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Bruach na Frithe - bravery or madness?
by BlackPanther » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:28 pm
Route description: Bruach na Frithe
Munros included on this walk: Bruach na Frithe
Date walked: 29/03/2014
Time taken: 7.5 hours
Distance: 14 km
Ascent: 941m18 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
Well, of course, I'm nowhere near tackling the whole ridge in one go - I leave that to rock climbers. But picking tops one by one, I managed to tick off four M's - let's say they were the easiest ones...
Last year in early March we climbed Glamaig and I started to warm up to winter climbs on Skye. Not that I would immediately scramble up Sgurr nan Gillean with snow on it (this one still seems beyond me even in summertime ) but I wanted to try something relatively easy on Cuillin Ridge, just to see these black peaks covered in white.
We were not sure what sort of conditions we should expect on Saturday, so we had the ascents of Belig or Sgurr na Stri as backup plans, but when we arrived in Sligachan, weather was OK, not much wind and quite warm. The Cuillin ridge looked inviting (if it can look inviting at all ) and we decided to have a go at Bruach na Frithe. This one is said to be the easiest Munro on the ridge.
The "inviting" ridge
The only issue was the haze. I knew from the way the morning looked, we should expect a hazy day. Now, even the Red Cuillin nearby seemed slightly blurred:
The first half of the route is easy and follows a good path alongside Allt Dearg Mor, with some nice waterfalls on the way:
Glamaig and Loch Sligachan from the path:
Bruach na Frithe cannot be seen from Sligachan, but after a couple of km walking into the wild, the angle changed and we could now see our target summit - it's the one to the far right:
Of course what drew our attention, was the pinnacle ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean:
The easiest way up BnF goes up Fionn Choire. From this point, the ascent looks innocent:
We followed Allt an Fhionn Choire up into the lower corrie. So far so good, no snow at all, the path was steep-ish in places but obvious enough. The higher we climbed, the more I realised that we were not going to have extent views from the ridge The haze was thickening, now we could hardly see the outline of Isle of Raasay beyond Loch Sligachan:
As we reached the lower Fionn Choire, we were suddenly "teleported" into another world, that of black rock and white snow. Our target hill was in front of us, with the ascent route slightly to the left:
Happy Panther enjoying her day, with some hazy landscape behind:
You must admit, that from below, the route up looks innocent. Piece of cake, one would say, just a trudge up the snow. There were obvious footprints:
We entered the snow zone and for the first 10 minutes it was all fun and games, but as soon as the slope steepened, we realized that underneath the soft, slushy layer of snow there was another one - pure slippery ice. The upper layer didn't offer much support at all, so we stopped to put crampons on. Above us, we noticed another pair of walkers slowly making their way up to the bealach:
A hazy day...
It was a steep climb to Bealach na Lice, but with crampons we made good progress. The moment we emerged on the ridge I almost cried out of surprise. I knew that Am Basteir was close but didn't expect it to be THAT close! The pictures do not really give the justice to the view. As we were standing on the narrow ridge looking east, with the looming shapes of Am Basteir and Basteir Tooth just above us, I really felt like I landed on another planet. A moment of shock
Sgurr nan Gillean was not too far away...
Looking north, with Glamaig and the Deargs to the right:
Black Panther's encounter with the Executioner:
A short detour can be made to visit an easy top Sgurr a' Bhasteir. In summer conditions we would take the chance to bag it, but now we wanted to concentrate on our main target...
