Sun and snow on the Isle of Skye

Seeing as my last post was well over a year ago, I thought I’d best make an effort to keep on top of this blog from now on! I might even add some posts retrospectively if I get the chance.

This post is about a trip to the Isle of Skye from Friday 30 March to Tuesday 3 April. The aim of the trip was to have a look at parts of the Cuillin Ridge and get a general feel for the place. Skye is completely different to any other mountain range in the UK, feeling distinctly Alpine but with Scottish island weather to contend with. For this reason, it offers difficulties and challenges that the mainland Munros don’t – the fact that Cicerone’s Walking The Munros book has a separate introduction to the Skye section outlining the seriousness of mountaineering in the area says it all!

The shear quantity of exposed gabbro rock makes the mountains extremely attractive to mountaineers and scramblers, and some fantastic fun can be had on many of the exposed and intricate ridges of the Cuillin range. They are often regarded as the finest mountains in Britain.

Friday

Imogen, Lorna and myself set off from Burneside at just gone 10am, in rather dull and cloudy weather. The further north we got, the better the weather became and by the time we stopped at Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond for lunch, the sun was out in full force and it felt like the middle of summer.

We stopped once more on the A82 over Rannoch Moor to make the most of some stunning views by Lochan na h-Achlaise. It’s usually either pitch black or awful weather when we’re driving over the moor and so it was nice to see what this beautiful area looks like in the sun!

Loch na h-Achlaise

Loch na h-Achlaise by the side of the A82. Most scenic road in the country?

Seawater-erosion

Interesting erosion on the beach at Elgol.

Upon reaching Skye, we detoured to the scenic harbour of Elgol in the south of the island. It had turned a bit cloudy and the views over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills was particularly dramatic. There was some rather interesting seawater-erosion in the cliffs on the beach, where the water had eroded the rocks into circular hollows. Eventually, we got to the campsite in Portnalong at just gone 7pm and pitched our tents, made tea and got an early night. The others (Alex, Charles, Daniel and Alex’s Dad, Don), arrived at just gone 1am.

Elgol

Looking out over Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin Hills from Elgol.

Saturday, the Cuillin Ridge

The Inn Pin

The Inn Pin

The weather forecast was surprisingly good for the day and so we all got up early to try and recce as much of the Cuillin Ridge as we could. We headed to Glenbrittle and the initial plan was to have a look at TD gap (widely regarded as the trickiest step on the ridge, graded at VDiff but apparently much harder), King’s Chimney (Diff) and possibly the Inaccessible Pinnacle (Sgurr Dearg). The In Pinn is graded a Mod climb and the only Munro that needs a rope to ascend.

It turned out we had walked into the wrong corrie (Coire Lagan) however and were too far along the ridge for TD gap and the King’s Chimney. We slogged up a scree slope to the left to gain the ridge and scrambled northwards towards the In Pinn, for the most part sticking to the ridge. Dependent on what guide you read, the ridge proper for this section gets the grade of Mod or even Diff, but our scrambling didn’t seem that difficult and so I can only presume that on the odd occasion we strayed from the ridge we were missing out the difficult sections. I probably enjoyed this section more than any other part of the ridge and it felt great to be soloing such an exposed ridge with such good rock and fantastic views.

Next came the In Pinn and Dan led the eastern ridge (Mod), which I found surprisingly easy. There was plenty of exposure and a bit of a wind made it entertaining in places. An abseil off the western face brought us to the main summit area of Sgurr Dearg, where we picked up the ridge and scrambled onwards towards Sgurr na Banachdich. This time the scrambling was much easier, at its most difficult around grade 1. From the summit of Sgurr na Banachdich, Lorna, Imogen, Dan and myself headed down the ridge over Sgurr nan Gobhar, whilst Alex and Charles carried along the ridge over Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. Another scree slope led us down to grassy slopes above the Glenbrittle Youth Hostel and we sat down basking in the warm evening sun.

The Cuillin Ridge

Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge and towards Sgurr Dearg from near Sgurr na Banachdich

We had a bit of an altercation with the campsite owner (I won’t go into the details!) that evening and so decided to move to the Glenbrittle campsite the following day.

Sunday, rain!

The weather was pretty miserable when we woke up and after moving to Glenbrittle we decided the best option was a coastal walk. It didn’t really brighten up all day, though it was nice taking in some sea air and giving our legs a rest after the previous day. That evening a few of us headed to the Old Inn in Carbost, a lovely little pub with log fire, decent beer, Scottish music and a very cosy feel.

Monday, Bla Bheinn (Blaven)

Bla Bheinn

Walking across to Bla Bheinn's south west summit

It was rather windy on the campsite when we woke up and Lorna, Imogen and myself decided the initial plan to recce TD gap and King’s Chimney wasn’t such an attractive idea anymore, and so we decided to do a walk up the only Munro on the island not on the main Cuillin ridge – Bla Bheinn. The others still went ahead with the initial plan.

The weather was actually quite good and it soon turned out that the wind was purely a localised effect on the campsite, as it seemed rather still everywhere else. The route we took up with via Bla Bheinn’s south-eastern ridge to a col between there and the Corbett Clach Glas, followed by a short scramble onto the summit. It is reckoned that Bla Bheinn offers some of the best views anywhere on Skye and it was easy to agree with this as when the clouds cleared we were greeted with some breathtaking views out of the sea and across to the Cuillin ridge. The fact that you are looking right down to sea level makes the views even more impressive.

