Train with the paddles, start small and grow, a good paddle to start with is the Speedo Tech (small version). The cadence of your stroke will decrease but the power of your stroke will increase (hopefully!) a bit like going up a gear when riding a bike. Once your shoulders are used to the paddle do some timed 400m sets with and without paddles to make sure you are actually going faster with the paddles! If not then either change the way you use them or don't bother with them at all.
For my first two OtillO Uto races I didn't use hand paddles, then I tried with the small version of the Speedo Tech paddle for OtillO Engadin. They grip the water well and being small didn't put too much extra strain on my shoulders. I have now worked my way up to my current favourites the TYR Catalyst 2 paddle.
I have found I can go up to around 10% faster over 400m. I also believe it has improved my stroke technique. Be mindful of the shape of the paddle and it's movement through the water, you don't want to waste strokes with slicing and "wobbling" the paddles through the water. Using hand paddles is a great opportunity to slow your stroke down.
Of course always remember the principle of streamlining for efficient swimming.
It's now 3 years since I first tried paddles and only now do I feel completely comfortable with them so give them time and start small. It is unlikely that you will instantly love them... try a little patience.
Many swimruns take part in exposed sections of sea and lakes so do some training with the paddles in windy conditions and swell, get used to handling them in waves and rough water. You may want to use smaller paddles if conditions are particularly rough - test, test, test.
Recently Seal blades asked me to test their product. Originally designed for surfers, they may be worth giving a try for swimrun. They feel better than expected in the water and they didn't put any unexpected strains on my shoulders in testing.
For now I'll be sticking to my TYR paddles for racing. One day I look forward to trying FRANK PADDLES, a carbon fibre hand paddle.
Are you a swimmer or runner who wants to experience more of the world that you are journeying through? You may be considering trying a multi-sport event. Of course triathlon is huge, most folks understand what it is and naturally try to put swimrun into the same category. But swimrun is so much more than “triathlon without a bike”. Here I look at the advantages swimrun has over triathlon.
You can just turn up on the start line and go, you don't have to put your bike in transition, faff around with changing shoes, get told off if you take your helmet off too quickly, or fix a puncture. In swimrun a transition is simply getting out of the water and running or getting into the water and swimming, as you are.
Although there is an array of kit for swimrun it's up to you what you take as long as whatever you take you finish with (most races expect you to wear a wetsuit, swim hat, race bib, and something on your feet). Hand paddles, pull buoys, towing and flippers(!) are all optional extras. If you enter a triathlon abroad or at home there is a certain amount of bike faff. Whether it’s attaching your bike to a car, or the expense and hassle of bike boxes on aeroplanes. If I go to a swimrun abroad I can fit all my gear into my carry-on luggage and can share transport/ accommodation costs with my race partner.
Triathlon is more predictable than swimrun, and hence less interesting. Swimrun was "invented" by adventure racers, the best swimruns are set in wild places - think mountains, lakes, coastal paths, ocean, archipelago, trail running, away from tarmac. Race Director’s plot engaging routes through nature and are not restricted by the set structure of triathlon. Most triathletes know how long it takes them to swim 1.5k, cycle 40k, and run 10k so they can predict fairly accurately how long a race will take them. Predictability is far from adventure. There’s a general feeling in swimrun races of the pure joy of completing an adventurous journey through nature with your race partner, rather than achieving a PB.
You may well find yourself swimming in what the International Triathlon Union (ITU) would deem as too cold or too rough. For example the ITU states that if water is less than 12 degrees the swim is cancelled, if this was applied to swimrun then one of the best swimrun races, OtillO Uto, simply wouldn’t happen.
Why is this OK? As a swimmer what’s one thing you don’t want after a cool swim? Wind chill. Cycling is one sure-fire way to achieve wind chill whatever the weather. Running, or even walking, in neoprene is a sure-fire way to generate heat. You can also get a hug from your partner.
In swimrun the swims may alter, but they don’t get cancelled.
