Jamie Aarons has set a new record for the fastest self-propelled Munro round. The Scotland-based ultra runner (and social worker) beat Donnie Campbell's 2020 time of 31 days 23 hours 2 minutes, finishing on Ben Klibreck on Monday afternoon in a time of 31 days, 10 hours and 27 minutes.
This is not just a female record (which she's smashed, incidentally), but the overall fastest time for a self-propelled round of all 282 Munros. It's not going to be an easy one to beat!
Self-propelled of course means no motorised transport. Jamie's complex and wiggly route around all the Scottish 3000-footers covered a massive 2576km and 135,366m of ascent - with 1315km of that distance on foot, 830km by road bike, 370km by mountain bike, and 49km on her gravel bike. And to ensure logistics did not get too easy, keen kayaker Jamie also threw in about 11km of paddling, including the obligatory sea leg to and from Mull.
Over the last few weeks her progress, followed by live tracker, made compelling dot-watching. Her biggest single tally in one calendar day was 14 Munros, while the daily average over the journey was a staggering nine summits.
Having set out in late May, Jamie encountered a long hot spell in the Highlands, and though the largely settled weather and relatively dry conditions underfoot can't have been a hindrance in many respects, the heatwave also made avoiding sunburn and dehydration an almost constant challenge in the first couple of weeks. Towards the end, a cloudier spell came in welcome, but there were storms and floods to contend with too.
On the day that a stone pillar on Ben Nevis was destroyed by lightning Jamie and friends were not far to the east in the Corrour area.
"We were coming down the track towards Loch Ossian hostel. The light was odd and we could hear and see thunder and lightning" recalls Tamsin Cass, one of Jamie's massive support team.
"A very frightened cyclist came past us... but at that point we were quite happy, it was dry and it felt like the storm was going to miss us. We did have a brief conversation about waiting in the hostel but we were aware that time had already been lost so decided to push on. At the bottom of the next Munro, Beinn na Lap, we realised that the storm was right overhead and we had no choice but sit it out lower down as it would have been unsafe to go up. Then it started to pour. We sat on a bridge under the emergency shelter. The worry was not knowing how long we would need to stay there. Safety obviously needs to come first but time was just slipping away. Jamie managed to sleep. We all got some food down. We did have discussions about going to the hostel or train station for shelter but Jamie quite understandably didn't want extra miles."
Tamsin continues: "An hour and half later the rain had eased off and thunder seemed further away so we poked our heads out and decided to get going. We were treated to the best rainbow I've seen and a beautiful evening climb.
"There was a lot of ground water on the next section with frogs everywhere. The river crossings were becoming harder too. There was one we couldn't cross so we had to descend a different way than planned, which added about 1km to Jamie's route. In hindsight we should have stopped at the hostel but it's the awareness of the clock that alters how you think."
On his 2020 round Donnie Campbell had a fast pace on the move, allowing him to average around eight hours sleep per night, until the last 48 hours when he pushed through in a final sleepless sprint.
Jamie decided to take on the self-propelled attempt two years ago, when she realised that getting less sleep might open a window for her to match his record.
While she was consistently ahead of Donnie's times for much of the route - insofar as the different lines the two runners took were easy to directly compare - she managed on an average of just four hours of sleep per night (on those nights when she actually slept at all), meaning she must have hit the final stages with less in the tank.
Towards the end, after a testing round in Fisherfield and An Teallach, followed in short order by the nine Fannaichs, it looked like her feet were suffering. But she pushed on through the fatigue and pain to make an impressively strong finish linking the Munros of the far north, where the hills are widely spread, and distances long.
"Her mood fluctuated but she was still our Jamie" said Alex Kane, who ran several legs with her, "determined, stubborn and driven while having the capacity, despite sleep deprivation, to be caring about everyone else's experience. She is an incredible human being!"
A fast round of this nature is not a solo effort, but requires a large and dedicated team of supporters both on and off the hill. The culmination of two years planning, logistics for Jamie's Munro challenge were organised with an almost military precision, involving a team of 117 in total, managed via spreadsheets and WhatsApp groups.
In addition to giving company and moral support on the hill, food had to be prepared, gear relocated continually along the route, and bikes and kayaks somehow manoeuvred into useful positions. A back room team co-ordinated volunteer efforts, social media and publicity.
"The two years that Jamie had spent planning were reflected in a complex spreadsheet with 161 route segments" says 'Beardy' Graham Kelly, another of Jamie's support crew.
"Each one was filled with data on the segment detail, how many summits, activity, distance, elevation, breaks, estimated start and finish time and support comments.
"The logistics team of six had oversight of who was doing what on the ground and looked after remote communications, ensuring the right bike, kayak, kit and people were in the right place at the right time.
"One particular moment of "dynamic logistics" that springs to mind was when rain closed the railway line stranding a support runner. Andy drove from Fort William to Crianlarich to collect the runner only for both the van and the support team to get stuck on the wrong side of a landslip at Roybridge. A much longer walk than planned ensured the team and overnight camping equipment made it to the transition at Fersit before Jamie knew of the possible issue.
"Without doubt, the overall success of the challenge and adventure is down to the work that Jamie and friends put in during the two years leading up to the start line."
As well as her immediate team, Munro round veterans Kathy Murgatroyd, Rory Gibson, and Donnie Campbell, offered Jamie advice and support.
Originally from California, but based in the UK since 2005, Jamie - age 43 - is no stranger to big endurance efforts. She's had success on many ultra runs in the past, including winning the West Highland Way 95-mile race, twice winning the Ultra Trail Snowdonia 100-miler, and placing 2nd female in Italy's gruelling Tor des Geants 340km/30,000m race. She has also completed Munro rounds before (although not like this).
"I don't intentionally seek pain or exhaustion" she wrote before setting out in May, "though I know those things will come. I just want to push myself and do so in an environment and with people I adore.
"There's something unshakeable about the appeal of putting my resilience and tenacity to the test; being at the brink of "flow" vs being overwhelmed; teasing limits without breaking them (or myself!)."
Jamie has been raising money for the charity World Bicycle Relief, and has already raised over £12,000 - see here.
Want to read more on the Munros? Here are a few UKH articles: