Monday, 12 May 2014

Cuillin Ridge Day02 - Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic

Walk Summary
The summit party at Eas Mòr falls,
en route to Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic
After yesterdays 11½ hour epic Iain of Kendal Mountaineering Services had read the mood of the group and determined to have a shorter walk today.

The days objective was therefore a little less ambitious (only just) with the first Munro of the day being Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic followed by Sgùrr Dearg and the Inaccessible Pinnacle concluding with Sgùrr na Banachdich if it is not too late.

Although I still trailed  behind everyone else for most of the day I was feeling much stronger than yesterday with the reduced pack weight having dumped winter fleeces and storm shelter which was really duplicated elsewhere within the group.

Walk Description 
Setting off from opposite the BMC Glen Brittle Memorial Hut the day once again started on an easy to follow path which very quickly led to the first highlight of the day - The Eas Mòr Waterfalls.

Continuing on the path and keeping right we were soon passing
Isle of Rùm from Loch an Fhir-bhallaic
Loch an Fhir-bhallaich and marvelling at views to the south towards Canna and Rùm. Soon afterwards we joined the path up Coire Làgan and the route we descended last night from Loch Làgan. Once again we had an early lunch to replenish energy reserves used to get back to where we reached last night. For the more adventurous there is definitely a case to bivvy up on the shores of Loch Làgan to save the 4½ mile and 4 hour hike back to sea level in Glen Brittle then return next day to Loch Làgan. It really puts the scale of the Munros in to perspective. At just over 600m it is mighty close to the magic 2000’ signifying an English Nuttall where in many cases we would have reached our first summit and looking for the next. Here we still had another 1000’ to ascend and the prospect of some scrambling if not a climb before reaching our first summit.

The scale of ascent up days first Munro,
Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic SE of bealach.
Orange man in gully on buttress dead centre ahead.
We resumed our ascent more or less retracing our steps from last night over scree. But instead of veering right to the 1 in 2 slope up The Great Stone Chute we had a gentle ascent across the bottom of An Stac Screes followed by some relatively straight forward scrambling to bring us to the bealach between Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic and Sgùrr Dearg. Here we came across a shallow circular rock shelter where we dumped our back packs for the final ascent to Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic. So far the weather had been favourable but more or less on cue the cloud closed in followed by steady drizzle, the sort that soaks you, resulting in us having to don waterproof tops. Worse still the sort that could abort the attempt on InPin to our left but first we had the final ascent up the dauntingly large buttress to our left and ridge walk along the top of Coireachan Ruadha Crags to the summit. 

Ridge walk on way back from Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic summit
From here it is a grade 2 scramble picking a route around the top of the buttress then crossing the ridge to the other side and an exposed traverse with Coir’- uisg nearly 3000’ sheer drop below. Fortunately the cloud swirling around us obscured this for most of the time, but what I was learning was not to become too hung up about the consequences while at the same time taking the utmost care. Fortunately we were in the expert hands of Kendal Mountaineering Services at all times, who carefully supervised every one along this difficult part. Surely we must be nearly at the summit I thought. But no it was time to get the ropes out for an assisted climb to the final part of the ridge. These Cuillin Munros do not give up their prize easily. Even after the climb there was some more scrambling, but this time up and over slippery wet basalt. Once again we were guided up and along the safest route and reminded to make sure we had firm hand and foot holds before making each move. Not really as difficult as it sounds, it seems natural steps had been created by the geological process active all those millions of years ago, making the summits tailor mad to be climbed. Or at least that is what I told myself.

Back from Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic.
Time for lunch after two hours in pouring rain.
Looks like it may dry up though for attempt on
Sgùrr Dearg and InPin (left)
Finally we get close to the summit and a short walk along an arête brings us to the summit cairn managing to stand upright with a 3000’ drop either side. The feeling of satisfaction and achievement was almost overwhelming but like all summits I reminded myself ‘reaching the top you are only half way there’. Almost on queue, whilst we were taking photos, the weather started to clear and in the warm sunshine the basalt quickly started to dry transforming it into a decent walking surface. Just as well because we now had to do the reverse of what we had just done to return to our bags. By the time we got back to our bags and the bealach the sky had cleared all the rocks were dry and we enjoyed a second lunch bathed in warm May sunshine and the pleasure of views over Rum Eigg and Sleet. While we were on the ridge we had all resigned ourselves to the fact 'In Pin' was off the agenda, but maybe it was not.

