Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh & Banachdich Tops – Gripping Stuff!

13 08 2015

Thu 9 July 2015
This was the Cuillin round I’d been dreading ever since I’d decided to bag Munro Tops as it traverses the exceedingly narrow South Top of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh – probably the narrowest section of ridge in Scotland! I wanted good weather for this – no rain and no wind – as we’d saved this for the Thursday, I was lucky and it was a calm and fine day, although cold and dull.

I’d woken a couple of times in the night with nerves – how would I find the knife-edged ridge? Would I be terrified on the sections where I would have to sit astride and shuffle my way along? Was I even supple enough nowadays to shuffle along a ridge with no footholds on the sides? How long was that section and would my nerve hold out? At last it was time for me to get up and meet my guide Andy at The Slig to find out – I was almost relieved to get out of bed…

Photos taken by Andy Ravenhill as marked – click on for full size
We decided to take my car to Glenbrittle as his was now full of all his camping gear – that turned out to be a bad decision on the drive back! We parked up outside the Youth Hostel and booted up to set off up the Coire a’ Ghreadaidh track towards the An Dorus col.

The going up to the corrie is very easy but, it being my second day out in a row, I was more tired and making heavier weather of it. As we started the steeper climb up the corrie, I started to sweat and struggle. I became so hot I could feel my heart beating in my head and my hair was dripping with sweat – time to soak my buff! I gave my buff a good soaking in a couple of burns and stuck it back on my head – much better.

We had a short break before the long clamber up the An Dorus Stone Chute – this is a fairly stable stone chute compared to some and much shorter than the others – I still made very heavy weather of it. My confidence was well down too as, when Andy took us up on rocks slightly to the side of the stone chute for the firmer rock, I was very grabby for the holds. Suddenly we were in the An Dorus gap – it was much smaller than I remembered from last time – before, it was a few feet through it and there was a small shelter at one end to leave your pack if you were doing Mhadaidh and Ghreadaidh. This time it went straight down the drop at the back to the Loch Coruisk side – not sure what’s happened there.

We had already harnessed up and put our helmets on so Andy quickly sorted the rope, clipped me on and set off up the short Grade 3 scramble out of the gap while telling me the best way to tackle it. This was my second time up this scramble and I didn’t have a problem with it – nor do I find it alarming as you would only clatter back the short distance to the gap if you got it wrong and weren’t on a rope.

From here on, I did much less well than my original ascent of Ghreadaidh a couple of years back where I hadn’t found it at all difficult or exposed and had just more or less strolled up it. We took a slightly different route around the notch of the Eag Dubh which was actually easier than our previous one further left. But, despite there being no real problems, I refused to stand and walk up any slabby sections and insisted on handholds. I stood up to walk around ‘The Wart’ as that section is wide and easy – from there to the summit is relaxing walking.

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Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh – photo R Wood

On reaching the summit I looked ahead for the first time to the narrow ridge of the South Peak (last time I didn’t look further than the summit cairn) – it was indeed exceedingly narrow and lay across a short notch. I said I’d like to just get on with it rather than hang around.

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Photo R Wood

From here, Andy knew several ‘short-cuts’ where sections of steep and narrow wall are avoided on the right (west) – mostly, the drop down this side wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. However, the side was loose in places and the paths along the ledges fairly small so I just concentrated on my hands and feet and didn’t give more than an occasional cursory check of the drop.

We’d soon crossed the gap and had to reascend to the ridge proper for the South Top, my first Munro Top of the day. We clambered easily back up on a path until we reached the rocks of the knife-edge ridge – on arrival I saw it really was pretty narrow. Luckily, there wasn’t always a massive drop straight down both sides, often one side or the other had a bit of a scree ‘ledge’ some way below so you weren’t looking down the whole mountain and the right-hand side is a mixture of steep scree and crags. The left-hand side is mostly pretty sheer though and for a long way…

It isn’t obvious which of the humps along the top is the actual summit but I suspect it is the first one we reached which had a couple of rocks perched atop it. I tapped that section and posed for a photo (Andy kindly took the photos along the ridge – I didn’t have spare hands and nerves to get my camera out of my pack lid).

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Photo Andy Ravenhill

We then swapped places – I moved onto where he’d just STOOD! I was pretty scared on this part of the ridge as it was a nasty drop and very narrow indeed – I couldn’t even turn round for the photo and so he just had to take one of me from the back clinging hard to the ridge in a kneeling position! I did turn my head and attempt a smile…

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Ooo-errr! 😮 Photo Andy Ravenhill

He then shuffled past me – on what I can’t imagine and I was terrified he’d fall to his doom. In many places along the seemingly long ridge, you could walk along the Coruisk side (over the nastier drop) on decent footholds and hold onto the ridge top – I didn’t mind these sections and progressed well.

