Bla Bheinn climb puts Skye in perspective
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I RECENTLY attended a lecture by Iain Stewart, one of the safety officers at Mountaineering Scotland. Part of his talk included an interesting section on the dangers of having a Plan A and a Plan B for your day in the hills.
The unintended consequence, Iain explained, is that Plan B often becomes the option of last resort. Rather, he suggested, think of the different routes as equals, more like alternative itineraries to allow you make the most of your day in the hills.
Just such thinking had to be employed at the end of a recent weekend on Skye. In a change from the usual Scottish problem of the weather, our reason for a modified plan was a very pleasant but long strupach with family on Skye. Now into the late afternoon and with a long drive ahead of us, our planned hill of Sgurr nan Gillean seemed a little ambitious, so a more straightforward peak was required.
Bla Bheinn was perfect – on the way home and one of the “easiest” Cuillin peaks. The car park was busy but there were still spaces, and after a quick change into boots we then had a frustrating (and mildly embarrassing as ‘seasoned’ hill goers) 15 minutes trying to find the start of the path.
Finally Eric and I started on our way up the glen, the well-made path making for pleasant progress towards the base of the hill. The Allt na Dunaiche burn flowed blue beside us, its sheltered pools and waterfalls enticing a return visit for a hot summer’s day bathing.
We crossed the burn and began climbing steeply into the heart of Bla Bheinn. A steady stream of people were now passing us as they descended the mountain, all with promises of a view worthy of the climb. Among those descending was one of Eric’s extended family, reminding us that the Highlands are both a big… and a very small place.
Reaching the lip of Coire Uaigneich we ignored the large path heading into the bowl of the corrie and instead turned right to climb steeply up the east ridge of the hill. The path wound upwards, loose and rocky, but was surprisingly easy given the steep crags either side.
The ground levelled out slightly as we reached the broader main ridge and we were able to look down vertiginous gullies towards the neighbouring mountain of Garbh-bheinn. Almost still conditions made for great walking across the rocky terrain toward the trig point summit of Bla Bheinn.
The main traffic of the day was now nearing the bottom of the hill and there was only one other person on the top; a man from Glasgow who could not believe his luck on planning a week hill walking on Skye for a period with such good conditions forecast.
Along the skyline the crests and pinnacles of the Cuillin were made more dramatic by the shadows thrown from scattered clouds that had formed above them. The sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean stretched away westwards and it was easy to pick out the distinct outlines of the Rum Cuillin and Isle of Eigg. In the foreground, my eye was drawn to the through path from Sligachan to Elgol, my mind already planning an adventure along it for another day.
We had chosen to do a circular route back down into the corrie so headed south-west from the summit, enjoying an airy narrow ridge and ledge on our way to the only slightly lower subsidiary top.
After exciting ground between the two tops, the descent down to the col above Coire Uagneich became increasingly trying as steep, loose ground meant the threat of ending up on your bum with grazed palms was never far away.
We reached the base of the summit cone with tired knees but rock rash free and it was then easier going down a scree field to the bottom of the coire. The air was distinctly cooler now as the sun began to fall below the ridge behind us, and we rejoined our outward route to descend steeply back towards the Allt na Dunaiche.
In the long evening light and without the crowds of the day the hill was tranquil, and we only passed one group, also descending, who had been caught out by the guidebook description of “the most straightforward of the Cullins” and were now making their weary way off the mountain. We quickly covered the short distance back to the start, thankfully finding the way back into the car park easier than working out how to get out.
We were in Broadford in enough time for fish and chips, back home in Moray before it got truly dark and woke refreshed for a day of work still full of the residual satisfaction from our short and sweet west coast adventure.
Distance 5 miles / 8km
Terrain Mountain path, steep and loose rocky ground, short scramble
Start/finish Car park on the road from Broadford to Elgol, near Torrin (grid reference NG560215)
Maps OS Explorer 311; OS Landranger 32; Harvey Map, Skye The Cuillin. Larger scale maps recommended
A short but sharp hill day with a grand view of Skye's main Cuillin ridge and the west coast