Am Basteir – The Executioner!

17 09 2013

Wed 28 August 2013

The day before we were to do Am Basteir, Richard wrecked his knee – it would just be me and Jonah the guide then… Despite the fact that I’d done the In Pinn without any difficulties on the Sunday, the weather was more dubious for this one and I wouldn’t be on the rope as much so I was again very nervous the night before.

(All photos by me except where indicated – click on for full size/resolution)
Richard very kindly got me up with a coffee and a flask just after eight before he went back to bed and I drove the short 3 miles round to The Sligachan to meet Jonah at nine. Cloud was lurking around the summit areas – I was hoping it wouldn’t settle onto them as, yet again, the rock would be basalt slabs which are slippery in the wet.

It was again horrifically midgey at the parking and we were getting badly mauled so set off pretty quickly to take the path from there towards Coire Basteir. Clouds of midges followed us up the hill getting a good few bites in. At Jonah’s first usual rest place by the river they were so bad we soon had to move on again – luckily further up there was quite a breeze coming out of the Basteir Gorge and we managed to rest there instead.

One of the other guides caught us up with his party of four, one of whom was limping a bit and two of whom were straggling behind. Turned out the four of them had taken themselves off to do the Coire a’ Ghrunnda Munros on their own the day before and taken on more than they could handle, having taken a wrong route on Sgurr Alasdair, the limping guy having had a few falls, and them all getting back around eleven at night!

Just as I was getting deeply into a bothy-comparing conversation with one of the guys, Jonah announced it was time to go. We were just short of the start of the gorge now which I was very taken with and decided to spend some time photographing on the return journey. Pretending ignorance, I kept teasingly calling the emerging burn ‘Basteir Beck’ as beck is what we call streams back home and it had a nice ring to it. Jonah hurriedly corrected me and told me it was a burn but I insisted Basteir Beck sounded better and grinningly continued to use it πŸ˜‰

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Pinnacle Ridge (Gillean) on the left above the Basteir Gorge
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Our route continues up the rock band to the right of the gorge…

After taking a path up some slabs up a rock band by the gorge entrance, we finally reached the corrie where I expressed surprise there was no lochan. Jonah pointed out it was round the corner so I went off to photograph it – a pretty little lochan it was too. I was using Richard’s digi-camera as I won’t take my proper camera up the Cuillin and, as he was shirking his photographer duties that day, he’d lent it to me instead.

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After taking another break in the corrie, we set off up a rising zig-zag path up the scree of the corrie back wall – it was quite steep but not worryingly so but I was glad I hadn’t done this peak back in May when the corrie was packed out with snow! I noticed that the mist was firmly down on the col and the peaks were now hidden – I just hoped they weren’t getting too greasy…

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Am Basteir Awaits (taken on the way back down when it cleared a bit)

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Am Basteir North Face – don’t fall down it!

Soon I’d puffed up to the col behind Jonah where Am Basteir mistily crept into view – it looked pretty steep and quite narrow but the rock fortunately looked dry. I was also momentarily taken aback by the huge drop down the back of the narrow ridge we’d arrived at but the side we’d come up was fine so I just stayed that side.

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(Excuse the shoulder – my concentration was pretty much elsewhere!)

We jettisoned our packs (I expressed concern at leaving a few hundred pounds in cash in my pack but Jonah just said that it was Skye, not Manchester!) and we fitted harnesses and helmets. Jonah sorted out the rope and had a cuppa while I ate my usual shortcake biscuit and had a quick half-coffee.

There was a group ahead on Basteir and Jonah was concerned we would bump into them at the ‘Bad Step’ so was holding back, however, when the following group caught up, their guide informed us that the other group’s guide always did the bypass path instead so we set off. The route ahead was fairly narrow on either little scree paths or slightly sloping basalt slabs but they were fine for going up. Soon we rounded the corner after a little downclimb to reach the top of the bad step.

The bad step is an exposed and narrow section of ridge but the place where you wait atop it while the guide sets up the rope isn’t too scary. The step itself is only about 10 feet tall but, climbing down, it’s awkward to see where the footholds are so you are roped up. You can either abseil or downclimb – I opted to attempt the latter…

At first, I leaned out and could see very small footholds so was using them but, a couple of feet short of the bottom, I could no longer see anything to put my feet on. I tried to stretch down to reach the onward rocks behind me but wasn’t quite able to reach and, in the end, just ungracefully slithered the final couple of feet to land in the gap. I think this is the point an F-word slipped out and I actually apologised which Jonah thought was amusing!

