Scotland’s Cape Wrath Ultra starts tomorrow: 400 km in eight days (with a bit of mountain!)

[By Rob Howard, SleepMonsters.com] The inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra is about to begin and it is going to take 95 brave ultra runners on the journey of lifetime through the wild landscapes of North-West Scotland.

The race is organised by Ourea Events, the company which revived the Dragon’s Back Race in Wales so successfully in 2012. That race is justifiably renowned as one of the world’s toughest multi-day ultras and the Cape Wrath Ultra is of the same pedigree – it may even be harder. It’s longer at 8 days and covers an extra 100km of mountain terrain, for a total of 400 km.Wrath Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 8.44.39 AM copy

The race is loosely based on the Cape Wrath Trail, which runs from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the North-western most tip of the UK.   The Cape itself is only accessible by foot or boat, and the route is regarded as the toughest long distance trail in Britain, normally taking walkers around 20 days, though few have the experience to even attempt it.

Ourea Events have modified the route for ultra running and so that they can logistically support the event in the same way they do the Dragon’s Back Race.  Walkers attempting the route have to be largely self-sufficient – there are few supply points (in fact not many buildings at all) and no camp sites, nights are spent wild camping or sleeping in bothies (simple unattended mountain huts).  The Cape Wrath Ultra runners will have camp and canteen set up for them each night and their kit bags moved forward each day.

They’ll need the support as the route takes them into one of Europe’s great mountain wilderness areas, a place visited by relatively few.

Wrath Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 8.44.48 AM copy

The North-West coast of Scotland is little known, even in the UK, where the vast majority of the population will never have heard of Cape Wrath.  The Highlands attract the adventurous tourists and walkers, and maybe they will get as far north as Fort William or Inverness, but few cross The Great Glen between the two to venture into the remote country further north. And it’s a long way north, Cape Wrath is nearer to the Arctic Circle than London.

The route has been devised by Shane Ohly of Ourea, and Gary Tompsett, who has been appointed Race Director and planner. Tompsett was the planner of the 2007 AR World Championships in Scotland and he’s been refining the new 400km ultra route to take competitors through a mountain landscape unlike any other in the UK.

The racers can expect to be crossing rough, rocky and boggy terrain, sometimes on paths or tracks, but not always. The newly produced race map will mark the route according to difficulty and 20% will be described as XT meaning;

Trackless (XT): Typically rough ground that may be boulders, heather, tussock grass, flat grass, boggy grass (peat bog), peat (peat hag), or sand (which may not be rough!). This ground is usually runnable if; a) it’s not steep in ascent, b) it’s not too wet, c) it’s not too rough, d) you are fit and practised enough and e) you have good traction. Most of these terrain types are possible to descend whilst running. Harvey’s mapping grade: Short intermittent dash and dots in red. On indistinct path or no visible path.Wrath Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 8.45.11 AM copy

The total ascent will be 11,200m but that figure does not fully take account of the toll the constant ups and downs and difficult foot placement will take.  River crossings could be a particular hazard, the weather could do anything from blizzards to a heatwave, and everyone has been warned to check the ‘midge forecast’ as these tiny biting beasties can really make their presence felt.

The racers will be fully supported by the Ourea logistics and safety team and will all be carrying YB satellite trackers, which can be used for two way communication if required. (That means you can also follow their progress on the race live tracking website and dot-watch your way to Cape Wrath.)

For the competitors the race will be a journey into the unknown, physically, emotionally and by the end probably spiritually. Not all who set out from Fort William will reach Cape Wrath on foot, and those who do may return with a different perspective on their every-day lives.

Rob Howard, editor of SleepMonsters Adventure Racing site, will be with the race, reporting on this new event as it unfolds and you can find out all about the Cape Wrath Ultra at www.capewrathultra.com. Photos courtesy of Cape Wrath Event Director Shane Ohly – taken as he reconned the route in 2014.