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Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge


Postby Christopher Pulman » Wed Dec 08, 2021 9:18 pm

Route description: Sgùrr a Mhadaidh and Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh

Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh, Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh, Sgùrr na Banachdich

Date walked: 30/08/2021

Time taken: 8 hours

Distance: 12 km

Ascent: 1320m

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The first and second Munros I ever climbed were Blà Bheinn and Sgùrr nan Gillean in 2005, at the age of 22. I returned to Skye in 2008 with a university friend and stayed at the Glenbrittle youth hostel (travelling without a car and walking down from Sligachan, where the bus had dropped us off). For reasons that will become apparent, we climbed only one Munro on that trip: Sgùrr Alasdair, in howling wind and thick cloud.

Our route up was a scramble from Coire a' Ghrunnda (from memory, not such a difficult route, except for needing to pick our way over and around some boulders). But navigating via paper map and iffy compass, we missed the top of the great stone chute for our descent and started down a different scree slope. It turned out, once we were out of the cloud, that we were descending Coire an Lochain (NOT a route I would recommend) and we ended up near Loch Coruisk, trapped in the Cuillin horseshoe. Worse, I had tweaked my knee on the way down and was no longer capable of bending it without considerable pain. Walking significant amounts of uphill was not an option. We spent some time seeing if it was possible to walk along the coast back to Glenbrittle -- it was not, at least, not without much ascent, as the rocks drop directly into the sea. So we walked the 11km path back to Sligachan, drank away the cold, and opted for a taxi to Glenbrittle.

I did not return to Scotland until 2016, when I started walking Scotland's mountains in earnest. And I did not return to Skye until last summer (2021). But perhaps due to the experiences in 2008, I was a little nervous of the Cuillin. My plan was to tackle the middle three Munros of the Cuillin ridge, with an ascent via Sgurr Thuilm (see the route below).


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The Walkhighlands website says: "the ridge from Sgùrr Thuilm involves very hard scrambling, beyond what would be featured on Walkhighlands". And the walk would involve the climb down into An Dorus, and up the other side, to get from Sgùrr a Mhadaidh to Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh. Again, the description on Walkhighlands seemed forbidding: "to climb Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh, the wall on the south side of the An Dorus gap is climbed - a steep, stiff scramble - bear in mind that you will also need to be able to descend this way. A rope may be required, particularly if the rock is wet." I was going to be by myself and without ropes, and in the days leading up to the walk I was a little worried I might have bitten off more than I could chew. However, Ranger's report "Scrambling heaven around Coire a' Ghreadaidh" (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=21890) described the route I wanted to take, and it seemed quite doable. Additionally, the weather forecast was excellent. So 30th August saw me heading down the single track road to the Glenbrittle youth hostel, from which the path would begin.

The route up into Coire a'Ghreadaidh is beautiful, at least in the sun. It is not too steep, and the path passes and then crosses a sequence of waterfalls.

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Waterfalls

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More waterfalls


But you can see the flank of Sgurr Thuilm in the first picture, above the waterfall on the left (and in some of my later pictures below). It is a steep, pathless grind of 350 metres, with the one virtue that the views south to the sea open up soon into the climb.

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View back down towards Glenbrittle


Once onto the ridge, the gradient eases considerably. Sgurr Thuilm is a fine rocky ridge walk, not particularly narrow, but narrow enough to make you feel as if you are walking above the world. I could see my intended route up to the Munros ahead.

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Getting towards the top of Sgurr Thuilm

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The Thuilm ridge

(The route up ascends the buttress between the two gullies in the picture above.)

