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Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby theformerastronomer » Fri May 23, 2014 10:07 am

Munros included on this walk: Am Basteir, Bruach na Frithe, Inaccessible Pinnacle, Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh, Sgurr a'Mhadaidh, Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, Sgurr na Banachdich, Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr nan Gillean

Date walked: 21/05/2014

Time taken: 36.5 hours

Distance: 60 km

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A trip to Skye to bag the Cuillin Ridge has been on the bucket list for a while and I had decided that this was the year. A friend of my sister used to live on Skye and still does a few weeks guiding the ridge each May, so I got in contact with him and arranged to meet up for a week to hopefully get the lot. Better yet, a friend of his and fellow guide was along for the fun, so we had 2 experienced climbers in the group, which was very reassuring.

Day 1 - Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Greadaidh

The weather forecast for day 1 was moderately terrible, and unfortunately entirely accurate. The view from the cottage window in the morning revealed no sign of the ridge at all, and although it wasn't actually raining as we set out from the Glenbrittle youth hostel it was very wet underfoot and the Allt a' Choire Greadaidh was a raging torrent; given that we had to cross this higher up the route this was a concern.

We followed the excellent made-up path along the Allt, hopeful that we would make it to at least one summit. Upon reaching the normal crossing point it was unsafe to cross, but we tracked further up along the ravine and eventually found a place with good stepping stones still clear of the water and continued up into Choire a' Greadaidh and up the scree slope to An Dorus. By this time we were fully in the clag and the rain was alternating between a drizzle and a downpour, but we were there and decided to press on as none of the scrambling on these routes was too exposed. Heading up to Sgurr a' Mhadaidh was fairly straightforward with the grippy gabbro giving good footholds even in the wet and we were soon at the summit. With the weather as miserable as it was there was no point hanging around, so we descended back to An Dorus to attempt the longer ascent to Sgurr a' Greadaidh, where there was only one tricky step to negotiate on the way up. Unfortunately there were no views of the exposed ridge available (although possibly to the relief of one of our group, who was bagging the ridge despite not being a fan either of exposure or scrambling - good on her!). The original hope of also bagging Sgurr a' Banachdaich and shortening one of the harder days had been abandoned almost as soon as we set out so we picked our way back down and started to head back. By this point the rain was really coming down so we were an increasingly squelchy sodden (and grumpy) lot who were extremely glad to be back at the youth hostel in a creditable 6.5 hours.

Day 2 - Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean and Bruach na Frithe

View of the ridge from our accommodation

Day 2 was a much more challenging day, with Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean and Bruach na Frithe on the itinerary; fortunately the forecast was for improving all the time and the clag was mostly lifted as we set off from the Sligachan mountain rescue centre in much better spirits than the previous day.

Still quite a lot of clag on the peaks of Sgurr nan Gillean

We followed the path up to Choire a' Bhasteir and after a hard but relatively short pull we were up to Bealach a' Bhasteir, where we stowed our packs and donned helmets and harnesses for the intimidating-looking ascent.

Looking up towards Am Basteir

Following another group up - we bumped into this group all over the ridge

The ascent was easier than it looked from afar, apart from one exposed ridge that I had to put my hands down for (although I managed to stay upright on the way back - go me) and one difficult step where we had to climb down into the gap and then back out again. The rest of the route up to the summit was relatively straightforward with only a few exposed slabby sections with good grip.

After the descent back to the bealach and a cup of tea we started the ascent to Sgurr nan Gillean via the west ridge. We took a slightly different route to some of the other groups - the climb up the slippery chimney with the awkward chock stone might have been slightly trickier but it left us in a far less exposed point on the ridge. From there there were a couple of exposed slabs and up through the eye of the needle to the summit. The clear weather gave us some fabulous views all the way up to Trotternish and Storr and over the Red Cuillin.

On the way up Nicholson's Chimney

The eye of the needle from the summit

Red Cuillin

Red Cuillin and Bla Bheinn

From the summit it was a scramble and an abseil back down to the packs and then over to Bruach na Frithe for the last summit of the day. This was a route down below the Basteir Tooth and up the scree to the summit. The weather was starting to look a little more threatening but the summits were still clag-free and we had great views over to the other parts of the ridge.

