Bruach na Frithe North Ridge

11 07 2016

Tue 24 May 2016
This was day three of our climbing club’s Glenbrittle Memorial Hut meet and I was starting to learn… Learn to climb better? no… learn to scramble better? nope… I was starting to learn that no-one was going to ask me to accompany them on anything being done by the various members of the club. Time to take a different tack…

Bruach na Frithe North Ridge Profile

click on photos for full size/resolution – camera: Olympus Trip 35 non-SLR film camera

My meet had got off to a rather unpromising start when I turned up on Saturday night after a ten hour drive and walked into the hut to find I didn’t recognise those assembled there! They clearly didn’t recognise me either. After checking, I found they weren’t my club at all but a club from Inverness and that I wasn’t booked in that night!

I offered to leave but they wouldn’t hear of it and found me a bed and then proceeded to chat happily to me for the evening. They were a great bunch ๐Ÿ™‚ As they were due to leave the next day, I assumed I’d arrived a day early – duhhh!

Before they left in the morning, they were doing various walks and asked if I wanted to join them on any of them. I thanked them but said I was going to break myself in gently and just do the seven mile walk to Rubha an Dunain – a very popular walk which I really enjoyed and may post in the future.

Sunday arrived and so did my club in ones and twos during the afternoon. That evening they quickly linked up into small groups after discussing what they wanted to do. I didn’t like to impose so had waited to be asked to join some of them – possibly a mistake. A guy I’ve climbed with before was doing Window Buttress which was the one climb I’d announced on the club forum I was interested in doing. I asked who he was climbing it with and it was a new girl who I’d never met before – he seemed quite frosty about me asking…

None of the regular members even asked what me what I was going to be doing until the two new guys piped up and asked me what my plans were. When I said I didn’t appear to have any but had fancied Window Buttress at some point, one said I could join them to make a rope of three. I thought I’d just make life difficult for them doing that and was quickly losing confidence anyway so thanked him but said I’d leave it.

I spent the Monday on the Red Cuillin (future post) as I don’t have the confidence to tackle the Black Cuillin on my own. On the Monday evening, I gathered from various snatches of conversation that something big was afoot and probably the whole group were going on it – but I still hadn’t been asked. I asked one of the really friendly guys and he said everyone was planning to meet up with an ex-club member who is now in the Skye Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) and do the North Ridge of Bruach na Frithe.

I waited all evening to be invited as it hadn’t officially been mentioned to me but no-one said anything. I comforted myself with the fact that it was quite an early start which I wouldn’t enjoy and went off to bed feeling a bit like an outcast.

In the morning, I found I was awake at 0745 anyway so determined to get up and join the party whether they liked it or not. I headed off outside as the group headed in various batches for the cars. My friend Dick asked me what I was planning for the day and I announced loudly I was coming with them! He was really pleased and quickly got me a lift.

We arrived to meet the MRT guy (sorry, can’t remember his name) at the Slig by 0900 and were soon off up the good track to the Bealach a’ Mhaim – the pass which runs from Sligachan to Glenbrittle. I hadn’t done this side of the pass before and found it very beautiful with lots of lovely waterfalls and pools – far nicer than the other side. I was very surprised at this point though just how fast we were racing up the path behind the MRT guy… I hoped he would slow to a more sensible pace as we reached the foot of the hill – I can’t run up hills!

From Slig to Bealach a' Mhaim falls

Slig to Bealach a' Mhaim Cascades

Slig to Bealach a' Mhaim Waterfalls

As we turned uphill towards the corrie and the start of the ridge, we didn’t slow one jot and I found I couldn’t keep up any more. There looked to be a couple of other oldies like myself who were also having trouble keeping up but I was definitely trending to the back of the group – something I’m not used to as it’s never happened before ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Bruach North Ridge from Fionn Choire
The North Ridge lies in wait…

After climbing at a furious pace for ages, we reached a lochan on a shoulder near the start of the ridge. MRT guy stopped the group for a break. While I was desperate for a bite to eat (which shows how ridiculously fast we’d been going as I never normally eat so early on the hill), I reluctantly decided that I’d best continue along with the couple of people who said they wouldn’t bother with the break but would plod up the ridge at their own pace!

I quickly shoved a shortcake finger down and a swig of water and plodded off up the hill after them. I was lucky to find a good zig-zag up the scree which helped enormously. I kept looking behind to see if I was being pursued and looking up ahead at the people who were probably older than me but still leaving me behind! I was wondering whether they’d been right not to ask me after all…

I found them sat on the ridgeline just before the start of the scramble. I also found I wasn’t very happy sitting on this part of the ridge as I was finding it extremely airy at this point – not a good start to a ridge scramble.

