Sgurr Sgumain to Thearlaich

26 07 2015

Wed 8 July 2015
After meeting our new guide Andy the night before in the Sligachan Inn, it was decided we’d meet up there the next morning at 0900 to car-share to Glen Brittle. Richard duly dragged me out of bed with a coffee at 0815 after having to get up earlier to prepare flasks etc and I sat to eat my breakfast while checking my phone. The weather had been horrible all night – high winds and heavy rain – my spirits were lower than the prevailing cloudbase as I imagined sliding around on slippery, steep and narrow Cuillin peaks while being gusted around…

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L-R Sgurrs Sgumain, Alasdair, Thearlaich (R Wood)

click on photos for full size/resolution – all photos R Wood except where marked otherwise
On switching on the phone a text came through – it was from Andy – he said that, due to the bad weather, we should delay our meetup until 1030 at the Slig as it was due to clear up later. We both groaned at having got up early but neither of us felt we could go back to bed so I texted and said we’d go to the Slig for 0930 anyway and get coffee and see him whenever.

By the time we arrived, Andy had come over from the campsite and was waiting for us outside the Slig so we all went in for coffee (or tea in their case). It was clearing pretty rapidly so we set off for Glenbrittle straight after our drinks and were starting on the hill by 1030.

The path for Coire Lagan starts off from the parking near the campsite at Glenbrittle Beach and is a very easy-going ascent. As we crossed the river and headed for the Sgumain Stone Chute, Richard was already clicking away with his camera – I couldn’t be bothered to get mine out all day so didn’t – after all, we didn’t need two sets of photos to sift through. I asked if he wanted the route outlining but Richard prefers a surprise so he said not. As the full length of the steep and bouldery stone chute hove into view, I therefore covered his eyes.

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The Sgumain Stone Chute goes more or less up the middle of the photo

Pretty soon we were zig-zagging up the climbers’ path to join the foot of it.

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The climbers’ path was pretty easy going too, as well as fairly firm underfoot, so we were still making good progress. I was extremely amused when Andy pointed out a well scratched sign on the slabs to our right under the famous Cioch – it not only marked the start of the Cioch West route but also had the grade, VD, scratched underneath – if only all crags were so well marked!

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After the start of the Cioch West route up the slabs, our path became the Sgumain Stone Chute proper and the boulders started.

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One section had a more solid rampart of rock, although you could divert well to the left around it back onto small stones – we tackled it direct.

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There was a short clamber followed by an awkward crack to climb. As I now climb outdoors a bit, I had more idea how to tackle it and, being tall, am much longer than Richard in both arm and leg so, after a short struggle and some wedging with my arms, I was up it (backwards, which amused the guide). Richard had a huge struggle to get up – as he said later, as well as having much shorter arms and legs, he is also much less flexible now than he was. To be honest, I’m finding I am getting rapidly less agile too unfortunately.

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That obstacle out of the way, we returned to a more or less zig-zag route up much easier and smaller boulders.

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The stone chute seemed to go on forever though – every time I looked up, the top didn’t really look any nearer – at least there was very little sliding backwards. Finally, the angle eased ever so slightly – we must be nearing the top. I looked up again and, at last, we were…

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On reaching the top we sat out of the wind for a decent break for hot drinks, snacks and to put harnesses and helmets on. We’d wanted to sit and gaze out over the splendid view across Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda but the wind was far too cold that side unfortunately.

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We just came up there!

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The Cioch Slabs

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Sgurr nan Eag & Garsbheinn across Loch Coire a’ Ghrunnda

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Sgurr Dubh an da Bheinn & Sgurr Dubh Mor

We had a look at the onward route which goes over Sgumain, up the back of Sgurr Alasdair, down the normal route to the Great Stone Chute top and then my onward ridge up Sgurr Thearlaich – the second of my day’s Munro Tops.

