First Visit to the Cuillin – Sgurr na Banachdich

25 05 2011

Tue 17 May 2011 – photos now added…

After a fruitless first day on Skye on the Monday, when we gave up waiting for the torrential rain to stop (we weren’t keen on the high winds either) and went to the drier north to walk in the stunning Quiraing, on Tuesday morning we decided we had to make a start on the dreaded Cuillin – that’s what we’d come to Skye for after all.

According to the (MWIS) weather forecast posted in the Sligachan, we had half a day of fine weather before it started again. I decided Sgurr na Banachdich was the shortest of the peak walks we had planned. We really didn’t want to get wet as we’d found, on arrival at our B&B in Carbost, that the proprietor charged £3 per person, per day to run the dehumidifier in the drying room to dry our clothes! 😮

Richard rose just after 8 and I was up by twenty past for our scheduled half eight breakfast. By 9am we were right behind our fellow B&B housemates who’d risen at 0630 and were being driven, very slowly, to Glenbrittle by their guide for the day. While we dawdled along at 25mph behind them, I was musing on a few things… One was the realisation that, if you hire a guide to do the Cuillin (which we will need to do for the harder peaks), you have to turn out and attempt them no matter what the weather or you lose a lot of money. I was also wondering how the others had to rise at 0630 but were still only just in front of us heading for the hills?! My other thought was when the hell was the guide going to pull over into a passing place to let us past? The custom on single track roads with passing places is that you must pull over to let faster drivers past – 7 miles is plenty of opportunity to do that. While I’m no maniac on single track roads, I thought 25mph was a little bit too slow – it’s not exactly a hairy road. Still, it kept my mind off the peak…

By 0925, Richard and I were booted up and setting off up the path opposite the Youth Hostel. The others were still faffing around by their car. I think that level of faffing before tackling a Cuillin peak would totally put me off for the day – I really need to just get on with the more challenging stuff – any delay makes me lose my nerve.

The path was pleasant as it followed the burn past pretty waterfalls in a lovely gorge – just the thing to take my mind off the fact we were setting off up into the Cuillin for the first time – I’d been dreading them! I could see our ascent route of Coire an Eich between the spur on our right, Sgurr nan Gobhar, and the pointy little peak to its left, An Diallaid – actually, it looked okay.

We followed the path until we could see the burn coming down from Coire an Eich and decided to avoid going up its steep sides and cut across a more gentle rise to the entrance to the corrie. We’d obviously had the right idea as, just where I turned to traverse towards the corrie mouth, we joined a track heading that way. Seems we should really have turned off the other path much sooner but we hadn’t seen a junction anywhere…

We could now see the choice of routes to the col between the 2 peaks. There was apparently a zig-zag path up scree at the back of the corrie or you could make your way up the nose of the peak of An Diallaid. The recommendation we’d read was to make your way up the peak but I know what I’m like on steep scree – I’m okay going up it but hate coming down it so, during our descent, I’d prefer only to have a steep slope ahead and not on three sides. So we chose the route up the back of the corrie where, if we didn’t like the path for descent, there would be plenty of other choices on the back corrie wall.


Coire an Eich

The path started off with a great zig-zag which had worn into a very secure-feeling groove for my later descent – great. Further up it obviously couldn’t be bothered with the zig-zags any more so just went steeply up on a diagonal for the col – I wasn’t sure I’d be entirely thrilled with the descent of this later and started to look for other routes – down the burn itself looked better for me – completely dry (despite the recent weather) and nice, solid boulders rather than scree. I was pretty sure I’d be using that for my descent.

It was much further to the col than we’d thought – about 1000 feet in total – it had looked like about half that. As we approached I could see the rocky profile of our ridge ahead and hoped it wasn’t narrow – the map said it wasn’t. When we finally reached the col I was pleased to see that the slope to the summit was very wide and was just easily-angled scree and boulders.

