Friday, 29 June 2018

Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Dubh Mor

Sgurr Dubh and Sgurr nan Eag from Sgurr Alasdair

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Ascent:         1479 metres
Distance:      15 kilometres
Time:            12 hours 5 minutes

Sgurr nan Eag                        926m    3hrs 51mins
Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn     935m    5hrs 48mins
Sgurr Dubh Mor                     944m   6hrs 32mins

Returning from France, we were greeted by a rare Scottish heatwave. The temperatures at Edinburgh airport were higher than they had been in the south of France. Moreover, the high pressure was to hover all week and there would be dawn to dusk sunshine. I called John and we agreed to make a two-day visit to Skye to try and climb the six remaining Munros on the ridge and leave myself just Tarmachan to complete my fifth round. We set off on Tuesday afternoon, I picked up John at Crianlarich and we made the Glen Brittle campsite by 6pm.

It was to be my eighth visit to the campsite and never had it looked better. It was voted campsite of the year and now boasts a cafe to augment the intrinsic qualities of mountainscapes, a beach and wild weather. Much of the investment by the parsimonious Dunvagen Castle estate is a response to the cavalcade of motorhomes that have invaded Skye in recent years. They clog the roads, take the stances nearest to the facilities and, according to the warden, demand the internet and ask questions like "where can I go for a walk?" They sit outside with barbecues, drinking wine, in armchairs with bottle holders thinking that they are on holiday. The humble climbers/ cyclists/walkers gravitate to the edges of the site where their tents are away from the trappings of the Tourist Board's idea of tourism, a close cousin of rampant consumerism. Sustainable it isn't.

The next morning we began to walk at 7:45am, taking the path across the moorland to Coire Ghrunnda, host to one of Scotland's finest lochans enveloped between massive pillows of Gabbro. After a long walk on a path across the dried out bog and grassland, and as we began to ascend to the coire, we passed two deer and their calves. The Does did not move away but lay in the morning sun allowing the calves to sway about as they learnt to walk. There is quite a bit a scrambling over the gabbro outcrops in the climb to the lochan that sits at 650 metres above sea level. We were the first walkers to arrive, although being so remote and a two and a half hour walk from the campsite means there are seldom many visitors.

We had some refreshments, the temperature was already in the mid-twenties, and reflected that this may be the last time we are privileged to witness its stark beauty. Neither of us is contemplating another round of munros and the days of 10 or 12-hour walks are probably numbered. We circled the lochan anticlockwise and found the steep rocky path that meanders through the crags to Sgurr nan Eag. The views back to the Cuillins were stunning with Sgurr Alasdair, our third objective of the day tantalising us with its ferociously steep slopes. The ridge out to the summit of Sgurr nan Eag is a gentle scramble over rough rocks and already my fingerprints were wearing thin. A few weeks ago on Sgurr nan Gillean, my thumbprint was erased and would no longer open my phone for the best part of a fortnight after its brush with gabbro.

In the searing heat, we were pacing ourselves and spent half an hour on the summit having an early lunch and beginning to realise that our water supplies would not last. We retraced the route back over the ridge and began the ascent to Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn, it was a lot tougher than we remembered from previous visits. That was probably a combination of the heat and our age. The climb up to the top is not hard but slowed by the enjoyable scrambling involved. Far more difficult is the climb to the adjoining Munro, Sgurr Dubh. The jumble of crags means that route finding is tricky and there are several paths that lead nowhere. It is a mountain version of Hampton Court Maze but with more severe consequences. We eventually figured it out and climbed two or three short pitches to reach the cairn. We returned with a minimum of delay to collect our rucksacks from Da Bheinn.

And now for the final leg, a descent to the Thearlaich-Dubh gap and then a traverse beneath the massive cliffs of Sgurr Alasdair to reach the bealach between Sguur Sgumain and Sgurr Alasdair. We had been this way twice before and John had had a tumble coming down Alasdair near the bad step twenty five years ago during our first visit. We reached the knife-edged ridge between the two mountains and climbed 20 metres or so before we reached an overhanging wall of 7 metres or the alternative of a steep chimney. We couldn't recall climbing either before and spent half an hour looking for alternative routes. There were no other climbers about and with considerable exasperation we concluded that it was not possible to climb without some protection and we had no ropes or belay equipment with us.

We descended down the blocks of scree to Coire Ghrunnda feeling deflated, dehydrated and tired from the long day in the heat. We reached a burn gurgling with cold mountain water and gorged ourselves before beginning the long tramp back to Glen Brittle. John's knee was giving him some pain, it has always been likely to erupt on long walks on steep terrain. I had not realised how much it slowed him and disappeared off down the rocky path with several walls of rock to climb down and then the long 4 kilometres of the path back to the campsite. I passed the two Does with their calves that we had seen on the ascent. One of the calves came over on unsteady legs to have a look at me.

I reached the campsite just before 8pm and drank a litre of water on getting back to the tent. When John limped in, I set off to the Old Inn at Carbost for a pint and some food. The Fairy Pools were still busy at 8:30pm, they are "one of the most magical places in Scotland" according to the wordsmiths at the Tourist Board. A model was walking down to the pools in a wedding dress for a photo shoot. I hope they manage to photoshop out all the motorhomes that litter the road above the Fairy Pools.

Doe and Calf
Climbing the Gabbro boulders to Coire Ghrunnda
At Coir Ghrunnda
John above the Coire Ghrunnda lochan

Coire Ghrunnda and Sgurr Alasdair from Sgurr nan Eag
Sgurr Dubh summit
Sgurr Dubh Mor, a route finding maze
Sgurr nan Eag from Sgurr Alasdair/Sgumain bealach
Inaccessible Pinnacle from Sgurr Alasdair

Coir Ghrunnda
Deer Calf

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