Blaven South Ridge

16 09 2014

Mon 4 August 2014
Having chickened out of the Basteir Tooth with my guide in the morning due to incessant rain which would have made the whole route lethally slippery as the rock is basalt, I returned to Richard at the cottage in disgrace. The weather was supposed to be bad most of the day but clear up towards the end so we were keeping an eye out of the window all day. Come early afternoon, things seemed to be brightening up and we’d decided we couldn’t just sit there all day so we ventured out towards Broadford in the car as the weather looked best to the south.

On reaching Broadford, we thought it possibly looked promising out towards Blaven so Richard suggested I go and tackle the South Ridge as I needed the south top. The route I’d decided to take also visits the lovely desolate bay of Camasunary and had a couple of mile walk each way across a moorland pass to get to it so I decided that, if my hill remained in cloud, that would be a good alternative…

(click on photos for full size/resolution. Photos are a combination of my film SLR when I was alone on the ridge – the rest are Richard’s digital point-and-shoot…)

By ten to two, we were parked up at the roadside carpark just after Kirkibost on the Elgol road and getting eaten alive by midges while we kitted up. We hurriedly got our boots and waterproofs on (we find it easier to don them at the outset rather than keep stopping to put them on if it rains – it also seems to prevent rain 😉 ) and set off through the gate immediately across the road for the great track heading west to Am Mam (literally, ‘the pass’).

We made good progress up the track chatting all the way – I looked forward to the first sight of Blaven’s South Ridge coming into view as I knew it was a spectacular ridge. Around the summit of the pass, it appeared in all its glory – it looked absolutely superb – really tasty. Richard took several photos (I was saving my film shots for when I was alone on the ridge) while I just stared and enthused. The weather was picking up nicely and it was turning quite sunny, although there was quite a stiff westerly breeze…

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As we began to descend the far side of the pass, Richard’s destination of the beach at Camasunary appeared – that looked nice too. I decided I’d see how I felt on the return from the ridge but thought I’d probably have plenty of energy left over to visit it as well – my ridge looked really easy. “I’ll be 4 hours” I told Richard confidently (meaning from our start at the car).

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Druim na Haim with the Cuillin looming behind

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A little way further on, the rest of the South Ridge of Blaven hove into view – it was absolutely massive and had just about the steepest ridge end I’d ever seen to get onto it – full of crag bands too. I immediately revised my walking estimate to a dubious 5 hours and set about puzzling how on earth to get onto the forbidding ridge-end…

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Just before we reached the path split where the northern branch heads up Glen Sligachan and the western branch descends to Camasunary, I saw a little path setting off across grass towards the Abhainn nan Leac and the corrie between Blaven and Slat Bheinn. As I didn’t want to lose any more of our already valuably-gained height, I headed off along it…

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Here are the photos from Richard’s walk on to Camasunary…

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I’d seen a long grassy rake, just before the crags started in earnest on the South Ridge, heading up from the river and thought, if nothing else presented itself, I’d head off up that – from what I could see, it looked straightforward.

In the event, my path eventually went to cross the burn and I decided just to plough directly up the steep grass slope above me as it looked devoid of any crags and I was pretty sure I could see a really steep path up a grassy rake near the top which would take me up onto the ridge. It was a long slog up the long, wet grass of the ridge-side but I eventually passed a very steep patch of scree where I then reached the path I’d seen from below. I was joined by ‘the path’ coming in from the south – there had been one after all…

There was a loose zig-zag heading steeply up the rake onto the ridge – it wasn’t far and the path had worn into a deep groove so, despite being loose, it was quite a relaxing ascent. I was soon on the ridge and looking ahead up it to see what it looked like now – it didn’t look too bad. It was obviously very scrambly as rock bands crossed the whole ridge at very regular intervals, but they all looked manageable.

Blaven South Ridge - looking up ridge

Glen Sligachan Lochs from Blaven S Ridge

The first several crag-bands were easily surmounted by the path – no scrambling whatsoever, just a bit clambery but you could keep your hands in your pockets if you wanted. After a while, however, I came across what is fondly known in hill-walking circles as the ‘granny-stopper’- I stopped to study it.

Blaven South Ridge Granny Stopper
My ascent route was up the dark gully just right of centre – I came back down the ledges with a bit of grass on to its left

I could see a line of scrambling straight up the middle of the crag which looked fine for me to ascend – it was probably about 20 feet – I wasn’t quite so sure what I’d make of it on my later descent though. Oh well – I had to get up my hill so I scrambled up it and decided to let the descent sort itself out later.

Blaven South Across Sgurr na Stri

Blaven South Ridge Lochan

Blaven South Ridge-looking back down1

Blaven South Ridge-Granny-stopper

After that, although the ridge continued steeply, there were no more awkward scrambles at all as the path continued to weave around all difficulties. Deep, dark and dramatic gullies opened up periodically to my left

Blaven South Ridge Western Gully

Blaven South Ridge Gully to Hazy Sligachan

Blaven South Ridge to Hazy Sligachan

I noted that one always opened up to my right towards Slat Bheinn at the same point too but nothing like so dramatically.

Blaven South Ridge Gully to Slat Bheinn

There were good birds-eye views down to Glen Sligachan and the various lochs therein. Very scenic but a bit unnerving for me as I was a bit tense about the ridge route and not sure whether it was all within my capabilities – I’m much more nervous this year than last unfortunately 😦

Blaven South Ridge to Loch Scavaig

Blaven South Ridge to SnGillean

I could see a peak ahead which looked like the summit and eagerly hurried up towards it. A quick glance at my altimeter, however, gave lie to it being the summit – I was still only at 770 ‘metres’ instead of the required 926. I hoped that, with the bettering of the weather, the barometric pressure had risen so much that my altimeter was wildly under-reading.

A few minutes later, I realised I was absolutely nowhere near the summit as a peak which had looked exactly like the one I’d just surmounted, reared steeply above my head. It looked nasty… lots of steep bare rock and scree – ugh. I hoped it was easier than it looked. With a resigned sigh, I set off plodding on upwards…

Blaven South Summit from False Summit
(I think the camera’s really flattened this one out as it doesn’t look steep and intimidating here but it certainly did from where I was standing!)

I have to say that the final climb went much quicker than I first thought it would on seeing the peak. Apart from a small section of scree path above a steep declivity into Glen Sligachan which I’d chosen to go up, there was nothing scary about the ascent. I chose to follow the ridgeline as closely as possible and was glad I did as there was much more grass, it was firmer and the views of the Cuillin – finally clear – were sufficient distraction to take my mind off things.

Blaven South Ridge to Marsco
Marsco

Eventually, the ridgeline flattened out and I saw the familiar shape of the northern top ahead past my southern summit cairn – not far to go at all – I rushed towards it. After tapping it briefly, I headed straight on as I wanted to see this side of the famous scramble across the defile between the two tops. The ridgeline narrowed and headed towards what looked like a large, sheer drop. I peered down a few sections but couldn’t really see any particular route – I think it would be much better in the other direction – I was very glad I didn’t have to bother!

Blaven South to North Summit

Blaven South Summit Cairn

I then headed back to the cairn to sit for a coffee and a biscuit. The views by now were excellent but I’d already photographed most of the views from my previous trip up Blaven so I didn’t bother taking any more but just sat admiring them. After five minutes or so, I decided I’d best get a move on and start my descent as Richard would be waiting.

I didn’t manage to re-find my ascent of the final cone at all but descended easy scree paths down the eastern side of the hill – I was, at this stage, slightly toying with the idea of descending to the col to the South-east and bagging Slat Bheinn but decided the scree slopes would probably get too uncomfortably steep for my liking.

In the end, I decided I was definitely going back the way I’d come and headed off back down for the subsidiary peak I’d earlier hoped was the summit. I was soon there…

The descent went absolutely fine and I was soon again at the ‘granny-stopper’… I peered down my ascent route and decided that, if I wanted to go that way, I’d definitely have to face in – not my preferred method as I prefer to use my bum as a braking device when descending! I saw a little cairn off to my right and went to investigate that as I remembered seeing large ledges that way. There was a huge drop down that side to the valley but it was easy to lower yourself from ledge to ledge and felt perfectly safe so I went that way. The only trouble was the amount of laceration to my clothing as I smeared outwards down the rocks – this ridge is all the super-rough gabbro rock.