Ascent route up Sgùrr Dearg along
west side of An Stac
avoiding wet Basalt where possible
As is often the case the weather on The Cuillins is so difficult to read. Even with the warm sun on our backs suggesting 'In Pin' was back on again, we could see black rain clouds to the north which we were just willing to stay just to the north. However by the time we had descended scree around the bottom of An Stac the sun had disappeared and the wet drizzle had returned. We managed to avoid the basalt dyke up the west side of An Stac most of the time by clinging to its base, however there was one part were we had to traverse the dyke. Fortunately there was the smallest of faults in the rock that gave purchase to our fingertips and small ledge for our boots. Even so extreme care was taken to ensure we had a firm grip or safe footing before making any move across the soapy rock.

Half way up An Stac the basalt was replaced by the more abrasive Gabro leaving the final ascent over rough boulders then a fairly easy scramble to the base of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. By now it had stopped raining but the surface was still very wet from the earlier shower and what is more the cloud was not giving too many clues as to which way it was  heading.

Iain Gallagher of Kendal Mountaineering Services
assessing route up InPin and if the rain is going to hold off.
Note the different weather on the left and
matchstick people on ridge beyond
All of the group thought it was a non starter but Ian was determined to get us up if at all possible. After about 5 minutes of deliberations from all angles surprisingly  Ian gave the nod to put our harnesses on on the basis that the weather had not deteriorated any more giving it an extra 5 minutes whilst we belted up to make up its mind.

So there we all were harnessed up, ropes out and helmets on ready to tackle the Inpin. Unfortunately the weather decided to show its hand, not in an obvious way but in the form of a static buzz that only Ian and one other in the group noticed. That was it - decision made. Get down and off the summit area as quickly and safely as possible. Stuck on an exposed ridge at 3000' is no place to be in the middle of a lightening storm.

Build up of static in the (h)air. 
Forwarning of possible lightening. Time to get off the hill
As we reached Bealach Coire na Banachdich between Sgùrr Dearg and Sgùrr na Banachdich the rain was falling persistently as a heavy drizzle, vindicating the decision not to attempt In Pin. But had the static cleared making it safe to attempt Sgùrr na Banachdich? No was the answer indicated by people's hair standing on end like I had not seen since being plugged in to a Van Der Graaf Generator at School all those moons ago.

We therefore continued our descent down Coire na Banachdich. A fairly straight forward descent you would think, but once again the experience of our ML proved invaluable. The route down from this point is not actually down but to stay as high as you can for as long as you can. The footpath is relatively easy to follow but do not be tempted to take forks to the right too soon for reasons which will become obvious.

Storm clouds and rain over the route home down
Coire na Banachdich. Loch Eynort beyond An Cruachan
Eventually the route opens up but not before we see Loch Eynort beyond An Cruachan and even then we do not start to descend until a clear route without dead ground is visible to the Allt Coire na Banachdich crossing. I certainly would not want to be making the decision on my own about when to descend especially in poor visibility without an experienced guide.

As we cross Allt Coire na Banachdich looking back up at our descent route it is painfully obvious why we did not need to descend too early. The rough boulder fields we picked our way over soon disappear and became hyperbolic curves plunging down to the valley floor. Not a place to be in wet conditions or any other conditions without experience, even with ropes and adequate belays.

Evening treat of sunset beyond McLeod's Tables
from our accommodation near Carbost
After the river crossing it was a 40 minute hike down a well marked path through heather past Eas Mòr Waterfalls and on to the BMC Glen Brittle Memorial Hut and walks end. By now it was nearly 7pm and only just a shorter day than yesterdays epic. Two days, two tough walks both failing to attain a 1 mph pace. I guess you can go faster but for me the terrain and difficult scrambling puts my usual 2 mph pace well out of reach. 

