I’m not entirely sure where to start with this race report to be honest. Probably best, as with all good stories, at the beginning.
A hardy group of Shets (Bill, Steve, Walter, Ross, Iain, Susan, John and TJ) and support crew (Laurie, Lorraine, Gordy & Fergus) ventured North at the weekend, leaving behind glorious sunshine to compete in the latest Scottish Hill Running Championships race. Bill Breck managed to get us squeezed into the Badrallach Campsite alongside 30 Westies and a few unsuspecting tourists. It’s a ‘rustic, quirky and bijoux’ site, facing An Teallach, opposite Dundonnell on Little Loch Broom and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Friday night was fairly uneventful, other than the Kessock Bridge closed off for several hours due to a careering campervan, with Shets and Westies arrived in dribs and drabs into the wee small hours. The evening chat was all about careering campervans, the possibility of the forecast being accurate (0%) and any known short cuts on the hill.
We set off at 11am for Dundonnel Mountain Rescue, Race HQ. The clag was showing some signs of lifting so Laurie and then Lorraine set off to walk up. Susan, who had been somewhat indecisive until that point, decided to take on the challenge of the race.
We had time to spare so manage a quick recce, with path and hillside a lovely combination of fast flowing burn and bog. We managed to recce some direct lines up the lower slopes and agree that the choices for coming off the hill were a choice of slippy, rocky path – or – a steep, heathery and boggy gully for those brave enough to take the suggested line of a canny Shet.
It was a great turnout with c150 runners at the start and just after 1pm we were off.
About halfway up conditions started to deteriorate and visibility soon reduced, at times to as little as 30 – 50ft.
First to go awry were Walter, Iain and Tj – led astray by a group of Westies. We hit the coll and then instead of circuiting round the back of Glas Mheall Mhor we ascended to the peak at 979m. It was only as the group started to descend down the other side and we hadn’t seen any returning runners – or the only checkpoint on the race for that matter – that we had a group ‘moment’ and stalled in the mist.
A sharp around turn (when sometimes it helps to be at the back) and we retraced our route to catch back up with the main race, with an extra 3km and 200m of climb in the bank. We overtook Susan who was heading up and was pleased to see familiar faces in clag and now rain, then Laurie coming back down from the summit, who had made the same mistake as our little group and was plodding a little less cheerily than at the start.
The rest of the Shets had managed to stay on course and were starting to hit the finish line – all had taken the line of the Shet down the gully more or less intact with staves (John) and bashed ankles (Ross) to show for it.
Steve Winter (1:24) was our first Shet, followed by Bill, John and Ross none of who managed to stop their watches apparently. We think it was Andy Fallas first man and Jill Stephens first woman, who also got a new course record into the bargain.
Somewhat later TJ, then Walter then Iain came flying down the gully trying to make up for their earlier navigational incompetence with some fine displays of gravity defying descent.
And that’s when the fun really began.
By the time prize giving started at 4:30pm there was still no sign of Susan, Lorraine and Laurie. We were aware that there were a number of runners still out on the hill so weren’t particularly worried. Bill and Walter headed back up to make sure they got down OK.
At about 4:35pm I got a call from Susan who said she was well and truly lost, about the same time as Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team (DMRT) were on the radio to say that Lorraine was now confirmed as one of the others missing. Given we were already helpfully at DMRT base we were quickly able to get Susan in contact with the team and, with failing battery and signal, identify her rough whereabouts, some 10km off route.
Within the hour Laurie was back under her own steam, while one team set off for Susan by vehicle, and another had managed to track down Lorraine who was in tow with a couple of runners also off on a totally different track.
With Lorraine safely off the hill a few hours later we were all holding our breath (and bottle openers – it just didn’t feel right quaffing beer with one of our own lost on the hills) waiting to hear that Susan was OK. It was looking a little less promising when the team decided to put out a call for the nearest helicopter from Stornoway to join the search.
Just before 8pm Susan was sitting as instructed by a lochan in the middle of nowhere, wishing she hadn’t eaten her only energy bar at the very start of the race, when the Hebridean chopper – or Susan’s Highland Uber as it is now known – came over the brow of the hill.
Somewhat mortified, but not entirely unhappy to get a wee helicopter ride the hell out of there (as you will see from the attached) the epic was over and cheers (and bottle tops) went up from Dundonnell to the campsite, where Westies and Shets were able to watch the rescue team fly down the lochside to drop of our intrepid adventurer.
All I can say is that having been on the edge for several hours the release of nerves and tension was realised in alcohol and food form – with BBQ, Curry, Pasta and Steve’s award winning cheese and port platter – and as you can see from the attached a healthy amount of empties.
Here’s how it should have looked – what a difference a day makes……
Photos of the weekend can be found here: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipNkJ3UqBW1n-sfNJDim6hhBIhUV_qbPly8cKxG7U7waRHE5X6eLCCNWKsbJLaWvrQ?key=ZjFZdnZjbkhzVFQ0cmZLdWx5bGlsZWZ0cWRzNjB3
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