Sgurr Mhic-Choinn-eeeek!

31 05 2012

Wed 9 May 2012

Richard was back with me and Ryan-the-guide for this walk after his rest day but, as we drove to the carpark to meet up, we had no idea what peak we’d be doing – I was hoping for Sgurr Dubh Mor – a peak which hasn’t managed to get me worried at all so far on my various studies about it. We met Ryan and he greeted us with the fact that we were off to do my most dreaded Cuillin of all – the super-exposed Sgurr Mhic Choinnich! Everyone reading this probably by now knows that I find the easiest, most cowardly route up every peak I tackle – well, the bad news for fellow mountain cowards for this one is… you’re doomed!

It had been amusing when Ryan had rung me at our holiday cottage the evening before to make plans after he’d got the weather forecast. I’d answered my mobile in the lounge and Richard was listening to my end of the conversation. He was very surprised to hear me suddenly sound very enthusiastic – “Oh yeah, yeah! That would be great!” I was saying – he couldn’t imagine which of the Cuillin I would be enthusing about! When I came off the phone he asked what I was so pleased about – I told him we didn’t have to meet up with Ryan until 10 o’ clock so we could have a lie-in!

Our approach was the same as that for Sgurr Alasdair the day before – the lovely path from the Glenbrittle Campsite up to Coire Lagan – however, Richard noted during our pleasant ascent to the corrie that I was very quiet – a sign that I wasn’t looking forward to our walk at all!

From the corrie we were due to ascend the An Stac Screes – a fact which, if I hadn’t done the Great Stone Chute the day before, would have worried me greatly due to my previous extreme fear of steep scree. However, although Ryan had said more than once that he thought the An Stac Screes were worse than all the others and were awful, I kept thinking they’d be okay really…

We had a very brief break near the loch at the entrance of the corrie where I, for once, actually ate a little chocolate (I don’t normally eat until much later on a walk) – I was thinking I might need the mental and physical boost chocolate is said to give you when I reached the fearsome narrow ridge and I knew I wouldn’t want to stop anywhere once we reached it.

We then set off for the back of the corrie and the start of the ‘path’ up the scree…

We tried to go up the middle of the ‘path’ where the scree was loosest but, after quite a bit more ‘sliding backwards’ than we’d had the day before on the Great Stone Chute opposite, Ryan said we’d be better going up the larger (but still quite loose) stones and boulders to our left. I was thinking I’d prefer the more run-out bits of scree which were just loose earth but he said those sections are more dangerous further up when it gets steeper.

I really wasn’t happy up the bouldery stuff – to me, being on a set of loose boulders which were trying to cascade down the mountainside at such a steep angle, just gave me the horrors that the whole mountain was falling down and was going to take me down with it in a huge rockslide and then bury me under the rubble! A large boulder came rolling down from above me once and hit me soundly round the leg, causing me to yell out. I got more upset as we ascended and I was making little progress upwards despite both Richard and Ryan trying to verbally encourage me to keep going.

By half way up, I was moaning that I ‘was terrified’ and that ‘the whole mountain was falling down’! I kept looking up and, seeing the top was getting no nearer, got more and more panicky and had started making awful moaning noises of fear. Ryan, trying to take my mind off things and lighten the mood, decided to tell a joke against his fellow-Irishmen:

“What do you call a hundred Irishmen falling down a mountain?”…

“A navvylanche”

This had the desired effect for a moment but then I’m afraid I just went straight back to panicking. In the end, Ryan decided we should head across to the right to the area which I’d been eyeing all along – the slightly firmer ground just under the edge of the crags of Mhic Choinnich – he said we could go up a slightly loose gully from there.

When we reached the gully, I found it much better and we were soon up to the col above the top of the screes… By now though, I was feeling quite shaken up and, after a quick look around and not liking anything I saw, stood looking at the ground pointedly… He said we should put our harnesses on at this point and, although I’m pretty used to putting mine on now I’ve started going to the climbing wall quite regularly, I was making a total hash of putting mine on. Richard had a borrowed harness of Ryan’s and was asking me how he should put it on – I had no spare mental capacity to figure it out for him and didn’t want to be responsible for any mistakes so I just told him to wait and ask Ryan for help.

Pretty soon, we set off towards a huge-looking cliff to access the start of the ridge – it looked monstrous and I wondered how on earth we were to get up it. As we neared it, however, there was a group coming down with a guide so I could study the route a little. I talked to a guy at the front for a few minutes as it turned out we were apparently in the same boat – we hated scrambling and exposure. I was a bit surprised therefore to later hear from Ryan that they were on the In Pinn! I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have left-over nerve to attempt the In Pinn the same day (as indeed I found I hadn’t when I arrived back on the col much later!)

