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A day of firsts on Clach Glas

A day of firsts on Clach Glas


Postby Fractral » Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:56 pm

Munros included on this walk: Bla Bheinn

Date walked: 07/06/2018

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 10 km

Ascent: 1000m

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Last Thursday saw a couple of firsts for me; it was my first summit on Skye, my first roped scrambling experience, and would become my first walk report for this site! It was also a fantastic day out on a couple of spectacular mountains, one which I’m sure I’ll remember for a long time.

We were staying at Ratagan for the week, and had planned to make a visit to Skye on one of the days. On Wednesday it was decided (late) that we were going the following morning, so we pulled out the guidebooks and had a look at what was on offer. Blaven has been a target of mine for a while and earlier I had half-seriously discussed going over Clach Glas with Mike, who is in training for his MIA, but I hadn’t really expected to do it. As it happened though, Mike was perfectly serious about doing the Clach Glas traverse and so with alcohol-induced confidence I said I’d come with as an incompetent scrambler for him to get some more experience guiding. Also joining us would be Andrew, a similarly inexperienced friend of mine.

The following morning was clear and sunny and we set off for Skye in Mike’s van at about half past eight, arriving at the Blaven car park shortly before ten. We set off down the road for a few hundred meters before peeling off to head into the coire between Sgurr nan Each and Belig.

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Blaven, Clach Glas and Sgurr nan Each- our three targets for the day.

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The coire, unnamed on the OS map.

We followed the Allt Aighenn up the coire until it passed below the big buttress on the north side of Sgurr nan Each’s eastern top, the 623 meter spot height. This is the route called ‘North Buttress’ in the SMC guidebook, graded 2/3 and given 2 stars.

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A last stop for water before we attacked the buttress.

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The initial slabs are at the centre of the photo. The route stays just left of the large gully.

The first bit of scrambling is an easy slab on lovely rock. This was my first experience with the famed Cuillin gabbro, and it’s as wonderful as they say! Compared to my recent experience on Sharp Edge’s slippery slate this stuff was a dream to climb; grippy and solid making the ascent far easier than it looked. We quickly overcame the slabs and walked up to the first buttress, the start of the scrambling proper.

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Andrew and Mike above the first buttress.

At Mike’s suggestion we put on helmets and harnesses for the next part, just in case. As it happened there was one steep step where Mike’s sling came in handy – my short legs couldn’t quite get to the hold like his could!

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The route up- pick your line!

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Mike showing off on the first buttress.

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Andrew on the first buttress.

Aside from the one harder step the going was simple and route finding easy, and before long Blaven and Clach Glas appeared over the shoulder.

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Our real targets appear.

We continued to the minor top, where we took a short break and I snapped some quick shots of the surroundings.

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Sgurr nan Each’s real top and Clach Glas.

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The eastern red hills.

Easy walking led to the top of Sgurr nan Each from where the Black Cuillin appeared in all its glory:

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The Black Cuillin appears!

From there it was a fairly easy scramble over to the western top. This is described as ‘East-West traverse’ in the SMC guide, and given grade 1/2; nevertheless we decided to rope up when we came to the bad step. This comes in the form of a notch between the two summits, with a slabby downclimb followed by an easy scramble up to the western summit. Mike’s reasoning was that a slip would have serious consequences, and also that it made sense to give myself and Andrew some experience with a rope before we got to Clach Glas proper. Neither of us disagreed, so Mike got the rope out and set up a belay to lower us both down the slab before coming down himself.

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Clach Glas’s north ridge with Blaven behind.

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The bad step.

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Mike getting the rope out.

We remained roped until we reached the western summit, from where it was an easy walk to the start of Clach Glas. I took a few more photos on the way:

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The Black Cuillin in all its glory- my first time seeing it in person!

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Garbh Bheinn, my fall back plan in case Clach Glas turned out to not be an option.

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Clach Glas and Blaven, looking rather more pinnacle-like than they had from the road!

I’m afraid from here on the photos become a little more spaced out as I wasn’t able to get my camera out for a lot of the time! Once we reached the col we roped up again, this time with me on the far end of the rope and Andrew in the middle. Previously we had been the other way round (as by far the most experienced of us, Mike was of course at the end) but I asked to swap for the traverse. This would turn out much later to be something of a mistake!

