Fri 26th May - Sun 4th Jun, 2023
Skye Glen Brittle campsite
Attendance: Stu Hurworth, Andy Stratford, Steve Graham, Colin Maddison, Dave Wylie, Gareth Williams, Jess Pealing, Sean Clancy, Lewis Stonehouse, Leah Holmes, Nat Lacroix, Michelle Harrison (meet leader).
Sun, sea, sand with a stunning mountain ridge backdrop – an image of the Isle of Skye, doesn’t immediately spring to mind. For at least the last few days of May and the first few of June ’23, Skye seemed more a tropical paradise than the usual soggy midge ridden (OK we did have a few midges) Scottish highland it usually is, when the Cullin is shrouded in cloud, hiding its secrets to make navigation and progress tricky and often dangerous. Not that having good weather makes a traverse easy in any sense. As any given guidebook will warn, it is a serious undertaking, which I can fully vouch to be accurate, even in near perfect conditions.
Arriving at a busy Glen Brittle Campsite, optimism filled the air. Stu and I found Andy and Steve already pitched and with the KMC flag soon hoisted to beckon our fellow KMC travellers, base camp was established. Having smelled the optimism in the air, a stream of others soon joined. First Nat, then Gareth, Colin and Dave in Gareth’s van, then Jess and Sean, and to complete the party, Lewis and Leah all squeezed in nearby and brave plans started being made.
As a two-day traverse seemed a possibility later in the week, Andy made a quick start recruiting mules for a half-way water drop, for him and Steve for their attempt. Thinking this may be a good idea, Stu got roped into carrying water for us too, daring to think we could make an attempt. Meanwhile, I thought it a good idea to recce the Corie A Ghrunnda approach with Gareth and Colin and while we were there, may as well climb the ‘4*’ route I’d seen, Commando Crack HS 4b on the south face of Sgùrr Alasdair.
Sunday saw water lugged and duly stashed and a fun day was had by berries (Jess) and all alike. The gallant team walked up the road as far as the Youth Hostel, then up onto Sgùrr Dearg. Turning North, they went over Sgùrr na Banachdich, Sgùrr Thormaid and onto Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh. They dropped down into An Dorus, then bagged Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh before descending back into Coire An Dorus, apparently with some members getting a cheeky free lift down the road! Jess vowed to pack more carefully in future, and not bring everything she owned in shades of pink…although it was perhaps all she could find having just moved house! Gareth, Colin and me found Commando crack’s 4* perhaps a little overrated, although as Colin assured me following his lead of the second pitch, which I backed off, it was easier in rockshoes rather than the boots Gareth and I decided to wear to ‘test’ how good they were for climbing. Gareth still managed to make light work of the first pitch, satisfied he could meet the demands of the ridge in his. I was far less sure I would. At least an excellent water source was located at the back of Corie A Ghrunnda, for filling up at the last opportunity before ascending the ridge.
On Monday, Colin and Dave moved their tents to be next to the KMC enclave, as space had become available. After a full day yesterday, an easier walk was in order for some of the team. Dave teamed up with Gareth and Andy, who both wanted a ‘rest day’ ahead of their full ridge attempts. The three of them walked down to the South of the campsite, stopping for a snack after an hour or so, then Andy and Gareth headed back. Dave continued all the way down to "The Point" at Rubha an Dùnain. He explored round the "canal" (is it Viking or was it built much later by the MacAskills?), the Dun and the cave. He then headed back North via various little lumps and bumps, to try and get some good photographs of the South end of the Cuillin ridge. A visit was made to Neist Point by Steve and Colin, for some light seaside single pitch on the upper tier. Following recent sheep rescue failure, further sheep rescue was not attempted. Jess and Sean went up to Coire a Ghrunnda to see what the TD gap section of the ridge looked like. After popping over to the first Munro (because it was there) they soon realised what everyone was on about in relation to route finding. Sometime later (plus a bonus abseil) Sean thrutched his way up the most polished severe (HS??) in the world and, with an audience to boot did an excellent job although additional propulsion was used! Jess followed and decided the new approach shoes recently panic bought in Fort William were the best things ever. Lewis and Leah headed into Coire Lagan for (to Lewis’s surprise) some (what turned out to be quite highball) bouldering. Stu embraced the rest day on an inflatable sofa, while I went to the beach to sunbathe (yes, this WAS Skye) with Nat, who was leaving, to continue her Scottish tour. Bags were packed and unpacked and packed again and at one point both Andy and Steve tested out how comfy it would be to share a bivvy bag and also which position would be most accommodating.
