Friday, 4 July 2014

Ruminating the Rigby Round

It was approximately 3 weeks ago that a friend, Jonathan Whilock said to me, 'why don't you come and do the Rigby Round'. Now, I've ran with JW a lot over the years, and supported him on his Ramsey Round last year. In fact I owe so much of my early running training and experiences to JW. The 'rounds' will be familiar to a large majority of folk, the more popular one of course being the Bob Graham Round. The Rigby round is so named after Mark Rigby who first undertook the challenge and in 1988. True to Mark's attempt the Rigby round is intended to be undertaken without any support, and without any previous reconnaissance of the route. Therefore you essentially (if you are keeping true to the spirit of the round) have one attempt at it.

I've written a detailed report that is available here and therefore I'll not repeat that information, however, I want to share some randomness details below.

  • Prior to undertaking the Rigby Round I'd not ran above 13 hours in one hit in the mountains. 
  • The Rigby Round could be considered to be like a very extended OMM given the lack of paths and the navigation required on the hoof.
  • You can complete the Rigby Round in any direction, visiting the peaks in any order.
  • You don't have to do it in 24 hours.
  • The Rigby Round is less about peak bagging and more about how you tackle the journey from one peak to another. 
  • A 2am start means only 2hrs of darkness in the morning and depending on how quick you finish, only a few hours in the evening. 
  • Water is not as plentiful after 10hrs (ish) an the anti-clockwise round
  • There is more potential running that in any of the other rounds (from my experience).
  • The terrain is very technical, there are no defined paths, and it is tough under foot, it is certainly not for the faint hearted.
  • I ate every 30 mins using a combination of real food and gels
  • I used a combination of real food and energy gels (later on).
  • Midges are in abundance at the start/finish
  • There are tons of wild deer in the Cairngorm range. 
  • There is some scrambling and climbing involved to reach some of the summits. 
  • There is no shelter for pee stops
  • The Munroes are intimidating at worst and beautiful at best.
  • Heather and Boulders form your paths.
  • There are lots of frogs
  • Be prepared for bogs and peat.
  • As there are not natural stops, I broke the Round down into peaks 
  • I didn't look at the time until 23hrs 31mins and 53 secs had passed and I pressed stop.
  • I am amazed how the human body will just keep going and going if you get the fuelling right.
  • I had a lull every 6 hrs and came out of them relatively quickly.
  • Only one injury on left lower shin.
  • GPS's are a life saver when the clag is down. 
  • My back pack weighted 4kg.
Thanks to Inov8 for supplying me with the essential kit, to TORQ for fuelling me and Ndure for providing me with a flask. 
Jon Whilock and Jon Gay

Both of these chaps have writen independent accounts which i'll share here.
'Rigby Round Team Effort'.
A personal account of an unsupported anti clockwise completion of the Rigby Round of 
Cairngorm Munros, together with Tracy Dean and Jonathan Whilock on 22nd to 23rd June 
2014. Time: 23 hours 32 minutes.
Jon Gay (Lochaber AC).

I was delighted to complete the Rigby Round of the Cairngorms at the weekend in the company 
of Tracy Dean and Jonathan Whilock both from Staffordshire Moorlands AC, and what good 
company they were. We have decided to each write a short personal account, probably we will 
repeat some information. Since I doubt any of us have yet come back 'down to earth' mine will be 
rather subjective and may lack detail. Some vagueness may be acceptable since it is a 'turn up 
and try it' round! We got on very well, there were lots of small incidents most of them funny, I 
wish I could remember them all. It was interesting how our interactions and relaxed approach 
helped us get through the inevitable 'darker' bits.

The round takes in 18 Munros within 24 hours, starting and finishing at Glenmore Youth Hostel, it 
was devised by Mark Rigby in 1988. In contrast to some of the other big rounds it is intended to 
be done self supported and without prior reconnaissance- 'spiced up' as M.R. says in his original 
account. Serious in the remote vastness of the Gorms. A long way..

We first met on Jonathan's Charlie Ramsay's Round, on the last leg we compared notes on our 
longer runs and decided to do more in future. I remember Jonathan's determination in the heat of 
the Mamores and Tracy's enthusiasm, she had decided to run back a huge distance rather than 
take the car. I had total confidence in their ability. I enjoy both solo and supported runs but really 
like the simplicity of running in a small reliable group. We planned a simultaneous 'self contained' 
attempt.

This was Tracy and Jonathan's first trip to the range so we drove up to the ski area to take in the 
view. The scale of what I had agreed to undertake hit me. As a youngster the ski area seemed 
vast, Cairngorm summit unattainable. My first climbs in the Northern Corries and walks onto the 
plateau continuing on to Ben Macdui felt like a rite of passage. Later on multi day walking trips I 
managed to tick the hills- but to do them all at once?? Luckily the clouds were down and we 
couldn't see the whole lot! For Tracy and Jonathan it must have been spectacular to have 
experienced this place for the first time.

