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The last Cuillin Munros Day 2: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

The last Cuillin Munros Day 2: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

Postby Emmanuelle » Mon Sep 19, 2016 10:29 pm

Route description: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

Date walked: 29/08/2016

Time taken: 7.5 hours

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I approached Day 2 of my Cuillin trip with not a small amount of trepidation. The SMC book announced that this hill was the most challenging of the Cuillin Munro :lol: and elsewhere I was being advised to get a guide. Yet, back in 1982, Kathy Murgatroyd, the first woman to do a continuous round of all the Munros, did it all by herself, a quick dash up and back down.

The night before I had a long chat with Mike and Christine (wardens at the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut that week) who had just done my target hill on that very day. They gave me some excellent tips. The basic message was that it's actually not that difficult but route finding can be a bit tricky in places. There is some Grade 2 scrambling too. And of course it's airy in places, nothing new there! More specific tips were: 1. if it's too difficult, it's not the right way, 2. follow the crampon scratches and 3. watch out for the slabs before the last step, cross them below the crest.

We also talked about the return - they had come back the way they'd gone up - up and down the An Stac Stone Chute. Christine said the glide back down took half an hour. And for the way up she advised moving to the side as soon as practicable to the larger boulders. I had another idea for the return. I planned to go all the way to Sgurr Dearg and find the path coming off the west wall which I remembered from the In Pinn trip 4 years ago. My recollection was that it was a good path and seemed preferable to risking hurting my knees down the stone chute. I would also land closer to the Hut, saving walk out time and leaving reasonably early to undertake the long journey back to Falkirk. This seemed like a top plan :lol:

Having stored all this information in my head, I went to bed. I hardly slept for the worry though :lol: The forecast was for a decent start with deteriorating conditions and so I had to contend with the additional prospect that the wind might whip up sufficiently to make progress impossible.

I was out on the path to Coire Lagan by 8am (very early for me!), the lower reaches of which I reached an hour later. The clouds had come in and were beginning to shroud the ridge. I met a chap who had been on the go since 4am and got the best of the conditions - a sunrise, clear summits, calm. An 8am start didn't seem so smart after all! :lol:

I moved on and as I reached the stone chute I could hear voices ringing round the cirque. A couple of guys were coming down the Great Stone Chute. But other than that, it was only me going up. hmmm :crazy: Whilst I'm used to solo walking, I did feel quite lonely at this point. However there was a stone chute to clamber up so I hunkered down and goat like, scrambled up the boulders. Only on a few occasions would I slide back down, otherwise it was pretty swift, although it didn't feel like it. Every time I stopped to catch my breath and looked up, I couldn't see the progress I'd made as there were few landmarks to help me monitor it. However looking back down I noticed that I was already about a third of the way up, then half, etc... To take my mind off the pain, I was also remembering that back in 1997 I had clambered up this stone chute, my first visit to the Cuillin, with an ex-boyfriend and two friends of his, who had it in his mind that we would do the In Pinn. The two chaps got cold feet :lol: or rather complained about shin splints and great tiredness in the stone chute. I think they were quite spooked. So I gave them my map and they returned to their cars. I never saw them again :lol: I But then I never walked with the ex-boyfriend again either. Anyway we continued our progress up the chute and ended up at a gap in the ridge. I was totally reliant on him to see us through the difficulties. I remember that it was windy, that I felt enclosed and I was quite scared, dizzy with the exposure. It was this gap that preyed on my mind all the way.

And suddenly here I was on the ridge, in the gap, in not dissimilar weather conditions. This time, though, I knew the ridge and what awaited, and I found my way easily round the first pinnacle. The wind stopped tugging at me. The cloud base was low but below it I could see the lower slopes of the corrie on the west side. Magic :D After a quick scan of the map, I reckoned I had about 1km to my summit and I was more careful than usual noticing particular landmarks. When these matched the terrain, it felt reassuring. I considered leaving my rucksack in a bivvy spot, it was only 11am, but I wasn't sure it was wise to do so whilst walking on my own. I might take hours to get there and need additional clothing or food. So I donned my lovely helmet, hitched the bag back over my back, had a wee snack and set off.

ImageThe first step to Mhich Choinnich. A different day altogether! by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

First gap, no problem, but where to climb? I did a little bit of rooting around and the mantra - if it's too difficult it's the wrong way - began its loop in my head, guiding me and helping me evaluate the terrain. Second gap, absolutely no problem. Occasionally I'd find a path which linked the scrambling sections, like a chain link, but I never felt out of my depths. Being in cloud also meant that I couldn't always see the drop below me, which gave me some comfort.

The third gap was the crux for me. There is a large tumbled down boulder sitting astride the gap, forming a wee hole, like the eye of a needle. Standing on the floor of the gap I considered my options. Go through the eye of the needle? I put my head through it and all I could see on the other side was not very much, nowhere to land. Scrambling straight up? There were a few useful hand and footholds but it seemed quite difficult and of course I didn't know what was beyond. If it's too difficult, it's the wrong way. Then I saw a path slightly down below on the right. This was promising. But the path after a while became precarious perched just below the ridge, up and around cliffs and I didn't like the look of it. If it's too difficult, it's the wrong way. I walked back a bit.

Could I scramble up here? It was quite a long scramble but perhaps it was do-able, so I made an attempt. If it's too difficult, it's the wrong way. It was too difficult, not insurmountable but if I fell back I would tumble down into Coire Lagan. So I walked back to the gap, had another root around and running out of options, I chose the direct route I had discounted 10 minutes earlier. Soon enough I found myself on a roof, with ahead of me, in the mist a thin crest which appeared to fall into the next (and final) gap. This was not inviting. By then I was seriously **** off :lol: I couldn't see what I'd missed and I thought that perhaps I had over estimated my capabilities. So I sat there for a few seconds, cursing, reciting my mantra and looked down... and there it was, the path, just a metre below, leading to the slabs Mike had mentioned, just below the crest. I had partly 'solved' the riddle. So I slid down to the path, scooted across the slabs and reached the last gap. A minute or two later I was scrambling up easily and excitedly to the summit cairn. I was literally on top of the world, very pleased with myself thank you very much.

