Given the extended duration of the meet and its remoteness, the Skye trip was essentially organised as an overseas meet; requiring a greater level of planning and starting earlier than it might otherwise.
Camping Skye, just outside of Broadford, was secured as basecamp for the week’s activities and proved to be a comfortable site (spirit level-flat pitches!) with very good amenities, somewhat at odds with the rugged environment the adventurers would find themselves in. Outside of the tents, the comfort level was directly related to the windspeed as midges would descend (or ascend?) in still air and head nets became essential survival kit.
The campsite did have a refuge for times when the midges (or weather) became too oppressive and several MMCers cooked their evening meals here on a few occasions. It was a strange space, sturdy in structure but without illumination and very echoey with its corrugated walls. Functional, but not particularly lending itself to being good for socialising.
A local pub and restaurant proved much better alternatives for sitting around and sharing experiences of the day’s activities. The beer and wine available at both may have also had something to do with it. Possibly also the food.
Vic and Anna arrived earlier than everyone else, as they also needed to leave earlier, and they took advantage by charging straight into the fray by tackling Clach Glas and specifically the Blabheinn Traverse.
The weather was perfect – sun all day, good visibility. It was a classic and brilliant ridge scramble with sections of pitched climbing and some stunning views. It took longer than predicted by the massive guide book – AKA The Bible – Anna was carrying, however, as the route-finding wasn’t always obvious. 11 hours rather than 7! Lesson learned : start early…
Vic and Anna took a well deserved rest day after their rather epic (but not ‘an epic’) first adventure, and throughout the day others started arriving at the campsite, pitching their tents and catching up with oneanother.
Vic, Anna and Oscar headed off to the coastline near Elgol for some sea cliff climbing, working as a three and taking it in turns to Lead.
Steven, Chris and John B headed out to explore the rugged beauty of Beinn na Caillich.
Meanwhile the last of the MMCers arrived at the campsite after their long journeys.
Whilst Chan and John C explored areas closer to the campsite, the majority of the group headed to Glen Brittle. They parked at the Youth Hostel and headed towards Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh in order to tackle the Thuilm Ridge, a classic Grade 3 scramble.
Walking into the valley gave many their first glimpse of the majesty and awe of the Cullins. We were not in Kasas anymore.
There was a slight difference of opinion on how best to get onto the ridge itself and two groups formed – one intent on charging a direct line up to it and another taking a longer route, following more of a contour line around the valley and up. Needless to say everyone arrived at the ridge about the same time.
The ridge itself was well worth it, with steepness and complexity increasing as the traverse continued, allowing people to ease in. By the time the Grade 3 terrain was reached everyone was pretty well ‘dialled in’, though with damp rock in places and visibility not always amazing, some of the team decided short roping was the best option. A good chance to practice creating, taking in and letting out coils if nothing else.
Most of the group headed to Sgurr a’Bhasteir and along Bruach na Frithe for more scrambling and mountaineering of the first order, and scenery to match.
Desiring rock-climbing Vic, Anna, Oscar and Oli headed back to Glen Brittle the following day, this time parking on the coast in the Glen Brittle campsite which had a great view, but looked like it would be mightily exposed in bad weather! It also had one of the best-stoked cafes we had seen. Not only could you get good coffee and fresh croissants, but if campers placed an order for bread, a loaf would be baked fresh for the following day. The cafe also sold guidebooks, maps and gear. Restraint was required.
The team headed in to Sron na Ciche – a massive, complex cliff on the south side of Coire Lagan and apparently the most popular mountain crag on Skye.
Following a brief respite in a cave to hide from a spot of rain, they identified the start of the route they were looking for – Cioch West, a 6 Pitch Severe – and started up it in to teams (Vic and Anna first, followed by Oscar and Oli). Climbing on the ancient gabbro rock was an absolute delight, being literally rock solid, but also highly textured and grippy. There were two particularly memorable sections – a bold few moves across a somewhat unprotectable flake, and the airiest traverse you are likely to find on a route of this grade, tiptoeing around from the previous belay and then bridging across a literal void with nothing but air under the feet. Wild and thrilling.
Time and weather was starting to be against them, however, so a group decision was made to bail off down a gully after Pitch 5, rather than continuing all the way to the top. It was a serious decision as two improvised (i.e. no permanent in-situ ab stations) abseils were required to reach reasonable ground, emphasising the need to be self sufficient and proficient in setting up safe abseil points and descending from them safely and efficiently.