I looked across to a grim-looking rocky peak down in the glen below us and wondered what it was. Suddenly I realised it was actually Sgurr an Fheadain and I was looking at ‘The Spur’ – the other route I’d set my mind on before coming on the meet. I found I was rapidly going off the idea!

The Spur, Fheadain from above

The others took quite a while to join us on the ridge and the MRT guy was quite a way behind the others. A few people commented that they hoped we might slow down now so at least it wasn’t just me who was under strain trying to keep up.

We put harnesses and helmets on at this stage and I gathered we had three ropes between us for anyone who needed it. I think they were only really expecting one guy to ask for the rope though – a friend of a club member who hadn’t done any scrambling before. I asked Dick if he would keep with me as I was feeling nervous – he said he also got nervous off the rope but we’d keep together.

Pretty soon we set off for the start of the scrambling and I have to say it started off fine with a slight clamber up big blocks followed by a long walk along the top of a narrow but flat rocky ridge. So far, so good.

But then we reached the ‘difficult bit’ – where the ridge suddenly rears up and the scrambling gets very difficult. As I proceeded up the ridge, I was amazed it was only classed as a Grade 2 scramble when things like Sgurr nan Gillean’s south-east ridge is a Grade 3 – that only has one awkward section up a short, exposed slab but is otherwise fine. There were some pretty hard moves on this ridge!

Bruach North Ridge - never Grade 2!
side profile

The ridge was now only 2-3 feet wide and rising up in large blocks, some about 5 feet high with not many holds to get onto them. There was a long and daunting steep scree slope with broken rocks to the right going 3000 feet down to the glen and the left side was sometimes vertical crag. The only thing I can think keeping the ridge at Grade 2 is that I think all the difficulties are avoidable on scrappy, loose paths on the right-hand side.

On one bad section, the guy who hadn’t scrambled before was offered a rope by the MRT guy – I stood immediately behind him and quickly asked to also come up on the rope – I think I detected a frown but clipped in anyway when my turn came.

We soon reached an awkward chimney which I fancied having a go at but definitely not unroped! At this point no ropes were out so I led a small band around on the paths to the right. We clambered up to an exposed position above the chimney where I clung with both hands to a comforting block of rock (in typical mountain coward fashion) and tried to keep out of the way of others coming up. The guy who was new to scrambling was with me and not looking happy either.

By now the rope had come out again and people were being roped up the chimney but I decided not to go back round for a go. A few of us stood and assessed the next section of ridge and I declared that I was no longer happy off the rope, especially with the looseness of the rock. Dick agreed with me that the scrambling was getting pretty hairy and serious. He clambered up the first block and set up a belay.

One of the Martins (there were three) kindly set off with the other end of the rope up the ridge… we watched as the rope continued to disappear out of sight until there was no spare left – Dick shouted to Martin to tell him. The rope stopped and the MRT guy caught us up and said he wasn’t happy with the amount of rope run out along the ridge as people would pendulum a long way if they fell off. I was certain I wouldn’t fall off but really needed the security of being on the rope.

In the end, the MRT guy roped me up and along quite a bit of the rest of the ridge while Martin looked after his friend the new scrambler. This worked pretty well and we all continued happily along the ridge. Even with my very long legs I still found some of the moves pretty hard.

In the final easy stages near the summit I unroped and continued up to the summit cairn for a good rest in the hot sun. I was absolutely sweltered as, due to being on Doxycycline anti-biotics for Lyme Disease (earlier report), I’d gone sun-sensitive for the first time in my life and had to cover up. Dick had kindly lent me a long-sleeved and collared shirt (which was luckily miles too big so covered my hands) and I’d sweated heavily up the ridge and smelt so awful I could barely bear to sit with myself! I generally walk in a short-sleeved t-shirt most of the year…

Bruach na Frithe North Ridge from summit
Looking back down the ridge…
Bruach North Ridge from summit(portrait)

Everyone arrived on the summit and we sat having a long break – the MRT guy’s sandwich leapt off over the drop down the side of the hill which caused some hilarity. My camera choice also caused quite a stir when everyone noticed it was a film camera.

Sgurr a' Bhairneach
south from the summit

We eventually set off down towards the snowy ramps below Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire which I wanted to do again but no-one else did – it’s a lovely little peak.