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Sgurr Sgumain, Alasdair and the T-D Gap

Presently, we set off for the steep clamber up boulders to Sgurr Sgumain, my first Munro Top of the day. There were no difficulties but it was pretty steep and tiring and longer than I thought it would be. There was a really good view from Sgumain’s summit of the chimney to start the route up the back of Sgurr Alasdair and we saw some people had just come out of the top of it and were about to continue up. There was also a group stood at the top of the infamous T-D (Thearlaich-Dubh) gap – I wasn’t sure whether they were contemplating it or had just done it.

As it was freezing cold on Sgumain, we didn’t linger but set off for a route down the north side around crags to the col before Alasdair. I found this section extremely worrying as it was down loose, scree-covered ledges with a huge abyss into the corrie below. I studiously refused to look down until we were traversing round and I could see the corrie wall had come up much nearer to us and the drop no longer looked fearsome. Andy had offered to put me on the rope for this section – I was almost calling him back to do so but braved my way through to the col.

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A Pinnacle to Bypass on the way to Alasdair

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Our Route up Sgurr Alasdair – our chimney is the dark vertical slot just to the right of the grass on the col (I think)

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Below the Climb to Alasdair

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Looking Back to Sgumain & Weird Person-shaped Pinnacle on Alasdair

From the col we were almost at the foot of the chimney start to Alasdair – it looked fine to me as it is sideways on to the drop so is very enclosed. We roped up, with me as ‘middle man’ as usual and Richard about 10 feet behind on the end of the rope. Andy demonstrated the route up the gully but I didn’t really find any difficulties and went up well. Richard again struggled with his loss of flexibility and short legs but I gave him a very tight rope and he got up in the end.

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Looking Back Down Chimney

From the good stance at the top of the chimney it was just a case of all ascending ‘Alpine-style’, i.e. roped together but not belayed. That meant taking especial care all the way. The route was horrendously steep and I was glad for at least the psychological comfort of a rope – there was no way I’d have gone up without. I also had a constant distraction as, being middle man, I had to keep stepping over the rope constantly to change sides. I no longer looked down at all as I knew there was a yawning drop below me and knew Richard would have no problems with this section. It was all small steps and usually good holds so I made sure I had good handholds all the way and just kept going.

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Looking back down our route back to Sgumain

Eventually, we puffed (or at least I did) to the final summit blocks, coming out just to the left of the summit. I find the summit of Alasdair uncomfortably small and the wind had started gusting at us again so I sat extremely uneasily with one superb handhold which I gripped onto grimly while we had a mini photo-shoot. My smile wasn’t particularly tense but my arm certainly was and, by the time we set off down the trade route, had started to ache.

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Photo Andy Ravenhill

Apart from the initial narrow ridge of summit blocks to traverse, we were soon enclosed and lowering down easy sections on the side from one comfortable ledge to the next on our descent. I was facing out all the way down and relaxed and enjoying myself. We then rounded the corner to the top of the Great Stone Chute where we dumped packs – I was glad as my newly acquired walking pole had been proving to be quite a nuisance on my pack so far!

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Easy Descent from Alasdair (trade route)

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Looking Back to Sgumain and Weird Pinnacle

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Down the back of the Great Stone Chute

We asked Richard if he was doing Thearlaich but he said not as he’d really just wanted to do Alasdair as it is the highest Cuillin Munro peak. We later worked out he’s only missed two Skye Munros out – Am Basteir and the In Pinn. I was quite glad he’d declined Thearlaich, not because I don’t value his company on the hill (which I do) but because it meant we were back to two on a rope which is far more comfortable for the second (me).

Andy led me down a very short and non-alarming descent of the scree at the back of the Great Stone Chute to where a comfortable traverse set off around a good, short ledge to the foot of the climb up the ridge of Thearlaich.

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The first pitch was a bit awkward in ascent and I wondered how I’d fare on the descent – I’d soon find out!