Head torches were needed for the last bit of the walk-out, and the lesson was the same as before – start earlier! One can never completely account for changing weather, though, especially in the mountains. Regardless of forecast, best to eschew the Cub Scout moto, folks – Be Prepared.
Vic, Oscar, Oli and Katherine headed back into Glen Brittle, parking at the Fairy Pools carpark (wow, that carpark is HUGE!). Whilst Katherine headed off for a solo low-level adventure, the others walked up the stream and past the pools to Sgurr an Fheadain in order to tackle The Spur, a shorter Grade 2 scramble they had identified the evening before for more of a relaxed day out.
More relaxed it may have been, and for once they undertook the outing in the time suggested by the guidebook (4 hours), but fun it was as well and they were afforded great views once more. The scrambling itself was unbridled Type 1 all the way.
Once off the hill and walking back to the car, they could not resist a dip in the Fairy Pools themselves which Katherine now joined for. The water was crisp and fresh. OK, it was freezing! But everyone got in at least one pool anyway and looked like they were having fun, not least to the tourists who seemed to think watching MMCers have a dip was part of the attraction and decided to document the occasion with their own cameras.
Christine, Chan and John C spent the day exploring Kinloch Forest and the Leitir Fura Circula.
Steven, Chris, John B and Cara spent the day on Sgurr na Stri for more wonderful Cuillin adventures. This outing required an early start as the team were catching a boat to/from the route itself, adding to the adventurous feel.
Oscar, Oli, Chris and Katherine North parking by Kilt Rock. Whilst Katherine headed off for her own adventure, the others made their way to the cliffs with an eye on Grey Panther (E1 5b) a supposed ‘easy’ Extreme Rock route but regardless, a quality one. The start of the route was misidentified however and they found themselves at the bottom of a harder route, and one they did not have the guidebook description for… perhaps an E2 5c? Oli didn’t fancy it, whatever it was, so resigned to prussiking 40m back up the ab rope. Hard work! Once there, he top-roped Oscar up the route – a very safe proposition as the line was clean and dead straight. Oscar managed to get it clean and it turned out to be Wide Eyed (E2 5b).
Following this, Oscar, Oli and Chris had lunch before heading up to The Quiraing to pick up Katherine and drive back to the campsite. Katherine had made her way in to a strange place where there were multiple paths leading to nowhere, glimpses of sea and sky between rock formations and mocking crows circling her progress. It was a little spooky, but she managed to navigate her way out and meet the others.
It seems The Quiraing is a popular spot for wedding shoots as well as walking, as there were at least two underway whilst they were there.
Most of the rest of the group headed to Bla bheinn for a good day of scrambling and mountaineering.
The exception were Vic and Anna who had gone off to Pinnacle Ridge, another stone cold Cuillin classic. The weather forecast was <5% chance of rain and very good visibility, so it seemed like a good day for a long ridge scramble. In actuality, however, they had persistent rain from about 2pm and visibility was very poor at times. They managed to find the abseil off the 3rd pinnacle and then roped-up for the fourth pinnacle and Knight’s Peak as the rock was getting quite wet by then. They were near the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean at 7pm, but it was getting late so they decided to get down – because of poor visibility they could not see the west ridge. They texted the group just in case they were benighted and at one point thought they might even have to call Mountain Rescue, but suddenly the cloud lifted and they saw the descent route – Bealach a Bhastier – where they need to go. They searched for the abseil point, which was found and they managed to get off the mountain by 8pm (phew!). They then had to find the way back to the car avoiding the gorge on the way… thank goodness for the OS map app! The walk-off was LONG and they were back to the car just before midnight! Perhaps this one was ‘an epic’.
Some of the group needed to head off already, so goodbyes were said to those departing whilst the others had breakfast.
Oscar and Oli made their way across the island to Neist – the most Westerly part of the British Isles one can get to by car alone. Any further West and a boat is required. Here they managed to get in a few sea cliff routes before the weather came in, which it did and rather quickly. Having already done Shocks and Stares (HS 4b) Oli was belaying Oscar up Midas Touch (VS 4b) and sitting at the top of the cliff it was hard to ignore the huge rain cloud ever approaching across the sea. It started to hit as Oscar was about 8 meters from the top, though luckily not with full force until both were up and getting waterproofs out of the bags. Rained-off, they slowly made their way back stopping for coffee along the way.
Most of the rest of the group headed to the Fairy Pools and The Spur scramble on this day, though reports of anyone getting in a Fairy Pool were not forthcoming!
The remainder of the group packed up their tents and made their way back to the mainland having spent a hugely enjoyable and memorable week on the Isle of Skye. A magical and rugged landscape we must surely come back to.