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Whatever the Weather

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Sometimes the weather and our plans don’t match up. This is a story of ambitious plans and making the most of the conditions we got.

Planning trips with friends and family is always a little bit complicated. You have a big, exciting idea - but then you need to find someone who also thinks it is big-and-exciting and not just hard-and-overly-ambitious. Then you both need to be free. Then you need the weather to be good.

The Plan: A long discussed plan was an ambitious link up of the Black Cuillin, Red Cuillin and Rum Cuillin. The dream scenario is for the weather to be good for long enough to link the Rum section by kayak and be wholly self-supported for the effort. This is an ambitious plan; completing the Black Cuillin is an impressive achievement in itself. Our plan was to do the Black Cuillin in two days, the Red Cuillin in two days, spend two days paddling to Rum, one day on the Rum Cuillin, and then two days paddling back.

For those familiar with the terrain and compared to some of the speedier efforts on these routes this is a leisurely pace. But our aim wasn’t setting records, it was having fun!

Day 3

The Partner: This trip was my partner’s idea and I was the one convinced to tag along. Albeit, it didn’t take much convincing. I felt a little guilty abandoning structured training for a couple of weeks but the thought of a big, exciting (scary, overly ambitious) plan lured me in. When his leave coincided with a chunk of travel-free time for me we started checking the long range weather forecast…

The Weather: .. it wasn’t good. As those of you based in or regularly visiting Scotland will know, June was amazing and it has rained ever since. Throughout July we checked and checked with our optimism dwindling. The week before things were looking surprisingly good, but then began to deteriorate again. It was one of those forecasts that shows a wide range of wind speed and direction and the symbol somehow includes rain, sun and cloud all at once. In short, the Met Office didn’t know what was going to happen. We decided to interpret the forecast optimistically, though in the end it delivered pessimistically.

Conditions in June were much more favourable!

The Trip:

Day 1: We knew we’d be starting in poor conditions for our paddle from Elgol to Camasunary. We needed to get going to set up camp and get us into position to make the most of the good forecast the next day though. As we prepped in Elgol we quickly realised the forecast showers were instead falling as torrential rain. We packed, paddled, and set up camp in the wet.

Day 2: We’d planned an early start but the rain fell for longer than forecast. In the end we didn’t set off until 11:00, four hours later than planned. It was probably worth it to avoid another soaking. We walked round to Loch Coruisk and up the Dubh Ridge in glorious sunshine. As we reached the abseil, however, both midges and cloud started to roll in. Route finding to the main ridge proved difficult and once we were there progress was slow due to poor visibility and slippery rocks. We dropped our bags, back tracked to Gars Bheinn and then walked the ridge to Sgurr Dubh Mor, picked up our bags, and bivvy’ed just before TD Gap. Progress had been slower than hoped, but the forecast was improving and we felt optimistic.

Day 3: We woke up in rain and thick clag. Visibility was just a few metres and though I’d been on this part of the ridge before the rocky terrain was disorientating. We opted to avoid a wet TD Gap and headed for the cave on the ascent to Sgurr Alisdair where we ate breakfast and considered our options. The weather wasn't so bad that we shouldn't be there, but it was bad enough that being there wasn't much fun. Our choices were: bail down to Glen Brittle, wait in the cave all day and try tomorrow, continue slowly and bypass the climbs. With the cloud starting to lift we decided to continue along the ridge. The rain soon stopped but the rocks never dried out and the cloud rose and fell all day. Progress was quick when we could see where we were going but painfully slow when we couldn’t. The perk of this was concealed exposure on the InnPinn! Around 19:00 we accepted that we weren’t completing the ridge that day and stopped for another bivvy. The forecast the next day was for 90% chance of cloud free munro and specifically singled out Skye to have the best weather. We set our alarms for 05:00 and speculated that if we had a really long day we might complete the Black and some of the Red Cuillin the next day.

Day 4: Once again we woke up in clag and rain. Nonetheless we reasoned it should burn off and continued on our way. We bypassed one of the tops since it wasn’t a Munro and our morale was suffering. Frustratingly as we continued along the ridge we could see the mountains behind us emerging into clear skies, whilst the northern summits we were heading for remained invisible. By the time we reached Naismith’s any chance of the cloud burning off had evaporated. We filled up our water bottles straight from the water running off the wall and took Collie’s Route. From Am Basteir it was easy progress to the final summit Sgurr nan Gillean. It was early afternoon and we could have squeezed in some of the Red Cuillin traverse but opted for returning straight to the tent at Camasunary.

The ambitious plan had proved unachievable in our conditions, but we were happily defeated. Conditions had been tough and yet we’d had a real adventure out there in some of Scotland’s finest mountains. Ducking out of the plan when we *could* have continued means that we’re excited to return to explore Skye further and have another go. We might wait for a better weather window next time though!

We returned to our tent, laid out everything we had with us to dry, and feasted on tinned mackerel and crisps. The joys of real food! The next two days bought clear skies and strong winds to Skye. It was frustrating to see the Cuillin cloud free from below, but good for both legs and head to have a change of activity: we spent two lovely days paddling to Point of Sleat and back.

And now we’re home; washing machine on, guidebooks on the shelves, lessons learnt and ready to plan for next time!

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