Thursday 29 May 2014

Cuillin Ridge Traverse Trip, May 2014. Day two. Sgurr Mhic Choinnich to Sgurr Dearg.

Day two of our Guided Cuillin Ridge Traverse Trip found our group back in Glen Brittle after a good nights sleep in our comfortable cottage and a fantastic meal provided by members of our group. Even so, Iain, at least, found himself feeling a little battered after our previous strenuous day. There is a lot to be done and a lot to consider when looking after five people whilst route finding and guiding on The Cuillin Ridge.

Our plan for day two was to return to Coire Lagan almost picking up where we had left off the previous day. On the walk in, we passed the beautiful Eas Mor Waterfall (photo one) on the Allt Coire na Banachdich.

Our route took us past this waterfall and under the West ridge of Sgurr Dearg back into Coire Lagan where we stopped for a break and some food. Following this we ascended the r/h side of the notorious An Stac Screes getting off then as quickly as possible and skirting the rocks en route for the Bealach Coire Lagan. We did gain some amusement watching others ascending the scree - taking three steps forward and sliding two steps back.

At the bealach, after a further break, we donned helmets & harnesses as we set off along the west ridge of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich - the next Munro summit along the ridge beyond Sgurr Alasdair. A complete traverse would have involved re-ascending the Great Stone Chute and then continuing along Sgurr Thearlaich which is particularly treacherous when wet and then ascending Sgurr Mhic Choinnich via the climb of Kings Chimney or the traverse of Collies (Harts) Ledge. However, in the conditions (sunny spells & showers) Iain felt that his planned route was the safest option.

Photo two sees the group at the summit of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich.

On our return along the west ridge of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich (also part of the main ridge and the Cuillin Ridge Traverse) Iain took this photo (three) of the group and the view towards our next intended Munro summit - Sgurr Dearg where the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the true top of the mountain could be seen.

At this point in the day (about 2pm already!), the weather cleared out again and we had partial views of the northern end of the Cuillin Ridge and Blabheinn to the east - another Munro summit and part of the Greater Cuillin Traverse. Cloud continued to move in from the west, but things were brightening up - so it looked like an ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle would be a possibility!

The Inaccessible Pinnacle (photo four) forms the true summit of the Munro top of Sgurr Dearg. Seen from a northerly or southerly aspect, this rock feature rears up from the back of Sgurr Dearg like a giant fin. Seen from its eastern aspect the "In Pin" appears as a narrow knife edge arete of rock balanced on its basalt plinth and it is up this route (the East Ridge) that most guided ascents take place.

Graded Moderate, the route is about 70m long and involves climbing a short chimney before moving out right on to the steep crest of the route (the crux) with the angle eventually easing as one approaches the perched boulders at the top of the climb.

The way down is seen here in photo four via a stacked abseil from the large leftward pointing balanced boulder (The Bolster Stone) where an abseil station (chain) is located. The abseil is actually very easy but appears really challenging to the novice although, it is only 18 metres in height. Many years ago Iain soloed up and down this western side in big boots although he wouldn't do it now. That was in 1986 and the holds were much better and less polished than now. Also a big flake that was there at the time has now vanished making this shorter climb a lot harder!

We arrived at the foot of the climb up the East Ridge of the Inn Pin and geared up ready for the ascent, but Iain was unnerved by a wall of cloud moving in from the north where it was clearly raining quite hard.

The In Pin is climbable in the wet although it is obviously a less pleasant experience for clients. Also, a risk of lightning had been mentioned in the MWIS Forecast for today. As we watched the approaching squall Iain became aware of a slight buzzing in the atmosphere - a sign of static in the air heralding the possibility of lightning and the In Pin is not a place to be in such conditions, so we packed up. As we headed over the top of Sgurr Dearg, the static got worse and so Iain made the decision that we should lose height as quickly as possible. In photo five the effects of the static charge on Helen's hair can be seen if you look closely - it was quite literally standing on end!

As disappointing as it was, the onset of such conditions precluded our remaining on the ridge any longer, so not only were we unable to climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle, but it was also considered unwise to continue on to the next Munro summit of Sgurr Na Banachdich.

We descended the convoluted route down into Coire Na Banachdich weaving our way between the steep rock buttresses between the summit and the corrie floor and eventually arriving at the water slide and inviting looking pool in photo six. During the descent, the weather did not get worse but in fact got better; although by now there was no way we were going back up to the ridge again as it was already getting on for 6pm!
The final photo of day two on our Cuillin Ridge Traverse Trip is one taken from the back door our the cottage after it had turned into a lovely evening. From Iains perspective, sunset over Loch Bracadale and McLeods Tables is one of the best views in the world and one which draws him back to Skye time and again - along with the exhilaration that The Cuillin Ridge provides and the views out west to the Outer Hebrides and east to the mainland and the Scottish Highlands on a good day.

Whilst today had been a little disappointing in terms of achievement, it had still been an exhilarating day and a great experience for the group. The weather forecast was promising a much better forecast for the next day!

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