If you are looking at IRONMAN distances most people will be sore and stiff for several days post-race. Do a swimrun and your legs are almost fine the next day. Even though often you run near marathon distances you don't feel marathon sore. For me the last 5 miles of a marathon are super-grim, and the next day walking down stairs is comical. After a swimrun I feel like I could train the next day. Swimrun feels better for the body.
Why is recovery so quick? It could be to do with the runs split up into sections combined with some cooling and relaxation effects on the legs during the swims. In addition most swimruns have run sections on trail/softer terrain and don't involve running on tarmac so pounding of the joints is less pronounced. Most people also run slightly slower on a swimrun which may also aid recovery. I think that the biggest factor is the multiple recovery times for your legs in (cool) water during the race.
Don't get me wrong, triathlon is great, and I love cycling but for me it is more of a stand alone sport. San Sebastian to Barcelona via the Pyrenees is what I'd like to use my bike for, not in between a swim and a run.
Simplify your racing.
This article featured in the Outdoor Swimmer magazine's May 2020 issue:
When I first came across the sport of swimrun, I remember thinking how amazing the format sounded. So, with little knowledge either of swimrun race strategy or the equipment required I entered Uto 2014 with a friend. I absolutely loved the experience and have enjoyed building on my knowledge ever since, so what follows are some key points of what I have learnt.
Remember every swimrun course is different, and weather conditions will vary.
1. Learn the course
Knowing the length of each leg will help determine your wetsuit strategy on race day. If you are staring down the barrel of an 8km run with ascent, you may want to unzip and peel down your wetsuit; whereas if it’s a 1km sprint until the next swim, you might not. Similarly, knowing the length of the swim you are about to undertake will help you mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
A great method for tracking your progress around the course is to write the run and swim distances in permanent marker on either your arm, or, if you are using them, your hand paddles. Top tip: if you do write them on your arm, I suggest using the smooth inside of your forearm, as any writing on the hairy part of your arm is liable to sweat or rub off over the course of a race. For Uto 2018 I wore a long-sleeve wetsuit so I wrote the distances on my calves... worked well. I never wear calf-guards or compression socks, personal preference.
2. Practice your transitions - together!
Smooth, well-drilled transitions are essential for a good performance on race day. I define transitions as the last 100m leading into the change and the first 30m thereafter; each transition is an opportunity to gain position. A big part of this practice involves working together.
Practice getting in and out of cold water and on different surfaces as much as you can. This will help you become smooth in transition and will help maintain your breathing rhythm. Be comfortable and well-practiced with hand paddles and pull-buoy management (if you use them) as this is another opportunity to gain time on teams if you’re slick.
3. Start strong
A strong race-start can be a strategy for moving you clear of the pack. Your position in the starting line-up could be significant: start in the back third and you risk being caught-up in bottlenecks during tight sections of forest or trail. Complement your starting position with a strong first swim and you should be well-placed to crack on with the rest of the race.
As we now know, every swimrun is different, the over-riding advice is to decide with your partner where you want to start based on how you both feel come race morning. If the race starts with a long swim/technical run and that's not your strength it might be less stressful to start near the back. In the long run your start position shouldn't have a massive bearing on your race outcome.
4. Choose the right equipment
How do you carry all the required equipment whilst wearing a wetsuit? This is a question that often confuses novice teams and leads to missteps.
In the early years of the sport, teams would don full rucksacks to carry food and the mandatory race equipment. However, the sport has moved on and now its common for teams to stuff kit inside their wetsuits, undershorts or, if you have one, inside the carrying pouches of swimrun specific wetsuits. I've found there's no need to carry your own food as the food provided at energy stations is sufficient.
I would also recommend using a tow system. Tow lines work really well in any team-based endurance format: the rope (bungee) keeps you and your partner together during swim sections and helps you regulate, and thus optimise, your speed. I find it to be an extremely effective tool.
Practice using the tow on downhill technical terrain and in transitions. We found a length of 3m kept us at the right distance on the runs and swims; however, experiment with your teammate to find out what works best for you. Make sure it is easy to unclip your tow as you may want to unclip on some run sections. Some teams prefer to only use the tow on the swims, do what works for you both.
5. Work on your running
The teams that place well are typically very strong runners. I find it useful to think of the swims as offering rest and therapy for tired legs. In particular, being an expert hill-runner can give you an edge in some races. Practice running in your wetsuit with full gear, whatever that gear might be.
Don’t neglect your swimming though, several races are increasing the swim distances, so there can be opportunity for significant gains on these longer swims.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by other teams: many are new to it just like you.
I had entered BRECA's debut race in 2015 however en route from Wales my truck broke down and I never made it past Conway. This meant my race partner from Uto and Engadin (Kate Murphy) missed out on racing, she volunteered to marshall instead. I think she was glad of the rest.
I had convinced my sister (Helen) and brother-in-law (Paul) to make their swimrun debut in 2015, they were suitably disappointed when I was a no-show, particularly after looking at the height gain. In the end they finished in 1st position in the mixed category! That said they were the only couple in the mixed category. So with Helen pregnant this year I said I would race with Paul.
A lot happened during the 7 hours of racing including a couple of minor wrong turns (which saw us running passed the finish line on a parallel transit), some serious calf cramp, Cumbrian weather, and team bonding. I must say that the penultimate run felt much tougher than anything I experienced at Endgadin. We finished the race in 10th position. A challenging race with a good mix of challenging mountain terrain and weather. The Cumbrian ale at the finish went down a treat.
With swimrun’s arrival in North Wales I of course had to sign up. Chloe Rafferty was race director and it was her vision to make this an accessible event offering both a solo and team entry.
Although a relatively short swimrun the amount of swimming was significant. I entered with my brother-in-law Paul, a thoroughbred and seasoned triathlete… although the last 6 months of study, marriage, impending first-born, moving house and my mum’s meals had taken it’s toll on his fitness. This race was to be a bit of a shake-down and trial of our partnership before the more brutal Brecaswimrun.
I really enjoyed it. For the first time in my swimrun race life I was running on familiar ground, this coupled with the length of the race helped us to eat up the miles, so much so that we entered the final swim in 1st position. This last swim was long enough to highlight Paul’s lack of training, especially as our tow system had snapped in the previous run. We slowed up significantly, but still came in in 2nd place. A friendly race that I am sure we will do again.
Thanks to Chloe for bringing swimrun racing to Wales!
When I heard Michael, Mats and the OTILLO team were hosting a race in the UK I immediately signed up.
After competing in the mixed category for Uto & Engadin I wanted to have a go at the male category once again. This coincided with my kayaking buddy Dave discovering a love for racing. We talked about kayaking over to Scilly and turning it into a real adventure week but in the end we opted for a more 21st century transport solution… which turns out was rather complex.
We arrived in plenty of time for registration, this is when I start to relax. We set up camp and went for a wander around the start/finish area. The isles of Scilly had a feel of Uto about it, which is such a good feel.
Michael and Mats gave a comprehensive and entertaining race brief, I signed up a couple of more people for the return journey on the charter boat (long story), we ate, kit faff, bed.
Race day. We set off near the front, Dave is a fast swimmer and we wanted to make a mark in the first 2km swim. we were well positioned in the top 10 at the start of the first swim and off we went. Within 100m I started to catch Dave’s feet. Strange, Dave was always well ahead of me when we had trained together. I thought maybe he is having difficulty sighting. This carried on for a while. We drifted to the right. Dave was having trouble sighting…. but something else was wrong. Dave stopped, he looked awful, then violently threw-up into the Atlantic.
The chasing pack came right through us, hopefully the vomit had been suitably diluted by the ocean. We switched positions and finished the first swim. Dave looked like he’d gone a few rounds with Ivan Drago. Only 40 minutes in and I started to worry whether we would finish. I led us off not giving Dave much time to deliberate or recover, and on we went for a couple of hours running, swimming, in and out, all the while Dave looking unwell. What compounded his struggle was the fact that he didn’t feel well enough to take in fuel at the energy stations. It was in this first third of the race that Dave muttered “I’m spent”.
