walkhighlands

A 24hr Round of Cairngorm NP Munros

Munros: An Socach (Braemar), Beinn a'Bhuird, Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Beinn Bhreac, Beinn Bhrotain, Beinn Iutharn Mhor, Beinn Mheadhoin, Ben Avon, Ben Macdui, Broad Cairn, Cairn Bannoch, Cairn of Claise, Cairn Toul, Carn a'Choire Bhoidheach, Carn a'Gheoidh, Carn a'Mhaim, Carn an Righ, Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, Carn an Tuirc, Carn Aosda, Carn Bhac, Creag Leacach, Derry Cairngorm, Glas Maol, Glas Tulaichean, Lochnagar, Monadh Mor, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, The Cairnwell, The Devil's Point, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe

Date walked: 01/08/2020

Time taken: 23.2 hours

Distance: 152.8km

Ascent: 8000m


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Finally, after a few years off writing any kind of race report there’s once again an opportunity for me to brain dump out a long write up. Apologies.

On the first weekend of August, Ali and I were lucky enough to attempt an extended round of 32 Munros in the Cairngorms. Thanks to huge support from a tightly-knit group of friends, it was a weekend to remember after several months of preparation, in a year that will certainly be remembered by all.

Some Background:

With lockdown came a split in people's approaches to training. Some thrived but others, like myself, lost their routines and my training volume plummeted as a result. I spent the first month or so with all the time in the world, in the heavenly Ilkley and its moors but frustratingly could not experience the same enjoyment in my running. Perhaps I was burnt out or stressed about whether my new job would start, but all I know is that putting one foot in front of the other felt hard.

A phone call with Ali thankfully began to bring me out of this rut. We had both, coincidentally, been thinking of the record and just for a laugh I decided to plot it out. As Jim had found, it had very little climb for its distance, less than any of the big three rounds in fact. We added in three new Munros without gravely affecting the necessary 24hr pace compared against Jim’s 22 hours. The seed was sown, it was time to start training again.

Even now I took some time to return to consistency. I would have a week of good training followed by days of barely going out the door at all. It depended whether my favourite podcast was available or not, such was the fragility of my motivation at this point. Eventually I was given a start date for my work in June. My routine returned and so did my training, and critically so did the possibility of double days as I still couldn't quite master Ali's admirably consistent 90-100mins runs every day.

I began dipping into the Pentlands, I started thinking about eating on the move, and when Ali returned and the highlands reopened, we went for two key recces. The first round the eastern Glenshee hills went at a horribly quick pace but had the silver lining of showing just how slow our 24hr round could be (by comparing splits). The second was enjoyable and still at a good pace but had the lead-lining (maybe?) of representing about a quarter of our run at a pace similar to what we would have to be doing 4 times back to back. The confidence was there though, and just to be safe, we chopped a 33rd (Braeriach) off to save ourselves an hour which we could use to pack time into the last quarter and add in a few opportunities for changeover stops.

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Some Notes on the Route:

Jim Mann had rocked the boat of the 24hr Scottish Munros record by bringing it to the Cairngorms. The host range had traditionally started in Lochaber with the Ramsay round before moving north to Glen Affric, with most modern attempts focussing around there. Jim was ready to extend the Broxap round until a certain Phil Clark had caught wind of his attempt and messaged Jim about his Cairngorm idea. We have since heard that a man named Jim Doig had also planned a Cairngorms attempt in the 80s-90s but tragically died young never having a chance to try it out.

When Jim M planned his attempt, he decided to reverse Phil’s suggestion to start with the Lochnagar and Glenshee bloc, i.e. prioritise bagging as many Munros as early as possible and then seeing how much time and energy he would have at the end in the Northern Cairngorms. This made good sense as predicting splits would be very hard without any previous attempts to go off. In his attempt, this eventually landed him on 30 Munros with a couple of hours to spare but an impressive record in a new mountain range. The round was far further than Ramsay, Graham, or Buckley, but curiously had less climb than any of these; the now ageing concept had finally be proven.