Tuesday 30th May
In the November 2021 newsletter, Gareth described how his second attempt to traverse the Cuillin Ridge ended when he witnessed a nasty leader fall at the TD Gap and stopped to offer assistance. He finished by saying “Perhaps my next try will prove to be third time lucky?” He made his third try on Tuesday 30th May 2023 and I take up the story in his own words:
“I got an early start – alarm set for 2am but I woke at 1am so decided to get going, and was walking out of the campsite by headtorch at 01:30. All was going well until on Sgurr Dubh Mor I met a father and daughter; the latter had sustained a loose block to the foot and a broken toe was suspected. A guide was on scene with his 2 clients. I offered assistance but they assured me the situation was under control so I continued, reaching the TD Gap at 07:30 to find a pair of climbers in it. The leader wasn’t especially smooth or quick, but he did climb the pitch cleanly and safely. Whilst he was setting up his belay I asked if I could overtake and the second was happy to step aside as I shinned up the polished chimney. Several summits later I approached the Inn Pin to find 8 climbers already on it. They were all most obliging and happy to let me pass. I reached the top and had abseiled off before they were ready to start rigging their abseil rope. The long central section of the ridge followed, and was very draining in the heat of the afternoon sun. Eventually I arrived at the superb Basteir Tooth. The climbing isn’t hard but it’s extremely exposed, and coming near the end of the ridge it’s certainly not easy to commit. A few minutes later I was on the tooth, then on to the end of the ridge and the long walk down to the Sligachan. One of the great things about the Cuillin Ridge is you can set your own challenge in terms of start/finish/route/time period. For years the experience I have wanted from the Cuillin has been Glenbrittle to Sligachan in a day, taking in Gars Bhein, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr Alasdair and all the main summits on the ridge, and climbing the TD Gap, Kings Chimney, Inn Pin and Naismith’s Route. It may have taken three attempts but I feel pretty lucky to have done it.”
Andy and Steve allowed Gareth to get a good head-start, setting off at 8:30, to do the ridge over two days with a bivvy half way. Stu and me set off to do the same, but about an hour behind...probably more as I confidently (having gone that way the day before) led Stu the wrong way along the coast past for a bit before we turned back and rejoined the right path. It was therefore to much surprise that we met Andy on the summit of Sgurr nan Eag, tapping his foot and asking if we’d seen Steve, to which we did our best to appear helpful and not amused. We did bump into him as we walked back towards our bags...he’d come a bit of a cropper with a loose boulder, but was ok. We spent the rest of the morning guiding our companions, until they managed to sneak in front of us to do the TD gap. Stevie spent a while making it look less than easy, so I persuaded Stu to haul my bag to give me a change of doing it. It did the trick, as it seemed easier than advertised and soon we were on our way (once Stu had found a way to climb while hauling a bag he couldn’t rest anywhere). We caught up with Andy and Steve at Kings Chimney, but couldn’t get past with Andy just on the lead. Not falling for Steve’s dramatics a second time, I led carrying my rucksack. And found it to be a most enjoyable pitch. By the time me and Stu were up, our companions had scampered off. But we made our way along to the Inn Pin and soon met up with them again. Stu led off while I fought off the encroaching midges. He seemed to be taking a while, and when I finally climbed passed him on the belay, it turned out he had been enjoying himself so much, he was virtually at the top! A spectacular climb in a stunning location, enhanced by a gloriously clear sky with a slight tinge of dusk. Feeling fatigue beginning to set in, we pressed on to find a bivvy spot and hopefully retrieve our stash. We arrived to find a very busy Banachdich summit with people asleep everywhere. Andy and Steve seemed to have found the last spot, but we scraped about and eventually made somewhere flat to rest up, rehydrate, refuel and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
……..Meanwhile back in Glenbrittle, Colin and Dave drove up to Sligachan, having stolen Andy's car and concocted a walk up into Fionn Coire. They headed up to the col below Sgùrr a' Bhàsteir and nipped onto the subsidiary hill of Meall Odhar at 636 metres. They then dropped down the other side of the col, beneath the Bhàsteir gorge. Once down, they would have gone into the pub at Sligachan, but they found that it was closed for a couple of days. Instead, they drove to Carbost and went into the Old Inn for a pint or two before returning to the campsite. Jess had a day with Leah and Lewis at Neist point, with a delightful brunch stop en route. Lewis lead VS 4c Sonomara, amongst other things and then went for a potter to do some bird watching and general gazing at the views that are mostly absent on Skye for the other 359 days of the year. Sheep remained protesting on ledge.
Wednesday 31st May
Colin and Dave decided to go climbing on the West Buttress of Sròn na Cìche. They walked up into Coire Lagan accompanied by Gareth (who didn't go far) and Leah (who went almost all the way to the crag before heading back down). Watched by a small herd of deer, Colin and Dave shared the leads on "Median" (HD). They both made some Standard Deviations from the Median, with Dave taking some slabs rather than grassy ledges and Colin avoiding a wet corner by doing 4c/5a moved up an edge - in his approach shoes with a rucksack on and no protection! Dave topped out on the minor summit at 764m. It was a great day out - anything but Average! Back at camp, Dave was offered a free chilli supper thanks to Leah, saving him from having to scrape together a meal from scraps in his dwindling food supplies. Jess embarked on pinnacle ridge with Lewis and Sean. A most excellent day out, they had the ridge and Sgurr nan Gillian to themselves. During the descent they talked about the relative merits of being able to paraglide, and decided they shouldn't moan given their club companions had to suffer the 'sort of scree/boulders' after doing the entire ridge in one go. It was unfortunate that the pinnacle ridge party had to break the news of the Slig closure to the traversing travellers.
