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In Pinn and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - a misty climb

In Pinn and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - a misty climb

Postby skyeles » Thu Jul 14, 2016 10:45 am

Route description: Sgùrr Dearg and the In Pinn

Munros included on this walk: Inaccessible Pinnacle, Sgùrr Mhic Chòinnich

Date walked: 01/07/2016

Time taken: 10 hours

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A colleague at work was part of a guided group doing all the Skye munros and she let me know that a space had become available for their last day, which was the In Pinn, and wondered if I wanted to join them. The In Pinn has always seemed like something that I would never get the chance to do but was a real ambition of mine, so, while filled with more than just a bit of trepidation, I said yes!

I drove up to Skye from Glasgow the day before in crappy, rainy weather and wondered about the group who would be out on the Cuillin in this, and was glad to be warm and dry in the car. Had a wee overnight in a B+B in Portree and enjoyed a pint in the Isles Hotel bar before getting an early night.

Drive down to the Cuillin the next morning showed lots of cloud cover on the tops although it was a reasonably bright morning...
Imagephoto[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Joined the group at Glen Brittle Youth Hostel at 8.00 the next morning - I didn't know anyone else except for my work colleague but everyone made me feel very welcome and I was introduced to our guide, Andy, who immediately handed me some "ballast", as he called it, in the form of a climbing helmet and harness. I've never before done any hillwalking that required any ropes and suchlike. always being one of those who likes a wee scramble now and again, but balks at anything scarier than that, so being handed this equipment got my heart rate up a bit!

The weather was dry (the best day of the week according to those who'd been out in torrential rain on the previous days), but the tops were all clagged in so I wasn't too sure whether we'd see anything once we got up there - but, in a way, that wasn't the point - we were here to conquer the In Pinn (or else back out of it at the last minute, as I still thought I might, once I actually saw it up close! :shock: ). After a quick couple of bananas (no time for breakfast at the B+B), we set out.

Imagephoto[2] by Les Wood, on Flickr

We split into two groups - one, consisting of the younger lads, set off with their own guide knowing that we'd be following behind at a slower pace. Our guide, Andy, from Alba Mountaineering was great at setting a pretty easy pace and we quickly got to the foot of the steep section heading up to the main ridge.

Imagephoto 1[2] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imageimage by Les Wood, on Flickr

As we made our way up, the weather began to deteriorate and it was time to put on the waterproof trousers (or, as I was about to discover, the not-as-waterproof-as-I-thought trousers).

Imageimage by Les Wood, on Flickr

The rain came on pretty relentlessly as we made our way up the steep section to the ridge - the pace was steady and no real problem but by now I was realising that my waterproof trousers just weren't up the job and I was getting a bit damp, to say the least. Top half was fine, but legs were now unpleasantly wet. Not good...

Eventually we got up onto the ridge and the rain relented, eventually clearing and letting us see a bit of the view. We scrambled over a few rough sections, which was good fun and then, suddenly, looming out of the mist, we could see the top of the In Pinn. I think we all swallowed hard - well probably not Andy!

We scrambled over the final section until we were at the point where we could dump our rucsacs, and there was the Pinnacle standing right over us - living up to its Inaccessible name!

Imageimage by Les Wood, on Flickr

We stopped for a quick bar of chocolate and some nuts and then it was time to get the harnesses and helmets out of the rucsacs and "suit up" :shock:

Imagephoto 2[4] by Les Wood, on Flickr

ImageThe Inaccessible Pinnacle!! by Les Wood, on Flickr

Andy then led us down a rough and disconcertingly steep knobbly section to reach the start point at the base of the Pinnacle. High above, we could see the younger lads from the first group already making their way to the top. One of them shouted down that they were "having so much fun!" - the sarcasm in his voice wasn't easy to miss :)

We waited at the bottom of the Pinn and Andy roped us up, explaining how the climb would go and what we should expect.

The Fear...
Imagephoto 2[3] by Les Wood, on Flickr

I was designated to climb first :shock: after Andy had climbed up to set up the first belay. From below, my heart pumping hard and my mouth dry as dust, it looked very steep indeed though I could see where all the hand- and foot-holds were. It also looked HIGH and NARROW!! :(

Soon the call came down for me to climb, Andy gathered in the slack on the rope and I was off - too late to turn back now. I have no shame in admitting I had jelly legs at this point, but I soon gained some confidence as I realised the holds were good as I climbed up a sort of narrow crack or gully in the initial section. Within a few minutes (and now already quite high up - well, for me anyway) I had to negotiate a move out of this crack and onto the narrow blade of the Pinn proper. Despite the fact that there was quite a bit of mist and I couldn't really see that much, this now felt much more exposed, I also unexpectedly found that my hands had got very cold - I was climbing initially with gloves off as I wanted to be sure of hand holds and a good grip, but my hands were now so cold that I could hardly feel anything at all! Nevertheless I made it up to the tricky wee bit (the crux) where you have to swing out a bit and there are no good foot or hand holds. I can't really remember how I negotiated this - a combination of terror and adrenaline somehow got me up and over it and then I was at the first pitch with Andy waiting for me. I'd made it past the hardest bit, he said!