When Ali and I eventually set our eyes on the round in lockdown Britain, the initial thought was to mostly follow his well-run route. However, we decided to reverse it back to the original direction for the following reasons:

• The two new additions to the round, Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird, could be added in first.
• The worst of the climbs/highest summits and most technical sections could be finished in the first half and in daylight.
• Good/soft/heathery descents off the rough slopes of Beinn a’Chaorainn, Carn a’Mhaim, and Beinn Bhrotain, while the complementary climbs up Beinn Mheadhoin, Devil’s Point, and Carn Bhac seemed more accessible and hence optimally done by ascending.
• Having the night section in west Glenshee which although was rough, could be navigated fairly easily with the right support. We decided we’d rather not see those tough hills anyway and avoided a potentially depressing recce.
• All of this meant starting at Invercauld Bridge on Saturday morning and having sleep on our side, something I was quite keen for.

These arrangements weren’t perfect but when we found good ways down Mhaim and Bhrotain in a recce, and with the climb up Bhac looking sufficiently walkable, we decided it could work to our benefit. The downside of course was having 11 Munros in the last 6 hours and a rough final descent down Lochnagar at the very end but this density conversely meant that the 31st and 32nd Munros would be nice and nearby by that point! There are many pros/cons for any configuration but ultimately, it’s probably more important to just pick a starting point + direction and just sticking to it.

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In mid-July it became apparent that I could be away for work in August, while the nights were getting longer and both Ali and I were keen to set a date to avoid letting the dream remain just that. As the first possible weekend neared, we sorted our shoes, began to notify people, and thought through support legs, spending just about every moment together talking about it or updating the spreadsheet.

The weather forecast looked great for the 1st/2nd of August as we sorted our final logistics, spending the final few days in nearby Aberdeen once we were near enough to decide it was on. We worked normal hours Thursday/Friday but our minds were elsewhere. We did the classic food shop that would confuse any passer-by in Tesco and on the Friday afternoon we cooked up mashed potato (remained untouched) and macaroni pies, while my lovely mum made a good few pizzas to act as our main starchy food.

Also in the pallet prepared on Friday were avocado and hummus wraps (for some reason every big round we’ve read about recently has involved these – and they were admittedly great) and PB+jam sandwiches (not so great, bread : filling ratio wrong). We divided all these staple foods into the five legs to ensure a good variety, along with the usual brunch bars, mars bars, caramel waffles, sweets, and electrolyte drink. We threw in some flat coke and Lucozade into the latter legs which we found became invaluable on the day. We added additional kit and emergency shoe changes into the bags as well as things like first aid, blister plasters, and Vaseline.

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Preparing support bags

The support bags were set, the route was divided, and we had at least 2 runners ready to show up for each of the five legs. Ali was confident our friends would respond positively to the idea supporting at a relatively short notice of 1-2 weeks, and though a few weren’t able to join in, the turnout was better than expected! My brother would even drive from a family holiday in Mallaig just to get us through the final leg, and we somehow convinced three legends to come on the isolated and overnight 4th leg for added security. Ali had also been in communication with Jim Mann and it was lovely to receive his blessing as well as offer of support in the final days leading up to the big day. The ideal weather window had held and now all we had to do was wake up the next morning.

However, with such a long list of variables in our plan something was bound to go wrong. Anyone who has ever had a case of serious pre-race nerves has probably experienced that the more pressing the need for sleep is, the less likely it becomes. I went to bed relaxed having successfully prepared everything, and the night before had been fine but now something was off. My thumping heart rate was showing no relief and 8 hours later with increasing levels of stress, lots of changing positions, and attempts at calming the nerves that came to perhaps 20mins of sleep, I was devastated knowing there was no way I'd be finishing this round. In all honesty it had become an obsession and by the end of the night I wanted it behind me. Sure it would be a fun day out but what good thing can be worth losing a full night of sleep over? By this point I even had no intention of starting, and had it not been for Ali and the guilt of letting him down along with all the supporters, I would have remained at home.

I awoke Ali with a morning coffee to soften the news. He was having none of it; I would be finishing this round. I appreciated his optimism, and my parent's and brother's that followed in chorus, but I had decided I was to support Ali until I would inevitably hit the wall. We drove out to Inver CP in a nervous car of my mum and Ali but once there, we were nicely distracted by a cheery bunch of supporters who had shown up for the start.

