Friday, 18 May 2018

Bla Bheinn

Bla Bheinn approach via Torrin
Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Ascent:         1011 metres
Distance:       9 kilometres
Time:            4 hours 31 minutes

Bla Bheinn        928m   1 hour  58 minutes
South Top         926m   2 hours 23 minutes

A rare spell of good weather prompted me to head to Skye with the intention of climbing Bla Bheinn and Ben Sgriol over the sea on the Glenelg peninsula. Time was precious as we are moving house in a fortnight. I drove up the night before and stayed with my brother and his wife at their cottage at Lochcarron. It allowed an early start, although they thought it a bit much to attempt the two hills in a day. My mindset was that I had always done Ben Sgriol along with another hill: Bla Bheinn in 1992, Maol Chean-dearg in 1998, Gairich in 2004 and 2008. I liked the crazy logic of fitting disparate hills together and why should age get in the way!

I left at 7:30am, the day looked promising with a white overcast sky threatening sunshine later. Going over the Skye bridge I was disappointed to see the erection of a Marine Harvest fish processing plant reaching for the sky. It is a harbinger of what is happening to Skye as it overloads with tourists prompted by the tired language of Visit Scotland advocating it as 'home to some of Scotland's most iconic landscapes'. Skye is now suffering all the indignities of an overpromoted tourist destination: no bed spaces, crowded tourist destinations, high prices, a surfeit of camper vans, road rage on the now overwhelmed single track roads and an influx of the wealthy retirees dotting the landscape with new houses. Only the midges, weather and remoteness are there to counterbalance the reckless pursuit of tourism.

Nevertheless, the single track road to Torrin gave inspirational views of the ever magnificent Bla Bheinn. I parked at the car park at the foot of the climb and prepared for the walk, it was not yet 9am. I set off at the same time as a recently retired teacher from Hexham and we walked up together. She was a hill runner and mountain lover but slightly apprehensive about tackling the climb on her own, it involves some route finding and scrambling to reach the summit. The path along the Allt na Dunaiche is delightful and has a gradient that is perfect for limbering up. It steepens on crossing the burn and climbs to about 400 metres into Coire Uaigneich, which exhibits a magnificent erratic boulder amidst the rare oasis of green flat land.

We decided to take the direct route to the summit rather than the slightly less steep climb via the South Top. It was a good decision and although the going was steep over gabbro boulders with some loose scree in a gully, the concentration and continuous conversation hastened the climb and we made the summit in under two hours. Although the sky was mainly white cloud, the views of the Cuillin ridge were excellent. We enjoyed a 15-minute break for photos, drinks and gawping at the vistas before deciding to extend the walk by scrambling over to the South Top. It had not been my original intention but I was well within my schedule to be down in time to climb Beinn Sgriol in the afternoon.

It is a short distance with minimal descent between the twin summits but there is a scramble up a gulley to reach the South Top. I took a higher line at first along some broken rocks but the footholds eventually gave out so we had to retreat and drop down some scree to make the start of a gulley that has loose rock but soon pops out on the top. The views to the small isles were better from the South Top although there was a slight sea haze. We lingered to look at the splendour of the Skye ridge and Loch Coruisk and I spotted the weather station that explains why I can get a forecast for Bla Bheinn from the excellent Met Office website. As we began the twisting descent down the loose rock we met a party of young Dutch walkers who had spent several days walking down the west coast of Skye. They had enjoyed the best of weather and exuded a happy countenance, they were mesmerised by Skye's scenery but then Holland is very flat.

We reached the large boulder having passed two parties of Americans struggling up the rocky path without much enthusiasm but at least they were out of their cars. The contrast with the Dutch walkers could not have been more pronounced, elated Europeans against downcast Americans, c'est la vie! And then we were left with the very pleasant walk out as the heat of the day began to rise. It had been a grand day out but still only 1pm, leaving plenty time for the next outing. I still felt full of walking and left immediately in order to reach the Glenelg ferry as soon as possible. The journey back along the single track road back to Broadford was slow with a great deal of tourist traffic interspersed with agitated locals coming the other way. Reaching Beinn Sgriol was another adventure but that's for another post.

Red Cuillin from below the summit
Skye ridge and Vanessa trig point
Maybe the last time, I don't know
The Skye Ridge from Bla Bheinn
From the South Top towards Eigg
Skye ridge and weather station below South Top
Boulder in the Coire
Path along the Allt na Dunaiche

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