After the usual comparing of rucksacks and nervous eating we left at 2am and along the track to 
Rothiemurchus Lodge. Everything felt natural and relaxed, and we got in some early jokes 
including nicknames for the respective Jon's. Very soon I realised that we were paying good 
attention to the map and discussing decisions in a quiet and consensual way- we settled into 
roles quickly. It felt strange yet reassuring to know we were being monitored by the tracker from 
opentracking.co.uk. This was very motivational and it was nice to share our weekend.
We had optimistically said that the clag would lift. It didn't and we were soon navigating 
paranoiac ally off Braereach like in a mountain marathon. We 'hand railed' along the Gleann 
Einich corrie edge but dipped low into rough ground which was not very amenable at the start of 
a run- but no recces allowed! Surprisingly we passed quite a few tents- I was jealous, at this 
point I had stiff joints and hadn't got going, I would have paid for a coffee and a go of a sleeping 
bag. Hopefully we didn't wake anyone up, they would wonder what we were playing at.
As I had feared, from Sgor Gaoith there was lots of flat or undulating running. Jonathan's walk 
was my jog, Tracy seemed to float. It's lucky I didn't know at the time that Tracy has won the UK Ultra Championships or I might have psyched myself out! We did a long section on an 
inappropriate scar of a Land Rover track before and after Mullach Clach a Bhlair which I found 
painful. Concentrating all the way we commenced a dreich contouring traverse worthy of the 
most cynical mountain marathon planner fond of 'over or round' problems- to reach Bhrotain. 
There was time to chat on some of the up hills including funny stuff. Often as well we were 
bashing away in our own worlds.

Sgor an Lochain Uaine to Devil's point to me is very memorable and classic Cairngorm territory, I 
was glad that the mist allowed us to share the views down the cliffs and along the Lairig Ghru. 
Tracy & Jonathan were able to appreciate just how big the Cairngorms are. We inadvertently ran 
out of water so enjoyed crunching spring snow from an old cornice. My short cut off Devil's Point 
left something to be desired in the light of a concealed hard snow bank, I liked how Tracy said 
'just do it' as I hesitated before bum sliding down. 

The sun came out as we passed the Corrour bothy, disappointingly there was no coffee to be 
blagged. Pausing before the steep 'informal' ascent ahead we defaulted to more laughter this 
time concerning vastly excessive food consumption, certainly a theme of our round. This was 
about the right time for things to get harder and as muscles tightened it did. Then I noticed 
Jonathan's 'bargain' shoe was starting to disintegrate, he was unconcerned since he had some 
string. In this case I was glad of my Inov8's. It certainly wasn't the normal walkers route and 
halfway up the discussion turned to climbing. 

I thought Carn a Mhaim was stunning with it's wide view and I felt very happy, especially to be 
half way. Jonathan apparently had a temporary energy low going up Ben Macdui but it was hard 
to tell- he 'gets on with it'. 

Derry Cairngorm to Beinn Mheadhoin was sublime although we cursed the teetering boulder 
fields of the 'out and back'. Clearing skies also gave us a chance to see and plan most of the 
remaining route which was alarming in scale. I hope Tracy and Jonathan had time to take in the 
ruggedness of the Shelter Stone crags and Loch Avon corries. 

On to Beinn Bhreac which we thought was the fastest sequence. But the ground was far from 
quick. Then time for my 'lull' after extensive bog running where we had picked up some time. 
Drinking a large amount of honey soon had me back. Along with some coffee powder also 
'enjoyed' by Tracy.

Generally I was surprised at the roughness of much of the route, my preconceptions may be 
based on the 'normal' Munro bagger's approaches which I had done in the past. Route choices 
are nowhere near as plentiful or obvious as on say the Ramsay's. We were very relieved not to 
have clag on the plateau onto Beinn a Bhuird which would have been a navigational nightmare. I 
found the Ben Avon area including sculpted tors, crags and corries very stimulating, possibly it 
was the caffeine. 

The usual contouring and micro nav brought us tantalisingly through bog and tussocks towards 
Chairorain, (which can also be done in a different order). Along the way on a bearing, through 
knolls, in the vast tundra wild scape, in the middle of nowhere- we nearly tripped up on the guy 
lines of a tent. And had a brief encounter with a most annoying man (probably this was the the 
best place for him). We had only seen ptarmigan and deer until then. Jonathan said a friendly 'hi' 
and explained that we were trying the 18 Munros in 24 hours. Rudely but hilariously the 
individual retorted that 'oh- that's a standard mountain rescue training regime'- as if to belittle our 
efforts in the last 20 or so hours. Easy!! Indignation 'got me going' again and I even attempted a 
demonstration jog up hill.Jonathan had said we should keep the glucose tablets for when the 'shi*t hits the fan'- so all tiring at this point we had some. We became more and more interested in the schedule, counting kilometres and contours against the limited available splits. I thought it started to look tight as we were slow on Chaorainn but I'm not sure what the others were thinking. 

