The Basteir Tooth

29 10 2014

Fri 19 Sep 2014
On the basis of the continuing superb September weather and great forecast, I quickly rang my usual Skye Guide Jonah on the Tuesday night and, finding he was free for the rest of the week, hurriedly booked time off work and set off for Skye on Thursday afternoon. My objectives were to do two walks to try to bag some of the remaining Munro Tops I had left to do in the Cuillin – seven in all which would take three walks to do. I thought trying to do them all would be pushing both my nerve and my luck too far really as the Cuillin Munro Tops are a pretty ‘exciting’ bunch!

As I arrived at Kyle and the Skye Bridge, however, I became worried at the amount of low cloud and mist – it was so bad that, as I drove over the bridge, I couldn’t even see the sea below me! A familiar feeling of foreboding crept over me…

(photos digi-point-and-shoot except where indicated – I won’t take my film SLR on the Cuillin’s more ‘exciting’ routes!)

I called in at the Sligachan for my evening meal as I was booked in at a B&B at Portnalong and knew she didn’t do evening meals. It was 19:45 and I ordered a soup and main course and sat to eat it while browsing the ‘puds’ menu – one of my favourite puds, ‘Key Lime Pie’, was on the menu – a must have… I quickly sent a text to Jonah and also the B&B saying I was eating at the Slig and that I’d be at the B&B in around an hour. I got a text from Jonah saying just to ring when I was settled in at my accommodation but then I received a second text from the B&B lady. I got a bit of a shock when I read it… it said that if I didn’t arrive by 21:00, there would be an extra charge of ยฃ10 for the night as she ‘needed her sleep’! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I hurriedly bolted my food down and reluctantly cancelled the lovely pud – I knew it took about half an hour to Portnalong from Sligachan normally and, on such a foggy night, knew it would be even longer.

The next morning I glanced out of the window before breakfast and was upset to see the low cloud was still sat firmly and everywhere looked damp and horrible. Not what you want to see when your guide has informed you that you’re going up and over Am Basteir to reach the Basteir Tooth – Am Basteir is basalt and lethal in the wet! Jonah arrived to pick me up in his van at 0830 – we were car-sharing as, without knowing, I happened to have booked into the house next door to him! He assured me that his weather forecaster had said the mist would lift by mid to late morning and then it would be fine – I hoped for my sake it would.

On the lovely, easy path up to Coire Basteir, we bumped into an unguided couple also setting off for Am Basteir – a guy taking his girlfriend up – the guy had been guided by Jonah before but his girlfriend was new to Skye. Little did I know, I was due to see a lot more of them as the day went on! After Jonah had a very long chat with them both we eventually continued up the track, by now in thick mist. I’d got quite cold while I was sat around so was very pleased to get moving…

As we got nearer to the easy rock band which guards the corrie entrance above the spectacular, but unfortunately invisible, Bhasteir Gorge, we stopped again. By now the mist was a little thinner and I was cheered to see summits above us poking out of the mist – we were going to get an inversion and hopefully our rock, being out of the cloud, would be dry and non-slippery.

We’d stopped again as Jonah was worrying about the couple below us and, for some reason, thought they would go the wrong way… I thought the track was patently obvious and couldn’t see how they could but, after a few minutes peering below us into the thick mist, I heard distinct voices off to our right – completely off route.

We stayed for around quarter of an hour while Jonah shouted across into the mist to where I’d heard the voices. It did indeed turn out to be the couple and we tried to direct them back towards us and the path. Eventually, although the voices had answered us and got nearer briefly, eventually they went further away and above us. We continued on up. As Jonah said, they shouldn’t really be his concern as he was guiding me, not them – I have to say I felt they’d delayed us enough already and knew there was no danger where they were headed..

Pinnacle Ridge above Mist
Pinnacle Ridge above thinning mist

We stopped at Jonah’s next traditional break place in the corrie by the lovely little lochan. I got some water to drink out of the burn (worrying a little about sheep being above us and the chance of catching liver fluke from them), went to take a quick photo of the loch and then we were on our way up the scree to the Am Basteir col. By now we’d finally got above the cloud and it was dull but pleasant. I managed to get a couple of inversion photos from the corrie and then on the col.

Inversion from Coire Bhasteir

Am Basteir & Tooth
Our peaks now in view…

While we were on the col, Jonah spotted a couple ascending the ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir across the corrie – he was sure that was his lost couple.

