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A race to the top: Runners attempt to summit 282 Munros in just 24 hours

© Shutterstock / Stephen BridgerThe Cuillins on Skye.
The Cuillins on Skye.

With just minutes to midnight, a group of runners collectively sat on the edge of their seats waiting for two final text messages.

By this point, about 130 people had reached the summit of 280 of Scotland’s 282 peaks over 3,000ft in a 24-hour window.

But, to achieve the goal of “all the Munros in a day”, Carnethy Hill Running Club needed summit confirmation from Declan Valters on Sgùrr Mòr as well as Mick James and Jonathon Marks on Gairich, both located on the southern side of Loch Quoich in Lochaber.

Club member Ken Fordyce, from Edinburgh, was in charge of the Munro-bagging spreadsheet throughout the momentous day.

“It all got very dramatic and nail-biting,” said Fordyce.

“We could only watch as the clock counted down towards midnight. There were just two Munro summits to be accounted for after a day of ticking off mountains. Suddenly, I heard from Declan at 11.46pm and then from Mick just two minutes later.

“We had done it. Our extraordinary club had managed to bag all 282 Munros in a day.”

The club’s Munros In A Day plan was conceived after Carnethy runner Iain Whiteside read about a group of athletes who reached all the Wainwright fells in the Lake District in a day.

Carnethy Hill Runners president Mark Hartree said the club was immediately enthused by the idea. “We knew it would be a much, much bigger challenge over a much larger area – covering islands, peninsulas and some of the most remote corners of the UK,” he said.

“It would require complex logistics, planning, commitment, teamwork, reasonable weather and a dose of luck.”

Whiteside created a spreadsheet with short, medium, long and extra-long hill days. Another club member, Nicki Innes, then encouraged everyone to put their names to a Munro or series of Munros.

At 7am on August 14 the first summit, Toll Creagach, one of the Loch Mullardoch Munros, was reached. Fittingly, Whiteside along with Eoin Lennon and Alex McVey, went on to complete the 12 Mullardoch Munros, running 34 miles and a total elevation of 14,435ft in 12 hours.

Another early Munro was An Coileachan, the easternmost of the Fannichs mountain range, bagged by Hartree and his dog Barra. The president saw very little for the rest of the day due to low cloud as he completed eight more Munros.

There were more club members who covered considerable distances, bagging many Munros.

Michelle Hetherington reached five Munros, as well as several smaller mountain summits, on a 30-mile route above Loch Monar, in north-west Scotland.

Alan Renville ran the Beinn Dearg Six Munros, completing 27 miles in 7.5 hours. He described the day as “character building”.

Sasha Chepelin, Ali Masson and friends put in a huge shift of 40 miles and 16,700ft to reach 12 Munros, including the South Glen Shiel Ridge, in the Kintail region.

“It was a lot longer outing than I thought I’d signed up for,” said Chepelin, “but it was still a spectacular day out.”

Rachel Normand and her husband Will also bagged five Munros at Bridge of Orchy. They ran 21 miles and more than 8,500ft of ascent.

Further west, Jamie Paterson and Daniel Stansfield committed to a full traverse – and 11 Munros – of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye.

But the Munros In A Day wasn’t only for more extreme athletes. One club member, Cat Meighan, reached her debut Munro – Ben Wyvis in Easter Ross.

Two club veterans also played their part with Gilly Paul, 72, bagging Beinn Fhionnlaidh in Glen Creran with her 30-year-old daughter Rachel, and 79-year-old Keith Burns, a former Carnethy president, reaching Beinn Dearg, north of Bruar.

Jasmin Paris, a record-breaking ultra distance runner, was in the Glen Tilt area with her family, including her husband Konrad Rawlik, also a long-distance runner. Their three-year-old daughter Rowan summitted Carn Liath, her fifth Munro, while baby Bryn travelled on Jasmin’s back.

“At first, earlier in the day, it was easy enough to keep up with the messages, texts and marking up the digital map,” said Fordyce.

“But then it went mad. There were so many Munros being bagged and it was overwhelming. It was hard to keep track of everything but then we realised we had a couple of summits – and one in particular – that might not be bagged.”

Valters, who committed to a massive solo outing to some of the most remote Munros on the Knoydart peninsula and added a clutch of Munros south of Loch Quoich, was running out of time.

Another club member, John Busby, was becoming concerned Declan would not make Gairich.

“John was watching Twitter and around 9.30pm he worried Declan wasn’t going to have time to make his final Munros. He messaged other club members and it was ascertained Mick and Jonathon were in the right location to try to get the much-needed Munro.

“But these runners had also had their own big days in the mountains. It was a lot to ask.”

Marks had completed the Five Sisters and the Three Brothers of Kintail, as well as Ciste Dhubh when he received the call for help. James had summitted A’ Ghlas-bheinn and Beinn Fhada during the day.

The intrepid duo didn’t hesitate in going to the aid of their club – and at 10.10pm the pair set off and raced to summit Gairich.

In the meantime, Valters had gone quiet and no one knew if he would make Sgùrr Mòr – his seventh Munro of the day.

They messaged within two minutes of each other and with only 12 minutes to midnight. It had taken 16 hours and 48 minutes for the club to collectively bag all 282 Munros.

While the achievement was undoubtedly an extraordinary physical accomplishment, it was the logistics, organisation and participation that the club was most proud of.

“I put my heart and soul into helping with the organisation,” said Innes, who also bagged the Munros of the Five Sisters with her husband David Innes.

“We’re proud of what the club has achieved. Because everyone was needed and each played their part, it meant the challenge was totally inclusive.”