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A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin


Postby malky_c » Mon Feb 24, 2020 5:36 pm

Munros included on this walk: Sgurr nan Eag

Date walked: 13/02/2020

Time taken: 10.3 hours

Distance: 18 km

Ascent: 1300m

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Munros: Sgurr nan Eag
Date: 13/02/2020.
Distance: 18 km.
Ascent: 1300 m.
Time: 10 hours, 20 minutes.
Weather: Calm, brightening throughout day.

This was going to be it...the first proper mountain day out of the year! We packed up our tent in Glen Brittle and drove down to the carpark just outside the campsite. While the morning was overcast, the cloud was above the hills. We decided to get on and try and reach the ridge. Sgurr nan Eag was our target, hopefully with a traverse out to the southernmost point of the ridge via Gars-bheinn. Jackie was less bothered about Sgurr nan Eag and wanted to get on the ridge closer to the end, but I suspected if there were to be any difficulties today, they would be getting into Coire a' Ghrunnda and up to Sgurr nan Eag, and I wanted to do these bits in ascent.


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Sgurr na Banadich to Sgurr Alasdair

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Loch Brittle beach

It was a good path to the foot of Coire a' Ghrunnda and once we gained a bit of height, Rum and Eigg were on display. After weeks of mostly dismal weather, this was more like it!

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Coire Lagan

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Looking forward to some winter Cuillin

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Coire a' Ghrunnda

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Are we ready?

As we turned the corner into the lower corrie, the impressiveness stakes rose rapidly. Having gone up and down this way a couple of times in the past, I knew that there was an awkward step to reach the lochan. Well not so much awkward as hard to spot, with the other lines in more difficult. Our pace slowed further as we started going upwards steeply (we felt like we had been making good progress on the path from Glen Brittle but even that had barely been more than 2 mph).

We could see a couple of figures descending towards us and expected to be told that there wasn't a way through all the ice on the awkward step (something that hadn't crossed my mind, but was clearly going to be well rimed up). However it turned out to be guide Adrian and a friend, who had just spent a night bivvying under Sgurr Sgumain 8) . Jackie had just found a camera battery on the path and handily it belonged to them so was easy to return.

They also gave us confidence that we'd make it into the corrie without too much difficulty, although we'd almost certainly need our crampons. We followed their footprints which made finding the easiest line was straightforward for the most part.

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Icy slabs

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Slightly more awkward than expected

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Frozen waterfall

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Finding our way round the waterfall

At the most awkward sections, the footprints split up and we were left to try a few possibilities out and also strap on the metalware. In the end, a scramble up a rocky crack led us to an easier ice corner that we were able to pull ourselves up - ultimately it wasn't that difficult but the anticipation of something more awkward round the corner was always there, and we weren't overly keen to go back down that way either!

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Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn

The impressiveness ramped up even further once we were in the upper corrie with the loch partly frozen. After going round the edge of it for a short distance (I broke through one of the shallower bits while trying to avoid going around), we were ready to head up the boulder slope onto the ridge. About time too - it had taken us 3 hours to reach this point!

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Sgurr Alasdair

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On the rim of Coire a' Ghrunnda

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Sgurr Alasdair

The way ahead looks no easier than the route into the upper corrie, but while steep, it is easy enough to dodge around outcrops and crags, and before too long we were on the ridge.

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Up the boulders

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Sgurr Dubh Mor - thankfully not today!

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South Uist in the distance

Again the going to the summit of Sgurr nan Eag looks problematic from here, with a big tower sitting on the ridge, but I knew that there was nothing too difficult in our path, this being my 4th visit to the summit. We outflanked all of the awkward stuff by going to the right-hand side of the ridge, and although progress was slow, it was just a case of traversing up (and occasionally down) endless snowy terraces. The views just got better as we cleared the confines of the corrie - Ardnamurchan, Rum and Eigg taking centre stage, with South Uist and Barra away to the west. Jackie was somewhat less impressed with my 'man-size' steps through!

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Coire a' Ghrunnda and Sgurr Alasdair

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Near the summit of Sgurr nan Eag

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Bla Bheinn and Coruisk

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Eigg and Rum

The summit ridge was complete bliss. The sun had now come out fully and we were treated to a 360 degree panorama of the west coast and islands. In addition to Ardnamurchan (with the hills of Mull behind), we could now see a coastal sweep all the way up through Moidart, Knoydart, Kintail and Torridon, with a couple of the more prominent Assynt hills poking out to the NE. This deserved a lengthy stop as we had been largely on the go for the last 4 hours now.

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Jackie near the summit

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Sgurr Dubh Mor

I was less certain of the continuation of our planned route from here. We had taken ages to get here, and I only had vague memories of the Gars-bheinn ridge in the clag from about 16 years ago. Looking at it now, it appeared much less straightforward than I recalled! I thought the southern flank of Sgurr nan Eag would be a better way back, although it was essentially 800m of 45 degree scree and rock.

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Sgurr Alasdair

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Descending from the summit cairn

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Red Cuillin

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Out to Gars-bheinn

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Ardnamurchan and Eigg

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Eigg, Rum and Soay

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Bla Bheinn and Sgurr na Stri

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Gars-bheinn ridge

After stopping and enjoying the situation for a while and looking at the possibilities a bit closer, I decided we probably had enough time to carry on to Gars-bheinn. It was only lunchtime and we had headtorches, and weren't too concerned about doing the walk-out in the dark. So we dropped down towards Sgurr a' Choire-bhig. This was achieved at turbo-speed compared to anything we had done since entering Choire a' Ghrunnda - the terrain was much more straightforward than it first appeared.

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Descending Sgurr nan Eag

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Across Soay to Rum

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Garbh-bheinn and Bla Bheinn

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Looking back up Sgurr nan Eag

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Rum

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Sgurr nan Eag

The first part of the climb up to Sgurr a' Choire Bhig was easy as well, and it was positively warm at this point with the sun beating down. Higher up the ridge appeared to have a number of pinnacle-like protrusions in it, so we contoured to the right hand slopes a bit.

This was not a great move as the rock is no longer Gabbro here, and is pretty loose. Also the afternoon sun was melting snow and ice at an alarming rate, and small chunks of it were falling off. I didn't see anything particularly lethal dropping towards me, but was mindful of the odd bit of stonefall that could be heard lower down the slopes. If we didn't get off these slopes, that could soon be happening above us too! I shifted over these slopes fairly fast to get into safety, but soon noticed that Jackie was not very confident on the crappy ground and was lagging a bit. Once she got her axe out, she felt better about the situation but it probably ended up being one of the more alarming bits of the day.

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On our way up Sgurr a' Choire Bhig

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Back to Sgurr nan Eag

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Gars-bheinn

Back on the ridge, the summit felt quite exposed, as did a couple of short bits of descent. However it didn't take too long to reach more straightforward terrain where we were actually able to walk normally for a bit. That didn't last too long, but we didn't encounter anything particularly awkward on the steep climb up to Gars-bheinn. While the SW side of the ridge was in strong sunshine, the NE side was much colder, and any movement in that direction was pretty chilly.

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On the summit of Sgurr a' Choire Bhig

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Bla Bheinn

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Last bit of the ridge to Gars-bheinn

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Loch Scavaig and Elgol

Gars-bheinn was everything we had hoped for - probably an even better viewpoint than Sgurr nan Eag. As well as the majority of the ridge stretched out ahead of us, Loch Coruisk and the precipices of Sgurr na Stri were on display. From here we planned to follow the ridge out to its extreme SE end - something I had always fancied but never really had much reason to do. While it is nowhere near as difficult or impressive as the more well-known sections of the traverse, there is a unique feeling of striding out over the sea, with water to either side, and with the Small Isles and Soay straight ahead.

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Bla Bheinn from Gars-bheinn

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Towards Bruach na Frithe, Sgurr nan Gillean and Glamaig

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Back to Sgurr a' Choire Bhig

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Bidein Druim nan Ramh and Bruach na Frithe

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Sgurr Alasdair and Sgurr Dubh Mor

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Back along the ridge

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Across the Strathaird and Sleat peninsulas to the mainland

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Sgurr na Stri and Bla Bheinn

There were still a couple of shoogly moments sliding down loose gullies to avoid steeper sections in the ridge, but it was much easier to see what was up ahead, and we were able to relax to some extent. While I had assumed we would only be wearing our crampons to get into upper Coire a' Ghrunnda, we were still wearing them at this point, and would continue to do so until we dropped off the bottom of the scree run below us. They were a hinderance in lots of places, but overall there was still enough hard snow and ice around to warrant keeping them on.

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End of the ridge with Elgol beyond

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Nearly at the end

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Soay and Rum

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Almost there...

We finally made it to the tip of the ridge with a little over an hour of daylight left. While we didn't fancy hanging around high up for the sunset, this was some of the best light of the day. I had been dreading the 200m descent down steep screes to reach the path back, but although slow, most of the loose material was bound together by ice, and this part of the day turned out to be OK in the end. That was a relief! I'm not sure I would have been so keen to drop directly of Gars-bheinn though (our first chance to escape the route if we had been slower), where there is about 3 times as much of the stuff....

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Jackie not falling over

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Back to Gars-bheinn

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Sgurr Dubh Mor and Sgurr nan Gillean

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Small Isles

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Sgurr na Stri and Camasunary

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The last crappy descent

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Rubha an Dunain

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Looking back up the last slope

All that remained was a tramp back to Glen Brittle in the twighlight. The path marked on some maps is quite poor out here, and we had to dodge through some crags and ice to get on it, but compared to our pace up to this point, it felt like we were flying! It was a bit of a wet slop initially, but shortly after crossing the Allt Choire a' Ghrunnda, the surface improved a lot. We had our headtorches on by this point, but had been able to navigate all of the complicated bits in daylight. As we drew closer to Glen Brittle, we could see a couple of other headtorches lurking - one high on the ridge and another bobbing out of Coire Lagan.

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Elgol and the mainland

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Rum

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Sunset over Canna

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Eigg, Soay and Rum

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Sgurr nan Eag from the walk out

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Last glimpse of Barra and South Uist

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Rum

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Time for headtorches

The final march out was more of a tired plod really - Jackie in particular was fairly knackered, and adamant that if she had bothered to do any reading up on today's route rather than just taking my word that it would be OK, then she almost certainly would have decided against trying it! So an impressive effort there, and I was also pretty chuffed to be back on the ridge in winter conditions after an absence of about 15 years 8) . While I wasn't consciously avoiding the Cuillin (particularly in winter), it wasn't until I joined Owdjockey on a section of his coast-of-Britain walk in 2018 (where we crossed over the ridge from Coruisk to Choire a' Ghrunnda) that I decided to get up there again.

Back at the car at 7:15pm, it was a nice clear run back to Inverness. Jackie could hardly lift her arms above her head for about 3 days afterwards, but even so early in the year, I can confidently say this will feature as one of my top days out of 2020 :D .
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malky_c
 
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby litljortindan » Tue Mar 10, 2020 8:31 pm

Some cracking photos there. Nothing wrong with 2mph!
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby Mal Grey » Tue Mar 10, 2020 8:42 pm

Proper day out Malky. The images are fabulous.
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby jimbell21 » Tue Mar 10, 2020 9:15 pm

Absolute belter of a day!! Stunning 👌
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby Alteknacker » Thu Mar 12, 2020 12:58 am

"...I can confidently say this will feature as one of my top days out of 2020 :D ."

Absolutely!!! I can't see how it can get any better than that. Wonderful stuff from both of you. I'm not envious, no, not one little bit....

See you in Glencoe (expecting to be signed off by the docs as "good to go" on Friday coming).
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Alteknacker
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby weaselmaster » Thu Mar 12, 2020 4:06 pm

Just lovely 😊
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby Klaasloopt » Thu Mar 12, 2020 8:00 pm

What I love most about this is the opportunistic attitude that is a premise for this fabulous day out :clap:
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Re: A Skye blue day on the southern Cuillin

Postby Anne C » Fri Mar 20, 2020 10:08 pm

Brilliant stuff! A really tough day out but clearly, worth it many times over (though well beyond me) :clap: :clap:
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