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Start crew with Lochnagar peaking over in the background

The Round


Leg 1

We started off the crux of Invercauld Bridge bang on 10.30am to make things easier for the 24hr elapsed timing, and I was straight out my comfort zone. I let Ali govern the pace but my nausea from the terrible night was uncomfortable. We began eating and I noted it took me twice as long to choke something down compared to Ali; this was to be his day and I would go as far as I could to help him. My legs were fine after all so I could maybe even make it to sunset, at which point I decided I could crawl into a tent and sleep till Ali's return. We made time on Leg 1 and I enjoyed introducing Ali to the moonscapes of Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird – also acting as our two new Munros to add to the existing record.

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10:30am at Invercauld Bridge

It was hot under the sun with minimal breeze so we found ourselves drinking lots, but luckily the strong sun would soon diminish so it only cooled down from here. We also had great support thanks to huge efforts from Will and Ewan; at one point pushing themselves into the red for a solid 30mins to fetch us water in the early heat. After losing Ewan for a while when he cut out Bhreac and eventually finding him up recovering on the following top, we waved our supporters goodbye in the valley before Mheadhoin – thankful to leave the vast peat bogs and a heathery+rocky descent off Beinn a’Chaorainn behind us.

Leg 2

I perked up at the brief changeover to second leg. A surprise can of coke from Eddie lifted our spirits and even though the climb up to Beinn Mheadoin was as tenuous as it had been in memory with a few small tumbles, the rest of the leg was well-pathed and filled with dramatic views running across of Derry, Macdui (for once cloud free!), and Mhaim. Once again, we really enjoyed our company who were making us laugh by offering an item 'from the trolley' every 5mins and angrily trying to get in touch with their landlords whilst descending Ben Macdui.

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Having a grand old time coming off Beinn Mheadhoin

We were still ahead of schedule, and my groundbreaking discovery of drinking while eating to make things easier to swallow was a big mental and physical boost. We were eating on every climb and more now, which was rather often. The final descent of Mhaim was sketchy to begin with, but once we found some scree that we had failed to spot on our previous recce, we were skiing our way down to the Ghru and the end of the leg. Our amazing, young support runners – Eddie (1999), Tom (‘99), and Max (’00) – delivered outstandingly and ran perhaps the toughest support leg (with a 1hr+ run in and out).

Leg 3

After a brief stopover at Corrour bothy for a healthy snack as well as even more coke, we entered the evening leg by trekking up out of the Lairig Ghru to Devil’s Point. Daniel soon kicked off his attempt at the title of most memorable supporter by deciding to blast out tunes for the entire 4hr leg, along with Anna and Tam. Though appreciated, we couldn't understand why every second song was a slow-burning heartbreak anthem. It was at least distracting though, as we had a steep amount of climb on leg three through Devil’s Point, Carn Toul, and Sgor an Lochain Uaine. The 1000+ or so metres in the space of 1.5hrs was really felt here, and I perhaps got the eating wrong as began to feel terrible. The melancholy was supported by Dan’s song choice as well as a lapse in the weather, and the rest of the group must have noticed my sombre, lonely state.

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Heading up Devil's Point in a chilly wind

It was time to call it, but again Ali was having none of it. That man really knows me well but this time I wasn't just having low expectations in the hope the result would turn out better. His persistence backed by the supporter's well-wishing lit a spark though, and with the clearing of the rain and a good amount of food, my adrenaline that had so far kept me awake quickly returned. We were soon dancing (+dumping) our way down the Beinn Bhrotain to White Bridge, down the awesome single-track we had found during our recce. At this point I was feeling great and found time to answer nature’s call. Daniel, having overheard my plans, stayed back to document the event. We eventually caught Ali and Tam again (Anna had dropped back a bit) just as Tam completely wiped out in some very diluted mud that I had experienced in the recce – thank you Tam that was hilarious.

