the race centre on a beautiful September morning. It was going to be interesting comparing the Mamores in spring to the Mamores in autumn, and we had caught fantastic weather for both days. Neither of us were particularly fit due to health and personal circumstances, and I wondered if we would come last and second-last.

Today's walk: Na Gruagaichean from the start at Kinlochleven:

I've also got a bit of a prejudice against organised events in the outdoors but this day, if I am honest with you, had such a friendly, laid-back, and well-organised vibe. I loved it, taking great pleasure and inspiration in being surrounded by so many healthy people smiling broadly in the sunshine. I just hoped I could keep up!

We started in pairs at 30 second intervals, and my fellow startee was also called Craig. He soon shot ahead. I assumed it would be the last I'd see of him. We hit the path climbing the side of the hill by the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall and the pain of the effort started almost immediately. I remembered from April what a brutal introduction to the hill this was, and resolved to take the first couple of hundred metres through the forest easy. And then we were on the open hillside and the meat of the route.

I caught up with Craig. "Started too fast and peaked too soon!" he said, though still finished ahead of me. I thought we were already high up, perhaps 750m, but someone with an altimeter told us were were only halfway. Had my memory of the hill been so affected by wishful thinking? I had a runners' sports gel and drank the water out my rucksack, wishing I was wearing my Tilley sunhat. The Salomon publicity material majored on the wet and misty weather in Glencoe...

But what a fantastic day!

Graham had started a few minutes earlier and though I could see him ahead in his distinctive Heb 3 t-shirt, I just could not catch him before the summit.

It had hurt more than a half marathon, which is a considerably longer undertaking - and there were people the same day doing the Ben Nevis Ultra, which at 52km of hard hill running makes my head hurt just to think about. As we descended we were passed by a man in a Falkirk running top.

On the summit of Na Gruagaichean:

"That was my first Munro," he said. "If that's what doing the Munros is about, you can ram it!"

Having a lovely time on a fell race:

Until this year, I'd never been up the Mamores from the south, only ever tackling them from Glen Nevis to the north. But the Mamores Vertical Kilometre is an easy enough route and distance to be within the reach of most keen hillwalkers. As an introductory race I highly recommend it. And back down at the Red Squirrel campsite, washed and watered and with whisky fumes interfering with our reasoning, the idea started to form that we might do something like this again next year...