We’d seen a group on the col as we’d set off up the scree path and we could now see them nearing the summit – didn’t look far. Again it took longer to reach the summit ridge than I thought it would but it was steady going. The cloud, which had been swirling below Sgurr nan Gobhar, had started to swirl around the summit, periodically blocking it out. I reached the end of the summit ridge – I was ahead as Richard had kindly dropped back (despite that he was going really well) so that I could be the first to summit our first Cuillin – very kind of him and much appreciated. There was a clamber up onto a large rock and I had a feeling there might not be anything the other side of it. As I hauled myself onto the top of it, I realised there wasn’t – just an airy void! At that point I switched off that part of my sight completely and just concentrated on the route along the ridge to my right and where I was placing my feet. I must have done a superb job of my tunnel vision as I had to question Richard extensively when we got back about what was over there – I have no recollection of seeing anything at all other than the route along the ridge! In a few yards I was at the summit cairn.

I noticed I was treading very cautiously indeed – I think the group sitting around the cairn noticed too. The very cold wind was hitting the area they were sat and we decided it was far too cold to sit there. We rooted around just below the summit and found the start of a gully setting off down the far side of the mountain – the start of it was more or less flat though and went across just below the ridge before turning to a more vertical descent – an ideally sheltered spot! We clambered down the start of the gully and found a couple of large, flat boulders to sit on for our hot drinks and Richard’s famous tea-loaf. I posed with a genuinely chuffed smile for a (near) summit photo – Richard had to use my manual film Zenith SLR as his digital camera was once again moaning about its batteries being flat – modern technology!

After about five minutes and a quick look round the corner at the steep part of the gully, we clambered back out to descend the same route – the group were still sat in the wind-chill at the summit. They had helmets on now so were obviously with a guide and off to tackle part of the ridge – definitely not for me – I’d already seen that from the brief glimpses we’d had through the swirling mists.

At first I found the descent very slightly unnerving as, unnoticed on the way up, we were above a very steep slope into Coire na Banachdich. However, we quickly descended to where I felt much less exposed and much happier. The swirling mists kept robbing us of the view of the descent slope and Richard found it was pretty easy to go off course as he found himself attempting to descend the very steep side into Coire ‘Uisg! I eyed the ridge onto Sgurr nan Gobhar and wondered whether we should visit the first peak as it looked easy enough. I decided it was a bit too windy to bother.


Sgurr nan Gobhar Ridge


An Diallaid

We continued to the col before An Diallaid and decided to have another break near the summit of the cute little peak – it was a fantastic viewpoint and I took quite a few more photos towards Sgurr Thuilm and the An Dorus peaks.


Coire an ‘Uisg


Sgurr na Banachdich


Sgurr Thuilm


Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh


Sgurrs a’ Mhadaidh (L) and Greadaidh (R)

After a quick visit to An Diallaid’s summit, we then set off back down the corrie wall towards our scree path. I was still thinking of descending the dry burn but Richard said he was just going back down the path. As we got nearer I decided I’d set off that way too and see how I got on. In our usual configuration of Richard in front for steep and loose descents I managed to slowly re-descend the steep, straight part of the scree path. There were a few times when I thought I was going to start sliding but it was a comfort to see Richard just below – not that he’d really be able to stop me if I set off down such a steep slope I’m sure, but psychologically it helped. Suddenly we reached the zig-zag in the groove and I was totally happy – I’d done my first Cuillin and it hadn’t really been scary at all. I knew however that, after Bruach na Frithe, the only other easy Cuillin, things wouldn’t be quite so happy for me!


Coire an Eich descent

We were soon back on the path across the grass back towards the Youth Hostel – I said I wanted to contour around Sgurr nan Gobhar to see Coire na Banachdich but Richard said he wasn’t bothered so would just follow the path back to see where we should have diverted from our original route on the way out. He later said we wouldn’t have noticed the junction as it was so faint. He was also keen to get back to the car before the rain started. The rain did actually start while I was heading into Coire na Banachdich and the cloud had got so low in the corrie I couldn’t really see much, but it was only gentle rain and I wasn’t really getting wet.

After a little explore of the corrie I crossed it to join the path back to Glenbrittle Hut. I was looking forward to seeing the spectacular waterfall of Eas Mor, having seen photos of it in the past. It didn’t disappoint! I took a few pictures of it and was really surprised to see other walkers descending from Coire Lagan past me and totally ignoring it – I suppose they saw it on the way out. It’s worth a second look though.