Suddenly, we came to the section most folks have to shuffle along sitting astride – I have to admit to not noticing how Andy tackled it as I was pretty busy. When I got there I started with my characteristic ‘awful face-pulling’ but didn’t say anything and grimly edged my way across with a knee either side of the ridge. This section was probably about ten feet long and very smooth and holdless. From there, I was relieved to once again find footholds and flatter sections of ridge-top to continue on.

We finally reached what I thought was the highest point at the far end of the ridge – this was quite a bit wider and grassy topped but didn’t have any stones piled on it. I asked Andy to take a photo along the narrow ridge for me and then we set off down the loose right-hand (west) side to take more scrappy paths below the ridgeline for the descent to the col – you can stay on the more solid ridgeline if you want but it will be more exposed.

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Smiling at last… Photo Andy Ravenhill

I could see the lovely wide and grassy col with a bivvy spot outlined in stones way below and couldn’t wait to reach it. However, there was quite a long way to go down the ridge and quite a bit of clambering about – I still ensured I had superb handholds all the way.

Eventually, with a sigh of relief from me, we reached the lovely col and stopped for a nice long break sitting and gazing out over the lovely Loch Coruisk. I got my camera out and took a few shots back up where we’d come from and where we had to go. It was even quite warm on the col and the sun was trying, unsuccessfully, to get through the cloud so felt very pleasant indeed.

Descent from Ghreadaidh S Ridge
Descent from Ghreadaidh South Top (my digi-photo)

Banachdich from Ghreadaidh col
Sgurr Alasdair and Sgurr Dearg (In Pinn) (my digi-photo)

Loch Coruisk from Ghreadaidh-Banachdich col
Loch Coruisk (my digi-photo)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t remain on the lovely col forever and packed back up to start on the onward narrow ridge. The first ‘obstacle’ is a set of pinnacles called ‘The Three Teeth’ – from the ridge it only really looks like one though. These are easily bypassed on a ledge path on the left (south-east) side – the only problem here is looking, not just where you’re putting your feet, but also what’s aiming at your head as the pinnacles overhang the path. Several times I looked up just in time not to bash my head and potentially knock myself off the ridge. It was a very long way down into the corrie just here!

After passing the pinnacles, the ridge widened and an easy slope ascended to my second Munro Top of Sgurr Thormaid. This was basically fine but I was still a bit grabby on the final slabs and insisted again on handholds all the way up them – of course, Andy just walked up (as most people do).

The view from the summit was uncomfortably airy as the descent side looks exceedingly steep and there is a big drop down steep scree to the corrie far below. We met a runner doing the Cuillin Ridge here and Andy chatted with him briefly. Andy led most of the down-scramble apart from a more difficult section where it was better for him to be above me on the rope in case I slipped. I did the whole down-scramble facing out and there was no real difficulty once you got started.

From the foot of the descent of Thormaid, we descended more loose stuff round a jutting rock wall. Then we had to start the long climb up the very loose side of Sgurr Banachdich. I was pretty uneasy up this section as it was so long and steep and pretty loose and I kept wanting to call for the rope – but I kept my mouth shut and kept going. Where the face got more solid and rocky, I was quite a bit happier and had the odd rest when I felt I had a big enough boulder behind me for comfort. Andy told one descending guy he’d taken ‘an interesting route’ – when I peered over the shoulder to see, he had indeed – there was a humungous drop down sheer crags below where he’d come down – a lot braver than me, that’s for sure!

I was glad to reach the summit of Banachdich (and even gladder we hadn’t had to descend that slope) and we sat for another rest. I took a few more photos but the north wind was really catching us here and I was soon frozen so we set off.

The Sweep to Ghreadaidh S Top
The Route so far from Banachdich (my digi-photo)

Thormaid & The Ghreadaids
Thormaid, the Three Teeth & The Ghreadaidhs (my digi-photo)

Now I just had one more Munro Top to do but it wasn’t certain which of the two peaks it was (and I hadn’t brought my Munro book on this trip) so we decided we must do both and descend from the Bealach Banachdich to Coire Banachdich – a tricky route without a guide.

The first of these tops has a reputation for fierceness and, as we descended down loose sides to it (me with my constant handholds still), it looked fairly nasty. Luckily, it was still grippy gabbro and Andy had a great route up it (there are several). We traversed along a narrow but solid ledge just above the screes and then set off up a wide gully. This felt very steep to me going up and I was a bit nervous about re-descending it but, on reaching the top of it and turning to climb the final blocks to the ridge, I could see it was very easy and not steep at all!

