Sgurr Alasdair – King of the Cuillin

25 05 2012

Tue 8 May 2012

Day 2 of my Cuillin ordeal… sorry, challenge! Richard wasn’t with us for this walk as he decided three days Munroing in a row was enough so he was having a rest day. I met up with Ryan-the-guide at 0900 at the same little carpark in Carbost and we set off round to Glenbrittle – we were to do Sgurr Alasdair, he announced. I was fairly ambivalent about this – I didn’t see it as my hardest challenge, apart from the Great Stone Chute, but the weather was looking none too good so I didn’t want something too difficult anyway. My horror of descending very steep scree was going to be my biggest problem on this one as the stone chute is over a thousand feet high and very steep indeed!


We parked up at the end of the Glenbrittle road, near the pleasant but cold and exposed-to-the-wind campsite near the black sands of the beach and headed off on a superb path towards Coire Lagan.

In around an hour we were entering the corrie – it was the first time I’d seen Coire Lagan and what a spectacular corrie it is, probably second only to Coire a’ Ghrunnda round the next corner. There is a lovely little blue lake at the lip of the corrie and it is surrounded by what I call ‘the whales’ – very smooth, long, rounded banks of rock lying around the edges of the loch which look for all the world like whales in photos.

The whole rim of the corrie is surrounded by spectacular (but, to my eyes, very scary) mountain peaks with either steep curtains of scree or complicated ledged and sharp rock walls below them. I had no plans whatsoever to risk bringing my precious SLR camera into the Cuillin and Ryan hadn’t brought his either so, I’m afraid for this report, there are only the photos Richard took the day after when we re-visited the corrie.

Ryan pointed out the famous ‘Cioch’ – a huge protruding rock which is the objective of many rock climbers. I’d read various tales about climbs on it in the mountain literature which makes up most of my reading so I was very interested to see it for real (you can see it from the shadow it casts centre-photo)…

The weather was fine but the cloud kept lowering and raising – sometimes clearing our peak but, more often than not, obscuring the top third or so of the stone chute. There had been some snow overnight and we were a little worried about whether there would be snow in the top section of the chute but we’d decided to leave our ice axes and crampons in the car to save weight. As the top of the stone chute goes around a corner anyway, we wouldn’t have been able to see it even when the cloud lifted. I approached the bottom of the steep scree – it looked very steep to me and the bottom half was very loose – then becoming rockier about halfway up, passing between narrowing rock walls and then turning the corner out of sight. Oh well… onwards and upwards.

The saying for scree chutes is, of course, ‘one step forwards, two steps back’ and the first half is a bit like that. I found though, that with careful foot planting and putting some weight on convenient rocks with my hands and pressing into the slope, I managed not to slide backwards too much. It was very hard work ascending a slope bent over like that though and, pretty soon, my rucksack started to feel very heavy. Ryan suggested I use the single walking pole which I’d borrowed off Richard so that I could straighten up a bit. I tried that and it worked okay but I still felt the need to sometimes bend and steady myself with my free hand. With regular rests for me to catch my breath however, we made progress up the slope – it did seem pretty interminable though. I was glancing at my altimeter about every 50 ‘metres’ or so – I knew we had around 400 of them to go!

Eventually we reached the narrowing rock walls and the scree became much less thick and had large rocks in amongst it. I think I probably preferred this section in ascent but was a bit worried about coming back down it in case I slid over some of the rock ‘steps’ and then set off out of control down the slope. For a while we went over to the right-hand wall of the chute and I used the solid rock wall at the side to steady myself as I climbed.

Soon, we rounded the corner for the final pull up to the little col at the top of the chute – from here we could see there was indeed a small amount of snow to deal with – apart from the snow, this section looked grim, black and forbidding to me! We avoided the snow as much as possible but were careful to stamp steps into it where we couldn’t avoid it. Eventually, I was pleased to reach the top of the chute – a much more pleasant and roomy area than I was expecting. The tiny col was in the sun and a pretty pleasant spot for us to ‘gear up’ with our climbing harnesses and get the rope out. Just as we did this, it started to snow in earnest so Ryan said we’d need to hurry. I asked how far it was up the rocky scramble to the summit – he pointed a short distance along the rocky ridge to where it was – it didn’t look far at all – I was most encouraged.

Ryan roped me up for an initial scramble onto the end of the ridge. Unfortunately, the snow had already made the rocks wet and slippery so I found that pretty offputting for the rest of the route. There were some quite narrow sections of ridge – possibly 6 feet or so wide, but the mist was swirling around a bit so I couldn’t really see what the drops each side were like – I assumed they were pretty large however… I was belayed on a couple of awkward sections and for others we just scrambled along together staying roped up for speed. Suddenly, I was surprised to see Ryan stand aside and gesture ahead – there was the summit cairn across a sloping slab – already!

Unfortunately, there didn’t really seem to be any hand or footholds across the slab and the rock was pretty slippery – the cairn was tantalisingly just out of my reach. The only thing for it was for me to lie across the rock and stretch as far as I could, just managing to tap the cairn with my fully outstretched arm – luckily, I’m very long! Ryan later said he was quite amused by this and said it showed the lengths (literally) us Munro-baggers are prepared to take to reach our goals!

The snow was coming down quite hard by now and Ryan was worried it would be filling the top of the gully so we had to scramble as quickly as possible back down the greasy rocks. Luckily, we found a really easy route back where I could mostly just face out, sit down and use little rock steps back down and sections of path. I was expecting the top of the initial scramble to appear any second when suddenly, I rounded a corner on a little path and there was the top of the stone chute! I never thought I’d be pleased to see it but I was actually so delighted to be off the greasy rocks without any problems and so soon that I exclaimed; “Oh, the stone chute!” in an ecstatic voice!

We quickly got our harnesses off and stowed the now wet rope away and headed off down the top of the chute. There was quite a bit more snow settled in the gully but, from the top, there was a more obvious zig-zag path through the scree. We carefully stomped our way down the snowy bits and then, continuing on the little zig-zag path, down the more bare and rocky sections. Although I probably would have found this top section a bit worrying in descent, we were chatting away about our various occupations and so we reached the loose, thick scree almost before I noticed. Contrary to my belief that this section would be horrifying, as I hate my feet not staying exactly where I put them when descending anything steep, after a few sliding steps down, I found I developed a nice rhythm and soon started to enjoy it!

We only fell on our bums once each and then only gently so that wasn’t a problem. I was almost sorry to reach the bottom. I was delighted, however, that I’d attained yet another Cuillin summit – my third in two days – and that there had been no major problems apart from the weather making things a bit awkward on the scramble. I was so delighted I bounced all the way back down the path to the carpark at great speed, with a real spring in my step and even having a little skip at one point – well, you’ve got to celebrate! 😉

Stats: 5 miles, 3260 feet of ascent, 6 hours, no naughty words!

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22 responses

7 10 2015
mark Ingeam

hi Carol, I had a very similar experience to you on Alisdair! My 100th Munro, I’m not a Bagger but I’m clearly affected. Hope you don’t mind a borrowed a word off you in my blog ”lengths” . Nothing wrong with a good bit of honest plagarism is there! http://www.mark-ten.blogspot.co.uk. All the best Mark.

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8 10 2015
mountaincoward

I had a read of your post (and left a comment) – sounded a great trip. Wish I had a friend who was great to borrow for doing the Cuillin, especially now I’ve got to like them but am still no good on my own on them.

Don’t worry, I don’t think borrowing one word is plagiarism!
Carol.

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1 06 2012
Colin Gregory

Oh Carol you have left me pining for a return to Skye. It’s been eight years since I was on the ridge. I did Sgurr alasdair via Sgurmain and the S.W. Ridge and never saw a thing as it was so misty until we dropped down to the corrie Lagan. Great pics taken the day after though, even a trip into the corrie is well worthwhile.

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1 06 2012
mountaincoward

Did you do a walk report on that route? I was quite interested in going that way myself to try to avoid the Stone Chute but the guide warned me of the difficulties. Did you go up a little chimney as you started the SW ridge? I believe that bit, especially locating that bit, is quite difficult? How was it?

I personally can’t imagine pining for a return to Skye! Although of course I’ll like the place more once I’ve done my last few scary Cuillin…

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2 06 2012
Colin Gregory

No T.R. and no pics either as it was so misty. We went up the sgurmain stone chute which has far less scree. It is still full of loose rock and care must be taken. As I said unfortunately all we could see was the rocks in front of us but yes I did the chimney before continuing onto the summit. From what i recall it was a doddle. It wasn’t until i later studied pics that I realised how exposed it was and the “doddle” statment might have been a bit different in clear weather. While I had gone to Skye on my own I was invited to join a group for that walk, a couple of them being From Cockermouth M.R. team so i was in safe hands. The iffy weather is one of the reasons I want to go back in the hope of redoing routes in better weather. If I can redo Sgurr alasdair, Crack off the Inn pin, do nan gillean and the two you did from An Dorus I’ll be happy

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2 06 2012
mountaincoward

I believe the chimney isn’t all that difficult but very exposed.

I still have Gillean & the In Pinn to do and will obviously need a guide again for those. Have you done Am Basteir? I’ve got a feeling that’s going to be as bad as Mhic Choinnich for exposure for me! 😦

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28 05 2012
bob

Myself And Alex are just Back From Somewhere Near Skye.Great photos of Coire Lagan .Just as well it was Cool Carol as In this present heatwave that place turns into an oven.They Filmed a scene from Highlander(film) with the lead actors fighting on top of the Cioch.Bet they were worried.

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29 05 2012
mountaincoward

How many brawling actors can you get on top of the Cioch?

I look forward to seeing on your blogs what you got up to…

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26 05 2012
fedupofuserids

A fab hill with great views – another off the list 🙂

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27 05 2012
mountaincoward

I’m wondering if I’ll ever get back to the list – my wrist seems to have had a relapse and has gone a great deal more painful… it feels like some of the wires have ripped out. I’m going to have to try to get to see the surgeon this week I think 😦

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30 05 2012
fedupofuserids

Can you manage any of your remaining 24 in winter conditions or will you not be recovered enough by then.

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30 05 2012
mountaincoward

Some of them – Sgurr a’ Mhaoraich by Loch Quoich looks okay and maybe some of the others. I’m hoping I can get non-scrambly ones done before winter anyway and me & Richard are booked into Knoydart in September to do the 3 Munros there…

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26 05 2012
Paul Shorrock

It’s amazing up there, isn’t it!!

Great post, Carol 🙂

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26 05 2012
mountaincoward

I didn’t mind that one – just wish the rock had been dry for the scramble – think it would have been pretty easy then

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26 05 2012
lanceleuven

Congratulations on your latest summit! The views look wonderful and it sounds like you had a good time. That Cioch looks very odd though! What a strange formation. And thanks for teaching me a new word: belayed (at first I thought it was a variation on delayed so I had to Google it!).

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26 05 2012
mountaincoward

the Cioch is one hell of a protrusion, especially seen from the side – see if you can Google a better picture of it

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27 05 2012
lanceleuven

Oh my god it’s massive! It’s bigger than a house! I can see climbers would want to reach it. It reminds me a bit of kjeragbolten in Norway if you’ve ever heard of that.

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27 05 2012
mountaincoward

Did you get to see a photo with climbers on top of it?

I looked at a pic of the place in Norway you mention and can’t see how on earth people would get onto that chockstone without being climbers!

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26 05 2012
Alan Bellis

Well done, another one done 🙂
“Day 2 of my Cuillin ordeal…” What happened to day one? Have I missed it?

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26 05 2012
mountaincoward

day 1 is the ‘An Dorus Twins’ report below… day 3 next week hopefully

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26 05 2012
chrissiedixie

Brilliant! It’s funny, I’ve been in a couple of situations in the past where we’ve trolled up through scree rocks etc and then on the way down an obvious tiny path seems to materialise out of nowhere!

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26 05 2012
mountaincoward

we could see sketchy bits of zig-zag path on the way up but it was really obvious from above coming down

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