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Isle of Skye | by Scotland's Mountains
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Isle of Skye

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Garbh Bheinn

The Cuillin in Skye have always captured my attention, whether Red or Black the combination of mountain and sea creates a magical spectacle and a visit to Sky always fills me with excitement! The northerly winds had brought snow to the northern half of Scotland and now a low pressure system was hovering over the northwest highlands! The day before on the drive through I had stopped in Glen Shiel and walked up Sgurr Mhic Bharraich, wading through drifts on the top and catching a little sun light between hefty showers!

I spent the night in Broadford contemplating what to do the following day… The forecast was varying between the different weather websites, with some stating the afternoon would be better and others indicating that the morning would be better! I had my eye on Garbh Bheinn, a Corbett in the Black Cuillin, not far from Clach Ghlas and Blabheinn, which I hadn’t been up before, however I didn’t fancy heading up in a white out!


A short evening walk along the shores of Broadford Bay revealed a starry sky and I looked skyward in the hope of catching some of the meteor shower… I saw two shooting stars and made my wish!


Breakfast as at 0730am at the hotel and I was up early to see which forecast was right! Stepping outside and everything sparkled- a deep frost had descended overnight and cloaked everything in ice! Anticipation was growing, although the stars shone here with the clear sky, it didn’t mean the mountains along the road would be clear! I set off and to my delight the skies remained clear as I drove the short distance to my start point near the waterfall at the head of Loch Ainort, the dawn light was revealing a white blanket coating the Cuillin Hills- to say I was happy would be the understatement of the year! I really couldn’t have asked for a better morning, the heavy snows of the prior days had left the Red and Black Cuillin decidedly white! The sky was blue, the mountains were white ad nobody else was on the hill, solitude seemed a little unfair however I was enjoying it all! The shooting star and wish the night before had held true;)

I made my way up the Druim Eadar Da Choire, all the while trying to make steady progress and not stopping every two steps to pick my jaw off the floor! Marsco was dominating the skyline ahead and to my right, the other Red Cuillin stood behind me watching my progress and all the while Garbh Bheinn was waiting to the southern horizon! These views were amazing but as I reached the top of the shoulder (489m), the Black Cuillin Ridge came into view- what a sight! I was lucky enough to summit camp on Sgurr na Stri when snow covered the Cuillin previously, however on that occasion the blanket was only half on – today the blanket was almost down to sea level. I spent a bit of time enjoying the view at the shoulder top and would’ve of been happy to turn and go home here – however I now had to cross from the Red to the Black and get my mountaineering head on! Garbh Bheinn, in comparison to other Black Cuillin peaks may be less technical and in the summer a easy scramble, however under a coating of deep, soft powdery, unconsolidated snow, I knew I was going to have to concentrate and perhaps not summit her today…. No one was on the mountain and a simple slip would have consequences- especially on the summit ridge where I knew the narrow ridge would test me….

Crampons on – ice axe out, I now headed up steep ground with some steepening sections

. The snow made everything look so festive but foot placements gave some surprises. The deep snow hid rock and scree and the fact that the snow was so powdery meant I had to take my time. Up I went and the views got better and better! Behind me and looking north I could see the weather was rapidly changing, the low sun to the south was still illuminating the white hills but the northern horizon behind grew darker and darker with the approaching weather!


Soon, I was about to gain the summit ridge! Pulling myself onto the final ridge before turning east and a new view came into sight as Blabheinn appeared in all its glory! I sat and enjoyed it, but not for too long – Galmaig and its neighbours had now been engulfed with the storm clouds and were disappearing from view- I needed to crack on! Probably a hop, skip and a jump in summer conditions, the final ridge was now a sharp snowy arête, the knife edge crest of snow hiding the rocks under the coating. Probing my way along slowly I had to circumvent a few small steps the axe a necessity ! Exhilarating and lofty it certainly was! Soon I reached the summit and the blue above was now replaced by grey as white flakes started to fall! Half way! The same amount of concentration was needed to retrace my steps and soon I stopped heading west and was headed north towards the car. The hills and mountains that had caught my gaze all the way up had now disappeared and a sheet of dark grey enveloped everything. The wind had increased dramatically and heavy snow now fell from the sky stinging my exposed skin! The blizzard raged around me as I descended! My plans (had the weather remained perfect) were to continue to Marsco, that was no binned as I fought my way back to the car! It wasn’t until I set foot back on the Red Cuillin that the snow started to ease so a couple of snaps and piece to camera before descent on the red part of the walk! The snow eventually turned to rain as I reached the car and a quick change into civilian uniform;)! On to the Sligachan and a soon I was tucking into a festive dinner in front of a roaring fire, trying to take in my day’s adventure – what a day, what a mountain – what a place….. Not sure I will have such a good day on the hill for some time……..

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Uploaded on December 28, 2017