Summer Series of interest: Part 5, Isle of Skye.
Over the next few weeks i will focus upon the munros on the Isle of Skye, looking at how to tackle the munros, the Cuillin ridge traverse and describing the unique geology. This week I will focus upon the munros as individual peaks and common questions and mistakes that i see people making.
Around this time of year is normally the busiest on Skye in the mountains with the start of the summer season, the settled weather, the winter snows have gone and the midges are not out yet, its a great time to go into the hills.
View from Bruach na Frithe showing Am Basteir (left peak) and Sgurr nan Gillean (centre
How many Munros are there on Skye?
There are in total 12 munros on the Isle of Skye, 11 on the main black Cuillin that also make up the Cuillin ridge and traverse and then Bla Bheinn which is in the Red Cuillin and offers an amazing view point of the main Cuillin ridge on a clear day.
Which are the hardest munros on Skye?
There are 2 angles that this question can be answered, from a scrambling point of view and also from a route finding angle. I deliberately didn't say navigation as once you are in the right corrie a map, compass, gps, phone will not help you too much, its about which rocks to go over or not. I will try and list them here in order of easiest to hardest taking into account the main difficulties of the terrain (scrambling) and route finding.
Sgurr na Banachdich
Bruach na Frithe
Sgurr nan Eag
These 4 have either no or very little scrambling on them or require boulder hopping to get to the top with simple route finding. But just like any mountain in the UK once the viability is poor, good navigation skills are needed. I sometimes find it harder navigating off these easier munros in poor visibility on wide bouldery slopes than on the harder peaks where you have a narrow ridge to follow.
Sgurr a Gharaidh
The next 4 above have a series of scrambling steps but not in any great length, with big consequences. They do also require good route finding once on the ridge itself, its not as simple as following the ridge to the top, there are sections on all the munros on Skye where you have to step down, around, over, go left a bit, right a bit and a lot of the time scramble right to the edge of the cliff before you see a logical way down. Just make sure its the right bit of the mountain!
Sgurr Dubh Mor
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich
I have put these 2 aside from the previous 4 as they have tricky route fining once you are on the peak and are further away from the corrie bottom which requires route finding to get to the ridge. The scrambling sections are roughly the same as the 4 above but more continuous in a lot of places, linking moves and moving from small ledge to narrow ridge.
Sgurr nan Gillean
These last 2 probably don't need much introduction. If you go up Sgurr nan Gillean via the south ridge it is only slightly trickier than the rest but most people link it with Am Basteir and therefore have to go up the west ridge with requires scrambling over the airy crazy pinnacles. The Inaccessible Pinnacle is the most 'climbing' peak on Skye and the munros, with a 80m narrow ridge to climb and then an abseil off. There is also simple scrambling to get to the base of the main pinnacle which only makes up the final 30m in altitude above Sgurr Dearg.
The list above assumes that you are on the main route to the summits and haven't deviated too much from that line. On each munro there are many different ways to the peak and off again if you want to do more or less scrambling.
Its just following the ridge, right?
I come across this all the time when people are either enquiring or when out on the hill. The visibility a lot of the time also doesn't make a lot of difference. On a good weather day a lot of people can see the part of the ridge they need to get to but getting there is not obvious or seemingly logical. As mentioned above there are only a few shorter sections on each peak that follow the main Cuillin ridge direct, the rest of the route finding is on side ridges, adjoining buttresses or boulder fields that ascend to the main ridge to the summit. Since i began visiting the Skye munros I think i am now about 70% more efficient in getting to the summits and that is just through improving my route finding and getting to know the way.
A good analogy is if i have to go from A to B in a big city i have never been to before. The way between those 2 points is most likely going to require a lot of changing direction, maybe cutting through a building or shopping area, maybe cutting through a park, going down side streets rather than along the main road etc, this is the same on the Skye Munros.
Its not that different to other ridges in the UK?
In an ideal world people aiming to summit the Skye Munros would have done a few other ridges in the near past, some local ridges to me are Curved Ridge, Aonach Eagach, Ledge Route, Tower Ridge. These are all good introductory ridges for Skye. The main difference with Skye is the volume of scrambling in a day compared to other ridges in the UK where you get a break at some point on the ridge from the rock and the scrambling. The Aonach Eagach is a good example, over half the distance is walking on a grassy ridge, this gives the mind a rest and means you can make some distance. The route finding and exposure on Skye is not to be under-estimated in terms of mental fatigue through the day, constantly finding your way with few landmarks to reassure you is tiring. On most munros on Skye once you have walked the few kilometres from the road on a good path you are into boulders and rock for the rest of the day.
This all sounds doom and gloom but if you are a confident scrambler and are confident in your footwork and route fining abilities you can have an amazing time. If you went along the Aonach Eagach and wondered what all the fuss was about or ascended Curved Ridge and enjoyed every minute of the scrambling then you are in the right place to have a positive time on Skye.
If you have been along Liathach, Forcan Ridge, CMD arete and other similar amazing routes as your hardest ridge routes then you might find Skye a bit of an eye opener if tackling it alone or with friends. I would consider the above examples as good ridge walking with bits of short scrambling sections.
What's the best combination of peaks?
There are many ways to combine munros on the main Cuillin ridge but a lot will depend upon your own fitness levels and what length of day you want. A lot of people aim to complete the 11 munros on the main Cuillin ridge in 4 days (an itinerary can be seen here) with BlaBheinn as a separate single day. Most people that i meet travel up to Skye for a block of days to get into the mountains and therefore try and get as many munros as possible but others also just do 1 or 2 at a time when the weather is good and come back year after year.
I hope that this article has some useful information about what to expect from the Skye munros and how to go about tackling them. If you want more information about our 4 day Skye Munros courses for the end of the summer 2020 and our 2021 dates then please look here. If you have just 1 or 2 of the harder ones to complete then we also provide bespoke days on the Skye munros as well.