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Rise (and fall) of Sky(e)walker: Sgurr na Stri fail

Rise (and fall) of Sky(e)walker: Sgurr na Stri fail

Postby Raynor » Sun Jan 19, 2020 10:53 pm

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

Date walked: 18/01/2020

Time taken: 7.68 hours

Distance: 22.01 km

Ascent: 544m

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I had been crawling the walls recently with uni exams to study for but finally I was done and had a spare week. Unfortunately the weather was not playing ball. Gales forecast every second day all week potentially. I had many ideas and had wanted to do a rum bothy trip then camping on eigg but I had to be back for wednesday and the forecast suggested there was a decent chance of the ferries being disrupted. In the end, I decided to go for some island action that you can drive to. Skye!

It must be over ten years since I've been on Skye. Shocking really as the place is amazing. My previous visit with a friend had been a gale fest meaning the big hills were no go zones. I think we did old man of storr and then made it part of the way up some other random hill before being blown off. I had ambitious plans to make this trip a multi day camping trip. Sgurr na Stri summit camp, kylerhea hills, then camp at point of sleat. As it happens I didn't achieve any of this :lol:

I set off just after midnight on a cold friday morning. Me and the car had a pep talk. Oil leak, slow puncture, weird whirring noises were just some of the recent complaints and I urged it to channel it's inner millenium falcon and keep going. I pointed out that if it stopped working, I was going to go full on chewbacca mode and start hitting it....
The plan was to drive up slowly overnight, get to sligachan a couple hours before sunrise and have a short nap.

Things were going fine until I hit rannoch moor where temperatures plummeted and out of nowhere I drove straight into an oncoming blizzard! Rannoch moor seems to generate it's own weather I've noticed. By the time I was at glencoe village it was gone and it was also 4C warmer already. Crazy. The next problem wasn't far off though. Just after invergarry the road starts to climb and wind. There was a serious blizzard going on up there and there was snow on the road. There also seemed to be ice under the snow! The road clearly hadn't been gritted and was essentially a death trap. The entire way from invergarry to the clunie inn was like this. Absolutely horrendous driving conditions. Heart in mouth stuff for a good 30 minutes as I inched along at 20mph as the car skidded all over the place at the slightest turn of the wheel. The uphills were brutal. I tried to apply just enough to keep going up but not enough to cause skidding. I was so glad I wasn't coming the other way down the steep hills as it would have been totally undriveable. At one point I followed the faint remains of someones tire tracks before they veered off onto the wrong side of the road. :shock: I had been really tired but now I was wide awake, senses fully functioning. It was pretty surreal as despite the danger it was spectacularly sparkly with big stags all over the road as well. Felt like I was in narnia at times. :crazy:

Progress was slow but I wasn't in any rush so I finally got parked up just outside the mountain rescue hut in sligachan around 7. There was a brief hail shower then I tried to sleep but was far too cold. I had pretty much all my walking layers on, hat, gloves, then a spare jacket over me but was still shivering. I thought about the sleeping bag but no way was I unpacking and repacking my full bag to get it. My head had been pounding on the drive up and I kept sneezing. Not sure how cold I actually was or if I was just coming down with a bad cold...

Rise-of-skywalker.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

As dawn approached I started to see the hills just appear out of nowhere. It's amazing how close and big everything feels around here. Proper steep hills. Right across from me, I could start to make out the snowy top of Sgurr nan GIlean.



The good stony track begins at the old bridge and follows the route of the river. It makes for good walking when you actually find it. Naturally I got distracted by the nearby mountains and ended up squelching through a bogfest for a good 15 minutes first.



There were many burns and small rivers to ford. They started off easy enough.


The views were just getting better and better. My cheap and ancient camera does them no justice really. I kept stopping to just stare at the mountains in appreciation.


A pebble thrown at unsuspecting hikers by the ice giants. Or a large glacial erratic. Whatever you choose to believe 8)


Can't have a walk report without some lichen action.


I ended up taking a lot of photos...



Marsco looked rather steep on the other side.


The rivers were becoming larger and more difficult to get across dry :lol:


I came across this perfect small patch of grass with a stone cairn in the middle. I wondered what the significance of it was as it's the only bit of terrain here that isn't boulders and boggy heather.


Looking back towards the start.


Another of the million or so photos I took, from a slightly different angle.



I noticed a herd of deer on the lower slopes of Marsco. The deer around here seem a lot less panicky than further south but they were keeping an eye on me.


By now the sun was fully out and I was surprised to feel the heat on my face. It was turning out to be a cracking day despite the forecast of hail showers all day.


At this point I met a young guy coming the other way who stopped to chat. Turns out he was just coming back from a summit camp on sgurr na stri. I mentioned that the weather was lovely and he gave me a wild eyed look of confusion and told me he had endured a snowstorm overnight and was glad to be out of there :lol: He also said he had no views which seemed odd given the apparent clear conditions. Just shows how localised weather can be. I was a bit disappointed as I thought it was a sure thing I'd get a classic summit money shot of the cuillin ridge. He then said there was another guy still up there, huddled in just short of the summit, who had walked in from Kilmarie. I said don't you need a really low tide to get across the river and he said yeah the guy had to wade across up to his waist. And that was at low tide :lol: :lol: :lol:

As if to prove a point that you can never trust the weather, a rather violent hail storm blew through for 5 minutes before returning to clear sunny skies. Continuing along the track, I passed a couple of lochans and got some good snowy views up to the ridge behind it.



I passed another couple of guys out walking with their dog and was thinking about the nutter who waded across the river so wasn't really paying attention. Suddenly I was at a small loch.