The Route Ahead (above) Looking Back to An Stac With In Pinn Above It (below)

So, it was now our turn to tackle the climb up to the start of the ridge – a pretty massive-looking craggy nose and very steep indeed.

However, although it looked dreadful, it wasn’t anything like as bad as it looked, as it was the famous grippy gabbro rock and the route was quite enclosed most of the way so I didn’t feel threatened by the drop (which was by now huge).

From this point on, the details of the ridge became a bit of a blur – a never-ending series of difficulties, exposure and me wondering whether I would indeed get back in one piece. I tried my best not to look down but some of the sections of ridge were so narrow, you couldn’t help but see the enormous void beneath you. It truly was what I call ‘an aeroplane view’!

Surprised I Noticed This Little Window!

Notable difficulties included:

Loose, scrappy paths up and down on one side of the ridge or the other – I preferred the back (Coruisk) side to the Lagan side as it wasn’t always sheer and sometimes there was a bit of a grassy ledge or a short slope below you – but it was clear that a slip on either side would be decisively fatal! For some of the more awkward bits, Ryan roped us up – this, of course, meant hanging around a bit while Ryan set up belays – this ended up in Richard being completely frozen for most of the walk – I have to say I never really noticed feeling anything except worry myself!

There was a section where we had to make a huge step across a gap around a corner where footholds, after the initial ones, didn’t seem in abundant supply – I just made sure I had superb handholds! My very long legs helped enormously but I worried about Richard who went before me.

There were sections where we had to proceed along the very top of the ridge and, as it was narrow, we had to crawl across (well I did – I don’t really know what the others did).

There were sections where we had to traverse across sloping slabs above massive drops where sometimes the potential hand and footholds were loose – ugh!

Towards the end, Ryan went up one narrow clamber and decided the following section of ridge was too knife-edged for mountain cowards like myself and that we should traverse below and then climb up the side of the ridge – I wasn’t at all keen on this section as it started off with overhanging blocks to get onto the slabs of the ridge-side – we definitely roped up for this section! Of course, all the time, in the back of my mind was the thought that we had all this stuff to reverse on the return!

Approaching Summit (left-hand lump)

The final section to the summit cairn was up and around onto a narrow ledge – I reached the cairn, tapped it and clung onto the top of the ridge – by now feeling pretty sick and stressed (as my face shows on the photos!)

Just to stress me completely out, however, Ryan decided he now wanted a quick bite to eat (I just wanted to turn straight round and get off back down again) and Richard and another guy who’d just arrived needed to squeeze past behind me to reach the cairn themselves. I was absolutely terrified about this as I didn’t dare look round behind me to the humungous drop into the corrie, but was terrified that I’d inadvertently knock either Richard or the other guy off the ledge with my backpack! This was compounded by the fact that I didn’t know when either of them was going to set off as they were all having a chat! I couldn’t understand how people could have normal conversation in such a place and that somehow was stressing me out even more! By now I was more or less counting the biscuits Ryan was having and wishing it was a smaller packet and wishing the chatter would end.

Apparently There Was A Great View…

At last it was time to set off back along the terrifying ridge – Ryan and the other guy had a quick conversation about who should go first but the other guy said he was going along the very top of the ridge so he set off first… I was amazed to see that, about 2 minutes later, he was most of the way back along the narrow sections and going well! With Ryan having to nurse-maid me all along the ridge, it possibly took us an hour each way – but I wasn’t looking at my watch so have no idea how long we took.

The ridge didn’t seem much quicker in reverse but I think we roped up for less sections and we had an aid to re-finding our outward route – my blood! Over the last three days in the Cuillin handling the rough gabbro, my finger-ends had got gradually more and more injured and by now were just openly bleeding and dripping blood everywhere. I’d marked the whole route in large red spots all the way along the ridge! This at least made me confident we were re-doing the same ground we’d done on the way out…

I was quite pleased to see ‘the gap around the corner’ again as that signified the widening of the ridge.

The final downclimb to the top of the screes was fine apart from one long stride across another large gap which I couldn’t remember from the ascent route.

We had a quick break at the foot of the final downclimb and I thought all my troubles were now over… I was to find out that I was still far from happy though right until we reached the top of the loose gully down to the screes as there were several descents down ledges full of loose stuff to get around a gap in the ridge which I hadn’t noticed on the ascent.

I was pretty cautious descending the gully due to the slightly loose path but didn’t feel particularly endangered and was pleased to be descending back to the screes.

I wasn’t terrified descending the screes but did find them very awkward to descend, unlike the Great Stone Chute. The Great Stone Chute seemed to be evenly matched stones which slid at an even rate, enabling you to get into a rhythm, but the An Stac Screes were pretty bad. Sometimes you slid for much further than you wanted to which meant you eventually lost balance and landed on your bum – it was then very difficult to stand up again as you couldn’t keep your feet still enough to get up! Sometimes the stones stopped sliding much sooner than expected which caused you to pitch forward – something you really don’t want to do – I always reckon you must keep your feet in front of you when descending scree!

