Skye & Knoydart – Cuillin off in the Looney Bin.
Day 1 – Sligachan to Rubha an Dùnain.
Day 2 – Rubha an Dùnain to Glen Brittle
Day 3 – Sgùrr Alasdair & Eas Mor Falls
Day 4 – Fairy Pools & Bruach na Frith
Day 5 – Skye to Knoydart
Day 6 – Meall Bhuidhe & Luinne Bheinn
Day 7 – Last day in Inverie
Day 3 – Sgùrr Alasdair & Eas Mor Falls. 8½miles, 4407ft ascent
Up until the previous night I’d be wondering about going the long, exciting way round to Sgùrr Alasdair, taking in Sgurr nan Eag on the way. But having carefully pondered over these two pics from Kevin Woods and Steve Fallon I thought I might leave that for another day – when I had some company. For navigation and scramble-planning more than anything. But it does look tempting…!
So the easy way it was. Straight up the Great Stone Chute and back in time for tea! Such a simple plan, what could go wrong?
We set off with a decent enough start and a nice sunny morning. But I was soon to regret not finishing my porridge 10 minutes earlier as soon as I started the walk up Culnamean.
Passing the toilet block on the way out of the campsite I thought it would be wise to make one last use of the facilities as I suspected that bushes would be few and far between for the rest of the day. But as I left, I rejoined the path just in front of some chap with the bane of quiet-loving hill-walkers’ lives – the dreaded walking poles!! All the way up the hill now, about 20 or 30 yards behind me the pointless clack-clack-clack of his sticks shattered the otherwise perfect tranquility. Now I knew how a F1 driver must feel when he leaves the pit-lane a split-second too late and gets stuck behind a back-marker. Except the other way round as I was stuck in front. And as this path is only really going one way I was pretty sure he was going to be clackety-clack-clacking all the way up to the top. Bah.
And now the morning sun shining right in my face was becoming a bit tiresome too. We hadn’t even been going half an hour yet!
As we rose above Loch-an fhir Bhallaich the grass and heather started to thin out in favour of the exposed mafic and gabbro rock. One erratic looked very much (to me) like a giant hare, looking out over Loch Brittle like a kind of lepus Highlands Easter Island Moai.
Now we had attained a little altitude the scale of the surrounding peaks and ridges became clear. In the distance two tiny figures could possibly be heading up to the Cioche Pinnacle… I wonder if Sean Connery is still up there?!
From following a path of broken grass, we now followed a path of dusty broken stones, past the incongruous graffiti wall and paused to looked back at the view out over our first camp site at Carn Mor and out to Rùm and Canna.
The whale-like smooth excrescence of rock didn’t make any secret of which way the last glacier here was flowing – ie. downhill. And you couldn’t help but wonder as to how much ice would be bearing down on me if I was to find myself here 10,000 or years earlier.
Just over from here we arrived at the giant dell and the tranquil lochan at the foot of various vertiginous rock faces and scree slopes. It’s almost like a base-camp, a very strange – and indeed peaceful – place. Until the tell-tale scrunch-tinkle-tinkle-tinkles started.
The scrunch-tinkle-tinkle-tinkles are the signature sound of every foot-step up the Great Stone Chute. I’d read much about the Chute and seen various photos and seen plenty of it from afar over the past couple of days but this was my first close up view and to be honest I wasn’t sure if it looked as daunting as I earlier suspected it was going to be. Forgetting many of those photos I also figured that it wouldn’t stretch round the corner where it disappears out of sight and surely it would be easy-going after that. Ha!
I took a breath and set off. Set off that is after a brief but awkward chat with Wayne, the gregarious chatty brummie seen in the above photo. Awkward because I wasn’t really wanting a chat with someone stood next to me, let alone with someone 100 yards away in a peaceful mountain coire.
The path soon steepens shortly after starting off and you realise what a stupid thing to walk up it is. The size of the stones along what as evolved into a ‘path’ range from mere fragments and chippings, fine enough to grace any lime-lined country house avenue, to large chunks the size of footballs, and cripes it is tricky going!? Each step forward seems to result in sliding two steps back and the occasional chain reaction causing a minor avalanche of a yard’s worth of stone in front you was a tad disconcerting as you momentarily wondered if the whole lot was going to come tumbling down on you.
With Wayne way off, my own scrunch-tinkles were all I could hear, until I heard something awful – and unmistakable. The loud, echoing crack-smack-clap-tumble-rattle of a hastily descending boulder. With the confusion of the reverberations it was initially quite tricky to decide where it was coming from – and more importantly where it was going to. Hopefully it wasn’t heading towards my head. But thankfully it wasn’t, so I could relax and catch for posterity this threatening rock ‘n’ rolling wonder, the mountain reminding you who’s really in charge here.
Once the silence had returned Wayne and I looked at each other from afar as if you say “Phew!” and I carried on my ascent. But I’m not sure if you can best work out a method of ascending the Chute or even get used to it. All you can do is keep on going and know what to expect – my earlier assumptions that this might not be as bad I’d thought quickly fading with every footstep!
