Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Scrambled Legs - Days in the Black Cuillin of Skye

I'm back from the wonderful Isle of Skye, recovering from an intensive week of walking, scrambling and climbing. Wife had bought me a week in a group with a mountain guide, for my birthday, so last Saturday I bade my farewells to the family and pointed my old car North-Westwards, with a nervous excitement.

The excitement was then rapidly dampened, firstly by the week's weather forecast which made pretty grim reading, and by the news that our guide had been caught up helping in an all-night mountain rescue and that we wouldn't be going out on the first day.

Things however soon picked up. On day two we managed a rain-soaked scramble around Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Greadhaidh, high above beautiful Glen Brittle. I was delighted to discover that the rest of the group were not superhuman fitness-machines, who would want to run up and down the steep hillsides, but were more than content with my kind of leisurely pace. It was also clear from the start that they were going to be a friendly, good-natured bunch of walking companions for the week.

The following day we went southwards to the Glen Brittle campsite, and did the long walk-in to pay our respects to the summit cairns of Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Morr, and Sgurr Alasdair. Our guide, George Yeomans proved to be a most excellent fellow! He showed us the different types of rock the Cuillin are made from, such as Gabbro (rough, coarse and easy to climb) and Basalt, (hard, shiny and slippery). The tiny summit of Sgurr Alasdair proved to be Basalt, and we stood on the tiny summit being bombarded with millions of tiny hail-stones, cursing our luck that the previous week's groups has enjoyed it in hot sunshine!

A monstrous headache put me out of action for much of the following day, while the rest of the party climbed Sgurr na Banadich from Glen Brittle again. Nevertheless the following day more than made up for the loss of the Wednesday as we headed for the North end of the mighty Cuillin ridge.

na Frith is a beautiful mountain - and this was our first Munro of day 4, closely followed by the brutal shape of Am Basteir adn then Sgurr nan Gillean, attained by it's savage west-ridge (pictured: top-left). I haven't rock climbed and abseiled for years, and this was a highly exposed and welcomed return to it. For a few minutes we even managed a view from this hill, a pleasure which would prove to be almost completely elusive, all week.

Our final day was less successful. Although it started well with a good walk in and then heady scramble to the summit of Sgurr Mich Coinnich our trip to the famous Inaccessible Pinnacle was a disappointment...

We arrived at the Pinn to find a huge queue waiting to get onto it! Realising that it would be several hours before we cold get climbing, we huddled into the shelter tent, in bivvy bags and tried to keep warm waiting for a turn on the infamous rocky blade. However, the large group of climbers from Totnes were not going to be hurried, and as we waited the weather deteriorated. Hail became sleet, became snow - which began to settle on the Pinn, making it dangerously slippery. Soon the climbing club gave up their ascent attempt, belayed off the Pinn declaring it too slippery in wet snow; while our guide led us safely off the mountain.

The Cuillin are the most impressive, dramatic and exposed hills I have climbed. Bleak, crumbling, frost-shattered, their array of ridges, summits and pinnacles tower above the surrounding glens in breath-taking style.

Hopefully next year I will be able to get back and climb the Inn Pinn and the other hill I missed, Sgurr nan Banachdich. Can't wait!


Lins Honeyman said...

Good to have you back safe and sound. Glad you had a good time. Spectacular views, by the way.

Steg said...

Glad you had a good time. Doesn't queuing for the inn pin make it lose some of it's mystique? Mind you, the nearest I've been to any of the Skye hills is walking through Glen Sligachin 20 years ago.........Had a v narrow escape in the campsite afterwards as went out for a pee in the night without my specs and couldn't find the tent afterwards. It was one of my scariest walking experiences. I have not been for a pee without my specs since. I realsie this is probably way more information than you or anyone else wants.

That Hideous Man said...

Well - the queue did rather reduce the romance of the whole thing.

And yes - way too much info!