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Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge


Postby houdi » Sat Jun 09, 2012 10:19 pm

Munros included on this walk: Am Basteir, Bruach na Frithe, Sgurr nan Gillean

Date walked: 02/06/2012

Time taken: 8 hours

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I was supposed to be on my way to visit my mate in Forres with, hopefully, a visit to Torridon thrown in, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Driving up overnight, I passed through Spean Bridge and as soon as I hit Invergarry the car seemed to develop a mind of its own, taking a left turn towards Kyle of Lochalsh. So that was it then, I was heading on a minor diversion to Skye.

According to MWIS the weather for the Northwest Highlands was very encouraging. However, after three failed trips to the Cuillins previously, I remained cautiously optimistic. I needn’t have worried. I arrived at Sligachan around seven in the morning to blue skies and my first ever clag-free glimpse of the ridge. I was getting excited already.

It was always about Sgurr nan Gillean for me. This peak has been top of my hit list ever since I first became aware of the Cuillins, and I guess I’d always imagined doing it by the East Ridge. Things had changed slightly. Why settle for one when three were here on offer? Of course the only viable route was to do Bruach na Frithe first, followed by Am Bastier, and then the west ridge of Gillean. I was reasonably confident of being able to ascend the Tooth Chimney on the west ridge, but I figured descending it solo was not really viable, ruling out doing the three peaks in the opposite direction.

Bruach na Frithe is reckoned to be one of the easiest of the Cuillin peaks, so I was going up its north-west ridge in order to spice things up a bit. Starting early from the car, I walked up the road and took the path to Altdearg House, where a sign painted on a plastic bin directs walkers away from the house and along the right hand bank of the Alt Dearg Mor. This very good path eventually goes all the way across to Glen Brittle, and it’s a sensible idea to follow it until you are at a point directly opposite the north-west ridge (Bealach a’Maim) and track across from there as it avoids all the boggy ground. Part way up the ridge a path appears, but I stuck to the rocky crest as I prefer a more direct route. The path seemed to meander around well below the crest and was too far removed from all the exciting bits to interest me. It is worth noting though that there are some pretty difficult moves on the apex of the ridge and it won’t be to everyone’s liking. Anyone who thinks Bruach na Frithe is easy should try this line and they might well change their mind.

The views of the whole ridge open up as you reach the summit, where you will find one of those unusual round trig points which seem to be dotted around various Scottish summits. The trig point was only a minor diversion as the views south-west are absolutely awesome. When people say the Cuillins are like nothing else in Scotland, they are not joking. Even for a hardened Scrambler like me they are frightening; in a positive way, of course. I was dying to get on the south part of the ridge, but that would have to wait until my next Scottish trip. Right now I was heading the opposite way to Am Bastier.

It’s an impressive piece of rock, no doubt about it, but the biggest problem with doing Am Bastier this way is you have to lose a lot of height dropping all the way down its north (left-hand) side on loose scree, followed by a similar re-ascent to gain the ridge on its east side. From Sgurr nan Gillean this huge chunk of rock looks impossible, but it’s actually very easy. In fact, if it wasn’t for the ‘Bad Step’ you could gain the summit without hardly using your hands. I left my rucksack at the bottom and climbed it light. The ‘Bad Step’ is quite close to the summit and I passed a crowd of about a dozen teenagers who had reached the step and turned back. At this stage I hadn’t even considered the ‘ledge’ alternative, choosing instead to have a look at the obstacle first before looking for other options. I remembered reading on the web that someone had climbed up and down the ‘Bad Step’ on the right hand side, and this proved valuable. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wasn’t going to backtrack looking for a way to avoid it. I think it gets bad press as it’s only a fairly small vertical descent and someone very tall could virtually hang off the top and drop down (not that I’m advocating this!). In the end, it took me two minutes to descend on the right hand side, thanks to a couple of decent (although very small) hand and footholds. It is worth noting that these only become apparent once you’ve lowered yourself over the edge, so, again, it won’t be to everyone’s liking.

