Day 1 - The Drive West and Glamaig
Aberdeen was shrouded in cloud as we headed down the A90 on the first stage of the journey to Skye. A subsequent damp stop in Dunkeld (where we stumbled upon a flower show in the Cathedral) was followed by a drive up the busy A9 between mountains that became increasingly higher and wilder.
The first signs of sunshine came as we stopped above Loch Laggan, shortly before the route took us up the Great Glen alongside Loch Lochy. After being almost run over by the local Laird at Spean Bridge, and stopping for hugely expensive diesel in Invergarry, the clouds once again rolled in as we passed Loch Cluanie, then Glen Shiel. Passing through Kintail, with the Five Sisters behind us, the waters of Loch Duich turned blue and the sun streamed out, illuminating the distant Skye Bridge, behind which the great jagged ridge of the Cuillins could be seen.
It was only a short drive then to Kyle of Lochalsh, over the now toll-free Bridge, and onto the Island itself. A half hour of driving took us around the coast to Loch Sligachan with its head a riot of colour as the Sligachan campsite came into view close to the Hotel, bridge, and our bunkhouse close under the distinctive cone of Glamaig.
After negotiating a set of keys, unloading the car and changing into walking attire we headed off up, initially unsure of our exact route, towards Glamaig. At 775m it is one of two Corbetts on the island. Initially we followed boggy, fairly level ground which skirted the western slopes of the hill, heading around to the Bealach south-east of the summit. Ascending a ridge it became clear this way would be just as difficult as a direct ascent of the steep sided mountain so we abandoned it, crossed a stream and headed up towards the summit. It was a along and arduous climb, sticking to the grassier areas and avoiding the screes and boulders where possible. A good hour or so brought us from nearly sea level up to the 758m high summit where the ground mercifully levelled off and the views opened up spectacularly all around.
We chose a more direct descent, sticking to the grass again where possible and heading for the hotel. It was again very steep and the knees took a jarring but before too long we had reached the road and walked back towards the bunkhouse. The low sun on the Cuillin was quite a sight.
Day 2 - The Black Cuillin
Following various discussions the previous night I joined up with Linda, Alison, Margriet and Christopher for an ambitious day in the Cuillins. Besides the campsite at Glen Brittle, our starting point, Chris remarked that it was to be something of a Baptism of Fire. He wasn’t wrong.
The morning had started with Skye shrouded in thick mist but as we drove around the island to Glen Brittle the jagged tops of the Cuillin suddenly appeared wraithlike from between the clouds. Within seconds the mantle had been brushed away like cobwebs. Before us, under brilliant blue skies was the Cuillin Hills, the jagged Black Cuillin of Skye and some of the most spectacular and challenging hillwalking in the United Kingdom.
Despite their apparent proximity it was a still a long, hot trek up a good path from the campsite to Coire Lagan with its lochan surrounded by great slabs of Gabbro. Just below the Lochan we stopped and scrambled across to a waterfall to refill our water bottles – they were already being quickly emptied and we wouldn’t see any more water until we climbed down from An Dorus several hours later.
The Coire was already fairly busy with several groups heading off at different angles up the screes. We chose a route over to the left of the Coire, away from the worst of the screes and where possible following the firmer rocks as they climbed up towards Am Stac. Across the way we could see the route up the Great Stone Chute to Sgurr Alasdair, as well as the other magnificent peaks that looked down upon the Lochan. Those with a less strenuous day were soaking up the sun next to its algeaed waters.
At a point just below the Bealach between Sgurr Dearg and Sgurr Mhic Choinnich we left our bags, and free of the weight started to make our way right and up towards the latter of these two peaks. Nothing can prepare you for the first time you reach the actual ridge and my lower jaw plunged as I topped the crest. The whole breathtaking panorama opened wide in front of me like nothing I had ever seen before. Peak after peak plunging down in inconceivably steep sides to the green glen below. There wasn’t too much time to enjoy the view as we now started the scramble and concentration was fully on where feet and hands were going. This was for me the most demanding part of the day I don’t my head was yet in the right place and I was finding things tough going. I made it up some of the difficult ledges but then we came out again on a very exposed part which led to the last climb up onto the summit. It was at this point where my feet refused to move onwards and i found myself clutching at the ridgeline and no way of moving forward.
