Walking up the westerly slope of Sgurr na Banachdich in the mighty Cuillin on the Isle of Skye, my husband Gordon comments on my up-beat chatter and seeming confidence.
He is surprised as, for years, I’ve been talking about my fear of returning to this infamous ridge.
In 2018, I was left terrified after climbing one of the most revered – and feared – UK summits, the Inaccessible Pinnacle, on the mountain Sgùrr Dearg.
I’d told Gordon I never wanted to push myself that far out of my emotional comfort zone again.
Yet, here we are, ascending to the same ridge, which is such a tangled and complex architecture of rocks that most people hire a guide.
I’m fortunate to have an experienced climber for a husband and he has offered to lead me and our friend David.
But, still, I’m surprised by my optimistic determination as we depart the roadside at Glen Brittle Youth Hostel heading for the first summit of the day.
What is driving me on is the desire to finish a round of Munros, the Scottish mountains with a summit of at least 914m (3,000ft).
At this point my tally is 265 out of 282, but to complete – or to “compleat” to use the archaic word associated with Munro finishes – I need to reach the 11 Munro summits strung along the Cuillin.
In addition, I am hoping I’ve recently gained enough experience of walking other ridges to be able to suppress my phobia of heights.
Our objective is the six most northerly Munros over a distance of almost four miles.
While many walkers will “bag” these Munros in smaller groups, the six looked possible because the weather was bright and clear and we were feeling fit.
However, it will be the section between two groups of three Munros – via a notoriously testing traverse of high scrambles and steep drops – that we know will prove the most challenging.
Amazingly though, the first Munro, Sgurr na Banachdich, passes with only a little emotional discomfort, mainly as I peer dubiously over the steep-sided, scree-filled corrie, Coir’ nan Eich.
From the summit at 965m (3,166ft) and with mixed emotions, I take in the spectacularly beautiful – but scarily jagged peaks – of the ridge landscape, created 60 million years ago by volcanic lava.
I repeatedly battle feelings of rising panic and manage to enjoy a chat with David about life, work and families. In contrast to my fears, he is relishing the height and vistas that surround us.
Both Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh and Sgurr a’Mhadaidh, our next two Munros, require some scrambling.
It seems strange that if the short but precipitous sections of grippy gabbro rock were at ground level, I would climb them with no worries. Instead, I fret vocally as the high ridge-line of obstacles continues.
Spurs, towers, over-hanging drops, exposed gullies and steep scree descents come one after the other until our route blurs into one hectic and confusing assault on my emotions.
For the descent from Sgurr a’Mhadaidh and on to the next long traverse, Gordon decides to use the rope, harnesses and belays we are carrying.
I’m thankful for his expertise and he, in turn, is grateful for the detailed route instructions of the Cicerone guidebook, Skye’s Cuillin Traverse by mountain guide Adrian Trendall.
Then, suddenly, my nerve fails. Somewhere between the west top and main summit of Bidein Druim nan Ramh, I freeze with fear.
Rock fall from above, combined with an overwhelming sense of exposure due to a chute plummeting below makes me whimper, then hyperventilate.
Between heaving sobs, I mutter, “I can’t do it. I don’t want to be here. Why am I here? I hate this.”
I’m forced to wait, with my body and face flat against the rock, my legs shaking and my heart racing, while from far above Gordon secures a rope system that will aid the next climb.
David tries to calm me with topics unrelated to the ridge as I take deep breaths and attempt to steady my panicky thoughts.
Of course, there was no alternative but to continue and, with a belay system in place, I reach up, searching frantically for hand holds and then gingerly step up.
By the time I reach Gordon, and I see a wider section of ridge ahead, I feel a little calmer. David quickly follows behind me.
Until you are on this section of the 13km (8-mile) Cuillin Ridge, it’s difficult to imagine its uncompromisingly gnarly structure. This rarely lets up and next comes a descent from Bidein Druim nan Ramh, which is considered to be one of the most complex.
Gordon decides we will abseil, making use of in-situ slings for securing, rather than a hard down-climb.
The next obstacle is An Caistel, by way of a crest that is cut by three gaps. Again, I end up grappling with an emotional meltdown and I tell Gordon I can’t continue.
“It’s too much,” I whimper.
My husband knows me well and he replies with a few calming words then waits for me to galvanise myself.
I do, but my nerves are in tatters and it takes huge resolve to continue the scrambling followed by another abseil down sharp rock.
Ahead, we can finally see the next Munro, Bruach na Frithe. It seems so close and for a while I am mentally rejuvenated. However, there is a long ascent to a high of 958m (3142ft), more short scrambles and a gap in the rock to traverse.
The western hulk of Am Basteir, the fifth Munro, looms up ahead and more experienced climbers tackle “Naismith’s Route”, a 46m (150ft) severe-grade climb of Bhastier Tooth.
Wisely, Gordon suggests the bypass route to the north. I feel numb and exhausted but I resolve to “get on with it” as I scramble up the west ridge and on to the ridge’s most northerly Munro at 964m (3162ft).
The superb sunset views, with a glowing orange sky and long slithers of cloud hanging below the ridgeline, are just rewards for such a tough day.
After a tough descent, It’s only when we spot a path heading down a north-facing corrie, which leads to Sligachan where we had parked a second vehicle, that the relief floods me. I had done it.
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