It was a fair few km along the Dee before we reached the Bridge, but we were looking forward to some lovely familiar faces and dinner ft. a macaroni pie and sugary drinks. We had a good time cushion of almost 40mins to the schedule and the morale was high, we just had to get through the night. The downside of being a good chunk ahead of schedule was that several of our supporters unfortunately didn't make it in time to see us through this point. This included my girlfriend who was pretty gutted about it. However, a silver lining existed in that her absence at the changeover further removed any temptation of dropping out! :wink:

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White Bridge changeover, Ali giving us a little tease while I get through a dinner. This was moments before thousands of midges descended onto us.

Leg 4

I was in awe of Ali’s mindset. How had someone's mere attitude got me to this point, let alone led me to believe we could finish this together. Everyone would know, I decided, this was not a mental battle that I had won - it was his victory. We waded through Geldie Burn and started a long climb up the ridge towards Bhac in thankfully low levels of heather. Just as we were heading out of sight, the group that missed us at the bridge gave us a massive cheer from behind which really boosted us up too. The first few hills flew by, catching up the last few months with the toughest supporting night boys: Andrew, Felix, and Gregor. Easily the most dedicated supporter, Gregor was here to run leg 4 and 5 i.e. over half of the round while carrying a milk carton of various juice mixes for the full thing! Our good chat was eventually replaced by mostly eerie silence, save for the occasional surprise attack from a grouse. How many nights of the year could the Cairngorms be so still, with only the sounds of some squelchy bog to keep you awake? Apart from the grouse, we were treated to some great wildlife in the form of white owls, mice, hares, and even white reindeer according to Andy (more commonly known as sheep). The latter false-identification gave us a good laugh for the rest of the leg [and will do every time we ever see Andy again].

This leg west of Glenshee was both better and worse than we expected, as we had adamantly refused to recce what was bound to be dreadful, but what could easily be navigated by Andrew. There were far fewer 'paths' than we expected but we were still able to move well through the terrain with minimal struggle. The climbs were long and slow, and it was getting to the stage that I didn't know what to do with my arms going uphill to support my back. My left hip flexor also responded by gradually weakening, but I was lucky that this waited till the following day to deteriorate. I was thankful when Glas Tulaichean had become a crawl to use the arms for once, and to subsequently have that slog behind us really made me feel like we were running towards sunrise.

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Finally finding something resembling a path up Carn an Righ

Heading up Carn a'Gheoidh (pronounced 'yowee') – the last big climb before the final changeover – everything suddenly changed in the space of 5mins. Ali had been quiet and slightly off his regular position in the pack for a while, but there had been so many waves by this point that no one thought much of this. Soon it became clear though, his niggling hamstring had developed into something intolerable, and his short “Yep, I’m good” replies suddenly had a secondary meaning. After a final unsuccessful test at mitigating the pain, he urged us to continue on without him. We argued for a while, we eventually embraced, and after leaving Felix with him; Andy, Gregor and I were on our way to Carn Aosda wondering what the hell had just happened. The guy who had spent all day convincing me I would get round had been forced to stop. The guilt of carrying on was already enormous but he convinced me someone had to finish it for the supporters' sake. I begrudgingly agreed.

Our time advantage had decreased to 15mins which was somewhat expected through the rough darkness, but I vaguely recalled the way we had pumped lots of time into the final leg for security. I was confident that I would be dragged round in good time by Oleg - who would be fresh as a daisy without any sleep - and Gregor who was going strong despite a heavy bag. The thought of a further 11 Munros and 40km was not fun considering I had finished 4th leg like it was the full round, but I realised all I had to do at this stage was eat ‘breakfast’ and avoid picking up an injury. With a real surge in adrenaline, we pushed through the final jokes of Munros above Glenshee and neared civilisation at the car park, running off Cairnwell towards the warm glow of car headlights.

Leg 5

At this point I should definitely say a huge thanks to Liz Barr and Gregor's parents Graham and Ann for staying up to see us through and even clearing up the changeover point as we rushed off at 4am. The fresh company at the crossing was appreciated after hours of rather isolated wanderings. Oleg quickly tied got his shoes on while Gregor got a decent refuel. After a nice 10min final changeover, we left Glenshee ski centre just as a final burst of rain came down with a dollop of clag. We were soon back up onto the skyline trying not to slip over the wet rocks of Creag Leacach, as our headtorches gradually switched off with the dawn.

