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Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Ranger » Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:54 pm

Route description: Sgùrr nan Gillean

Munros included on this walk: Am Basteir, Bruach na Frìthe, Sgùrr nan Gillean

Date walked: 22/03/2012

Time taken: 9.5 hours

Distance: 15.5 km

Ascent: 1300m

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Finally the North West Highlands gets some good weather :D after - quoted from a local - the worst winter in 6 years!! :shock: (since she's been in Skye)

So - drive up from Aberdeen after work and lovingly packing beloved wife and kid off to in-laws :lol:

I got as far as Elgin before passing out in a layby - a couple of hours of semi-sleep later I plough on for a bit, coming to a halt somewhere besides Loch Ness at 2am. Shamefully, the tent stays in its bag and I curl up on the front seats :( :lol:

Loch Ness pre dawn, a calm start to the day

Sunrise over Loch Cluanie

The Cuillin doesnt rush to come into view even when you get onto Skye but eventually I got to the famous Sligachan and there it was - or almost was, as it was in mist. The start of the greatest spell of March weather to ever grace Scotland and big surprise the Cuillin were dragging their feet :lol: :D

Despite 15 years of Munro climbing this was my first ever taste of the Cuillin close up and my excitement was lined with some trepidation - my Dad had been dragged up the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe and described it as the most terrifying place he'd ever been - what better route to start with!
The North West ridge of Bruach na Frithe steepens

I was determined to squeeze as much scrambling practice as possible out of this so-called easy ridge and I certainly got value - sticking religiously to the crest, there was loads of exposed scrambling moves above big drops, especially to the east, with the west flank dropping away pretty sharpish as well. All those guide books that describe this route as a stroll must be following the traverse path!
A faint brocken spectre, looking down the North west ridge

The mist had been bubbling over from the south all morning and, whilst the ridge had enjoyed fleeting sunshine, disappointingly the summit was in the clouds :(

After hanging around for 20minutes though :D In 5 minutes the mists had disappeared 8) Beautiful clear air and crisp horizons... heaven!
In Pin from Bruach na Frithe


Looking south down the Cuillin ridge

Looking down the NW ridge

A climber on Pinnacle ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean

With the day suddenly electrified I went flying up Sgurr a Fionn Choire in a burst of adrenalin, some pretty challenging rock steps to scramble up and more good practice. The gabbro rock was making its presence felt on my hands, pure rough sand paper, but unbelievable grip for the boots :D

Am Basteir from Sgurr a Fionn Choire

Am Basteir and its Tooth are breathtaking from this angle and look impenetrable, I was quite happy to drop down on the north side and follow the scree path below its north face and up to the far col - the short mileages in the Cuillin being a big bonus here :D
Am Basteir and the Tooth

The route up Am Basteir was surprisingly easy considering how it looks from side on - I tried to stick to the crest which took me directly above the 'bad step' a 3m high almost vertical step in the ridge and the terminus of a narrow section of arete.

Now I'd checked this out online before, and seen some pretty detailed pictures of it, including one indicating EXACTLY where the hold - usually hidden from above - is. Indeed, I looked over the edge and could see it! :shock: Although the exposure wasnt quite as bad as I'd expected, down climbing was briefly considered and seemed tricky. Instead, I opted to use the 40m scrambling rope in my bag and do a classic abseil :shock: I'd practised this technqiue before, but this was the time I'd used it on a Munro!
The bad step with Gillean behind

I found an anchor - just - threaded the rope round it, gave it a few good tugs :? and went for it, tossing the excess into the gap. Gradually I edged down and in no time - it was only 3 metres - I was down :)
Zoomed in pic to show rope in situ

The remaining scramble seemed a walk in the park, although I gather the basalt slabs I scampered up can be deadly in wet weather.
Looking down the ridge past Sgurr a Fionn Choire

Back at the bealach, I initially headed east along the ridge just to get the view of Am Basteir that makes it look like a sharks fin

I had flirted with the notion of attempting the West ridge of Gillean, but it had been long since dismissed. Now actually at the foot of it, I thought I'd at least go a brief reccie, a spot of tourism maybe :? :lol:

The next thing I knew I was on a comfortable enough traverse path on the sunny south side, apparently skirting the scrambly crest above - how long would this go on for?! Sure enough I reached the mauvais pas, the ridge leaping in one 4-5 metre vertical step that seemed unclimbable. My path took me through a little gap onto the north side of the ridge where I came upon a worn path which in just a few feet lead me to the bottom of a wide open chimney.

