Time: 5hrs 07mins
Munros: Bruach na Frithe (958m)
Weather: Early light rain giving way to sunshine, very strong winds on top
Route: Click to view
“The Cuillin… they will never look the same for very long, now blue, now grey, now silver, sometimes seeming to retreat or to advance, but always drenched in mystery and terrors” – H. V. Morton
It is now more than two years since, in the company of members of the Stocket Hillwalking Club, I clung, half terrified, half exhilarated, to the shattered black gabbro on the spine of the Black Cuillin of Skye. That day, after an ascent through Coire Lagan, seven hours on the ridge, and then a thrilling final clamber down An Dorus (the door) I had come back to sea level feeling more tired than I had ever felt, but also more satisfied. It had been a testing day, with every move counting as hands and feet found secure holds perched over 3,000ft of empty space.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I embarked on my own today for a climb in the Black Cuillin. The only one of the Munros I could conceive of doing solo was Bruach na Frithe and so it was that I parked up along the Dunvegan road, just west of the Sligachan Hotel. The morning had an air of bright promise with rays of light showering the nearby Red Cuillin. Meanwhile the Black Cuillin, dominating my southern view, were swathed in a maelstrom of cloud that was billowing off the inner sea.
I set off up the clear vehicle track that leads to the wonderfully picturesque Alltdearg House. Here a helpful sign points you west onto the track that leads towards a low bealach and on into Glen Brittle some five miles distant. The path follows the course of the Allt Dearg Mor which tumbles in a series of delightful rapids and waterfalls down from the feet of the Cuillin.
It was a wonderful walk, particularly as for the most part I was bathed in glorious sunshine. The red hills were visible and as time passed the Black Cuillin gradually shed their early covering of cloud. Initially clouds haunted the pinnacles of Sgurr nan Gillean but as I advanced west, turning the corner, the ridge line itself became clearer. Next up was the corner that would reveal Bruach na Frithe, which is hidden in the view from Sligachan by Sgurr a’ Bhasteir but is eventually revealed.
As the path approached the summit of the pass a branch headed off to the south, crossing the burn and then starting the climb up into the Fionn Coire which sits below Am Basteir. I followed this for a short distance before turning off to the right and climbing scree slopes. My intended route was up Bruach na Frithe’s northeast ridge which hopefully would offer some good scrambling without being too committing.
I had caught and passed a couple of other people by this point but everyone else on the route seemed to be sticking to the straightforward coire approach. Meanwhile I quickly gained height on the steep, grassy lower slopes of the ridge. The way was easy going with the views beginning to open up despite the swirling cloud. To my right I could follow the line of the track as I dropped into Glen Brittle. Above this were the dark, steep slopes of the central Cuillin, the tops still lost in the mist.
As I climbed higher though things gradually improved with the shapes at the head of the Fionn Coire resolving into distinct shapes, the Basteir tooth clear visible. I also took the time to admire the views that had opened up behind me: to the north and west the sunshine over Dunvegan and to the east over Sligachan and Glamaig. After this though I packed away the camera as now the ridge narrowed and became increasingly rocky as I neared the shoulder of Bruach na Frithe.
As I started to climb the cloud swept in on a chill wind that I had, up until now, largely been sheltered from. It at least allowed me to concentrate on my route which took my up a series of shattered terraces close to the line of the ridge. After this it flattened out somewhat and became a fine walk, made a little interesting by the buffeting wind. I was once again treated to some fine views before I reached the final steep climb up to the summit.
I was once again plunged into cloud. At the steep section I followed a distinct path that kept well below and to the right of the ridge-line, now a tumbling series of black rocks. Finally though the track petered out and I took to a gully that climbed rapidly up. After that a second gully ended in a chockstone that forced me out and to the left, back up to the ridge. I paused here as a gap in the swirling clouds gave me views back down the ridge.
There was now a final interesting section up another gully which had to be turned to the right before I once again hit on a clear track that rallied itself and now headed straight for the summit of the mountain. I emerged slightly breathless but elated just to the southeast of the trig point - one of the few on the Cuillin.
The clouds had kept back for this moment and as another couple who had come up from the Coire joined me, we were able to enjoy extensive views all around. Only the southern bulk of the Cuillin remained stubbornly in the mist. Despite this there were views across to Blaven and Loch Scavaig as well as closer at hand, to Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean.
It was a fantastic sight that gave a thrilling feel of vertigo amongst these steep, ragged spires of dark rock. The monochrome effect of so much grey and black rock makes you feel like you have stepped out of a spaceship door onto an alien world.
I spent a good half an hour on the summit, enjoying a bite of lunch and drinking some water. Unfortunately the views deteriorated during this period until I was eventually shrouded in a cold, clammy mist.
Although I had a few choices from here, given the weather that was rapidly closing in, I decided to take the sensible route off the mountain and follow the coire track back to the Allt Dearg Mor track. Given a bit more time an interesting route from here might have been to head to the summit of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir and then drop off the east side of the hill towards the Bhasteir gorge and the track back to Sligachan.
Instead I dropped down the east ridge of Bruach na Frithe (the easy Munro bagger route of ascent) and followed a rough track below Sgurr a’ Fhionn Coire, a rough toppled table of rock, until I got an intimidating view of Am Basteir and the Basteir Tooth.
The ground here is rough and so after peering down towards the south-eastern arm of Sgurr nan Gillean I tracked some way along the ridge towards Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. At the low point on the ridge I then dropped to the left down rough scree to join the main track through Fionn Coire. From the ridge I got some great views back to Am Basteir and witness the echoing cry of a rook as it perched just below the tooth. In the misty, grey-black world it was a lonely and forbidding sound.
On a good track that dropped through the gently sloping coire I made excellent progress, soon dipping below the gradually building cloud until I was following a tumbling allt.
After a while the track faded into the general scree and rubble at the wide entrance to the coire. I tracked across to the left, crossed a rapidly running stream by some rocks and joined a track that would eventually lead me to my outward path.
Down the course of the Allt Dearg Mor and shower had come in from the west and now caused a semi bright rainbow to form over Sligachan. Behind me it was clear heavier rain was rapidly moving in (as forecast by the BBC that morning) and so I got a move on, re-crossing the stream and quickly taking the path back out to my waiting car.
As I passed the house at Alltdearg and got a last look at the Cuillin the first rain drops splashed off my coat.
I threw my boots and sack in the boot of the car and got inside just as the rain really started to build. I had timed it to perfection, getting up and down a Skye Munro in just over five hours. The rain that was just starting now would continue for the next 36 hours!