Don't go into the gear shop after a whisky or two.
With the sat nav working perfectly we arrived at the bothy just as Steve and Rich were returning from their water dump hike. That night we checked the gear, packed, repacked and generally larked around like a bunch of teenagers. Perhaps we were a little excited? Well, next morning when we woke the sun was out, but the clouds were skidding across the sky at a fair rate of knots. Would the weather forecast for crap rain and clag be correct? Twenty minutes later as we neared Sligachan to drop off Steve’s car it looked like the forecast was being confirmed. The sky was black, the temperature down at 5 degrees (this was sea level) and it started to blow a gale and chuck it down. Doom and gloom filled the car. A further twenty minutes later and we were rolling into the camp site car park at Glen Brittle in cracking blue sky conditions. This was Skye at its very best. It was so changeable in just a few minutes. With the sunshine came the mozzies, so without too much ceremony we shouldered our great sacks and set off with the ridge towering above us one way and the sea lapping at the shore the other.
Up towards the hail and sleet.
Joy of joys, just two hundred feet of ascent short of the summit we took the opportunity to dump our sacks and head off for the first munro. Without the weight on our backs it was like walking on air. It was at this point that Mark dropped the bombshell ”y’know I’m not sure I can do this”. Although we hadn’t encounted anything that hard yet, it transpired that Mark was dwelling on one or two positions that were yet to come. Hmm! What could we do about this? Mark considers everything to the nth degree. Surely if I tried to convince him to continue I’d only be going over his thought pattern. He’s not stubborn, but realistic. Between the rest of us there was a concern that we’d come this far, we were safe in the hands of Steve and Rich, the weather was out of the top drawer and above all else we wanted to spend the weekend together. Surely Mark couldn’t or shouldn’t go back. He cautiously agreed to continue and five minutes later as we neared the summit his concern had turned to pain. Yep, it was hailing and even snowing a little as we topped out on Sgurr nan Eag. Unbelievably this was our first Munro in fifteen months. For various reasons, trips abroad, illness and lack of organisation our Munro tally had slowed somewhat. When the hail stopped the blue skies reappeared and at last we could finally take in the coastal view towards, the Inner Hebrides of Rum, Eigg, Canna, and further afield the Outer Hebrides looked like tropical islands as their silhouettes stood out against the bright blue sea. In the other direction we looked vertically down on the turquoise Loch Coruisk and the mainland beyond. This really was a place and a half and one which I could confidently climb without the need of a guide.
We couldn’t linger on the summit for too long as we had a great deal more to cover, so after retracing our steps back to the dumped bags, Rich and Steve spent a while reassuring Mark that there were plenty of emergency decent routes on the next section and that he would easily reach the summit of our next Munro, Sgurr Dubh Mor. Slow but steady progress was made as we descended towards the beallach, sidestepped the Caisteal a’ Garbh-choire (to mere mortals like me, an unclimable chunk that stood in our way) and reached the start of the ascent. It was here that we came across our first bottleneck of the trip. The route took us up zig zag ledges and a series of short sloping slabs. At twenty or thirty feet these pitches were plenty big enough to warrant the need of a rope. So after a patient wait as some rock climbing club scuffed their backsides all the way down these slabs, we had the joy of some steady hands and feet work before a final ascent over great building blocks to an even more impressive summit. This time there was barely sufficient room for all five of us on the summit at the same time. The weather was now bright, there were naff all clouds in the sky and I had started to perspire like the proverbial colander. What a situation!
Towards Sgurr Alasdair and the Cuillin high point.
Summit feaver and a pitch black descent to a bivvy site.
