Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Cuillin - Isle of Skye

For those of you not familiar with the Cuillin, here is a bit of info about them to start with. The Cuillin are a range of rocky mountains on the Isle of Skye. The summits of the Cuillin are bare rock, jagged in outline and with steep cliffs and deep cut corries and gullies. All twelve Munros (mountains over 3000ft) on Skye are Black Cuillin peaks.
The aim of this challenge, was to reach the summit of all 12 Munros.

Day 1 Earlier on in the year, when myself and my friend Alison booked our week to climb the Cuillin, we thought we'd be pretty safe weather wise to go for a week in late August. How wrong we were! After the long drive to Skye on Saturday, we woke up early on the Sunday morning, excited and ready for day one of our challenge!! The sky was grey, and there had been torrential rain and strong winds the night before. Oh well, this was only day one, surely things were set to improve. We drove to Glen Brittle Hostel and met our guide, George Yeomans. A veritable mountain dude - has hiked all over the world, knows the Cuillin like the back of his hand, and is a member of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team...we were in safe hands. Our plan for our first day in the mountains was three Munros, Sgurr na Banachdich (965m), Sgurr a Greadaidh (975m) and Sgurr a Mhadaidh (918m). The climb to the first summit was a steady hike, just 2.5 hours in total. The first one was 'bagged', only a bit wet! Getting to the next two summits was a little more challenging, with the ropes being needed to get across some of the trickier parts. We got the next two summits with no problems, although unfortunately the heavy cloud meant we had zero views from the top. Three down, 9 to go!

Day 2 The weather was still pretty poor, so George decided we would tackle Bla Bheinn (928m). This one sits on its own, away from the main ridge, so it was just going to be the one summit today. We battled our way up the side, against the rain and strong winds. The winds were so strong that it would actually blow us a few steps back at times! No ropes needed this time, just a steady hike to the top. Unfortunately, the cloud cover meant no views at the top once again. However, 15 minutes or so off the summit and on our way back down, the clouds cleared and the sun shone (if only we'd reached the summit a few moments later). We managed to find a break in the rocks and glimpsed a view of the North End of the Cuillin. Stunning! We also had a nice rainbow appear...the sun continued to shine on our descent....maybe the weather was taking a turn after all!

Day 3 We were wrong...the weather wasn't was getting worse! The plan for the third day was another three Munros. This time it was to be Sgurr nan Eag (924m), Sgurr Dubh Mor (944m) and Sgurr Alasdair (992m). When we set off, there was low cloud cover, but no rain, so the climb was pleasant. However, about 1 hour in, the rain started and it didn't stop. We got the first two summits and finished off with 'Big Al', the highest of the summits in the Cuillin. The fun part involved coming back down, which involved going down 'The Great Stone Shoot'. A mass of stones and rock, that you can literally just slide down. Much quicker than coming up, but not that great if you are wanting to keep your boots looking nice! haha! This was a long day, we got back to the car at 7:30pm, having set off at 9am that morning. We came across the campsite shop just before reaching the car. After fighting our way through the midgies (Scots will know what I mean!), we dived in to reward ourselves with a chocolate Magnum. I've never tasted anything so good! Despite the poor conditions, we were still on track for our 12 summits.

Day 4 Rest day today. Me and Alison went to the Old Man of Storr and did a 'smallish' hike. Still raining...but some nice views on the way down! I bumped into someone from Portsmouth Triathletes I hadn't seen in about 4 years on my way down! Small world.

Day 5 Today the plan was to do 2 Munros: Sgurr Mhic Choinnich (948m) and the Sgurr Dearg (the Inaccessible Pinnacle) (986m). The In Pinn, as it is known, is a rock climb up the one side, and an abseil off the other...we had all the gear and were raring to go. The weather again was pretty horrendous. We set off in the rain. Was quite a long steady climb to the ridge, and then a long traverse along it to get to the first summit. The rain was lashing down and the winds were easily reaching 40mph. Our guide decided that to attempt the In Pinn would be scary, not to mention dangerous. As he put it 'It's the type of conditions I go out to rescue people in!' We had to accept defeat as Mother Nature told to head back down the mountain. A shame...we weren't going to manage all 12 summits this trip.

Day 6 Our final day on the Cuillin, and we were to attempt the final three Munros up on the North end; Bruach na Frithe (958m), Am Basteir (934m) and Sgurr nan Gillean (964m). The sun was actually out (as were the midgies) as we set off, and we felt a glimmer of confidence that we would manage all three. The hike to the top of Bruach na Frithe took us around 2.5 hours. The last 100m or so took us along the ridge to the cairn. It was here that we realised that the mountain had been protecting us from the strong winds on our way up. Gusts of around 50mph were pounding down on us as we made the final effort to the cairn. In the picture, me and Alison are showing our pink t-shirts, which we'd been saving for a sunny day, this was the only show they got!It was to be too dangerous to go for the final two summits today. They, along with the In Pinn would have to wait for another day.

So, a total of nine Munros done in what can only be described as a challenging week!! A real shame to not have managed them all, but you can't argue with the weather! Alison and myself are already discussing a trip next year to finish them off. A sunny weekend, with hopefully some views too!

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