Bruach to Gillean
l – r: Bruach na Frithe ridge, Am Basteir, Sgurr nan Gillean (behind), Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire

Fionn Choire, Am Basteir & Gillean
close-up of the lovely Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire

Bruach North Ridge from Bealach nan Lice
North Ridge from descent to Bealach

Bruach na Frithe with snow
Bruach na Frithe from bealach – North Ridge on right

At Bealach nan Lice the group split up as Dick, John and I wanted to do Sgurr a’ Bhasteir while the others were going on to Am Basteir (I felt I’d had enough excitement for one day! they ended up turning back anyway for some reason)

Dick and John were going to descend the ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir to Coire a’ Bhasteir – I said I’d have a look but suspected I would just do the ridge to the summit and back.

Sgurr a' Bhasteir from Bealach a' Lice
Sgurr a’ Bhasteir from Bealach nan Lice

The ridgeline looked quite narrow so I hastened along it so that, if I came back that way, Dick would still be around if I found I didn’t like it.

Sgurr a' Bhasteir Easy Summit Ridge

Dick on Sgurr a' Bhasteir
Dick and John following

I soon found that the ridge, although rocky and a bit scrambly, was absolutely delightful.

Sgurr a' Bhasteir Summit Ridge

Sgurr a' Bhasteir Summit
Dick and John on the summit

I had a peer down their descent ridge and decided not to bother as it was again quite scrambly and I didn’t want to do any more scrambling. I said farewell to them both and skipped back along the ridge to descend my favourite route into Fionn Choire.

Am Basteir & Sgurr a' Fionn Choire Skyline
Heading back to the spectacular Bealach nan Lice

Am Basteir & Tooth Profile
Am Basteir and Basteir Tooth

Sgurr nan Gillean Pinnacle Ridge
Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillean

I was soon heading out of the corrie past the lovely gorge system I’d seen on my first visit to Bruach na Frithe.

Lochan in Fionn Choire
Leaving Fionn Choire

At the Bealach a’ Mhaim once again, I decided to descend to Fairy Pools on the Glenbrittle side. I’d forgotten the others were doing Am Basteir and thought they’d just be descending to the Slig so would leave before I got there.

It was roasting hot and very airless during the descent to Fairy Pools and I started to dread my oncoming long walk down Glen Brittle. I was right to dread it – when I reached the four miles down the glen road, it was purgatorial in the immense heat.

I route-marched down the road keeping a good pace in order to get the hot walk over with. At one point I was pleased to find a cherry tomato on the verge and quickly gobbled it up – welcome liquid sustenance! (I did give it a quick wipe first, honest) ๐Ÿ˜‰

The four miles seemed never-ending and I was following a foreign couple who collapsed on a bridge just before our hut. I knew how they felt – no doubt they were going the further half mile to the campsite at the beach. All the way along the road I’d been hoping one of our group would pass me in a car and offer me a lift. I didn’t like to stick my thumb out to passing cars though as I felt I was too smelly to inflict myself on strangers!

When I got back to the hut I found I was first back and couldn’t get the key safe to unlock and release the key. Luckily there was some shade to sit in and I still had a bit of water left to drink.

Stats: 13 miles, 3309 feet of ascent

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21 responses

17 07 2016
Simon Howlett

Another great adventure, Carol. I hope to do walks like this next time I visit Skye. Still concentrating on the Wainwrights, progress is slow, 91 left to do! ๐Ÿ™‚

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17 07 2016
mountaincoward

I’ll be going back to mainly Wainwrights (and hopefully Snowdonia) when I’ve finished my Munro Tops. I’d like to cut down to 2 visits to Scotland a year if possible – for my cars’ sakes if nothing else!

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17 07 2016
Simon Howlett

Have fun completing the Munro Tops. I know what you mean with the car, mine has travelled all over the country and to the Somme as well – so it needs a good rest! It’s only a little Peugeot 107 but copes very well with the long distance trips.

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18 07 2016
mountaincoward

Mine are only little – I don’t do big cars nowadays!

Liked by 1 person

13 07 2016
Paul Shorrock

Great account Carol. I’ve never been a ‘clubby’ type, and reading your report I think I know why!

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14 07 2016
mountaincoward

Unfortunately, if you can’t find a climbing partner, which after 2 years I couldn’t, you don’t have a choice!