Somewhere just after the 3 hour mark Dave managed to take on some energy drink and I heard him say “I’m back”. We had dropped to around 30th. There followed a magical middle third of the race, the highlight for me was running through Tresco Abbey Gardens with families cheering us on.
We managed to claw ourselves back and were entering the top 20. This couple of hours of picking up the pace had been a big effort, Dave was still massively in calorie deficit after his illness, he had only taken on fluids (gutting for him as there was some fabulous cake on offer). He had started to cramp up on the longer runs. Then came the final swim.
And what a swim it was. The tide was taking us west, at times it was difficult to sight and we were starting to cool down significantly. It was meant to be around 2.5km. It felt closer to 3km. Hat’s off to Dave for leading this swim, quite an effort. Eventually we “landed” at St. Mary’s, we dragged ourselves out of the water. It felt like a very slow evolution.
Spectator’s were cheering us whilst we wrestled with seaweed, hand paddles, bungee tow and goggles. We were cold.
One of the things I love about swimrun is the fact that precisely at that time you feel cold you start to run, you warm up. It is a life-affirming motivation to run.
On we went…. finishing 21st in the male category, given the illness we were happy.
Quite a race, lovely seaweed, and a final swim we will never forget.
After enjoying Uto so much myself and Kate were hoping that are reserve place for Engadin was going to convert into an actual place… and it did.
We didn’t use hand paddles at Uto but with the longer swim sections at Engadin we decided we should. I also retired my old 1mm wetsuit as it’s holes were getting bigger and more numerous. I decided to customise an old Aquasphere Pursuit SL.
So we arrived in Silvaplana mid-way through the pasta party with 30 minutes until the race briefing. I had heard that last year the lakes had been colder than expected and lots of people were pulled out of the water in the early stages of hypothermia. It was a different story this year with blazing sunshine and warmer lakes. Race briefing done, time to set up camp.
Race day. It started with a testing, hot and slow uphill climb to 2400m before the most technical descent of the race. We weren’t on tow at this point and I was bursting at the seams to do some overtaking but Kate was being too polite/cautious to pass people, probably a sensible approach. We set up the tow at the start of the first swim. The fact we hadn’t done any training with the hand paddles became apparent. The paddles enhanced my stronger left-hand pull sending us off to the right, I then over-compensated which sent us far left. We eventually got out and I began to think “this is going to be a long day”.
We were quite near the back but started to get into a nice running rhythm. The next swim saw me take us far right again, so much so that Kate was shouting at me. At one point Kate thought I was dead. What had actually happened was my left hand paddle had come off and I had stopped to re-attach it underwater, I was surprised at how easily she thought I had died.
We caught up with another British couple who had come 5th in the mixed category last year. We briefly ran together whilst they told us what to expect ahead before they sped up and left us.
The energy stations were well provisioned and pretty pleasant with much of the food provided by winforce, there was also soup and sausage available, yes! I took on some sausage just before the start of the longest swim. I very slowly chewed it whilst swimming which was surprisingly relaxing – it was also a good way to take on some salt. By this time I had gotten used to the hand paddles and enjoyed the long swim, the cool water was like therapy for the body which is one of the things I love about swimrun.
We chugged along and found ourselves catching the British mixed team we had chatted to earlier. We entered the final swim just behind them and got out together. They set straight off for the finish whilst we decided to unzip wetsuits. At first I wondered if this was a mistake but we soon caught them and stepped up the pace to come in 8th in the mixed category and first British mixed team. Another great race.
After loving the 2014 Uto I vowed to return. This time I had a new race partner as Janek was off chasing rainbows in Colorado (or something). Fellow Outward Bound instructor Kate Murphy didn’t vomit at the thought of entering such a race… which meant she was my new race partner.
After a few training runs and swims we found that we were the same speed in the pool but in open water I was a bit faster. We were quite similar on the running but I was quicker on the hills so we decided to take the plunge and adopt a tow system.
My general philosophy for life is to keep things simple, minimal kit, minimal faff, so adding a tow system to our race was a step into the stretch zone. After some practise we realised it was actually really simple and effective and we became very comfortable with it.