From there I watched the three others (one had come short a little way before me) make it up to the summit which was only a minute or so further scramble from where I had stopped. It had certainly been an interesting first taste of the Cuillins, but I wasn’t put off just yet and even the scramble down back to our bags seemed easier than it had appeared going up.
Once back to the point below the Bealach we paused to eat lunch, watching as more walkers toiled up the Stone Chute, whilst others celebrated on the top of Sgurr Alasdair. As we were packing up our bags the unrelenting sunshine was dimmed by a patch of cloud that had moved in from the west, now partially obscuring the top of the peaks opposite. In the slightly cooler air we now made our way carefully up the slopes behind us, eventually coming up and around the base of the infamous Inaccessible Pinnacle.
There seemed to be climbers all over this dramatic fin of rock, which we could appreciate only once we had made it to the lesser summit of Sgurr Dearg. All around us the peaks of the ridge could be seen continuing northwards. This is the route we would take.
From Sgurr Dearg it was easier walking dropping slightly below the ridge and making our way across to the next Munro. The flanks of Sgurr na Banachdich were well defended but my body was acclimatising much better to the exposure and scrambling and it wasn’t long before we pulled ourself up onto the top. We now had magnificent views all around, particular down towards Loch Coruisk.
We descended from Banachdich and made our way along towards the next Munro. Climbing here was steep and tricky and we first of all failed to find a way around Sgurr Thomaid which is a top sticking out of the ridge. Down this we descended and then followed the ridge up to the south top of Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh. From here to the summit it was a crawl along the knife-edged arete. It was terrifying but the satisfaction gained by reaching the summit was incomparable.
From here we had stunning views all around, down to Loch Coruisk far below, and away to the Outer Hebrides. The combination of mountain, sea and sun was incredible.
We now followed the ridge down, bypassing the Wart on its easier right hand side and coming down towards An Dorus (the Door). This is a notch in the ridge which allows a safe descent down to Glen Brittle. The last few metres were across smooth slabs and then a final plunge down an 8 foot rock wall which we were helpfully guided down after throwing our bags down!
It was now a simple task of descending the screes below An Dorus to where the path met the stream met at the bottom of Coire An Dorus. We spent time washing faces and drinking the beautifully clear mountain water. The walk out of Coire An Dorus gradually hid the hills behind us and soon enough we came out past an impressive waterfall to the Youth Hostel.
It had been almost ten hours since we left the cars at the campsite but the day had been thrilling.
Day 3 - Bla Bheinn (Blaven)
A slightly later start saw us heading through Torrin and around the head of Loch Slapin to the start of the main track up to Blaven. Again the skies were clearest blue and the initial walk, besides the gorge and its chattering scream was delightful. After the second river crossing the ascent started on a much eroded path up to the head of Coire Uaigneich and the delightful grassy alp.
Here I continued on my own, picking a way up the right stone buttress and following a steep but clear track that wound its way up the mountain. Every so often a great crack would appear with dizzying views down to the glens far below. The last part took me up a delightful tumble of boulders which provided easy scrambling. From there it was only a few minutes up to the summit where I found the cairn and trig point.
The view over to the Cuillin was breathtaking and I sat right on the very edge facing them as I ate my lunch. Other climbers arrived and remarked on the excellent weather.
I followed a slightly different course down to the Coire and finally descended to the stream where I waited for Gordon to join me. It was then a quick march back to the car and all too soon it was time to leave Skye.
The good weather lasted until the head of Glen Shiel after which we lost the sunshine and were met by increasingly heavy clouds until, just beyond Inverness the rain met us.
Arriving back in Aberdeen and running to avoid the rain it seemed like the weekend on Skye had been in a different time. It was a very special experience and I can’t wait to return.