Thunder and Lightening is very, very frightening. A wild day in Skye.

Great advice from Mountaineering Scotland:

With a possibility of thunder forecast for the rest of the week it’s maybe worth remembering that it’s more than just some disco lighting and sound effects to accompany your torrential rain: lightning has to be treated with respect and completely avoided if you can.

Read more about lightning in the mountains on our website at

#RespectProtectEnjoy #scottishhills

A few years ago I was awakend by a wild thunder and lightening storm at 0500, thank goodness I was in my bed and not on the hill, where you are at your most vunerable.

Tale of a scary day in Skye – Lightening very, very frightening.

I had just come back from the Falklands 4 months away and my first weekend was in Skye, I was dreaming about it.

We had planned a long classic day in Skye – Up from sea – level to  Sgurr Na Bannadich down to Coruisk then a swim and back over the UK Longest ridge the Dubhs and back hopefully to Glenbrittle. We had started from Glenbrittle and it had already been a hard day and very hot the cool waters of Coruisk. Sgurr na Bannadich was hard work from sea level and the drop to the loch and a good swim before it was called “wild swimming” woke us up and then we were off again from sea level to climb the classic Dubhs ridge.

To quote the SMC Guide:-

“This is the best easy climb in Skye and a contender for the best easy climb in Britain”.

The Dubhs from Loch Coruisk The Dubhs from Loch Coruisk

Although technically easy, The Dubh Ridge is a very long route in a remote setting. Getting benighted is a distinct possibility if you make a route finding error, and a retreat may not be straight forward. This article will offer some additional information not available in the guide books which may help keep you on track and with any luck get you there and back in a day.

The Dubh Ridge rises from the western shore of Loch Coruisk and stretches west over the three tops of Sgurr Dubh Beag (Little Black Peak), Sgurr Dubh Mor (Great Black Peak) and Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (Black Peak of the Two Tops). The famous Dubh’s slabs are on the initial section to Sgurr Dubh Beag. Above the slabs the climbing is similar to many sections of the main ridge.

Great friction Great friction

Right: Sticky approach shoes are perfect for the Dubh Ridge.


The climbing is graded ‘Moderate’. Most climbers with some rock climbing experience will not feel the need for a rope but there are some short sections that could be described as “real climbing”, so if you have any doubts you may want to consider carrying a short rope and three or four nuts.

The route is achievable in a long day from Glen Brittle by a reasonably fit team.

We had managed most of the ridge and the wild abseil was where things happened – thunder and lightening was not planned and then:

Big Kev Big Kev

“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.  The Skye ridge on the back of the Dubhs on a sharp ridge a long way from home what do you do?

The lightning was flicking along the ridge like you see on a film it was surreal. Nature is so powerful and we mere mortals. We felt so small and vulnerable; the power of nature in such a place is awesome.  

Keep calm and get off as quick as possible,  that was in my mind, now the descent from this hill is not recommended.  A descent in the late forties by W. H. Murray described it as one of the most serious mountaineering descents in Scotland! “The An Garbh Coire is rarely visited and is a huge Corrie of wildness and worth a visit on its own. ”

Not advised even for a man of Giants ability. This is a real area of wildness saved by people like W.H. Murray for future generations to enjoy; this is a really special place for those who love the wilderness.

It is also not a place to make a mistake, the phone does not work in this area and any help is a long way off, add to that the seriousness of where we were. This was not the place to be,

The Giant Big Kev – wanted us to wait for the storm to pass, He is over 6 foot which I vetoed as it was like being next to a lightening conductor!  

He is that big I was brave and went off ahead to find the way off and to conduct “any lightening”.

Bob who was exhausted by now said little, by now it was pouring with rain and rivers were running down the slabs making life worse.

It was that wet that foam was building up on the slabs and the Corrie was just one great waterfall. We managed though and after one dodgy abseil and two hours later we were down through the slabs and soon we were on the ground amongst the huge boulder field in the corrie. There are no paths here just massive boulders all slippery and wet.  

The radio was dead as all the other 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?

Now that is another story!

That day one person was killed on the hills by lightening, nature takes no prisoners so be aware if lightening forecast do not be on a tight sharp ridge! Check the forecast if in doubt keep of the hills.

Recently I was back and one of my mates got hit by a fallen stone – Always wear a helmet!!!

The Abseil on the Dubhs not the place for lightening to strike. The Abseil on the Dubhs not the place for lightening to strike.


Summary –Staying safe

  • Stay off ridges & summits, and away from single trees.
  • Walls can be protective but keep more than 1m away.
  • All metal objects (karabiners, crampons, ice-axe, ski poles, etc) should be stored safely.
  • Move quickly away from wire ropes & iron ladders.
  • Lightning currents can travel along wet ropes.
  • Crouch immediately if there is a sensation of hair “standing on end”.
  • Crackling noises or a visible glow indicate imminent lightning strike.
  • Airborne helicopters can be struck. Check weather forecast.
  • Seek shelter as soon as hear thunder. Don’t wait until you see the lightning.
  • Lightning can travel 10 miles in front of storm clouds. 10% strikes occur when blue sky is visible.
  • A storm can travel at 25 mph.
  • Most common time for injuries are before the storm or at the apparent end of the storm.
  • 30-30 rule
  • Danger of being struck is when flash to thunder time less than 30 seconds (approximately 10 km away).
  • Don’t climb for 30 minutes after last thunder & seeing last lightning.
  • From the MCOS Website. From the MCOS Website.
  • Small, open huts, caves & overhangs (increase risk from side flashes).
  • Sheltering under small outcrop or overhang may increase risk of injury, as lightning that has hit a hill literally “drips” onto the person with the rain as it arcs over the ground.
  • Water or wet stream beds.
  • Near the tallest structure in the area e.g. single tree.
  • Tents not protective (metal tent poles act as lightning rods).
  • Stay away from high ground (ridges and summits).
  • Power lines
  • Ski lifts
  • Metal objects
  • Stay safe!
  • From MCOS website From MCOS website
  • SKYE – “We who have been go again, and again advise you to go, you will not be disappointed.”

Adrian Trednall guide to Skye is a wonderful addition as a guide. It is on my mind superb and an essential for the ridge.

Adrian is a mountain guide and photographer living on Skye. He has been climbing since the 1980s with a CV that includes Alpine north faces, big walls in Yosemite and first ascents on the White Cliffs of Dover.


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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