Following a very successful meet last year, the Club returned to the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut in Skye on 18th and 19th August. A trip to Skye is one the first to be inked into members’ diaries and always results in eager anticipation – and in some cases trepidation. The hut is perfectly centred for an assault on the central and southern Cuillin peaks, sitting close to the southern end of Glen Brittle. Unfortunately, the drive down this single-track road is now a time-consuming and patience-testing exercise as scores of tourists bumble their way down to the Fairy Pools walk and abandon their vehicles haphazardly anywhere by the roadside.
For Jason and Michael, our international members, this was a first trip to Skye.
Jim Aire, Jason Bostock, Bill Dallas, Raymond Evenden, Blair Fraser, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Rowena Hepple, Michael Lever, Ian Millar, Ian Pollock, Norrie Shand.
A few members had made an early start to the weekend, heading up to Kintail to bag some of the local peaks. The meet weekend though started on Friday and James, Jim and Blair were given an early morning alarm call at their camp site by the ferocious midge and set off early to climb the Cuillin outlier, Blaven. Although not part of the main ridge, Blaven is one of the finest peaks in Skye with a distinctive summit that is impossible to mistake– other than by the most ham-fisted, wooden-compass bearing greenhorns of course.
They set off in fairly decent weather, with clear visibility but as they headed up Coire Uaigneich the inevitable Skye misted descended and they were required to depend on their finely-honed navigation skills. They set a decent pace and before long they were sitting by the cairn posing gleefully for a summit photo.
Raymond and Lorn also had Blaven in their sights, but having dropped a car off at the start of the main route, they headed a few miles further down the road so that they could tackle it by its fine south ridge. On the ridge, a few words were exchanged with the Fraser/Aire party as they headed upwards, firstly to the South Top then a sharp descent before climbing up to the summit of the mountain with its characteristic circular trig point.
Susan and George had also headed up early and on Friday morning they continued their 2nd round of Corbetts with a walk up the fine hill Sgurr Mhic Bharraich south of Loch Duich. Similarly, they set off in conditions that weren’t too bad but they too were denied the undoubtedly fine summit views by the clag.
Norrie headed north on Friday, having previously discussed with Bill the possible ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on late Friday afternoon if the weather was fine. The club, along with most of the Scottish hillwalking community had endured a fairly uninspiring 2017 as far as the weather was concerned. We had all enjoyed some excellent days outside of our club meets but on our weekends away had suffered mostly poor conditions. That afternoon, the Skye weather lifted her skirts briefly as a few rays of sunshine broke through the gloom and the Cuillin ridge features were visible from the hut. Very shortly afterwards though she was back to her typical sullen and spiteful self as the rain returned with a vengeance and the whole range disappeared behind her thick grey burqa. Norrie soon had Plan B in operation and a large glass of Malbec was poured and the stove lit in preparation for the others arriving.
Jason and Michael had driven up from Lancashire and were setting foot on Skye for the first time. Jason had only a handful of Munros left to complete his round – but had not yet managed to bag any of the Cuillin. A tentative plan to climb Blaven before heading round to the hut was shelved due to time constraints and weather conditions.
Once everyone arrived, a fine evening was enjoyed in the hut with the undoubted highlight being Ian Pollock’s presentation of a slide show of videos and stills from his own photos and those uploaded to facebook by other members. The photographs were in turn inspiring, exhilarating and downright embarrassing – a great job by Ian though in putting it all together.
The guitar made an appearance later in the evening with Norrie bashing out a few songs aided by Donna Parton. There were roadworks somewhere between Raymond’s fingers and his brain and the lane closures decreed that he would wait until Saturday night before taking his turn with the guitar.
The next day dawned with little improvement in the weather and Norrie made an early decision not to head up to any summits that day.
George’s friend Andrew McKinnie and his companion Jacqueline Cunningham were booked into the Youth Hostel a kilometre or so up the road and they stopped by the hut having arranged to climb Sgurr nan Eag, the southernmost Cuillin Munro with George, Susan, Jim, Jason and Michael. The group headed down to the camp site and commenced the sodden tramp up to the magnificent Coir’ a Ghrunnda nestled amongst the jagged spires of the southern Cuillin. The conditions were extremely poor however with miniature rivers running down the rocks and some tricky burn crossing. With no previous experience of these conditions in Skye, Andrew, Jacqueline and Jason decided to cut their losses and return to the hut/Youth Hostel. Jason’s Cuillin virginity was to remain intact at least for one more day.
Jim, Michael, George and Susan continued their journey up from the Coir’ and southwards along the rocky ridge finally arriving at their intended summit. This was Michael’s first Cuillin Munro and he made a good show of appearing to enjoy it. The group though were rewarded with a momentary breaking up of the cloud as they were en route back down to the Coir’ and enjoyed some great views of the lochan.
Raymond and Lorn had plans for a round of Skye’s so-called lesser hills, Glas-Bheinn Mhor, Belig, Garbh-Bheinn, Marsco, Beinn Dearg Mheadonach and Beinn Dearg Mhor. Although not as high as the Black Cuillin these are excellent hills, particularly Marsco and a fine day was enjoyed, with any further extension to their walk declined once they had sight of the Sligachan Hotel.
