The Cuillin - A break in the clouds
by shivy88 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 10:02 pm
Munros included on this walk: Am Basteir, Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh, Sgurr a'Mhadaidh, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr nan Gillean
Date walked: 06/10/2015
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Sgurr a Ghreadaidh & Sgurr a Mhadaidh
Route time: 6 hours
There are few things that would make setting my alarm for 4.30am seem like a good idea, but the promise of three days in the Cuillin is definitely one of them! I joined the mini bus in Falkirk still half asleep to meet the group I’d be spending the next few days with. I hadn't planned on it but when the opportunity came up, I couldn’t pass on the chance of a guided trip to the Skye!
It was 2pm by the time we had settled in and were ready to tackle our first two peaks of the trip; Sgurr a Mhadaidh & Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. We started out from the youth hostel, all eyes drawn to the razor sharp black pinnacles stretching out across the sky directly in front of us. The rain showers started almost as soon as our feet were on the path. With every shower the cloud fell and then rose again as the rain stopped, swirling round the peaks and ridges of the Cuillin, looking particularly foreboding! The forecast had already shot down any hopes of clear skies but as always I was hoping (just a little) that it’d be wrong. I was just cheering myself up thinking about how it could be worse, when it got worse. The wind picked up and the rain shower turned into a volley of hail. Thankfully, our backs were to the wind and the showers, hail and wind weren’t constant; taking it in turns to team up against us and even occasionally giving us a break. Our guides stopped us to put on our harness and helmets, and then up we went, zig-zagging up what not long before had looked like impossibly steep scree to An Dorus.
At the narrow top of An Dorus we roped up for the scramble to Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. The cloud was sitting pretty low but we got a little bit of a view down to Loch Coruisk. Nervous excitement gave way to concentration as we scrambled on the wet rock. We didn’t hang around too long on the summit as there wasn’t much to see, but we were lucky enough to get some breaks in the cloud where little sections of view revealed themselves, although only briefly. I always get this really great feeling when I've given up on seeing anything then you get this little break in the cloud, and get a peak at the most incredible views, and you have to stay right there in that moment and take it all it because in a second it'll be hidden again.
Descending back to An Dorus, the wind had chosen a great moment to pick up and a tricky descent was made trickier trying to avoid a face full of hail! The scramble up to Sgurr a Mhadaidh was shorter and on easier ground. We spent even less time on this summit as the cloud was now thick, stopping for a summit pic and then making our way back again to An Dorus where we un-roped and started descending the scree. Not long after leaving the crest of the ridge the cloud around us light up with a flash and was followed by an incredible roar of thunder. ‘Oh crap!’ (or words to that effect). My heart was pounding as we made quick work of descending the scree. Only twenty minutes earlier and it’d have caught us on the ridge. Thats a first for me on the hills and it felt a little too close! But it never came to anything more, another roar and it was gone as quickly as it started.
We made our way back down to the Youth Hostel as the light faded, reaching it just before head torches would be needed. By the time I crawled into bed after dinner and a couple of beers I’d been on the go for 20 hours and was beginning to feel it. As I drifted off I remembered that on Sgurr a Mhadaidh I hit the ton in my munro tally, and then happily crashed out!
Day 2 - The Fall
Am Basteir & Sgurr nan Gillean
Route time: 9.5 hours
I woke up before my alarm and turned it off. I was up too early but there wasn’t any chance of getting more sleep. Today we were heading for Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean. We’d discussed the route the night before but I’d been too tired to take most of it in. I remembered the guides mentioning that the scrambling would be more difficult and exposed than what we’d already done and I was looking forward to it! Part of the fun of days like these is the challenge; doing something that makes your heart beat a little faster, getting ‘the fear’!
The Cuillin always look so impenetrable from a distance. You have to get in close to these giants before the routes look doable and even then... It felt like a long walk up to the col between Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir but the views kept drawing me forward. The weather was set to be the best of the weekend and we got good views along the ridge. We roped up for the scramble and went for Am Basteir first. I was glad I was on the rope for the descent of the Bad Step, a move that needed a lot of trust as you dreep down to reach a foothold. A bit more difficult for those of us with short legs! Thankfully climbing back up the Bad Step is easier than going down.
