2019 - Landmarks of the Mountain Year

© Ian Handscomb

So another outdoor year is over - and what a year of mixed feelings it's been, from big highs to major lows.

We've seen some stunning achievements in hill running, including new records on the Wainwrights, the Ramsay Round and the Welsh 3000-ers. Female runners have continued to set the pace, with Jasmin Paris' romp home on the Montane Spine race and a double Paddy Buckley for Nicky Spinks.

In December 2019 Kim Collison sets a new winter Bob Graham record, photo Ian Handscomb  © Ian Handscomb
In December 2019 Kim Collison sets a new winter Bob Graham record, photo Ian Handscomb

But the mountain community was also stunned by the tragic loss of several big figures over the year. The death of winter all-rounder Steve Perry and new routeing legend Andy Nisbet in a winter climbing accident on Ben Hope in February was followed in March by the loss of talented alpinists Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi on Nanga Parbat. Then in July came news that the highly respected guide Martin Moran had died in an avalanche on Nanda Devi East, along with six clients and their Indian liaison officer. We counted some as friends here at UKH, and they've all been in our thoughts over the year.

Steve Perry and Andy Nisbet on a new routing day in the Easains.  © Dan Bailey
Steve Perry and Andy Nisbet on a new routing day in the Easains.
© Dan Bailey

Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi during an attempt on Link Sar in 2017.  © Tom Ballard
Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi during an attempt on Link Sar in 2017.
© Tom Ballard

Martin Moran guiding on the Old Man of Hoy  © Dan Bailey
Martin Moran guiding on the Old Man of Hoy
© Dan Bailey

The environment featured heavily too, and inevitably the effects of climate change continue to be felt in the hills, with wild fires and glacial retreat in the headlines. On the positive side, a new report made the case for a massive re-wilding effort in the countryside, proposals were made for another expansion of the Lake District National Park, and a conservation charity bought a Scottish mountain with a view to restoring native woodland. Up with this sort of thing!

January - Jasmin Paris wins Montane Spine Race

And when we say win, we mean she smashes it! A non-stop race along the full 429km (268 mile) length of the Pennine Way - in the depths of winter - the Spine Race is widely regarded as one of the world's toughest ultra marathons. Jasmin's time of 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds is a record. The first woman to win it outright, not only does she romp in comfortably miles ahead of the fastest man, Eion Keith, but doubly impressive is that she's been expressing for breast feeding at checkpoints along the way...

"I've slept about two hours 15 minutes so far" Jasmin says, towards the end of her third day.

"I don't normally take sugar in my coffee, but..."  © Montane Spine Race
"I don't normally take sugar in my coffee, but..."
© Montane Spine Race

"I'm really enjoying myself. It's a mixture of type one and type two fun. I'm eating a lot but I've barely seen the others eating. I'm juggling being a parent with Ultra running and I have also got a thesis to write when I finish."

Some people really do make the rest of us look like slouches.

March - Glen Etive hydro schemes approved

Highland Council approve three highly controversial hydro power plants in a wild land area in Glen Etive, in part of the glen that lies within a National Scenic Area. This brings to a total of seven the new hydro projects now due to be built in the glen.

Much of Glen Etive is inside a National Scenic Area  © Richard Cross
Much of Glen Etive is inside a National Scenic Area
© Richard Cross

All seven sites were passed in February, before one member of the planning committee secured a reappraisal of the most contentious three - Allt Ceitlein, Allt Mheuran and Allt Chaorainn.

The developer Dickins Hydro says the schemes will generate enough electricity to power 'up to 8000 homes' and have promised to minimise their environmental impact. But campaigners have continued to make strong objection to the projects, which will have major local ecological implications. Doubts have since been made public that construction can be carried out in accordance with the environmental conditions set in the planning approval. Is the rush to renewables leading to some poor local decision making?

April - Meteor wrecks Ben Nevis summit shelter... or does it?

We report that the summit shelter on Ben Nevis has been partially destroyed, following what's believed to have been a meteor strike. Incredibly, we said, the moment of impact was caught on camera by climber and film maker Dave MacLeod.

The strike was captured in a fluke shot  © Dave MacLeod
The strike was captured in a fluke shot
© Dave MacLeod

"I was camping on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg" says Dave.