We turned up in Stockholm on the Friday, 2 days before the race. This wasn’t some clever acclimatisation/familiarisation race plan, it was in fact because I thought the race was on the Saturday… it was actually on Sunday.
My friend Daniel picked us up from the airport. After a quick tour of his kayak shop (Svima Sport) we went to a great Thai restaurant in the uber-cool Stockholm. In Aberdovey if you want Thai you have to cook it yourself so this was a welcome treat.
We set off for Uto and arrived on the Island around 19:00. There’s something special about getting a ferry to an island for a race.
Having left booking accommodation to the last minute, when I did try to book there was no accommodation left on the island. Through a friendly teacher I managed to secure us accommodation in a classroom of the only school on Uto.
The Saturday saw us observing some very Welsh weather. It was cool, rained all day with very strong winds from the south west. I had kept faithful to my old 1mm Aquasphere Aquaskin and Kate was in a 3/2mm Orca. We went for a quick swim and I realised that I was taking on a lot of water. On closer inspection I noticed lots of little holes under the armpits of my wetsuit.
Race day. The sun was trying to come out and the wind was blowing hard, my favourite kind of race conditions. We started right at the back of the field and got stuck in a bottle-neck quite early on during a narrow forest trail… note to self – start nearer the front next time.
We soon hit the first swim and it was carnage. I loved it. With my automatic armpit cooling system in my wetsuit I told Kate that I was going to leg it out after every swim to try and warm up. We chugged along nicely.
A few hours later we got to the south of the island and it was truly awesome. There were steady Force 6 winds blowing which turned the sea state into a surfy mess. It was time to adopt some coasteering techniques for entry and exit to and from the swims, and use some survival swimming skills. It was wild racing, and we loved it. That particular section of the course in those conditions will stay with me forever.
We ended up coming 10th in the mixed category. The whole experience hadn’t put Kate off and we both hoped to get a place in Engadin Swimrun in Switzerland.
It was a grey January in Wales. We were looking for inspiration. I'd heard of the OTILLO World Championships which led us to something called Uto SwimRun, this was it. We entered.
We vowed to train hard, record our progress, experiment with different combinations of gear, tow-floats, hand paddles, types of wetsuit, shoes... it transpired that come race day Janek was stood on the start line having swum 500m in a wetsuit he had borrowed 48 hours earlier. We didn't have a clue, but we knew we could swim, run and persevere.
The journey to Uto from Aberdovey was an adventure in itself. It involved my truck, a train, a plane, quite a lot of running through Stockholm Airport, 2 more trains, a bus, and a ferry onto the island. When we saddled up to the bar at Uto Vardshus we felt quite proud that we had made it this far. This feeling encouraged us to drink the local ales. It was one of those nights when you ignore the price of a pint and trust it will all work out in the end.
Having out-drunk our fellow competitors we left the bar feeling strong.
We hit breakfast with abundance, particularly as it was buffet style. And what a fine buffet it was with all sorts of meats, cheeses and unknowns. Such a good spread is dangerous on the morning of a race as my in-built “I’m at a buffet, must stuff myself repeatedly” gene kicks in. And indeed I was stood next to Janek on the start line, him in his peculiar wetsuit, and me with a ham and cheese roll in my mouth.
As we walked up to the start Janek asked “what’s our strategy?” this took me by surprise. My usual race strategy is “leg it and adjust”. I considered the question, these things need to be considered more when you are racing as a pair. Janek suggested that we start at the back away from the mayhem and see how we go. Agreed.
We were off. The combination of running through forest and over rocks into sea swimming was brilliant. I loved the transition between running/swimming and swimming/running, it felt primal. During the first hour of the race I experienced some abdominal discomfort due to my earlier performance at the buffet.
Half way in and we were feeling strong. We were overtaking people on the running sections and I noticed we were particularly quick in transitions. Two thirds of the way in at a drinks station someone shouted “you’re only 25 minutes behind the leaders”. We were shocked. We stepped it up a gear and started to overtake even more people running through the woods.
