Sgurr Alasdair & Sgurr Mhic Choinnich

Skye
By Fraser Smith

Start Point: Car park at the campsite at the bottom of Glen Brittle
Grid Reference: OS Sheet 32, GR 408206
Time: 6 hours approx
View Location: Scalable streetmap
Buy Harvey Map: Buy Map at Mapsworldwide - recommended for Skye
Buy OS Map: Buy Map at Mapsworldwide - not really enough detail

Introduction

This is one of the most wonderful "walks" in Scotland. The trip calls for a fair bit of Grade 3 scrambling and a reasonable head for heights (but then so does most of Skye). It takes you to the top of the highest Cuillin peak and along one of its narrower ridges.

 
For Skye, we would always recommend hiring a fully qualified guide who lives on the island & who knows the Cullin ridge inside-out. Most of the resident guides are also members of the Skye Mountain rescue. And this is not just some health and safety disclaimer - it's from our own experience..... we found Skye completely different from any other area in Scotland and until you are there you just don't fully appreciate that. The height, the exposure, the loss of compass signals at points, lack of map detail due to the soaring height of the Cullin right out the sea.........we could go on. Yes, a guide will cost you, but with so many deaths on Skye from falls or 'wrong turns', what's the point of having a heavy bank balance and ending up off the edge of the ridge......? It is also much more enjoyable not having to concentrate on navigation and the difficult route finding, and you can enjoy the wonderful 'airy' ridges.

Route

The best starting point is from the car park at the campsite at the bottom of Glen Brittle. You can start from the hut at the phonebox but the path up into Coire Lagan from there is unimproved whereas the one from the campsite is quite wonderful (guess who made the wrong choice!).

Follow the path up behind the toilet block (very useful) of the campsite and keep left at the first fork about 400 metres along it. At the next junction at GR 434206 turn off on the path down across the bowl of the outer corrie and head towards the stone shoot on the other side. You should see the Cioch on the face in front of you. The path leads towards the rock climbs of the Cioch face so you will need to turn right and head up towards the Sgumain Stone Shoot; a very broad gully filled with enormous boulders. When we went up in July 2002 there was evidence of a recent rockfall in the gully with smashed stones, big impact marks on the walls etc. It would not have given the slightest chance of survival if caught in it. Anyway the route is right up and out the top of the shoot. The going is not as bad as it looks as the boulders seem to form a staircase (even if some of the steps are a bit big). At the top of the gully head off northish to get to the summit of Sgurr Sgumain.

If you are lucky and it's sunny the way on to Alasdair is obvious, if it's not (as we had) you may take a few goes to find the right ridge to walk down to get to the south face of Alasdair. The way is fairly obvious and leads to a short chimney section that isn't as difficult as it looks and is somewhat protected fro the normal Skye exposure. Out of the top of the chimney keep heading up until finally you emerge at the summit. There is not an awful amount of room but there are places you can sit and admire the view (or the fog). Leave Alasdair down the normal tourist route (north eastish) until you get down to the top of the Great Stone Shoot.

Take a while here to admire the view down into Coire a'Ghrunnda before setting off (carefully) down the shoot. It is very important that you are careful as there will very likely be people in the shoot and dislodged stones can travel down it at alarming speeds. As the rock wall disappears on the right a faint path is followed on a traverse across the face until you are right below the col between Mhic Choinnich and Thearlich. It isn't particularly important where you turn as long as you can see a route up.

The scramble up here is not particlarly demanding (until you look down) but the rock is quite good and the holds plentiful. When you reach the col you have another chance for a rest and view out across loch Coruisk. Here the guidebook describes a big step up with the right foot but Mary, all 5 foot of her managed no bother. A bit of simple scrambling brings you out onto the start of what is commonly known as Collies ledge but I have read it should rightfully be called Hart's Ledge as it was discovered by the latter gentleman. This feature will lead you with a few ups and downs right across the face of your hill until you reach the spine of the main ridge. You will be returning this way so if you stash your rucksack you might appreciate it in a few minutes.

 
Here turn right and proceed to launch yourself into space as you make your way up onto the ridge. The holds are good but the 1000ft of nothing under your heels is perhaps a little bit intimidating. Remeber also at this stage that you are going to have to reverse this move on the way back. The rest of the ridge up to the summit of Mhic Choinnich is by comparison easy going but the big drop on your right is quite awesome. On up to the summit is as I said no problem and very soon you will be inside the small circular cairn at the top. You will now be feeling elated with yourself for having achieved two of the difficult Skye tops but as you turn back down the ridge you start to remember that small exposed bit - nothing wrong with keeping the heart rate pounding. It is a bit disconcerting to be pushing yourself out from the rock so you can look down between your legs to see where your feet have to go but remember just how easy it was on the way up. Once down pick up your rucsack and head down to the col below An Stac.
 

Pick a route down these screes and soon you are down looking at the loch and the wonderful boiler plate slabs that contain it. Time to sit and finish that lunch that you never had time for up above and admire the view. The best bit about this is sitting watching the unknowing trying to make their way UP the Great Stone Shoot - two steps up and one back if you are lucky. The path back to the campsite gives wonderful views out across the sea but you will be continually looking back and thinking "how on earth did we just do that?". It is a great feeling and one that is still with me 9 months later.

If you are attempting this route (or any others on Skye) I would STRONGLY recommend you get a copy of the guide book Scrambles on Skye. It is a typical climbing guide designed to be taken up the hill with you for reference when needed. It is a wonderful book to just sit and browse through on a winter's evening whilst you are planning your next trip to that magical isle. The other thing that you really should have is the excellent Harveys map of the Cuillins. It has the whole area at 1:25000 and the main ridge at 1:12500. The OS maps are useless for this area, both the 1:50000 and the 1:25000. It is almost impossible to see the contours for the amount of black ink showing crags, cliffs etc which are everywhere on Skye. The other advantage is the Harveys map is waterproof; a very useful feature as we found.

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