After summiting Am Basteir we went back down for a go at the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. We had an easy scramble up a chimney and then some extremely exposed moves to the foot of the ridge. This was the only part of the scrambling so far that put the fear in me. I knew I was safe, and the moves were relatively easy, but the exposure made me hesitate and a few deep breaths were needed! The rest of the route was fine as we moved through the window and on to the summit.
From the summit we descended by the ‘tourist route’ (really not the best name for it). You might not think much of the scramble on the way up but its tricky enough in descent. When we reached safer ground we un-roped. I walked in front, our guide was nearby, and another walker on the trip followed on behind me. I was taking time to admire the views in between watching my step and was feeling pretty relaxed, thinking the hardest part of the day was behind us. The sounds reached me in quick succession: the thud of a misplaced step, a shout of surprise, and the sound of loose rock beginning to tumble. I turned to see the walker behind me hurtling head first towards the ground, and then beginning to roll directly towards me at speed. It reminded me of the game steamroller we used to play as kids, and the thought flashed through my mind that he was moving too fast to stop. I dropped down low to make myself as safe as possible and put my hands out to try brace the fall. As he tumbled towards me he rolled over small ledge that took out some of his momentum and came to a stop at my hands. There was nothing I could do as a rock twice the size of my head came towards us but luckily it dropped over the ledge and his backpack took the brunt of it. The guide rushed over to make sure the fallen walker was okay and thankfully a sprained wrist was the only damage. I sat there catching my breath, my heart pounding and stomach still clenched. When we stood up to walk again my legs felt like jelly. It took a while for my heart rate to slow and my legs to feel like they were properly taking my weight again. Oddly it seemed I was more affected by it than the man that fell. The rest of the descent is a bit of a blur, cautious of my own footsteps and conscious of everyone else’s. I didn’t really relax until much later when we were back in the hostel. It had given me a bit of a shock and was a reminder of how seemingly innocuous moments can turn into serious accidents. Thankfully that wasn’t the case this time and hours later we were all sitting around the table eating dinner, enjoying a drink and talking about tomorrows route…
Day 3 - The Cloud
Sgurr nan Eag & Sgurr Dubh Mor
Route time: 10.5 hours
We set of from the Glen Brittle campsite very early, following the well-made path round and up Coire Ghrunnda. We tackled the small scramble up to the coire without needing to rope up. The cloud was sitting below the level of the Coire, so views of the finest Coire in the Cuillin were hidden from us! The visibility was incredibly poor – there was nothing to see but cloud and the ground immediately in front of us. The knowledge of the guides was really apparent on the walk up as they picked out the route with little difficulty despite the poor conditions.
As we made our way up the boulder field above the lochan we finally got some views! I can only imagine how incredible this Coire must be on a clear sunny day. Possibly because there was nothing else to distract me I found myself completely amazed by the grip on the peridotite rock - it really is incredible! We made quick progress up onto the ridge and scrambled up to the summit of Sgurr nan Eag without needing to rope up. As the cloud was so thick there was little point in continuing to Gars-bheinn. Just one more excuse to come back as if any are needed!
Following the theme for the weekend we didn’t stay long and after our summit pics set off for Sgurr Dubh Mor. Again we saw very little and route finding seemed tricky but the guides were more than up to it! Because the scenery was pretty much the same from then on in (rock and cloud) I remember very little of it. Parts of the descent between Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Dubh Mor were on uncomfortably loose and steep ground, made even more unpleasant by the fact the ground now pretty wet. We stopped for a very windy lunch, not being able to find sheltered spot. It was then on to Sgurr Dubh Mor and we roped up for the scramble to the summit. The legs felt particularly heavy after the last summit of the weekend when all that was left was the long walk back out to the campsite.
When I was back in work a couple of days later everyone had stories of how amazing the weather had been with clear blue skies (almost!) all over Scotland, telling me I'd really missed out. I thought back to standing on the Cuillin ridge huddled inside my jacket with wind whipping round, the patter of rain on my hood, when the cloud parts for just a moment and you get a view you’d given up on and thought - you can keep your blue skies... this time!
by dav2930 » Wed Oct 07, 2015 7:26 pm
by Silverhill » Wed Oct 07, 2015 10:55 pm
by BoyVertiginous » Thu Oct 08, 2015 12:11 am
by edinburgh36 » Thu Oct 08, 2015 10:57 am
See you soon some fearless walking
by Petr Dakota » Fri Oct 09, 2015 5:55 pm
Congratulations for the achievement Well done