Then we started to slow. It was this point, in the last third of a race, this is the point were all that training pays off. For us there was no pay back. We weren’t in credit, we were in debt. Janek was in particular trouble, I suspect the full length 3mm neoprene on his legs took its toll. In the end we finished 38th out of 120.
More importantly, despite finishing 38th, we somehow managed to be first into the post-race buffet. Impressed? I was.
This was followed by some solid camaraderie at the bar and an highly enjoyable after-party. Uto SwimRun is my favourite race ever and I will return.
We arrived in Westport in time for breakfast having driven through the night from Dublin Port. It was 8am. Nowhere was open for breakfast until 9, I remembered we were in Ireland.
There was an hotel open so we went in for a coffee and a quick planning session. As we sat scouring the weather forecast, tide times, charts and maps a senior chap came in and ordered a Jamesons, swiftly followed by two other patrons wanting a Guinness and a Magners. It was 8am on a Saturday morning in Westport.
The forecast for the next 48 hours was such that it pleaded for us to start our circumnavigation of Achill Island immediately. We bought some camping gas and a pair of sunglasses from www.portwest.ie (who gave us a welcome discount) and we set off for Achill.
We called in on cousin Anne in the Valley, immediately tea and sandwiches were produced. After a good tea session we headed off to Dugort strand, on the north side of Achill. After a thorough kit faff session we were ready to go around 15:00. We left the truck at the ever-friendly Strand Hotel.
Our first camp was at Lough Nakeeroge, the lowest lough in Ireland, and possibly the most remote. The tide was close to it’s low and so revealed the beautiful silver sand of Annagh Strand. A great place to land. We set up camp between the Atlantic and Lough Nakeeroge, made all the more special when an otter passed by our tent and plunged into the Lough.
To get round Saddle Head and Achill Head we needed to leave at around High Tide. What we hadn’t really factored in was that at high tide the silver Annagh Strand was covered, we would have to launch into dumping waves from a boulder field. This turned into an interesting challenge, and the “make or break” moment of the trip.
The swell was big around Saddle Head, but the wind was negligible which made for a fun trip around the imposing Croaghaun cliffs - the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
We pulled into the magical Keem bay for lunch around about 13:00. Here we bumped into cousin Colin, Maria and Erin - we hastily arranged to meet for some drinks when we had finished. We realised it was Easter Sunday and pulled out the mini-eggs that cousin Anne had given us. Katie ate most of them.
When it’s sunny in Keem bay you inevitably relax, we eventually pulled away at around 16:00. The wind had picked up and clouds had come in for our crossing to Dooega. We landed at Ballyhawny Harbour (near Dooega) at around 19:30 after a good workout in the wind.
Easter Monday, through Achill Sound and back to Dugort. Our tidal planning for this section was crucial and we couldn’t have planned it any better, a very enjoyable final day of our circumnavigation of Achill Island.
After a few Guinness on the Monday night in The Annexe Inn, we paddled over to Clare Island and carried on our circumnavigation theme in rougher conditions and very dramatic coastline. A wild island worth exploring.
After a few days rest and surfing at Keel beach we then completed a horseshoe tour of Clew bay from Rockfleet Bay to Louisburgh taking in Westport and a summit of Croagh Patrick on the way.
A fantastic trip out west.
Photos of the trip here.
We were dropped off on the Kalhitna Glacier on Wednesday 8th June by Sheldon Air Service (who I'd recommend), and were due to be picked up on Tuesday 28th June. I will just describe the summit day for now, hopefully I’ll get a chance to write up the whole expedition.
We got up to high camp (5200m) late afternoon on Sunday 19th June and there were high winds. We were stuck there through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The radio weather report on Wednesday reported high winds predicted for Thursday up to 60 mph but reducing to around 25-35mph on the Friday so we thought it looks like Friday is our best chance as high winds were set to return over the weekend. With the ambient temperature at the summit easily reaching -30 degrees Celsius we didn’t like to think about the effect of wind chill.