"...It was around 9pm and I'd gone back outside to smoke a fag and see if the sky had cleared to get some night time-lapses of the tent with Ben Nevis across Coire Leis. I noticed a couple of fantastic shooting stars.

"Then this huge one came across. I pressed the camera shutter just in time to catch it as it came down. It looked like it had impacted right on the top of the Ben, and there was a small bang and bright flash as it hit. I was quite amazed I caught it with the camera, and also relieved it headed for the Ben and not Carn Mor Dearg, as we were camped right by the summit cairn with a lot of bottles of flammable whisky..."

Cynics point out that this story was published on April 1st. We couldn't possibly comment.

May - Big month for Welsh hill running

Two of the most prestigious Welsh records tumble in a matter of days, courtesy of visiting Scot Finlay Wild, who first runs the fastest known time on the Snowdon Horseshoe, and then follows that up by breaking the fabled 30-year-old record for the Welsh 3000ers.

He must have the VO2 max of a horse... the 3000ers in the bag on Foel Fras  © Joe Hester
He must have the VO2 max of a horse... the 3000ers in the bag on Foel Fras
© Joe Hester

Held since 2009 by Es Tresidder, the Snowdon Horseshoe seems to have become a popular running goal recently. Local Gareth Wyn-Hughes broke Es's long-standing 1:25:08 in 2018, with a heroic run knocking it down to 1:23:48. The record then changes hands for a 3rd time when Wild clocks a preposterous 1:20:16 back at Pen y Pass car park.

Colin Donnelly's famous time of 4:19 for the Welsh 3000ers was a record that had stood for three decades. Finlay's time of 4:10:48 sets a new benchmark for the route over all 14 Welsh 3000-foot peaks, which covers over 35km and more than 2700m ascent.

"It holds so much variety in it, three distinctly different ranges, pointy peaks and jagged aretes, bouldery plateau and scree gullies, and undulating whaleback hills. It suits me in its length and complexity, and my background in Alpinism aids my line choices I think, and then added to that, the legend around Colin's time - standing proud for so long - really made me want it very badly" says Finlay.

A few days later Nicky Spinks runs a double Paddy Buckley Round, in a total time of 57 hours 27 minutes.

The classic North Wales challenge completes her trio of double rounds on the UK's big three, following a double Ramsay Round in July 2018 and her double Bob Graham in 2016. She is the only person to have ever run a double on all these routes, a hat trick that must count as one of the great sporting achievements of recent times.

Nicky had hoped to finish in under 48 hours, but in the circumstances just finishing at all is remarkable - her eventual time is 57:27. Over two gruelling days she covers around 122 miles and roughly 56,000ft of ascent on 94 peaks (2x47). As on her previous doubles, a dedicated support team proves critical in terms of logistics, pacing and general moral support.

June - Paul Tierney breaks Wainwrights record

Ultra-runner Paul Tierney completes a record breaking round of all 214 of Alfred Wainwright's Lake District peaks. For many people a Wainwright round is a lifetime of walking, but Paul covers the lot in an astonishing time of 6 days, 6 hours and 5 minutes.

The previous fastest time of 6 days, 13 hours and 1 minute was set by Steve Birkinshaw in June 2014. Following a similar route to Birkinshaw's 2014 line, Paul's 318-mile challenge entails running and speed-walking for six days straight, with minimal sleep.

June - Major extension proposed for Lake District National Park

More Cumbrian news, when conservation charity Friends of the Lake District asks government agency Natural England to consider extending the southern boundary of the Lake District National Park. The proposal would bring in an extra 155km2, expanding the park area by around 6%.

Sun setting over Duddon Estuary with Scafell and The Old Man of Coniston in the background
© The Bantam

The extension would cover the outstanding landscape in the south of Cumbria, incorporating the area between Silecroft and Grange-over-Sands, the Millom Without, Furness and Cartmel peninsulas and the estuaries of the Duddon, Leven and Kent rivers.

The final decision on the proposal lies with Natural England and the Secretary of State for the Environment. As was the case with the 2016 extension to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, the process could be very lengthy.

July - Es Tresidder sets new Ramsay Round record

Early July, and Es Tresidder sets a new record for the Ramsay Round, the classic 58 mile challenge taking in 24 west highland peaks. The Lochaber-based runner, one time record holder for the Cuillin Ridge, runs the route, which includes Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries, the Easains and the Mamores, in a time of 16 hours 12 minutes 32 seconds.

