The Club’s main June meet to the Coruisk Hut in the south of Skye at the head of Loch Scavaig had been eagerly anticipated despite the less than encouraging weather forecast. The hut is owned by the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland (Glasgow Section) and its situation below the great Cuillin crags is absolutely unique. The hut has nine bunks and fourteen members had indicated that they wished to attend, so five had agreed to camp outside the hut. Unfortunately at the eleventh hour, Alastair Shaw had to withdraw due to family reasons leaving us with an ominous thirteen attendees:
Jim Aire, Raymond Evenden, Blair Fraser, James Fraser, Logan Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Rowena Hepple, Jim “the swim” Hughes, Paul McGrandles, Alan Orr, Ian Pollock and Norrie Shand.
For Ian and Rowena this was to their first experience of climbing in Skye.
The good ship Bella Jane from Elgol had been booked to take us over on the Friday at 4.30 pm and to pick us up again around lunchtime on Sunday. Unfortunately on arrival on Friday we were told that they would not be able to pick us up on the Sunday due to a poor weather forecast. The more cynical and suspicious club members thought that we weren’t being told the full story but there was nothing we could do about it – we would have to carry all our gear etc. on the walk out on Sunday over the notorious “Bad Step” on the Coruisk coastal path.
This meant that all the camping gear and climbing paraphernalia had to be left in the cars and everyone was instructed only to carry over the absolute essentials – fortunately there was room for some food as well.
The first eight to arrive were ferried over on an earlier boat leaving the other five to be bounced over in rapid time on the AquaXplore RIB. Skipping over the ocean into Loch Scavaig certainly got the pulses racing and the hair blowing in wind – well, in some cases at least.
Earlier in the day, George, Susan and Norrie had stopped for a leg stretching walk up the Corbett of Sgurr an Airgid overlooking Loch Duich on the road to Kyle. A good path now heads up all the way from the Clachan Duich cemetery. The Munro of A’ Ghlas-bheinn and the Beinn Fhada ridge were under the cloud when they started so hopes were high of a clear summit on their hill – unfortunately the top was clagged in when they got there but nevertheless it was an enjoyable walk.
With everyone finally ensconced in the Coruisk hut the conversation turned to the following days climb. It was fairly unanimous that we should attempt the great Dubh Ridge particularly as there was a hint of some better weather on the way. A few members had climbed it previously and confirmed that climbing gear was not essential if the abseil off Sgurr Dubh Beag was avoided.
With plenty of daylight left it was suggested that a walk up the fine little mountain of Sgurr na Stri on the other side of the Scavaig River would be an excellent prelude to the following days walk. There is surely no finer viewpoint in Scotland.
This ascent would, of course, involve the very straightforward exercise of skipping over the stepping stones on the river – or it would be straightforward if the previous days rains hadn’t raised the river level substantially above the level of the stones. Things were about to get interesting!
Contrasting techniques were adopted to cross the river – some elected to take off their boots so they would have dry feet for the remainder of the walk. Others chose a “what the hell” attitude and waded over, albeit the slippery river bed made this quite difficult as well.
Jim “the swim” Hughes decided he would carry his boots and trousers over under his arm – although in the interests of accuracy he was simply called Jim Hughes at this point in time. With his pink legs and woolly hat he looked like a mutant cross between a flamingo and a cockatoo as he headed gingerly over the river.
All went well until he reached the rock island in the middle. A couple of yards into the second leg of the crossing, it all went horribly wrong. Jim completely lost his footing and slipped head first into the drink. The hysterical laughter from the remaining club members echoed loud and clear round the Cuillin amphitheatre. When he called out that his trousers had been whisked away in the flow the hysteria increased to a completely new level. Only when he added that his car keys were in his pocket did everyone realise that the issue was a bit more serious.
Like a well-trained military unit the club members sprang into action scouring the river banks along the few hundred yards before it reached the sea. Hoping desperately that the car-key trousers had been caught in one of the many rocky rapids, fifteen minutes was spent in the search but to no avail.
Declining to climb Sgurr na Stri in his Y-fronts Jim announced he would have to head back to the hut. Crossing back over the river – lo and behold – there were his trousers stuck on a rock only feet from where he had fallen in. Like a matador in his prime, the prize was held aloft to great applause and cheering from the relieved crowd.
Paul decided to chum JTSH back to the hut whilst the others finally headed off on the task ahead.
Sgurr na Stri is a great hill with maybe a little more to it than a casual glance at the map would suggest. There were some fine views over Loch Coruisk as height was gained, but on this occasion the serrated peaks of the full Cuillin ridge kept themselves above the clouds and the top of Sgurr na Stri was also under cloud when the summit was gained.
Darkness was beginning to hint at its arrival and little time was wasted heading back down, over the river and back to the hut for a change of clothes and a glass of “essentials”.
Soon the party was in full flow. Norrie had insisted on bringing over a guitar despite the prospect of an awkward walk out on Sunday. A few songs were sung around the table and a generous contribution made to the financial state of the Scotch Whisky industry before “Captain” Fraser called a halt to proceedings sometime after 2.00 am with four people finding a space on the floor to crash out.
Showing no signs of sympathy from his pals wee Alan had been allocated a top bunk which for him was a Grade 4 scramble. A night time toilet visit in the absence of abseil gear was carefully negotiated.
In the morning the crew slowly got their rucksacks packed and boots on before heading along the shore of Loch Coruisk. A short scramble then saw them attain the Dubh ridge just below the massive slabs of gabbro rising ominously into the distance.