This was a nice picturesque spot and I stopped for a food break. Then it dawned on me.....why am I at a loch? I'm not meant to be at a loch! With a sinking feeling, I checked my map and realised I had completely missed where the track splits. I had gone the wrong way and by a fair distance as well. I looked around to see if the river was crossable up here. No chance :( I had been feeling alright up until now, caught up in the wonder of my surroundings, oblivious to the missed night of sleep. All of a sudden everything just seemed to hit me at once. Mentally and physically, I felt shattered knowing how long I had to backtrack to the path and then knowing I still had a fair old distance after that, and all uphill.

I knew this was an ambitious and hard walk for me at the best of times. I'm very much still at the getting back into it stage and I haven't had a heavy backpack on for years. I was also carting around my old highlander tent which isn't exactly lightweight and my 4 seasons sleeping bag is probably a couple of kg itself. I got a bad feeling about this... :lol:

I manned up and stopped feeling sorry for myself. I headed back along the track and got to the turn off point. It seemed to take forever and by now every step was a drag and an effort. At the crossroads, I thought about just heading back, but knew that was a long walk in itself. I decided to stick with the original plan. The path starts to climb steeply uphill here and after struggling up the first section I was pretty done in. It was now a case of find any suitable spot and stick the tent up. I needed to lie down and had started sneezing again. Turns out I was in for a cold after all. This had always been a plan B though. Camp early then summit sgurr na stri for sunrise. Problem was this terrain is not good for tents. Boulders, bog and heather everywhere.

I eventually found what looked a sheltered spot and went for it. My muscles were killing me and I was getting cramps and aches in my hips and legs in places I didn't even know muscles existed. I got the tent up easily enough and stuck the tent pegs in. Unfortunately it was so wet they just went straight in offering no resistance at all. This was not going to work if it got windy...It was like trying to erect a tent in the middle of Dagobah :lol: I spotted some huge rocks and wasted what energy I had left carrying them back. I dumped them on top of some of the pegs and hoped it would hold. As it turned out their was next to no wind anyway. Ah well. The view from the tent wasn't too shabby actually.


All I had to do now was get some sleep and get a good early start in the morning. Easy right? Apparently not. I just could not fall asleep despite feeling done in. I also felt absolutely freezing. Now I know I was in a tent the middle of the cuillen in january but I was prepared for the conditions. I had an extra thick ground mat. Under the tent itself was a thick waterproof mat. I had a 4 seasons bag down to -7C comfort allegedly. I had two layers of merino baselayers on. A thick woolen shirt, tshirt and a fleece on. Thick dry merino socks. I even had my hat and gloves on in the sleeping bag and wrapped myself in two emergency foil blankets. I just lay there and every minute or so I had an uncontrollable full body shiver. It was cold and frosty outside but noting extreme. I should not be this cold and I can only assume it was actually just a sign of flu/cold virus kicking in.

After 2 or 3 hours of trying and failing to fall asleep, I read some of the book I'd brought with me. Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane. Very good incidentally although a book that is essentially about people willing to die for the mountains was perhaps inappropriate at the time :lol: . Coincidentally, I heard noise outside and stuck my head out. In the distance, the search and rescue helicopter was doing loops. I thought of the guy who waded through the river only to camp in a summit snowstorm and hoped he was ok... After a couple chapters of the book I was feeling sleepy again so tried to fall asleep. Nope, still the weird full body shivers. I could feel my legs starting to get wet due to the sweat from the foil blankets so my decision was made for me. This wasn't going to work.

retreat-of-skyewalker.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

I got the headtorch on and noticed now it was dark outside, it was a truly stunning night. So many stars. I really envy the people with the expensive cameras and knowledge that show crazy photos of the sky at night. My camera literally just shows a big black screen but in person it was amazing to see. I was actually feeling reasonably ok again. I hadn't slept but the rest had helped at least. I then thought about leaving my tent and bags and going up sgurr na stri. It was a perfect clear night but there was no moon and no light. It was pitch dark and I wasn't sure how easy the route finding would be. I decided I only really had one option left. I had to go back to the car and get out of here. The slight problem was that it was 6 miles away, it was dark and the path was now coated with ice :lol:

The walk back went better than expected. It took less than three hours to get to the car. I hit "the wall" several times and almost threw up but each time I just took a few moments to rest on a rock, had some lucozade and water then kept going. A tried and tested method :lol: At one point I turned the headtorch off and looked up and was truly awestruck by the night sky and how bright the stars were. A truly magical sight I will not forget in a hurry. Things might not have gone to plan, but I felt very privileged to be out there :D

Back to the ice block that was the car just before midnight, where I had fun drawing on the windscreen as I downed an icy cold orange lucozade that tasted amazing. The five hour drive home was again horrific with icy roads and with nearly 48 hours of no sleep and exhaustion I was hallucinating all sorts of things in the dark. Lamposts became people trying to flag a lift. Rows of trees turned into impenetrable mountain walls and at one point I swear I saw a zombie fawn and an ewok. It was most definetely time for my bed and a tremendous sleep was had as soon as my head finally hit the pillow :)

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Re: Rise (and fall) of Sky(e)walker: Sgurr na Stri fail

Postby Mountainlove » Mon Jan 20, 2020 9:19 pm

This report made me laugh. How to teach yourself some lessons, the hard way. Been there too and those are the days you won't forget easily. Some great photos! Up for 48 hours without sleep... That's one I could not do
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Re: Rise (and fall) of Sky(e)walker: Sgurr na Stri fail

Postby Raynor » Tue Jan 21, 2020 9:09 pm

Mountainlove wrote:This report made me laugh. How to teach yourself some lessons, the hard way. Been there too and those are the days you won't forget easily. Some great photos! Up for 48 hours without sleep... That's one I could not do

Thanks! Not sure I've learned any lessons and I'm already looking back on it through rose tinted specs :lol:
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