From reading descriptions of the route I recognised this as the spot where one usually abseils down in descent to avoid the old Policeman pinnacle stretch. It was classed as a moderate rock climb, but seemed distinctly climbable, with plentiful holds, and not too long. I was confident I could do it and so thought - why not start it? I did - and 5 minutes later, with one nervy moment before the holds came to sight, I was on top. I darent look down, but could feel I was on top of a rock tower, and had to scramble to get off it as heading back down was not an option! A few moves later I was on easier ground and massively relieved. Above me I could spy two climbers on the summit, which made me feel less exposed and alone, and I had no problem heading up the remainder of the ridge, which was surprisingly no harder than the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe (though I'd left my insistence on sticking to the true crest long ago!)

With an amazing feeling of relief I reached the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean! The photos can do the talking for what an amazing viewpoint it was...



The two climbers had been up there for a while so headed off giving me some good photo opps and an idea of the route off!

Eventually it was time to head down and tackle a route I'd read a lot of worrying descriptions of, the most "i turned back 50ft from the top" accounts for any route I've read :shock:

In the end it wasnt too bad, but definitely requiring care. The first move across the gap, then down the first step in the ridge, were not too bad...
The first step down from the summit perch

After there was a very exposed move down a slab tilting over the precipitous east face, much care required! Further down the ridge, and after a few more moves down slabs that were a little exposed, I looked back up the western side of the ridge and it seemed more broken and less exposed - if one could have got down that side sooner it might have been less unnerving perhaps? :?

The rest of the descent was rough and unfriendly with scree and boulders but the path got better and better and eventually I was back into the evening sunshine heading across the boggy moorland wonderfully tamed by the now excellent path. The setting sun was lighting up Sgurr nan Gillean's pinnacle ridge as I reached the Slig, a fine and fitting ending to the day. I was camping opposite the inn so would drop in their for a night cap, but before then I would head to Portree for some good food and refuel for the next day - an even more daunting prospect..... :shock: 8)

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Last edited by Ranger on Wed Apr 04, 2012 6:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Milesy » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:11 am

Brilliant. I miss Skye
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Gavin99 » Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:51 am

Fantastic , a very well described and photographed day , what a stunning place . I'm looking forward to the next installment !
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Paul_Antonia » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:04 am

Great report. Really does justice to that feeling you get when you personally experience somewhere that you'd previously only read about. Lovely photos to accompany it too.
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby 37lumleyst » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:09 am

Great report and like many I'm sure, reading it makes me yearn to be back there :mrgreen: Its easy to see from your photos why the ridge gets its iconic name of the British Alps!

Really enjoyed reading your report
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby 2dalmatians » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:14 am

A fabulous report with breathtaking pictures. However your narrative means that this one is firmly placed in the "squeaky bum" section and therefore not likely to be 2d attempted . Thanks a bunch!!! :lol:
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby dooterbang » Wed Mar 28, 2012 9:15 am

Stunning TR young man.

A beauty of a day to be flying solo...although i guess seeing them 2 climbers brought a sense of calm 8)

Been to Skye 4 times and yet to summit a Munro...just wets the appetite.
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Johnny Corbett » Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:54 am

Good stuff Ranger, great descriptive report. I havn't done any hills on Skye yet, something i will have to remedy soon :D
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby malky_c » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:17 am

Coool 8)

Perfect weather, near enough, and good to see that the East Ridge is doable without a rope. I'd always thought it was, but have only abseiled down that way in the past, never come up it.
More please!
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby jonny616 » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:24 am

Great report & pics. I'm off to Skye on friday & now i feel more nervous :lol: :lol:
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby iainwatson » Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:32 am

stunning pictures and detailed report!

cant wait to get to sky for some walking,hopefully in the summer,

this has really whetted the appetite!
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Bod » Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:43 pm

Skye's the place! A little bit of that is needed each year. Great report, you've got me thinking again .... :D :D :D
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby mrssanta » Wed Mar 28, 2012 3:23 pm

fantastic. we're off to Skye in May, can't wait, hope the weather is half as good as you have had. we are going with a guide however.
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby Klaasloopt » Wed Mar 28, 2012 4:06 pm

Very apt description of how intimidating these hills can be. Your report brought me back to 1997, when I did the same three from Harta Corrie on the south side in splendid weather. I stood hesitating about 25 minutes before going down the 3 metre gap on Am Bhasteir. My climbing of the west ridge of Gillean went in quite the same fashion "let's just see > o, I can do that > yikes, it's quite hairy, come to think of it". In 2003 I repeated it with a companion and a guide, and as always, company makes it all much easier.
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Re: Frithe, Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

Postby colgregg » Wed Mar 28, 2012 5:02 pm

Great report which brings back happy memories of Bruach. You were lucky to get such good weather, too. I never did get to do Sgurr nan Gillean and Skye is out of reach at the moment but I hope to get an opportunity to finish off a few more accessable summits one day.
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