Thursday 29 May 2014

Cuillin Ridge Traverse Trip, May 2014. Day one. Sgurr Nan Eag to Sgurr Alasdair.

Every year we try to run two visits to the Isle of Skye to guide clients along the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge. The Cuillin are unique in so much that the rock type - Gabbro is to be found nowhere else in the UK. The Cuillin Ridge Traverse is a 13km long route following the ridge which is, in essence, the rim of a great volcanic caldera. This rim had been weathered and eroded to create what is, for much of it's length, a knife edged arete with precipitous drops on either side with deep notches along the way which have to be abseiled into and climbed out of. En route, there are 11 Munro summits (3000 feet + Scottish Peaks) that can be gained.

We had five clients booked to join us for this guided Cuillin Ridge Traverse led by Iain; and for him it was great to be back as the last time we were on the Skye Cuillin was September 2012.

The weather forecast was mixed for the first two days of this particular Cuillin Ridge Traverse Trip, so with Iain's knowledge of the Cuillin Ridge he decided to take the group to the southern end of the ridge for day one. Whilst the Gabbro rock of which the ridge is largely composed is still very grippy in the wet, the Basalt rock with which the Gabbro is interposed can be very slippery. The southern end of the ridge is less serious terrain and the Munro tops of which there are three, are easily attainable even in the wet.

Photo one sees Iain's group on this particular Cuillin Ridge Traverse as we ascended towards our first Munro - Sgurr Nan Eag from Coire a' Ghrunnda with Loch Coire a' Ghrunnda below. The second photo was taken some time later as we ascended to easy chimney en route for the summit of Sgurr Alasdair - the highest of all the Munro tops on The Cuillin Ridge.

Photo three sees Iain's group at the top of The Great Stone Chute of Coire Lagan as we started our descent into that corrie. Beyond the group, you can see the ridge continuing on to Sgurr Dearg, Sgurr Na Banachdich and far right - Sgurr a Ghreadaidh.

To get to this point today we had already climbed Sgurr Nan Eag from Coire a' Ghrunnda and then traversed under Sgurr Dubh an da Bheinn to gain the second Munro top of Sgurr Dubh Mor. We had then ascended Sgurr Dubh an da Bheinn before dropping down and traversing around under the cliffs of Sgurr Alasdair to gain the easy ascent route avoiding the Thearlaich/Dubh Gap - allowing us to reach the summit of Sgurr Alasdair.

The Great Stone Chute of Coire Lagan is definitely a route for descent and not ascent! It is composed of extremely loose scree and rock and is over a kilometre long. You'll be doing well if you manage to remain upright all the way as you pick your way down it's length! The best idea is to try and stick to the runs of small stones into which you can "heel plunge" to retain stability - that said you'll still be bound to slip over backwards at some point.

By using this route were were able to descend from the col at it's head into Coire Lagan in around half an hour (photo four). However, the descent is far from over as you still have an other 1500 feet of descent and 3 kilometres to get back to the vehicles parked at sea level in Glen Brittle!

Photo five from this post about our first day out during our May 2014 guided Cuillin Ridge Traverse sees the group relieved but satisfied after our long day out ( we had left here around 9am and didn't get back til gone 8pm!) We had managed  the southern section of the ridge and had managed to attain three Munro summits along the way.

Today the group had experienced what the rest of the week would offer - strenuous hill walking and scrambling, sometimes exposed and low grade rock climbing. The weather through the day had been mixed with cloud obscuring views at times and light rain through to exhilarating views of the ridge and across The Minch to the Outer Hebrides.

A typical May day on The Cuillin Ridge then!

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