Just to the right of where we were standing, the black, steep rocks of another top, Sgurr a'Fionn Chiore. Not a good idea for scrambling in winter:
Bruach na Frithe was very close... and very far at the same time. We looked down - the other walkers gave up and turned, descending back to the corrie (even though they had crampons and ice axes - maybe they didn't feel comfortable in given snow conditions). I guess they did the reasonable thing and if we were sane we should do the same. But... BUT. We are definitely not sane
So here is the route we took to reach the summit. Of course, scrambling over Sgurr a'Fionn Choire was absolutely out of question, so the only option was to traverse below the rocks. We decided to take this particular line, because the snow just below Sgurr a'Fionn Choire looked very unstable. We descended slightly to traverse under the first rocky lump and then climbed back to the ridge on the other side of Sgurr a'Fionn Choire:
In the picture, it doesn't look that bad. But believe me, it was HAIRY I could smell the danger of tumbling all the way down to Fionn Choire with every step I took. The upper layer of snow had the consistence of porridge and offered no support whatsoever. Under the porridge - hard ice. Kevin went first and cut steps out with his ice axe (we still had crampons on, of course, but obviously that was not enough!!!) and I followed, using my axe to secure myself. The first 50m or so were the worst. When we reached the group of large rocks, we changed our direction slightly and started ascending again. Here, conditions were still hard, but the ice was easer to kick steps in with crampons. By the time we landed back on the ridge, we were both sweating and swearing, and at the same time, ready todrop to our knees and thank Heavens for protection
I did it! Now I knew we were going to make it, with the summit just in front of us:
Views from this spot are just as good as from the other side, if not better, as the western part of the ridge can now be seen. The snow added more "Tolkien-like" feeling to the whole landscape and I almost expected to see Gandalf's hat peeking out from behind the rocks
Looking back to Sgurr a'Fionn Chiore:
View south. There was too much unstable snow to try to get closer to the edge and look into Lota Corrie:
But the best panorama was to the west, where the ridge continues:
Zoom to Sgurr Dearg and the Inn Pinn:
We continued up to the summit, a wide ridge now, with some easy scrambling over large boulders. This can be avoided to the left, at least theoretically, we preferred to stick to the solid rock rather than venture on to snow-covered rubble. From just below the summit, the view back towards Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir is even more mind-boggling. Some high, but very dark cloud has just arrived, so pictures look very dark and gloomy - I guess that's exactly what this story needs
Guess who? The big smile says it all! The one and only snow leopard
I stopped for a few seconds to admire the western ridge of Bruach - I knew it was a scrambling route suggested as an alternative approach to this Munro and a certain thought occurred to me...
...but before I had time to share this thought with my husband, we scrambled over the last boulder and now we could see the trig point. A! We made it!
Two minutes later I was there, hugging the trig point and posing with a huge smile. Munro no. 120, a nice round number and what an adventure to go with it!
It was cold, of course and a tad windy on the summit. Plus we were so pumped up with adrenaline after the hairy traverse, that we didn't feel hungry or thirsty at all. We agreed to wait with lunch break till we get back to Fionn Choire. At the moment, we admired the rough beauty of this rugged landscape. It was hazy, yes - Mist Isle lived up to its name today - but the nearest peaks still made an enormous impression on us. WOW!!! Just enjoy it with me
Back east to Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir:
West to the main bulk of the ridge:
Down to Fionn Choire:
A few close-ups, just to scare you
Sgurr an Fheadain:
Kevin the Conqueror I must say, I wouldn't have done it without him. Not in a million years! Even if, let's say, I have the physical ability to tackle climbs like winter BnF. It is still a matter of confidence, and on my own, I would have chickened for sure.
Having taken enough photos/videos we discussed the way down. Kevin didn't like the idea of descending the porridgy snow into Fionn Choire. Now, I spoke my earlier thought aloud - maybe it will be safer to scramble down the western ridge? Different sources describe it as easy/moderate scramble. I wouldn't mind scrambling - at least rocks were much more stable than snow! We looked down and the ridge was almost completely bare, so the decision was made. We took crampons off, packed cameras into rucksacks and warmed up our hands for rock-gripping. Let's go scrambling!
WH route description suggests there is a bypass path on the western side of the ridge, for those who don't fancy the most airy part of the traverse. Unfortunately for us, it was covered with the very same slushy-unstable snow, so for us, the ONLY way was to stick to the rocks and I must say that some parts of this descent are sensationally exposed. The eastern slopes fall almost vertically down to Fionn Choire, and this side was very snowy. Luckily, the main line of the traverse was not under snow, so we slowly made our way down, scrambling and bum-shuffling. At some point, we tried taking the bypass path, but the unstable snow was so scary, that after only a few steps we admitted defeat and returned to the crest.
I used to suffer from a bad vertigo - not a typical fear for heights, when one simply panics when looking down. Mine revealed itself as a sinking, "pukey" feeling in my stomach. A few times I almost vomited (the first time on Stac Pollaidh I remember, I was physically sick), but these times are now way behind me. It took a few years to build up courage and fight this sinking feeling, but I'm no longer suffering from any vertigo symptoms as long as I concentrate on the scramble itself rather than gazing down to the vertical drop thinking - what if I fell down there?
