Friday, 17 May 2013

The North ridge of Sgurr na h-Uamha

The striking tilted "shark's fin" of the North Ridge of Sgurr na h-Uamha (Moderate*)
Things change so rapidly here. Yesterday I was bracing against a hailstorm watching fresh snow fall on the Cuillin, this morning I was enjoying dry rock and sunshine.

I watched in awe last night as the skies cleared and the entire island transformed into a totally different place to how it has been the past week. I snoozed during the 5 hours of twilight overnight, and woke at 4am to a thin layer of mist outside and the sky brightening once more.

The Northern Cuillin at 5am

Sgurr nan Gillean.

Sgurr na h-Uamha is one of the Cuillin's "odd ones out". It is overshadowed by its bigger neighbour Sgurr nan Gillean, and one of the lesser known of the Cuillin's peaks. But in the world famous view from Elgol Bay, is there any other peak that has such a striking outline as Sgurr na h-Uamha?

 Sgurr na h-Uamha is the steep, lower triangular peak in the middle distance on the left.

 Snow still lingering in Coire a'Bhasteir

Early fog forming on the Cuillin outliers

My purpose this morning was to climb and visit an area of the Cuillin that was totally new to me. To stand on a new summit and see unfamiliar views. As soon as I broke onto Sgurr nan Gillean's SE Ridge and saw Sgurr na h-Uamha, I knew my choice was a good one. What a peak! Like a shark's fin at an improbably tilted angle.

Winter remains on the peaks of the Southern Cuillin
The Third Pinnacle on Gillean's Pinnacle Ridge

The North Ridge is the classic route to the summit, but it is also almost the only means of descent as well. So like some other superb mountains like Clach Glas, this is a peak where the easiest means of descent requires downclimbing Moderate graded rock.

Two-thirds of the way up the ridge, I found myself unsure of the way ahead. Continue along the narrow ledge, or break up left? I probed around for 15 minutes or so, both options looking likely but neither convincing. I didn't want to climb into a cul-de-sac that I wouldn't be able to climb down again.

Sgurr Dearg and the Inaccessible Pinnacle
Am Basteir

But like so many of the Cuillin's routes, once you've found the right way, you almost feel silly for not having realised on first sight. And sections of improbable-looking rock are easy where on different rock types they would be far more testing.

The crux wall, on ascent and descent.
The easier lower half of the route

There is something very special about summits that cannot be retreated from or descended easily. Especially when they are higher in quality than some of their bigger and more famous neighbours…as is the case with a few of the smaller Cuillin tops.

I packed away outer layers and gloves and let the sun touch my skin with relish. A perfect morning to discover yet another extraordinary corner of this island.


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