James and Blair had their sights set on the highest peak in Skye, Sgurr Alasdair and they headed off into the mist up to Coire Lagan and a gruelling ascent of the great stone chute which took them up to a short scramble away from their goal. No problems were encountered and they were elated to achieve their target before they splashed and slid their way back to the hut.
Rowena and Bill had spent some fine days in Skye a few weeks previously and had already achieved their aim of completing all the Skye Munros in advance of finishing their round in November. They were keen to experience the hills though and trekked up into Coire Lagan, crossing over into Coir’ a Ghrunnda enjoying some scrambling and a bit of abseiling as the rain sloshed down around them. Nevertheless, they appeared to have enjoyed themselves.
The final pair to venture into the hills on the Saturday were Ian and Ian. Blaven was their objective and they drove round to the Elgol road to tackle the peak from the east as Jim, James and Blair had done on Friday. Despite the nasty conditions, they encountered no problems in completing their ascent and although there were no great views from the summit, the obligatory selfie was taken with the circular trig point once again prominent in the shots.
Once everyone was settled back at the hut on Saturday evening it became apparent that something was amiss. When photos of the weekends’ walks were being passed around it was clear that something was missing from the “summit” photo taken of Jim, James and Blair on Blaven. The trig point was nowhere to be seen. It became obvious on examination that they hadn’t actually reached the summit at all but had ended their ascent on the South Top – a few hundred metres from the actual summit with its tell-tale circular pillar. An animated post-mortem quickly followed with Jim and James throwing accusation and counter accusation at each other regarding who was to blame for their navigational blunder. Of course, everyone else in the party was full of empathy and compassion at the despairing prospect of them having to trudge all the way back to the true summit to claim their ascent. There were not too many tears of laughter and on occasion 10 whole minutes passed before in was brought up again. James also proved that not all t-shirt slogans are true!
Before the inevitable singsong later in the evening, there was time for a few displays of fitness and athleticism, not to say facial contortions by various members. Norrie, aided by his wee short legs just managed the “pick up a cereal box with your teeth” challenge. However, despite game attempts by James and Jason nobody was quite able to climb over and under the dining table without touching the floor. Fortunately, the drop was a bit less than it is on the Cioch.
Most of the team called it a night sometime between 12.00 midnight and 1.00 am but the hard-core party animals kept the banter going right through until after 5.00 am.
Finally, some decent weather arrived as Sunday dawned and the previous night’s plans were confirmed – an assault on the InPin was about to take place. Norrie was particularly keen as this was the only Skye Munro he had not completed on his (possible) second round. Michael was also eager to give it a try fuelled by his experiences the previous day. Some gear was borrowed from Bill, and Raymond, Jim, Lorn, Norrie and Michael commenced the trek. Rather than take to the ridge they headed up into desolate Coire Lagan and trudged up the ponderous An Stac screes. They had perfect visibility most of the way up but the mist descended once again as they reached the bottom of the imposing tower. They only had four harnesses between them so Michael waited below, with Lorn holding back to keep him company while firstly Jim, then Raymond free climbed the infamous east ridge followed closely behind by Norrie.
Norrie’s only previous abseil had been in his slippers on a small rock outside the CIC hut, so a quick lesson from Raymond was required to ensure he didn’t reach the bottom too quickly. It was hardly a textbook descent but he was glad to reach terra firma and pass the harness on to Michael. Jim followed Norrie down and soon Lorn and Michael were easing themselves up the ridge before they too claimed their prize and then took their turn to abseil down. Finally, Raymond, who enjoyed intermittent views from the top as the mist came and went lowered himself down safely to join the others before the traipse back down the ridge to Glen Brittle.
Jason had harboured thoughts about going with the others to “take a look at” the InPin but decided it would be better to cut his Cuillin teeth on one of the other less exposed Munros. He and Susan therefore headed up from the hut straight up Coire nan Banachdich to the Munro of Sgurr na Banachdich. The going was fairly straightforward, in Skye terms, and this walk proved to be an excellent introduction to the Skye Munros for Jason. By the time he posed for a few photos on some outcrops he was in mountain goat mode and on his next trip will tackling some of the “big brothers” head on.
The conditions hadn’t been good enough on Saturday for Blair and James to continue from Sgurr Alasdair to Sgurr MhicChoinnich – the traverse involving some very tricky scrambling which would have been even more difficult in the wet conditions. On Sunday though, still smarting at having done one less Munro than they thought that weekend, they marched off towards Coire Lagan and ascended the agonising An Stac screes up to the main ridge where they gained the ridge that took them to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich’s summit – yes, the summit. This time there was no mistake as the remains of a memorial plaque decorate the summit cairn. A less than gracious summit photo followed before they descended down to the airy path that is Collie’s Ledge en route back to base to pick up Donna and the long drive home.
There are always tales to tell after a Skye meet and this one was no different. With a meet arranged for the Torrin Outdoor Centre next April, plans are no doubt already being hatched. It is understood that James, Jim and Blair have already hired a local guide to ensure they reach the summit of Blaven on the next trip.