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After the first pitch, I found all the climbing very easy indeed and didn’t notice the exposure at all, although the ridge is pretty narrow with an exceedingly and decisively-fatal drop on the Coruisk side.

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Only one of us needs constant handholds… and it isn’t Andy!

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Richard went off to take a photo of the T-D Gap below our ascent…

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We were soon on the summit which I found a very comforting place compared to Alasdair. There was a lovely hollow to stand in by the cairn and the onward ridge to Sgurr Mhic-Choinnich (which we weren’t taking) looked easy and very gentle – it gets nasty lower down though!

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Photo Andy Ravenhill

We’re up here somewhere…

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By this time it had started to rain so we thought we’d best not hang around… I led the descent, mainly facing out.

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Must be a good photo for a caption contest! 😉

It was now the exposure started to become apparent and vast amounts of space started to appear. It was a pretty humungous drop down to my left and the ridge was very narrow but concentration on the moves kept my mind off it. Route-finding wasn’t totally obvious so I had to keep checking with Andy whether I went left or right down sections. Hand and footholds were generally good though apart from a couple of, now-slippery and wet, slabs which needed good handholds and a bit of care.

I then reached the bottom section – the crux of the route – oh dear! This was extremely difficult, especially now it was damp. Andy set up a quick belay and I got a couple of decent handholds and turned in to face the rock and then lowered my big, numb hiking boot onto a small, slippery scoop on the slab below. With the handholds it was enough to stand on but I couldn’t see any holds below so had to have a good lean out to look. Yep, the holds I’d come up on were indeed still there… However, every time I reached down with my next numb hiking boot, I couldn’t find them and my leg waved around in mid-air. I raised back up again and had another lean out to look – yep, still there…

On my next attempt, I managed to locate the next foothold – this was a much better hold to stand on. I could see a couple more footholds further down which were very good and fished around for lower handholds to match. It was as I reached for the lower footholds, I gave my left knee an extremely hearty bang. I also realised at this point that it wasn’t the first bang I’d given it that day and that it was getting extremely sore – in fact, it was so bad this time I started to feel sick. I let go with one hand and gave it a rub but the weather was coming on pretty hard so it was time to get a move on.

I finished the rest of the descent without problems and with a sigh of relief and moved aside on a good ledge to let Andy come down. He very soon joined me on the ledge and I hobbled round it to the scree where Richard, seeing I was hobbling badly, kindly came down to meet us with my walking pole. We sat briefly at the top of the Great Stone Chute while I had another warming coffee, rubbed my knee some more, removed my harness and put my coat on – Richard was already togged up in full waterproofs.

A French couple had slogged all the way up the Great Stone Chute in lightweight ponchos and were milling around above the large drop off the screes into Coire a’ Ghrunnda which gave me the creeps a bit. Richard said that they’d been milling around a while and had looked at the ascent to Alasdair but not continued up it.

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By now it was hailing hard and exceedingly cold so we crammed everything back into our packs, shouldered them and slithered off down the zig-zag at the top of the Stone Chute. The French couple followed…

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To say I have a horror of steep scree, I now quite enjoy slithering down the Great Stone Chute – it never feels threatening and is fun in a perverse way – it’s also less dusty in the wet! So long as you always fall backwards, it’s a very short distance until you hit the ground as it is so steep – you must ensure you never pitch forwards though or you may get hurt. Even large boulders come down with you and everyone has a least one fall – we had one each. I had to stop a couple of times to empty the stones out of my boots too.

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By now the hail was consolidating in patches amongst the stones as it was so cold and we were getting very wet down the backs of our necks (you can’t really get a hood up over your helmet and we’d kept those on for the chute).