Inversion from Bhasteir Col

Sgurr Uamh Inversion

Just as we set off from the col after another break to put harnesses on, it started to rain – my heart sank – half an hour sooner would probably have made all the difference… It sank even further when Jonah announced that we were going to do the Bad Step bypass instead of the step itself. I’d always rather stay on the ridgeline, especially in slippery weather as I think it’s much safer than messing around on the side of a slippery peak above a lethal drop of several hundred feet.

I was further upset when I saw what constituted the bypass ‘ledges’ – to me they were no ledges at all. Footholds were sloping and very small and my feet slipped several times. Luckily I was hanging on hard to as much rock as I could above me – Am Basteir consisting of crumbly basalt, I knew that wasn’t a great idea but couldn’t see I had a choice. Pretty early on I asked Jonah if we couldn’t go back onto the ridge and do the Bad Step instead – we had a rope so I couldn’t see a problem. He insisted it wasn’t advisable but, to me, it had to be safer than sliding around above a deadly drop.

In the end, I made so much fuss that he had to come back along and clip me into a sling to try to give me some confidence. Of course, it was purely psychological as, if I had slipped to my doom, I’d have pulled us both to our deaths. The bypass ‘ledges’ seemed to go on forever and the long ordeal was definitely the worst part of my day.

Unfortunately, once I get unnerved, I don’t easily get my confidence back that day and tend to deteriorate nerves-wise. I was doing quite some moaning and realised I was getting on Jonah’s nerves but, the further we traversed, the higher the ridge was above us for our eventual re-ascent. Directly below the notch at the foot of the bad step, there looked to be an okayish gully to scrabble up but Jonah continued traversing. Eventually, we reached a loose scree ascending above the drop back to the ridge – I didn’t like this either as I hate loose ground above a huge drop but I scrabbled panickily up it behind him.

By the time we reached the ridgeline again, the second half of the ascent, which I’d found so comfortingly easy the first time I did the peak last year, seemed slippery and narrow and I couldn’t regain any confidence. I ended up using my hands all the way to the summit – before, I’d just walked up. We decided not to stop at all when we reached the summit but to start the descent down the far side above the Tooth immediately. Keeping me on the sling, Jonah descended section by section in front of me down a winding staircase of easy rock. There were plenty of hand and footholds so I got down this section okay to a large ledge below us. This was where the first long abseil (or, in my case, lower) was to take place.

Jonah has recently been using a new route down this section and, instead of dangling his more nervous clients over fifty or sixty feet of nothing, he sometimes lowers them about fifteen feet down onto the next ledge. This sounded preferable to me so he set up a lowering point and I slithered up the ramp to the edge of the ledge to clip in. I could see the next ledge comfortingly near just below us. I was lowered through a groove where Jonah had to constantly warn me to keep my hands off the rope until I was below the groove or I’d end up trapping my fingers as I went over the overhang into space. I didn’t trap my fingers but I did give my knee a hearty bang at one point and had to sit rubbing it for a while on my ledge while Jonah abseiled the normal route to come out below me…

There was a sloping ledge which descended round to join him – luckily most of it was under the overhang so was dry basalt. I still went down the whole thing on my bum though – bums are usually a great source of friction. When I joined him I was again unhappy with the next section of descent as it was down the side of the peak on slippery ground with not much in the way of firm holds – I continued on my bum very gingerly – at least the drop down the peak looked much less here. This part must be fairly near to the Lota Corrie route which is the route I’d really wanted to do as you ascend from the corrie instead of having to get down from Am Basteir’s summit. I’d been told (and had thought from the photos) that the Lota Corrie route is a bit loose but easy and quite fun – at least you can be roped up it.

Luckily, after I’d slid down this section, we traversed round (on more thin stuff) to the top of the famous Kings Cave and the start of the ascent of the Tooth. The ascent of the tooth looked a bit slippery and unpleasant to start but was plenty wide enough and not too steep. There looked to be enough broken ground to have plenty to put hands and feet on so I was quite a bit happier. At least I knew I’d make it now – wasn’t sure about getting back down though – there was another huge lower-through-space to go!

We Downclimbed That!
Wow! we just descended that lot!

Basteir Tooth Summit
Nearing the summit of The Tooth

I got up to the summit of the Tooth pretty easily as there were great holds all the way – if it hadn’t been slippery, I could have walked up – as Jonah said and indeed did… I didn’t really want to sit on top of the peak as it was a bit smaller and on a slippery slab but, on looking back down, saw there was a lovely area of grass just below us so I proposed we had a little break there. We sat for a while and I marvelled at Am Basteir looming vertically way above me – how on earth had we got down that? Jonah had spotted the pair he’d seen on Sgurr a’ Basteir – it was indeed his couple and they were now on the Bealach na Lice – he shouted across to them for a while.

