walkhighlands

A Grand Day Out

Route: Southern Cuillin and Coire Ghrunnda

Munros: Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr nan Eag

Date walked: 20/09/2019

Time taken: 9.5 hours

Distance: 15km

Ascent: 1159m

A Grand Day Out

I make no secret of the option that for me overnighters are the best outings in the Scottish hills, and nearly all of my top 10 would have a tent or bivvi involved. This was “just” a day walk, but possibly one of the finest days I will ever get to enjoy. I have no doubt this will be eclipsed (simply law of averages) by another day walk, but having said that, if I were to finish my hill walking career with this as the #1 then I would have absolutely zero complaints.

It really was in every sense a grand day out.

Even the grandest of days out can include some blips or hiccups, and I am sure Connor will be delighted I have included this part; it would be a hard event to forget.

I left Aberdeen after a day of nervously waiting on the car in the garage, which was getting both front and rear brakes replaced, and headed out to Deeside to collect Connor from his parents. After a quick chat with his Mum and Dad we set off with the sole promise of staying safe.

15-20 minutes later we are still rattling through the list of items we needed to have somewhere in the boot. Although just a day walk, we were intending to camp in Inverness Thursday night and then Glenbrittle on Friday, so the packing lists were quite extensive.

Boots?! I pulled over and Connor had indeed forgotten his hill walking boots. After a quick phone call his Mum left these out in the drive so we could collect quickly and be back on our way. I guess there is no better place to realise you’d forgotten something than this close to home.

Back on the road and slightly further on from where we had stopped the first time, Connor again announced he thought he had forgotten his boots... Initially convinced he was joking, I quickly realised he was genuine. Flippin’ heck.

We turned around (AGAIN), returning to find the boots still sitting in the drive. Apparently, my request for him to check my brake lights (car was showing a warning light), was enough to make him forget putting them into the car…

Third time lucky and we were off on route to Inverness, boots and all!

We stopped at Tesco Inverness, two boot trips later than planned, and stocked up on some scooby snacks for the following day, before making way to Loch Ness Bay Camping in Drumnadrochit to pitch for the night.

It was the 20th September and after an early morning drive in glorious conditions and having re-pitched the tent in Glenbrittle we were off walking by roughly 09:30 – it was clearly going to be an absolute scorcher. Our plan was a simple attempt of Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Dubh Mor via Coire Ghrunnda, with Walkhighlands recommending 7-11 hours.

Couldn’t have dreamt of clearer weather!
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Looking out towards Canna, Rum and Eig?
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After the initial brief ascent from the campsite the couple of kilometres towards Coire a’ Ghrunnda were very easy going underfoot and the views were sensational. No words I can possibly fathom would come close to doing it justice. But I guess as I am writing this Walk Report, it would only be fitting to try, in the hope that the pictures back up my memory!

Looking towards the ridge was exactly as I remember it from previous visits to Skye; nerve racking, but in equal parts, mesmerising. I had only been up on the ridge twice, both in great weather, but never towards the southern end, so this was new ground for me. The entire ridge can easily strike fear into the casual hillwalker or amateur scrambler – it’s a good kind of fear thankfully, or for me anyway. Maybe fear is the wrong adjective… intimidation is probably more fitting.

Looking into Coire Lagan
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Zoomed
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By now Connor had decided it was too hot for short sleeves so had opted for the “suns out, gun out”
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It was nearly 11:00 by the time we curved around and began our ascent up through Coire a Ghrunnda.

It was sensational. As we turned the corner for the first glimpse, it felt as if we had entered a colosseum. A colosseum of geographically baffling rock structures. A rock climbers paradise. Genuinely stunning. Even more so in this weather.

Almost looking impossible
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View southwest
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Knowing we still had a good bit height to gain before we reached Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda we decided to push on and scheduled a lunch stop at the Loch as motivation not to dilly dally.

