The Inaccessible Pinnacle

4 09 2013

Sun 25 Aug 2013

The moment every non-scrambling, height-averse, cowardly Munroist dreads had arrived… I’d made contact with our Skye Guide, Jonah, we’d arrived on the island and The Inaccessible Pinnacle (fondly nicknamed ‘The In Pinn’) was scheduled for the next day. A very gloomy Mountain Coward hit the pub that night. I was saying I was going to ‘meet my doom’ to the hoteliers of our regular watering hole, the Sconser Lodge…

(All photos by Richard Wood except where indicated)
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get any sleep but I’d had such a sleepless night the night before that I slept quite a bit with only the occasional waking up in a cold sweat. Soon the morning arrived and, as Richard brought my wake-up coffee in, I suddenly realised I felt strangely calm – pretty much resigned to it all really.

We drove off to meet Jonah outside the Glenbrittle Memorial Hut where the midges were so savage while we got our kit on all other thoughts were banished from my mind for a while. Very quickly we set off up the path straight from the Memorial Hut rising up the short stretch of moorland to the end of the west ridge of Sgurr Dearg, the In Pinn’s main peak.

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You pass the spectacular Eas Mor waterfall…
Spectacular Eas Mor
(my film photo from another year)

I had several worries about the route apart from the obvious one of the steep, narrow and highly exposed rock climb up the rock flake of the In Pinn… One was what the end of the west ridge would be like as I hate loose scree on steep ground. Another worry was the descent from Sgurr Dearg’s summit ridge down a steep slab towards the base of the climb – I’d heard very bad things about that section and some people had even been roped down it.

Jonah, being a local guide, knows this route like the back of his hand and has set rest places on the way up, one at each thousand feet of ascent. The first resting spot, by a prominent boulder on the skyline above, was soon reached and I went off to sit on a flat slab in the breeze to cool off as it was a warm and sunny day. There was a great view of the isle of Rhum from there and I gazed at it wistfully – such a nice island…

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After a few minutes we set off upwards again to reach the end of the west ridge. I was surprised to find a path leading upwards in nice zig-zags – always the best way to ascend loose slopes. This was where local knowledge came in – the non-local guides don’t seem to know about this pleasant path and many take you up sliding scree chutes further round the end of the ridge.

There were great views to our left of Sgurr Banachdich…

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The path up was absolutely great and was neither alarmingly loose nor tiringly steep – of course, being a bit stressed, I was more tired than I would have been and was puffing away as I ascended.

Towards the top of the ridge-end, there was a gully with fairly easily-angled blocky rock steps up it. Jonah led us that way… I could see there was an alternative route on a zig-zag path to the left so assumed he was leading us up this gully to assess how we handled rock – a wise move on his part with unknown clients. Just before we set off, he gave us a quick talk on scrambling technique and suggested we use some of the smaller footholds to practice – another good move.

We ascended the easy gully and I took the chance to search out small footholds and use them. On the way up, me being me, I noticed a lovely patch of bilberries – I kept quiet about them and earmarked them for our descent – they were mine, all mine!

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Looking Back Down Gully…

We had now reached Jonah’s second resting place and settled down for another quick break. I looked along the rising ridge – I was surprised that nothing looked alarming yet and there was still a lovely path heading steadily up the ridge, by now at a much gentler angle. Soon we plodded off up the long ridge with great views either side of us as clouds flirted with the ridges across the adjacent corries. Richard, my official Cuillin photographer (I won’t take my precious film SLR on the Cuillin) was clicking away…

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I was deliberately walking at a pretty slow plod as I find getting tired and then doing stressful routes is a recipe for disaster so I wanted to keep myself fresh – luckily Jonah was fine with this – I guess he guides all sorts from the young, keen puppies to us older folks. There were a couple of Cheviot sheep calmly grazing the grass amongst the buttresses to our left – a comforting sight.

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Spot the sheep!

Even better views of Sgurr Banachdich as we ascended and the clouds swirled…

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Coire Banachdich – I toyed with the idea of a descent that way but later decided against it…

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There was a bit of a steeper and rockier dome above us but I could see obvious routes raking to the right below the crest of it – it all looked fine.

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Looking back down West Ridge…

This was probably the point we put harnesses and helmets on while we were on easy ground. When we reached the dome, the routes were indeed fine in the dry conditions – there was quite a steep slope down to Coire Lagan on our right now which I studiously ignored in case it was fearsome.

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Jonah led us up a couple more scrambly sections which I thought could also have been avoided – I assumed he was assessing us a bit more. Sure enough, when we reached the top of a short scramble following an easy crack, he asked Richard if he was sure he wasn’t going to do the In Pinn as he said he was a good scrambler. Doubts immediately hit me – did he mean Richard was good enough to do the Pinn without difficulty so why didn’t he? Or did he mean Richard was a good scrambler and I wasn’t? In the end, I had to ask!

