Skye hiking – Backpacking across the Cuillin, Easter 2015

It wasn’t much more than a month ago that we received an email from someone desperate to do some Skye hiking over the Easter Holidays and also have a bit of an adventure in the wilderness.  Well, we thought we could help with that!  Trying to fill a trip at short notice can sometimes be a wee bit tricky, but as this was Easter week, and we knew there were quite a few folk already interested in doing this trip with us at some point this summer, it seemed like there was a reasonable chance of assembling a team and it wasn’t long before a small group of other equally keen folk had been “recruited”.

Sunday evening saw us huddled round a table in the Heb in Broadford, hatching a plan for the next few days.  A civilised after breakfast start time seemed good, and at around 9.30 the following morning we were heading down to the start point of our 3 day hike, at Elgol in South Skye.  Our food and camping equipment was to be taken by boat, thanks to our friends at Misty Isle Boat Trips.  As we rounded Loch Slapin the promising start to the day’s weather seemed as if it was not going to live up to expectation – there were none of the fabulous views of Bla Bheinn that you usually get from here.  In fact, all we could see was the road, a few sheep and some early lambs.  Still, by this stage there was no scope for a change of plan.

 

Arriving at Elgol, the weather suddenly opened up again and as we headed out along the coastal path towards Coruisk, the Cuillin revealed themselves from behind a curtain of soft cloud. These sudden shifts in light and scenery are one of the things that makes Skye hiking so special! The path from Elgol to Camasunary is never in what could be called good condition, but this early in the season there were the after effects of the winter rains to contend with.  Several sections were looking, and feeling, decidedly crumbly.  With care and concentration, however, it was passable and the rewards in terms of the views were, as always, well worth the effort of following the road less travelled.  After an hour or so there was a break to the cyclic rhythm of walk looking at feet, stop, absorb the view, take photos, absorb the view some more, walk again – we’d reached the beach at Scaladale and had a wee tea stop.  We’d been this way at the end of the previous week with a different group, and had found a sheep’s skull with a very impressive set of horns.  At first it didn’t seem to be there and it seemed likely that someone had carried it off as a trophy, but then we noticed that it had become the centrepiece of an interesting sculpture made of rings of different coloured stones on the pebbled storm beach.  Curious!

Another half an hour saw us passing the new bothy at Camasunary.  It looks nice now it’s finished, but we haven’t been able to get near it yet due to the sea of mud which surrounds it, an after effect of the building work.  Maybe by next year one might actually be able to get near the door without turning into some kind of mud-zombie/creature from the black lagoon, and it will become a useful resource for those planning a Skye hiking trip.  So, on to the beautiful beach and a pad across the sand to the old bothy at the far end of the bay, where we stopped for a bit of lunch and a quick chat with the only other hiker we were to meet that day. With a low tide, fording the river at Camasunary was straightforward and it was with dry feet that we continued around the base of Sgurr na Stri.  Just before the “Bad Step” which guards the entrance to Coruisk, there was a welcoming committee of a couple of hinds, who seemed just as pleased to see us as we were to see them.

The “Bad Step” is a short rock step following a crack across a slab of gabbro rock that dips in to the loch hereabouts, infamous in the annals of Skye hiking.  Heading north, and with light packs, it doesn’t really present a problem, although it calls for some agility and confident footwork for a few yards.  Going down it when travelling southwards is a little bit more intimidating.  From here it was just a question of a short stroll across the perfect little beach, a hop across the stepping stones at the outflow of loch coruisk and we arrived at our lochside camping place.  Tents went up quickly, despite a stiff breeze, and we had hot drinks and dinner before a short burst of rain just as it was getting dark sent us to our tents.

 

Skye Hiking – Day 2

The day started with a visit from the resident Red Deer hinds, milling around the camp site in search of tasty morsels.  The day was dry and the wind had reduced to a gentle breeze, if still a little on the cool side.  The peaks were hiding underneath a blanket of low cloud tormenting us with a quick glimpse from time to time.  We had breakfast and gathered our rucksacks and lunch for the day before heading off, hoping for the cloud to lift!  The group were in good spirits as we crossed the shortest river in Europe, over the stepping stones and embarked on the steep climb up Sgurr na Stri, to hopefully enjoy what is described as a contender for the best view in Britain. We passed another of the resident deer at the base of Loch Coruisk, this time a young stag with his first set of antlers still firmly in place.  Unperturbed by the strange two legged creatures taking his photograph, he continued munching his breakfast, whilst we continued our journey.

The path was typical Skye hiking – boggy in places and the climb steep hard work, but we at least that meant we gained height quickly. Three quarters of the way up we were still shrouded in mist and the aforementioned “Best view in Europe” seemed a little underwhelming.  However we soon began to see glimpses of the surrounding Cuillin mountains as the cloud opened and moved across the sky.  They were there, there were mountains! This gave us a few photo opportunities and the incentive to keep moving up. We were rewarded when we reached the top – The view opened up completely around us and the sun peered over the cloud to great us.  There was still enough cloud to continue shrouding the mountain tops but they rewarded us from time to time by revealing themselves to us before being covered again temporarily with their fluffy cloud blanket – very atmospheric scenes.

A bit of exploring around the summit of Sgurr nan Stri was undertaken along with some photos before a snack was enjoyed by the team and a discussion about our next course of exploration. We decided to go over to the 2nd top of the mountain before descending to the next col.  The plan was to continue along the ridge for those that wanted, or a slightly more level route just below the peaks for those that didn’t, both options were equally beautiful.  The sun was by this point shinning brightly making the views even more glorious.    Several photo opportunities were grabbed on both routes and the views did not fail to impress.  We met again as planned and sat enjoying the sunshine eating lunch before continuing on, the gentler terrain here allowed us to relax a bit and there was plenty of opportunity to chat about the history and landscape of Skye and how the different rock formations came to be.

 

After continuing along the ridge for another hour or so we decided to descend down into the corrie below us to walk back to our camp in time to make our evening meal.  Carefully negotiating the rough sodden ground (typical Skye hiking again!) we came across a rather large stag with an enviable set of antlers still firmly attached to his head.  Down in the corrie the ground was rather boggy and pools of water needed to be negotiated. Resting up by some delightful pools and after a bit of a paddle we continued our way down and made good time down to the little lochan in Coire Riabhach.  Continuing around the side of the lochan we were soon descending once again down the side of Sgurr nan Stri to rejoin our original path along the side of Loch Coruisk.  One of our team at this stage appeared to be a bit of a bog magnet, which left the rest of the group  in fits of giggles if a and the individual concerned a little smelly! Crossing back across the stepping stones of the river gave an opportunity for a boot (and trouser, in one case) washing session before we continued on arriving back at our camp cleaner and fresher than 5 mins earlier!

We decided to light a driftwood fire as we had collected plenty of wood the evening before so we could dry our boots/socks while dinner was cooking.    We were also revisited by the deer who all seemed totally unperturbed, by both humans and fire.  We were also entertained by the seals jumping out of the water demonstrating their agility and with the water being still and very clear you could watch their underwater antics as well as their leaps and bounds on top.  Another small group of campers had walked in from Elgol today and the leader of the group came to say hello.  As the light began to fade we decided to hand over the drift wood we had collected to our neighbours and retire to bed before our big last day heading over the mountains and back to civilisation.

 

Skye Hiking – Day 3

The day dawned promising, and as we breakfasted (with visitation from the deer again) we watched the sunshine creeping down towards us from the peaks opposite the camp. A leisurely pack up of camp was followed by a cup of tea with James the Skipper, then it was time to get on our way. A gentle walk along the lochside led us to the foot of the Garbh Coire. Our plan was to cross the Cuillin Ridge at the top of the Coire and descend into Coire Ghrunnda, making for Glenbrittle. An Garbh Coire translates in to English as “The Rough Corrie” and it certainly lives up to it’s name. As with many places in the mountains of Skye hiking here is trackless and good routefinding is needed, as well as some agility! It was not long before we were clambering through the gorge alongside the stream and up into the upper coire. Here the terrain is a huge jumble of house-sized blocks of extremely rough peridotite. Normal walking ceased, and a kind of scrambling/clambering was the only way to make progress.

On the coire headwall there were still significant patches of snow. Although these were pretty soft, they did make progress difficult as they covered some extremely large  and dangerous holes between the boulders, so we had to thread a snow- free torturous zigzag course up to the bealach. Emerging on to the crest of the Cuillin Ridge (with a sigh of relief) the weather obliged and we were treated to full sunshine and an opening of the Skies. Time for some photos and a celebration snck before heading down toward the lochan in Coire Ghrunnda. On this sunnier side of the crest there was no snow, the boulders are slightly smaller and the ground more well trodden, so it wasn’t too long before we were sunbathing by the water.

Coire Ghrunnda is a pretty spectacular place and the way down from it is not without interest – there are several rock steps to negotiate and of course, a few more boulder fields! By this time however we were in bright sunshine with amazing views out over the Minch and the small isles of Rum, Eigg, Soay, and Canna. It was so clear we could even see Ben Nevis way off in the distance. An hour or so saw us off the rocks and onto more level ground. The approach path to Coire Ghrunnda has been much improved in recent years and made for easy walking, a chance to stretch out the legs after the several hours of torturous terrain we’d crossed. Of course the fine path also meant that we could enjoy the sea views without having to worry about looking at our feet all the time! Glenbrittle beach, with it’s tranquil campsite came into view beneath us, and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying ice creams and some very fine coffee at a table in the sun, courtesy of the camp site shop. As if by magic our transort appeared and whisked us off for hot water, clean clothes, and a celebration dinner in the Old Inn at Carbost. A perfect end to an amazing few days, a great Skye hiking experience with a great bunch of people.

 

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