The fun and games continued as, roped together we made our way over the arête (not as sharp as it had seemed from up above) and then for the first time we’d have to negotiate a few lowers over vertical rock. I was in my element, meanwhile Stu was doing a fair impression of Tarzan as he swung pendulum like from side to side. With this exercise repeated a few times, time was moving on and we said goodbye to the last of our Coullin climbing company. It was 9 pm and we now had the ridge to ourselves. I knew now that we’d not stand a chance of bagging the Inn Pinn at this hour and so our aims became Sgurr Mhic and the need to find a suitable bivvy spot. Collies Ledge (or Harts Ledge dependent upon your choice of climbing book) stood directly in front of us and if anything it looked much worse that it would prove to be. It was in a cracking location, being a diagonal traverse across Sgurr Mhic, with great drops off to the left and what looked like a narrow rubble filled path which would need to be negotiated. We now found ourselves tantalisingly close to the summit, with so little daylight left. A direct ascent was out of the question and so with Mark gingerly making his way across the ledge we had one eye on the clock and another on Steve and Rich. Would they be prepared to make a dart for it and bag this summit at this hour? There was no doubt at all, they’re a pair of stars and after a quick conflab they chose to cut the corner and set off on a route up some great boulders which would take us onto the ridge proper. Looking up ahead Rich was almost dragging Mark to the summit, so much so that when Steve, Stu and I had reached the ridge Mark was a good hundred feet ahead of us and only a few yards from the summit. The next time I looked up through the gloom he was still in the same spot. The lazy git. Well, perhaps not, I was so engrossed in my efforts I’d not realised that he’d been to the top and was now on his way back down. On passing Mark, my words were that I’d have to make the top as he’d done it and our Munro pact had to remain. Just like all the other summits this one was miniscule and didn’t really have room for more than a couple of us. I could have stayed there for ages and taken in the views, but with the need to find somewhere to kip (after all it was now eleven o’clock) and the fact that there was naff all visibility we really did have to get a move on.
Steve and Rich had now upped the pace. They were intent on getting us safely to a bivvy site. In half light conditions like these concentration comes into its own, well that and the wish that you’d lived on carrots for the last year or two. The light becomes softer, distances appear much greater than they actually are and adrenaline must kick in as I suffered very few trips or stumbles. I was becoming single minded. I knew that once we reached the scree we’d be fine and so all efforts were concentrated on getting off this great sloping boulder field. I’m sure the others were in the same boat. With one false descent from the ridge corrected we found ourselves at the beallach and for the first time in hours we came across some degree of bivvy site. A few seconds of being buffeted by the wind and the realisation that the bivvy shelter would fit no more than two had us scurrying off towards the scree of An Stac. Earlier on we’d seen a great number of bivvy shelters in Coire Lagan and knew that when we found the start of the eroded rubble we’d find the start of the scree. Sure enough our instinct was correct. The scree was much better than anything we’d previously come across. If you took time and angled your feet correctly you could almost ski down it. Ok, the boulders were a little large in places. However, if you’re impatient like me, then you tend to leap from one sliding carpet of rock to another and generally end up stumbling onto some unseen lump of rock. Normally in such a situation your senses would be dominated by your view of what you could see happening to the rocks. In this case whilst the nominal moonlight only afforded a brief idea of what was happening your other senses took over. You could taste the dust and smell the odour of the rocks being bashed against one and other. I suppose it’s generally only hill climbers and stone masons who are familiar with this smell. Half an hour later at just short of one am, guided by our head torches we were stumbling from one shelter to another. Steve, being the kind considerate sort that he is walked up past the best shelters whilst telling us that luxury abodes awaited us if we pressed on a little. Once we’d come to the last opportunities we couldn’t be arsed retracing our steps and so made do with second best. Guess where Steve and Rich ended up? Thank fully it was still dry, so the task of preparing our bivvy was pretty easy. With our bed for the night made the easy thing would have been to go straight off to sleep. Sense prevailed and the burners came out to heat up our Wayfarer boil in the bag evening meal (ok, it was almost breakfast). At approximately two am, having ate and drank I laid there in my bivvy looking up at The Plough and many hundreds more stars. Due to the lack of light pollution they seemed to be so many more than I’d ever seen before. After sixteen hours on the hills this eye opener became an eye shutter. According to Mark I was fast asleep in a matter of seconds.