Andy hooked me onto a sling and I shuffled along a narrow wee ledge which formed a decent stance and waited while Andy gave the call to the other two to start climbing. I dug my gloves out and defrosted my fingers, taking the opportunity to relax a bit and take in my surroundings. It was a mixture of relief and disappointment that the mist prevented any real view at this point - relief that I couldn't see the big drops, and disappointment that I couldn't see the magnificent mountains that were around me! Occasionally it would clear a bit and I could look behind me and see just how high and exposed I was - scary!

The others eventually climbed into view, and I could see just how steep the first pitch was that I had just come up.

Imageimage by Les Wood, on Flickr

I could also look ahead to the next pitch, which looked horribly narrow and steep... "just like a big staircase," Andy said. Aye, right!!

Imagephoto 4[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Once we were all collected on the little ledge Andy then climbed ahead to set up the second pitch. He quickly disappeared from view and we were left questioning our sanity - more than once the phrase "never a- %^&$ing -gain" flitted through my head! I might even have said it out loud!! But soon the call to climb came down again and I gritted my teeth abd made my way up the "ladder". Andy was right though - this section was much easier (albeit narrower) than the first pitch, and before I knew it things got less narrow and there he was in front of me, and, incredibly, there behind him was the bolster stone!! "Is this it?" I asked. "Are we at the top?" Andy smiled and said "We certainly are!". I could hardly believe I'd made it. I felt elated and amazed that I'd actually done it. Of course, there was still the small matter of abseiling off, but I wasn't thinking about that yet. Plenty of time to contemplate it while the others climbed up though!

Imagephoto 1[4] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Once we were all together again, Andy then secured the ropes for the abseil but while he was doing this the weather deteriorated badly. A squally blast of rain blew in and then developed into a horizontal downpour (a sidepour?). We were thankful we hadn't been climbing the Pinn in that rain and we had at least a wee bit of shelter beside the rocks at the summit. I think things could have been considerably trickier if we'd been climbing in the wet!

I've never abseiled before, so was unsure what to expect and more than a bit apprehensive. I watched the others go backwards over the edge in that horrible wind and rain and, again, I asked myself what the heck I was doing here!

ImageThe quickest (and safest) way off the Inaccessible Pinnacle is to abseil by Les Wood, on Flickr

Soon it was my turn, and Andy gave me my instructions - lean out, keep your feet flat to the rock face, walk yourself down using the rope as a brake/release (not quite sure how the rope/friction thing worked to be honest!). I wondered about placing my faith (and fate) in the harness and ropes, but Andy told me it was the safest thing I would do all day! In the end, he was right - I actually quite enjoyed it and found it pretty easy (something I would not have said earlier in the day!).

Imagephoto 5[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Once we were all back on real terra firma, we scrambled back up to the ridge and our rucsacs. We were all grinning and happy that we'd actually done it and I think we all felt a great sense of achievement. The squally rain also stoppped and the clouds parted to finally reveal some fantastic views across Corrie Lagan to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich (our next destination) and Sgurr Alisdair and also opened out behind us to show Coire na Bannachdich and down to Glen Brittle.

ImageLooking across to Sgurr Mhic Coinnich, Sgurr Thearlaich and Sgurr Alisdair by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagephoto by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagephoto 4[3] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imageascent route onto the Sgurr Dearg summit below the In Pin by Les Wood, on Flickr

Looking across to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, we could see the first group making their way along the ridge to the summit (those wee dots!)

Imageimage by Les Wood, on Flickr

After a quick bite and a drink for me (I had absolutely no appetite!), we gathered our gear and set off down to the base of the In Pinn and coninued on down over very steeply-angled, wet and slippery slabs towards the bealach above the An Stac screes. I didn't find this section at all pleasant, and i must admit i used the five points of contact method a few times. Andy pointed out a recent rockfall, telling us to be careful with our hands as the rock would be very sharp (and it was!) - these were big blocks of rock and I shuddered to think what would happen to us if they decided to shift down the mountain any further!

There was some good, easy scrambling to get to the bealach above the screes where we dumped our rucsacs again. Andy pointed down to the screes, telling us that would be our descent route to Corrie Lagan. They looked very steep from up here.