I couldn’t sleep. I lay in the tent listening to the winds battering the tent all through Wednesday night until about 6am when they seemed to die down. I continued listening and eventually got up and had a look at Denali Pass. It looked good to go, this was our window. I woke everyone up, we took a while to get ready as we were expecting Thursday to be a sit it out day.
It was steady progress up until Denali Pass where the wind hit us solidly for about 2 hours. We trudged along. Jimmy’s crampon came off twice and at one point he dropped his ice axe about 60m down a slope. But he got through it, showing unbelievable determination. The climb, the wind, and the altitude was taking all of my strength and focus, to have to deal with kit issues would have been a real kick in the balls.
There were only 15 other people making a summit attempt that day - four rangers, a group of South Koreans, a commercial group from AMS and a solo turkish climber.
We got to Pig Hill, the final rise just before the summit ridge, it didn’t look that steep but at the time it really felt like a hill too far. It was hell, but cold. Once we got onto the summit ridge we re-focused and pushed on. We summited around 5pm on Thursday 23rd June. The altitude must have really affected Dave as he decided to propose to his girlfriend on top of North America. I started to get pretty cold whilst taking photos.
We got back to high camp around 11:30pm completely exhausted. To this day I have never been so tired. In the 10 days from Sunday 19th June to Tuesday 28th June our summit day was the only day anyone got to the top so we considered ourselves to be lucky. That said, we had put ourselves in a position to be lucky.
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" said someone.
With the summit success rate being pretty low (53% for the 2011 season, with 9 climbers dying on the mountain) people asked me did you ever think that you weren’t going to summit. With this team I knew that if it was possible, then we would do it.
Special thanks to David Cole for doing much of the planning leading up to the trip, and to Lee Farmer for asking me to join the team.
After a previous day of awkward rope-work on the Cuillin Ridge, myself and Tom awoke at Glen Brittle campsite to a beautifully clear blue May sky. We soon decided that our focus for this fine day would be water rather than rock.
Our first water feature was a dip in the sea at Loch Brittle, a dip we decided to place in the realms of the “bastard cold” temperature range; after the coldest winter since circa 1534 the sea was indeed taking a long time to warm up. We followed the track/road up to the river that would lead us to the magic of the fairey pools. We enjoyed much plunging, diving and head-freeze in the pools and then basked in the finest sunshine that Skye can offer.
Energised by the cool water and warm sunshine we pulled the map out and began plotting an ambitious route over the Cuillin, with our final water feature being Loch Coruisk. By our reckoning we had just enough cereal bars to get us there and then back to the pub near The Sligachan Hotel without the need for an epic - particularly as there was not even a hint of a cloud in sight.
As we followed the river upwards we discovered many great spots for water fun - you could spend the whole day enjoying this river. However we were focused on getting over the ridge, down to Coruisk and out so we had to limit our breaks.
As you can see from the Google map that I retrospectively plotted the route is around 17 miles and is not for the faint-hearted.
We climbed up steep, un-even ground over the Cuillin ridge (running south-west of Am Bastier). Once over this ridge we were faced with a more than tricky downward south-east traverse over scree and boulders which eventually brought us to the ridge that runs parallel to the main Cuillin Ridge displaying Inaccessible Pinnacle in all its glory.
Another tricky descent brought us to a much needed soak in Loch Coruisk. We found a nice shallow area which had been warmed by the sunshine all day, it must have been at least 12 degrees Celsius - toastie compared to Loch Brittle.
Loch Coruisk was a fine arena for swimming with the majestic Cuillins peering down as you swam. It felt like the definition of remote, we both thought what a great spot this would be for wild camping.
Alas we faced a walk out that would bring us to the Sligachan Hotel just after they had stopped serving food. Guinness, nuts and some homemade shortbread sufficed. Exhuasted we broke with tradition and took a taxi back to Glenbrittle campsite to collapse.
You could make this route a two-dayer with a wild camp at Loch Coruisk, allowing more time for fun and exploration.
This route is remote, at times exposed, and involves some difficult moving over steep ground, scree and boulders.