The gap below the Bad Step was indeed exposed – pretty much straight down on the right and loose, steep shelves on the left with only a pointed rock to stand on – I kept very still while I unclipped from the rope. The next section was the most nerve-wracking for me as I had to vacate the gap and clamber over the next narrow rocky section, by now unroped. Climbing up it was easy enough but then it went into a short but very narrow arete which felt very exposed – I shuffled very carefully along it. When I’d climbed back down to a wider section of ridge, I hurried on until I found a niche which felt more comfortable – phew!

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Jonah persuaded me to take this photo looking back down to the Bad Step

At this point we met the other party coming down so I had to vacate the path I’d now found myself on. I clambered off the path and stood, holding onto to the rocks in front of me and keeping very still. One of the girls in the party asked me ‘what I was doing’ (meaning was I just doing that peak or adding Sgurr nan Gillean) – I answered ‘panicking’, and then more honestly, ‘not looking’ – I was staring pointedly at the ground in front of me as elsewhere looked unpleasant! They all laughed and continued on – I never actually did tell them I was just doing Am Basteir – not sure whether Jonah did…

We then continued very easily up the next, comfortably wide, section on a little zig-zag scree path which led upwards at an easy angle. There were a few sloping slabs to negotiate, then a little broken ledge to step along followed by another short, easy downclimb. Suddenly, I saw the lone guy who’d passed us on the col sitting on the ridge and just past him a cairn.

“Is that it? Already?” I asked Jonah…

He confirmed it was indeed the summit – it had again been a much shorter walk than I thought. I was delighted and hurried up to join the lone man. Jonah handed me Richard’s camera back (I’d given it to him as it was putting me off swinging around below me) and I took a couple of photos – the summit area was nothing like as small as I’d been led to believe.

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Sgurr Fionn-Choire – a peak I intend to do sometime – from summit

As I sat on the summit Jonah took some more photos of me and for me.

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Both photos taken by Jonah
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At this point, as usual, relief got the better of me and I again started chattering incessantly. Eventually I realised that the man who’d been sitting for some time alone at the summit had probably been hoping for a peaceful time admiring the view. I just said,

“Oh, this poor guy’s probably come up for some peace and quiet!’

He just laughed ironically! I tried to be a bit less chatty and we soon left him alone in more peaceful surroundings and began our descent. I was roped up for the broken ledge traverse and one of the short climbs but only really ‘just in case’ as I was fine on them on the return route. I was walking very slowly wherever I was traversing sloping slabs though or descending scree paths and, no matter what I was doing, always had a handhold.

We soon arrived back at the bad step where we’d left the rope – this time we went below the unpleasant narrow scramble on slightly loose ledges – I preferred this route as there was plenty to get hold of in case of a slip. At the foot of the step, I clipped in again just in case but could see it would be an easy enough climb back up as there were indeed plenty of footholds now you were below and could see where they were. When I neared the top of the climb, I again ran out of good footholds and, in the end, just did a mantleshelf move to get up high enough to put my knees on the top – inelegant but it got me up!

(Jonah took more photos for me)
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Soon after that we unroped and I continued down in my usual slow and cautious manner back to our packs and another break. The sun was by now trying to make an appearance and the cloud had lifted quite a bit. Jonah asked if Am Basteir had been an anti-climax after the In Pinn but, after giving it some thought, I decided it had actually been a bit more exposed for me and had seemed trickier. I suppose not being on the rope all the way and traversing rather than just climbing straight upwards made it seem less safe. I decided that I thought it was possibly the second hardest Cuillin peak after Sgurr Mhic Choinnich but a good deal easier and much shorter. I would probably do Am Basteir again whereas nothing on earth would get me back on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich!

I had the camera back so took some more photos on the col…

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Basteir Gorge from the col

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Another group setting off for Sgurr nan Gillean West Ridge

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Jonah trying to spot the other group on the West Ridge

We stayed on the col for quite some time as Jonah was worried about one of his fellow guides – the one with the shaken-up group of four – as he felt they were taking a long time on Gillean’s West Ridge but in the end we had to set off down. I was getting a bit cold anyway and by now even had my coat on – quite unusual for me when it’s not raining. Partway down the steep scree path they eventually appeared approaching the top of the abseil chimney…

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Goodbye and thank you Am Basteir

I was again very slow on the scree zig-zag back down the corrie wall as I hate slipping at all and always descend like an old lady! On the descent from the corrie I speeded up on the firmer rock but now what was slowing me down was the start of the the Basteir Gorge – I found it enthralling. I was stopping and taking lots of photos of the gorge and Jonah kept pointing out great views of Gillean’s Pinnacle Ridge – he was really surprised I had more interest in the gorge. I did take a couple of photos of Pinnacle Ridge though, especially when he pointed out the route to Knight’s Peak in the corrie – I might need that for future reference if I decide to complete ‘the tops’.

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Gully route to Knight’s Peak

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Pinnacle Ridge – alright…

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But then there’s the Basteir Gorge (Red Cuillin behind)

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Basteir Gorge – spectacular!

