On Sunday 22nd Jan 2017, Durham-based runner Jim Mann completed the Charlie Ramsay Round in a time of 22 hours 23 minutes. This is a new winter record for the round of 24 Lochaber peaks, one of the UK's 'big three' fell running challenges.
Shane Ohly, who was among his support runners, shot this short vid which captures some of the tricky conditions underfoot:
"The weather looked good and an amazing team of runners was available and willing to support so I kind of thought well why not" he told us.
"It was the eve of my 40th birthday and I couldn't have spent it in a better way" he says.
"Great company; some of the UK's finest hills; just enough excitement from the conditions but not so exciting that we couldn't move fast. It really was a perfect day out in the hills. Best birthday party ever!"
Jim describes his support crew as the 'dream team':
"In order of appearance, Jon Ashcroft, Graham Nash, Konrad Rawlik, Jasmin Paris, Shane Ohly, Alex McVey, John Ryan and Jon Gay. It's hard to think of a better team! You have current and past summer Ramsay record holders, two previous fastest winter round holders in that mix, they are all top flight fell runners and they are some of the nicest people you will meet."
"I'd also like to say thanks to Hangar 18 and Start Fitness who look after me really well."
"We were always under the previous record, sometimes gaining time and sometimes losing time against the plan but always pretty comfortable I think. The record was really secondary to having a great day out though."
Underfoot conditions sound quite mixed, but certainly wintry, with a dusting of fresh snow lower down, patches of old hard snow higher up and large areas of completely snow covered terrain on the summits of Aonach Beag, Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis.
"Limited daylight is always tough, especially in big hills, but it's the ground underfoot that is typically the real issue" says Jim.
"One minute you can be flying along and the next you're putting on crampons to descend a snow slope where you had expected to be moving fast. It was snowing for a few hours early on and even that small amount of new snow that hides the detail and makes everything a bit more slippy reduces the speed you can move safely at a lot."
According to the criteria set by the round's originator Charlie Ramsay, a winter round is defined simply by the calendar month (December-February). However many feel that winter conditions on the ground are essential to the spirit of a bona fide 'winter' round, since the presence of snow and ice significantly increases the challenge, effectively turning it into a mountaineering route at key sections such as the CMD Arete and the link between Aonach Beag and the Grey Corries.
A recent winter record that was run in only marginally wintry conditions sparked something of a controversy in hill running circles. In light of this we asked Shane his opinion:
"Suitably experienced mountain runners, who are prepared to attempt the Ramsay Round (or similar) in less than optimal conditions are taking on a serious challenge and their efforts should rightly be applauded" said Shane, himself a highly experienced mountain runner, winter ML and the organiser of some of the country's toughest ultra running events.
"However, when records are at stake it is crucial that the nature of the round is fairly described and having read the coverage of Donnie Campbell’s Ramsay Round in December 2016, many experienced mountain runners felt that the reporting was inaccurate."
"Let’s be clear, Donnie’s round was then the fastest round completed in the winter months [23hrs6min], and that alone should be cause for celebration. However, this round was not completed in winter conditions, and attempting to claim otherwise is disingenuous."
"Jim Mann’s round is the undisputed record for a completion in the winter months, and whilst Jim did encounter genuine winter conditions along sections of the route, the route was not in full winter condition, and Jim would be the first to acknowledge this. Jon Gay’s 2013 completed solo was significantly more wintery!"
Given the presence of sufficient snow and ice - an unpredictable and variable factor that effectively means no two winter rounds are ever likely to be directly comparable - what would it take for someone to break Jim's new record?
"It can be done faster, that's for sure" Jim reckons.
"I am not the best or quickest when it gets into technical winter conditions so there is time to be gained there. It just needs the right person in the right weather with good support..."