Twelve-and-a-half miles long and with a cumulative ascent of 1,400 metres, the Slioch Horseshoe is a brute of a hill race. Under Mediterranean skies, 50 hardy souls breezed along the banks of the Kinlochewe River and Loch Maree, before hitting the daunting base of Slioch.
Much of the grind up the southeastern flank of Sgurr Dubh was unrunnable. The way was across heather-clad slopes, relentlessly steep and pathless, until we finally clawed our way to the rocky crest. Despite all our efforts, Slioch still looked a lifetime away. Ahead the route to the summit dropped, climbed, dropped again, before at last climbing to the cairn marking its 981-metre zenith, which I touched 89 minutes after leaving Incheril.
Cooled by a gentle breeze, I can’t recall many more exhilarating moments on a mountain than running down the grassy slopes from the summit, then along a narrow ridge to Slioch’s top, Sgurr an Tuill Bhain. The views were astonishing, with the Torridon giants, the Fisherfield hills and the Fannaichs lining up from west to east.
‘Head for the gully’, I was told by a marshal at the top. I couldn’t see a gully, so I just ran and occasionally tumbled down a vast mountainside hoping to catch a glimpse of a runner ahead to follow in their footsteps. I saw no-one, but eventually arrived at the gully where a rough track descended steeply to the glen. With a raging thirst, I pooled the stream water of that glen into my mouth with an urgent desperation.
In a matter of minutes I had plummeted 800 knee-jarring vertical metres and was back in sun-drenched Gleann Bianasdail. It was still four miles to home and for two of those I was flying, relieved to be back on the relative flat and in that time I overtook three weary runners. With two miles to go, I was walloped by a wave of lethargy. The merest rise in the track made my legs wobble and I felt light-headed and dizzy from the stifling heat.
Everyone must have been suffering, for even in my increasingly flagging state I overtook one more runner, with no-one coming past me. Finishing was a blessed relief, which most runners celebrated by collapsing over the line. However hard and hot Slioch proved, it provided an unforgettable mountain day.