Helen Rose, Hill Diary, July 2003. Skye.

Skye Cuillin Ridge

Photo: Skye. Like most other hill walkers, I enjoy a bit of scrambling now and again and I have previously written in the diary about scrambles on the Aonach Eagach and Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor, which are on the Scottish mainland. However, the Cuillin Ridge on the island of Skye is acknowledged as being a climber's paradise with some opportunities for good scrambling. Scrambling means going up, down and over rocks where the use of the hands is required such as walking up a narrow gully with ledges for the feet and holds for the hands to give balance and know that there can be at least three points of contact for security but there may also be some exposure.

I have twice walked in the Skye Cuillin and both mountains were easy walks without any real scrambling but as a Munro bagger, I will have to do some scrambling in the future to complete all the Munros on the ridge but that is for another time. There are eleven Munros on the ridge so I only have another nine to do but there is no hurry for me to tackle these most challenging mountains in Scotland with their narrow ridges, airy crests and steep scrambles. The rock on the Cuillin is gabbro which is like sandpaper and although it gives a good grip, it tends to shred gloves. The other problem is that a compass is limited in use here due to local magnetic anomalies but the advent of the GPS can at least give walkers and climbers their position in bad weather.

Sgurr Alasdair is at the southern end of the Cuillin and is named after Alexander Nicolson who first climbed it in 1873. It means Alexander's Peak and is the highest peak in the Cuillin at 993 metres. We started at the campsite beside the beach at Glenbrittle and climbed steadily on the path to Loch Coire Lagan which is in a dramatic setting surrounded by huge glacial slabs with several large curtains of scree. This amphitheatre looks virtually impenetrable and the only way you avoid climbing is by going up the scree known as the Great Stone Shoot, where it is three steps forward and two backwards as boots slide on the scree.

Photo: Skye. It was hard work on the legs but we finally reached the high col between steep walls. The lower part of the corrie was especially hard as it is all very small stones caused by many scree runners over the years. From the col, it was a short easy scramble on to the very small summit top of Sgurr Alasdair from where we could see climbers all along the ridge. Being a clear day, we were rewarded with stunning views over the sea and along the ridge, where some of the rock looked very frightening and exposed. We did scree run down the Great Stone Shoot in a very short time and it was a bit like skiing on loose chippings using the walking poles for balance. Unfortunately, we added to the erosion on the scree.

That evening, from our tent at Glenbrittle we saw a beautiful sunset over the sea and the moon was a bright red from the reflection. A spectacular sight. The next morning , it was raining heavily!

My second walk on the Cuillin was this year to Bruach Na Frithe, which is the only mountain in the Cuillin that does not require scrambling. This was a very pleasant walk in good weather along a path from the road to Glenbrittle and then up to the col, where we had spectacular views on to the more demanding peaks on the Cuillin ridge. Again, climbing from the coll we soon hit the scree slope but it was easy in comparison to the Great Stone Shoot. The path continues under the crest of the rocks and is fairly well defined wandering between the rocks to avoid any scrambling. Threading your way through these rocks is quite an eerie experience as it is very quiet and there are views over to the adjacent mountains with sheer rock which are mostly the preseve of climbers.

Photo: Skye. On the small summit, we had a leisurely lunch, while watching the climbers on Am Bastier and Sgurr Nan Gillean, which are the next two mountains I would like to tackle when I return to Skye. On return to Portnalong, the evening was spent in the local hotel watching Glasgow Celtic being beaten in the European Football Cup in Seville on a large screen television. As I am entirely ignorant of football, I needed a running commentary on the match from my companions!

Hopefully, I will return to Skye and have more to recount to you on my Munro bagging exploits there. Meanwhile, if you want to contact me, you can e mail me at [email protected].

Coming attractions. Strathfarrar in two parts, a walk in Norway and the Larig Ghru

Thanks to Frances Rickus and Tom Addie for the photographs.

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