Our descent was down the south-eastern ridge of Bla Bheinn’s south west summit and then back down Coire Uaigneich the same way as we came up. We stopped for a painfully-cold paddle in Allt na Dunaiche on the way back, which definitely helped revive my weary feet!

It started raining again that evening and so once again a few of us retired to the pub. Unfortunately, this time, they’d ran out of draught beer!

South west summit of Bla Bheinn

Lorna and Imogen on the south west summit of Bla Bheinn

Tuesday, snow!?

We were initial planning on staying up until Wednesday, however particularly strong winds during the night resulted in a few bent tent poles and so we decided to head home early. Also, rather surprisingly, we awoke to a thin layer on snow on the ground in the morning. Driving back it became clear just how much snow Scotland had received – the north-western mainland had a very thick covering and the mountains looked fantastic. A stark contrast to the sunny and warm weather earlier on in the week!

A82

The view from the A82 on the way back. It couldn't be much more different to earlier in the week!

A weekend in Glen Nevis and a day on the CMD Arete

I’ve been waiting to climb Ben Nevis for years now and I finally got my chance this weekend with the Hiking Club’s trip up to Steall Hut in Glen Nevis. The hut itself is owned by Lochaber Mountaineering Club and is a rather basic cottage, boasting gas and running (cold) water but not much else. Apparently they had a generator but it got stolen a number of years ago. It’s the perfect kind of place for me, in a beautiful location a few miles walk up the glen from the end of the road and across the river by a wire bridge. I think I may have fallen in love with the place.

The wire bridge

The wire bridge. Crossing it upside down is optional!

Steall Hut

Steall Hut in Glen Nevis

The journey to Scotland wasn’t without incident. We had particularly high winds and the going was very slow up the M6 and M74 – down to 40mph in places. The amount of cars pulled over on the hard shoulder because of the winds was unbelievable. Because of this we didn’t get to the hut until 2 am and weren’t in bed until 3 am after settling in and having a wee dram of whiskey.

Day One

Up early-ish the next morning to see a noticeable change for the better in the weather. The wind had died down and the rain had disappeared, which was good as the plan was to ascend Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete – a route that I didn’t fancy in the howling winds of the night before!

Start point: Steall Hut, Glen Nevis, NN 178 684
Summits: Carn Mor Dearg, Ben Nevis
Distance: 7.7 miles / 12.4 kilometres
Ascent: 4480 feet / 1370 metres

The route started following the well-trod path up Glen Nevis alongside the Water of Nevis, before branching left up one of its tributaries just before Steall ruins. This brought us into a quite stunning flat bottomed valley between the CMD Arete and Aonach Beag. At this point the sun came out and gave some quite magical views over the Mamores to the south.

The Mamores

Sun breaking through the clouds with views out over the Mamores

The Mamores

Looking out over the Mamores

The valley raised to form a col between Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Mor, giving even more spectacular views. The snow had started to harden at this point and it was time to don our crampons and brace our ice axes.

The Mamores

The Mamores from higher up in the valley

The route up to CMD was particularly steep and hard work. 400 metres vertically were climbed in 800 metres horizontally, which would have been tough even without the snow and ice. The views from CMD over its Arete were worth it, although the wind was so ferocious up there that we didn’t hang about for long. Fortunately it died down somewhat whilst we were on the Arete and I managed a couple of photographs towards the end. The snow conditions were ideal for me, nice and frozen making the crampons as effective as possible. There was a lot of water ice frozen on the rocks but it didn’t pose too much of a problem.

The Arete is a fantastic ridge, narrow enough to offer fantastic views and a little bit of exhilaration but wide enough to make you feel comfortable. It’s long as well, which adds to its appeal. I’ve never been up Ben Nevis before but I’m very glad that my first time was via this brilliant route.

The CMD Arete

Crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.

CMD Arete

The end of the CMD Arete from half way along

The ascent to the summit of “The Ben” saw our first cloud of the day and make navigation rather tricky in the near whiteout conditions. Fortunately we have an extremely competent leader within the group who was able to pace out our ascent and descent with pinpoint accuracy.

Summit of Ben Nevis

Myself on the summit of Ben Nevis. Apologies about the quality, but it wouldn't be the same without a summit shot!

The descent down was in the dark and followed a short ridge emerging at the start of the flat bottomed valley we started the walk in. It was then just a case of retracing our footsteps back to the hut for a few beers, some home-brewed blackberry wine and dehydrated vegetable tikka and rice (yum yum!). Unbelievably we were out for 11 hours!

Day Two

The next day we took it easy and took a leisurely wander up the glen, having a look at Steall waterfall along the way.

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall

Steall Waterfall across the Waters of Nevis

Glen Nevis

Looking down Glen Nevis towards Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Inside Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Steall Hut

Overall we all had a fantastic weekend and will definitely be returning next year. I highly recommend the hut to anyone wanted a bit of peace and tranquility – it’s a fantastic place to get away from the stresses and worries of life.