The Voyage of the Graham Bagger
by BlackPanther » Wed May 07, 2014 5:14 pm
Route description: Kylerhea hills - Beinn na Caillich, Sgurr na Coinnich, Ben Aslak
Grahams included on this walk: Beinn na Caillich (Kylerhea), Sgurr na Coinnich
Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Ben Aslak
Date walked: 24/04/2014
Time taken: 8.5 hours
Distance: 15 km
Ascent: 1240m10 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).
Of course, I didn't expect to find The Sleeping Lords on the Island of the Star, but found The Three Sleeping Grahams on The Misty Isle instead!
OK, enough of CS Lewis... back to reality.
We had a few days off towards the end of April and planned to use them to bump up our statistics, bag some hills, enjoy the great outdoors. My hopes were boosted by an excellent three-day marathon during Easter. So when Thursday's forecast showed sunny spells to the far west (Utter West, for a change?...), we decided to take our chances and visit Isle of Skye, for the second time this year
The initial hopes were held high for a bit of the Cuillin ridge, maybe, but as we approached Skye, we saw a heavy layer of cloud covering the main bulk of mountains on the island, from Blaven to Glamaig and the Black Cuillin, too It looked rather persistent so we gave up hopes for scrambling on the main ridge. We have already done all the easy Munros and going for something difficult in the thick mist was stretching it a bit.
Luckily for us, we had planned alternatives in advance, and one of them was the very much neglected trio of Grahams on the southern tip of Skye. One of them is called Ben Aslak and it was this particular name that first brought CS Lewis to my mind - sounds a bit like the Hill of Aslan the Lion
I was actually surprised, when doing some background research the day before, how little info there is on these Grahams and how few people bother to visit them. Having done them I must say: skipping these three little hills when visiting Skye should be a criminal offence for every hillgoer!!!
I can understand why most visitors to Skye don't pay much attention to Kylerhea Grahams - they are well separated from the main Skye ridges and from the distance don't look like anything special. Kylerhea itself, a remote village with a narrow access road, has nothing to draw tourists to, apart from a wildlife-watching sanctuary and a ferry pier. But just as well. Sgurr na Coinnich, Ben Aslak and Beinn na Caillich are perfect small mountains for those seeking solitude. We didn't meet a single soul all day and had SUPERB views.
The easiest way to climb these 3 Grahams in one day would be to start from Bealach Udal, which gives the climber an advantage of beginning from 300m above sea level, but we went for the hardcore and decided to complete the full circuit as described by WH walk description. Three little Grahams, never above 740m? Ha, they still added up to over 1200m of ascent - ad much of it on pretty steep terrain, but the hills are worth the effort - we had simply an amazing day!
Our route as recorded by (now working again!) Garmin GPS:
There is a good car park at Kylerhea Otter Haven...
... where one can have a picnic with great views down to Kyle Rhea pass and Glenelg area across the sea. The southern tip of the Misty Isle wasn't so misty today:
There were other cars parked at Otter Haven, but we seemed to be the only visitors aiming for the hills and just as well - it is nice to be alone up there for a change, and we had no chance of that during our Easter trips, all Munros we climbed were busy like the A9
The first stage of the route goes straight up the hillside to the summit of a lower top called Beinn Bhuidhe (488m). There is no path up from the car park, but the slopes are mostly grass/low heather, with scattered rocks and boulders, so they didn't present much of technical challenge, but the steepness can be intimidating. We just pushed up without complaining...
Looking across Kyle Rhea - the ferry on the move:
I must say, I was amazed by the great views from the very beginning. Even from the lower slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe, there is an excellent panorama south-east to Glenelg Bay and the hills beyond:
After some good workout, we reached the top of Beinn Bhuidhe and now we could see our two of our objectives in front of us. Logically, if doing the full circuit, it is better to go for Beinn na Caillich first. Not that it looks very inviting. Steep ba***rd!
Sgurr na Coinnich, on the other hand, seems much lower and less steep from this perspective, surprisingly this is the highest of the trio!
A short stop on Beinn Bhuidhe to record the views... And there was already a lot of mootin' porn about! My eyes almost went out of orbits and this was just the prelude to what was yet to come!!!
Loch Alsh and all the hills around:
Glen Shiel mountains - Five Sister to the left, Forcan Ridge to the right. And Glenelg Bay:
Zoom to the Sisters of No Mercy:
We continued climbing from Beinn Bhuidhe, aiming for the col between the two Grahams. At some point I looked behind... I didn't really have the feeling of being on an island at the moment - the mainland with its high tops is so close:
Studying the eastern face of Beinn na Caillich, working out the best route up...
We carefully picked our way up the steep side of the Graham, avoiding the worst of the crags. We stayed more to the right, where it was easy enough to find heathery/grassy patches and follow them uphill. A couple of snapshots form my camcorder (apologies for bad quality, my cc is not HD ) show exactly, how steep it was... and how bouldery in places - though as I said, all boulders can be avoided:
Sisters again... seen from the final ascent, somewhere half way up.
When we reached the summit ridge, huffing and puffing, it was like a completely new world revealed itself before our very eyes... For the first time today, we saw the main part of Isle of Skye from above. And to be honest, we were mesmerised. Just stood there for a few minutes motionless, sinking it in. Then, snap-snap started!
Zoom to Broadford hills - they were bathing in sunshine whereas the Black Cuillin behind hid themselves in low cloud:
To the summit... Now it was an easy walk along the grassy ridge:
Beinn na Caillich has a large summit cairn and great 360* views, but it turned out to be quite a cold and windy place... We pulled out hats and gloves and sought shelter behind the cairn:
Weather was a bit unstable that day and plenty of showers passed over the mainland just east of us, but so far we managed to avoid the rain... but we were rewarded with some interesting "cloud behaviour" over hilltops, like here. Notice the shower in the middle of this photo:
Kyle of Lochalsh just down below us...
A wider perspective with Skye Bridge and Kyleakin, too. Only now it became obvious that we were on an island. All that water around
Bridge - zoomed:
East to Glenelg Bay and the mainland hills:
Once more north to the main part of Skye:
We had some hot tea to warm us up, but as a cloud was coming in and we were worried about rain, we decided to quickly push on to the second Graham. We followed the ridge and as a descent route we picked a faint, tumbly path (which we overlooked on the way up). There is no need to scramble, just a bit of attention on the steep scree needed.
Our objective No.2 for the day looked less steep and as it turned up, the slopes offered very easy climb on dry grass. Even as we looked at it, it was easy to work out the way up, avoiding the craggy bits:
We crossed the col and started the ascent of Sgurr na Coinnich, without any problems. As we stopped for a while to take photos, I studied the east face of Beinn na Caillich and our routes up & down. Here, an approximate draw how we did it - red for the ascent, green for the descent:
On a little rocky outcrop just below the top of the second Graham:
The cloud has passed and sun came out, suddenly the temperature went up like crazy, we started to strip up from warm layers... But luckily, the summit was just above:
The Sisters now basking in sunshine, too:
Beinn na Caillich again:
Panorama to the east:
North to Skye Bridge and Kyle of Lochalsh:
The summit area has two cairns, one next to a trig point:
This summit is just as good a viewpoint, and even better towards the Cuillin, especially that now the weather has completely turned around, the sun was shining and we couldn't take our eyes of the main Skye mountains:
Blue sea, blue sky, any chance for The Dawn Treader on the horizon?...
But on the mainland, a completely different story developed as we sat by the trig point - another wave of showers was coming and we expected them to hit us a t some point. At the moment, we enjoyed summer conditions.
Cloud breaking up over Sgurr nan Gillean:
The trig point, Beinn Sgritheall (left) and more distant Ladhar Bheinn (right):
Glen Shiel peaks:
One more zoom to the Sisters:
Trotternish ridge, cloud lifting over there as well:
As we rested by the cairn, we noticed a pair of large birds hovering over Bealach Udal - we recognized them as a pair of golden eagles. sadly, they disappeared as quickly as they showed up, no chance for a decent picture, so you have to believe us - we did see them... Obviously, not so unusual in eagle country
I have made a bad habit of sitting on trig points... Kevin prefers just posing next to them
Skye Bridge again:
We spent much more time on the second summit (I guess you understand why ), but there was one more Graham to bag. We knew this one was more separate from the other two and with more drop-reascent. The day was still bright and it would be nice just to sit here and watch cloud breaking over the Cuillin, but I wanted to add a third summit to our trip
The descent is straightforward, though steep in places. First, we descended the grassy slopes to a tiny lochan (marked on 1-25k map). So far so good and we now walked with the Cuillin view in front of us!
Lower down, there is one quite annoying, steep/bouldery section, where care is needed. Just as we approached this area, suddenly it started raining. Out of nowhere, a cloud popped up and in a few minutes we were soaking... We stopped to put on waterproofs, but the shower lasted only about 15 minutes,after which we had to stop and strip again
The bouldery section from below:
The sun was back, and just in front of us, Ben Aslak dominated the view:
Eager to add another hill to my conquests
Believe me... or not... but... The Cuillin cleared!!!
The final metres of descent were a bit squelchy, but we reached the road with no problems A car passed as we crossed the bealach, the passengers looking at us shocked, as if we were nuts Some lazy tourists, probably
The ascent of Aslan's Hill begins by walking a short distance up a track to a telecom mast, then we climbed another pathless, steep-ish section, aiming for Beinn Bheag, an outlying top. There is no need to go all the way to the summit of this one and the total ascent from the road to the summit of Ben Aslak is only about 300m. But after having done around 900m of climbing, it was still a workout for our muscles. We both concluded, that bagging Grahams can be painful, too!
