Skye’s The Limit: The 100th Munro
Richard Lutz takes to the hills in Northwest Scotland and is a very tired man.
The mountain on Skye has a nice name: Sgurr Alasdair. Rugged, sharp, spartan.
It is the 100th Munro I climbed. There are about 280 of these peaks in Scotland- all more than 3000 feet from sea level. And for this 100th, I decided it wasn’t going to be one of those rounded humps that populate the central region of the Highlands but this beauty that rockets up from the Cuillin Ridge that forms a snake-like spine through the Isle of Skye.
The thing about Skye is the weather. The island is steeped in unsettledness; deep mist, swirling wind and soaking rain leave a dangerous sheen on the hills. And though alot of the Cuillin Ridge is composed of sticky rock called gabbro, there still is enough danger in wet conditions to stay off the mountains (plus you can’t see anything plus a compass goes nuts with the composition of the rocks). For these conditions, it is simply best never to leave the pub.
The weather is fine though and we picked our way up from the shoreline of Glen Brittle to a high level coire that encompasses the green waters of Loch Lagan 2000 feet above the sea. Around us is a wall of knife like ridges and pinnacles -mountains with names like Sgurr Dearg, Mhic Choinnich, The Inaccessible Pinnacle and Sgurr Thearlaich. Climbing them can be difficult. Pronouncing them… impossible. The target, Sgurr Alasdair, is the highest of the Skye peaks and sits tucked away due east up the coire walls, its sharp peak obscured by cliffs and crags.
From the the loch, there is a 400m scree gully up to the col on the ridge itself. The stone chute is shot full of small rocks and boulders, walking is difficult, one step up and two down as the rubble tumbles down to the loch. ‘Like walking in porridge.’ said a friend. It was murderously slow.
The stone shoot used to be one of Britain’s great natural leisure centres as thousands of climbers would stand at the lip of the col and run down its gully. Now, most of the rocks lie littered at the bottom and the upper part of the hard slog consists of mid sized loose boulders. As the walk ascends, the gully walls narrow, sounds echo and the upward walk gets steeper, so steep your nose seems to hit your knees as you take step after step.
At the top of the gully on the ridge, the weather is fine and the world opens up. You look down and across the southern ridge of The Cuillin Range and across to the Hebridean islands of Rhum and Eigg… and then across the waters to the mainland all the way to, we think, Ben Nevis itself. Across the quietness of the sea below, a small line follows a boat crossing an open stretch of water. Looking back northwards, the spectacular stone spine of the whole Cuillin Ridge weaves back and forth through Skye with its peaks jutting upwards.
Then it is a scrabble up the final wall to the exposed top of Sgurr Alasdair. It is a sharp edge of a peak and takes one body at a time. The wind whips up and handholds on the grippy gabbro help . Light is fading and cloud coming in from the sea. Down on the col once again with its views, we begin the sludge down the stone chute, past the green waters of Loch Lagan and then a trawl downwards to sea level and, inevitably, a pint.