Skye – A few memories.

In my early days as of now the mountains of Skye was a mystical place. I had joined the Kinloss MRT in 1972 and in these days it was a good 5 hour journey from our Base in Morayshire. There was no bridge then and the Ferry across was still exciting. I remember being told as a young loon you could get duty free on the Ferry! Skye was spoken about with huge respect and I could not wait to go there.

A very young Heavy and Tom with bobble hat, Paddy and Dave Foy. – Sgur Na Gillean Peak of the young men.

I am sure my first visit was in 1972 in Easter we had a extended Grant. We were there for I think 10 days. We stayed in Mr MacRaes barn in Glenbrittle so handy for the hills. Mr Mac Rae was a long term friend of the team. The ridge was full of snow and hills and summits were hard won. What an introduction the Skye ridge in winter. Early on we failed just below the summit of Sgurr Na Gillian with the late John Hinde. It was full on winter and an eye opener for me. We were late back and John was just back from Denali and had frost bite. It was some introduction. There were few on the ridge in winter in these days.

1972 MacRaes Barn.

I was after Munro’s in these days and myself and my mate Tom MacDonald managed to get most done on that trip . I remember being very scared as we tried to find our way along the ridge. There was limited knowledge especially on winter by some of the young team party leaders. Seemingly I woke up in MacRea’s barn at Glen Brittle after a dream that I had of a nightmare on the ridge. It was a week of snow ridges and very tricky conditions, long walk – ins and walk outs. I learned so much. There was no let up most days you start from see level, the hills are punishing and you have stay alert all day.

1954 Ridge times – Finlay Wild has the fastest known time for the Cuillin Ridge traverse on the Isle of Skye, completing the crossing in 2:59:22 in 2013 incredible effort.

Next year I had a summer attempt at the ridge and bailed out after Am Basteir exhausted mentally by the day, the concentration and early start at night wore me down. My mate Tom Mac saved my life as I nearly abseiled of the gear loop on my harness on an abseil on the Drums. It was a lucky escape. Our leader “Kas Taylor “a great rock climber was away in his own world and had left us. He always picked his own line up the rock and loved the adventure. Whereas not being the greatest climber I always took the line of least resistance. Tom to his credit gave up his day and came off with me to ensure I was okay a thing I will never forget. That walk out was hard going but it had been a good first attempt. My fingers were raw with the rough Gabbro and I had learned so much.

Over the years I got to know the ridge fairly well. I managed several traverses some many in the classic one day trips. It was always the 12 hour top to top time add in the walk in and out it was always a hard day. Often with new team member’s it was over 2 days for many and another with my dog Teallach. Few understand how exhausting physically and mentally it can be leading a party in poor weather when the ridge is wet and slippy. A few times I was in support of mates supporting them with water drop off’s and bringing bivy gear down, hard work at times. Also what seemed endless waits to pick – up them at the end or if they aborted the ridge.

Always wear a helmet my mate hit by a falling rock on the Dubhs. He was lucky!

I was in Skye a lot on the ridge fairly often as I climbed over the years. Also the call outs with the local Skye team opened the eyes to the ridge in poor weather. It is the wildest place to be in bad weather and the Skye Team are some folk. I met many of these people some became good pals and we had some laughs with Gerry Ackroyd who was a local guide and Team Leader. He took no prisoners on the hill but we got to know each other well after a big lower from the In Pin on a wet dark night. I also knew Pete Thomas another guide before Gerry and also the Team Leader sadly gone but there knowledge of the ridge was exceptional. The mountains are Alpine and great care is needed. It was incredible to see so where folk can end up and have epics. I always advise wearing a helmet as there can be a lot of loose rock especially if there are parties above.

There were bits of information on the old guides and even a runners guide that we used a lot to show you the “tricks and cheats” on the ridge. This was Andy Hyslops Rockfax guide written in 2002.

There were also a few Skye scrambles guides over the years that many of us used. Skye is a place that few in my mind can say they know well. There have been a few updated guides but most are great but not ideal for taking on the hill. I would photo stat the bits I needed in the pass and they were handy for the newer leaders in the team especially on Rescues.

I was sent a new guide to the Ridge Skye Cuillin Ridge Traverse and it looks superb. over the last few months during the lock down I have had good look at it. First impressions its clear and concise I wish I had this in my early days.

Skye Cullin Ridge Traverse

There are so many classic days in Skye:

The ridge traverse is the one that should be on everyone’s list.

Blaven and the Clach Glas Traverse. The Clach Glas traverse is superb and missed by many.

The Dubh Ridge – we always in the past did this via the main ridge a swim in the loch and then this classic scramble. A great way in is by boat from Elgol worth it for the trip alone.

The Dubhs

“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 day’s 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”

Pinnacle Ridge – Sgur Na Gillean

The In Pin on Sgur Dearg was usually done by Window Buttress on the way up or one of the other routes.in Coire Banachdich.

Kings Chimney – Sgurr Mhic Coinnich – a classic sitaution

Coire Lagan – Eastern Buttress Sron Na Ciche – an old haunt with Kinloss Gully. Vulcan Wall. Shangri La

Cioch West, Cioch Gully, Little Gully

1954 on the Cioch

The Cioch Slab/ Cioch Grooves, Direct route ( had rock fall a few years ago ) Cioch West and Arrow route, Collies route to the Cioch a must for all to this incredible summit.

The Cioch Upper Buttres – the Classic Integrity, Trophy Crack and the Crack Of Doom (what a name)

Western Buttress – Mallory Slab and Grove a 1000 feet severe,Diamond Slab and others on this big face. It was always a route cliff to climb on before an Alps trip.

Sgurr Sgumain Sunset Slab

Coire’ A’ Ghrunnda – White Slab Direct.

Sgurr Na Stri a gem a must visit.

A wet day on the Cioch. Still fun.

There are so many others now the great Sea Cliffs and outcrops now mainly in the SMC Guide Book. When the ridge is out there is great exploring to do and these guides let you know where to go. There are so many wonderful places to go and adventures to have. The Island is well placed now with local guides like Mike Lates, Jonah Jones, Adrian Trendal and others. They will give you a great day out in a place that many who go will always come back.

W.H. Murray “Apart from the initial trouble in climbing on to the ridge, one may proceed unroped up broad acres of boiler plated slabs, whose rock is the roughest gabbro in all the Cuilins. In other words , it is so rough and reliable that only the grossest negligence could bring a man to harm.”

Top tips – Wear a helmet when scrambling, beware of loose rock these mountains are Alpine.

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 and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Friends, Gear, Hill running and huge days!, Islands, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, People, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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