ImageThe obligatory selfie! by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Not sure what this is!

ImageSgurr Thearlaich maybe? by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

Sadly there weren't many views for good pics so after the obligatory selfie and a quick glance at the memorial plaque, I retraced my steps. Christine had told me the return would be fun and straightforward. But before I could take her word for it, I still had the riddle of the crux to solve completely - across the slabs, onto the wee path and I edged towards the large boulder. I looked around it. I still couldn't find a practicable way so it looked like I'd have to reverse my route and downclimb. Just then, a guide and his 5 clients appeared! Hello, I said, which is the way down? And Mr Guide told me to ease round and under the boulder! Who would have thunk? Not me. And sure enough, after wrapping my body and rucksack round this boulder in a fairly ungainly manner, with my sticks scraping against the underside of the boulder, I stepped smartly on the floor of the gap. I said thank you and then all 6 guys used this route and quickly disappeared from view! After that it was indeed as Christine had said - straightforward and fun. I was back at the top of the stone chute in double quick time, 3 1/2 hours after leaving the Memorial Hut. Not bad for an ageing mountaineer!

Everything went downhill from there, so to speak. After talking to myself (self, should I just go straight back down or attempt the alternative route? Well, self, I hate stone chutes and look, the start of it looks really horrible. Yes, self, but the weather is pretty grim. Hmmm, yes but hey, what do you have to lose? My life? yeah but apart from that? It would be neat to find the path and walk smartly back down. If you can't find it, just come back here. OK, self, that's what I'll do). So I scuttled up and round the base of An Stac to Sgurr Dearg. I was sitting just below An Stac when the party I had met earlier came out of the clouds. I asked the guide to confirm that there was a path coming off Sgurr Dearg. He asked me to follow them up to the base of the In Pinn and once there pointed to the crest and said - turn left, over the other side and stay about 10-20 m below the crest. This seemed straightforward enough. But it wasn't and by the time I dropped over the other side my troubles started. I couldn't find the path, but there were plenty boulders going in all sorts of strange directions. To add to the fun, I lost my reading glasses. Also there were several crests. Nightmare. So I scrambled back up, thankfully found my glasses, and decided to start from the beginning again. The guide had just finished helping three of his clients abseil from the In Pinn and I hesitated to ask him to confirm that what I had seen in the clouds made any sense at all. I could just go back to the stone chute. But something compelled me not to abandon just yet. The guide was less helpful than before and refused to confirm that what I had seen was right or wrong. He was concerned about liability and didn't want to take responsibility for me. He asked me if I had a compass (er, yes!). I think he offered to help me down the stone chute, but I didn't need help with that! So I stopped trying to make him understand I wasn't trying to take advantage of him, thanked him and made one last go of it. If it didn't work this time I'd abandon the attempt and bail out by the known route.

ImageThe In Pinn in cloud. Things went awry from then on... by Emmanuelle Tulle, on Flickr

So I set my compass on west and off I went again. And then here was the path! :clap: Things were going really well... I recognised it. But then the path disappeared again. The choice was between a boulder field or a gap. hmmm. More pondering. I went for the boulder field and occasionally encountered small cairns. This felt reassuring, but the terrain was awkward and I couldn't find a line that followed my compass bearing. After some time I stopped and peered at my map, trying to work out where I might be. I was either heading into Coire na Banachdich or back into Coire Lagan. The former didn't seem to make sense given the general trend in the terrain, so it had to be the latter. Not good news, but then I noticed evidence of a stone chute that people had slid down not that long ago. Bemused I switched on my GPS and got a grid reference. And surprisingly, or not as the case may be, my hunch that I was drifting south was proved correct, I was heading for the entrance into Coire Lagan. So I slid down the stone chute, noticing a box of blister bandages that someone had dropped earlier :) , and once below the cloud level I saw Loch an'Fheir-bhallaich, and a man walking down the path out of the Coire! I was safe and actually not that far from Glen Brittle, but not at all where I'd intended to be. No matter, I soon rejoined the path and half an hour later was looking for the key to the Hut, very wet but pretty relieved. Half an hour later again, I noticed that the guide's clients were back at their own cars, so I managed to get back down before them, which was a wee surprise.

Some time later I left and noticed plenty of activity at the mountain rescue post. I gave two chaps a lift who told me that there were at least three rescues underway, including one of a trio lost somewhere off the ridge and one at the Fairie Pools! They themselves had had to bail out well short of completing the ridge traverse because of the worsening weather, marooned in Glen Brittle rather than Sligachan where they had rendez-vous-ed with their friends!

How do I feel? Happy to have completed the Cuillin Munros, taking me closer to compleation. I did really well on the way to the summit and was on the whole pleased with my problem solving till then. However, I probably should have gone back down the way I'd gone up, given the conditions. All I can say is that experience when things got a bit desperate - asking the right questions, reading the terrain and later switching on my GPS to get a grid reference - is what led me safely off the ridge, albeit in the wrong place. So all is well that ends well. But lesson learned...
Munro compleatist
Posts: 142
Munros:282   Corbetts:43
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Re: The last Cuillin Munros Day 2: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

Postby dalavil » Tue Sep 20, 2016 9:51 pm

Quite a day you had. Enjoyed reading your detailed description. Well done.
Posts: 36
Munros:279   Corbetts:221
Grahams:72   Donalds:30
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Joined: Jan 16, 2010

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