Blissfully unaware of the Slig bombshell, Stu and I woke to find an empty mountain. It appeared we had slept in and everyone had gone! We made haste and got on our way. It was slow going given the heat, but having good visibility made route finding easy and we made good progress. We had given up thinking we might catch up with Andy and Steve, but we only just didn’t, as they summited Gillean as we were descending Am Basteir. We made it to Gillean and were soon back to the bags we had left at the bottom of Basteir for which, it turned out, to feed the ravens. Stu was a little disappointed to find the wrappers from all of his remaining snack bars strewn about. Fortunately, they didn’t have the skills to open my drawstring snack bag so we shared the last of my supplies before the long slog to the (closed) Slig. The Old Inn provided refreshment and crips for dinner on the way back. Andy and Steve just managed to make it in time for last food orders…seems it was worth getting up that bit earlier after all! Back at Glenbritttle the joy of a wonderful ridge traverse was celebrated by a few quite tired people.
Thursday 1st June
Keen to get out, Dave teamed up with Sean who drove them all the way up to Neist on the North West of the island. They climbed on the upper crag and Sean warmed up by leading Leaf Taker VD. Dave then led Keeping the BOFs Happy Diff. The next route, led by Sean, seemed the hardest despite it's modest grade: Don't Leave Your Dad in The Rain S. Dave led another easy route, Hummer Diff, before Sean made tidy work on Sonamara VS, 4c. As they headed down Glenbrittle, they couldn't initially work out what the weather was doing. Despite the warm sunshine, they seemed to be driving through spindrift. They then realised, to their horror, that it was midges! The cold Northerly breeze at low levels, that had kept them under control for most of the trip so far, had abated. Dave hid inside his tent to eat his supper and any excursion out required both a midge net and repellent.
Being suitably recovered, Gareth and Colin climbed King Cobra (E1 5b) on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. I believe it was ‘protected’ where it was needed, but possibly only in comparison to how protected the rest was, with pegs more rust than metal…if only Gareth had taken some shiny new ones to place! Feeling less energetic, Jess, Leah and Lewis had a beach day on Skye.. people swam in the sea and more sunbathing (still weird), was done. Andy, Steve, Stu and me had a very ‘relaxed start’. Later on, we had a fire on the beach and celebrated the new Spanish island resort of Skye.
Friday 2nd June
After the previous days ‘excitement’, but still not content, (although enthusiasm was visibly waning), Gareth (dragged?) Colin to do a link up of three classic routes on Sron na Ciche: Cioch West (S), Arrow Route (VDiff) and Integrity (HS). Alt leads all the way. Probably the most remarkable point is they didn't have to queue the whole way on such popular routes!
Stu and me went to Neist point to see if we can complete the KMC Sonomara challenge, among other popular routes). The sheep remained, protesting of its misadventure, without seeming to be willing to climb back up the way it had descended. The rest set out to go up Blà Bheinn by the "Clach Glas - Blà Bheinn Traverse" (Diff). Their route first took them onto Sgùrr nan Each, before they tackled Clach Glas then Blà Bheinn itself. The scrambling was significantly harder and more exposed over these two main peaks, so a rope above from Andy was welcomed by several of the team! After celebratory summit photographs, thanks to a passing fell-runner, they descended via the "tourist path", which was mainly steep and loose scree until it levelled out less than a mile from the road. By all accounts, an utterly superb day out was had by all, agreeing it was justifiably ranked as amongst the best mountaineering routes in the UK. The team stopped off in Broadford for a chip supper and finally got to go to the Slig afterwards! Back at the campsite, Steve packed up an got an early start on the road, while the rest had a last fire. (Partly as the midges were still adamant it was Scotland after all).
Saturday 3rd June
Being finally too worn out after the fabulous week to do any more mountaineering, there was a consensus by all remaining, to count our blessings and head back. After loading all of their gear into Gareth's van, Dave and Colin thought they may be in for more exercise as said van wouldn't start - but Stu came to the rescue with a boost battery pack which got it going without a push. Gareth drove Colin and Dave back, with only essential stops and the van engine left running during those in case it wouldn't start again. Thankfully the van kept running and all made it back safely. Thanks to everyone (and the kind weather gods), who made it a truly remarkable week.
Skye. Glen brittle campsite.
Whit week May 26th – June 4th
The Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye provide some of the most challenging hiking, scrambling and climbing routes in the UK to test and improve your mountaineering skills on magnificent rock in an amazing place.
Turn up, pictch up! - All welcome! (do please indicate if you are coming along though)
Campsite details can be found here: