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Clear and sunny on the Black Cuillin (May 2007)

Clear and sunny on the Black Cuillin (May 2007)


Postby malky_c » Sat Jan 16, 2010 8:39 pm

Munros included on this walk: Bruach na Frìthe, Sgùrr nan Gillean

Date walked: 13/05/2007

Time taken: 9 hours

Distance: 14 km

Ascent: 1180m

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Munros included: Bruach na Frithe, Sgurr nan Gillean
Date : 13/05/2007
Time taken: 9 hours
Distance: 14 km
Ascent: 1180 m
Weather: Warm, clear and sunny

Having not done much on the hills of late, I thought it would be time to pull another old day out from the bag, but what to pick? A sudden thaw last night meant I has able to see grass in my garden for the first time in almost a month, and this got me thinking of spring again. Therefore I decided a good choice would be my most recent visit to the Black Cuillin in May 2007. I do have some great winter Cuillin photos and reports from previous years, but unfortunately these were taken pre-digital. I will have to dig out my scanner soon!

A friend had access to his grandparents place in Carbost, and had arranged a meet of sorts for a week in May 2007. This mainly consisted of ex members of my university mountaineering club, so was a good chance to catch up with people.

For my second day out, I joined up with a couple of friends to climb the northern section of the Cuillin ridge, including Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir and Bruach na Frithe. We set off from Sligachan Hotel in brilliant conditions, with the aim of using the 'tourist' route to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean.

The walk in from Sligachan:
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Pinnacle Ridge profile:
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The going was fairly warm, but straightforward. There is fairly minor, straightforward scrambling on the SE ridge of Gillean until the final 30m or so. Here, there is a fairly large step up a corner followed by a very narrow section of ridge, after which you are on the summit. While not particuarly difficult in good conditions, this part is still quite airy, and sets the tone for the rest of the day. Back in 2003 I reached this point with a couple of other friends in winter conditions. Although we had axes and crampons, we hadn't bothered with a rope, and the snow on this section made getting to the top impossible. So close though!

In May though, we had no such problems, and had a lenthly summit break. The summit is tiny, and due to the good weather, it was pretty busy, so finding somewhere to sit was not that easy. The views down Pinnacle Ridge were interesting, if slightly airly. I had done this in spring 2005 and found it to be fairly straightforward, and really good fun. I would have chosen that day out to cover in this report if I had any digital photos of it.

Bla Bheinn:
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Red Cuillin, not such great weather on the mainland!
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Pinnacle Ridge from summit:
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W from summit to Bruach, Basteir:
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The next section of the route took us down the W ridge, which is quite intricate higher up. At one point you squeeze through a window between two boulders. The middle section is more straightforward, with something approaching a path (pretty rare for the Cuillin!). From here, descent to the col before Am Basteir looks like a piece of cake, but as you get closer, it suddenly becomes more awkward. Blocking the way is a knife-edge ridge comprising of big blocks, which is stepped with some rather abrupt drops along its length. This used to be the location of the nutorious Gendarme, a rather badly balanced pinnacle on the knife-edge. However this fell off in the 80s (hopefully without anyone attached). I'm unclear as to whether that has made the route easier or harder, but when I went this way in 2005 I found it awkward to say the least. I was lowered off the first step, after which the rope was not much help. I can't really remember what happened after that, but I remember thinking 'there's no way I'm going down that again!'

With that in mind, in 2007, we opted to abseil down a chimney on the N side of the ridge at the top of the knife-edge section. The abseil was a bit dirty, but much more straightforward, and once set up we were down in no time.

Back up W ridge of Gillean, including abseil:
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Close-up of abseil:
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Am Basteir is fairly straightforward from here, but rather loose. Unless you fancy abseiling down to the Basteir Tooth then doing an extremely long and awkward second abseil off the Tooth, the only way off is back the ascent route. The route to Bruach na Frithe then traverses under the N face of Am Bastier, meeting the ridge again under the Tooth.

Basteir and Tooth from right underneath!
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Having Am Basteir in 2005, I opted out and let the other two get on with it. I headed round the traversing path, then having some time to spare, took a walk out along the level ridge N to Sgurr a Bhastier. A great viewpoint this, with an easy stroll along a narrow crest to reach it. There aren't many parts of the ridge that are this straightforward!

The clarity of the air at this point was really quite something, with the Outer Hebrides seeming close enough to touch. I was intrigued by a very faint block on the horizon between N and S Uist. It was really hard to see, but I concluded that the only thing it could be was St Kilda. A look at the map at home confirmed this, and also gave a distance of 96 miles!Quite something! Sadly my rather bog standard digital camera couldn't pick it up.

Sgurr nan Gillean (Pinnacle ridge on left) from Sgurr a Bhasteir:
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Bruach na Frithe from Sgurr a Bhasteir:
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West to Outer Hebrides (doesn't look as clear as it actually was):
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Back to Am Basteir and Sgurr a Fionn Choire from Sgurr a Bhasteir:
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I headed back to the main ridge and over Sgurr a Fionn Choire, a top which I had missed previously. This gave a grandstand view of the Basteir Tooth abseil, which no-one was doing. I have never done it and I don't think I want to. My understanding is that you start from a rather awkward ledge, and need two full-length ropes to reach the bottom. The route is overhanging, and it is very hard to see where to go.

Basteir and Tooth from Sgur a Fionn Choire:
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Over Sgurr na Stri to mainland:
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Sgurr a Bhasteir:
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Basteir and Tooth again, with Gillean behind:
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Zoom to Bla Bheinn:
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I think it is the Tom Patey book which has a great account of doing the entire ridge in the winter. One passage which sticks in my mind concerns Graham Tiso setting up this abseil, descending it, then giving the rope a good pull to check it is sound. He catches his crampon in the rope, which due to the length has a lot of stretch in it. The rope unstretches and drags him with it, resulting in him hanging upside down by his crampons about 3 feet off the ground! Apparently he remains in this position for much of the day.

Anyway, I digress. Somewhere up the S face is the Moderate route onto the Tooth. If I ever do it (and I want to, as it is the only Munro top on the ridge I haven't done), this is the way I will be going.

From here to Bruach na Frithe is straightforward, with the lack of sheer drops on the N side of Bruach being something of a novelty at this point. Bruach na Frithe is another great viewpoint, as it is on a corner, the ridge turning to the S here. The view to the next section of ridge is probably one of the best there is on the Black Cuillin.

Central main ridge from Bruach na Frithe:
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South main ridge (last two photos would make a good panorama if I had the software!):
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Over to Bla Bheinn again:
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At this point, I hung around waiting for the other two to catch up. When they did, we dropped off into Fionn Choire to the N, contouring and eventually picking up the Choire a Bhasteir path back to Sligachan. A swift pint followed!

Looking back on the descent:
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Back to Sligachan:
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Later that evening, the more bonkers part of the group rolled back to Carborst. They had set off to Glen Brittle early that morning on the offchance that they might manage the entire ridge traverse in a day. Although they had also skipped out on doing Am Basteir as they had failed to find the Diff route up onto the Tooth, they succeeded in doing the rest of the ridge. Even more impressive, one of the party had never done anything in the Cuillin before, and hadn't done anything approaching that length of day.
Last edited by malky_c on Sat Apr 30, 2011 10:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Clear and sunny on the Black Cuillin

Postby mountain coward » Sun Jan 17, 2010 2:24 am

Great pics but defo not my sort of thing! Wondering if I'll even get up Bruach na Frithe and Banachdich (the 2 I always thought were probably easiest)...

If it was a blocky thing in the distance it probably wasn't Kilda as that looks like a huge upturned pudding, very rounded and tall - the blocky bits are Heisker (or the Monach Isles) half way out to Kilda...
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Re: Clear and sunny on the Black Cuillin

Postby ianaird » Sun Jan 17, 2010 8:08 pm

nice report Malky. Was hopefull of doing that or a similar route later this year but my guide has broken his leg :( so i will have to wait and see. After seeing your pictures it can't come quick enough :D
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Re: Clear and sunny on the Black Cuillin

Postby malky_c » Sun Jan 17, 2010 11:21 pm

mountain coward wrote:If it was a blocky thing in the distance it probably wasn't Kilda as that looks like a huge upturned pudding, very rounded and tall - the blocky bits are Heisker (or the Monach Isles) half way out to Kilda...


I was curious and had a look at the map -still pretty sure it was St. Kilda. Highest point on the Monarch Islands is 19m. Although far off, this was obviously much taller than that. I don't think I described it very well. Although from Sgurr Alasdair, this panorama pretty much shows it as I saw it: http://www.viewfinderpanoramas.org/pano ... asdair.GIF

Re: Bruach na Frithe, I don't think you would have a problem with it. If you stick to Fionn Choire on the N, it isn't even that steep. There is a bit of scree higher up in the corrie, but it isn't too bad, certainly nothing like a typical Cuillin scree run - the gradient is quite easy. This brings you out on the summit ridge, to the E of the summit, and although it would geologically be described as a knife edge, it is quite a broad one, and doesn't feel exposed at all. In fact this route has no big drops really.

Sgurr na Banachdich isn't too bad from Coir an Eich from the NW, but it is a bit steeper than Bruach. Still not exposed as such, and has next to no scrambling. See photo from shoulder at top of steep bit, looking towards summit (summit is the one on the right).
S7001202 (2).JPG
Summit of Sgurr na Banachdich from NW

The other 'easy' summit is Sgurr nan Eag from Choire a' Grunda. This is a bit harder than the other two, and has some steepish scree and easy scrambling. Route finding can be slightly awkward into the upper corrie as well, but there isn't really any great exposure. I'd say pretty much all of the other summits on the main ridge have exposed sections, although some (like Sgurr Alasdair) aren't that difficult.
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