Blue Skye Thinking

16th October 2013 by


My first and only other visit to Skye was an unlikely few days of snorkelling in February 2011. Camping, bivvying and bothying our way around the island gave me the first glimpse of the Cuillin, I knew I’d have to be back and next time on terra firma.

Ambitious as ever, we hoped to onsight the ridge traverse in a single one-day push and in a reasonable time. We had a two day window in which to do it, limited by time as ever, we could only manage 4 days off from work and the 10hr train/coach/hitch either side of the weekend ensured the pressure was on.

Rather predictably, the weather took no notice of our enthusiasm or our time constraints and remained dull and moody throughout our journey north. Underestimating the difficulty of navigating across Glasgow and the weight of our packs, we missed our coach, not an auspicious start. Fortunately, after some frantic begging, we were safely deposited onto the next coach and managed to catch up to our schedule. Another couple of changes and a Kitkat in Fort William saw us dropped off at the Sligachan Hotel and the final leg of our journey. Many thanks must go to the kindly old French couple who squeezed us into the back of their camper and saved us from much drudgery. A couple more lifts from a few more lovely people and we arrived at the campsite in Glenbrittle a little over 11hrs after leaving the house in Lancaster.

The last of the daylight showed us low cloud obscuring the entire ridge and a stiff breeze blowing in across the beach, not a promising welcome. Undeterred we resolved to prepare as if it was on as you never know what tomorrow holds. Bags were packed (far too heavy) and the alarm set for an ungodly 2.55am, the idea being it would give us plenty of time for the walk-in since we weren’t bivvying on the ridge as per tradition.

Needless to say the alarm was unwelcome and the following hours a blur, there was a very strong coffee and some weak porridge, a path and some bog…we were underway. We had a bright moon and our early progress was good. As we ascended towards Coir a’Ghrunnda we entered the cloud that was stubbornly clinging to the ridge. The thick mist reduced our visibility to around 5m and bounced our headtorch beams back at us. As the path petered out over gabbro slabs and the sound of rushing water seemed to surround us, we slowed to a crawl and picked our way across the start of the Corrie. After some fairly spicy traversing and scrambling and as the first light started to illuminate the cloud around us, we could make out the Lochan Coir a’Ghrunnda and the screes around it. It had taken us around 3hrs to reach this point, putting us well behind. We ascended to the ridge and left our bags for the out and back over Sgurr nan Eag and Gars Bheinn, the start of the ridge. It was clear we weren’t going to be doing the whole ridge at this point but we had resolved to get as far as possible while we could. The ground we had covered so far was not in anyway technical and would have felt easy in better conditions but the visibility and greasy rock made progress very slow as we struggled to keep on any kind of bearing plus not lose sight of each other. We stopped short of Gars Bheinn and called it a day as it was getting all a bit much and began to feel a bit futile. The cloud did clear briefly to reveal the sea below and the islands beyond, this alone was enough, at least to me, to make the effort feel worth it. Scrambling back to the bags and a few chocolate bars, we began the slog down.

Still in thick cloud but with the benefit of daylight, we were able to see the lay of the land in Coir a’Ghrunnda and get an idea of what we’d been crossing. It is an amazing place, particularly atmospheric in the swirling clouds. The walk out felt a lot longer than the approach but eventually the beach and our tent came into sight. Hot showers and food helped the mood but its hard not to be gutted when something, no matter how ambitious, falls through. We were back at the tents by 1.30pm and had a lot of time to kill and brood over our losses.

The next day was even gloomier with squally showers and little to lift the spirits so after more coffee, more porridge and a wander along the coast I resolved to make the most of it and banged out a run along the coastal path that trails around the headland. I got a bit carried away by the grandeur of the place and ended up running about for 2 hours in the bog and the wind, looking back at the mass of cloud through which the ridge

Monday morning was a muted start as we packed up and the ridge began to reveal itself we headed out onto the road and started the hitch to Sligachan. After a few miles we were very kindly offered a lift from a couple statying at the campsite and heading down the valley. The situation rapidly developed into a kidnap scenario as I was elected to get in the back of the van amongst their kit, in complete darkness and slid around as we wound down the glen. I occasionally caught snippets of muted and frankly maniacal, laughter from the front as we swung round unseen bends and swerves in the road. I was released into daylight outside some post office where they were picking up a package and told they were going to give us a lift all the way to Sligachan which was a result. My ordeal continued as I returned to the sensory deprivation of the van. With some relief I was released at the hotel with time to spare for a cup of tea before the long bus journey to Glasgow. Cue slow traffic, missed trains and a long wait in the station. To top it all I ended up riding home from the station, in the dark, on the bike I had handily left there, not an easy ride.

This one will just have to wait until next year, unless anyone fancies a winter round!?

For those interested I took:

20l waterproof rolltop rucksack

6 energy bars

2 chocolate bars

2l Water in a hydration bladder

50m single rope

Harness

One set nuts 1-10

6 Long/extendable Quickdraws

2 long-ish slings (~120cm)

2 Screwgates

Belay device

Rock shoes (I don’t know why either)

Map

Compass

Foil sheet

GPS (Garmin Etrex 10)

Pertex Shield+ smock

Lightweight grid pattern fleece

Longsleeve baselayer

Lightweight softshell vest

Full length leggings

Trail Shoes

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