There was one moment when I remember balancing on a small foothold with one leg in the air and my arms around a large boulder, saying to myself - calm down, you've got it covered, you can do it! Generally, there are good footholds in the rocks even on the steepest pat of the traverse and the only real problem is the exposure - if you can ignore it, there is nothing to be afraid of. At some point, oddly, I started to enjoy it
About half way down and just below the most exposed bit we stopped for a few breaths and Kevin dug up his camera. Here is what we scrambled down:
And that was still left to tackle:
The Cuillin Ridge now basking in sunshine:
Inn Pinn zoomed:
More scrambling on the way down? no problem!
Posing for another photo for "me on the rock" collection:
That's the way we came down...gulp...
Lower down the scramble is very easy and at some point becomes just a ridge walk. Shame about the haze, as we didn't get the distant views, but what was closer to us was good enough!
More mountain porn (if you can stand it):
Ridge walking now:
Looking back up:
Bruach na Frithe west ridge and the upper reaches of Fionn Choire. At the end of the day, we took the right route down - it might have been exposed but the rocks were mostly dry and safe, much safer than the porridge on the step slopes...
We could now see all the way down - we agreed we'd take a longer break as soon as we return to the lower corrie:
It may look daunting but it is easy at this point. In summertime, without the snow to make this traverse tricky, it would be great fun, by my judgement, the scramble would be easier on the way up.
One last look at the mighty Cuillin Ridge:
The bowl of Fionn Choire:
We came down this??? No way! We really did? Aaaah...
We spent about half an hour sitting on the rocks in Fionn Choire, gazing back up at the airy traverse, eating sandwiches and pinching each other in disbelief Were we brave or mad? Somewhere in between. I must tell you, compare to last Saturday, our earlier adventure on Ciste Dhubh felt like a stroll now!
We returned to the car at a lazy pace. The haze brought some interesting colours to the sky - it was still over an hour to the sunset, but the sky was pinkish/orange. here, Blaven and Marsco with this weird sunset-like effect:
The Red Cuillin - panorama:
The walk took us 7.5 hours, longer than the usual time for this route, but we can be excused by the poor snow conditions on the ridge - it's better to be safe than sorry after all. But having done what we have just done, I can feel my confidence growing... Growing... All the way up to the roof. Meow!
Whether we were just brave or reckless is another question Definitely we crossed the sanity line, and not the first time in our climbing career.
Sadly it was only one-day trip to Isle of Skye but I hope we'll come back later this coming summer to tackle more Cuillin peaks. Good bye, Misty Isle, see you soon!
by dogplodder » Tue Apr 01, 2014 5:44 pm
Fantastic photos as always.
by Meatball » Tue Apr 01, 2014 6:37 pm
I'll be there in a few weeks.
by SAVAGEALICE » Tue Apr 01, 2014 7:01 pm
by Fife Flyer » Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:14 pm
One thing for sure, I would have turned back in the same circumstances
by maninblack » Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:34 pm
I also appreciate your honesty - I also had to work through problems with exposure when I first starting working in the outdoors. In the end, experience really helps.
by weaselmaster » Tue Apr 01, 2014 9:36 pm
Looks like you both had a great day and fab photos as usual. I need to go and calm down now
by Collaciotach » Tue Apr 01, 2014 9:59 pm
Great pics too
by rockhopper » Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:46 pm
by BlackPanther » Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:52 am
The western ridge looks worse than it is. Apart from the exposure, it doesn't present a technical challenge. And it is said by a woman who once had a panic attack on Stac Pollaidh All problems we encountered were due to the slushy-porridgy snow. In summertime, BnF would be a delightful climb.
I have always been honest about my vertigo issue, just to show that anything can be overcome in time. Confidence and good concentration are the keys - and a patient walking companion. But before we touch anything else in the Cuillin, we'll definitely wait till the porridge has melted away.
by Mountainlove » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:09 am
by old danensian » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:58 am
A superb set of pictures and words that will inevitably stay with you for years: what an experience, and well worth the effort.
I had a wry smile though: "a short detour to ... an easy top of Sgurr a Bhasteir". As a summer visitor to Skye many times it has defeated me twice now. Maybe I should just go back in winter.
by The Rodmiester » Thu Apr 03, 2014 12:53 pm
by AnnieMacD » Thu Apr 03, 2014 1:39 pm
by Alteknacker » Sat Apr 05, 2014 12:18 pm
What fabulous views, especially of the ridge - I never tire of it. I think I'll have to do it again this year....
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