Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sunshine, climbing and the Northern Cuillin (posted by James)

The Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean - my climb for the day.

The Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean belongs in a fairy tale. Huge airy spires and improbable cliffs thrust into the sky, mist performs dances over the slopes and the silence is only broken by the loud rumble of an occasional rockfall. If dragons existed, I dare say this is where you'd find them.

It is a beautiful route. It forms one of (the?) most impressive mountain profiles in Britain, and it has inspired me with its shapely grandeur since I first saw it.

Blue haze over Bla Bheinn

The winter has come to an abrupt end in Scotland, so this morning I was feeling the need to find some rocky steepness to climb. My guidebook's description of Pinnacle Ridge made the decision for me - "an obvious and compelling challenge, with around 1000 metres of fall-off-able ground". It sounded like just the job.

Starting Pinnacle Ridge

The Cuillin were shrouded in fog when I arrived at Sligachan at dawn. Despite a perfect forecast I was discouraged. The Cuillin is not a good place to be when the cloud is down.

But I decided to take the risk. As I climbed up above the Basteir Gorge onto the first pinnacle, the cloud was showing no sign of budging. But I was feeling lucky and continued climbing…and I'm glad I did.

The cloud starts to break over Coire a Bhasteir

In the space of a few minutes the cloud started to break. Game definitely on. With that worry removed I set about enjoying the Pinnacle Ridge - not a hard task as it was great. A long section of climbing led me to the summit of the Third Pinnacle, and I was confronted with a 90ft abseil from a pretty sensational and exposed position.

Starting the 90ft abseil.

I'm very confident when it comes to abseiling, but for a soloist it felt like quite an intimidating place to be. Once I lowered myself over the edge however it all felt fine again and I enjoyed the sensation of dropping down into the silent and dark chasm below The Night's Peak.

The Inaccessible Pinnacle above the cloud

The Night's Peak…further adding to the fairy tale atmosphere of the route, and what a great name! Beyond this summit the climb up to the top of Sgurr nan Gillean looked a bit intimidating. But once climbing I found myself cruising it, pleased that I hadn't lost my rock-soloing "mojo" over the winter.

Am Basteir - "The Executioner"

Topping out onto Sgurr nan Gillean was wonderful. A few fragments of cloud remained below the summits and a glorious blue sky and hot sun shined above, the Cuillin Ridge looking awesome stretching into the distance.

The ridge to Am Bastier and Bruach na Frithe

I'd only intended to climb Pinnacle Ridge, but I couldn't waste the sunshine. So I continued down the West ridge and up to the magnificent summit of Am Basteir, climbing up the "Bad Step" on the way down and then under the North Wall to Bruach na Frithe.

Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean in the background.

A superb mountaineering day, in every sense. Pinnacle Ridge is a grand route in all ways. It is not hard for a Difficult graded climb - the Great Ridge of Garbh Bheinn was a far more testing solo. But is an easy candidate for the most beautiful route in Scotland…and for me that matters far more than difficulty or grades.

A climber on the summit of Am Basteir.


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