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Black Cuillin 1997

during my West Highland Way 1997 walk (see here) I'd taken the bus to Fort William to recuperate. Once better I took the Citylink bus to The Isle of Skye. I didn't have any fixed plans but my idea was to get off the bus at Sligachan Hotel and walk over the bealach to the Glen Brittle Youth Hostel. It still amazes me that I was capable of doing something without making thorough plans.The sun was shining and the route of the bus went through some wonderfull scenery like Glencoe and Glen Shiel. The Skye Bridge connecting the mainland with the island had been opened in october 1995 and made the journey much easier.At Sligachan I got off the bus and was stunned by the scenery. Big and rough looking hills rising from sealevel to the sky. I ascended the Bealach a' Mhaim and crossedover to Glen Brittle. After 8km it was another three on a singletrack road before reaching the YH. The YH closes between 10.30and 17.00 hrs so I had to wait a while before Tom, the manager, could take my reservation for 4 nights. The hostel is very basic, no television and some books, magazines and boardgames in the cosy lounge. Late in the afternoon the first hillwalkers return to the hostel. Amongst them are Jimmy Crawford and Murray Johnson, two elderly men. When they here it's my first time on Skye they offer to take me on a daytrip each. I could certainly use an experienced guide because the pictures in the hostel show me inaccessable mountains. So it seems.The next day Jimmy and I followed the road to the end of Glen Brittle. Behind the campsite the path starts to rise gradually and soon we reached the boilerplates of Coire Lagan. Most of the Black Cuillin rock is of vulcanic origin and Jimmy showed me the roughness and advantages of the Gabbro. He also told me to be aware of the basalt dykes protruding the gabbro. When wet they can be very treacherous.After the boilerplates the true beauty of the coire is revealed: a bluegreen loch lies between the mountains.It was at that moment that I first learned about Munros, hills of over 3000ft, listed by Sir Hugh Munro. Coire Lagan is surrounded by Sgurr Dearg, our goal for the day, Sgurr MhicChoinnich and Sgurr Alasdair and the hills An Stac, Sgurr Sgumain and Sgurr Thearlaich. After a short break we passed the loch and started our ascend of Sgurr Dearg from the left of the An Stac screes. Ascending over middlesized rocks proofed to be very easy andsoon we reached the top of the ridge just to the right of An Stac. Jimmy showedme the scratchmarks from crampons used by climbers. If ever in doubt of the right direction look for these scratchmark. From underneath An Stac we scrambled to the base of the Inaccessable Pinnacle. The InPinn is a knifesharp blade of rock just below the summit of Sgurr Dearg. Jimmy scrambled to the summit of the InPinn the previous year, scrambling down the way he came up, and wanted to repeat that with me me. There was a cue with climbers who were going up using ropes and harnasses and it seemed a bit unusual going up without, to say the least. I must admit that the InPinn as a firstscrambling experience is a bit unusual. After having clambered up one thirdI decided enough was enuogh and descended while Jimmy moved on. This gave me the opportunity to take pictures of the InPinn from Sgurr Dearg with Jimmy abseiling for the first time in his life. That picture is part of a 360 degrees panorama shot but I have sofar been unable tolocate their whereabouts. When I do I'll publish them here. I did do a short scramble at the short side but never intended to go to the top. However, people have done it this way. Incredible. It was a warm and windless day so we watched people going up and coming down before descending the westridge of Sgurr Dearg. From this day on I was addicted to the Isle of Skye and the Black Cuillin in particular. our target as Murray and I left the YH the next morning. The day started rainy and cold and the summits weren't visible. The path to Coire a' Ghreadaidh starts right in front of the YH and winds it's way up through the coire. We had to cross the Allt a' Choire Ghreadaidhover bare rocks halfway up the coire and before reaching An Dorus('The Door') we had to negotiate a boulderfield. We had to climb out of An Dorus on thelefthand (north) side. The south side is the way to Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh. Initially the ascent is very steep and having long legs and arms like Murray helps a lot. I don't have long legs and arms.We were scrambling in the clouds and visibility was just a few meters. Murray had been here many times before but even he had to concentrate to find the right summit. On our way up we had to cross a very narrow ridge just half a foot wide. Murray walked across it like he was walking on the pavement. I couldn't see the sheer drop on either side but I knew it was there. I sat down on my bum and moved across the narrow ridge, each leg dangling on either side of the ridge. I was terrified.Regrettably I don't have any pictures because I used all my film yesterday but it's engraved in my memory.The summit itself wasn't very spacious either. We carefully scrambled back down to An Dorus from which Murray went up again on the other side to bag Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh. I stayed behind at An Dorus having done enough scary things for one day. I saw lots of climbing parties passing through the gap who were doing the complete Cuillin ridge. They were all roped up and some of them looked more scared and less capable than me. It made me feel proud of what I had achieved that day. After a while Murray returned and together we walked back to the YH. Crossing the burn halfway down I slipped and went in with one leg.Those things happen when you're tired and on your way down at the end of the day. Tomorrow I would be on my own and Murray advised me to climb Bruach na Frithe, the most westerly and easiest Munro on the northern end of the Black Cuillin Ridge. have been an easy summit and I'm convinced it really is but I managed to miss the summit. The walk in is easy, returning the way I walked to Glen Brittle a couple of days earlier.At the summit of Bealach a'Mhaim (344m) you turn right and simply walk straight up the hill to the summit at 958m. Murray had told me there were two possible routes : straight up with some light scrambling nearer the summit or follow the path until it peters out and then straight up to the summit. While ascending the clouds moved in and it started to rain heavily turning into stinging hail. The rocks became slippery and I thought it was best to keep to the path and avoid the scrambling. Visibility was poor and the western side of Bruach na Frithe consisted of loose slab-ish rocks and I was taking one step forward and sliding two steps down. One up and forward again and two steps down, etc.. I lost my feeling for distance and time and I got the distinct feeling I somehow managed to miss the turn-off to the summit. Visibility became even less before I heard voices in the clag. I saw silhouettes of walkers higher up and shouted "Which way to the summit ?". I didn't get an answer. They probably thought I was a madman or perhaps the Scottish variety of Bigfoot. The weather wasn't improving and I decided to step and slide back to the bealach. I didn't bag this easy Munro but I certainly bagged an experience. Of course once back at the bealach and walking back to Glen Brittle the sun came out and the summit, which wasn't there when I was looking for it, was clearly visible.I studied the map and concluded that I moved much too far to the south and was actually closer to Sgurr na Bairnich than I was to Bruach na Frithe. So much for the easiest Cuillin Munro.The next day saw me traveling by bus to Portree and Uig and taking a late afternoon ferry to Tarbert on Harris, one of the isles of the Outer Hebrides.

Due to becoming ill

Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir

Glen Brittle Youth Hostel

Jimmy above the An Stac screes

Jimmy abseiling

Who's that fool ?

Sgurr a Mhadaidh was

Bruach na Frithe should

On March the 10th 2012 I received a phonecall from Jimmy. He told me Murray Johnson from Four Oaks died the 17th of Februari at the age of 82.I've met Murray on a few occasions while hillwalking in Scotland and will always remember him as a quiet, gentle and very knowledgeable mountainman. He will be sadly missed.


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