I got slightly carried away at the summit and I also had a ‘stupid’ moment. Going over the top of the summit, I climbed down a short section of rock on the other side and looked down to see a large sloping slab below me. In my state of heightened fervour, I thought this was the top of Bastier Tooth and I climbed down onto it, took a couple of photos and climbed back up again, convinced I’d been on top of the tooth, I actually believed this for three whole days until I looked on the web and discovered it was a much smaller ledge way above the tooth. I got excited for nothing. Talk about wishful thinking. Incidentally, climbing back up the ‘Bad Step’ was every bit as easy as the descent.

I met a couple of young lads (climbers) who had come up Bealach a’Bhastier and were going up the west ridge of Gillean and then coming back down again to do the entire ridge in one go. They climbed up onto the ridge somewhere (not sure where) and were busy fixing a rope above Tooth Chimney in order to descend after bagging Gillean. They hadn’t actually climbed up the chimney but, standing at the bottom and looking up, I asked them what the exit was like up at the top. They said there were a couple of tricky moves around large boulders and they followed this up by warning me that if I fell I would be seriously injured. Not that I needed any such reminder, but it made me pause for a moment during which time I almost backed off. It suddenly occurred to me that my only other option, and a very long and physically demanding one, would be to descend off the mountain altogether and go all the way round Pinnacle Ridge to Gillean’s east ridge if I wanted to reach the summit. That simply wasn’t on. I took another look up the chimney, decided it was well within my capabilities, and went for it. Basically, you start up the right hand side, although I couldn’t get a foot up on the right hand side to begin with and I started off stepping up on to a rock in the middle before stepping immediately across to the right. Follow a line straight up until the moves become easier towards the middle. The exit turned out to be less trickier than I expected. There are a couple of large boulders at the top, but there is a gap between the right hand side one and the wall of the chimney. There is a smaller rock wedged at the bottom of the gap, so it is an easy matter of standing on the smaller rock, which gives a leg up onto the large boulder. Cross over this boulder and the next one and you’re out of the chimney and on the ridge proper. After that, just follow any line you like, including a path if that’s your preference. Doing the chimney in reverse is a different prospect though, and I wouldn’t recommend it. No pictures of the tooth chimney, I’m afraid, as I was concentrating so much on the ascent, I forgot to take any. For anyone thinking of tackling the west ridge, the SMC rate the Tooth Chimney as a Diff rock climb, but I think that’s been a touch over-cautious. I went straight up without any problems and it must have taken me way less than five minutes. Any confident scrambler should have nothing to worry about. It’s definitely a long way from being the most difficult scramble I’ve ever done.

You will encounter some heavy duty moves taking a direct line up the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, but most of these can be avoided. It is worth mentioning the infamous hole, which is a exactly what it says on the tin – a hole through the rock. There is a boulder wedged in the bottom of it and it is advisable to take your rucksack off and pass it through first as it catches on the top of the hole if you leave it on. And is there any point of this move really seeing as there is a perfectly good bypass route around the left hand side of the main rock?

The final pull up onto the summit looks impossible with large blocks barring your way. Again, there is an easy route around the left hand side where you step safely up onto the very small summit with its marker cairn. Up here it was time for sublime reflection on everything I’d done that day. Normally, I spend no longer than ten minutes on a summit as I prefer to be on the move, but not this day. Starting off early in the morning, it had been quite chilly with a cold breeze. Now, it was warm and sunny without a breath of wind and I sat on the summit for about an hour and a half, chatting to the various visitors and revelling in the incredible clear sky views. The temperatures may have dropped compared with a week or so ago, but this meant excellent clarity. You could see all the way up the west coast of Scotland from as far away as Mull and it is only then you realise exactly how many mountains there are on the mainland. Absolutely thousands of them. And on the opposite side, Rum and all the near islands, with the Outer Hebrides beyond. This was just way too good for words. I spent some time chatting to a Portuguese lad who nipped down from the summit to bag Knight’s Peak before returning about twenty minutes later. It looked quite easy from Gillean but I was pretty knackered by this time and was content just to admire the scenery for once. I made my down from Sgurr nan Gillean around two o’clock a contented man. I hope to get back to the Cuillins again in the near future, but even if I don’t these memories will stay with me for a very long time. Best day ever. Mind you, it didn’t half hammer the crap out of my knees!