View down to Kylerhea and the hills beyond from the lower slopes of Beinn Bheag. The Bealach Udal road can be seen to the left:
Sgurr na Coinnich from across the bealach:
Higher up, as soon as we were above Beinn Bheag, the view to the Cuillin returned and... well, judge for yourselves... Was it worth the effort?
Broadford Grahams, behind them Garbh-bheinn and the northern half of Cuillin Ridge:
The southern half, from Sgurr nan Eag to Cairn Dearg. Even the Inn Pinn was visible!
We reached a small loch about 100m below the summit - what a superb spot it would be for a quiet wild camp!
The final ascent is up a craggy slope but as this photo shows, the two grassy gullies can be used to avoid the rocks. We climbed up the one to the right:
There were still showers about, though not close enough to make us worried, rather something to photograph as they created rainbow-effect:
The perfect panorama of the Misty Isle:
At only 610m, Ben Aslak is the second lowest Graham, but what it lacks in height, it gains in views. For me, it was a nice number of 25 G's ticked I don't have plans to climb all Grahams, but it's more than just adding names to the list - it's about enjoying it, too! And at the moment, there was nowhere else, I'd rather be!
I wouldn't be myself if I didn't do some exploring on this summit, too Generally, all you need to do is park your backside by the cairn and simply look until your eyes hurt
Beinn Sgritheall was the dominant feature on the mainland:
Ladhar Bheinn, another one to climb... yet...
Isle of Rum:
Looking alongside Sound of Sleat with Isle of Eigg to the very right:
The Cuillin again:
Just amazing, simply breathtaking. How come these hills are so neglected? Probably very few hillwalkers realize how superb they are - not just the views on a good day like we had, but also quite a challenge and enough steep ascent to make your muscles scowl!
But maybe there is a good side to Kylerhea Grahams being so unknown. On how many high hills of Skye can you seek solitude? On how many can you sit by the summit cairn for ages and nobody will disturb you, not even Aslan the Lion?
OK, the day was perfect, but speaking of lions, after all that climbing we were hungry like a whole pride of them So the sooner we got down and set off on our journey home, the better.
Kevin ready to go!
The fastest way down is to return to Bealach Udal and then take the road down to Kylerhea, but we preferred to continue the circuit as described in the original WH walk. On the way down we discovered one more lochan:
One last look at the Misty Isle... in its full glory!
The descent route follows the grassy eastern shoulder of Ben Aslak, and all the way down we were accompanied by the great views to the mainland:
The descent was very pleasant to start with, on a wide grassy ridge...
...but the final 100m or so are very steep and overgrown with scratchy bog myrtle, so on a wet day this stage should be taken in very carefully. Yet with such panoramas around, who would care about a few scratches:
We even played boat spotting:
Once past the steepest part of the slope, we aimed for an old shed with red roof (seen here to the right of the picture, near the shoreline). At some point, we picked a faint, boggy path:
I promise that I only used the best photos of that day... Still feels like far too many...
We walked past the shed and across grassy meadows to the rocky beach. Crossing the river was easy as there wasn't much water in it at all. We continued along the beach for a short time:
Eventually, we reached the road and followed it a short distance back to the car. Phuuuuf! Might have been only 15 km, but quite an effort! We didn't hurry up too much though as doing these hills too fast would be a cardinal sin!
I don't know how to sum up this little voyage - I think Kevin's photos illustrate it better than any words would do. This forgotten, overlooked trio of Grahams gave us more excitement than many mainland Munros. Sometimes bigger doesn't mean better, and in this case, its the location-location-location, that makes the Kylerhea hills so special. I don't think I have to recommend them after what was shown above Meow!
But our hill-idays were far from over, on Friday it was back to Munros again - the story will be posted soon
by malky_c » Wed May 07, 2014 6:06 pm
This is what I wanted to do last summer, but had to settle for the inferior version from the top of the pass instead. A great walk, and really good views from these hills. They are much more like the mainland around Glenelg than the rest of Skye.
by SAVAGEALICE » Wed May 07, 2014 7:05 pm
by AnnieMacD » Wed May 07, 2014 11:05 pm
by BlackPanther » Fri May 09, 2014 11:00 am
Annie, if you a re looking for a pathless route, no need to tackle them from Kyleakin - there are no paths anywhere, apart form a fain one on the summit ridge of Beinn na Caillich.
You may find a pair of cheep sunglasses up on the ridge... I dropped them somewhere. I'm very good at leaving things behind
by RosyFingeredDawn » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:03 pm
We are Londoners and completely new to Scotland and, thanks to your report, Sgurr na Coinnich is the first thing we climbed after Ben Nevis.
It definitely felt like Narnia!
We'll be back....
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