Falling on my Bum…

I was super-cautious all the way down, holding Richard up behind me and making poor Ryan keep having to wait. I finally reached the bottom though and relaxed. I’m not sure what happened next – perhaps I relaxed too much – but suddenly my legs ceased to hold me up any longer and I very gently pitched backwards onto my bum on the path – it must have looked quite funny but the others missed it and just turned to see me looking sheepish and giggling in a heap on the stones.

From here we strolled across to the corrie lochan where I said we should sit on one of ‘the whales’ (long rock formations) and have a good, long break. I wandered off to wash my poor destroyed (and previously brand new) boots and my bleeding hands in the lochan. I couldn’t get all the black rock-dust or the scree dust out of my bleeding fingerends however and we decided Richard should take a photo to show just what three days of Cuillin scrambling does to the hands of a grabby and nervous mountain coward!

Cuillin Fingers!

Stats: 5.5 miles, 3134 feet of ascent, 7.5 hours 3 ‘F’ words!
All photos Richard Wood



16 responses

12 03 2013
Robert Craig

I remember Mhic Coinnich being ‘stimulating’ rather than ‘terrifying’ – had just come over from Alastair and Tearleach though so was getting used to the exposure by then.

Think the screes were probably much better years ago, you could surf all the way down, now all the nice wee stones have shifted to the bottom.

PS nice blog, discovered it from Blue Sky Scotland – will have a browse at lunchtime!


12 03 2013

Richard found it ‘stimulating’ too – he thought it was great. I couldn’t believe he was there looking at the views and taking photos while I was just trying very hard NOT to look anywhere much apart from where to put hands and feet!


2 01 2013

I wish I hadn’t read that. Or I wish I’d read it after I’d been there myself. Bloody hell. I think you’ll find the Forcan Ridge is a stroll in a park after that, Carol.
Cheers, Alen


3 01 2013

I’m not saying it’s an easier hill but I think I actually had a worse time on the Eastern end of Liathach – but I wasn’t with a qualified guide then, just a friend with a rope and he isn’t a climber as such (although he’s doing a bit). I’d say a guide is a must for Mhic Choinnich though. I wouldn’t bother for Alasdair – that was easy enough.

I have found though, that going to the climbing wall and then doing one outdoor climb (Middlefell Buttress – 250 foot multi-pitch in Langdale – see the post under the ‘climbing’ tab) was pretty essential for me. Those enabled me to trust the rope, get a bit more used to ‘straight-down’ heights and gave me a lot more confidence in my ability, especially the outdoor climb – I thought that if I could do that, there was no reason why I couldn’t do anything in the Cuillin if I put my mind to it.


19 06 2012
Scotlands Mountains

Brilliant stuff Carol…well done.! Muttered an “f word” myself when I saw the state of your fingers 🙂


19 06 2012

I definitely won’t do 3 days in one week in the Cuillin again – it will be 2 max!


4 06 2012

Great photos Carol.Looks a lot steeper and harder than I remember.Dont know how I,d cope with it myself these days.


4 06 2012

Richard, my official Cuillin Photographer’s done a superb job! 🙂


1 06 2012

I totally felt for you reading that and cringed at the state of your fingers. Well done for vanquishing your fears. Looks like it was the nicest day you had, weather-wise. I finally sent off my sponsorship cheque to LDF yesterday with a note explaining it was in honour of your Munro exploits!


1 06 2012

Great – thanks for the sponsorship Susie 🙂 I haven’t got round to asking for any of my money yet as being at the computer is pretty uncomfortable just yet – and of course I can’t collect any money at work for weeks yet…

Yeah, the weather was good – I remember everyone commenting that the rock was warm on the Lagan side and that it was cold on the Coruisk side… although, as I said in the report, I didn’t really notice. I was very glad it wasn’t windy or slippery though!


31 05 2012

A very well done. I admire you for undertaking a challenge which you seem to enjoy so little! And your hands don’t like they’re enjoying it much either!


31 05 2012

My left hand was unusable for the better part of a week! And, that night, when I got back to the holiday let, I got in the shower but found when I got back out I couldn’t dry myself. The towel was just like using emery paper on my cuts. I just had to wander starkers in to Richard in the lounge and be towelled down like a baby!

At least it got me out of the washing up for a few days 😉


31 05 2012

You don’t look happy at all! Only 3 F-words though?


31 05 2012

Yeah – two on the way up the An Stac screes, surprisingly none on the ridge… and one ‘Thank f*** for that!’ when I got back down 😉


31 05 2012

I think you’re an absolute star! I wouldn’t like that ridge either…… 🙂


31 05 2012

it was ‘orrid!! LOL


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