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Walking On The Islands

There are thirteen Munros in the Scottish islands, all of them except one being in Skye. The solitary exception is Ben More in Mull, a fine isolated mountain rising above Loch na Keal. Eleven of the Skye Munros are on the Cuillin Main Ridge and the last one, Bla Bheinn, stands by itself above the west side of Loch Slapin.

Although separated from the rest of the Cuillins, Bla Bheinn shares their principal characteristics - the dark, rough gabbro rock, the narrow splintered ridges and the steep rocky corries which on most of the peaks give few easy routes to the summits. The Main Ridge extends in an irregular arc round the deep basin of Loch Coruisk. At the north end of this arc Sgurr nan Gillean is one of the best known of the Cuillin, the first one to be climbed and in full view from the road at Sligachan Hotel. Next to it is Am Basteir, a narrow, exposed ridge of gabbro with no easy route to its summit.

The third of the northern peaks is Bruach na Frithe, which is one of the easiest of the Cuillin to climb. Southwards from Bruach na Frithe the Main Ridge overlooks Glen Brittle, and all the peaks in the southern half of the Ridge are most easily climbed from there. Sgurr a'Mhadaidh and Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh are both fine peaks with several tops and narrow summit ridges, and both are climbed quite easily from the col between them.

To their south-west Sgurr na Banachdich is the easiest of the Glen Brittle peaks if climbed by Coir' an Eich. Going further south, the next three peaks are on the headwall of Coire Lagan and are three of the best of the Cuillin. The Inaccessible Pinnacle which rises just above the top of Sgurr Dearg is the hardest to climb; its east ridge (the easiest route) is very narrow and exposed, though not technically difficult by climbers' standards. Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and Sgurr Alasdair (both named after famous pioneer climbers) complete the Coire Lagan trio; neither are particularly difficult to climb, they just involve tedious ascents of seemingly interminable scree and boulder slopes.

Finally, towards the south end of the Ridge are Sgurr Dubh Mor at the top of the long slabby Dubhs Ridge and Sgurr nan Eag, the last of the Munros. To its south the Ridge continues for a further two kilometres to end at Gars-bheinn. Safety in The Cuillin The Cuillin are the most challenging mountains in Scotland, almost entirely rocky, with narrow crests and steep sides, and with only a few walking routes to their tops.

Climbing these mountains is very different from the perfectly simple hillwalking which is involved in the ascent of all but five or six of the mainland Munros, Most of the Cuillin peaks require some scrambling to reach their summits, and one - The Inaccessible Pinnacle - calls for rock-climbing. Much of the scrambling is fairly easy, but there are places where, for a few metres, the difficulties are more akin to easy rock-climbing. There are also many places where the narrowness of the ridges and their exposure are such that a slip might have serious results. In such situations surefootedness and a good head for heights are essential.

In spite of the fact that the Cuillin are composed of gabbro, one of the finest and roughest of climbing rocks, there is a great deal of loose rock, and care should be taken at all times. There have been many accidents over the years due to loose rock in situations where that hazard was quite unexpected. There are a number of places on the Main Ridge and close to it where the compass is unreliable due to local magnetic anomalies, which do not occur on lower ground. Thus in mist you should always know where you are and the direction in which you should be going. Careful map reading is essential.

The Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map is not really adequate for navigation except on the lower ground and in the corries. The OS produces a 1:25,000 map of the Cuillin (back-to-back with a map of the Torridon mountains), and the Scottish Mountaineering Trust publishes a double-sided map of the Cuillin: on one side a 1:15,000 chart with paths marked, and on the other side a relief map of the range of scale 1:12,500.

There is also a Harvey's Superwalker map of the Cuillin, scale 1:25,000, with an enlarged map of the Main Ridge, scale 1:12,500. All the routes described, except that for Bla Bheinn, are on the Sligachan and Glen Brittle side of the Main Ridge.

These two places provide the easiest access to the mountains and also most of the accommodation for climbers in hotels, hut, hostel, campsites etc. Consequently most of the normal hillwalkers' routes in the Cuillin start from them. Loch Coruisk, on the other hand, is much more remote and for that reason routes on that side of the Cuillin tend to be more serious. Also the peaks and corries are steeper and wilder on that side, and the ways less well marked by footpaths.

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