Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Northern Cuillin from Sligachan

Saturday 2nd June

Distance: 17km; Ascent: 1130m; Sunny; with Mark and Shona

I met Mark and Shona at Leeds train station around 4:45pm yesterday afternoon and, after a quick visit to Mark's nearby flat, we were soon on our way north.  Our plans were somewhat fluid in that all we had really agreed thus far was that we were going Munro bagging and possibly backpacking somewhere in Scotland!  Although to be fair we had come up with three possible plans: a backpack from Strathcarron to Cannich, a backpack in the Cairngorms or a traverse of the Cuillin ridge.

During the drive north we decided that given that the weather forecast was excellent for northern Scotland, we would head to Skye.  The only problem was we weren't too certain whether we were ready for a full traverse of the main ridge as Mark was the only one of the three of us to have done much scrambling or climbing recently!  Also it was clear that we wouldn't be able to get the required early start today, owing to the fact that Skye is a heck of a long way away!  Therefore we agreed on a day walk / scramble around the northern Cuillin peaks.
Eilean Donan Castle
After much driving we decided to pitch the tents for the night above the shore of Loch Duich at around 1:30am!  We were up again around 6 hours later and enjoying the fantastic views under cloudless blue skies, including along the Loch to Eilean Donan Castle around half a kilometre or so away.

We stopped for tea and breakfast in Broadford before continuing to Sligachan, where we had a massive faff for which I must accept some responsibility especially as I was the last to be ready!  Anyway 11am saw us haul our day packs onto our shoulders and begin our approach walk into the northern Cuillin :)

Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir from near Sligachan
The sun beat down from the near cloudless skies as we followed the good path alongside the Allt Dearg Mór, complete with several small waterfalls and plunge pools that looked inviting on such a fine day!

Glamaig and the Allt Dearg Mor
We continued SW alongside the burn until we forked left, towards Fionn Choire, around a kilometre before the Bealach a' Mhaim.  A clear path (for now) continued upward, gradually gaining height whilst the scenery changed from the grass and heather moorland of the lower slopes towards the harsh bare rock of the upper corrie.  By now we were no longer sheltered from the wind, which was proving to be quite bitter at times!

In the upper corrie we stopped in a relatively sheltered area for lunch whilst admiring the excellent views back towards Sligachan.  After feeling suitably rested we picked our way up the upper corrie, no longer on a clear path owing to the rocky terrain; however in the clear visibility it was relatively easy to pick out an obvious line up to the main ridge.

L-R: Glamaig, Beinn Dearg Mhor, Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean and Sgurr a Fionn Choire
Upon reaching the crest of the main ridge we stopped for a while to admire the outstanding views of the rest of the Cuillin before heading up the east ridge of our first hill of the day.  After ascending this relatively easy ridge we reached the trig point and summit cairn on Bruach na Frithe (Munro, HuMP) at around 2:15pm.  This was my 213th Munro, which therefore meant that I was now three-quarters of the way through!  On previous significant Munro summits for me I have generally tried to have a wee dram; however given the serious nature of the terrain I decided that this was probably not such a good idea today (and I had forgotten to bring any whisky with me anyway!) - I would just have to have some in the pub tonight instead.

On the summit of Bruach na Frithe
Summit cairn on Bruach na Frithe, with the Southern and Central Cuillin beyond
After admiring the fantastic views from the summit we retraced our steps back down the east ridge to the bealach.  Here we donned our helmets before scrambling up the west ridge of Sgurr a' Fionn Choire (Munro Top), from whose summit we had good views of the Bhasteir Tooth, Am Basteir and the rest of today's traverse.

The Bhasteir Tooth, Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean from Sgurr a Fionn Choire
We decided that given the time we would give the Bhasteir Tooth a miss and instead ascend Am Basteir via its east ridge.  Therefore after we descended from Sgurr a' Fionn Choire we descended scree slopes to the north of Am Basteir; these slopes were shaded and hence quite cold.  Whilst the descent down the scree wasn't too bad, the ascent up to the Bealach a' Bhasteir was unpleasant due to the loose scree!

From the bealach we ascended the east ridge of Am Basteir and soon reached the bad step.  We had originally intended to take the left-hand variation and hence avoid the bad step but the route didn't seem to be entirely clear to us.  Therefore as we had a rope with us we thought we might as well go an take a look at the bad step, especially as a group we passed descending said it wasn't too bad.  After a relatively narrow section of ridge there was an abrupt drop, which looked tricky to descend.  Therefore we got the rope out and I descended first on small holds, which were often hidden from above.  Shona and Mark then followed and we left the rope in place for our return.  Soon afterwards we reached the spectacularly situated summit of Am Basteir (Munro).

On the summit of Am Basteir
Sgurr nan Gillean from Am Basteir Mark above the bad step
We retraced our steps back to the bad step, which seemed significantly easier in ascent, before continuing our descent down to the Bealach a' Bhasteir.  By now it was late afternoon (around 5pm) and we still had one more summit left to climb; however we still had plenty of daylight and food left so we pressed on towards the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean.

Looking up to the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean
We got the rope out and moved together up towards the ridge and then on up the Tooth Arete, which was pretty exposed in places with steep drops especially on the Lota Corrie side.  Soon we reached easier ground and I scrambled on ahead to reach the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean (Munro, Marilyn) at around 6pm and was soon joined by the others.  The views from this final Munro of the Cuillin ridge were excellent, especially in the evening light and we were joined on the small summit platform by two climbers who had just finished a couple traverse of the ridge.

Summit of Sgurr nan Gillean
The easiest descent from here lay down the Grade 3 scramble of the South-East ridge, which was our planned onward route.  Therefore after much admiring of the views, we began delicately making our way down the ridge.  As we descended the ground eased and we came across a rather unusual sight: a small paper mache model of spaceman that a photographer carried up to photograph in the barren terrain!  

Bla Bheinn, Sgurr Beag and Sgurr na h-Uamha from SE ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean
Eventually we reached a point on the ridge where we could pick our way down the slopes to the north east, following the reasonably obvious line down the scree to reach the path in Coire Riabhach, which we then followed northwards with excellent views of the surrounding hills in the evening light.

Marsco in the evening light
We reached the car shortly after 10pm after an excellent day on the hills and headed to the Sligachan campsite to pitch our tents for the evening before retiring to the pub for a quick drink at 11pm to celebrate climbing over three quarters of the Munros :)

Update 01/07/12: Post date updated to actual date of this walk (N.B. originally posted on 16/06/12)

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