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Blabheinn peaking over the ridge


I approached the ridge cautiously, taking each segment in turn. As it turned out, however, I need not have worried. It is a little difficult to give both a general and a useful description of how challenging a scramble is, because people find different aspects difficult. Personally, I am not especially bothered by exposure; my brain doesn't work that way. What can scare me is a exposure combined with the chance of falling, for example where the holds are small (or lacking), or where the terrain is loose or slippery. It is possible, therefore, that I am underselling the challenge of this route when I say it is on the easy end of a grade 3 scramble, and certainly easier than the ridge between Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh and Sgùrr na Banachdich. There is some exposure, although it is not as much as, for example, Crib Goch in Snowdonia. Staying on the crest of the ridge, there are plentiful holds on firm gabbro. And although easier than expected, it is a thrilling route up the mountain, over all too soon.

I took a few pictures to try to give some impression of the ridge from different angles.

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The scramble up to Sgurr a Mhadaidh

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Looking back along the ridge (slightly less intimidating)


From the top of the ridge, it is a short scramble to the top of Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh. I opted to traverse around the side towards An Dorus, finding there was somewhat of a path, before striking up the shelves of rock to the summit. On the sunny day the views from the summit are ... well ... good. (And they were going to be bettered later on.)

IMG_1597.JPG
Loch Coruisk, which I'd accidentally visited before

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The northern Cuillin


Next on the itinerary was An Dorus, the cleft in the ridge between Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh and Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh. Looking ahead, the second peak dwarfs the first, making Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh seem like a mere top. The descent from Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh is a very steep stony slope, needing care to avoid slipping. I had looked at some pictures of people climbing the south wall of An Dorus before trying it. From the very top of the pass, walk around five or so paces downhill towards Glenbrittle. It is then possible to step up the rocks and pivot to the left (so almost facing the top of An Dorus again). From here, the climb is very straightforward in the dry -- the rocks almost form a ladder -- and it is not exposed.

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The path up Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh, with the Wart near the first summit

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The path down Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh


Despite my earlier fears, I now felt a little cheated out of the expected difficulty. Consequently, rather than following the ridge to Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh and moving out to pass the huge block of rock called the Wart on the right, I went around to the left, which required climbing some shelves of rock with few good handholds. My difficulty-demon sated, the route to the top was straightforward, and from the summit the views south were unbelievable.

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View north

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View east

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View south


The ridge to the south to the second top of Sgùrr a Ghreadaidh is narrow but not difficult. However, the descent from the ridge and the ascent towards Sgùrr na Banachdich is tricky. First, when heading south, there are several steep down-climbs, and then towers of rock (fun to climb, but not straightforward) on the ascent to the third Munro.

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Looking south along the ridge

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Looking back north along the ridge

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Close up of the towers


The top of Sgùrr na Banachdich is spacious, a comfy place to sit and look out at the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the improbably steep twin spikes of Sgùrr Mhic Chòinnich and Sgùrr Alasdair, and the sea spreading south to Rum.

IMG_1618.JPG
The southern portion of the ridge

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Looking out to the Rum Cuillin

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The southern Cuillin again


The path back down into Coire a'Ghreadaidh is fairly clear, but descends very steep, loose scree before the base of the Coire. I was pleased I had decided to bring my poles with me, although they had been largely useless on the ridge.

IMG_1620.JPG
Descending the spur from Sgùrr na Banachdich

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A look back at the three Munros. The ridge from Sgùrr Thuilm is on the left.


Hopefully, it will not be another 13 years before I get to return to Skye again. The shadow of the 2008 trip has lifted. 2023 is a possibility, when I turn 40. Collie's/Hart's ledge, and the west ridge of Sgùrr nan Gillean are calling.
Christopher Pulman
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby SteveeMac » Thu Dec 09, 2021 1:15 am

Some great photos Christopher :D I too hope to goto Skye in 2023 for my 50th!

Good luck on your return trip

Steve.
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Dec 09, 2021 9:14 pm

Excellent photos, and nicely described.

I did this round back in the early 90s, but the other way round. Its interesting to hear which bits you thought felt trickiest, as they contrast to what we felt at the time. I guess that's the difference between climbing or ascending the scrambles; the ridge to Thuilm certainly felt both exposed and tricky working our way carefully down it. I have no memory of An Dorus at all, can't have been much of an issue for us. The climb to Ghreadhaidh I just remember as brilliant exposed-but-straightforward ridge scrambling, followed by a genuine "a cheval" move between the tops. We were young, fit, and regularly rock climbing then though!
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Sgurr » Thu Dec 09, 2021 11:43 pm

The long legged friend was sent down first and placed all our feet as we climbed back into An Dorus. Without him I don't suppose my bones would be there still, we would just have called for help to the threesome who appeared to be tying themselves onto every rock on both sides to make progress, but it would have been a long wait.
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Christopher Pulman » Fri Dec 10, 2021 11:25 am

Mal Grey wrote:Excellent photos, and nicely described.

I did this round back in the early 90s, but the other way round. Its interesting to hear which bits you thought felt trickiest, as they contrast to what we felt at the time. I guess that's the difference between climbing or ascending the scrambles; the ridge to Thuilm certainly felt both exposed and tricky working our way carefully down it. I have no memory of An Dorus at all, can't have been much of an issue for us. The climb to Ghreadhaidh I just remember as brilliant exposed-but-straightforward ridge scrambling, followed by a genuine "a cheval" move between the tops. We were young, fit, and regularly rock climbing then though!


Yes, I can see that descending the Thuilm ridge might be much more challenging. It's odd how much harder it can be to descend rather than ascend, probably because our eyes are then at the wrong end of the body.

Regarding the Ghreadhaidh ridge, I think what makes the descent a bit tricky is that there are a number of downclimbs of around 7 feet, so you lower yourself down them to a foothold, but then have to hop down the last foot (which you could probably just step up when ascending). And sometimes the hop down is onto quite a narrow platform of rock. It sometimes felt a bit unbalanced.
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Verylatestarter » Fri Dec 10, 2021 5:32 pm

Chris

another great report of a set of hills still on my to-do list. I was considering ascending to the An Dorus gap and then up to the first Munro but your approach looks much more fun. If I give you my to-do list can you please reconnoiter them all for me and book the weather?

regards

John
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Christopher Pulman » Sat Dec 11, 2021 5:12 pm

Thanks John.
But it is probably best to find someone else to book the weather. I used up all my weather luck last year. (Further proof to be provided in 3 additional reports, which are on their way, although on the east coast this time).

If the gods of weather are smiling and nothing else goes wrong, I'm hoping to try a few more interesting routes in Torridon in May of next year.
Chris
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby dav2930 » Sun Dec 12, 2021 12:01 am

An excellent set of photos of a fine, adventurous round. Like Mal, I did the same route but in reverse (in May 2001). I thought, and still think, that the arete between the two tops of Greadaidh is the finest ridge traverse in the country. The descent from Sgurr a' Mhadaidh to Sgurr Thuilm, I seem to remember, had one very steep but thankfully short step, which I found to be the trickiest bit of the round. Like you, I was very lucky with the weather. Nice one :)
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby Sunset tripper » Wed Dec 15, 2021 1:50 am

Great report - hardcore! :D
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Re: Centre of the Cuillin, via the Sgurr Thuilm ridge

Postby past my sell by date » Sat Dec 18, 2021 3:20 pm

Great report and pics.
There is a huge gully cleaving the Coruisk face of the Druim nam Ramh ridge which appears in a couple of your pics.
On my first visit to the Cuillins - aged 19 - young, fearless and quite insane - having climbed the entire ridge from Loch Scavaig we decided to try to climb/abseil down it :shock: :lol: :lol: - wih a 100 foot rope :lol: :lol: :lol: - A hundred metres might have been insufficient.
We descended a couple of pitches OK, but then looked over a large chockstone to see at least 200 ft of space below. So we had to escape by climbing the wall of the gully on the Northern side - which proved not too difficult - and descend the glacis to the valley.
I guess you live (hopefully) and learn :lol: :lol:
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