I spent a week hiking on Skye in April 2017. The first day we did a moderate walk through the Quiraing, the next day we had a rest and saw Dunvegan Castle, a weaving workshop, and had a drink at the Stein Inn.
My friend, Francis, decided it was time to do one of the Black Cuillins, the tall dark and rugged peaks Skye is famous for. I asked which one he wanted to do and he said “Sgurr Alasdair. It is the tallest”. I looked it up in Terry Marsh’s’ “Walking the Isle of Skye.” He wrote: “Not by any stretch of the imagination can the ascent be called pleasurable; it represents a corner of purgatory set aside for hard-line masochists.”
So the next morning we drove to the campsite at Glen Brittle and set off.
There were no other cars in the parking lot. We walked past the beach in a light drizzle, the mountains covered in mist. We admired the hardiness of the people who were camping in this remote spot in the rain.
It was cool and the peaks were covered in mist most of the time. We walked on fairly easy trails until we got a view of the first lake, then on steeper trails by a waterfall to Coire Lagan. We saw no-one, which was a bit disturbing as we were doing a difficult hike in unfamiliar surroundings in marginal weather. It would be nice to have company. Was there some memo we did not get? A severe weather warning or something?
At this stage, we did not know if we would get any view from the summit. We finally saw other hikers, a man with his 12 yr-old son, who were ahead of us, and beginning to ascend the scree.
The path up is following the pale line in the middle of the scree slope, then entering a narrow, steep gully with more scree hidden to the right. The stones are about fist sized and fall back as you put weight on them. It is a tough climb, but we persisted. Reading other accounts we were lucky to do it in cool weather and without any other hikers around us to kick stones down at us.
Suddenly the agony was over, and we got to a high pass. with fantastic views to the east. It was a pleasant spot to contemplate the view and to consider the hazards of both the way up and the way down….
We thought the final push of about 120 feet of ascent would be easy, as we were now on firm rock, but the summit was unlike anything I have ever seen. There is nothing smooth or rounded about it; it’s just a collection of armchair-sized boulders thrown one on top of another, with no clear path, and a 3,000 -ft drop in all directions.
We finally made it to the miniscule summit, which only had enough space for one person to sit down at a time. For a few moments, there was an excellent view in all directions, but a mist quickly rolled in from the west and started closing in on us rapidly. Time to beat a hasty retreat while we could still make out the route.
With no sign of a path to guide me on the rocks, I overshot the mark and almost started to descend down the wrong side of the mountain, but I stopped myself, and Francis, who was behind me, guided me back to the top of the pass.
The descent down the Great Stone Chute was as unpleasant as the ascent. After several falls I gave up and skidded down on my butt most of the way. As we descended the weather improved, the sky cleared and we saw a few more hikers. We had a very pleasant hike back to Glen Brittle and then detoured via Talisker for a well-deserved pint before heading back to Portree.