Weather - A broken cloud/sunny start to the day with cloud-free tops but the cloud thickened and covered the tops by the time we reached them. Some wind on top. Rain in the afternoon.
Team - with the AMC club; Dennis, Steve W, Jens, Helen, and Alexander and Christine (to start with).
Other hikers: 4.
Harveys 1:12,500 scale, but it's not available in digital:
Much sooner than expected then, I found myself on Skye contemplating a trip up onto the infamous intimidating Cuillin Ridge. The impetus for this was an Aberdeen Mountaineering Club
meet at the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut, which sits right under the said ridge of doom. These 'hills' are well known for being a cut above anything else in Scotland, being incredibly sharp and ragged, a result of their formation being as they are the rim of an extinct volcano. One advantage of this is that the ridge exhibits a rock type known as gabbro
, which is similar to granite in its volcanic creation but slightly different ingredients mean that it is incredibly 'sticky' even when wet and is a delight to scramble on. This is a good job as there is much to be scrambled on.
Due to the nature of these hills then I was not up for wandering up onto them on my own and 'checking them out' but instead was waiting until perhaps next year and book some time with a guide. However, when the AMC meet came to my attention I thought that it was an ideal chance to get an early taster of this landscape while benefitting from the knowledge of some experienced types. The first benefit of this experience came on the Saturday when we awoke to find cloud on the hills down to 600m. Immediately, all but three hardcore climber members of the hills decided to not even attempt to go to the ridge. I learned that the ridge often forks and turns and this can be very deceptive in the cloud even if you have been there before. With that in mind I happily joined the rest of the meet for a lower level walk taking in Macleod's Tables, two flat-topped hills to the western end of Skye.
Fortunately, Sunday's weather was much improved and we woke to cloud-free tops. By the time breakfast was finished, the odd cloud was skirting the top of Sgurr na Banachdich, which we could see from the breakfast table, but we set off anyway. This Munro is one of the two easiest of the ridge (with Bruach na Frithe being the other), but it is still at least of the level of our recent walk up An Teallach albeit the avoiding-the-ridge version.
The route starts off easy enough with a road walk to the Youth Hostel and then a good path up alongside the beautiful Allt a' Choire Ghreadaidh. At the foot of Coire a' Ghreadaidh a path splits off toward Coir' an Eich and An Diallaid and a steep ascent starts. As the path levels off a little there is a choice to take the crest leading to An Diallaid or to rise up through its corrie. We chose the former for the promise of a scree-free path and this worked out well enough although it was steep and rocky enough. The path continues up over rocky ground leading to great views down into the corrie from An Diallaid. However, it was here that our team fragmented as Christine decided that she had seen enough steep rock for the day and Alexander took her down, this time following a line through the corrie, which apparently turned out well enough.
Now down to five, we pressed on onto the now cloud-covered Sgurr na Banachdich itself, working our way up more bare and steep rock, but still nothing that approached being a scramble. This continued onto the ridge which is comfortably wide at this point, although we could see the route north-east toward Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh and that looked like a different story. Within a few short steps we found ourselves at the summit cairn perched above what felt like a huge drop but perhaps fortunately in the cloud we couldn't see it. We then sat and had a late lunch and I felt very happy for both my first visit to the Cuillin ridge and my first Cuillin Munro.
After lunch, with the cloud showing no signs of moving on, we carried on on our planned horse-shoe route by taking in some more of the Cuillin ridge as we made our way SSE toward Bealach Coire na Banachdich. To avoid the pinnacles of the Centre Top and South Top, we dropped to the west of them as the books suggest, however I couldn't help but think that maybe we dropped a little too west after a while as the rocky way on was steeper than I imagined the said 'path' to be and before long we did run out of rocks with the characteristic sign of crampon-marks upon them. No matter as this traverse was still safe enough and I was resolutely glad to be led as at one point earlier on after the Centre Top I'd been convinced that the way forward was to stay on the line we were traveling whereas a turn to the right downwards was actually required, a fact which then became clearly evident as a brief lift in the clouds gave a view to the South Top ahead along the line of the turn. Another example of the confusion possible in the mist was the fact that even the experienced Steve and Dennis were grateful for confirmation of our position by my GPS at one point.
Eventually, we lowered to the bealach although some distance still needed to be covered before it was time to turn downwards into Coire na Banachdich (look for a cairn where a descent to the east is also possible). Unfortunately the cloud was still solid here as otherwise it would have been possible to see the Inaccessible Pinnacle and that would have been a delight but it will just have one saved for another day! The descent route was initially very rocky but was fine enough although the actual direction to take does require some specialist knowledge as otherwise the tempting straight-line down the hills is abruptly halted by some cliffs which cannot be negotiated. Instead, once around the buttress on the south side, bear south and (if you can see them) follow cairns to this left hand side of the corrie where, without too much trouble, a good way down takes you back onto normal-looking paths and the road. A brilliant day out for me and a grand introduction to these serious hills; one that definitely affirmed their nature to me but one that also affirmed my appetite for visiting them, albeit under respectful caution!
The view from the hut, Sgurr nan Gobhar (L), Sgurr na
Banachdich (C) and Window Buttress (R) above
Coire na Banachdich:
A good path up alongside Allt a' Coire Ghreadaidh:
The start of the deviation up Coir' an Eich:
Just starting up An Diallaid (C):
An Diallaid gives great views into Coire a' Ghreadaidh:
But it's a rocky climb up:
Them views down:
Cloud starting to come in onto the ridge above:
Bruach na Frithe (C) just poking over Sgurr Eadar da Choire:
Getting ready for the rise to some Sgurr na Banachdich action:
Steve and Dennis contemplate the route ahead:
An example of why you need to chose the right route up:
Heading into the cloud but the going was still good:
Hitting the ridge proper:
The summit! A Cuillin Munro!
Feeling good, time to rest on the narrow summit crest:
Onwards as the ridge starts to thin:
Getting off the crest to pass Centre Top and
South Top just to the west:
South Top looking good through the mist:
Dennis and Jens traversing through the mist:
Pinnacles aplenty round here:
The route off east from Bealach Coire na Banachdich!
Into Coire na Banachdich, scree and rough rock action!
Braver elements having a good look ahead:
Good progress is made as we descend below the cloud:
Safely down low, smiles all round:
However, the route still offers some surprises!
Window buttress up close, not recommended:
And finally, Glen Brittle bay appears like an old friend: