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Skye weather can be fickle and the midges ferocious, but a visit in May is often blessed with settled weather and no biting insects. Chris and I had a couple of enjoyable walks out to bothies on our Skye trip (see post #223) but a day on the higher mountains was tempting. Chris had no great desire to head for the Cuillin Ridge, so it was going to be a solo trip – with Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course.
We were at the campsite at Sligachan, so something at the northern end of the Cuillins looked favourite. Although I have never done the whole Cuillin Ridge in one trip, I’ve collected most of the summits over the years. However, one omission on my ‘tick list’ was Bruach na Frithe, which makes an interesting but non-technical day out, an important consideration when taking a dog along. So, Bruach na Frithe it was.
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My first visit to the Cuillins was in 1970, but the ‘Misty Isle’ was well named that year, and we didn’t get any serious hill days, and 1971 was only marginally better. Then in 1972 we hit the jackpot with the weather and I had my first trip out on to the main Cuillin Ridge. We started on a 1000 ft (305 metres) rock climb on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich for no other reason than it was one of the longest in the guidebook.
1973 was almost as good, but by then we had learned to go for quality rock routes rather than just quantity – as with many things, size really isn’t everything! Then, in 1974, I joined the Royal Marines. My recruit troop completed the RM Commando Course just before the training centre went on annual leave – most of my mates went home for a lazy two weeks holiday, but I headed back to Skye for another climbing trip.
My first unit after training was 45 Commando, based in Arbroath. In my first year, I did a tour of duty in Northern Ireland, learned to ski (the military way!), completed Arctic Warfare training in Norway and took part in Mountain Training back in Scotland. Then, 12 months after joining the unit I was back at the Commando Training Centre, this time on an officer training course; when I completed the course I asked to go back to 45 Commando, the only unit I ever wanted to be in.
My first posting as a junior officer was as Troop Commander of 8 Troop, Z Company. 45 Cdo was regarded as THE Mountain and Arctic unit at the time, and my Company Commander, Dougie Keelan, was a keen mountain man himself. In 1976 the unit went to Skye for mountain training and I couldn’t believe my good fortune – there I was, playing on the best mountain range in the UK and getting paid to do it! During the time we were there, the Company ticked off most of the Cuillin Ridge – But not Bruach na Frithe!
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The campsite at Sligachan has one of the best views of the northern Cuillins, with Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir and Sgurr a Bhasteir dominating the view. Setting off from the campsite with ‘Mist’, my objective, Bruach na Frithe, was just round the corner in the corrie of Fionn Choire, and hidden from view from the campsite.
A steady walk in alongside the waterfalls and pools of the Allt Dearg Mor soon brought a different view of Sgurr nan Gillean. The panorama of the west side of Sgurr nan Gillean from the Allt Dearg Mor is a classic view, and the saw-tooth edge of Pinnacle Ridge is unmistakable – it’s a cracking mountain route and I had climbed it in the summer of 1976, while on leave with a couple of mates who were also marines. Then, as I made further progress along the Glen Brittle path, I started to get a better view into Fionn Choire.
There was still quite a bit of moorland to cross, with a steady height gain. Once into the rocks of the corrie things changed, and before long it was time for a brew of coffee and a ‘sarnie’. Coming down the slope was an old guy who must have been in his mid-70’s – I had passed his tent on the way up. He’d been up early for a wander around the Ridge, and was heading down for a kip. I remember thinking that I hope I’m still doing that sort of thing when I’m his age!
The plan was to head up the left side of the corrie to Bealach nan Lice, then to traverse underneath the peak of Sgurr a Fionn Choire to hit the East Ridge of Bruach na Frithe. At the bealach (pass) there were great views across Lota Corrie towards Blaven, and across Harta Corrie towards Elgol, where we had witnessed a superb sunset a few days back (see post #223). The East Ridge seemed longer than the map suggested, but that thought disappeared as the Cuillin Ridge came into view.
The view of the ridge from the summit of Bruach na Frithe is something else – it’s also virtually impossible to do it justice in a photograph, so the curious reader will have to go and take a look in person. I had decided on a return by the same route – the Northwest Ridge looked like a ‘goer’, but I didn’t fancy an ‘epic’ with the dog if I came across an awkward bit.
Reversing a route isn’t such a big deal anyway – the views are always different for one thing, and this option didn’t disappoint. I was also a bit wary of having the dog on gabbro rock for too long – ‘Mist’ is a real mountain dog, and her pads are quite hard, but gabbro is possibly the most abrasive rock you can come across, and it shreds boots and clothing in quick time.
I made my way down, shouting a quick ‘hello’ to the old guy in his tent. ‘Mist’ had a drink in just about every pool on the descent, but I was happy to wait until we were back at Sligachan campsite for an ice-cold cider out of the fridge – after all, we are supposed to ‘re-cidrate’ aren’t we?
Text and images © Paul Shorrock