Friday, 8 June 2018

Sgurr nan Gillean

Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir and Bruach na Frithe from Sligachan

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Ascent:     1030 metres
Distance:  12 kilometres
Time:        5 hours 28 minutes

Sgurr nan Gillean      985m     3 hrs 12 mins

The good weather was now in its third week and after the house move of last week, I was hankering for a day in the hills. I could only manage one day so decided to catch an early morning bus from Glasgow to Sligachan on Skye, climb Sgurr nan Gillean and return the following morning on the early bus. It would be less stressful and cheaper than taking the car on the chocked roads to Skye.

I was not so sure as I left the flat at 6:20am to walk to the bus station. Fortunately, Citylink buses are comfortable and the 915 service to Uig was fairly empty for the journey north. It made excellent time until we hit roadworks north of Fort William and then a road closure to allow some wind turbine columns being transported from Kyle of Lochalsh to the ever-expanding wind turbine farm above Glen Moriston. We arrived 15 minutes late at Sligachan where I decided to walk over to the nearby campsite and pitch my tent and deposit my sleeping bag to lighten the rucksack. Although it was overcast, it was warm and humid. The midges would be biting tonight.

I filled my water bottle and began the walk crossing the wooden footbridge and heading for the pyramidal-like Sgurr nan Gillean. I had usually climbed it along with Bruach na Frithe and Am Basteir approaching via the West Ridge, which is classified as a climb. Today I was to take the so-called 'tourist route' that circles the mountain and climbs via two rocky corries followed by a scramble up the south-east ridge. A pleasant footpath snakes through the rough boggy ground with impossibly clear rock pools and a couple of planks for a bridge over the cascading burn. It makes the first 300 metres of climbing very easy and enjoyable. 

Thereafter the path drops to Coire Riabhach and there is a 200-metre climb up a scree path to a flatter section before the rock-enclosed hanging corrie where another path climbs up some scree. I took a route to the left of the Coire that involved some scrambling. It is another 170 metres until you reach a flatter bowl of rock strewn debris. There are several paths scored into the rock by broken scree paths that look grey against the black gabbro. I took a direct line for the summit and when I reached the rock wall veered to the left to reach the path that climbs along the apex of the ridge. The views of the Skye ridge are suddenly revealed, a sinuous wall of black rock cliffs as the sun was behind them at 5pm. The path provides a route through rock bands that are fairly easy scrambles at first. They ramp up for the final 70 metres of climbing and concentration is needed to find the route with the best traction up the basalt dykes that have been worn smooth. 

A party of 8 climbers were descending down some steep gabbro blocks, some were wearing midge nets under their climbing helmets. I asked how they had reached the summit and they replied that they had ascended via the West Ridge and that it was a lot easier than the descent that they were now making. I stepped aside to let them pass and then climbed to the summit via a series of short gullies before reaching a precarious slab that took me to the summit. The cairn had been flattened. Normally I would spend twenty minutes rebuilding a cairn but the midges were biting and I was slightly apprehensive about the descent, it was 5:20pm and I had hoped to be down by 7:30 for my first meal of the day.

I was all alone on the summit as I began the descent, teetering along the ledge, less footsure than usual climbing down the steep blocks of gabbro. I understood why the earlier parties had left their rucksacks at the bottom of the climb to the summit. I followed the ridge down to 800 metres until I found a scree path to take me to the top of the corrie. I met an Irishman who was making a circuit of the Loch Coruisk summits, he had managed seven munros during a 14 hour day so far. 

The walkout was notable for the sun becoming dominant, there were glorious views of Marsco and Bla Bheinn. Sligachan was calling and the prospect of a pint and some food drove me down at an ever-increasing pace. I had stopped a few times on the ascent to speak to other walkers, they had all found the climb tricky but exhilarating and I tended to agree. I prefer the route up the West Ridge although there are a couple of places where a rope is a useful aid. I arrived at the hotel by 7:30pm and went to the bar to check out the range of beers, I was challenged by a German customer as he thought I was queue jumping. I was delighted to find an Orkney Brewery Corncrake Ale on sale and together with some fresh haddock, it was the perfect end of a strangely satisfying day. 

I sauntered over to the campsite for a shower, it was fairly full with about ten Ford Pumas carrying a group of German tourists on a tour of Scotland. The German who had spoken to me in the hotel admired my midge net as I lifted it to clean my teeth and splash my face, the midges were biting ferociously in the still, warm evening sun. I told him that I had had to queue for it but that a wet towel was just as effective. Sleep came easy and the next morning I managed to sneak into the hotel and persuade the staff to get me a coffee before opening time. I was soon on the bus and home by lunchtime.

Pair of Ptarmigan just below the summit
The summit looking south-west
The summit ledge
Bla Bheinn from the south-east ridge
Hanging corrie leading to the south-east ridge
Marsco and Bla Bheinn from the Corrie
The two plank bridge

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