what gear for the dubhs ridge

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

While it’s still fairly fresh in the old memory chips, I thought I’d go over the gear side of the Dubhs Ridge, which I climbed a couple of weeks ago. There are three books worth having a look at. Skye Scrambles (I have the old version) which has a superb section on Cuillin geology and a few pages on the Dubhs Ridge, Classic Mountain Scrambles in Scotland which is quite old now and Scotland’s Mountain Ridges which describes the ridge and will whet your appetite for more technical stuff. The best map is The Cuillin by Harvey as it has an enlarged scale on the back that includes the Dubhs Ridge. If you want a very detailed description of the difficulties, a very good article is the one on the rockrun.com site.

The caveat here is I used to lead E1 (a long time ago!) and I’ve soloed the Blaven-Clach Glas ridge a couple of times and do a fair bit of scrambling in the Cuillin, so I’m used to the situations. In fact, the Blaven-Clach Glas ridge is an excellent warm up to the Dubhs Ridge. The grade is about the same as is the exposure. I also soloed the Dubhs Ridge and didn’t bother with the abseil due to various things.

The Dubhs Ridge is basically composed of four sections. A chossy, loose gully, followed by the crux over the whaleback and onto the ridge proper. Then boiler plate slabs leading up to steeper, broken ground to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag. So what gear do you need?

Feet. I wore a pair of Merrel Chameleon Wrap Slam shoes. The soles were worn down quite a bit but they gripped perfectly on the rough gabbro. We had a 10 year old (I think) girl with us and she changed into plimsolls on the boiler plates and romped up them. I’m not sure whether I’d use the chameleons if they were brand new as they have a stud-like sole which minimises contact with the rock.

Technical gear. If you intend to do the abseil from the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag you will need a 60m rope, harnesses, helmets and a descending device for each person, unless one is going to lower the others. The abseil point has been moved nearer the summit as the old one was getting too dodgy so a 60m rope is essential to reach the ledge under the overhangs. You also might want to use the rope to do the downclimb from the ledge. If you don’t want to do the abseil, the bypass route is easy but involves walking back to the top of the Must Do crack. See my post for details on the bypass route. Once you’re past Sgurr Dubh Beag the difficulties finish and you can descend into Coire a’Chaorainn. I won’t cover continuing to Sgurr Dubh Mor as it’s a completely different proposition and if you find yourself at the corner you will prolly want a rope to get up it. I would say the corner is the hardest part of the entire route from Loch Coruisk to the top of Sgurr Dubh Mor and is completely out of character with the scrambling. The top is at least VDiff I would say. Good flakes for your hands but not much for your feet and vertical.

The first section, the chossy gully is more awkward than difficult. It was very wet when I did it and knees came into play a lot! Then it eases off and you’re at the second section, the wall. This is the crux of the Dubhs Ridge. If you’re a confident Grade 4 scrambler you should be fine. It’s graded Moderate, which is a rock climbing grade but it’s only a couple of moves. There’s a line of big steps going up the wall, then smaller scoops that take you onto the whaleback to a niche, then up a crack into another niche and up to a final niche where the difficulties end. There’s no protection on the steps so whoever leads will have to be confident of their abilities. You can belay at the first niche as there isn’t much to belay from above that and the crack to the next niche is easier than the steps. When you’re on the big top step, feel for the incut hold on the right above you as you face along the wall. Grab that, shuffle up onto the first scoop and that’s it.

The third section is the ridge proper. The slabs. Just superb. Wander at will although it steepens at the overlaps and superb friction will get you up various cracks and flake lines on the right. The cracks are steeper and rely on friction so a rope might be useful for the less confident. I carried a 7m, 8mm confidence rope and it came in handy for chucking down the crack with a krab on the end as some of us wore harnesses. In hindsight I’d carry a longer confidence rope, maybe 15m.

The last section is completely different in character. There are two steep sections of broken rock and grass. On the first, we went straight up the centre, then trended right to reach a grass ramp weaving through the boulders next to the wall. On the next steep section we went up to the start of the pink screes and up the steep short wall on the left. Good incut holds. The continuation of the pink scree up the gully is very loose and not recommended. I used the confidence rope on this wee wall. From there we trended left then right up various ramps through the gabbro landscape which included some more exposed and awkward sections before popping out at the foot of the Must Do crack.

The Must Do crack is a fabulous part of the route. There’s not much for your feet but the crack is superb and the friction on the slab is wonderful. It’s steepish so you just go for it. If you don’t fancy it you can walk up the side on grass and rock and avoid it. It’s then a walk to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag. If you’re not abseiling, make your way back to the top of the Must Do crack and follow the incredibly loose gully down to the grass ramp. Get onto the scree ramp below it at the earliest opportunity and follow it to the foot of the downclimb below the abseil, then cross the last of the scrambling to the path down Coire a’Chaorainn.

On the bypass route I followed the grass ramp which took me to the ledge below the abseil so I’m not sure if you can get onto the scree ramp at the start but just before you climb up to a boulder on the grass ramp that is hard against the face, there’s a “bum’s best” shuffle down a short groove onto the scree ramp which we took once I came back from the ledge.

There’s no doubt that being confident enough to tackle the Dubhs Ridge without technical gear is prolly the best day’s scrambling to be had on the planet. But you need to be confident and the weather needs to be right. A good head for heights, a steady hand on the crux, sticky shoes and good route finding will see you right.

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