“Oh, you’re a rubbish scrambler” he said laughing and with a twinkle in his eye – I was reassured I was okay really…

When we reached the top of the dome, we could see several rocky domes looming above but also a traverse path heading round them. Jonah outlined the traverse path to us, describing it as a ‘nice Alpine-type traverse’ – it was.

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The path was exceedingly pleasant in the conditions (I remarked that I wouldn’t fancy it in winter conditions though) and it wound round the flanks above Coire Lagan with increasingly spectacular views. Richard again went mad clicking away with the camera.

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An Stac
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Looking back along route…

Even I was impressed, especially looking towards Sgurr Mhic Choinnich which I’d done last year (and had been terrified on) – I was amazed I could have done such an awful looking peak – that fact probably increased my confidence a little…

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The top of the In Pinn was now in view looking rather like a pointing gun – I was surprised to see I viewed it quite impersonally without any real feelings on the matter.

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The East Ridge ascent comes into view…

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Soon we regained the crest of the ridge which was pleasantly narrow, scenic and flat.

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Views back down from summit ridge…
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We soon dropped slightly left of the crest just before the summit of Sgurr Dearg on the side away from the pinnacle to jettison our rucsacs and have another break. I had coffee and a shortcake biscuit, put my rock boots on and then walked back over the ridge to have a look at the Pinn and the steep route down to it.

Over the ridge the pinnacle hove into view, sheer on the nearer side (which I later had to abseil down), undercut around the base and looking almost vertical on the east side which I had to climb up – there were three Munroists proceeding very slowly up the ridge and their mate, who hadn’t wanted to tackle it, sitting watching in trepidation on the ridge with us. The South Side was also pretty sheer and had large sections which had fallen out of it. The most fearsome North side, which was overhanging and had a few thousand foot drop below it was, mercifully, out of sight from here!

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To be continued…
πŸ˜‰


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16 responses

16 09 2013
McEff

By heck. That is awesome. Wonder what the Cheviot sheep think about being up there?
Cheers, Alen

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16 09 2013
mountaincoward

They looked pretty happy! πŸ™‚ It’s mostly Cheviots in Scotland – no idea why they don’t have Scottish Blackfaces instead – they seem to have fallen out of favour nowadays. The meat won’t be as good or something…

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5 09 2013
chrissiedixie

Can’t wait…..! And I will admit that I wouldn’t do the In Pin….. πŸ™‚

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5 09 2013
mountaincoward

You never know – there’s a bit of preparation though beforehand – I’ve been preparing for a couple of years now for it.

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5 09 2013
LensScaper

And we were just getting to the interesting bit! I remember the In Pinn. I did a two day traverse of the entire Black Cuillin Ridge about 15 years ago with Martin Moran. We dropped off the ridge into Coire Lagan for our bivvy beside the little tarn high up in Coire Lagan and then had a steep climb back up to tackle the In Pinn the following morning. Some great photography by Richard.

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5 09 2013
mountaincoward

I think our guide had some guys later that week wanting to do a 2-day traverse with him – rather others than me for that I think!

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6 09 2013
LensScaper

It’s the toughest route in the UK I am sure. And I have never climbed on rock that is so physically damaging to hands and clothing. Have you found that on the Cuillins?

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7 09 2013
mountaincoward

The In Pinn is basalt so smooth and hands-friendly. The main problem with it is that it’s loose and bits fall off if you grab them too hard! The gabbro is vicious to hands though and, after a couple of days, wears my fingertips completely away and I end up dripping a trail of blood along the route – very helpful for the return! πŸ˜‰

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5 09 2013
bob

Looks like you got a good day for it Carol. I still think the short steep side is less exposed though a slightly harder grade. Hopefully in part two you,re on the top. Fingers crossed.

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5 09 2013
mountaincoward

The short, steep side is definitely less exposed but, after a quick summing up, I decided the start was pretty much above my grade unfortunately!

We got a perfect day for it – sunny, calm, dry and views for miles πŸ™‚

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4 09 2013
smackedpentax

I don’t think you are a Mountain Coward at all :-)…certainly takes a lot of guts to do this one (not that I have, but would love to)…superb photos by Richard by the way…looking forward to Part 2!

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4 09 2013
mountaincoward

I’m really pleased with Richard’s efforts on this one – it was a superbly-nice day though. Clear for miles, sunny, calm and dry – ideal! πŸ™‚

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4 09 2013
stravaigerjohn

Lovely to read this. Well done!

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4 09 2013
mountaincoward

Ah – you don’t know whether I did it or not yet… πŸ˜‰

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4 09 2013
fedupofuserids

Splendid πŸ™‚ and you’ve left it on a cliffhanger πŸ˜‰

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4 09 2013
mountaincoward

Ha ha! Yeah, that was Richard’s playful suggestion. But when I totalled up the amount of photos I had for the day, it made more sense to break it up into two parts anyway.

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