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13 07 2016
underswansea

Very fine report. Great shots! I read it last night but didn’t know what to say. Good to hear you captivated the rest of the gang with your ‘antique’ camera. Part of being in the mountains with friends/teammates is not only the camaraderie, but the focus on a goal, maybe that is the top of a mountain. My father had a rule in the mountains, you only went as fast as the slowest in your party. Sometimes it takes more skill to get to the top that way. Sometimes you don’t make the top. Everyone stays safe and nobody is too exhausted to make it back. That’s rule number one. After all, when you are at the top you are really only half way there. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hiked with my kids a few weeks ago. We went up a steep 7000 ft mountain. They could have ran up the slope. About a mile along the trail, I said, “See how slow I’m going? I can go that fast all day long.” I bet you are the same. Keep showing them the ‘film’ camera. Take care.

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14 07 2016
mountaincoward

Hi Bob, that is absolutely me (and Richard) nowadays – we plod along and can keep going all day with no problem – but we can’t run up the hills any more.

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12 07 2016
bowlandclimber

Fantastic area to scramble in, well done. I think I would join a more friendly club if I was you. Fortunately I’ve always been confident enough to do my own thing and gained so much more pleasure from that. Each to one’s own.

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12 07 2016
mountaincoward

Well it’s funny that as, on climbing meets to the local crags, they’ve always been fine. I also joined them for their Braemar meet and they were also fine then – but that was a walking meet. I think it was possibly that I’m a bit of an unknown quantity on the more major climbs and possibly no-one wanted their day ruining. Having said that, I know of other bloggers who’ve gone on their club meets and been welcomed on scrambles they probably wouldn’t have tackled on their own.

Maybe I should have spoken up and tried to join with the little groups organising stuff but I thought I should really wait to be asked. I did sit in the lounge with them and show a lot of interest in their plans as a hint but it didn’t work. I definitely won’t be going on the Skye Meet again – I’ll just stick to going with Richard and hiring a guide if I want one – but I’ll go on the walking and more general meets.

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13 07 2016
bowlandclimber

That sounds a good compromise.

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12 07 2016
tessapark1969

Interesting report which covered some of my pet hates! Cliques and people storming off at Mach 1 which drives me nuts. I don’t like being made to walk faster than usual – went off faster than usual by accident on Scafell Pike recently and really paid for it later.

Must admit I would have just asked to join a group (like you eventually did) or done my own thing. In my club the walks are more organised and you sign up for one but the leader has to take responsibility for planning, navigation etc so a lot of people don’t want that. I don’t mind but am aware I’m slower than some so am honest about pace. Once nobody wanted to come on my walk so I just went off on my own and had a fabulous winter day with an inversion.

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12 07 2016
mountaincoward

I think group meet etiquette is a hard one and I wasn’t sure what I should have done really. I’m fairly new to clubs and meets believe it or not, normally walking either alone so I can suit myself or with the ever-obliging Richard.

Liked by 1 person

12 07 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

That’s one of the drawbacks of getting old. If you were still a bright young thing I’m sure you would get loads of offers to go climbing. Most clubs I’ve been in naturally develop into a consortium of cliques with folk banding together in little groups. I often get on better with total strangers these days but as you get older finding new friends is harder, even for someone like me who will talk to anyone. I remember doing that ridge a few times but not in any great detail as it was years ago.

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12 07 2016
mountaincoward

I noticed that with one of the guides I hired on Skye – as I wasn’t a bright young thing, he often got sidetracked with other bright young and attractive things on the hill! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Liked by 1 person

11 07 2016
fedup

Haven’t done any of the three in that group so good to see ๐Ÿ˜€

Great account as usual, will you be joining your club again?

Cheers Simon

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11 07 2016
mountaincoward

Not on Skye, no. I found that, in addition to not being asked on anything exciting and not daring to go alone, Glenbrittle ain’t a great location as, if you’re not on the Black Cuillin Ridge, it’s always an awkward and long drive just to get out of that glen and to the main stuff on Skye!

I went on a Braemar meet with the club and enjoyed that though so would go on other meets with them – just not climbing ones I think. I suppose that, if they took me up on a climb and I screwed up (not that I usually do), it would ruin their day anyway so I suppose I was expecting too much.

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11 07 2016
Mark

Nice account. Good to see an alternative route on The Cuillin. Andy took us up and over Sgurr Bhasteir on route to do Sgurr a Fionn Choire, Bhasteir Tooth and the now demoted Knights Peak.

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11 07 2016
mountaincoward

I think I’m going to take myself UP Sgurr Bhasteir next time I’m on the island (and hopefully Richard) as it looked okay really but I really had had enough scrambling for one day!

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11 07 2016
Gaslight Crime

Very dramatic, John B.

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11 07 2016
mountaincoward

It was a very dramatic ridge, that’s for sure – I had no idea how dramatic until I got on it!

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