Following their recent record winter Cuillin ridge traverse (see here), Finlay Wild and Tim Gomersall have been at it again. On Sunday 28th Febuary the strong pair completed the Phillip Tranter Round in a time of 17hours and 35minutes, using ski mountaineering gear. They seem to have 'beaten' the winter running record for the route (just under 19 hours), though of course the two are not directly comparable.
Taking in Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries and the Mamores, the Tranter round is Lochaber's original classic hill running challenge. Though it's significantly shorter than the Ramsay round, which covers the same ground (plus a lot), at 40 miles with about 6000m ascent the Tranter is still no pushover in any season. The current snow cover has clearly made it a superb target for ski mountaineering.
'I have long been fascinated with the idea of doing this round using 'skimo' [lightweight ski mountaineerging] kit - would it be possible?' writes Finlay in his blog Go Mountain Goats.
'The problems of doing a round like this with traditional ski mountaineering kit are mainly the weight of equipment and also the faff time for 'transitions' from uphill mode to downhill; from skis on to cramponing, etc.'
With modern lightweight skimo equipment designed for racing these problems are largely overcome, he says, because transitions are much quicker between uphill and downhill modes, and when switching between skis and boots. The skis are also light and short, making them easier to carry.
'We had debated whether to do the round as a run or a ski, and even now I am not sure what the fastest option would be. The benefits of running are of course lighter gear and less kit faff, whereas the ski mountaineering benefits would be ease of travel over (some types of) snow, as well as faster descents which would likely save the legs compared to running downhill.'
'Snow conditions would be a huge factor as skis would have the edge in soft conditions, whereas on this day conditions were set to be fairly firm and scoured [...] so would the skis be a hindrance or a help?'
In the event they opted for skis, which looks like a good call. They estimate they used them on about 70% of the route, running in trainers for the initial approach and the final leg out. They went unsupported, with no gear or food caches.
'Setting off up Ben Nevis in the dark we were very excited - the forecast for the day was perfect, and the snow cover looked good too' Finlay writes.
'First light on top of Ben Nevis. Perfect clear skies and no wind. Moonlight and stars. I let out a whoop skiing some nice snow down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Crossing this on foot we continued into the rising dawn. Very firm down to the Carn Mor Dearg - Aonach Mor col. Steep cramponing up firm neve to the plateau.'
'After this things started warming up a bit in the sun and we made steady progress along the Grey Corries, mainly on skis with some foot sections when steep or rocky. Off Stob Ban (Grey Corries) we had a fantastic spring-like ski down east of Meall a' Bhuirich and grass hopped right to the Abhainn Rath. A quick barefoot river crossing wasn't so bad as the sun was out and we got a breather and a chance to take on water.'
From here the pair crossed over to the Mamores, where ten Munros still stood between them and the finish line down in Glen Nevis. Several had to be done as faffy out-and-back legs from the main ridge line.
'The last out-and-back along the Devil's Ridge to Sgurr a' Mhaim was a final 'crux' and we again left the skis and proceeded on foot for this' says Finlay.
'Darkness finally descended on arrival back at the skis and a surprisingly good headtorch ski down to Lochan Coire nam Miseach and some opportunistic water.'
By the time they'd reached Mullach nan Coirean at the west end of the range 'chat was fairly minimal' says Finlay, '[and] necessary information [was] communicated in grunts.'
After a final ski descent they switched to trainers for the concluding 4km run out to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel.
Sounds like a good day out.