I couldn't believe the forecast for Malcolm & Ed's 5 day scrambling course, Malcolm had wanted specific scrambles in Skye and in the northwest of Scotland:
When he mentioned the scrambles in his initial email, I knew it would be a tough week ahead for the guys, with nearly every scramble starting from around sea level but what a great line up! Proper classics. So we decided to go for Skye for the first three days then move up to Torridon Youth Hostel as a base for the scrambles in the north west, with a potential rest day.
Day 1 Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gilliean
Translation: Peak of the young men
Starting off at the Sligachan Hotel, we headed up the track towards the base of the ridge, taking in the views of The Northern Culllin, what a great sight for anyone! We weaved our way up the track to the base of the ridge; We get roped up, a little safety brief before working our way up through the pinnacles, the first section is a little loose with some care and attention required. I had mentioned to the guys to check everything they touched, even if it looked solid. We soon reached the third pinnacle, which always proves to be exciting. It had been a long time since they'd both abseiled, a quick refresher and it proved to be just as exciting as it looked for the guys; a real highlight. Along and up we went towards the 'knight's peak'(named after W.Knight, who, with a guide, made the first ever recorded ascent in 1873).
We down climbed (possible abseil) into the col before a tricky move out of the col and on towards the summit of Gillian with stunning panoramic views awaiting. On the descent we headed through 'the window' and weaved our way, unroped towards the abseil. While descending through an easy section, Malcolm stepped on a rock which gave way! Myself and Ed were downhill of the hurtling rock, luckily it missed both of us; my earlier advice of check everything you put your hands and feet on came hurtling back into my head, when we get onto easier terrain we tend to 'switch off' it's a timely reminder that we need to keep focused if there are any consequences, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
Day 2 Dubhs Ridge
Translation: Black Ridge
To add to the experience of the day, we decided to get the ferry over from Elgol; travelling over in the boat provides a great vantage point of the full ridge and gave me a chance to explain the profile and route we would take. Malcolm & Ed were getting excited after all the sun was shining, we had light winds, and we're in Skye! Not the usual everyday conditions you encounter here. Jumping off the boat, we headed past the River Scavaig (the shortest river in the UK) making our way towards Loch Coruisk (Water Corrie). It soon becomes apparent why it's one of the longest rock climbs in the country; a real classic day lay ahead. The previous night we had agreed to shuttle at the end of the day; this would save any pressure of catching the ferry.
Sun shining, banter flowing it was set to be another cracker. We roped up and made our first steps on to the fantastically grippy gabbro, taking in the unbeatable views across Loch Scavaig With the length of the day ahead we had to be sensibly disciplined about soaking the rays looking at the views, so we kept a steady pace while keeping time on our side. Before we knew it, we were fast approaching the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag (Small black peak)which provides an exposed, exciting abseil. Heart back in chests, we scrambled across the next narrow section working our way towards the top of Sgurr Dubh Mor (Big black peak) Time for a well-earned stop and take in the unbeatable panoramic views across the Cullin Ridge and Loch Scavaig (Dark, Gloomy Loch). From the summit care is required with route finding, we came across a few folks who were attempting a full traverse in a day, being 3.00pm, being on the second Munro and that they hadn't come across any of the technical sections as yet, I politely reminded them that they had a long way to go! We scrambled our way up and over towards Coir' a' Ghrunnda; this was our choice to descend. We headed north along the ridge to try and get a line not too blocky. Topping up water supplies, we headed down the path to a steep down climb; care is required here and with the next section of route finding to get onto the main track back to the car. Shuttle done, it was time for food and some chat about a cracking day!
