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Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby BobMcBob » Fri Nov 13, 2015 12:06 am

Route description: Sgùrr na Strì

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Sgùrr na Strì

Date walked: 20/10/2015

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I'd had a miraculous 9 days in Scotland. The weather had been amazing for mid October but the forecast said that from now things were going to change. With Skye not being the most sheltered place I'd planned to retreat eastwards, maybe towards Braemar or something, I wasn't really sure. But as I pulled out of the campsite at Sligachan that morning, some instinct told me to turn right, north towards Portree, so I did.

After a few minutes I was already questioning my instinct. Even the Storr was under cloud, what was I doing? I turned around and resumed my original plan. But as I came down the hill back towards Sligachan, this is what I could see.

Marsco, with Clach Glas behind

Always listen to your instincts :) How could I leave Skye now? The high Cuillin peaks were all in cloud but I've long had a hankering for a wander down Glen Sligachan. I've viewed it from so many high-up angles and I was a bit fascinated to see Loch na Creitheach, or perhaps Sgurr na Stri, or maybe even the mystical land known as Camasunary? I parked at the small car park just down from the campsite and set off to see how far I could get.

Marsco and Sgurr nan Gillean

DSC_6867 - DSC_6871.jpg
Pano across the glen

Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir

It was serene. There was almost no wind, the sun was shining, everything was beautiful. I knew there was bad weather around, I'd seen it, but there was no trace of it here.

I wasn't really expecting to get very far to be honest. It looks an awfully long way on the map, and I was very aware of that weather forecast with its promises of gales and storms and the return of satan (I might have misheard that last bit). But after an hour or two I found myself, to my great surprise, next to a large cairn which the map assured me meant I was more than halfway down the glen and could realistically make a push for Sgurr na Stri, somewhere I'd wanted to go for a long time, ever since I'd first seen it from Elgol as a boy. And look, there it was!
NOT Sgurr na Stri

Those of you who are paying attention will have realised of course, as I would have had I given the map more than a glance, that the shapely pointy thing in that photograph is not Sgurr na Stri, but Sgurr Hain - a lower peak some 2 miles closer than Sgurr na Stri. I, however, safe in my delusion that I'd already walked more than half of the 8 miles, merrily trotted off towards it. I was also pushed by the fact that the weather in the direction of the rest of Glen Sligachan now looked like this

It got quite boggy for a while, but as I started the ascent I met a bunch of path builders who were very hard at work improving the path, and a very friendly bunch too. We chatted for a while. Nice guys all of them, and doing a grand job. I carried on upwards and on reaching the bealach two things became clear. Firstly, it was now obvious from the map that I had been looking at Sgurr Hain all along.
Sgurr Hain

Secondly, the weather was worsening as promised. The wind was now making walking... if not difficult then harder than it ought to be. It was also cold, putting-the-waterproofs-on-even-though-its-not-raining cold. But Sgurr na Stri - magical point of majestic views, mystical land of the heart of the Cuillin - was so close I could taste it. Or that might have been boggy mud whipped up by the wind, which is much the same thing, in a way.

The path got worse. Much worse. In some places it was even worse than that. And it went downwards. Madness! Several times I had to stop to check I wasn't on the path that goes right down to Loch Coruisk and round over the Bad Step. I wasn't. I tried to stay high by leaving the path but it got even boggier so I stayed with it. Eventually, after crossing a small stream, impatience got the better of me and I headed directly upwards for the summit of Sgurr na Stri. As did the path, I soon discovered :) Easy going over gabbro slabs and a few tiny scrambles eventually got me there.
Backwards from the way up, towards the main Cuillin ridge over Loch Coruisk

There are many who say that this is the best viewpoint in Scotland, if not the UK. The weather was not in my favour. The high Cuiilin peaks were capped by a thick cappuccino of cloud. The wind tore at my Gore-Tex, intent on ripping it from my bones, screaming in my ears as if warning me to go, get out, leave this place! At one point I put down my rucksack and wandered off with the camera and then spent a couple of anxious minutes absolutely certain it had blown away, only to find it bundled up, saved by a gap in a rock, a few feet from where I'd left it. But as I sat with the camera, hunched down behind a rock out of the wind, watching a golden eagle watch me from above as it soared effortlessly downwind, and I looked over at that remarkable view, I think I could see what they mean. I must return on a better day. Particularly that mighty buttress at the end of Druim nan Ramh, that looks like some kind of ancient golem frozen in time and waiting to be woken to command the island again, had me transfixed.
Druim nan Ramh

This is truly a place to stir the imagination. It's wild in every sense of the word.
Coruisk from the summit

Now I wasn't sure which way to go next. I still wanted to see Loch na Creitheach, but the thought of going back almost to Sgurr Hain to find the path down to Coruisk (I wanted to see Coruisk close up, but not in this weather) and then navigate over something called the 'Bad Step' in weather that was worsening by the second didn't appeal. But neither did the idea of going all the way back the way I'd come. I don't do that, not if I can help it.

