Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Blaven and Clach Glas

The Isle of Skye is home to some of the most prolific peak in Scotland. It is in fact the only Island to host any mountains of Munro status (other than Benn More on Mull of course), the centre piece of which are the Black Cullin. These are a menacing assemblage of huge gothic spires that were formed over 50 million years ago when magma was injected up innumerable fissures below the surface as The Americas parted from Europe. If only the midges had chosen to be on the American half!

Bla Bheinn and Clach Glas from across Loch Slapin
To the mountaineer these monoliths of rock provide an apt testing ground for both skill and also tenacity. The main ridge traverse is one of the most sought after 'ticks' of the British mountaineer (and is also the bane of many a non-climbing Munro bagger!). It only graded at VDiff, however it takes an average party two days to complete a traverse with a bivi in the middle being de reguir. They have been often compared to the rock spires of the Alps but with the added difficultly of Atlantic weather systems!

Looking at whats to come with Clach Glas on the left and Blaven behind
The traverse Bla Bheinn/Blaven and Clach Glas (The Matterhorn of Skye) is another classic mountaineering expedition. They are off the Cullin main ridge and are therefore a slightly more amenable objective as they can be completed in a single day at around Diff.

Clach Glas commonly know as 'The Materhorn' of Skye (taken from UKC)
The route starts by ascending the broad shoulder of Sgurr nan Each out of Chorie a' Ciase toward its more rocky summit ridge. This is where the fun begins, as the traverse along its stepped crest makes an entertaining grade 2/3 scramble. After a quick descent the bealch between Sgurr nan Each and Clach Glas is soon reached. This marks the last point of escape before the next bealach below Bla Bheinn. Between these two bealachs is some of the most intricate and exposed ridge climbing anywhere in the UK. The ridge immediately becomes narrow and complex with the menacing summit tower of Clach Glas looming ahead. A few minor difficulties are passed on the right and the one awkward down-climb land you below the tower.

The airy summit of Clach Glas
The descent down the famous 'Imposter' Slab
A large chimney is then ascended for about 40m via awkward bridging before it can be escaped up an off-width crack on the right wall which leads to the sanctuary of a ledge. From here a long swath of pimpled, overlapping slabs climb eventually to the summit platform. The next section is the famous Imposter slab which must be down-climbed again with tremendous exposure. Luckily its very easy apart from one section at the bottom, a recent rock fall appears to have made the exit slightly more tricky.

The Great Prow of Bla Bheinn
The east face of Bla Bheinn and the way off!
After another complex descent, the aptly named Putting Green ledge is reached where the final hurdle can be sized up - The east face of Bla Bheinn.

Looking back down the cramped ledge where you have to crawl!
The exit up this has innumerable lines, the most classic of which follows an in-cut ledge system and is grade 3/Mod. First however you must ascend a small steep wall out of the bealach which is often wet and is probably the hardest bit of the entire route. After that some scree is climbed to an obvious ledge system. It is created by differential erosion of a basaltic dyke resulting in an in-cut ledge feature. This climbs initially quite spaciously up the face until it begins to constrict forcing you to crawl. The crux is moving out of this ledge feature into a chimney above quite simply the biggest drop you've ever seen. After which the top is soon reached.
Looking back along the ridge from the finish. One of the best ridges you'll find anywhere!
 Now just the knee crunching walk down!

The magnificent Cullin Ridge

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