After the granny-stopper had been dispatched, there were no further problems whatsoever and I was soon at the top of the gully descent. I happily clattered down that and decided, at its foot, to see where the real path went. It was slightly loose to start with so I was still going cautiously. I was by now feeling pretty tired after all the clambering around I’d had to do on the South Ridge.

The path soon firmed up in its fairly steep descent and I reached the foot of the grass slopes in ten minutes or so. From there I could see the path continued more or less to Camasunary Bay but decided I was far too late and too tired to go down to the beach – I figured I could see it well enough from above anyway.

Glen Sligachan from Am Mam
Route to Glen Sligachan behind Blaven South Ridge

Another path headed off left to the river I’d crossed on my outward route so I headed for that. It was extremely wet and boggy but I reached the river in not many minutes and found it was, yet again, a very easy crossing. From there a grassy path headed along, rising gently, for our outward track over the pass. Near the end, I recognised where I’d taken off on the way out – it was merely a higher branch of my return path.

Back on the track over Am Mam, I was surprised at how far it was back to the summit of the pass. I plodded resolutely but tiredly up it. I met a cheerful mountain biker heading the other way – it was pretty late in the day – I hoped he wasn’t going much further than Camasunary.

Camasunary Evening Return from Blaven

At the pass summit, I saw my parked car in the distance and was surprised to see it wasn’t yet alone – there were quite a few cars still parked there. I hurried on, going quicker now I was heading downhill, and reached the car, with the waiting Richard, at ten past seven. He informed me I was late!

He wasn’t too bored though as, when he’d got back to the car, he’d set off the other side of the road from Kirkibost to follow some tracks towards some antiquities marked on the map. He hadn’t found them as he hadn’t gone all the way round but he’d had another nice stroll. I was glad to drain the water bottle in the car, get another hot coffee, strip off my now steamed waterproofs and sit down!

Stats: 9 miles, 3518 feet of ascent, 5 hours 20

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12 responses

30 09 2014
McEff

Granny-stopper. I like that. Great walk, by the way, and Blaven looks like a fantastic mountain. Must get myself up there.
Alen

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2 10 2014
mountaincoward

It’s a great walk via the South Ridge – the others are pretty loose and ‘orrid! if you’re up to the scramble between the peaks, I’d advise you to go that way. Most people manage it okay but I’ve never fancied it myself.
Carol.

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19 09 2014
Tessa Park

Oh – sent you a pm btw – you probably won’t have seen it yet.

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24 09 2014
mountaincoward

I’m back and just going to log in now…

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17 09 2014
mark adams

Nice account. I’ll use “granny-stopper”. At the summit a raven hung around for me to leave and looked scenic against Rhum:http://tinyurl.com/n7xxkhn

Other pics of S. ridge: http://tinyurl.com/msxbcsl

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24 09 2014
mountaincoward

Nice of the raven to pose for you 😉

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17 09 2014
fedup

Love Skye 😀 Very Jealous!! I’m another who hates waterproofs and would rather get wet then don a pair of waterproof trousers, it has to be be really wet or windy before I stick a jacket on too! Cheers 🙂

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24 09 2014
mountaincoward

Well you’ll be mad to hear I’ve just been again then 😉

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17 09 2014
bob

Well done Carol. Blaven is a great mountain. Don’t know how you can do so much walking in waterproofs as I hate wearing them. Alex and I are just back from Skye and the midge were bad in the campsite. Must have just missed you as Alex was bagging the Red Cuillin.

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17 09 2014
mountaincoward

My waterproof trousers are really only those ‘lite’ ones which aren’t fully waterproof but are very comfy and breathable. Unless it’s p***g it down or I’m staying out overnight, I just put those on. They keep me dry enough for a day walk. If it tips it down, the rain comes through but you just don’t get cold. It’s rare I put my coat on – it has to be tipping it down for that and I virtually never don it during an ascent…

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16 09 2014
Tessa Park

You got some nice photos there. Incidentally, how come you are more nervous than last year? For some reason, so am I, and I’m not totally sure why!

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16 09 2014
mountaincoward

I’m not sure – I’ve been wondering about that all year myself, especially as I really enjoyed my last few Cuillin with the guide. I think it might be due to an on-and-off groin strain I have which is making me a bit unstable and off-balance. I think something like that soon makes you doubt yourself on narrow hill ridges.
Carol.

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