In terms of distance it was just about a kilometre once we began ascending to the loch but the giant boulders and route finding made our progress slow. It was still early enough on in the day, so the speed was nice to try and take in as much of the views as possible.

Looking back, it’s difficult to give any sense of scale – hopefully this helps
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Some snaps on our way up
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Although this was the first time I had set foot on this particular section of Skye, I had spent the week preceding engrossed in numerous climbing / scrambling books. By the time we arrived it felt reassuringly familiar. Clearly the 100% visibility helped drastically.

Reaching Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda, still a good distance away from the summit of Sgurr nan Eag felt like a lunch worthy milestone. A beautiful milestone.

We had caught up with the 4 climbers in bright trousers I had used for scale in an previous couple of pictures, just as they finished their break we found a nice spot to replenish some energy.

Lunch views
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Spot the climbers now heading towards Sgurr Alasdair
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Description below
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Coronation chicken sandwich in one hand, page 292 of Skye Scrambles in the other, just to ensure we were about to take the right route (or our intended route). The bump in centre-left (which looks far less sinister from this angle) appeared to be Caisteal a’ Gharbh-choire, with our intended destination just to the righthand side, Bealach Gharbh-choire. We were going to take the north ridge up towards the summit, but I hadn’t fully decided on the crest of the ridge, a grade 2 scramble, or the right-hand flank, a grade 1 scramble.

Heading up to the bealach. Boulders were insanely grippy and relatively steady – excellent easy scrambling
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We reached the bealach bang on 12:30, for Connor this would be his first time on the ridge itself, what a time to be alive!

The view east towards Loch Coruisk
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The “bump” Caisteal a’ Gharbh-choire in the background looking a bit more difficult
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We were fit, full of energy and feeling good so opted for the grade 2 scramble up the crest. This was good, slightly challenging in parts with the backpack, but with a few minor route adjustments along the way, not too taxing.

Looking back towards Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda and Sgurr Alasdair and co. was memorable. To me this was the best view I had experienced from the ridge. In hindsight, as cliché as it sounds, I think the next view is always the best view from this part of Scotland.

Amazing
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Connor nearing the summit and some easier scrambling
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Summit
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Retracing our steps to the bealach
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Coming down from Sgurr nan Eag we took the slightly easier scramble, hanging left (west) of the crest, as time was cracking on and already past 13:15. The route from Sgurr nan Eag towards Sgurr Dubh Mor was one section of the day that gave me a some uncertainty, but combined with a print out of p156 of “The Cuillin & Other Skye Mountains” and perfect visibility this was far less problematic.

We bypassed Caisteal a’ Gharbh-choire and Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn, which was by no means an easy route towards Rubble Gully.

Much needed
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In and around rubble gully (if I remember correctly)
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After rubble gully, backside of Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn left and Sgurr Thearlaich / Sgurr Alasdair right
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Once passed rubble gully and heading towards the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor, I am about 50% convinced we took the easiest route, because it seemed far harder than expected – either way it was a good scramble, but the exposure was quite dramatic.

Slightly higher up we seen an older gentleman who appeared to be on his way to the summit. This gave us a bit more confidence we were taking the best line, or at least the same line as someone else. Once we reached him, he seemed a tad uncertain and asked if we knew the best route. We offered to lead our planned route and he agreed to follow.

Summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor – blue t-shirt and grey trousers must be in fashion…
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The older gentleman, Daryl / Darrell, or for the purpose of not spelling his name incorrectly for the rest of this Walk Report, Big-D, was now on his final Skye Munro summit – quite an achievement, more so the fact he lived down Manchester way. He thanked us for helping him get to the summit and admitted he had originally also planned to do Sgurr nan Eag but was content with just the one on this day.

We spent a good period of time on the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor, as many must do, pointing towards various lumps, bumps and features whilst Big-D recalled previous trips.

