North Black Cuillin Ridge
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Introduction
The northernmost section of the Cuillins are most easily accessed from Sligachan. The approach paths are again very well maintained but it sometimes does feel like a slog along them when it's the umpteenth time you've been along them. The distance from Sligachan to the slopes of the Cuillin is about 3km. Two of the summits here - Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir are among the most striking of the Cuillin tops. And the munro top of the Basteir Tooth is the most difficult summit to reach - a diff climb by Naismiths route.


Sgurr na Gillean seen
from near the Basteir gorge
 

A classic view of Sgurr na Gillean,
Am Basteir and Sgurr a Basteir
seen from Sligachan
North Cuillin topographical map

Bruach na Frithe
This summit is said to be the easiest munro on Skye - not quite true - Banachdich is easier. None the less its ascent involves hardly any scrambling at all. The most straightforward approach is via Fionn Choire upto Bealach nan Lice followed by a traverse beneath Sgurr a' Fhionn Choire. The ridge from here to the top is easy. Follow the true crest for maximum scrambling opportunity. The summit is an excellent viewpoint. It's one of the turning points of the Cuillin ridge. The south looks more or less down the entire crest in all its chaotic twists and turns while the eastern aspect shows the final daunting prospect of Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean.


Sgurr a' Fionn Choire and
Am Basteir seen from
Sgurr nan Gillean

Sgurr a' Basteir seen from Am Basteir
 
 


Bruach na Frithe seen from the east

The view south from Bruach na Frithe

Two other good routes to this summit from the north include some scrambling. The north ridge direct is a grade 2 and I haven't done this one. The other route is the north east ridge of Sgurr a' Bhasteir. This route is grade 1/2. It starts from the Bhasteir gorge and it's quite easy. It's mostly walking with the odd avoidable scrambling step. Higher up the ridge is more defined and has some deep gullies cutting into it. The scrambling up here is also easy and again you have to seek out the good bits to the top. From Sgurr a' Basteir the south ridge continues easily to Bealach nan Lice.


The striking profile of Am Basteir

Am Basteir seen from the west

The Bastheir tooth

Am Basteir
When this summit is seen from Sgurr nan Gillean, your first thought is "**** off I'm not doing that!" The north face of Basteir is essentially vertical with a slight overhang near the bottom. The south face is also extremely steep but this is quite tapered with it getting steeper as you get closer to the summit.

The profile of Am Basteir from the west at Bealach nan Lice is that it looks like a pinnacle. There's no walkers access from this side. Traverse beneath its north face on scree to get round to its eastern side on Bealach a' Basteir. The east ridge from here looks more friendly and easy. You can take the ridge easily up to where it levels off. Here the ridge is narrower and more scrambly. However it doesn't feel exposed. The thing you notice here is that the south side is full of broad slabby ledges that slope up the face in the summit direction.


The east ridge of Am Basteir

Following the ledges beneath the bad step

Tackling the bad step

The final scramble to the summit

Continue along the ridge and you notice an obstacle - the Bad step! This is 10 feet of vertical 'diff' downclimbing. It's quite disconcerting going down it in the summit direction. So, do you feel defeated after all that effort? Yes? Don't be. You see those ledges? Follow one down back the way you came until you see an easy way down to the next ledge lower down (grade 2). It's not too exposed but quite loose (don't slip otherwise your slide will get you better acquainted with the steeper bit of the south face!). Eventually get onto the ledge that gets you beneath the bad step.

Once back onto the ridge, it's a straightforward scramble to the summit. Up here the south face now looks decidedly steeper! Don't bother jumping off to make westward progress ... it would probably be your last! Go back the way you came - but try the bad step to save time. Tall people will have an advantage here as there are superb handholds at the top of the step. Well that wasn't too bad was it? On to Gillean...

Sgurr na Gillean
Like Am Basteir, Sgurr na Gillean has only one route for modest scrambler like myself. Unfortunately this isn't the convenient west ridge that makes the link with Am Basteir, no that would be too easy for munro baggers! It's the south east ridge I'm talking about. The other routes to the top are of moderate rock climbing standard. Unfortunately Sgurr nan Gillean is probably the second hardest munro on Skye as the south east ridge is sustained grade 3 scrambling - with a very narrow bit at the end.


Sgurr na Gillean seen from Glen Sligachan

Sgurr na Gillean seen from Am Basteir

Sgurr na Gillean seen from the SE ridge

From Sligachan a good path goes into Coire Riabhach before going up into a hanging corrie. The path is less obvious here but stick to the corrie bottom and reach the main stream flowing out of it. The terrain is quite bouldery. It looks like the corrie exit is steep all over the place but isn't too bad actually. Follow the main stream upwards via a scree path until you reach the bottom of some overhanging cliffs. Turn left up another bouldery slope and you reach broader slopes easily from here. It's now an easy walk to the south east ridge!


The narrow bit seen from the summit

R U lost? On the SE ridge.

Sgurr Beag & Sgurr Na h-Uarma

Well it's probably taken you about 1.5 hours of slog to get you here. Don't turn back now! You're only another 20mins from the top. The SE ridge ascends easily at first. You get to the first buttress where hands now come out of pockets. Congratulations, you've just done half the ridge! Take the shallow chimney to the left. The exit of the gully is blocked by a boulder. Use a bridging technique to get over this obstacle easily. That was the first of two awkward moves. Turn right here and get back to the crest (don't follow the path ahead). Above lies some more easy scrambling. Ascend left past some obstacle on the ridge but cut back hard right eventually to reach the crest again.

Right! The top's 7mins away from here. Follow a worn route slightly to the right of the ridge weaving in and around some blocks on the crest. Eventually you reach a steep 20ft step (awkward section number 2). Go up it. The holds slope out and hands are used for balance without positive holds. Once above this you're on a broad slab with two or three short steps up. Before you know it the ridge levels out and the summit can be seen ahead! The ridge gets very narrow but is quite easy.

You've reached the top! Congratulations. It took three attempts for me to reach this summit. Well, go back the way you came. Awkward section 2 felt dodgy going down. It's exposed and instead of the steps I took the ridge which was quite without holds - like balancing a tightrope without the safety net! After that the scrambling easy - awkward section 1 is easy to go down.

Further south you've got two more peaks. Sgurr Beag is easy but Sgurr Na h-Uarma is a moderate rockclimb.

Well, that's the Cuillin ridge for you. Enjoy it but most of all take care! People do get killed on it from time to time, make sure you don't.