There was another party who reached the col just ahead of us. The leader of the pair was also training for MIA and offered to exchange numbers with Mike (it turned out they were both booked onto the same course!) but they ended up descending from the putting green while we were on our way up Blaven. Despite having both done Clach Glas multiple times to our none, they kindly let us go ahead- perhaps too kindly, as we struggled a little with route finding on the way up.
Securely roped we more or less followed the crest until what the guide describes as ‘photogenic rock lumps’, distinguished by holes straight through them.

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The higher of the two lumps.

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The other group catching up with us after some dodgy scree running on our part!

After the rock lumps we descended a little and traversed to a large scree slope above the Black Cleft, from where the guide says to ascend a ‘slanting V-shaped chimney’. This we missed on our first pass, and we ended up too high in the gully. Fortunately Mike realised what we’d done- I certainly wasn’t able to tell the route- and we descended the very loose rock again until we found the chimney, just before the other pair caught up with us. While they took a break for sandwiches Mike shot up the chimney to the top about thirty meters above.

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Mike disappearing up the chimney.

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Andrew shortly before we followed suit.

Andrew and I followed once Mike had a belay set up. The first two-thirds or so were easy scrambling until we reached a much larger step that required some graceful footwork of the sort I’ve never been able to manage! Andrew ascended easily enough but I wasn’t quite able to get my right leg up to the foothold, even pushing off the slightly easier left hold. In the end a combination of jumping and Mike giving the rope a hefty tug got me securely in the hold, and I followed Andrew to the top of the chimney. A few minutes later we watched the other pair skip that step entirely via a crack in the right wall, described in the guide- if only I had thought to look!

Mike shot off again, this time up the final ascent to the summit tower. This took two pitches but was reasonably easy, though I was glad for the rope given the exposure.

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The climb to the summit.

Aside from a single section where I once again couldn’t quite reach the foothold the summit arrived with relative ease and we were soon eating our lunch on the narrow table.

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Me on the summit.

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Group photo on the summit with Blaven behind.

The other pair arrived not long after and set off after a couple of photos- I suppose it’s a lot less impressive when you’ve done it before! We enjoyed the exposure for a few more minutes before following them, catching up at the bottom of the impostor.

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Mike roping us down the impostor.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the Impostor, though it’s not hard to find good ones online. The gist is that from below it looks like a knife edge arete, but when you turn the corner a far easier approach reveals itself. The scrambling is fairly straightforward except for a few moves at the bottom where a little faith is required as the footholds are not obvious from above. Here I was already regretting volunteering to be at the end as I was descending first with nobody to spot me. Fortunately the difficulties were over quickly and we reached the scree path. The next problem was the Bealach tower, which Mike climbed with ease.

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Mike flying over the Bealach tower.

We stuck to the left and descended another suspect slab to reach the putting green, a remarkable flat area of grass totally invisible from below. Once again we didn’t stop so I couldn’t get any photos from the green, though I was able to take some from above.

From the green there were a few options for ascending Blaven. After a quick flick through the guide Mike asked us which we would prefer, then chose the one described as ‘not for the faint hearted’ anyway. This is the Left Hand Ledge, graded as ‘Moderate but seems harder’ in the SMC guide. It certainly looked harder from a distance!

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A view of Blaven from Clach Glas with the ledge marked.

First we had to ascend a small rock wall graded Difficult, though with Mike route finding it wasn’t all that tricky.

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Mike on the five-meter wall.

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A view back to the putting green from above the rock wall.

At this point the other group reached the green and began to descend the scree slope towards Loch Slapin, probably sensibly deciding Blaven wasn’t worth it! No such luck for us though, Mike was determined to complete the traverse to Blaven.

The ledge took three pitches, though I didn’t manage to get a good shot of the last one as my hands were shaking too much! The first pitch was easy enough- up a wide ledge to a slight notch from which we could see out across Loch Slapin to the mainland.

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Mike setting a belay at the top of the first pitch.

We climbed up after Mike without trouble. At the top Mike explained that the route was a little bit complicated from here on, and he was going to set some anchors so that the rope didn’t end up going over massive open gaps and the like. I couldn’t quite see what he was talking about from behind Andrew, but got the idea that, being the last one though, I was supposed to pull out these anchors as I passed them and clip them to my harness.

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Andrew and the second pitch.

Mike disappeared through a small tunnel- about a meter wide and a little more than that tall- and Andrew and I chatted for a while until a tug on the rope indicated that he was done. Andrew started off down the tunnel and I followed, unclipping the first anchor as I did so.

Before I describe my experiences with the route, I’d like to quote the SMC guide’s description: ‘The scariest way, not an option for the faint hearted or those wearing big rucksacks.’ (I fit both categories.) ‘Make for an obvious leftward sloping ramp. Follow this, then turn the corner and crawl painfully along a ledge of sharp rock. Cross an alcove above a horrifying drop (crux), and traverse left across a slightly easier gully to join the left flank.’ Had I bothered to read the route description instead of blindly following Mike, I might have asked that we go a different way; it certainly wouldn’t have encouraged me in any way. In the end I suppose it was better that I didn’t read it, as I would probably have been even more nervous going in than I was and might have made a dangerous mistake.

I crawled down the tunnel after Andrew, unclipping the second anchor with no problems. The ‘horrifying drop’ turned out to be a steep scree chute that cut deeply into the tunnel. Very aware of the consequences of slipping on the scree I awkwardly waddled to the left and into the alcove while Andrew negotiated his way up a slight rock wall, then followed. The third anchor was embedded in a crack just above the top of the wall; once at the top and on my hands and knees I gave it a good tug to try and pull it out. It didn’t come out.

I shouted to Andrew to hold up and shuffled back a bit. The problem was that the anchor had been put into the crack from behind, and needed to be pulled out that way. Mike could manage it with his long arms, but short me couldn’t. I’d have to get right below it, which meant sliding back down the rock wall about half way. At this point I became very aware of the thousand foot drop on my left. I’m not the best with heights, but until now the presence of the rope had kept me from panicking at any point. That was no longer quite the case.

I tried to shuffle back, but ran into the problem that I couldn’t see the way back past my legs and didn’t know where the foot holds on the rock step where. The rock beneath me was all loose, and I couldn’t get a grip above me, so I ended up very awkwardly sliding down the slope on my knees until my foot caught on something. It was a precarious position, but I was able to steady myself with my legs well enough to pull the anchor out. Swearing continuously under my breath I clipped the anchor to my harness then re-ascended the step. Andrew was just above looking quite concerned, but seeing I had the anchor was quite happy to make for the relative safety of the ‘easier gully’.

At the bottom of the gully Mike took the anchors back- apparently he’d used almost all of them- and disappeared once more. To be honest I was just about ready to be done with the roped sections, but there was one more pitch to come.

ImageThe tunnel. The ‘horrifying drop’ is the scree chute at the left of the tunnel; the rock step is just to the left of that.

The last pitch wasn’t quite as bad, being more open we were able to walk (carefully) along it. There was another scree chute about half way along, and once again Mike had jammed an anchor in right above it, but this time I was ready and pulled it out before making the hard step up. That done it was more careful walking to reach a shoulder where we joined the main path up Blaven.

The summit of Blaven was just two hundred meters up and not much more than that vertical, but we stopped for a minute to unrope and have a bite to eat. My hands were still shaking so I didn’t take any photos of the last pitch- not that I cared to get close enough to the edge for a decent shot! Once Mike had packed up the rope and all of his tools we dropped the bags and hoofed it up to the deserted summit, arriving just before half five.

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Me on the summit- Munro 71.

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Andrew on the summit.

It was getting late so we stuck around just long enough to take some photos then headed back down. To be honest after the excitement of Clach Glas, Blaven seemed a bit of an anticlimax- sure, there’s some easy scrambling on the main path and the views were spectacular, but it all paled in comparison to what we’d just done. A Munro is a Munro, though, so I got a photo in and touched the summit cairn before we headed back down the tourist route. Once we reached the bags I made sure to get one last shot in of wonderful, crazy Clach Glas.

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Fractral
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Re: A day of firsts on Clach Glas

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:35 pm

Sadly I can't see most of the pics, and can't access them by right clicking either. Tried all 3 of my browsers (Explorer, Firefox & Chrome).

Screenshot.jpg
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Alteknacker
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Re: A day of firsts on Clach Glas

Postby gaffr » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:13 am

One of my favourite days out in the Cuillin. One of these days out included the wee Elsie Belig and the Wee Ronnie Garbh-bheinn. Grand day out and usually quiet over on the far side of the Cuillin and on both occasions can't recall seeing anyone else. I guess that Clach Glas, not being on any of the 'Lists', doesn't get too much traffic....but it is a fine wee hill. Not to be missed out on. :)
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Re: A day of firsts on Clach Glas

Postby LeithySuburbs » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:15 am

Agree with Gaffr - one of the best hill days in the UK and one I'm sure you will remember :) .
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