“Said Maylard to Solly one day in Glenbrittle,
All serious climbing, I vote is a bore,
Just for once, I Dubh Beag you’ll agree to do little,
And, as less we can’t do, let’s go straight to Dubh Mhor,
So now when they seek but a days relaxation,
With no thought in the world but of viewing the views,
And regarding the mountains in mute adoration,
They call it not climbing but “Doing The Dubhs”
One of the best mountaineering days in Scotland is the “Dubhs Ridge” in Skye. I am very lucky to have done this route on several occasions over 10 times. It is on most mountaineers tick list and a must do I feel. This route starts at the shore of Loch Coruisk and follows the East Ridge of Sgurr Dubh Beag from sea level for nearly 3000 feet up boiler-plated slabs to the summit, where an exciting abseil down West face leads to the main ridge and one of the finest hills in Scotland, Sgurr Dubh Mor.
As I had been in the Falklands for the last four months, I was happy to find the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue team on Skye for the August Grant. Our new Team Leader Dan had just returned from Pakistan and the successful ascent of Gasherbrum 1 an 8000 metre peak. He wanted everyone on the ridge and long days were the order! You can’t argue with a Himalayan Hero! My fitness was not so good so I grabbed one of the new troops, to carry a rope, and set off to “Do The Dubhs” tradition in the team ensures you start from the Youth Hostel at Glenbrittle to the summit of Sgurr Na Bannadich then you drop down the Coruisk side off the ridge to sea-level a swim in the Lochand up to the Dubhs, a long 10-12 hours just what you need. The team had a joint exercise with RAF St-Athans and the Giant who was with them wanted to come with us. Now he is HUGE!! Eight feet tall and size 15 feet!! His stride is massive and he is very, very fit. He was instructed not to rush in front and to take it easy, or he would get battered. Well the day began well, even the long drag up the main ridge and on to Beallach Na Bannadich was easy, with Bob talking the whole way. We did it in under two hours, the weather was magnificent and we dropped down into the magnificent Coruisk, and we only saw one other party, Scotland at it’s best. The descent to Couruisk is fairly easy and we were soon at the Loch, again tradition states you must swim in the Loch, so in we went, what a great day! Crystal clear water and not too cold, Bob told us he was an ex-channel swimmer and we spent nearly one hour enjoying the sun, and listening to Bob.
The weather forecast had promised thunder for late afternoon so reluctantly we wandered on. From the Loch can see the Ridge which starts more or less straight from the Loch, it is a marvellous sight and our new man Bob was suitably impressed, back to sea-level. Now Bob amongst other things is a photographer by trade, and as he was in the most impressive part of Scotland, you would have expected him to bring a camera, but he didn’t! Lucky I did. You can follow any line up the slabs and the “Giant” who is now a recently qualified Team Leader and just been on a rock climbing course started up the steepest part with limited holds, even for him it was hard, and he was soon following the “old man” up an easier line.
“apart from the initial trouble in climbing a ridge, one may proceed unroped up broad acres of boiler-plated slabs, whose rock is the roughest gabbro in all the Cullin
Scrambling, (easy rock-climbing without a rope), where it’s easier to die, and to satisfy our Lords and masters you must wear a helmet. As the great WH Murray stated “apart from the initial trouble in climbing a ridge, one may proceed unroped up broad acres of boiler-plated slabs, whose rock is the roughest gabbro in all the Cullin.” In other words, it is so rough and reliable that only the grossest negligence could bring a man to harm. (Don’t tell the troops that). Bob was impressed and soon was enjoying the rock, under the Eagle eyes of the Giant, who now realises the paperwork involved in a troop falling off! The “Old Man” was taking the photos which could be used in the event of an enquiry. Giant was revelling in his new responsibility and the rock was warm and dries the views magnificent. Our men Bob was going well but slowing down and he had stopped talking!, which made a pleasant change. We had a few stops on the way and all to soon reached the top of Sgurr Dubh Beag, ready for the abseil. Our man Bob was trying to get his training book signed up, but due to the storm clouds above poor Bob, did not get set up to abseil. Lucky for him as the rope got stuck on a loose flake on the way down and it took loads of cursing and blood free. Our Bob was impressed when his turn to abseil came and saw blood everywhere, but he did cope.
A big peel of thunder rang out and the hairs on our heads started sticking up, time to go! If you have read where not to be when thunder and lightning are about, this is it. Keep calm and get off as quick as possible, now the descent from this hill is not recommended. A descent in the late forties described it as one of the most serious mountaineering descents in Scotland! Not advised even for a man of Giants ability.
The Giant wanted us to wait for the storm to pass, which I vetoed as it was like being next to a lightening conductor! He was sent off ahead to find the way off and to conduct “any lightening”. Bob said little, by now it was pouring with rain and rivers were running down the slabs making life worse, but the giant did his stuff and one wee abseil and two hours later we were running down the slabs making life worse, two hours later we were on the ground. The radio was dead as all the troops had fled the hill at the first peel of thunder and we were on our own for miles away from anywhere. Being old I remembered doing a similar walk out over twenty years before and it was hell. How do we tell Bob that the only way back is round by Coruisk to Glenbrittle a walk to remember? It does not look that bad on the map but there is no path for eight kilometres. We stumbled up and down heather and ferns and fell over holes for hour and hours. I was on my last legs at this point, but being led by the Giant, my hero. Eventually we hit a good path and passed Corrie A Grunda and followed the mud into Glen Brittle, it was 23.30, the troops were waiting and they had a good laugh at the state of us, a good meal and a joint decision to hand in our kit, but why make them happy!
A month later we were back in action, carrying a civilian walker, who had spent two nights on the ridge with a broken ankle near Dubh Ridge off the hill. Thank god for those heroes of 202 Sqn who saved a massive walk-out? The weather was awful and we could have had to walk out by Coruisk.
A few years ago I was back and we never wore our helmets ( it was so hot) a rock hit one of our party and how he was not killed I will never know. Always wear a helmet on Skye, we were lucky and nearly spoiled one of the best days of my life.
There is no fool, like an old fool!!
“We who have been go again, and again advise you to go, you will not be disappointed.”