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22: Cuillins, here I come

When I sit outsie enjoying breakfast and morning coffee, I ponder about what to do that day. I've made quite a bit of kilometers both by bike and walking, and this is my last day on Skye so I feel I would like to do something more special than just taking in more of these wonderful roads. As I'm thinking, my gaze goes back and back to the Cuillins and I decide to take a stab at getting up on one of the peaks. It is very early in the morning - the sun drove me out of my tent around 7 - and if I have to believe the Lonely Planet guidebook, an ascent to Bruach na Frithe should be doable before tea. Of course, I'm pondering about all this at sea level, the peak is at 958 meters, and my legs have shown themselves these last days to be more suited to Dutch lowlands than to anything with slopes in it. Nevertheless, I decide to give it a try. I pack as light as possible - rain cape, water bottle, Isostar tabs and Isostar bars in the daypack, and set off. Whatever happens, I'll be heading back to the camp site at 13:30.

I have cut out the walk from the guidebook and decided not to buy a detailed area map - the guidebook page has a reasonable map, trails lead right up to the mountain, so I figure I can save the 8 pounds or so for the Landranger map of the area. The first part of the route is simple - a well-worn path leading up to a corrie at the west side of the peak. Where the guidebook says that the path splits and the left path, to be taken, is the smaller one I see the reversed situation. Probably I'm not the first one doing this walk ;-).

Up in the corrie the trail gets fainter and fainter, until I lose it. The map is ok, but I am too focused to getting up there for me to sit and use my campass skills. As it later turns out, this means I start walking up the wrong peak and ascend it on one of the harder sides to boot... Anyway, I'm making good progress, and I begin to feel that I can actually get up these peaks before my designated deadline of 13:30. I celebrate by taking an Isostar bar, drinking my water, and refilling at what I think is the last point on the mountain - from now on, I need to be a bit more careful than normally with water, just one liter until I return at this level (which might sound like a lot, but not if you're sweating as I am).

Not being able to pick up the trail, I decide to head for the nearest ridge and take it from there. The ridge is reasonably simple (by now, I'm getting used to my hearbeat redlining), and the view down to Sligachan is breathtaking. Of course, the nearest mountain peak is still quite a bit higher; a disapointing bit higher, even, because I thought I'd be closer to it by now. The guidebook page says to take the peak from the ridge from the left, so I follow suit. I don't realize that I've mixed a couple of peaks, I should be one ridge closer to the final target, and I'm about to find myself between more scree (loose rubble) and steep rocks than the guidebook promised. The only thing left to do is tie the walking sticks to the backpack and scramble a bit. I wonder about the apparent discrepancies between the book and the real world, but before long I find myself on the summit. The scree is terrible when going up, because for every two steps up you glide one down. Still, I'm well before the deadline and at least on some peak, even though I'm not sure which one it is (when the guidebook and the real world seem to differ, I usually blame my navigation skills - normally, I'm correct to do that). When I'm having a sip, some elderly people come up (via another, aparrently much easier route). We chat a bit, and then they move on over a ridge to the next peek. The man points to an even higher peak as being the final goal, and at that point it downs on me that I'm not one, but two peaks away from Bruach Na Frithe.

I despair a bit about the number of meters I still have to make up, but then, my deadline hasn't arrived (it's around 11 in the morning) so I don't have another option but following the couple. The ridge is easy, fun even. If your sense of fun includes walking over a 2m wide ridge with some hundred meter drops at both sides, of course. I like it, and before long I find myself on the next peak. I have overtaken the couple but wait for them to catch up (well, actually to catch my breath), and then I dash off, literally, to the final peak. In my enthousiasm to reach it I completely miss the well-worn and very easy track so I find myself doing a bit of high-altitude acrobatics. I don't think I have a fear of heights...

When I land on the summit I see a Ordnance Survey 'trig point', which is a surefire confirmation that this is actually the intended peak. I just 'bagged' my first Munro! And the sun is shining as well! After filling up my camera's memory card I put on my jacket and lie down in the sun. The weather is beautiful, the views breathtaking, and I feel that I'm hooked to the Cuillins - I probably will be returning to Skye until I stood on each and every peak.

After lunch I descend again. The trail is boring, so I opt for the direct route over the scree. Scree skiing is fun, but bad for you boots. And on these slopes you need to concentrate on not making mistakes - I think that falling and rolling down with the scree towards the collections of bigger boulders spread everywhere along the mountainside will not be a very pleasant experience. I manage to make it in one piece to friendlier grounds (with slops under 50 degrees), and plot out a rough course to where I think the trail should be. It takes me longer than expected, but finnaly I find myself on the trail again. After a short break-with-empty-the-bottle-celebration, I follow it down to the hotel.

I saw a lot of distant clouds when I was on the summits, and they seem a lot less distant now. I fear we're going to have rain, and I still need to pack my tent. So I up the tempo a bit and walk straight through to the campsite, pack my tent and backpack on the bike, and just when I'm putting on my biker's jacket, the first drops fall. Saved by the bell...

It still is reasonably early, I'm not sure whether my host will already be back, so I decide to have a mail at the Sligachan hotel bar. Venison with blackberries, really tasty. Too bad I can't wash it away with the local brew I tried last night, I really like the Skye Ale they are brewing less than a hundred meters from here... But I stick with mineral water, riding on Skye is hard enough without alcohol.

Passing the fuel station on my way to the B&B, I decide to pick up some snacks for tonight. As Gaelic isn't my thing, it's time for another book. With today's experience, a thriller with a sticker on the cover "Featuring the Cuillins, the Sligachan Hotel and Seuma's bar" or something jumps out, so I decide to buy it. The book, called "A fall of stone", turns out to be quite a page turner and that it is set in a now familiar decor helps a lot.

Back at the B&B, the owner is indeed back from the wedding. I lie down on bed, meaning to sleep but before I now it I'm on page 180 of the book. I get up, grab the bottle of Talisker from my tank bag, and walk to the kitchen where my host is watching TV. He accepts my invitation to share a dram on my last night on Skye, and before we know it we've mostly emptied the bottle and talked about a huge range of things. Attacking a bottle of Skye's finest is a great way to end my stay.

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