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Early Leg 5 views...

I owe Andy and Oleg a big apology for questioning their nav so much, but as we came off Carn of Claise at what I thought was the wrong angle, with my manhood now bruised from the lack of supporting underwear for 18 hours and a real need to gain time, I was in a bit of a stressed state. Luckily Oleg had been nailing the nav and we were ticking off minutes on just about every hill, a very positive feeling indeed for this point in the run. We were developing a good time cushion again and I continued to eat/drink enough, though at this point it was mostly sugary 'trolley' items. I decided the reason that this final section was so mentally tough was because so far in the round we had only been focussing on the next checkpoint, rather than the grim fact that there was always a very long time to go. Someone had mentioned this before and I thought it was total rubbish, but it turned out to be a good psychological technique.

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Fabulous morning east of Glenshee

The easterly Glenshee hills became just as boggy as the West, but with the [eventual] rising sun and beautiful, empty golden hills appearing before us, the squelching of the ground or pain of oncoming blisters no longer mattered. We experienced herds of reindeer, dozens at a time and appearing from every direction. On one occasion they even paused to spy down on us on us from on top of nearby cliffs. At this strange time in the morning having been essentially awake for 48 hours, it felt like some weird utopia. I would have even believed we were the only people alive to experience it. The final Glen Muick 5 were a relief to reach with some smooth paths and rolling hills, although the realisation of 'just' 2.5 hours to go and increasingly higher summits was still mentally unsettling. Gregor and Oleg delicately led me on as I fixed my eyes firmly to either Gregor’s arse or the ground. They donated their last few stores of condensed sugary snacks and I wondered how we hadn’t thought of marzipan as a snack before.

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Shared fatigue with Gregor on Carn an t-Sagairt Mor

In this final stage I was wary of developing any possible strains but we still managed to run anything other than a proper climb. These last 5 tops would only take 20-25mins each and the time advantage was now substantial enough to walk round if we had to. This all supported the positive psychology which was critical at this stage. Oleg even had time to show us the crashed light aircraft on the side of Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (great name), but Gregor and I weren’t that hyped considering it felt like looking into a mirror.

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Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach

We paused on the summit of Lochnagar to celebrate the 32nd and final Munro with a drink of the heavenly flat coke nectar alongside Gregor's selection of jelly sweets (this angel honestly gave me so much of his food). Lochnagar holds a special place in my heart as my first Munro, and some of my earliest memories involve climbing it with my family. Having my older brother there to help guide me through its summit to the finish now seemed very appropriate. Half of the metaphorical cake was missing though, and while I looked forward to seeing Ali again, the guilt of going on remained to the point that I almost hoped everyone had got the timings wrong to the finish. Perhaps this round could be finished, but quickly swept under the rug until we could both go again, together.

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Relief on Lochnagar, the final top

The descent off the top was painfully slow as we had feared, and the coarse rocks of the Cairngorms proved sketchy as they had so many times before. In hindsight, adding a km or two by going round the previous top and down on good path may have been wiser, but a true test of concentration and patience in this final hour seemed like the respectful way to honour this final mountain. After the boulders morphed into a few km of peat bogs with a downhill gradient that was barely noticeable (not enough), we were eventually back onto solid ground and landrover tracks. There was now very little risk of an acute injury and finally, the completion of the round felt achievable.

The ancient woods of Balmoral greeted us and though it felt like the last 4km would take an eternity, it ended up passing very quickly. We soon found some familiar faces waiting for us in Roanne, Emma and Alice, followed by Lucy who all joined the pack and quickly reignited my spent emotions; finally the day was finishing. We turned the final corner to Invercauld Bridge to the sight of all the supporters (except Tam who was somewhere near Lochnagar looking for us lol!) along with my parents waiting there on the crux of the bridge. This really struck me, triggering some tears of shear happiness coupled with relief, as had even the thought of this seemingly unattainable moment for the previous 23 hours and 13 minutes. I reached the top of the bridge to finally exhale and fall into Ali's open arms. It was a truly memorable moment after a truly memorable round.

