Trip to the Isle of Rum #2 – A traverse of The Cuillins
Finally, the second instalment of my recent (ish) trip to Rum.
Actually, firstly – a quick ad :
before this trip I was chatting to a blogger and a man with real knowledge of the Scottish Islands, Pete writes over at http://writesofway.com/ and was really helpful and mentioned he was bringing a book out in June. This book looks really good, if I head up to the Small Isles of Scotland again, I’ll get it. In fact, I think I’ll get it anyway. Here’s a link to it : go buy it yourself if you’re interested in this part of the world
Back to the trip:
I’ve been delayed in writing up the actual Rum trip (see earlier post on the detour we took on the way to Rum) mostly because of time as I’ve been setting up a new consultancy/freelance business (another Quick Ad : I’m over here at markkellynet.com). Which has meant quite a few evenings of work and less head space of late. But also, for the first few days after my return, I found it hard to type for any length of time. I must have wrenched a muscle in my arm at some point along the Cuillin ridges. Really wrenched it, as it ached for a couple of weeks, enough to wake me up at night (and nothing but nothing makes me lose sleep normally).
Anyway a few weeks later – here I am and here’s my take on the trip up and around the Rum Cuillins. There’s definitely something new to see on Rum at every turn.. paraphrased nicely as ”tha rudeigin ùr daonnan ri fhaicinn” in Gaelic. Okay, I know no Gaelic, that came from a from a quote on the Rum Community website : http://www.isleofrum.com/
Some facts about the Cuillins and what we planned to achieve:
The idea was to head off from Kinloch (where the ferry comes in) and walk across the mountains of Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean, We would then come down into Dibidil to the bothy and either stay the night in there or camp / bivvy close to it. And that was pretty much what happened. The weather was fantastic, we couldn’t have wished for better – blue skies and some occasional breeze. Just the thing to traverse around a gigantic volcanic caldera (the remains of an enormous volcano whose dome collapsed to leave pretty dramatic sides, with some of the rock being 3 billion years old – although more latterly shaped by glaciers). To save my geologist son embarrassment with my non technical / flawed descriptions, have a look at some rock facts and figures here :
Anyway, back to the hike itself. We set off in warm sun and high spirits. The climb out of Kinloch quickly gives you some great views of both Rum and over to Skye. Further into the hike / climb we could see other islands and lots of sea. The weather over towards Skye was more dramatic and we could see we were missing some fairly hefty showers. Phew.
I’m not going to give a peak by peak account of the first day, I’ll let some photos give you a sense of the place. But overall I would say (for me) that it was challenging. And beautiful. And remote. And quiet. And soul-stirring. And fun. And challenging. You get the picture. That was a word that was going around my head on the top of most of the peaks. In some places and at certain moments it was really tough for me. I don’t mind tough, we all build personal stories and myths about ourselves, internal narratives – and one of mine is that I’m tenacious and also probably too dim to know when to stop slogging forward. Which is why I loved schoolboy rugby in the cold and rain, I really enjoyed the ‘battle’. And I really engaged with Frodo’s travails when I read Lord of the Rings as a youth. But parts of the Cuillins were definitely ‘tricksy’ for me. Even under warm blue skies.
I’m not going to dwell on that too much but that old monkey on my back of vertigo did affect me a few times. My over-riding memory though is of wide open views, sweeping vistas and brilliant views across to the other islands. And once we were down at lower levels and I could stop-with-the-fear-already, the sense of remoteness, beauty and tranquillity won through. I would happily hermitage at either of the Bothies (is that the right use of the word?) for a few weeks. Actually, mainly at Guirdil (more of that in the next post).
Here’s a map to give you a sense of the island :
The link above is from a site I stumbled across when I searched for ‘maps of rum’. And it turns out to be a really interesting find. The site is (I think I’ve summarised this correctly) is a resource related to Celtic ecclesiastical culture and geography. And it contains a lot of information on the early history of the islands, well worth a read and I wish I’d read it before we got there – always good to have some context for a place you are ‘exploring’.