Pretty soon we set off down for the bit I’d most wanted to see – the historic Kings Cave. I’d read about this for years and had wanted to see it ever since first reading about it. The idea of descending a subterranean cave high on a mountain really appealed to me. Unfortunately, we rushed down through the cave a bit quicker than I’d have liked and, as I had to pass the packs down to Jonah for each section, I was too busy to get the photo I’d wanted to get. If anyone has any from inside the cave, I’d be grateful if I could have a copy for my blog please (full credit will be given of course)…

There were a few twists and some short, easy descents down into the bowels of the mountain and then we reached the final drop to the cave floor. This bit is very slimy and very tricky so has been furnished with a short sling and a long sling which live in the cave. You use the short sling to squeeze round the corner of a rock to the edge of the drop and get turned round so you’re facing in. You then use a combination of the slings to use the three or four slippery footholds and swing round between a large boulder rising up from the floor and the face you’re descending. Jonah had to put my feet on the holds, especially when I forgot about the one round the other side of the large boulder. Clinging onto the lower sling, I swung round and eventually managed to get to where I could put my feet on the floor – as I swung round, I noticed there was a final drop down a hole in the bottom of the cave which you really didn’t want to go down as it would be awkward to get back out – it was right next to where you needed to land.

The cave descent accomplished, I warily turned my attention to the drop out of the cave back to the Basteir Corrie – it was a fair way down and I knew it started off overhanging and then you weren’t over anything for the rest of the descent. Jonah pointed out that I could use my feet on the right-hand wall if I wanted though. We’d decided I should be lowered rather than abseiling, although it probably isn’t quite proper on a peak-bag, as it meant I could use both hands and feet to ward off the rock as I descended through space. This turned out to be pretty useful…

It was extremely daunting going over the edge through a small notch to dangle in space – I’d never really been dangled over a huge amount of space before so was a little worried I might not like it! I again was warned not to grab the rope until I was through the notch or I’d trap my hands. Soon, I’d been persuaded to abandon my beloved hand and footholds above the void and I let go to start my descent through space.

I had to look down to see where the right-hand wall was – it was pretty near and I decided I would try to use my feet down this as much as possible rather than just free-descend. After dangling in space for a few moments, feeling like a spider descending on a web thread, I managed to get my feet across to the right-hand wall – it was like a skating rink! My feet traced wonderful patterns all over the place, not stopping still for a moment. Still, the odd sliding kick from a foot, combined with the occasional shove from a hand, and I was going down nicely. Soon, I decided it was huge fun and started giggling merrily. All too soon, I reached the scree floor of the corrie and was quite disappointed as I could have stood quite a few more minutes of that. The cave and the lower were definitely the best parts of my day, believe it or not – I never thought I’d say that about the lower.

I wanted to get a photo up to where I’d come down from – I believe it was Shadbolt’s Gully? But the mist had thickened again and I could barely see the nick at the top myself, never mind the camera.

Shady Shadbolts
You can just about see the rope – ‘cos it’s orange!

I waited for Jonah to abseil down (too quick for me to get a photo) and we then plodded up out of the mist to the Bealach na Lice – a lovely scenic spot between Fionn Choire and Coire a’ Basteir.

Am Basteir South Side
Looking back at our descent

I was thoroughly disorientated exiting the mist for a moment and was looking in the wrong place for our next peak, Sgurr a’ Fhionn Choire. I also spotted what I thought was Bruach na Frithe until it was pointed out to me by Jonah that I was actually looking at Sgurr a’ Basteir. Bruach na Frithe then hove into view and I realised how wrong I’d been. Jonah’s couple were just descending Sgurr a’ Fhionn Choire’s easy gully. They came over to chat to us while we had a break – me to recover my nerves and Jonah no doubt to recover his patience which had been sorely tried!

Am Basteir from our scramble peak
A clearer photo of Am Basteir and The Tooth from another day taken with my film SLR

We quickly nipped up the very pleasant Sgurr a’ Fhionn Choire ourselves – it definitely doesn’t need a guide but, if you’re already up there, you might as well bag it. A very quick peak – probably five minutes to get there and back.