Sadly, the optimism on the weather proved to be unfounded and standing at the bottom the ridge with a fair wind blowing and a heavy mist shrouding the middle and upper sections of the climb it was decision time for the party. Young Blair was keen to give the climb a try but his father James wisely decreed that once again Fraser’s way would prevail for him and the boys – in this case by heading up the adjacent An Garbh-choire to gain access to the main Cuillin ridge. Rowena also decided that she would give the climb a miss and accepted James’ invitation to join them. Norrie, who had done the climb previously in better conditions also decide to opt out and the five scrambled carefully back down off the ridge into the choire.
As the Frasers and Rowena marched up the choire, Norrie, whose faloorum appeared to have disappeared down the river with Jim’s trousers decided not to head up into the impending gloom and settled instead for a walk along the loch before heading back to the hut.
At least the rain had stayed off overnight and Norrie watched as a few visitors from the Bella Jane/Misty Isle posed for photos on the Scavaig stepping stones which were once again standing proud above the water level. That would make the next day’s walk out much easier – wouldn’t it?
In the meantime, Jim Aire, JTSH, George, Susan, Alan, Raymond, Paul and Ian began the long ascent up the slabs in search of the Big Black Peak. Although a bit wet, the gabbro lived up to its reputation as the finest climbing rock in the world and a very entertaining scramble was enjoyed by all on the lower and middle sections of the climb. The Dubh ridge is a true classic and should certainly be on every serious hillwalkers dubh list.
As expected, conditions deteriorated as the group gained height but after skirting round Sgurr Dubh Beag in the absence of abseil gear – and after a little bit of premature elation, they finally emerged bloody but unbowed on the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor. The job was only half done however – there remained the considerable difficulty of negotiating a safe descent back to the hut
The group final settled on a very direct but difficult and exposed retreat down a gully which would lead into An Garbh-choire. It was very probably not the route that would have been chosen if visibility had been much better – perhaps it was only coincidence that it drained into Allt a’ Chaoich, the Mad Burn!
An enjoyable few minutes was spent watching some otter from the hut window. There were deer as well and a number of seals to satisfy the wildlife buffs.
A supper of freshly caught mussels was enjoyed by a few.
A couple of hours after their return there was still no sign of Rowena and the Frasers. It was known from an earlier phone call that they had been trying to get to the summit of Sgurr nan Eag but had found their way blocked by a seemingly impregnatable granite wall. Anyone who has walked or scrambled on the Cuillin ridge in these conditions would have no problem in sympathising with their cause.
Around eight o’clock Norrie and JTSH donned wet socks and boots so they could have a walk along the loch to see if there was any sign of them. Before they could get out the door however Blair and Logan appeared with their Dad and Rowena following a short time after. Whether the smiles on their faces were elation or relief only they know.
With supper and refreshments taken, the banter echoed around the room. It seems that everyone really enjoyed their day despite the conditions and the route-finding difficulties. Before long vocal chords were being stretched once again with most of the party regaling the others with at least one of their favourites. Ian’s “500 miles” had a Macallan fuelled wee Alan marching up and down as JTSH played along on his air bodhran.
The day had proved a bit much for young Logan who was the first to slip gently to sleep thereby adding his name to the list of McGrandles Cup winners. He had also won the wooden compass at the previous meet but it was agreed it would be unfair to award that trophy this time round in view of the route finding difficulties – it appears that not even wooden compasses work in the Cuillin.
In the middle of the night the dreaded sound of heavy rainfall was heard for a long period of time – once again the Scavaig River would prove a difficult obstacle on the walk out.
In the morning, bags were packed including all the non-combustible rubbish which would have to be carried out as the group made their way down to the river.
Paul had suggested crossing the river a hundred yards or so downstream from the stepping stones as he had done on Friday night. Norrie was first to attempt the wade over, guitar in hand. Two thirds of the way over though the flow was deeper and more rapid than anticipated and the inevitable stumble saw the guitar splash into the water, although in contrast to “The Ballad of Jim’s Troosers” he managed to grab it before it disappeared out of sight. The requests for “While My Guitar Gently Seeps” were ignored.
Paul thought better of this crossing having seen Norrie’s plight but Jim Aire followed undaunted, ASDA shopping bag in hand. A similar fate befell him much to the amusement of the rest of the group.
Further up at the stepping stones the remaining members once again set out across the river which was probably even deeper than it had been on Friday. There were a few inevitable stumbles as the heavy packs did little to improve balance. Rowena was one who decided it was bath-time before finally emerging from the water in a scene reminiscent of Dr No.
Once across, the relief was short lived as the infamous “Bad Step” lay a short way along the path. The step involves a negotiating a crack in a massive gabbro slab above the lapping sea – not too difficult without heavy packs – but a bit disconcerting when heavily laden. Paul headed over first, dumping his pack so he could return and aid Rowena by taking hers. George won the “Roadie of the Year” award by manfully carrying over Norrie’s soggy guitar.
Everyone crossed without mishap and the path was then followed round to the final river crossing – the tidal Abhainn Camas Fhionnairigh just before the Camasunary bothy. By this stage, Alan, Rowena and James had perfected their crossing technique although it did look at first as if they were going to round the weekend off with an impromptu “Dashing White Sergeant”.
A short break was taken at the bothy where some hungover bothy dwellers were trying to cook their lunch not at all aided by the club members opening the door every two minutes.
There only remained to cross the bulldozed path over the hill to the Elgol road where JTSH had left his car on Friday. Fortunately his car keys worked fine despite their dook in the Scavaig River and all the drivers were whisked down to Elgol so they could return and pick up the others.
After a spot of trading at the “Elgol Barras” goodbyes were said and everyone set off on their long journeys home.
It hadn’t been the weather we had hoped for and the requirement to walk out on the Sunday added a different dimension to the meet – but everyone really enjoyed themselves. The banter was great, we laughed and sang our hearts out and already people are looking forward to the next meet.