Towards the Inn Pin
Why o why hadn’t we got going earlier? It was like Briggate on a Saturday afternoon, there were folk everywhere. I suppose it was bank holiday Monday and we had glorious weather. A quick conflab over our options followed and we made the correct decision to queue rather than come back another day. Whilst there we killed time chatting with others and watching the moves and rope skills of those in front. During this trip Steve and Rich had oozed safety and for that reason we had so much confidence in them. One or two of the other guides didn’t quite create the same impression. There appeared to be all manner of improvised knots, haphazard belay techniques and worse of all an incident where two climbers in front of Steve, whilst half way up The Inn Pinn got their ropes tangled and so had to untie and retie themselves whilst clinging on to their airy perch. Now just a moment, “where are we in this queue”? A party of three more were roped up at the starting point. “Didn’t you arrive after us”? Well the guide in charge didn’t deny it. His response was that it was the protocol for the next roped climber to jump to the front of the queue. The ignorant git. If Steve had refrained from adopting the French guide approach and had waited his turn why couldn’t he? I suppose if we’d chosen him as our guide he’d have turned us back at five rather than topped out on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich at eleven at night. A couple more set off and then it was our turn. Steve had decided that he’d climb first, secure a belay point and then the three of us would follow him up. Meanwhile Rich would wait at the base of the Inn Pinn where it abuts to Sgurr Dearg.
Unchartered territory for a non rock climber
All of a sudden I was fine again, the climbing was steep, but easy and I had plenty to concentrate upon rather than day dream looking at the great drop off both sides. All too soon we topped out. Steve then secured us to his sling and when we reached the platform clipped us in to the great chain which was tied around the base of the summit boulder. In no time at all I had edged my way to the top of the lower and was on my way down the vertical side of the Inn Pinn. Rich was waiting at the bottom to make sure we did nothing daft and no sooner had I reached the floor than the others followed one and other down. With the weather still on top form and the adventures of the Inn Pinn behind us we suddenly had one thing on our minds, the pub. Rather than continue climbing how about heading down, getting a wash and making for the pub? We spent just fifteen minutes taking in the scenery, the harsh landscape and of course the people who were either milling around, in a gallery watching the climbers on the Inn Pinn or just liggin art. Would we ever return to such a place?
Letting our hair down in the pub
Back as a group of five we had two aims, food and drink, but not necessarily in that order. Using a phrase that Stu would later use on his DVD the mood of the moment could best be described by the song title “I predict a riot”. The pub in Carbost was buzzing and full of climbers and hikers all telling the tale of their trips into the Coullins. There were familiar faces, however thankfully Mr Protocol didn’t show up. Two pints and a hearty snack later we were back in the local pub by the bothy. This was much more subdued and so we had to make our own entertainment. The drink flowed and the effeminate Slovenian barman (I’m not really sure that I have the gender correct) tried his best not to serve us beyond the last order bell. Meanwhile a fifteen year old Roy Orbison impersonator (intact with dark glasses at midnight) did his best to entertain us. Having introduced our Slovenian friend the term “carryout” we set off back to the bothy with out booty tucked under our arms. Such nights tend to end in a blur; however Stu had remembered his video camera. There were all manner of fake welsh accents recounting Stu’s “Massive aren’t they” story. Rich’s hand gestures really helped with the explanation. From go knows Steve managed to acquire a bottle of red wine. Well, it had been left lying around, someone can’t have been that bothered about it so we had a duty to drink it. With the contents consumed it was duly refilled with diet coke and a few peanuts (don’t ask) and the cork was reinserted as best as possible. Rich then removed all fingerprint evidence by coating the neck off the bottle with nectarine juice. I have no idea what else went on that night other than the fact that it was three thirty by the time we crashed out. Maybe next time we get plastered someone should hide a video camera to recall the fun and games.
This had really been a cracking trip, with a little snow, hail and rain, but bags of sunshine when it was really needed. The achievements were five Munro’s and given the offer of assistance from Steve and Rich we would definitely take up their offer of a repeat trip to climb the remaining five on the list. The scenery had been out of this world, but best of all the group of five got on like best mates. Role on the other five.