I had decided that the larger rocks were a bit more stable than the smaller bits, but the drawback is when their tumbling was stopped by your foot or shin you knew about it! They were also still very sharp under your bum.
But of course we slowly made progress up the Chute and after probably the best part of an hour we were up at the top of the section that was visible from the coire below.
We were now at the bottom of the chimney. And what I hadn’t realised was that there was still plenty of Stone Chute to go. But at least with it being enclosed it was slightly more easy-going as I stuck to the wall of chimney which offered both me and the stones under my feet some support.
While I’m not mountain-geology expert I wouldn’t have said this was much of a chimney, but it did feel a bit eerie inside. Very quiet – even for here and strangely chilled and very still. No sign of life – flora nor fauna to be seen anywhere. Quite a peculiar place to be really – much more than these photos suggests.
By now the mountain was getting busy – a lithe young Dutch chap came scampering past like a mountain goat late for a date. They’re not supposed to be used to hills!
Progress up the chimney was much quicker than before, especially as it got lighter and warmer as we got towards the top. The views from the col at the top of chimney over to Sgurr Dubh Mor were amazing. Made more so by either looking down at or being totally surrounded by nothing but bare rock.
There was now just a short but slightly exposed scramble up to the top. In my excitement of being over the worse and so near the top again I forgot to take a photo, but this is what we had left to do. Michel, the Dutch lad who’d sped past earlier was sitting here, seemingly beaten. He said he couldn’t or wouldn’t go any further which was a little ominous.
As I recall it only took a few more minutes to get up this last bit, and couldn’t have been more than 50 or 60 more feet of ascent, I think Michel had gone the wrong way perhaps – or maybe as I first thought he wasn’t used to hills after all!
Finally Wayne and I squeezed on to the tiny summit of Sgurr Alasdair, which was suitably decked out today too, as today was Scottish referendum day :-) and the view much looked much the better for it! I think that’s the ridge of Sgurr Coire an Lochan stretching out in the distance above.
Loch Coire Ghrunnda under Sgurr nan Eag with Soay over the water to left (I think…!) and Wayne sitting below the peak of Alasdair wondering if he can get across to Sgurr Coire an Lochain (I think! Please help me out if I’ve got any of these wrong!)
Four hours or so after setting off and it’s time to go home. All down hill from here and although I rarely look forward to descents anyways, I knew this one was not going to much fun at all!
On the way down I saw a chap across the coire coming down the scree very adeptly. He’s lucky he wasn’t there an hour or earlier as this is same scree slope as the rock came tumbling down earlier. Maybe he even dislodged it himself…?
At the top the Chute we got a nice view of three different lochs at three different levels. Loch Brittle at sea-level, Loch-an Fhir-bhallaich at 935ft and the wee lochan in the coire below us at 1855ft (still some 500ft below us at the moment).
Descending the chute is much like ascending it – you just have to work with it! Although quite often the scree takes control and you just have to go with it! Although this can be a bit hairy it can also be fun. But for me the worst part was that by now down in the coire there were quite a few people (perhaps half a dozen!?) milling around and the noise that Wayne (some way behind me and tackling the descent with much more carefree abandon than me) and I were making must have been very loud indeed in the auditorium down below, but there wasn’t much we could do.
Once off the chute the it was a relief to be back on terra firma and much more of relief that my patched up boots had survived the pasting the Great Stone Chute had given them.
With one more look back at the giant bowl of coire I turned and headed downwards.
Of the curious rock formations up here, this long strip of infill caught my eye. Turns out it’s a [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology_of_Skye#mediaviewer/File:Skye_Geology.png]mafic dyke[/url]. And this is one is rather notable as it seems to be one of the few dykes on Skye that doesn’t north-south. You learn something new every day!
Looks like my timing had been good. As we were well on the way down the weather suddenly closed in on the top of Alasdair. Doesn’t look like much fun up there at moment. But not my problem now – I was off to the Eas Mor Falls, the strange finely balanced cairn pointing the way.
Sitting round the top of falls was very nice but as I didn’t have a picnic with me I didn’t linger too long. The gorge down below looked like it might make an interesting walk up to the bottom of the falls one day.
But the best view of the falls is from a little way away, enabling you to take in the full splendor of its 230ft drop with Sgurr na Banachdich and/or Sgùrr Dearg (again, please correct me if I’m wrong) in the background.
Back at the campsite after about eight hours, so it hadn’t been a particularly long day but I reckoned I’d earned a pint. But as there’s no chance of that round here I had to treat myself in the best other way available.
In my humble opinion, Sgùrr Alasdair isn’t really that hard a peak to claim providing your legs are still half-decent. The Great Stone Chute is really more of a lengthy chore, and the scramble up the final bit to the top is nothing much to worry about. With weather like I’ve had today, I’d definitely say Alasdair is good Cuillin to start with – like I’ve just done. Top