Sgurr a' Fionn Choire
(photo taken on another day with my film SLR)

I found it was a superb viewpoint for Am Basteir and the Tooth which were dipping in and out of mist atmospherically. I fired off a couple of shots but didn’t manage to get much of it out of the mist unfortunately. I was still awed at where we’d been…

Basteir Tooth from S Fionn Choire

Basteir Tooth from Sgurr a' Fionn Choire

Jonah was then again chatting to the couple so, knowing how desperately slow I am descending scree, I said I’d set off down the corrie which was currently clear of the mist again. He checked I knew about the junction of paths and where to turn straight down the corrie – I did and set off. I was indeed very slow and cautious so needed the ten minutes or so before the others set off behind me. We all caught up and Jonah told me the guy had proposed to his girlfriend on Bruach na Frithe – I congratulated them both. We were then descending back into thick mist.

Even though I was slow descending, the couple were even slower and, in the end, Jonah said he’d wait for them while I continued my descent and that he’d see me on the corrie floor. In the thickness of the clag, ‘see’ was a bit of a misnomer really. I continued carefully down until I reached the flat floor of the corrie – now I had to find the burn-crossing place before the burn fell a couple of hundred feet into the Bhasteir Gorge. The path became exceedingly sketchy and all I could see was that it probably didn’t go straight on for the drop into the gorge. I stopped and listened for the burn – I could hear it was rushing over small waterfalls off to my left so knew I’d passed the corrie lochan and needed to get across very soon.

Luckily, after I turned and headed towards the sound, I soon picked up a few sketchy bits of path and found the crossing place and the exact rock Jonah had sat on during our ascent break. It was a much comfier boulder than the one I’d sat on so, hearing nothing at all from above, I got my flask out to sit and while away the time until the others caught up. I could see nothing at all in the thick clag so sat listening hard. It was pretty peaceful sitting there but it was quite a while before I heard any clattering or voices.

In the end, I realised the voices were passing me on the far side of the burn so I shouted out that they needed to cross now. The three of them turned and mistily hove into view just across the burn to join me and we continued off on the now clear path for the easy crag band which takes you below the gorge. I was very sorry not to be able to see the gorge this time as it is one of my favourite bits of scenery on Skye – truly spectacular.

We descended in a group as Jonah still wasn’t happy to leave the couple to themselves… There was a short section of steep gabbro slabs to walk down and neither me nor the couple were happy to descend it without dropping low and grabbing with our hands. Jonah told us just to walk down it as it was perfectly grippy on the drier sections. I managed a few steps and then went back to lowering and grabbing again. He then took the other lady by the arm and walked her down the slab.

By now, we’d been on the hill a long time and I was sort of hoping the couple would be contributing to my guiding costs for the day as they’d taken a lot of my guide’s time! I have to say that the guy did give Jonah a sizeable sum for the mountain rescue when we finally got back.

After we’d reached the section where the couple had gone wrong on the ascent, Jonah then sped off for his van and the Slig as we were by now on the clear path. I didn’t hang around with the couple as, now I was on easy ground and we were on a very clear path, I also hurried on down – I was keen to get a soup and my missing key lime pie from the Slig myself!

River Sligachan Raging Falls by road
2 photos of the Allt Dearg Mor showing the difference in water level between May (above – film SLR) and September (below – digi point-and-shoot)
Sligachan Burn - very low

After my very testing day, my nerves were pretty shredded and, when I later got a text from Jonah saying Saturday’s weather was going to be just the same, I couldn’t face slithering around on the two peaks of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh and the knife-edged tent-ridge between them so I’m afraid I cancelled. I wasn’t too chuffed to awake in the wee small hours and find how wrong the forecast was – the moon and stars were out and shining brightly and it turned out to be a wonderfully sunny day. Never mind, I walked from my B&B at Portnalong to Talisker Bay and got some great photos which will follow in a later post.

Stats: 7 miles, 3201 feet of ascent โ€“ I wonโ€™t put the time in!

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20 responses

4 11 2014
McEff

That was some “walk”, Carol. You’re a braver man than I am. Every time I toy with the idea of having a few days on Skye, you write something like this and I end up looking for somewhere flatter. And drier.
Your B&B lady has a nerve, adding ten quid. I would have finished my dinner and slept in the car. What a bloody cheek.
Cheers, Alen

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4 11 2014
mountaincoward

Nowadays most of the B&Bs already have your debit card numbers before you go so they can charge you anyway. In fact, this lady had insisted on a cheque being sent to pay for the accommodation in advance. Apparently she does that sort of thing regularly!