View across to the southern parts of the ridge from Bruach na Frithe

It was time to begin the inevitable slither down the scree slope down to Coire na Circe and along the Allt Dearg Mor back to Sligachan. A weak ankle from a long-ago injury made this a painful experience, not helped by smacking the toe of my boot into a rock just as I reached the made-up path along the river, and the 3km back to the car seemed amongst the longest of my hillwalking career. None of this was helped by the thought that we would be back tomorrow for the In Pinn, and there were moments where I thought I might have made a horrible mistake. Getting back to the cottage and some hot food (and maybe a glass of wine) helped matters.

Day 3 - Sgurr Mhic Coinnaich, the Innaccessible Pinnacle and Sgurr a' Banachdaich

Waking up and feeling slightly trepidatious after yesterday's aches and pains, I was pleasantly surprised not to be stiff as a board the next morning. We set out from the parking area near Glenbrittle campsite probably slightly later than most at 10am, but there was method to our madness. A leisurely stroll up past Coire Lagan to the lochan to start with loosened off any remaining stiff muscles, although the gorgeous weather made the idea of loitering on the rocks by the water a very tempting one.

Some very tame local wildlife on the way up to Coire Lagan

Sadly though, we stopped only long enough for a quick elevensies and to fill up our water bottles before it was time to begin the ascent up to the bealach below Sgurr MhicCoinnich. Bags stashed and harnesses and we were off to the summit.

Like Am Basteir, although it looked intimidating from afar the scramble up was actually fine - helped by the now dry conditions and grippy rock; a little bit of exposure on the way up, but nothing that we hadn't negotiated before. Sitting on the summit I was now officially half way through my Skye munros, but inevitably all eyes were drawn towards the In Pinn. Perhaps this explains a loss of concentration on my part on the way back down to the bealach: having successfully negotiated all of the difficult sections, I put my foot down on to some loose rock and dirt and came down quite hard on my backside, breaking my fall with my hands. It was at this point that I was grateful for the foresight of clipping my first aid kit onto my harness, as I had a nasty gash on one palm - just what you need before a climb!

A little shaken but mostly unharmed, we paused briefly at the bags so that I could wrap my hand up slightly tighter, and then we set off around the scree at the base of An Stac for the start of the Pinn. From the top of Sgurr MhicCoinnich we had seen what looked like a queue of people at the base: we met guide Tony Hanley on the way across and he said that at one point there had been a (surely exaggerated!) 30-40 people waiting for the ascent! I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about the idea of waiting around getting more and more nervous. Fortunately, this was where our guide's planning came into its own, as we reached the base of the Pinn at about 4pm to find brilliant sunshine and not a soul in sight. Perfect!

Looking up the east ridge

Even though the climb from the east ridge is only graded moderate, the narrowness of the ridge in places made it feel much more challenging. I have to admit I didn't look down much, preferring to focus on my hand-and-footholds. The dry rock made the crux easier than normal, and despite my fairly ropey climbing skills and sore hand I managed not to scuff my knees. The rest of the climb was easier, and I was quite surprised by how quickly we reached the top. A quick rope down and I was on the ridge at Sgurr Dearg.

Darren shows us how it's done

By this point it was late in the day and we had one more summit to do so we couldn't spend ages hanging around congratulating ourselves: we set off almost immediately for Sgurr na Banachdaich, dropping slightly off the ridge and back up again from the southwest. The broad sunshine and zero breeze made this a sweaty journey, but (relatively) very easy technically. I can see how people could lose the trail even here in bad weather though. One pull up and we were on our 8th summit of the trip!

Weary walkers showing that they can count. Note the red fingertips!

From the summit here we also had a great view of Sgurr a' Greadaidh, which we hadn't seen at all on Sunday.

Sgurr a' Greadaidh from Sgurr na Banachdaich

The walk down to the youth hostel was seeming a long way away right now. It turns out that one member of our group had different ideas of how to get down and had packed a paraglider wing along with his packed lunch...

I really, really need to learn how to do this

Watching him sail off into the breeze just made the thought of that scree slope seem even longer and more tiring. We amused ourselves on the way down thinking of all the places where Tim could have landed - particularly when we had descended back down to Coire a' Greadaidh to find that the wind had picked up considerably. Fortunately we all made it back down to the car in one piece, with the promise of a rest day to allow our aching extremities to recover a bit.