We eventually reached the bottom and the lovely Coire Lagan where I would usually have a stop for another coffee while I admired the corrie lochan and what I call ‘The Whales’ – the long, solid rock formations around the lip of the corrie. However, it was now so horrid we continued straight on out of the corrie and down. I got Richard to pause briefly to get this photo though…

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It was as we started the descent from the corrie, we heard and saw a mountain rescue helicopter coming overhead and hovering over Sgurr Dearg – that pretty much meant the In Pinn! By the time we reached the car and drove back out of Glen Brittle, there was a full callout underway and we were meeting mountain rescue vehicles with blue flashing lights – oh dear…

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Back at the Slig we had lovely leek and potato soup and rehydrated, Richard with a one of their pints of real ale, me with lime and soda and Andy on Coca-Cola. I sat and reflected that, amazingly, I’d had a superb day! I hadn’t thought it would be terribly worrying beforehand but was surprised to find I’d enjoyed the whole thing, except perhaps the long slog up the Sgumain Stone Chute and the little traverse under Sgumain.

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Peace reigns back at the campsite – I’m coming back as a cow!

Stats: 6.5 miles, 3521 feet of ascent (approx), 6 hours 20

P.S. The next day in the Slig, Andy found out from the Skye mountain rescue folks (Jonah) that the rescue had been for the In Pinn. I’m assuming that, as soon as it had started raining and the rock became greasy, some poor guy slipped on the ascent and, despite being on the rope, was badly injured and flown off to hospital. I suppose he would have pendulumed quite a way and hit the rock face hard. Poor guy – everyone’s worst nightmare!

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16 responses

4 08 2015
Rowena

Oof, a lot of that sounds scary but it is clear how much you enjoyed it! I think I will have to maybe start climbing soon. Did you ever find out re the Inn Pin story? Just wondered if that is what happened.

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13 08 2015
mountaincoward

I didn’t find out anything on Google at all for the In Pinn accident so only have what my guide got from the rescue guys that night. I was surprised not to see it mentioned anywhere…

It was a great day out – the next day was a lot scarier… 😉
Carol.

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31 07 2015
fedup

Fab 🙂 Looked a great day & your confidence is growing 😀 looks like the climbing is paying off!

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1 08 2015
mountaincoward

I think it’s more having the company of a guide. I end up doing a lot of the other scary stuff on my own and it does absolutely nothing for my confidence! 😦 It was a great day and I’d love to repeat it another year.

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31 07 2015
McEff

I was on the edge of my seat there all the way to the leek and potato soup. If you can do stuff like that then you can do anything.
Cheers, Alen

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1 08 2015
mountaincoward

Wait till you see the next day’s report!

Liked by 1 person

30 07 2015
Mark

You done well there! Andy took me and two others on the same route. I compleated my Munro Tops on Sgurr Thearlaich.

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31 07 2015
mountaincoward

I really liked Thearlaich – it was my favourite of the day 🙂

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29 07 2015
tessapark1969

Nice report and some great photos.

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29 07 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks Tessa

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28 07 2015
chrissiedixie

I would definitely have to be roped up for stuff like that, and probably with a bit of pushing and shoving, too!

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28 07 2015
mountaincoward

Wait till you see the next day! 😉

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28 07 2015
underswansea

Sounds like a great day in the mountains. Nothing cowardly about that climb! Very enjoyable post! Take care.

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28 07 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks – I was really surprised that I enjoyed it in the end but I did 🙂

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27 07 2015
Blue Sky Scotland

Lovely photos Carol and Richard. Glad you got a decent day for it even though it ended wet. I found myself that rock climbing does give you more scrambling confidence as you learn how to move better on steep rock. The rock climbs of Cioch Direct S, then Arrow Route VD, then Integrity S is one of the UK’s best lines up a cliff. Almost 1000 feet of sustained climbing at an easy-ish grade. Nice to see that part of the Cuillin again

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27 07 2015
mountaincoward

The only thing giving me the confidence is the rope I think – I even feel better even when there’s no real security, like when we’re all moving together on it! (probably shouldn’t!)… But I’m always careful and always have at least one handhold!

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