I reached the road at Glenbrittle Hut and beat it up the road as fast as I could to the waiting car outside the Youth Hostel – I’d just taken my boots off and got in when the torrential downpour started. It didn’t finish until a couple of days later when we were leaving Skye! As it was only around 1400, we decided to head to the capital town of Portree for a couple of hours before returning to our accommodation.

Our B&B lady was waiting by the door as we came in. “Did you get wet?” she asked hopefully with £ signs in her eyes. We cheerfully told her we were bone dry – she looked crestfallen…

Just have one old photo of Coire na Banachdich with Sgurr na Banachdich in cloud at the back…

Statistics: 6 miles, 3185 feet of ascent, 4 hours

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12 responses

22 11 2011
goth_angel

You made that look very doable which is good for the confidence of another fearty!

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22 11 2011
mountaincoward

Bruach na Frithe was even easier but they were both okay. So that’s two you don’t have to worry about… 😮

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31 08 2011
Malcolm Clark

Brilliant! I knew you’d be fine on this (and Bruach na Frithe). I don’t think you’d have too much problem with Sgurr nan Eag either, but I’m usually wrong about these things… As for the rest, I’m sure you’ll get to them. At least you’ve seen them in the flesh now.

Although I’d heard mention of your blog a couple of times, I only stumbled across it by accident while I was looking at something else. Good to see you’re still making progress through the list.

Malcolm (malky_c)

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1 09 2011
mountaincoward

Hi Malky – nice to hear from you 🙂 It’s the dreaded Torridon very shortly! 😮
Carol.

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17 08 2011
Colin Gregory

Hey Carol, glad to see you got onto the Cuillins eventually. Getting onto Sgurr Dearg won’t be any harder than the ones you’ve done so all that fretting on HW when responding to my post should now be well behind you.
Topping the Inn Pin is a different kettle of fish though. I still haven’t got round to climbing it but I’m satisfied just to have been close up to for now. I actually managed my first Scottish mainland break this June with three excellent days doing Fiddler / Coigach, Stac Polly and Quinag (Reports on H.W.)
I’ll have to check your blog out more often, some good stuff on here.
Colgregg
Colin Gregory
Richmond
Yorks.

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18 08 2011
mountaincoward

Hi Colin, Nice to hear from you 🙂

Yeah, I heard I’d have no problems getting onto Sgurr Dearg (think the easiest route is up from the col at the back of Coire Banachdich?) but you’re right – the problems will be the In Pinn… I’ve been visiting a climbing wall a bit though and am hoping that will help a bit. At least I can abseil now and know I will go over the edge when the time comes… now I just have to be able to get up the damn thing. I’m favouring the climbing end as opposed to the scrambling end just now as that way, if I fall off, I shouldn’t pendulum but will just hopefully dangle. Looks hard though…

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18 08 2011
mountaincoward

Also, I did read your excellent reports on those Sutherland hills on WH when you put them out… just couldn’t reply of course! I was really pleased to read the Ben More Coigach one particularly as I’m very interested in doing that one next time we’re up Ullapool way 🙂

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1 06 2011
Janet

Good report, Carol, I’ll look forward to seeing the photos, especially of the waterfall 🙂

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1 06 2011
mountaincoward

Hmmm – unfortunately, I lost a film last week somewhere on our Affric trip and it may well be that one 😦

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4 06 2011
mountaincoward

Found that one… must be the Strathfarrar 4 film I lost 😦

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26 05 2011
mark eddy

Hey Carol,
You must be well chuffed to have some Cullin mountains in the bag – and enjoying it too. Inn Pinn next time 😉

Mark

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1 06 2011
mountaincoward

Hi Mark,
Yeah, sort of. But I realise they’re just the 2 easy ones and, apart from Blaven, the rest are gonna be hard! 😮

Before the In Pinn, I’m going to have to meet up with you and do some outdoor abseiling and easy climbing as we discussed I think…
Carol.

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