Making our way to Mhic Chonnich, the mist closed in again and we had no real view at all, just vague dark shapes towering above us which we had to climb. I remember thinking "Are we really going to scramble up that?!" when we got to the big cliff faces which take you up on to the summit ridge. Andy was again excellent though, pointing out the best hand holds and wee ledges for our feet. I've read in other reports that Mhic Choinnich is quite an exposed, scary climb, but I must admit, because of the mist, I didn't feel any of that. It was a steep, but manageable scramble into the gloom with no real sense of any of the big drops that must have been around us - I felt safe the whole time. Might be a different story if I were to do it again in clear weather!

Eventually we met the first group of lads returning from the summit - they all seemed to have enjoyed it. Andy asked the other guide what the conditions towards the top were like. "A wee bit greasy," he said. Andy translated that for us as meaning "Very slippery indeed!".

Andy roped us up again, for security more than anything else, and we continued our scramble to the summit. The basalt rocks had dried out a bit by now and weren't as "greasy" as they probably had been. Before we knew it we had arrived and we huddled together at the small summit point, which has a wee memorial plaque to a climber. The plaque itself is split down one side, probably due to a lightning strike or maybe frost.

Imagephoto 1 by Les Wood, on Flickr

It was cold (but dry) in the mist, so we didn't hang around too long on the summit. As we retraced our steps back to the bealach the weather began to clear again and we got some good views down into the corrie (with its wee heart-shaped lochan) and across to Blaven. Unfortunately we had no view back up to Sgurr Dearg and the In Pinn, which I would have liked to have seen, since the views in other pictures look stupendous.

Imagelooking down to the heart-shaped lochan in Coire Lagan by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagelooking across to Blaven from Sgurr Mhic Choinnich by Les Wood, on Flickr

The scramble back down from the summit ridge was a wee bit tricky in places (helps if you've got long legs!), but nothing too scary.

Imagephoto 2 by Les Wood, on Flickr

Soon we were back at the bealach, harnesses off but kept helmets on in case any rocks came down when we were descending the screes. The screes themselves were steep, but I found the descent reasonably OK, just kind of surfing along on moving stones rather than walking down. A few times my feet sank into the stones too deeply and I couldn't pull my feet out in time to prevent me going on my backside! Not very dignified! It didn't take us long to get down to the lochan in the corrie, but, looking back up, I don't think I'd like to ascend these screes as a way to get onto the ridge - it would be one step forward and three steps back, a real thigh-buster of a climb!

Imagephoto 4 by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagephoto 5 by Les Wood, on Flickr

From the lochan it was a straightforward walk back to Glen Brittle along good paths and with magnificent mountain scenery all around.

Imagephoto 2[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagephoto 1[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Imagephoto 3[1] by Les Wood, on Flickr

We arrived back at the youth hostel ten hours after we'd set out - tired, but all very happy and pleased with what we'd done! Said my cheerios and thanks to everyone and drove back to my B+B in Portree for a shower and then down to the Isles Hotel bar for some well-earned veggie haggis, tatties and neeps (I was starving, as I had hardly eaten anything all day!), a couple of pints and rhe Wales-Belgium game on the pub TV! Fantastic end to a fantastic day! Many thanks to Ann, Martin and Andy for the opportunity to join them.

I'm back up on Skye for two weeks soon and I think I'll go back up to Sgurr Dearg in better weather and to take my proper DSLR camera to get some clearer shots of the mountains (these pictures were all from my iPhone).

Interesting physiological postscript - when I got home I found this amazing bruise on my arm (painful but not too bad) - I have absolutely no idea how I got this and didn't feel a thing at the time. Illustrates the power of fear and adrenaline in suppressing pain processing!

Imagephoto 3[2] by Les Wood, on Flickr

Now off to buy a proper pair of waterproof trousers #wetbumallday
Last edited by skyeles on Fri Jul 15, 2016 12:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: In Pinn and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - a misty climb

Postby Silverhill » Thu Jul 14, 2016 9:00 pm

Oooh well done! That's the way to do it, say 'yes' and go for it! :clap: I really enjoyed reading your report. It brought back everything of my trip to the Cuillins last year :D .
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Re: In Pinn and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - a misty climb

Postby celt54321 » Sun Jul 17, 2016 1:32 am

well done,a good read.im up there in september for my shot at it,so reading all i can about it.great pics,so different from what im used to,glen coe,mamores ect, :clap:
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Re: In Pinn and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - a misty climb

Postby Sgurr » Sun Jul 17, 2016 7:28 pm

Excellent description of a (not quite) novice climb. I was wearing a sun hat, so when the hard hat went on I acquired blinkers. A great accessory .... and those "not quite rainproof" trousers. It is a puzzle as to how they can be Ok at the end of the last rainy walk, and leaking like a sieve the beginning of the next. How does that happen?
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