Lesson for the day - Allow plenty of time

Kendal Mountaineering Services blog page
If like me you are just the average hill walker with no climbing expertise and limited scrambling experience, but have set yourself the target to climb all the Munros. Have you thought about how you will reach the 11 Munros on the Cuillin Ridge, Isle of Skye. From what I have read and now seen you will have no chance unless you know an experienced climber with knowledge of the Cuillins. Iain Gallagher of Kendal Mountaineering Services is just such a man. He has a lifetime of mountaineering experience along with a detailed knowledge of the Cuillins including safe scrambling routes along with entry and exit routes to take the safest option whatever the conditions might be or indeed change whilst out on the hill.

I found his services on line and paid the £425 for one weeks accommodation and 4 days guided walking (scrambling and climbing) in the Cuillins. Excellent value. 4 days guided walking alone could cost you that much. This price really includes food as well, because each member of the group, including Iain, supply a home cooked meal each day, creating a brilliant atmosphere and get together at the end of the day with everyone else in the team.

Team is just what you are part of, supporting each other throughout the day ensuring each and every one of us reaches our own goals as well as at times extend outside your own comfort zone and edge of achievable limits.

A brilliant experience. No kickbacks or commissions, but I cannot recommend this trip highly enough and thank Iain most sincerely for enabling me to extend myself beyond limits I never thought possible. As I have read somewhere "you do not know your limits or what you are capable of achieving  until you start to venture beyond your limits."

Iain provided the opportunity and maintained the safe environment to do just that.

As well as taking copious amounts of photographs he also records the days events on his own blog to provide lasting memories of a trip of a lifetime. Here is his account of Day02 activities on the Cuillin Ridge - Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic 

Walk Statistics
Walk Date - 12 May 2014
Walkers - Iain Gallagher (ML Kendal Mountaineering Services), Steve Smith, Al Simpson, Helen McD, Don, Alison L
Accommodation - Carbost, Isle of Skye
Start Point - Off road parking opposite Glen Brittle Hut (NG 41170 21567)
Start Time - 09:20
Finish Point - Off road parking opposite Glen Brittle Hut (NG 41170 21567)
Finish Time - 19:10
Duration - 9hrs 50mins
Average pace - 0.72mph
Distance Walked - 7.06miles
Height Ascended - 1521.01metres

Other walks on this trip
08th The Tyndrum Handful
11th Cuillin Ridge Day01 - Sgùrr nan Eag, Sgùrr Dubh Mòr & Sgùrr Alasdair
12th Cuillin Ridge Day02 - Sgùrr Mhic Choinnic

13th Cuillin Ridge Day03 - Sgùrr a'Mhadaidh
Cuillin Ridge Day04 - Sgùrr nan Gillean & Bruach na Frithe

18th Comb Moss

Peaks visited
Munro (282)
Sgùrr Mhic Choinnich (16)
Murdo (443)
Sgùrr Mhic Choinnich (24)
Corbett (221)
Graham (224)
Marilyn (1218S - 1552E,W&S))
Hump (2168S - 2976E,W&S)

Not a GPS tracklog, but a rough estimate of our route walked today. I did find room in my back pack for the camera but managed to forget my phone with associated tracking facility.
Please do not think without the necessary experience or knowledge of The Cuillins this is the basis of a route you can tackle alone or even part of a determined group. The contours are simply too close together along with scree, outcrop, boulder and loose rock symbols so arbitrary, that plotting a route from your armchair or even on the ground are just too complex.

More Photographs
Still not appropriate to have a big SLR strapped to me on my utility belt due to scrambling, climbing etc but at lest I have made room in my backpack to carry my camera. So this time 
a number of the photos have been taken by myself with others in more difficult situations when I was busy hanging on or concentrating on staying glued to the mountain provided by Kendal Mountaineering Services and other members of the group.

Heading towards Sgùrr Dearg - The Inaccessible Pinnacle shrouded in cloud and probably rain
Click on photograph to view slide-show

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