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Gillean Tourist? Path topo

Gillean Tourist? Path topo

Postby Rangernic » Mon Apr 29, 2019 10:11 am

Route description: Sgùrr nan Gillean

Munros included on this walk: Sgùrr nan Gillean

Date walked: 25/04/2019

Time taken: 5.5 hours

Distance: 12 km

Ascent: 940m

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Tourist Path? There’s no way this should be called a Tourist Path. I suppose the nature of the Tourist has changed since it was first pioneered in 1836. To be a tourist then, one had to have a bit more than a mobile phone and a selfie stick. I’m pleased to see modern publications adopting the name the South-East Ridge. (SMC Skye Scrambles, by Noel Williams)
01 Trail head at Sligachan.JPG
Not a happy memory.

Ever since last September I’ve been meaning to get back up to the top of Sgurr nan Gillean to check the routes to the summit and see if there is one which we could have taken in strong Westerly winds with rain and sleet, which had rebuffed my last group up there.
01 Last time.JPG

Most of my day's route can be found in other descriptions, there are two or three passages of more difficult route-finding I want to highlight. Crossing Coire Riabhach was straightforward. The next coire, I propose the name Coire nan Clach (Corrie of the Stones).
07 Coire nan Clach routes-1.jpg

The faint path splits at the foot of a crag. I went up left and cut back right on an inclined ledge, scrambling fairly easily. I could have taken the light-coloured scree up to where there is the chance to cut back left. This was better in descent.
09 Important cairn.JPG

Both alternatives meet at this important cairn.
10 Upper coire.JPG

The rest of the route up Coire nan Clach was straightforward, aiming for the notch on the skyline with an upstanding rock to its left. (Other variations are possible).
11 summit ridge 1.JPG

The upper ridge is sensational and in good weather anyone confident will just zoom up on whatever rock comes to hand. This is where some topo guidance might have been helpful last time, because I was there in poor weather with two people who weren't gung-ho for the climb and I was looking for the easiest route for them, having only memories of having a great time here.
12 Rough ridge and trap stair.JPG

There is a curious stretch of rough rock - volcanic breccia - split by a trap dyke which makes a fine staircase. (Did you know the Norwegian for stair is trapp?)
14 Top first steepening routes-1.jpg

There are two steepenings. The first can be turned on the left by a gully with a bridging move at the top; I went to the right up a shallow chimney with lots of holds.
15 Top steepening routes-1.jpg

The upper steepening is just below the summit. There are two options on the left. Move up to the left side where a wall faces left. Either cut back sharply right to the crest or continue along the face and scramble up to a pinnacle before turning right to the crest. Last time this side was windy and with sleet starting to lie. It is where everyone goes, with good reason. I wondered whether we shouldn't have tried on the right hand side of the ridge.
Today I followed the right hand side. I went up an inclined ledge, then a prominent gully (which had held snow till last week), and finally across very steep ground on an inclined ledge to come out right at the top of the West (and Pinnacle) ridge with only one rock to surmount to the summit. I can’t recommend it particularly. The last part of the ledge was thickly moss-covered, and the moss had a longitudinal furrow suggesting the supporting rocks were split along their length. I only put my weight on the inside half! Needless to say, I was too involved to take pictures.
21 committing step at the top.JPG

On the crest of the ridge the last challenge is the easy but exposed step across a gap to the summit. I would not want to be up here without a rope and climbing partner in any more than about 20 mph wind, and not at all above 30. Rain would make it unpleasant but the rock is very grippy. Snow or verglas would make a roped climbing arrangement essential.
23 rooftop.JPG

In descent, the ridge crest is appealing at first, remembering to cut back on a ledge to the right at the steepening.
24 alternative start down.JPG

The alternative option descends instead to the right quite soon. Though less spectacular, it is probably slightly easier.
The rest of the descent was as for the ascent, looking out for the important cairn in the coire.
08 Ramp in Coire nan Clach.JPG

Down from the cairn, a boulder-strewn ramp led into the main scree gully. It was quite straightforward.
In summary, it's a Grade 3 scramble, which means many people will prefer to use a rope on parts, especially in adverse conditions, and time will need to be allowed for this. Quite a lot of time for a big party. The right-hand side of the summit, though possible is not recommended (still giving me flashbacks!) and if you get to within 50m of the summit and there is sleet or strong winds, it's time to say "Enough!".
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Re: Gillean Tourist? Path topo

Postby gaffr » Mon Apr 29, 2019 1:58 pm

I am sure that the images that you displayed on here will be very useful as aids to folks ascending by this route.
However in this sort of terrain, in poor weather with a group relying on you to make the right calls is a whole different ball game.
The only time that I have been on this route was in descent after a traverse of the ridge fifty years ago. I have always had the feeing that these sorts of routes are probably easier to locate the main features in descent....of course all dependant on the weather being clear.
I had been to the top of Gillean via the Pinnacle ridge prior to doing the traverse as I had done with several other sections of the ridge...our way down was by the West ridge and was the chosen way down on a couple of other occasions that I had been in this area and on another traverse this was our descent route. I don't know but perhaps it seemed to be a quicker way of getting back down to the road?
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Re: Gillean Tourist? Path topo

Postby Rangernic » Mon Apr 29, 2019 4:18 pm

You could be right, it's always hard making an on-sight descent. Slightly easier if you've just gone up it. Temptation is, after a complete traverse, to relax a bit on this section. West ridge descent has its merits for a party with a rope, chiefly length.
I hope the pictures show the main features the ascending party is seeking, even in poor vis.
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