Day 4 - Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Mor and Sgurr Alasdair

Getting out of the car at Glenbrittle campsite, I don't think any of us thought we would bag the remaining 3. The wind was already cold and very strong even at the car, and the clag was looming at about 700m. We decided to set off for Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda anyway and make the decision to proceed any further when we assessed the conditions there. The rest day had left me feeling sluggish and somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, but I gritted my teeth and set to.

Reaching the Loch, we were a bit surprised to find that the conditions were no worse than they had been at the car (although no better, either!), and having come this far were all agreed on the idea of attempting Sgurr nan Eag, the approach to which was quite sheltered from the strong wind. Rather than climbing up to An Castiel, we scrambled up a steep gully and cut off a significant part of the ridge, reaching the summit in good time. We met another group while we were there, one of whom refused to believe that she was actually already at the summit, having had horrible memories of this mountain from a previous trip.

The weather was OK: still windy and claggy, but not actually raining, and we tracked back along the ridge to Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn to see whether the ridge out to Sgurr Dubh Mor was accessible. It was noticeably more exposed to the weather at the bivvy point, but OK to press on. Had we not had a guide with us I would never have considered it, because finding the correct path in the clag would have been a matter of luck not judgement. Some fun scrambling down and up took us fairly quickly to our 10th summit!

There wasn't a view to be had, and the wind was picking up again, so we hot-footed it back to our stashed bags. Just in time, because the weather finally closed in on us and it started raining in earnest. Despite the very non-ideal conditions, we were determined to press on to Sgurr Alasdair. There was only one climb on the route, but it was a very unpleasant experience in the wet and not one I would be in a hurry to repeat. However, from the top it was only a short scramble up to our final cairn! High-fives all around, but the weather was so nasty we didn't hang around to savour the moment, deciding that that could better be achieved in the pub over a pint. Descending the stone chute at least got us down to Coire Lagan quickly, but I would personally take some pains never to have to ascend that way. A brief stop at the corrie, then back to Glenbrittle campsite, which seemed at least 3 times as long as the walk out, despite this route actually being shorter. Back at the car for 8pm again, we set off for the Old Inn for a well-deserved celebration, with beer and fish and chips.

The intention had been to bag Bla Bheinn the next day, but with the weather still closed in and various aches and pains damping my enthusiasm for another walk in the clouds, that one will have to wait for my next trip...
Last edited by theformerastronomer on Fri May 23, 2014 1:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby Doghouse103 » Fri May 23, 2014 10:29 am

Well done :clap: A great report and fantastic pictures, glad the weather improved for you, i'm feeling jealous now, the Cullins have been on my to do list for a while, its just picking a week with good weather if that's ever possible!!!
Well done again :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby theformerastronomer » Fri May 23, 2014 10:52 pm

Thanks :) - it's an amazing place and I can't recommend it highly enough, even if I did feel a bit broken and sore by the finish. You can probably do most things without a guide in good weather, but someone who knows the place is *definitely* recommended in bad weather (and you are pretty much guaranteed to have some bad weather if you try to do the whole lot in one trip!). There were so many places going out to Sgurr Dubh Mor in particular where we could have wandered off into the back of beyond very easily.
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby Riverman » Sun May 25, 2014 9:58 am

Awesome report and great pix. I'll be there in a week's time and hope I get some decent weather.
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby scottishkennyg » Sun May 25, 2014 6:15 pm

Superb...well done and keep us posted on how you progress with the paragliding...
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby theformerastronomer » Mon May 26, 2014 2:11 pm

Riverman wrote:Awesome report and great pix. I'll be there in a week's time and hope I get some decent weather.

Thank you!

scottishkennyg wrote:Superb...well done and keep us posted on how you progress with the paragliding...

Haha, thank you. Yeah, Tim's descent looked way easier than the scree slopes. (If I never see a scree slope again, it might be too soon...)
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Re: Leaving some skin on top of the Cuillin

Postby AnnieMacD » Mon May 26, 2014 2:30 pm

What a fantastic achievement and in such a short time. At least you got some good weather and views. As for scree, I know what you mean but think I have to make it my friend as it's unavoidable on most of the hills I want to climb :crazy:
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