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Classic Sligachan view – with added blue skies


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Closer view from the path to Altdearg House


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Pinnacle Ridge


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Summit trig on Bruach na Frithe


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Looking west to the rest of the Cuillin Ridge


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Coir' a'Tairneilear & Coir' a’Mhadaidh (I think!)


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View south


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A glimpse of the In Pinn


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Looking back to the summit of Bruach na Frithe


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Easy route to Bruach na Frithe


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Bealach nan Lice


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Bad Step, Am Bastier


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Bruach na Frithe from Am Bastier summit


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View west from Am Bastier


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Am Bastier summit from an unknown ledge which isn’t the Tooth!


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The Hole, West Ridge Sgurr nan Gillean


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View from high up on the West Ridge


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Red Cuillin from Sgurr nan Gillean


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Two climbers tackle a descent of the West Ridge


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Cuillin Ridge from Sgurr nan Gillean summit


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Bla Bheinn


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A time for prayer on Sgurr nan Gillean


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A Cuillin moonscape


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Looking down Gillean’s East Ridge
Last edited by houdi on Sun Jun 10, 2012 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
houdi
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby Bod » Sat Jun 09, 2012 11:17 pm

Stunning and wonderful!!! Hoping to be up Sgurr nan Gillean next month :D :D :D :D :clap:
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby BobMcBob » Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:35 pm

Great report. I've been wanting to do the west ridge of Gillean for a while after I saw it from Am Basteir last year but reading about that chimney has always put me off. What do you reckon about the possibility of aborting once you've started up it? Is it completely committing?
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby rocket-ron » Sun Jun 10, 2012 1:51 pm

excellent i did these 3 the other month. I descended the west ridge of SnG with out ropes. That was 1 of the most scary things i have ever done in my entire life
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby houdi » Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:41 pm

Many thanks for the comments guys. In answer to your question about the chimney, Bob, I would say it's possible to backtrack down the chimney in the early stages. To be honest though, it's easier just to continue on up. It looks far more difficult looking up from the bottom than it really is. Just don't think about it and go for it. Once you're up you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. Just remember my exit description on the right hand side.

Which way did you get off the ridge at the bottom, Ron? I take it you didn't downclimb the chimney? I would say the big problem with downclimbing the chimney is getting into it from the top over those boulders.
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby ChrisW » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:19 pm

Great report Houdi, and what a wonderful rocky trio. Beautiful photos of what looked to be a fantastic day in the hills (is there any other kind) :D
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby andrewdoggett » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:08 pm

Fab report - and sounds like you had some fun exploring... :D
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby rocket-ron » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:22 pm

houdi wrote:Many thanks for the comments guys. In answer to your question about the chimney, Bob, I would say it's possible to backtrack down the chimney in the early stages. To be honest though, it's easier just to continue on up. It looks far more difficult looking up from the bottom than it really is. Just don't think about it and go for it. Once you're up you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. Just remember my exit description on the right hand side.

Which way did you get off the ridge at the bottom, Ron? I take it you didn't downclimb the chimney? I would say the big problem with downclimbing the chimney is getting into it from the top over those boulders.


Yeah i did down climb the chimney. I only went to do SnG that day but was on the summit by 12. It was to good a day to head back down. But i would not recommend any 1 to do it
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Re: Bruache na Frithe, Am Bastier & Gillean West Ridge

Postby malky_c » Mon Jun 11, 2012 2:46 pm

Excellent photos. Looks like a fine day out, particuarly as you seem to have gone there on a whim :)

Cheers for the shot from the other side of Am Baistear. When I was up there, we were going to try and descend onto the tooth from there, possibly abseiling. However there was a threat of thunder so we got back off the normal way pretty quick. In retrospect, I'm glad we did, as I don't think the descent is recommended (even the description of the upward route isn't great). Hoping to try the Lota Corrie route at some point, as this is the only Munro top I haven't done on Skye.
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