The Cuillin Munros were nothing like as bad as the ‘Tops’ really so you should be fine on many of those. The ‘tops’ are turning out to be a lot harder than the Munros in general in all areas! Either technically or distance/effortwise.

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3 11 2014
Mark

Skye is looking very moody in the photos, very appropriate given what where doing. Another Top done and a toughy. As you know I did the Lota Corrie route. It was a dry day, made all the difference. I wouldn’t fancy it in the wet on all that slippy basalt.

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3 11 2014
mountaincoward

It was truly awful in the wet. I think I wouldn’t have minded most of it in the dry – apart from the Bad Step Bypass anyway – that was really awful. I think there’s a higher one which is shorter and didn’t look as bad – at least looked to have short sections of proper ledges. But the downclimbing we did was fine, the lowers were fun and I didn’t mind the Tooth at all.

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3 11 2014
roger gaff (gaffr)

Hello,
See the report on Walk Highlands recent times ….I think the name was Emmanuelle?
What is to be young and fit! I could shin up roan pipes in those days. ๐Ÿ™‚

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3 11 2014
mountaincoward

I’m pretty much boycotting WH since my ban (don’t want to give them the hits) so I’ll probably pass on that. I don’t know her anyway – I was wondering whether it was anyone I knew from way back but she’s not from my time on there. Bit of a saucy name though eh? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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31 10 2014
underswansea

Whew! That sounds like quite an exciting trek! I enjoy your storytelling and could feel myself falling further and further behind had I been along. Those are interesting mountains. I hope you finally did get a piece of that Key Lime Pie.

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31 10 2014
mountaincoward

I had a couple of key lime pies over the next couple of days ๐Ÿ™‚

It certainly was an exciting walk!

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30 10 2014
smackedpentax

Fantastic post Carol – you are one brave lady. And I like the way you can just book time off and head off to Skye on a Thursday afternoon. How long did it take you? I drove there once and it seemed to take a full day? Exceptional photos in an exceptional place. Brilliant!

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

I can’t remember how long it took for the drive up – probably 7 hours or so I think. I don’t stop really on the way though – only perhaps once for food and a pee…

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29 10 2014
Tessa Park

Blimey rather you than me!! This is the only bit of the Cuillijn we have been in, though only did Bruach na Frithe. Gobsmacked by the B&B owner’s attitude, though!

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

I was certainly gobsmacked when I got that text!

I think the Tooth would have been fine up the Lota Corrie route in DRY weather!

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29 10 2014
fedup

Fantastic Post & Pictures ๐Ÿ™‚ You may have to photoshop a big line through the ‘Coward’ on your blogs banner!! Looking forward to seeing your photos of the black sands at Talisker ๐Ÿ™‚
Cheers Simon

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

Well a non-coward would probably have done it without a guide – although I do know non-cowardly folk who’ve also got a guide for that one.

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29 10 2014
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol – also looking forward to hearing about Sgurr aโ€™ Ghreadaidh, but I guess we will have to wait until next year now, unless you’re considering a winter traverse ๐Ÿ™‚

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

Definitely no winter traverses for me! There’s no way I’d go up there in icy conditions – about my limit is the Cairngorms when it snows.

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29 10 2014
chrissiedixie

Part way through, that was all beginning to sound like the vertical caving stuff that Geoff used to do!
I think you’re very brave actually, I wouldn’t do that even with a guide… ๐Ÿ™‚

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

I’ve thought I might try caving next ๐Ÿ™‚

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29 10 2014
roger gaff (gaffr)

Hello MC,
I see that you have visited the Basteir Tooth. In another place where you used to Post there has been a little activity here in recent times! Another lady made a visit and abseiled down the Cave/chimney. Is this another of your Munro Tops which I recall that you are now getting around?
My only visit to your descent route was when reaching the tooth for the first time by this route ascending (others have been via Naithsmith’s route) on my first visit to this side of the Cuillins when on a wee traverse from the East.

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30 10 2014
mountaincoward

I’m not sure how you’d get up the route I came down from Am Basteir – the top bit would be okay but there was that big lower he did and the overhanging 15-20 foot I was lowered down – not sure where you’d get round that. There must be a route though as I have a friend who also climbed up to Am Basteir from the Tooth (with another guide).

Who was the lady who’d abseiled down the Cave/Chimney – anyone I would remember?

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