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Day Two on the Cuillin Ridge

01

Despite the marvels of the star filled sky almost twelve hours of darkness seemed a little too much in my thin and lightweight sleeping bag. I was I suppose quite comfortable up until 4am but having had by then eight hours of sleep I was cold and eager to get going. You’d have to really know the ridge well to travel along in darkness though and not possessing that level of knowledge myself there was another hour or so of star gazing ahead of me before I could creep out into the gloaming and set the stove going for breakfast.

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A touch of frost lay on the windward side of our bivi bags and the surrounding rocks and although we both enjoyed a slow creep back into action accompanied by two or three reviving brews we were I think both glad to be warmed up properly again by the twenty minute pull back up to the main ridge. Climbing gear collected we were on our way again although this morning with a certain amount of caution so as to avoid being caught out by the seeps of now frozen water which lay waiting in ambush for a carelessly placed step.

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The crossing of Sgurr a Ghreadaidh isn’t one of the more difficult sections of the ridge but it is one a continual interest. Just the thing to start our day with I thought. Enjoyable scrambling all of the way but without the need for Martin and me to resort to the rope which allowed for a flowing continual movement all done within a wonderfully rich morning light.

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Sgurr a Ghreadaidh’s neighbour Sgurr a Mhadaidh is a different kettle of fish. The traverse of its four tops holds a greater challenge in terms of route finding and the difficulty of the climbing. Both of us knowing the mountain reasonably well and having walked all of the dead ends before, the route finding today was straight forward enough and the tricker of the climbing pitches rendered harmless by swift deployment of the rope. The next peak of Bidean Druim nan Ramh, another favourite spot of mine, offers a similar level of difficultly. Here the tricker sections are taken in descent and to avoid some pretty exposed sections of down climbing we, as many folk do, employed two abseils to reach the narrow col between the mountain’s Central and North top.

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Whilst on Bidean Druim nan Ramh we were overtaken by the first of a number of early starting ridge traversers making a fast, single day crossing. As I watched them blast off into the distance I’m slightly ashamed to admit that a small part of me envied their speed. Martin soon set me right though as we were laying back and brewing up on the flat grass of Bealach Harta. Fast ridge travellers deny themselves the wonderful and simple pleasure of the tea break.

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For the confident scrambler there now follows a long section of quite swift and easy travel before the ridge traverse culminates with a final flourish of steeper scrambling near its end. An Caisteal via its South Ridge gives a gradual ascent with the highlight being the leap across the third and final of its celebrated gaps. Descent down An Caisteal’s north side would be awkward but an abseil can be made to render harmless the short steep section directly above the col that connects it to Sgurr na Bhairnich and ultimately Bruach na Frithe.

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Having made the long pull up to the summit of Bruach na Frithe Martin and me where very much on the home straight. We’d visited both Am Bastier and Sgurr nan Gillean on Monday not really dreaming that we’d be back on a ridge traverse this week. To add variety today and in keeping with our idea of visiting new places where possible we choose to ascend the Bastier Tooth via the Lota Corrie Route. There’s a fair bit of height lost to reach the start of this scramble but not as much as another option of dodging round and back up to gain Am Bastier via its East Ridge. Our height loss was quickly regained as once the steep start is done the rest of the Lota Corrie Route to the summit of the Bastier Tooth is quick and fairly easy. Martin and me really were on familiar ground now. The high step and sideways heave to unlock the way to the summit of Am Bastier then the hop over the ‘Bad Step’ on Am Bastier’s East Ridge then on to our final peak of Sgurr nan Gillean.

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With rucksacks left at its base the West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean via the Tooth Arete was a delight and the summit itself a place to linger and to take in the view of everywhere we’d been in what surely must be among the best two days of mountaineering that you’d ever hope to find.

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