Day 3 Clach Glas Traverse
Translation: Grey Stone
After a long day on Dubhs Ridge, Malcolm and Ed were feeling a little tired when we met but as soon as we got moving the legs had some blood flowing and the tightness eased off. We headed up past 'marble pools' towards the north buttress of Sgurr nan Each (peak of the horses) I hadn't personally scrambled this add on, so was intrigued to see what it was like; it had some nice rough rock as we gained height but overall it felt a little scrappy. After some water and a snack we continued towards the summit, Clach Glas came into view, Malcolm nervously asked me 'how the hell do we get up there!' I explained the sneaky line that linked through the seemingly impenetrable fortress. I wish I could have read his mind as he looked at me as if I was a little mental! Off we went roped up scrambling towards the 'Scottish Matterhorn' weaving our way across some exposed sections before starting our upwards progress. A few pitches of moderate climbing followed, a little more scrambling and we were on the summit of Clach Glas. Ed & Malcolm were surprised that it wasn't as bad as they were expecting. We had some food and took a little time to take in the views of this extraordinary region, the guys asked me of our route, again looking at what seemed 'hard climbing' ahead. I chatted about our line from the col after the 'putting green' which proved to be pretty wet!, then up through the little chimney. After topping out of the chimney/crack I asked the guys if they wanted to summit Bla Bheinn (Blue Mountain) a resounding NO followed! They were physically and mentally exhausted, it was time to head down the main path back to the car. We decided to take a day to rest some weary legs & move base to Torridon Youth Hostel, tired and hungry but feeling accomplished with another classic in the bag.
Day 4 An Teallach
Translation: The Fortress
Grade: 3 Scramble
After our rest day, we decided to tackle An Teallach. The guys had asked the previous night if it would be possible to do a little scrambling off the rope; it was forecast to be a little windy so I explained we would check what the conditions were doing when we gained some height. We made good time up the track to the base of the SE ridge which took us up to Sail Liath; from here you get an impressive perspective of why it's called 'the fortress'. We made our way across to the start of the scramble; the wind was picking up to around 30mph so I explained to the guys that we would stay roped unless it calmed down, we decided to head around to the SW side of the ridge to keep out of the wind and ascend a steep little section of around moderate grades. We then picked our line onto the crest to check what the wind was doing; it had calmed down so we had a little stop for food and water then scrambled unroped across the pinnacles. Malcolm & Ed were enjoying the freedom and finding it easier than they expected, not too surprising after the harder scrambling in first three days! After a quick stop on Sgurr Fiona (peak of wine), we continued down towards the col leading up to our next summit Bidein a' Thuill (peak of the greenish/grey hollow). We decided that we could have a little more fun scrambling if we headed along the ridge towards Glas Mheall Liath but knew it would be awkward underfoot heading down the broken blocks of quartzite. The scrambling is all easily escapable but it added a little extra fun to the day. After the descent we stopped for a water break soaking in the views of the ridge, the guys were feeling pretty accomplished by what they had achieved over the past 4 days scrambling, they couldn't believe their luck with the weather and it was looking good for Liathach as well!
Day 5 Liathach
Translation: Peak of the grey corries
Grade: 2 Scramble
Our last day, sun shining (again!) we left the van at the west side of the ridge to shuttle at the end of the day then drove along to the east car park. Organised we headed steeply up the path onto the ridge, a few little sections of scrambling and before we knew it we were standing on top of Spidean a' Choire Leith (peak of the grey corrie). From here you get a fantastic view of the Fasarinen Pinnacles and although you can bypass they just look too inviting! We worked our way down the broken quartzite towards the pinnacles; the guys were keen to traverse without the rope, so we kitted up, I took coils and had the rope to hand if need be. Malcolm & Ed were looking solid on their feet, conditions were good so we traversed up and over the rough sandstone chatting about good lines, again enjoying the freedom without the rope. We we're on top of Mullach an Rathain (summit of the pinnacles) in no time; it seemed strange that this would be the last summit of the course. I felt lucky to have been part of their journey, it'd been a real blast with Malcolm & Ed, we had just completed 5 days of classic scrambles, unbelievably with the sun shining every day topped off by some great banter, well most of the time ;)
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