I could see that Jonathan was experiencing a 'dip', not literally, at the Fords of Avon and was 
fighting nausea. I know how hard he is and knew he would get through. Probably however it was 
obvious I was concerned about the schedule, I may not have come across as the most positive. I 
admit I discussed splitting up as I felt I was going OK at the time (I was fortunate enough to be 
spared the nausea and was eating). As soon as I said it I regretted doing so- it had been so great 
running together. It was way, way more important to finish together. Even if it it risked being a 
little over the academic figure of 24 hours. In retrospect I believe that with Jonathan's superior 
planning he knew if we bashed away we would do it.

Tracy says- 'There was a light heartedness that even during our respective lulls we just all got on 
with it and no doom and gloom was allow to breed and I think this made for a stress free and 
pleasurable day out on the hills'. This is very kind given my 'wobble' above but yes we did fit in 
well and it was always uplifting to be part of this team, for me at least. 

The Tracker wasn't accurate at Bynack Mor, it makes it look like we didn't summit, which we 
most certainly did! I can also see other various blips but we have our GPX files.
Despite feeling like death warmed up Jonathan proceeded to fly off dreadful ground, navigating 
beautifully in the dark through a squall to commence a grim 400m final struggle up boulders on 
the side of Cairngorm. Tracy felt sick but kept bashing away, very tough. Having been lucky 
enough to have supported Nicky Spinks in her record breaking Ramsay's recently I can see that 
Tracy is a brilliant and very professional runner. She was incredibly 'positive' at all times and this 
influenced much of our success.

I experienced a despondent low point here with an energy crisis too- serves me right. I was glad 
not to be on my own! I was thinking how dreadful being late would be, especially as theoretically 
you only 'get one go' since reconnaissance isn't really on. 

Near the top we got out the schedule and realised we had time in hand- what satisfaction! We 
navigated through dense cold mist to the weather station and 'skied' the piste to the road, being 
careful but enjoying it. Having failed a Bob Graham Round I have heard that running along the 
road at the end is a euphoric experience and I hugely enjoyed the descent and our chat on the 
road, memorable.

Tracy was the first ever lady to complete, Jonathan is one of only a few to complete 'all 4 big' 
rounds: including the Paddy Buckley, the Bob Graham and the Charlie Ramsay's Round. 
Subsequently we have all been elated, decided to do something together in the future it was 
wonderful company in one of the best places.






Jonathon Whilock
I'd not heard of the Rigby round until i'd caught a conversation between Bryan (Carr) and Simon (Reed). A bit of research later and I was hooked. No support crew, just map, compass and a backpack with some food in, simple. No set date just go when the weather is good, a nice day out on the mountains. The nav's easy in good visability too, famous last words. 
I didn't fancy the trek on my own so tried to recruit anyone daft enough to join me. Jon had no excuse, he knows how tough these things are and I told Tracy it was easy and she'd be the first lady and she was sold, I could sell snow to eskimos. 
The weather would not settle so we went for a 2am Sunday morning start as it looked mostly ok for the next 24 hours. After a bit of a wander around the start/finish and look at the reindeer in Glenmor the midges got the better of us and we crashed in the car for a few hours kip.
Most of my other challenges have involved walking the hills and running the flats and descents, it was quite ominous that we seemed to be running the uphills from the off, this might not be the easy day pit I had planned.
We hit clag from 1000m and didn't leave it for a few hours, our route from 1-2 ended up through some messy rough ground, our lines were good but we couldn't see to pick the easiest route. Once the clag lifted a bit over Tom Dubh it became so much quicker. 
The distance between the Munroes on the Rigby are so much greater that we had to run whenever the ground would allow as you lose so much time on boulders and in peat bogs. To take the best lines there was a few hairy looking ascents. Jon had climbed before but I didn't know how good Tracy's head was for this stuff; shouldn't have worried she was a lot braver than me and judging my the amount of blood pouring from her shins after a nasty scrape or 2 on boulders, handles pain well too. 
We all had low points, Jon's ability to consume honey amazed me, Tracy never lost her appetite, I just wanted to throw up at the thought of food. We had 7hrs from Ben Avon, 'easy, you can do the mamores in that' said Jon. 
The weather closed in as it went dark on Baynack Mor and our route up Cairngorm was risky but we hit the top with 1hr 40 mins to go so an easy run in and we made it. 23 hrs 32 mins.
I have to say it was an fantastic day out with two amazing people, but by heck it was tough. Jon got it right as we were trying to run over some rough ground, he said 'it feels like this is all i've ever done', it was so consuming.
A very difficult challenge which pushes you mentally and physically. Go for it


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