Marooned – or One Week in Coruisk 


Introduction

For many years, we had talked about going back to Skye, and always the same idea had come back as the dream plan.  We would go into the very heart of the Black Cuillin, to the JMCS hut at Coruisk, and use this as a base for a week walking and climbing in the hill.  In this plan, one other idea kept on cropping up.  The main target for this week would be an ascent of the Dubh Ridge.  This is a legendary Moderate, a regular on any list of the best mountain routes in the British Isles, and as a result of this, there is a great volume of literature describing the route in much more accomplished prose than I can achieve, but a few words of explanation are necessary, and so here goes, cribbed shamelessly from the 2011 edition of the SMC Skye Scramble Guide.

“Said Maylard to Solly one day in Glen Brittle,

All serious climbing, I vote, is a bore;

Just for once, I Dubh Bheag you’ll agree to do little,

And as less we can’t do, lets go straight to Dubh Mhor

 

So now when they seek just a day’s relaxation,

With no thought in the world but of viewing the views,

And regarding the mountains in mute adoration,

They call it not climbing but doing the Dubhs”

 

Or somewhat less poetically, a one kilometre long stretch of slabs running at an average angle of 30 degrees from the shores of Loch Coruisk up to the summit of Dubh Mhor. 

 

In the end, nine of us were up for the trip, Alan, Paul H, Ray, Brian, Mark, Rob, Nigel and Stuart.

And so the story begins…

 

There we were, all nine of us on the quay at Elgol, waiting for the boat to take us into Loch Scavaig.  We were basking in glorious sunshine, surrounded by the barest minimum of supplies for a weeks stay in the Cuillin (namely climbing gear, sleeping bags, food, fishing rods and two barrels of beer). 

 

 

 

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The Cuillin from Elgol

We’d negotiated a price with the owners of the Misty Isle of £10 each way, including everything up to and including the kitchen sink, for the boat run in to the hut at 5:30 on the Saturday afternoon.

Eventually, the time came for us to load, with the help of Seamus and Stuart (the father and son/ Captain and Mate of the Misty Isle).  Now the time came to cast off, weigh the anchor, and splice the mainbrace on the luff side. (See, I know all the naval terminology) But first Stuart had an announcement.

“This trip should take us about 20 minutes, but we hope you don’t mind if we take a bit of a longer route today, It’ll be about an hour, but I think you’ll find it was worth it”

Out in the bay, firstly we saw a pair of harbour porpoises. Normally this would have been enough to make us happy, but then,

“Thar She Blows!”

Yup.  A loud snort and a long black back appeared above the waves, a flick of massive flukes. A Minke whale. We tried to track it round the bay from one exhale to the next, always not quite nearly in range of the lenses. 

 

Then we were distracted by the hooligans, more than 150 of them shouting and running around the boat, showing off, turning cartwheels, playing chicken under and around us. A pod of Common Dolphins, some adults showing battle scarred sides (don’t believe their publicity, these boys can play mean!) others youngsters probably been shown their silly landlocked cousins.  Eventually, they got bored with the game and beggared off to find somebody else to torment, and we puttered into the sheltered cove.

 

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Common Dolphins in the Loch

After the dolphins, the Grey Seals basking on the rocks like furry slugs were definitely an anti-climax.

We landed and lifted all the kit up the somewhat precarious landing stage (You try lifting two full barrels up a weed and barnacle encrusted steel staircase, without either you or the beer ending up in the deep clear waters!), and settled into the hut.  The evening passed uneventfully apart from a random Irishman turning up in the night trying to buy a belay plate.  The only issue we had was that there was no water to the hut – no problem there, we know all about that don’t we folks.

 

Ah, we’ll sort that in the morning.  G’night all.

 

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Off loading the Misty Isle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next morning, after a night lulled to sleep by the farts and snores of everybody bar me, and by a false start at 5 am by Brian going to take dawn photos, we got up to sort the water.  As a diversion, why does dawn have to be so early!

Anyway, back to the plot.  By 7:30, the temperature was rising, already above 30 degrees.  Nige and Stu set off up to the Mad Burn to find the source of the water supply.  They found the pipe clinging an unlikely VS line across a cliff face, ending about 18 inches short of the pool.  So that’s what that coil of blue pipe is doing in the shed!  So we’ll do without, and get fresh water from the river, and flushing water from the loch.

Had a very jolly toddle around the Loch, a gentle stroll to warm up (HA!) for the ridge.

 

And so to the main course, the Dubh Ridge.  A short stroll in the sweltering heat lead us to the foot of the route.  The overall 30 degree angle I quoted at you earlier is a bit misleading, as the ridge goes up in a series of steep steps (some more blank than a self respecting Mod has any right to be!), with wide terraces in between.  This got very interesting at one particular bit when the guys with the rope soloed off into the distance, leaving me at the traditional exposed blank slab stance.  On and up the route goes till you end up on the lip of an overhanging 100 ft and with a very nasty take off.  So the continuation was a DIY route down the South Face into An Garbh Coire.

Back at the hut, there were interesting activities going on.  Out in the loch a cruise liner had moored up and a line of Zodiacs were cutting through water to the jetty.  Each was filled with a dozen old age pensioners coming ashore.  The first held the staff, and an elderly gentleman named John who was going to lead them round the Loch.  I sat watching (mainly to see how many ended up in the water) as the leader said wait here and then follow John to each as they flopped onto dry land.  John came and checked with me (as an honorary local) on the way round the Loch, and then set of at the head of the train.  I got bored and decided on a brew, and headed back to the hut.  I started to get a twitch in my neck and turned round.  There was a small flock of pensioners stood behind me clutching handbags to their bosoms. 

 

“You are John, aren’t you?”

“No”

“Is this the way to the toilets”

“No”

“Is there a tea shop?”

“No”

 

I gathered a couple of the guys from the hut to do their sheepdog impression, and we finally got them out of the way.  That night the midges were horrendous.  We incinerated them in the flames of lighters, which is not very effective in the long run, but very satisfying.

 

 

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On the Dubh Ridge

And so to the bit you’ve all been waiting for, the Tale of the Coruisk Shit Fountain.

Next morning, Ray got up to use the facilities and found they were backed up to the brim.  After much debate into the contents of his bowels we went (reluctantly) to investigate.  No amount of scrulching with the plunger could achieve anything, so we decided to remove the stench pipe, as you do.  This showed a solid block, with we tried to break up by proggling it with a fishing rod, and then by rodding it with the new roll of water pipe, all to no avail.  Al went about 100 yards down the hill to the septic tank, where all started to become clear.  The end of the pipe was blocked by a plug of moss and turf preventing the pipe discharging into the tank.  Al said I’ll prod at this, you tell me if there is any movement up your end.  Bad choice of words, the pipe was full of movements.  So he stood astride the open tank, with a stick in his hand and prodded at the plug.  Sure enough, the pipe began to gurgle, and folk began to step away from Al.  He prodded again.  The plug began to move, and 100 yards of turds began to force their way out, in a twenty feet high, 180 degree arc of shit, with Al at its very centre, receiving a fragrant shower.  When we could stand up again, with our sides hurting from laughing, we started to commiserate (from a distance) as he trudged off to the loch for a bath.

A great trip, to be repeated (but we’ll leave a couple of years until we can be sure that the new water pipe is installed and disinfected!

 

Martin Fagan (Age 56½)

 

Editors note:-

See also:-  The Great Coruisk Shit Fountain”  

 

 

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