Walk of the Week: Sgurr Alasdair

Sgurr Alasdair. Picture: Wikimedia/CC

Sgurr Alasdair. Picture: Wikimedia/CC

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AT 992m/3,255ft the highest point on the Cuillin, Sgurr Alasdair would be beyond the abilities of non-scrambling hillwalkers were it not for the peak’s most distinctive feature, the Great Stone Chute, a massive scree slope that runs 300m from a steep gully just east of the summit down to Coire Lagan.

The first recorded ascent of Sgurr Alasdair was made by Alexander Nicolson (Alasdair MacNeacail in Gaelic) in 1873 and the peak now bears his name; a practice almost peculiar to Skye. Nicolson had modestly named it Scur a Laghain, and his wishes should have been adhered to. Admittedly, such a name, peak of the little hollow, does scant justice to the airy summit from where every Cuillin Munro can be seen, as can the outer isles.

East of the small stony saddle at the head of the stone chute, a short rampart leads to Sgurr Thearlaich, a subsidiary Top named after Charles Pilkington. SE of the Top is the Thearlaich-Dubh Gap, a barrier for non-climbers. A SE ridge extends over Sgurr Sgumain, another subsidiary Top, and on to Sron na Ciche overlooking Coire Lagan.

Easily missed when entering Coire Lagan is the Cioch, a rounded protrusion which resembles a breast on the cliff face of Sron na Ciche. Norman Collie noticed it in 1899 when its evening shadow was cast on the surrounding slabs. Collie and John Mackenzie were the first to climb it in 1906. The iconic picture of the Cioch is that taken late evening by Ben Humble, with WH Murray silhouetted on top – a picture Humble called the photograph of a lifetime.

Hillwalkers, even with no intention of climbing Sgurr Alasdair, should still visit Coire Lagan. On one visit, the corrie had a number of people sunbathing by the edge of the lochan, including one soul who went for a swim, lasting all of five seconds. The noise of their enjoyment contrasted with the silent slog as we climbed the scree.

Map Ordnance Survey map 32, South Skye

Distance 5 miles

Height 1000m

Terrain Good path to eroded scree slopes

Start point Glen Brittle road end car park, map ref 409207

Time 5 to 6 hours

Nearest villages Carbost and Sligachan

Refreshment spot Glen Brittle campsite cafe

THE ROUTE

The 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map 32, South Skye covers the area though I prefer the larger scale 1:15,000 James Renny’s map, the Black Cuillin. Many now use Harvey’s 1:25,000 map The Cuillin, on the back of which is an enlargement of the ridge at 1:12,500.

From the Glen Brittle campsite, cross the fence behind the toilet block and climb east on the renovated path. Gone are the days of a boggy, eroded way to the base of the hill. Keep east at a junction after half a mile. (The other path goes SE towards Coir a’Ghrunnda). The path climbs ENE on the north side of the Allt Coire Lagan, and into beautiful Coire Lagan and its lonely lochan dammed by large slabs.

The scree is not what it used to be, as thousands of boots push the debris further downhill. It is a slog, a case of two steps forward, one back – a non-scrambling approach that comes at a price. The bottom section, a strip of small stones, is where the debris forms a fantail. The middle section is a mixture of boulders, bare patches and smaller stones. The top section is now bare and to be treated with caution, though the slog is relieved by a zigzag path below the south wall of the now stone-chute gully.

From the stony saddle, a short and airy ridge goes west to the summit. Do not go near the edge of the sharp drop above the gully. Inadvertently kicking a stone into the chute will not be appreciated by other hillwalkers.

Return the same way with extreme caution – most accidents occur on descent – but perhaps this time enjoying the lower section of the scree.

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