Sgurr na Stri has 2 summits separated by a big chasm that you can see even from Elgol. I could see the cairn on the second summit but was getting really cold now in the wind and I was just about to turn around and leave when the golden eagle returned, shrieked once, and disappeared down behind that other summit. I'm on my way over! I said in my head as I virtually jumped down off the first summit and scrambled up to the second so fast I don't even really remember it. The eagle had, of course, vanished from sight. But several things hadn't:
The mystical land of Camasunary

Bla Bheinn and Loch na Creitheach

Give me a few more trips up to Scotland and I reckon I'll be able to write a book called 'Bob's Crazy Descents'. Stood on top of something, looking down at somewhere you want to be, it's really easy to convince yourself that "yeah, that's no problem, yeah it's steep, so what? stairs are steep. ladders are steep. gravity will help, look, just do it, it won't be a problem". At times like these one conveniently forgets simple facts. Facts like 'vertical crags are invisible from above'. Facts like 'vertical crags foreshorten a face from above so it looks really easy'. Facts like 'wet grass is really, really slippery'. Facts like 'you're not as good at scrambling as you like to think'.
Descending in a vaguely easterly direction from the second summit, all of these facts were soon hammered home with the ferocity of the wind that I was now mercifully shielded from. From above it had seemed there was an easy, grassy, route around all the crags that wouldn't take more than 20 minutes. When, 90 minutes later, I finally found a weak point through the final crag that involved shimming on my bum down a small waterfall and then jumping off a ledge onto what I prayed was solid ground, I decided I'd better write all this up into a walk report, print it out, and tattoo it to my eyeballs. :D
I mean, at no point was I in danger of dying. At no point was I in what the film classifiers would nowadays hilariously call "serious peril". But I didn't have any fun, and the point where I realised that this was a very bad idea was the point where turning back would have even more stupid than going on :D
In the end I made it to the bottom and I took this photo to remind myself that when the Harvey's map draws the contours in grey, this is what they mean.

There is undoubtedly a better route than mine. I challenge you to find it. But don't come crying to me when you get a wet bum :D
All I had to do now was cross the river

which I eventually managed on some boulders some way upstream. I skirted around a bog, heading vaguely for An't-Sron and when I found the path I was so happy I bent down and almost kissed it. The weather by now was more than ominous, and all thoughts of going to Camasunary had long since evaporated, so I put myself in stride mode. Shortly after I passed the big cairn I knew I had't been quick enough. I heard it before I felt it, a distant low shriek, accompanied by a whistle, accompanied by the deafening roar of a thousand harpies as the storm finally caught me. Behind me a roiling grey pudding of cloud squeezed its way up the glen, sending before it dancing curtains of stinging rain that whipped and chastised me. I turned my back, put my head down, and accepted a drenching. I arrived back at the van, soaked though despite Gore-Tex, drove the 200 yards back to the campsite, and switched the heater on. Fortunately for the campsite man, I'd managed to get dry underpants on when he knocked on my door asking for payment 15 minutes later :D
I have to admit that I scared myself in that descent. I've had a couple of nasty flashbacks and "what-ifs" in the weeks afterwards. But I still want to go back to Sgurr na Stri. But maybe in better weather.
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby AnnieMacD » Fri Nov 13, 2015 12:26 am

What a fantastic read! My heart was in my mouth on that descent!

What to say except that you MUST go back in good weather. Also, I think the best way in is from Kilmarie and via Camusunary rather than down Glen Sligachan. I was going to say to look at my walk report from my trip in June but realize that I haven't submitted it yet! I need to get it up - maybe it'll be the next one I'll do. I had a great day but did not take the traditional route either. It was a nice day though!
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby Mal Grey » Fri Nov 13, 2015 11:40 am

Absolute belter! A superb read with some truly atmospheric photos. You really captured the essence of this almost primeval place.
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby wilkiemurray » Sat Nov 14, 2015 11:34 am

excellent report - glad you made it down unscathed (well apart from a soaking backside :lol: :crazy:

Had this peak on my hit list this year, but I will hope to get back there in 2016- this report has reminded me of this:)
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby Silverhill » Sat Nov 14, 2015 10:17 pm

Wild place + wild weather + wild idea = superb!
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby Alteknacker » Mon Nov 16, 2015 11:49 pm

I belong to the group that thinks you get the best views in the UK from here! And even in that weather, they weren't too bad really (although reading your report, I was glad I was in a warm and sheltered place).

Great report! :clap: :clap:
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby dogplodder » Tue Nov 17, 2015 12:21 pm

It's not often reading reports I find the words as compelling as the photos - but yours did that. :D
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Re: Sgurr na Stri by surprise

Postby BobMcBob » Tue Nov 17, 2015 4:36 pm

Thanks all, glad you enjoyed that, it was the worst weather of my fortnight in Scotland but definitely the most enjoyable report to write :)
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