blaven south west ridge

Tue, Nov 20, 2007

Strong easterlies and cloud piling up over Knoydart and Kintail, stopping at the Sound of Sleat, leaving the Cuillin clear and sunny. Looking at the Cairngorm webcam the day before I saw there was a load of new snow on the summit and the easterly wind meant the Cuillin would be free of cloud for a couple of days, so I jumped in the car and drove round to the Camasunary car park and headed off into the hills.

A biting wind blew me up the path and to one of the best views on the planet. When you reach Am Mam at the top of the path, the mythical spires of Sgurr nan Gillean look prehistoric and forbidding from this angle and the vast sweep of Camusunary bay is just stunning, with the slended ridge of Gars Bheinn soaring to a blue sky. What a day!

SW ridge of Blaven from the Camasunary path

The path loses a bit of height and then levels out once it leaves the main Camasunary path and heads over the boggy hillside on its way to Sligachan. Just before the rocky shoulder a muddy track branches off and climbs the lower part of the ridge, quite steeply but drier as you gain height. It’s a pretty direct start and it’s a pecher of a plod but it soon contours round the east face and up a small gully to the ridge crest, where the views are utterly stunning.

Sgurr nan Gillean from the SW ridge of Blaven

From here the paths is quite well defined and weaves its way up the rocky ridge, although if you fancy scrambling the rock is superb and the situations very nice indeed. The ridge itself doesn’t have a name but if I’d call it Juniper ridge, as there are vast carpets of the stuff higher up the ridge. There’s also Juniper on the summit of Clach Glas but this side of Blaven has the most I’ve seen in the Cuillin. The rock architecture is fantastic, with giant biting gullies coming up the east face and splitting down the vertiginous west face and as I climbed higher the summit block reminded me of Le Lurien in the Pyrenees. Although the I had been really buffeted by a 40mph easterly gale lower down, high up on the ridge, the steep sides were diverting the flow over the top and it was a pleasant romp up rough gabbro and over carpets of Juniper, warm in the early winter sunshine.

Sgurr nan Gillean from the SW ridge of Blaven

The wind on the south summit was gale force so I didn’t dawdle and instead headed off down the gully, past the jammed block and on up to the north, higher summit where I sheltered behind the cairn for 20mins or so, before making my way back over to the south summit. I thought about taking the high level route which crosses a diminishing basalt ledge but with the fierce gusts and damp rock I stayed in the gully again. This is the easiest route between the summits. It’s loose and almost always wet but there are big holds and ledges and the granny stopper at the bottom, the jammed block isn’t too bad at all. It has an excellent edge to grasp and sufficiently wide ledges for your feet. A couple of moves and you’re past it.

From the south summit I headed down to the bealach and turned south, down the Abhainn nan Leac. It’s an easier descent if you go over to the narrower bealach, beyond the lochan and there’s a boggy path beside the burn lower down. Just above the waterfalls it branches off east and more or less contours across the hillside to meet the Sligachan path near where it meets the Camasunary track but the path from the waterfalls is very faint, although the lowering sun and long shadows made it fairly easy to spot in the long grass.

I sheltered from the gale at the top of the path, at Am Mam and watched the sun set over Rum and the Cuillin grow dark in the gathering dusk, then plodded off down to the car under a gibbous moon.

The south west ridge is by far the best route up Blaven I’ve been on so far. Although the Clach Glas ridge is a superb outing and one of the best mountaineerihereng days to be had in the UK, it leaves you on the tourist path and a plod up the scree to the summit. The south west ridge, although nowhere near as difficult as the Clach Glas ridge, has good scrambling if you want it and it goes from sea to summit in one majestic, gabbro jaunt. Superb!

You can see pics from the trip here.

You can see videos from the trip here.

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