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Basteir Gorge – magnificent!

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Got to have me an explore of that!

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We thundered back down the track as the midges were getting bad again but I was again waylaid taking photos of a really beautiful lochan with good light on it. It was well worth getting bitten for as the photos I took there were easily the best of the day and I was delighted with them when I loaded them up.

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Just after I left the lochan and hurried after Jonah, I was surprised to round a corner and see a familiar figure waiting on the path – it was Richard who’d limped out to welcome us back. We all hurried back to the Sligachan bar where we finally escaped the midges for refreshing and cooling drinks. My final Cuillin peak was now in the bag at last!

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22 responses

23 09 2013
chrissiedixie

I don’t know about Mountain Coward, Carol, I think you’re ever so brave! If things frighten me I tend to avoid them, but you go headlong into them! Takes a lot of courage. πŸ™‚

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23 09 2013
mountaincoward

It takes a paid-for guide really – very expensive hobby! But at least all the hard ones are out of the way now… unless I start collecting Munro Tops! πŸ˜‰

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20 09 2013
bob

Well done for getting the Cuillin peaks bagged Carol. That’s actually good weather for the Skye ridge. I’ve been up there several times in mist and rain and not had a clue what was around me five feet away. Great photos.

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22 09 2013
mountaincoward

I have to say that, unlike the rest of my Munroing, I’ve had pretty good weather each time on the Cuillin Ridge – luckily!

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18 09 2013
thecurvyhiker

Another fabulous adventure, with excellent pics. πŸ™‚

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18 09 2013
mountaincoward

Thanks – well the photos were the best I could do with a digi-camera (I’m traditionally anti-digital! LOL). It was nice of Richard to lend me his camera though or there’d have been no photos…
Carol.

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17 09 2013
McEff

Congratulations, Carol. That’s some achievement. But I think you’ve put me off Skye for life! Those are rocky looking mountains.
Cheers, Alen.

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

It took me until my last visit to actually get to like them. If you can afford it, just get yourself a guide for most of them and do them singly – apart from the An Dorus 2 and the Coire a’ Ghrunnda 2 – that would be too much effort to go back and do them separately…

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17 09 2013
fedupofuserids

Another fine report Carol & more importantly your last on Skye πŸ˜€

I know your not keen on digital but you certainly treat us to a larger selection of pictures when you have one at your disposal. I don’t suppose you where presented with a DSLR for winning 1st prize in your photo comp?

Cheers

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

Ha ha, nope, no prizes given – just a little red certificate – I’m happy with that. I’ve won 3 so far – one last year and one a few years back.

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17 09 2013
LensScaper

Well done Carol. So that’s all the Cuillin Munros completed? How many Munros to go now?

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

Just 4 – but 2 are on Knoydart and the weather there isn’t playing ball 😦

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17 09 2013
Paul Shorrock

Great post yet again Carol πŸ™‚

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

Thanks Paul πŸ™‚

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17 09 2013
chrisharrison2013

Another amazing achievement. The Basteir Gorge looks like an incredible place. I can imagine the scale of it just from looking at the photos. In two days on WordPress I’ve been taken to The Executioner and Hangman’s HIll! Are these places trying to tell us something?
Chris

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

Well I escaped my doom anyway πŸ™‚

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17 09 2013
smackedpentax

Well, what an excellent adventure – and amazing photographs too. I am too old to do that now – I did some Cuillins years ago with a very adventurous rockclimber-caver girlfriend and this one looks familiar – but that was 30 years ago and memory fades. The only name I remember was ‘Marsco’ and we did that one afternoon but we did several in the Cuillin range and many in the highlands but I don’t think I ever knew their names. It was more a case of ‘lets go to Skye and go up some mountains’, ‘OK’ – and off we would go the two of us and several ropes for a weekend. I love reading about your adventures – kinda brings it all back to me, and you are an excellent writer too!

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

Thanks for the compliments.

I wish I had a rockclimber-caver boyfriend (or girlfriend would do)! πŸ˜‰
Carol.

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17 09 2013
smackedpentax

I am pretty fit but she put me to shame…she caved, hang glided, mountaineered, sump-dived, fell-ran and drank & swore like a trooper – and she smoked like a chimney. I used to go running with her and she would light up whilst she was running- she could smoke 3 on a 5 mile run..amazing woman…not seen her for 30 odd years…wonder whatever happened to her…

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

she sounds great! Bet she’s still going strong somewhere πŸ™‚

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17 09 2013
jackie sowrey

The lone man in search of peace and quiet! Very funny!

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17 09 2013
mountaincoward

I think he was. But when I’m all relieved, I can be sooo inconsiderate! πŸ˜‰
Carol.

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