An Dorus Twins (Mhadaidh & Ghreadaidh)

19 05 2012

Mon 7 May 2012

The night before our first Cuillin walk, our guide Ryan, visited our holiday cottage to make plans and check our equipment – he also had forms for us to fill in – I joked they were ‘Organ Donation’ forms! Joking apart though, I was pretty worried about our planned activities in the Cuillin which was why I’d had to hire a guide. It probably needs saying at this point that there are two kinds of Cuillin mountain guide – the ‘non-technical’ guides who are local and know the Cuillin Ridge like the back of their hands, and the ‘technical’ guides like Ryan, who would be able to rope me up for the bad bits – very necessary in my case!

He said that he thought our first walk together should be to Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh, one of the ‘An Dorus Gap twins’. Initially, I was pretty disappointed about this as I was almost sure I didn’t need a guide for the two An Dorus Gap peaks – as it turned out, I’m pretty sure I was wrong and Richard and I would have really struggled without him. Anyway, at least my over-confident weighing up of these two peaks meant I went to bed without any particular nerves about the next day and got a reasonable sleep…

The next day we met up with Ryan at a carpark near the Glenbrittle roadend in Carbost at 0900 and he drove us round to the Glenbrittle parking by the Youth Hostel. We then set off up the familiar and pretty path by waterfalls and lovely blue pools which we’d taken last year to reach Coire an Eich to do Sgurr Banachdich.

This path continues past the foot of the burn coming down from Coire an Eich and continues to the back of Coire an Dorus where the An Dorus Gap eventually comes into view between Sgurrs a’ Mhadaidh and Ghreadaidh.

At this point we were carrying crampons and ice axes as we weren’t sure how much snow would be in the gully but, once the gap hove into view, we saw they were unnecessary and stowed them under a large boulder – Ryan took a GPS reference point to ensure we could find them again on our return. I was a little worried about my ice axe but he said it was unlikely someone would steal anything from an obvious stash before our return – I have to say that, on our return, it was pretty difficult seeing where we’d left our stash among the many boulders in the fairly featureless and huge corrie, so it’s a good job we had the GPS reference!

I was a bit worried about how I’d find the An Dorus screes but they looked fairly short and looked to have a zig-zag path up them. We had the choice of either heading up boulders below the scree to the start of the scree chute or a loose path to the left – we went for the direct route up boulders which was fine. The scree wasn’t too loose and we managed to pretty much get up it without sliding backwards much at all. The top of the scree was firm rock with some quite large rocky steps to clamber up – not a problem in ascent but we didn’t really enjoy that section much on the way back down, especially as some sections were a bit mossy and therefore slippery.

Presently, we arrived in the famous An Dorus Gap – a notch between two steep craggy walls about 15 feet high.

Loch Coruisk from the An Dorus Gap

The gap between the walls is only about 3 feet wide but there is a flat passage through the gap of probably about 8 feet with a hollow where some people ascending above us had stowed their packs. I thought that was a great idea and asked whether we could do the same but Ryan said we should bring them, not least because mine had the rope in. As there were people ascending above us, we’d already donned our helmets in case of any loose rockfall – Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh was our objective…

Ryan said he’d rope us up for the initial scramble – while he was setting up, I was having a peer further round from the gap where others suggested there is an easy gully going up – apart from an awkward start to it, there was indeed a gully which looked quite easy. Anyway, if we were to be roped up, I was fine with the scramble. The only trouble Richard and I found with the roped scramble was that, with us having a short walker’s rope, we were only a few feet apart so we had to stay very close together as we scrambled. We had an awkward step up to start and from there it was pretty easy and I had to dismantle a lower belay set-up before we completed the clamber up to join Ryan. Rather than mess around trying to tidy up the bolts and slings of the belay, we just bundled them into the front of Richard’s coat…

Top of the Initial Scramble Looking Across to Ghreadaidh Initial Scramble

From there, Mhadaidh’s ascent is initially on a rising zig-zag scree path – pretty steep but easy enough – however, I could see that things were about to get much steeper. I’d already seen, and been totally horrified by, the back of the peak – it went from extremely steep at the top, through vertical, to pretty much overhanging nearer the bottom and the thought of it was really putting me off! Our side was merely steep becoming nearly vertical. The near-vertical section went on for quite a way but consisted of blocky and grippy ledges of gabbro so was okay for ascending. I knew I wouldn’t be quite so keen coming back down though as then I’d have to look at ‘the drop’!

Sgurr Thuilm from Ascent of Mhadaidh

Loch Coruisk and Dubhs Ridge

We soon reached the summit where I clung to the top of the peak while sitting very tensely on a little slab by the cairn for the obligatory summit photos which were taken by Richard and Ryan – I have to say my face reflects my tension quite well.

Mhadaidh’s Other Summit and Continuation of Ridge to North

We didn’t hang around on the summit, which was a relief, but soon started back down, with me getting in the way of, and generally holding up, a more confident couple who’d actually done the bottom section without a rope – I think it was their packs in the gap…

I wasn’t at all keen clambering steeply down the ledges again and was going to descend in my usual manner – facing out and using my bum on the ledges – Ryan suggested I should face in however. I always find it hard to see where to put my feet when facing in though…

I was very pleased to eventually get below the exceedingly steep ledges and onto the scree path – it’s looseness made me extremely slow and cautious all the way down to the top of the scramble back to the gap. We were again belayed by the rope to descend the scramble and Richard went first this time which was helpful for me as he could direct me to footholds. We both had a bit of difficulty reaching the block we’d started from and pretty much jumped down the last bit after lowering as far as we could.

There was a young man sat in the gap waiting for us to finish before he went up alone. I had a quick chat with him while apologising for holding him up – he said he didn’t mind as he got to watch various methods of dealing with the scramble. I asked if he was doing both peaks but he said he didn’t think he’d manage Ghreadaidh on his own. I was just opening my mouth to issue the characteristic Mountain Coward invitation to join us (I like collecting other folk en-route – the more the merrier to me! 😉 ) when I realized I couldn’t as we had a paid guide so I reluctantly shut it again and felt really sorry for the guy.

We’d already had a brief discussion with Ryan on the scree-path part of the descent about whether we were going for the other peak – part of me thought I should go for it so that I didn’t have to suffer the An Dorus screes twice – the other part of me thought; Ghreadaidh looked terrifying, it was thinking of starting to snow and Ryan said the basalt slabs of the mountain were slippery in the wet. As we reached the gap, I realised I was feeling very sick from the stress of Mhadaidh (but refrained from being sick in the gap as it would be pretty hard to avoid!) and I was doubtful I had the nerve left to tackle a greasy Ghreadaidh as well! The thought still nagged though that I’d have the An Dorus screes to do twice if not which really didn’t appeal – we had to go for it, I decided…

We were again roped up for the, this time more difficult, initial scramble to start the ridge up to Ghreadaidh. Again we found it awkward being so near to each other on the rope but we clambered up in short bursts, me leading the way again. From the top of the scramble, I was delighted to see a path leading gently upwards along the spine of the peak – it didn’t feel particularly exposed…

View from Top of Initial Scramble on Ghreadaidh

Right of path (above) – left of path (below)

What I Fondly Term an ‘Aeroplane View’!

We were soon and easily at the clamber round the narrow Eag Dubh gap – this was up a smooth little rock step. Ryan roped us up for this section too – although the rock step was only a few feet high, it was quite awkward and I could only get my knees onto it initially.

Eag Dubh Gap

We were quickly up this section where I was delighted that the steady path continued to ascend, with little difficulty towards ‘The Wart’ – a spectacular protrusion above. From the peak opposite, the path round The Wart had looked like an almost vertical greasy basalt slab – I was pleased to see that it was actually nothing of the sort. In fact, an easy, but slightly loose path, headed none-too-steeply up around to the right of the excrescence with no problems. By now, I was actually starting to enjoy this peak and quite liked it…

The final section to the summit cairn was around a rather precarious-feeling narrow ledge with not a lot beneath it and the actual summit was pretty small so I didn’t want to linger long.

2 Meerkats! 😉

Views to the South – below Sgurr Dearg & Inn Pinn (left) Sgurr Banachdich (right)

Coming back down the same route was a little scarier as I then noticed loose sections of path and the drop in general – also there was a little bit of snow on the path round The Wart to deal with which had been easier in ascent than descent. The little rock step down to the Eag Dubh gap was much more awkward in descent and we were both pleased to be roped up briefly. After that, there were no further problems until we had to do the final down-scramble back into the gap – again roped up. I was delighted we’d done both peaks and was no longer feeling sick with stress – result!

(Photo – Ryan Glass)

I was still a little worried about how I’d find the descent down the An Dorus Screes and both Richard and I found the initial downclimb of the rock steps at the top of the gully to the start of the scree pretty awkward. The screes, however, weren’t so bad as they aren’t very loose and I found, with care, I didn’t slip at all.

Spectacular Gully Below An Dorus

From there it was easy walking back to where we’d left our spare kit – I was relieved to see it was still there… By now it was raining and quite unpleasant so, rather than have the nice break in the sun I’d promised myself earlier, we had a very quick warm drink and then followed the long path back down to the carpark.

Stats: 6 miles, 3390 feet of ascent, 8 hours, no naughty words!
All photos courtesy of Richard except where marked



12 responses

3 05 2020
advice for young people

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3 05 2020

Why thank you!


31 05 2012
Colin Gregory

Well fancy that!! After all the time spent persuading you that the Cuillins could be easily accessable you have now outdone me by doing three summits I’ve not done yet. I’ve only done Alasdair of the ones you did. Well done to you for conquering (or at least facing up to) your fears.
Colgregg (H.W.).


31 05 2012

Hi Colin, nice to hear from you 🙂 I still have 3 very awkward ones to do but they will probably have to be next year now since I’ve broken my wrist 😦


20 05 2012

Great pics & well done. Looking forward to your other reports of the ridge 🙂


21 05 2012

Yes, lucky I already typed them up while I was in Scotland… see post above this for why!


19 05 2012
Paul Shorrock

Well done Carol – Result!!

When I was in the Royal Marines we did a ‘mountain warfare’ training exercise up your ‘aeroplane view’ of Lock Coruisk – an ‘advance to contact’ that started by the sea and continued to An Dorus, skirmishing all the way with the ‘enemy’ defending the valley. I’d be knackered now just walking it, never mind fighting up it!

Really looking forward to reading your account of the ‘Inn Pin’.


21 05 2012

haven’t done the In Pinn this time – reckon it’ll take another 2 visits to finish the Cuillin yet


21 05 2012
Paul Shorrock

Lots more fun to come, then 🙂


19 05 2012

Gosh, I feel drained after just reading that! 🙂


19 05 2012

You got a cracking day for it Carol.I Remember most of the ridge well but I,d probably find it hard now too.Superb photographs.Mind you Sometimes its easier to do scrambling in the mist because then you cant see the huge drops only feel them. I Look forward to the rest.Best of luck.


21 05 2012

I felt drained after 3 days running in the Cuillin I can tell you!

I feel worse if I can’t see the drops as then I just imagine they’re worse than they are!


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