In a result he describes as "too close for comfort" Es knocks just 81 seconds from the previous record of 16:13:53, which was set by Jasmin Paris in 2016. It's a sign of the supportive spirit of the hill running community that Jasmin actually turns out to pace him at one stage.

September - 8-year-old walks Welsh 3000ers

Not a sporting headline event, perhaps, nor even a record, but we're pleased to report it when Griff Near, 8, walks the 15 highest mountains in Wales in under 24 hours. The classic 35km route is challenging enough for fit adult walkers, with around 2700m of ascent. Griff, accompanied by his parents Chris and Pilar, camps the night on Snowdon summit before setting off at 6am. Making the most of a weather window, they reach the finish on Foel Fras in a shade under 18 hours.

"Don't look down" on Crib Goch, says Griff  © Chris Near
"Don't look down" on Crib Goch, says Griff
© Chris Near

In 2008 Ben Fleetwood, aged just six, completed the route in around 18 hours, and this is surely the record for the youngest ever Welsh 3000-er; however it seems likely that Griff is the second youngest. But details don't matter - what's inspiring is that these kids are out there, showing most adults how it's done, and enjoying the hills in the process.

September - Sweden's highest peak shrinks thanks to global warming

In a symbolic sign of the times, Sweden's official high point has to be revised, after ice loss on the south summit of Kebnekaise. A survey finds that the mountain's ice-bound south summit has shrunk to 1.2 metres lower than the rocky and more technically difficult north summit, which at 2096.8m now takes on the main summit status. This is the lowest the south summit ice cap has been since records began.

Summit of Kebnekaise  © Matt Smith
Summit of Kebnekaise
© Matt Smith, Aug 2011

Depending on seasonal snow cover the height of the southern peak varies by around three metres - at its tallest in May after the winter snowfall, and lowest after the summer melt. Kebnekaise's southern peak is now 24m lower than in the 1960s.

October - night time spectacle returns to the fells

The 5th annual 'Striding Edge by Torchlight' event sees 40 people traverse the ridge in the dark in aid of Cumbria's search and rescue teams.

The team illuminates the upper ridge of Striding Edge  © Nick Landells, Lakeland Photo Walks
The team illuminates the upper ridge of Striding Edge
© Nick Landells, Lakeland Photo Walks

The event which is hosted by Lakeland Mountain Guides, the company behind the popular Lakeland Festival of Light charity fundraisers, is a Saturday night out with a difference.

"Despite the forecast changing by the hour the 40 fundraisers set off from Glenridding and ascended toward a cloud covered Helvellyn" said organiser and company director Matt Le Voi.

"As the light faded the weather miraculously changed and the group were left with stunning starlit skies, the silhouettes of the eastern fells, the bright lights of Penrith and even a meteor shower for company."

This year £1200 was raised for Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association.

October - Walker completes four Scottish hill rounds on the same day

Raymond Quinn, of Cumbernauld, manages to complete four rounds on the same day by bagging his final Munro, Corbett, Graham and Donald within 24 hours - not something often acieved, for obvious reasons. We believe the 52-year-old engineer may be only the second person ever to finish the four distinct rounds in one day. The feat was as much a driving challenge as a walking one, beginning in the early hours on Skye and finishing a long time later in the Ochils.

Raymond on King's Seat, his final summit of the four rounds  © Raymond Quinn
Raymond on King's Seat, his final summit of the four rounds
© Raymond Quinn

December - Winter Bob Graham record for Kim Collison

Yet more fell running news when Lake District-based runner Kim Collison sets a new speed record on the Bob Graham Round in winter. Kim, 39, a running coach and guide, completes the round in just 15 hours 47 minutes, knocking a big chunk from the previous fastest winter time of 18:18 set by Jim Mann in 2013.

Kim enjoying the frosty conditions  © Rob Brown
Kim enjoying the frosty conditions
© Rob Brown

"Conditions were perfect" he said.

"There were very light winds, the temperatures dropped to -7 at night creating this amazing frost on the grass and boulders. The ground was frozen and hard meaning you did not have to wade through the bogs on the backside of Skiddaw. There were thousands of stars sparkling in the night sky and when the sun rose over the Langdales you had this amazing view down Windermere. Then it was this amazing blue sky day running around the central fells."

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