Skye – The Classic Dubhs ridge one of Scotlands finest days.

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”

To me it’s 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 15 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.

Brilliant friction on the slabs

Many years ago i had been in the Falklands for four months, I was happy to find on my first weekend back RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue team were 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”

The 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. Then it’s compulsory to have  a swim in the Loch and up to the Dubhs, a long 10-12 hours just what you need. 

The team had a joint exercise with RAF Stafford and the Giant “Big Kev” 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 was in those days very, very fit. 

He was instructed not to rush in front and to take it easy.

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.

Then 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 evening 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, despite being 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.

The Guide book


“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), I stressed where it’s easier to die, and to satisfy our Lords and masters team members 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. 

Abb from Dubhs.

Lucky for him as the rope got stuck on a loose flake on the way down and it took loads of cursing and blood to free.  Our Bob was impressed when his turn to abseil came and saw blood everywhere, but he did cope.

Descent a bit tricky from the Abb

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! Bob had told us he was a marathon runner but that was his hardest day ever.

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 the Sea King 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. That’s a tale I told on my blog.

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!!

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!

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.

Prevention of problems

• 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.NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE DURING LIGHTNING –AVOID THESE:

• 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!

SKYE – We who have been go again, and again advise you to go, you will not be disappointed.

A great guide book.

My friend Adrain Trednall a local guide has a written a wonderful insight to the ridge and it’s secrets. How I could have done with this in the 70’s.

Many now go into the Dubhs by boat from Elgol it makes life a lot easier. You can also try to book the Couruisk Hut run by the JMCS I have spent nights here.

Elgol Boat what a view.

Coruisk despite its popularity is a wonderful place. It’s so atmospheric with the water dark black ridges and ever changing weather. To me it’s a primeval place of wild beauty. There is no where else in any weather to see this place when the rain pours down the cliffs and crags. On a sunny day after a swim in the Loch then climbing on the hot slabs it is unique and a big part of my life.

It was made famous by Danny MacAskill and his video on the ridge made it world famous.

Comments welcome .

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 Books, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.