Sunday, 6 June 2010
GLENCOE AND SKYE - 31st May - 5th June 2010
RB set off for France on the Sunday night, too late in the evening for D and I think about the long drive up to Skye. A shame because the forecast looked excellent for the Monday. Instead, we decided to drive to Skye via Glencoe, taking in the Aonach Eagach ridge on the way.
So, that was then. But back to now. As you might imagine, I was somewhat nervous of a repeat show on the Aonach Eagach and before now I'd never gone back. The day was perfect for a rematch though, the sun beaming down enough to help warm the rock slightly and hopefully soothe the nerves. And nervous I was! I remember finding the descent off Am Bodach a doddle previously, but on this occasion it seemed the most tricky part of the traverse. As we walked and scrambled along with ease, my nerves grew and grew and I was on continuous lookout for any hint of recognition of the pinnacle where I fell. The ridge is longer than I recall it, and looked somewhat different from my memory, bar certain parts which seemed very familiar. After downclimbing a really easy groove, I turned back and faced the point I'd just come down, realising that this was the point where I'd fallen. I looked down left and shuddered a little at the drop down the mountain but felt faintly embarrassed that I'd struggled so much at this section, thinking what a complete and utter tit James must have thought me at the time to find it so difficult.
And that was it, after another wee scrambly section upwards, it was onto the final munro and a steep descent back to Glencoe and the a slog up the glen and back to the van. Took 7hrs in total from van back to van which is pretty good compared to the epic day up there last time, though the slog back up the glen to the van was a bit tedious. And that was that, a demon faced and a ghost laid to rest.
Wednesday morning dawned a bit dank and cloudy but upon parking at the Youth Hostel we decided to go for an ascent of Thuilm Ridge, followed by bagging Sgurr a Mhadaigh and then onto Sgurr a Ghreadaidh if we had time.
Thurs 3rd - PINNACLE RIDGE OF SGURR NAN GILLEAN
This is what we'd come for and Thursday dawned into a magnificant day of bright sunshine and clear skies. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect on hard scramble/Diff rock climb of this nature so as well as packing a rope for the abseil we knew we'd need to do, I also packed a handful of nuts, a couple of hexes and a few slings. The one thing I stupidly forgot and that I felt quite naked without was my helmet.
After I was down and had coiled up the rope we had a peer down the awkward chimney that we still had to downclimb. It looked a bit dubious to start off with and D had a go first and declared it no problem at all, and it really was much less intimidating than it looked.
Before abb'ing down we'd been watching a party, ahead of the guide and his client, roping up for the final Knights Peak. They were really slow and were knocking down rocks right, left and centre and I felt so conscious of not having my helmet with me! Luckily by the time we'd faffed with the abseil they had gone past the summit of Knights Peak so we were safe from falling rocks!
The beginning of Knight's Peak took you along a short rubbly ledge and past 2 narrowings. I had D go first and he strolled along nonchantly, and could have easily have been strolling along the street with his hands in his pocket. I'd been nervous as 2 of the parties ahead had roped up for this pinnacle, but there was no hard bits at all, although I was hugging the edge a bit more than D was!
The guide had mentioned going right around the base of the 1st tower above Knights Peak, when in fact it was much, much better to go around left and the back of the tower. On the 2nd tower there was a ledge that one could scramble along to get to the base of the final pyramid tower up to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean. D took a higher ledge and had to downclimb to the lower ledge but I took the lower ledge from the start, finding it much more preferable.
The guide also mentioned a hard step left onto the final pyramid, but the step onto the final wall was actually moving rightwards and not leftwards! And it was hard for the grade, not Diff by any stretch of the imagination! It felt quite Severe to me. The holds were big, but it was a lay off and the 2nd flake was horribly rounded, the move was a huge, reachy rockover with not much for your feet and then once my feet were high, I couldn't reach the next juggy hold and had to use a tiny gabbro nubbing around the size of my finger nail to move up on. I tried it several times but just couldn't commit to doing the move, what with the prospect of a long fall if I messed things up! D went first but of course he has a much longer reach than I do and could reach the big holds. I was frustrated that even on a Diff I was having problems with being 5 foot nothing! My other option was head down rightwards slightly and up an even blanker looking wall and I didn't like the look of that, or to avoid the summit pyramid alltogether by a traverse rightwards, but I wanted to complete the route!