The summit ridge had an ascent of some large, easy blocks, a short slither down one block to a narrow neck which fortunately didn’t feel exposed, and then a clamber onto the following blocks and we were right by the summit cairn. Much easier than I’d thought it would be. The continuation ridge is very difficult, narrow and exposed but we’d already decided we’d go back down the same way for the path under the ridge to the next peak.

Banachdich Centre Top
Banachdich Centre Top (my digi-photos)
Banachdich & Centre Top

When we’d descended back to the fairly easy path (but loose so I still insisted on handholds all the way), we strode out a bit for the final peak. The path goes easily over the final top and continues on down to a flat section running along the rim of the corrie wall where I could finally walk properly for a while. My arms were glad of the rest, especially my hands which had started to get cut up and had quite a few worn-out and bleeding fingerends by now.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and we were soon starting the never-ending descent down the corrie. This really did seem to go on forever to me as it was rocky and loose and I had to revert to lowering down everything with my arms again – partly because I didn’t trust my feet on the loose slope and partly because my legs had lost any ability to lower me any more!

As we descended, the various pains moved around my body, sometimes in series and sometimes all at once. My knees were hurting badly as my quads had by now stopped working – Andy offered me a pole but I wanted my hands free for the loose ground. Surprisingly, my worn hip fortunately wan’t bothering me at all. But at some stage my ankle and lower right leg decided they’d had enough and went weak and started collapsing at every uncushioned thump down every step of rock.

Periodically, I get Morton’s Neuromas (inflammation of the nerves between the toe bones) on either foot – now both feet at once got them – these are pretty painful. My arms and wrists were starting to ache and my fingerends were on fire. I was glad when I found cold water running down rocks and could stick my hands in it to soothe them. I tried at one point putting lip salve on my fingerends but it wore off almost immediately as I grabbed on down the sharp-grained gabbro rocks.

Coire Banachdich1
Coire Banachdich (my digi-photo)

I kept looking at the grass on the corrie floor and couldn’t wait to reach it. Unfortunately, by the time we eventually reached the flatter grass, I was tired and in pain and the easing of the angle of descent didn’t help as my legs were too knackered to walk properly. Even the pleasant and scenic descent from the corrie to the road seemed to last forever – the road, when we reached it, seemed never-ending back to the car and I was staggering very near to passing cars.

Eas Mor from side & Dead Tree
Descending back to road (my digi-photo)

At last we reached the car and I sank exhaustedly down – I think even Andy was pretty glad to sit down and get boots, packs and coats off. But he was on his sixth day out of seven in the Cuillin!! Luckily, as it was so cold, there weren’t any midges so we could just sit with the doors open and take things off slowly.

Driving back up Glen Brittle, I was way too tired to concentrate properly and my legs were anyway not working – if I wanted to brake, I had to haul my right thigh up and across for the brake pedal with my hand. Meeting an oncoming campervan with a motorbike behind it, they stopped in a passing place and I approached far too fast. I went round them to find that the passing place suddenly ended with a drop into the ditch and, not having time to stop, had to literally ‘jump’ the car across the gap to the road at the other side. The car gave a huge bang – so loud the motorcyclist looked round for a while before he set off to see whether I’d actually left the road and crashed. Poor Polo – I felt terrible.

Back at the Slig again, we both had lovely spicy tomato soups, crisps and a long drink each. Andy was due to set off for home at last straight afterwards. By the time I got back to the cottage and met Richard (who’d had a lovely day on the south end of Raasay), I was too exhausted to do more than get cleaned up, force some food down, drink lots and sprawl on the sofa. I couldn’t even manage the walk to the pub as my legs were dangerously knackered from several hours of constant scrambling so Richard went alone while I mindlessly watched TV.

Stats: 7 miles, 4043 feet of ascent, 8 hours exactly

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27 responses

5 09 2015
Rowena

I don’t know how I missed this one! Epic climb – just wow! Looks exhausting and exhilarating all the way – well done!

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7 09 2015
mountaincoward

Now I’m back from Skye I feel I’d quite like to do it again! LOL
Carol.

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3 09 2015
3 Trips Thursday #47 - walkwithtookie

[…] Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh & Banachdich Tops – Gripping Stuff! […]

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26 08 2015
rrogerson2014

If you do this I have no idea how you can be a coward !

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26 08 2015
mountaincoward

I had a guide though – I can do it with a guide. You want to see/hear me (whimpering and trying to talk myself across bad bits) on my own!

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26 08 2015
rrogerson2014

I think that goes through a lot of people’s minds. It certainly does through mine. Most people don’t admit it though.

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26 08 2015
mountaincoward

I admit it out loud! 😉

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18 08 2015
tessapark1969

That sounds both scary and exhausting! I assume that’s the Cuillin finished off now?

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18 08 2015
mountaincoward

Unfortunately, it is – I say unfortunately as now I just want to go back up and do some more… surprisingly!

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17 08 2015
Mark

Well done that woman! Terrific account of a difficult section of the ridge. How many Munro Tops left?

I did this pair as any out and back from Bannadich. It was as difficult day in the hills I’ve had in years. The weather was cloudy and wet. We struggled to find the correct line from Bannadich down to the col under Thormaid. We found the onward route to the South Top of Ghreadaidh very greasy but the route finding disconcertingly obvious. Sitting on the ridge and gripping with our knees we shuffled along the narrowest section beyond the Top before realising we’d overshot. The return journey was just as worrying. Consequently we discovered that we aren’t happy on grade 3 scrambles in the rain!

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17 08 2015
mountaincoward

At least you guys did it without a guide! But really, apart from being tired towards the end and finding bits of it scary, the guide made all the difference and I quite enjoyed a lot of it and didn’t find it anything like as worrying as I thought I would. Andy said I did quite well too – I just kept going and didn’t do any verbal fretting like I subjected you to on Meall Dearg! I think the rope helps a lot too psychologically.

I had another read of your report just before I left for Skye. You got some superb photos along the ridge – wish I could do photography and scary ridges at the same time but I’m afraid I can’t! And you can only ask the guide to take so many really…

15 to go… If you’re ever wondering though, you can check on my ‘News and Totals’ page as I’m keeping a running total on there. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to finish them all this year as I have too many ‘stand-alone’ ones now and the rest of our trips are weeks in cottages in certain areas where I have a lot of peaks outstanding. The left-over ones will be next year I think now.

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17 08 2015
Paul Shorrock

Well done Carol, a real achievement – you’re in danger of losing your ‘Mountain Coward’ status 🙂

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18 08 2015
mountaincoward

Only guided unfortunately… I’m getting very brave on a rope and with a guide…

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16 08 2015
McEff

I think you need to change the name of your blog to The Adventures of a Mountain Hero (or should that be Heroine?). You would never get me along there in a month of Sundays. Gripping stuff.
All the best, Alen

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16 08 2015
mountaincoward

It’s different with a guide – I couldn’t do it on my own and still struggle badly with my confidence when I have to tackle tricky stuff alone. I’ve always been better when out with other people or a group…

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15 08 2015
Simon Howlett

An epic climb, Carol. Probably a bit too severe for me but maybe one day I’ll attempt something like this. Will have to do it while there’s still a bit of life left in me!

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16 08 2015
mountaincoward

It’s fine with a guide – there are no actually difficult moves, just exposure. You just need to really concentrate on the moves and try to forget that bit!

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14 08 2015
smackedpentax

WOW! What a climb – reminds me a bit of Sharpe Edge on Blencathra, you have tons of bottle Carol 🙂

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14 08 2015
mountaincoward

Only with a guide and a rope – I’m not so good up those places on my own unfortunately!

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14 08 2015
bob

Well done Carol. Good going for your age group too as most folk, including myself, are starting to take things easier and are less motivated for several consecutive long mountain outings. My heart’s definitely not in it anymore by the 3rd hill day :o)

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14 08 2015
mountaincoward

I don’t think I can do three days in a row now 😦 The guide was only 4 years younger than me though and he’d done 6 out of 7 days in a row up there! No idea how he does it!

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13 08 2015
underswansea

Cripes! That sounds like a climb. I enjoyed following along with your post, would not have enjoyed it in person! 🙂 You know you’ve worked your way up when your hands are hurting as much as the rest of your body. I remember my father’s legs cramping after we returned from a climb. I had to drive the old International down the mountain. He was in his late 50’s I was about 14. We used to laugh about it. Now I don’t! Wonderful post. Take care.

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14 08 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks. Actually I have really fond memories of it now I’ve had a rest! 😉

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13 08 2015
chrissiedixie

Oh my, Carol! Most of those photos look quite scary, but that one of you kneeling looks positively terrifying!!

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14 08 2015
mountaincoward

That bit certainly was! I’ve no idea how he stood on it!

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13 08 2015
Gaslight Crime

Terrific stuff!

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13 08 2015
mountaincoward

Thanks John 🙂

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