As mentioned, the plan was to cross all of the Cuillins, reaching the highest point at 812m (I believe) on top of Askival. As it happened we ‘skipped’ Barkeval so we could get to the bigger peaks sooner. As we stood below some peaks, I wasn’t sure how we were going to traverse some of the ridges, paths are not so clear on Rum, there’s no ‘tourist route’ as such although there are set routes detailed (see link to the book above) and it meant some scrambling in places. Nothing that needed ropes but still a bit tricky for me. These are obviously non mountaineering grade descriptions I’m using. If you read this blog you’ll know I’m not a seasoned / technical mountaineer. I’m a hiker. So ‘tricky’ and ‘scramble’ will have to suffice for my descriptions of types of climb we encountered.
Some photos (using my camera phone to save pack weight so quality is a bit ropey):
So now there is a gap here in the photo diary.. no photos from on top of Askival.
I kept my phone stowed away as I climbed / scrambled my way up the ridge of Askival. There were two routes up.. the rocky actual ridge route with a lot of exposure or the the path to the left (as we looked at it) that was a few feet lower, off the actual ridge but still with some exposure / vertiginous views in places. I, with a couple of the other guys took that route. But it still required a steady foot and a good grip in some places, so getting my phone out a la tourist just didn’t happen
Sitting up by the trig point at Askival felt great though and (again) we were grateful for the clear skies and the views we had. We gthen picked our way downhill before starting the route up to Trollaval. I was (technically speaking) knackered after the previous two peaks but team leader Ali whispered ‘walk fat boy, walk’ into my ear and I did just that. Actually that’s not true, he rightly made the point that this was no race and the views from the top of Trollaval woud also be excellent. So I got up there in a great frame of mind.. fuelled by another pork pie and some Jelly Babies (yes that does make me sound like a fat boy but we were all eating a lot to keep energy up of course). Quick Ad no. 3 : I’ve found (after a tip off from a seasoned walker) that jelly babies are great for tactical sugar / energy boosts. Probably as much psychological as physiological, I’ve had a bag with me (as well as dried fruit and nuts) on ascents of Snowdon, Scarfell Pike and the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. (end of Ad).
But after Trollaval I had basically lost my nerve with some of the exposed parts particularly on Askival and my legs were wiped… there’s only so much adrenalin they could take. Doh.
So after some soul searching and rather than joining the the ascent of Ainshval from Bealach an Fhuarain with the rest of the guys, I decided to head down the wide , glacier-scraped valley below us and aim for Dibidil Bothy. They continued up the steep / rocky ridge of Ainshval and onwards to Sgurr nan Gillean. I gathered later on when they met me down near the bothy that the descent from Sgurr nan Gillean was pretty difficult after a long days’ peak traversing and I was glad I’d stopped when I did. I wanted some energy for the next day (the less elevated by quite long hike to Guirdil Bothy).
More of that in the next post.
That hike down to Dibidil was fantastic, blue skies above me, a horseshoe of peaks around me and the sea (and nearby isle of Eigg) in front. There was a river with occasional waterfalls which I followed and over to my right, keeping their wary distance, a herd of about 20 Red Deer. We never actually saw a group larger than this – to say there are about 1500 Red Deer on Rum I had expected to see more but I think they congregate around the other side of the island.
I even made a couple of rock balances as I had plenty of time on my hands and messing about with absolutely no time pressures is a rare thing and should be celebrated.
Once the rest of the group (you know, the fit, fearless section) met me at Dibidil we pitched the fly sheets and sorted out a bivvy spot for the night. Then found a small rocky cove to cook up our food in. And with some dry seaweed we got a pretty decent beach fire going to watch the moon rise above Eigg. Awesome and a really enjoyable evening.
next day : across the island to Guirdil Bothy..