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The finishing sight

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.. and my mum's photo pointing the other way

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Over a week on I am still absorbing the fact that the day was success, relieved to finally be able to look back on the round and be able to deliver for our many amazing supporters' massive efforts. But that final leg of Sunday morning will always be missing someone, and I’m keen for Ali’s name to be associated more to this round more than anyone else. There would have been no success without him.

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The final thing to do now is spell out our eternal gratitude to all our wonderful supporters:

Thankyous:

Ali Masson – While this round may have seemed like evenly-joint affair, there is no doubt Ali deserved to complete the round far more than anyone else. His limitless optimism and companionship, on top of his months of ideal preparation, training, and dedicated planning makes it heart-breaking to think all it takes is a hyper-extended knee to shift things into the negative. He spent his day keeping me motivated and optimistic in a fairly desperate situation, only for luck to strike him down in the night. Karma did not deliver this time, but he'll be back for more. Maybe even Braeriach!

Elena Chepelina – my amazing mum housed and fed us for the days leading up to the challenge, cooked us the pizza that would eventually get us round, and slept barely more than me as I grew more and more panicked the night before the round. She was there to welcome me across the line alongside my dad and dog Alfie. It’s not often my parents are both present to witness me finishing an important run or race (often because they are miles away!), so I'm very happy they could both be there for this one.

Lucy Haines – my patient girlfriend put up with a lot of my obsession and anxiety about the round in the weeks leading up, always comforting and quenching any of my stresses with her kind heart. The joy to see her for the first time in a few days at the end of the round was a big factor in getting me through, and she put herself through a tough weekend just to be there for me!

Emma Wilson, Alice Wilson, Roanne Lilley – for driving around and equipping our supporters all day on Saturday. The former sisters with Tam even came up and camped a day early just to be at the start on time.

Liz Barr, Ann + Graham Malcolm – for going out of their ways to support Ali and I, as well as sons Andy and Gregor, at the toughest of changeovers at 4am (as well at other points).

Jim Mann - for the initial proof of concept without which we probably wouldn't have dared attempt the route in the Cairngorms. He wished us well on before the round and was keen to hear the story afterwards, a true hill runner.

Leg Support:

The legends that made this possible. Many young, many their first experience of such an event, all carrying huge loads in one of the most isolated regions in the UK, and some even running their longest runs to this day! All responding and eager to help at very short notice despite a long journey to get there and long run totals/ins/outs or awkward times of day. And all putting up with our constant requests for specific foods and layers, which were almost always at the bottom of their bags. Ali and I are eternally grateful.

Thanks also to manufacturers of 2-pint milk cartons, the perfect vessel.

Leg 1, 46km +1900m: Ewan McMillan, Will Rigg (milk carton shared about)
Leg 2, 41km +1900m: Max Bloor, Eddie Narbett, Tom Lines (milk carton mostly stored)
Leg 3, 39km +1800m: Anna Macfadyen (with full milk carton), Daniel Stansfield, Thomas Wilson
Leg 4, 44km +2600m: Andrew Barr, Felix Wilson, Gregor Malcolm (with full milk carton)
Leg 5, 40km +1800m: Oleg Chepelin, Gregor Malcolm (milk carton broken and no longer required but still present)

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The supporting squad minus Tam... :lol:

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Finished

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Comments: 4



Crianlarich Seven

Attachment(s) Munros: An Caisteal, Beinn a'Chroin, Beinn Chabhair, Beinn Tulaichean, Ben More, Cruach Ardrain, Stob Binnein
Date walked: 09/04/2019
Distance: 33km
Ascent: 3200m
Comments: 3
Views: 1858

Sashman


Activity: Bird-watcher
Mountain: Ben More
Place: Glenmore
Gear: Garmin
Ideal day out: A long skyline run featuring many munros

Munros: 80
Corbetts: 7
Grahams: 4
Donalds: 1
Wainwrights: 30
Hewitts: 33
Sub 2000: 14



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Statistics

2020

Trips: 1
Distance: 152.8 km
Ascent: 8000m
Munros: 32

2019

Trips: 1
Distance: 33 km
Ascent: 3200m
Munros: 7


Joined: May 25, 2012
Last visited: Sep 22, 2020
Total posts: 2 | Search posts