I went back to the hard move, gritted my teeth and committed to it, no bother! But a pretty serious and tough move for a Diff! The summit pyramid was utterly joyous! I really, really enjoyed it, never too hard but always exposed enough to keep you thinking and then up a final basalt dyke and onto the top of the West ridge and then finally the summit. Hurrah, my first serious scramble on Skye and done without pitching any of it either, I was really chuffed with myself!
When I got to the top I was pretty knackered and a bit drained from all the concentration below, that I wasn't sure I wanted to continue down the West Ridge of Gillean as it was graded moderate and I couldn't be bothered with any more excitement. After a breather though and a bite to eat I soon changed my mind and we set off. You have to start by 'threading the needle' which involves clambering down through a hole between perched blocks. I wasn't quite sure I was going to fit through at first but it's bigger than it looks when you get there. The next section was pretty thin for your feet and it took me a while to trust using such small holds and edges with my big boots on, but amazingly they stick well. This took us down to a big ledge where we had to wait some time on 2 guided parties being roped up the ridge. The first guide has to be one of the most unfriendly guides I've ever met on the hills and seemed a bit up himself. Of course he was busy concentrating on his clients but he didn't even thank us for patiently waiting on him and I muttered a quick 'twat' as he left with his group. The 2nd guide was far more courtious thankfully and before long it was our time to set on down. You had to go down a wee groove/chimney and onto another ledge where there was a rope around a block obviously used for groups abseiling down a gully/chimney below. We decided against the chimney and instead stepped across onto a small pinnacle with a ledge below where you had to cross across and round the pinnacle. I was gripping on for dear life at this point, ever conscious of the death plummet below! You then had to take a really wide stride and step across onto the next pinnacle so you were then left with one foot and hand on one pinnacle and the other foot and hand on the other pinnacle, with nothing but air between your feet! It was the most exposed thing I've ever done and was utterly exhilarating in a,
'holy shit!' kinda way!
FRIDAY - I'd been suffering from horrible belly cramps the night before and wasn't feeling great at all later on Friday morning and was tired from an 11hr day on the hill before. Was sorely tempted to forget about going up the hill today but finally forced myself out the van. We'd driven down to Torrin to go up Blaven, keeping our option open to do the Clach Glas to Blaven traverse if we felt like it. D has already done it and even though I'd managed Pinnacle Ridge, the Clach Glas traverse seemed a more serious option and I really didn't feel up to it today. It took all my effort to start off up Blaven and I was having continual stomach cramps on the way up and feeling really quite sick, weak, dizzy and a bit out of it as if I were a bit feverish. We went up into Fionna Choire and by the time we were up there I was feeling so poorly that I just had to sit for a while and try to recuperate. I realised that behind the stomach cramps I was actually feeling really hungry having have not finished my lunch earlier. I scoffed a fair bit to eat, including some chocolate and although the queasiness continued I felt alot better. Until we started to head up the head wall of the corrie that is! I was sweating buckets and feeling all weak again and so many times I wanted to give up and just sit down and head back to the van. But I refused to give up! And I'm sure that whatever was ailing me was eventually sweated out for as we approached the South top of Blaven I started feeling much better.
Route finding on the way down was a bit thoughtfull in places and I reckon would be quite tricky in the mist but the going is never hard and before long we were back down at the foot of Fionna Choire and heading down Coire Uaigneich and the carpark. We then drove around the head of Loch Slapin and spent the night in the van at Camas Malag.
This is a gorgeous spot! It looks down Loch Slappin and out to the sea at one side and then across to Blaven at another side. D and I spent some time on the pebbly shore taking masses of photos of the sunset over Blaven before retreating to the van for the night.
We both fancied an easy day on Saturday before the long drive home so we walked the 3 miles along the coast to Suisnish. Here lie the remains of the crofts dated from the Clearances of the 1850's. The people refused to leave their homes and were violently and forcefully evicted into the snow that lay deep in October. Many elderly folk died of exposure and the Geologist Archibald Geikie was frequenting the area at the time and recounted that,
'A strange wailing sound reached my ears. I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suisnish. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. A cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach. The sound re-echoed through the wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation.'