The In Pinn…
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Hidden in an unknown Coire somewhere along the ridge we could hear what could only be a helicopter, for quite an extended period of time. Given the great weather we, wrongly, assumed it would be out on a training exercise. Just as we were getting ready to set off from the summit, still completely unaware of what happened, the close fly-be was quite an impressive sight to behold.

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We agreed to head down with Big-D towards the bealach northeast of Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda and head down to the northern side of the loch. It seemed daft to split up and head slightly different routes when we all had the same end location. We all admitted we were beginning to tire mentally and physically so safety in numbers was the best option.

One final view up Sgurr Dubh Mor
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It was now nearly 16:00 and we still had a good bit of walking to go. Daylight was not a real concern; it was more my belly and concentration levels that were focusing on getting some fish & chips…

As the sun began to drop the ridge created enormous shadows on the eastern side – I would love to spend a night up here in good weather (and I don’t doubt I will). Some of the views as the light changes throughout the day would be inspiring.

Spot the red climber
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Some climbers heading towards T-D Gap?
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Two legends
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View towards Sgurr nan Eag
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Spikey
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Wow
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I remember taking the above photo grinning ear to ear thinking this could genuinely be a once in a lifetime experience for many people! As far as my eyes could see, looking down towards the Loch on one of the most beautiful days of 2019, it was only Big-D and Connor in sight – outstanding unspoilt natural beauty! Thankfully due to the sheer effort it takes to get here it’ll never become as much of a tourist trap as some other parts of Scotland, or Skye e.g. the Fairy Pools. For this I am selfishly grateful, because for me the effort is ten-fold worth it.

The walk down was slow and steady. Maybe slower than if it had just been Connor and I – we would likely have marched on at a frightening pace to get fish & chips. Big-D slowed our pace slightly, which in hindsight I am thankful for. There was no real reason to rush off the hills… Fish & chip shops will be there longer than I’ll be able to get out into the hills.

As we made our way along back towards Glenbrittle campsite, which seemed far, far longer than the morning approach in, we recounted numerous stories of various hills and past adventures – within a couple of hours we seemed to have shared our entire life stories.

Colours changing
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What an evening!
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As we approached Glenbrittle we were informed someone had taken a hefty fall hundreds of feet down the Great Stone Chute in Coire Lagan, which explained the presence of the helicopter. Our planned route for Saturday included Sgurr MhicChoinnich and the Great Stone Chute, but the rather graphic description of the sheer quantity of blood along with the suggestion from a few others to wait until there was some rain, was enough to put our plan into question (thankfully once home on Saturday, a Facebook page revealed that the unfortunate individual was in hospital on the way to making a full recovery).

After getting the much enjoyable fish & chips, we were back in the tent making plans for Saturday. Both of us were absolutely knackered and the thought of “quitting whilst ahead” seemed fitting. Clearly, we had no idea at this point If the individual involved was going to be okay, and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. We had enjoyed a near perfect day and just meters away someone else had one of the worst experiences imaginable.

We woke on the Saturday, sun beaten and legs in complete agony. There was a 10 second conversation if we were fit to do Sgurr MhicChoinnich, which resulted in re-setting the alarm for another 2 hours of sleep… Not today.

Thankfully the weather was still as good as the Friday, and we did make another summit, but that is for another Walk Report. It definitely seemed like the right call.

To end on a slightly more positive note rather than a restless night thinking about someone falling hundreds of feet…

I’ve met loads of big characters out in the hills, but rarely spent such an extended period of time with them. So Big-D (apologies for the nickname), if you ever by chance find this Walk Report – it was an absolutely pleasure, thanks for your stories and many thanks for the beer (we were too knackered on Friday, but it was sensational on the Saturday night)! Wish you all the best in your future hillwalking career and who knows if you keep coming back to Skye each September, our paths may cross again!

Anyway, this Walk Report has taken way too long to write so I’ll end it there.

Until next time!
Andy


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andygunn23


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Location: Aberdeen
Activity: Mountain Walker
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Munros: 180
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2019

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Distance: 261.3 km
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