Saturday 5th September – Report by Simon Roberts
A bonus weekend in the Highlands at the end of summer and, as luck would have it, high pressure began to build just as we arrived. The event, perhaps the most famous mountain race in the UK, is notoriously difficult to get into, and Jez and I had only got in via late cancellations, despite the fact that we both entered on the day the forms came out.
My wife Kate (a Highland enthusiast) joined me for the weekend, and we met Jez in glorious sunshine near the start in Claggan on the edge of Fort William. After following the pipers round the field, we set off for a lap of the shinty pitches then the road to Achintee and the start of the normal tourist path. I descended this after doing the Carn Mor Dearg arête way back in 1989, but I haven’t been back since, so didn’t really have many preconceptions beyond the obvious fact that it would be an arduous and rocky descent. I hadn’t done enough specific training to record a decent time, which was a shame given the superb conditions, and I knew I would descend slowly with a continuing weakness in my ankle but was looking forward to it regardless – I didn’t even consider trying to keep pace with in-form Jez!
The race was very enjoyable with a real sense of occasion. I’ve been going to the Highlands for climbing, walking and running every year since the late 80s, so I know how unusual these conditions are for the Ben! Quite incredible: deep blue sky, virtually cloudless, rather too hot on the lower section up to the Red Burn but perfectly cool above. The track above Achintee climbs fairly gently and is generally runnable, but is rough in places, similar to its Snowdon equivalent. I dipped my head into the Red Burn, where the route takes a giant kink then changes character. Above, it steepens considerably as you gain the sloping roof of Ben Nevis itself.
We just kept a steady pace going up the steep and arduous scree until the path veers right and the angle eases for the long haul up the final slopes of the half dome-like summit. The final km or so is across the almost flat rocky plateau and I gained the summit in a rather slow 1.21. The descent went as well as could be expected. I gained quite a few places on the steep scree, then slowed for the very steep grass which gives a direct route to the Red Burn. After this, the angle eases for the rocky track back to Achintee: this is where I lost time and places, awkward in new shoes. I made up for the lost time a tiny bit on the road back to Fort William, but it was too little too late and I finished in 2.05 (Jez was 10 minutes quicker). A great race.
Ben Nevis, Yorkshire Three Peaks and Man v Horse were the three ‘away days’ Jez and I targeted this year. I didn’t do very well in any of them, but we both thoroughly enjoyed all three. After a post-race dip in the river, we headed to the Clachaig for wild boar and haggis, accompanied by An Teallach beer, gazing up Glencoe in stunning late afternoon sunshine.