Last week Ian completed his big project for 2020, The “Cairngorm Parkrun’, a continuous journey taking in all of the munros in the Cairngorms National Park. The route totalled 419 km, 20,559 meters of ascent and took 141 hours 54 minutes.
For the last couple of years, my main goal for the summer has been a big expedition race, the Cape Wrath Ultra in 2018 and Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race in 2019. This year, rather than signing up for an adventure of someone else’s design I wanted to create my own and help to raise some funds to help support our mate Dave, who suffered a stroke after a ski accident in 2018.
Inspired by the idea of the Wainrights round in the Lake District, I was drawn to a round of my own local hills. The Rigby round is the established 24 hour challenge in the Cairngorms, but I wanted something bigger. A chance conversation with local hill running ninja Ally Beaven planted the seed, how long would it take to run all of the Munros within the National Park?!
A munro is a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet (914 meters) and there are 282 in total. 58 of these sit within the Cairngorms National Park*. As far as I can tell, no-one has ever done this as a round before.
As soon as I started planning, it was obvious that this was going to be a monster, with the park including a variety of different groups of hills away from the more obvious Cairngorm and Glenshee massifs. With Mount Keen away out on its own to the east, and the Monaliadh hills to the west, getting the route right was going to be crucial. I started planning the route in 2019, with various different combinations and start/finish points. Early on I abandoned the idea of making it a closed loop, starting and finishing in the same spot. This would have been a nice aesthetic, but just didn’t make any planning sense. Just when I thought I had a route sorted I realised I had missed off the two remote Glen Feshie Munros, so more adjustment was needed. Eventually I came to my planned route which was just over 400km with 20,000 meters of ascent. With the nickname of 'Cairngorm Parkrun' suggested by Lindsay we were all sorted!
Next came the job of attempting to work out a schedule. This wasn’t something I was going to stick to rigidly, but I needed a framework for planning the logistics and support. In the end it proved to be remarkably accurate.
The route has a number of obvious support points at road crossings, but I could see that to avoid carrying tents and lots of kit I would need some more remote support too.
Once the route was split into legs I made a wild guess at an expected average speed for the leg, 5km/h for most of the route, dropping to 4km/h on the sections with more climbing. These speeds would be pretty slow if you were to just do a single leg, but overall I hoped they would give me a realistic chance on a 6 day effort.
I know with big challenges, the key to doing them is committing. It is all very well having the idea, but often the hardest part is getting to the start line, life has a nasty habit of getting in the way. To combat this, I was actively telling people my plans since the new year and had put a date in the diary for an attempt in July.
Obviously with everything that has been going on this summer, this was starting to look extremely unlikely. Not knowing when we would be allowed to travel again, and the impact on our logistics and support teams meant that I had relaxed any expectations of having a go this summer. I had also hoped to spend the first part of the summer getting as much time on the route as possible, both as training and as reconnaissance, fine tuning route options. This had also not been possible.
So despite planning for a year, it all became a bit last minute, travel restrictions were lifted, there was the start of a good looking weather window and Laura could re-arrange some days off to support. We were on!
A couple of hectic days of food shopping, cooking, kit sorting, map marking, messaging supporters and packing and we were on our way. A late drive around to Glen Mark, a few hours sleep, an early alarm and a quick breakfast got us to the start line, just in time for the 0600 start up towards Mount Keen. The difficult bit was over, now all I had to do was keep moving!
To support our fundraising effort please donate here.
I wrote about my physical preparation for the route in January, you can read more here.
*Technically according to the OS map, the summit of Geal Charn (917m) in Drummocher is 100m outside the park boundary, with the boundary crossing the eastern cairn which is 2 m lower. It was obvious that this should be included in the total.