Mon, May 2, 2011

As the planet smoothly rotated into the early morning and the glowing orb once more appeared behind the Knoydart skyline you could almost here the thrum of the gears and the promise of another scorcher had me leaping out of bed, cramming sardines in olive oil into rolls, filling the flask and jumping in the car and heading for the Cuillin! Skye was forecast to be one of the hottest parts of the country yesterday at a mind baking 20deg and with a cool breeze from the south east it was perfect walking weather. So I parked just past the “Slig” at the road to Allt Dearg House and clacked my way along the rough road towards that most jaggy of skylines.

Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir and Sgurr a'Bhasteir

I had a new pair of Pacer Poles but I’ll blether about them in a later post. Time for some hills! It’s a cracking path up the Allt Dearg Mor and where it crosses the burn you have a couple of options for reaching the day’s destination, the North West Ridge of Bruach na Frithe. You can either not cross the burn and stay on the fainter path to the lochan at the Bealach a’Mhaim from where it’s a steep grind up onto the grassy flats or cross the burn and then leave the path and head up through the screes onto the start of the scrambling. I took the second option this time, having done the former a few winters back. Whichever way you take to reach the scrambling, you’re in for a treat as the NW ridge is one of the best mid grade scrambling days to be had in the Cuillin. There’s a path runs up the ridge lower down on the right which avoids just about all the difficulties but if you keep to the crest it’s a knife edge in places with a marvelously exposed drop on the left at times, usually where the ridge is at its most difficult!

Looking up the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe

The ridge is mostly basalt so it’s a good idea to leave it for a dry day as basalt in the rain is like soap. There’s a cracking bit on the crest where it narrows to a thin edge with an impressive drop into Fionn Choire and you have to move over to the right onto a steep slab then pull up on superb jugs. I backed off from this move in winter once as the jugs were iced up and the crampon points were just balanced on nicks in the slab. Superb stuff! If it’s too much for the old ticker, you can move down a bit and bypass it on the right but it’s a sensational spot and part of the character of the ridge.

Looking down the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe

Higher up it gets a lot looser and it’s not safe to stay on the crest as it’s vertical, exposed and very very loose so it’s best to bypass these bits on the right and regain the crest higher up where you meet the gabbro and the fun starts again. It’s a wonderful romp all the way to the summit with the drop into Fionn Choire on the left and the mind alteringly steep screes down into Coire na Creiche on the right. The Creiche slope is one impressive drop the full height of the mountain and standing on the narrow ridge crest you feel like you’re flying!

The southern Cuillin from Bruach na Frithe

The view from Bruach na Frithe down the Cuillin ridge is just wonderful, with that complex jaggedy snake winding off into the distance. From here to Sgurr a’Mhadaidh is the hardest part of the ridge, then the wonderful narrow crests to Sgurr na Banachdich, then the Inn Pinn and technicalities of the Coire Lagain section over the highest at Sgurr Alasdair, followed by the remoter feeling southern end of the ridge over Sgurr nan Eag to Gars Bheinn. The best mountain range in the world! The southern corries contrast completely with the northern ones. Down there it’s glacially scoured naked rock in Coir’ a’Ghrunnda while up here it’s pleasant grassy meadows although still surrounded by massive rock walls. The famous Gaelic poet, Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorley MacLean) describes the Cuillin so well in Am Mur Gorm (The Blue Rampart):

Mur b’e thusa bhiodh an Cuilithionn ’na mhùr eagarra gorm ag crioslachadh le bhalla-criche na tha ’nam chridhe borb

But for you the Cuillin would be an exact and serrated blue rampart girdling with its march-wall all that is in my barbarous heart

Sgurr an Fhionn Choire and Am Basteir

Those serrated ramparts are well seen from Bruach na Frithe, over to Sgurr an Fhionn Choire with the leaning tower of Am Basteir like a decayed tooth in a monster’s head. It’s one of my most favourite places, where the ridges meet and the walking route from  Lota Coire comes up through those ramparts and the overhanging Basteir Tooth lords it over like a monolith monarch. Just superb. Sgurr an Fhionn Choire was my next objective, one which is usually left out by baggers as it’s not anything in particular. Neither Corbett nor Munro but it is a superb scramble. Just keep left on the hard bits ’til you come up against a vertical wall. It looks like you could force a way up the corner until you reach the eroded whiter rock and you decide perhaps not. So just walk down the ramp a bit until you see an open chimney and this takes you all the way to the summit but be careful up there as the drops into Lota Coire make your head swim!

Sgurr a'Bhasteir

Next on the day’s agenda was a short bimble across to Sgurr a’Bhasteir to sit and just look out over the north end of the island. Macleod’s Tables and the attendant Maidens, the Storr above Portree and the hazy hills of Harris across the Minch. It’s such a perfect place to plonk your bum down and enjoy being out in the mountains. You can feel your batteries charging just sitting there. Wonderful!

Portree and The Storr from Sgurr a'Bhasteir

Then it was back to the main ridge where I sat for a while among the cliffs enjoying just being out. I like to sit and soak up the near view. The rocks and small stones. I like to touch them and remember that touch when I’m back at work. I like to imagine being up here at night when I’m in bed, remembering the rough touch of the gabbro and the sound of the wind moving over them. It works so much better than taking a picture. I still vividly remember playing with deer grass on Maoile Lunndaidh years ago. Still feel it through my fingers and the see it growing on the edge of a small sandy indentation in the hillside where an animal had turned round the soil as a bed. You just can’t get that feeling from a picture.

Climber on the top of the Basteir Tooth

If you make it to Sgurr an Fhionn Choire there’s a marvelous view of the Basteir Tooth and Am Basteir. Look closely above and you’ll see the climber on the tooth. I’ve heard it rumoured there’s a walking route to the top of the tooth from the Lota Coire side but I’ve yet to find it! They also say the Inn Pinn is the most dramatic of the Munros but from this angle, Am Basteir is pretty impressive too and with the bad step it’s not trivial to reach its tiny exposed summit.

Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean

The person on the summit shows the scale of the peak with Sgurr nan Gillean behind.

Then it was off down into Coir’ a’Bhasteir, one of my most favourite of corries, surrounded by gigantic rock walls but with gentle grassy flats and a fantastic wee lochan. It’s a sun trap too and I lazed for ages behind a big gabbro boulder and soaked up the atmosphere. Occasionally I could hear bods on the west ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, one of the classic routes of the Cuillin and a raven filled the entire coire with its echoing croaks. I really do enjoy this place.

The descent from Coir’ a’Bhasteir can be tricky in mist as the path crosses slabby ground and then plunges straight down the rock face above the Basteir Gorge to the grassy flats beside the Allt Dearg Beag with its fantastic swimming pools. It’s then a wonderful walk back down the path to the “Slig” and a well earned pint!


You can see all the pics here.