Cape Wrath Ultra – 21st to 28th May 2023
First of all, I would like to thank Ourea and the absolutely awesome crew that supported the event.
Everyone, without exception, was amazing. The catering exceptional with an abundance of food available at all times and the whole event is a masterclass of logistics. The camp crew were lovely and so helpful and the incredibly enthusiastic start/finish team made so much noise they could have brought down the walls of Jericho.
I cannot recommend this event/challenge highly enough, an incredible experience.
So, 8 days, 248 miles, 26,000 feet of ascent, this was always going to be tough and touch and go as to whether I could achieve it. I went with the hope of completing but not necessarily the expectation.
Day 1 – Fort William to Glenfinnan: 23 miles, 1896 feet of ascent
We start with a walk to the ferry and catch a boat across the Loch to the start. I’m in the 2nd wave starting at midday. Everyone is both excited and apprehensive. It’s nice to get a cup of tea and a biscuit before the start.
A nice, relatively easy day to start with, the first 2 thirds are roads and nice runnable track and it’s all relaxed. It was a beautiful sunny day, if anything a little too warm. No complaints. All I hoped for was better weather than last year. I volunteered then and knew what it was like. SO far so good.
Just the one big climb today and then a tricky, boggy descent. I fell over several times, slipping in the thick peaty bog. This is going to be a trend for the whole week.
A good relaxed first day. I finished in a reasonable 4 hours 23.
The camp is below the Glenfinnan viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter movies.
Day 2 – Glenfinnan to Kinloch Hourn: 35 miles, 6467 feet of ascent
Legs not keen on starting today so it’s a slow start on what should have been a runnable section.
Truly beautiful views but a really tough day and included some of the most rugged and technical trail with incredibly steep climbs. Again, multiple falls and a bad one on the second big descent where I broke a pole and knackered my already dodgy right knee.
Despite how hard it was I loved this day, right up to the last 7 miles. Clearly, I had not reccied this or even studied it properly, I had made my mind up and in my head it would nice easy runnable track along the side of the bay. That wasn’t to be the case. It was a horribly long rocky, undulating difficult to run (for me anyway) path that I started out by missing the turn for. I can honestly say that this section was universally hated by everyone I spoke to. Still, I was so pleased to finish at around 19:40 and I wasn’t going to let it ruin what was a truly tremendous day.
Day 3 – Kinloch Hourn to Achnashellach: 21 miles, 5780 feet of ascent
This day was always my concern with the cut-offs because of the combined distance of 42 miles and 8000 feet of ascent. I thought if I can get through today then I should be good.
The day started with an immediate climb out of the valley that was clearly visible from the camp and daunting. Halfway up provided amazing views of the camp and the bay. Once at the top we followed some amazing trails before the next big climb, and this was a biggie that seemed to take me forever as I was very slow. This was immediately followed by a rocky descent over a boulder field. Again, I was very slow and unsteady and was amazed at how fast other runners could tackle this terrain when I was so slow and worried about getting injured. As it was, I had a lot of close calls.
Dropping down to CP1 there was a guidance time rather than a cut-off and I was only 2 minutes inside this.
The pace didn’t really pick up after this but was steady, I think the previous long day taking its toll. Reviewing the route on the map it seems incredible that I was moving so slowly because of the terrain and the ascent. Shortly before CP2 we saw amazing views of the waterfall “Falls of Glomach” and from a distance the path along the side of the valley looks so dodgy. I was in a small group here and by the time we traversed the falls we knew time was short and we couldn’t make the cut-off.
So that was it for the day, half of the distance at 21 miles and three quarters of the climbs covered but now no longer competing and on the Explorer route option. The strange thing was that in didn’t mind, in fact it took all the pressure off, and I was just thinking that I could relax and enjoy the amazing views more.
I intended to complete as much of the route as I could without sacrificing the finish on day 8.
Day 4 – Achnashellach to Kinlochewe: 22 miles, 5289 feet of ascent
I loved this day. I planned to do the whole day. The weather in the morning was the first time we had it a bit unpleasant with a bit of low cloud and rain plus very high wind that proved to be cold. The waterproof jacket earned its keep.
After the halfway checkpoint the weather improved and became sunny and warm again as we climbed up and around Sail Mhor to the Loch and waterfall. It had all been nice trail until now but the next section proved to be one of the most difficult pathless sections traversing around the side of Ruadh-stac-Mor. All boulders and bog for what seemed forever.
Eventually we found a proper trail again to descend to the overnight camp.
Day 5 – Kinlochewe to Inverbroom: 27 miles, 4613 feet of ascent
Another awesome day. Beautiful trails and views. Starting the days with runnable road and trails before the big climbs. This was my second favourite day. It was a perfect warm sunny day.
At the top of the last climb of the day with about 4 miles to go we were joined by the mountain rescues helicopter out performing some practice manoeuvres. They were a background companion for some time and were still flying around performing mountainside touchdowns as I started the final descent. I have to say that the view of the campsite as you summited the final ridge before the steep drop down was one of the best sights. It just looked amazing and welcoming. My photo of this view also has the helicopter still flying along the valley down below.
The long steep tricky descent was followed by a little run along the road into the days finish. As I said it was a beautiful hot day and waiting at the finish line were the usual enthusiastically noisy finish crew with the added bonus of an ice cream. A perfect end to the days run.
Day 6 – Inverbroom to Inchnadamph: 22 miles, 2592 feet of ascent
Today was the longest day at 45 miles but with half of the day 3 ascent. I took the pragmatic approach and decided to only run the 2nd half of the days route so as to save myself and ensure I was around for the day 8 finish.
This meant an easy start in the morning starting with a ride into Ullapool for a café stop. A chance for a bacon roll and real coffee. Most welcome.
We had a start time of 11:30 from the days CP2.
An initial climb was followed by a lovely forest trail that proved to be very runnable and I was feeling great absolutely loved it getting what I thought was a good pace going.
Because of our start time we were ahead of all the runners that had started earlier at the start and it was great to see these leading runners coming through at a pace I couldn’t dream of matching.
The trail eventually turned into a more serious off-road bog and one of the steepest ascents of the course up the side of Conival next to Ben More Assynt. That was hard and slow going and I was still being passed by the lead runners who seemed to just fly up the hill and disappear.
This followed a rather steep and at times very tricky descent towards Inchnadamph.
The final couple of miles was a lovely gentle downhill trail and it was good to get a good pace going again all the way into camp.
Day 7 – Inchnadamph to Kinlochbervie: 26 miles, 6844 feet of ascent
This was another fairly long day at 38 miles, and I chose to start the day with the hope of completing it but knowing I could stop at CP2 after 26 miles just missing out the last 12 miles which I knew was not the best part of the route with boggy track and a fair bit of road to finish.
Today was the worst for weather starting off miserable and getting worse into the mountains with particularly high winds putting me off balance a fair bit. Not complaining though. This was nothing compared to last year’s weather.
I fell over a lot on the slippery descents. The trail along the southern edge of Loch Glendhu was very boulder and slow progress. After the bridge the northern edge of the loch was nice track and I thought I was safe from falls here. How wrong was I. The Inov-8 shoes I was wearing were brilliant on dry rock but on wet rock not so much. I was in a group chatting aways when suddenly my left foot slid sideways on a slab of rock and I went down so fast, almost instant. That was embarrassing. I looked up to see who had noticed and to my surprise. No one. The group I was in just carried on obliviously. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.
Passing CP1 followed a long slow climb up to a rare summit of Ben Dreavie and the wind was still howling at a fair pace. This was followed by some off-piste route and a traverse around Ben Stack.
By now my knee was giving me a fair bit of trouble and I had rolled my ankle which was proving to be a bit painful.
Following the steep descent to the road and CP2 I had already made my mind up to call it a day and save myself for the final day. A good choice I reckon.
Day 8 – Kinlochbervie to Cape Wrath: 16 miles, 2841 feet of ascent
The final day to the lighthouse.
My favourite day. How could it not be. It was a short day. The first half to Sandwood Bay was road and good trail and very runnable. I felt pretty good and made good time.
After Sandwood Bay it gets steep quickly and there followed some serious climbs and the usual bog.
The last section passes through a military training area and the map warns to not touch suspicious objects. I didn’t see any.
Finally reaching the track to the lighthouse you can’t help yourself but to run and make a show of it into the finish. Boy did that feel good.
The little café inside the lighthouse served delicious soup and real coffee. Awesome.
Getting to the campsite from the lighthouse is a very memorable minibus ride along a seriously dogy track for about an hour. Halfway along this drive at the side of the “road” was the shell of an old minibus that looked like it had been stripped for spare parts. I was thinking this road would be hard on the vehicle and they wouldn’t last long before they started wearing out.
Following the drive was a little jaunt across the bay in a very basic boat to the campsite.
Overall, I was more than happy with what I had achieved. I had run every day and fully completed 5 of the 8 days, half of days 3 and 6 and two thirds of day 7 totaling 192 miles and a hefty 36322 feet of climbs. Most of all I had avoided any serious injury bar a few niggles. The knee is taking a while to recover but will get there. It’s an old issue.
The route and views are amazing and it’s a safe way to see places that few get to see.
I highly recommend this event, even as an Explorer if you don’t think you can achieve the entire route. I would even go so far as to say especially as an Explorer. It truly is an awesome experience that you will not forget.
I had lost a couple of toenails, one fell off in my hand when sorting out my feet at the end of the last day. Every day, feet were unavoidably wet either from bog or wading across rivers and streams.
Sometimes the odd foot misplacement would land you in bog up to the knee. The river crossings were all easy, certainly compared to last year with the constant heavy rain swelling the rivers to dangerous heights. All in all, our weather was probably perfect. About as good as you could possibly hope for in these Scottish mountains.
Every day required a careful foot care regime. This was the most important admin task. Personally, I have tried many remedies to combat foot issues, especially long periods of wet feet in which my feet will swell up and become macerated leading to rubbing and blisters. Last year I discovered Gurney Goo and so far, this has proved to be the best solution for me.
I didn’t know how my feet would fare after 8 continuous days of running in wet conditions. Every morning I would apply copious amounts of Gurney Goo. At the end of the day, no blisters and feet that were only in the early stages of maceration. A good dousing in talc to dry them out and they’d be good to go in the morning. No blisters all week. No taping. I’ve tried taping but it just doesn’t work for me on macerated feet.
My fellow runners. I’ve not really mentioned the people. They were all amazing. I met so many amazing and inspirational people. I was lucky to have a great bunch of people to share a tent with, all very considerate and helpful. I’m sure everyone did. So many achieved so much, and it was a privilege to have met them and shared a few miles with many.
For a week after I was very tired and achy and fell asleep at the drop of a hat. Also ravenous, eating everything in sight and somehow still losing weight. I guess that’s the effect of running all day, every day. Almost feeling normal now, a week later.