A blog of our mountain adventures in Scotland, hiking, biking, rock-scrambling and more !

Rum Cuillin

29 April - 1 May 2016
One of our favourite places to backpack and scramble in ! John was leading, here's his tale...

photo 1 This was my third trip to the island of Rum, and I am falling ever more for her rugged and mysterious charms. The Rum Cuillin have a character all of their own. Not as continually precipitous as their illustrious Skye cousins, yet challenging in their own right. Always steep, always rough, almost pathless and quite demanding to complete a full round. A lot of ascent and re-ascent is required, some exposed scrambling, and the return to Kinloch to catch the ferry is always long and often boggy and draining. Add in the vagaries of the ferry timetable and of course the weather, and you have the recipe for an adventure whatever the plans, and this weekend was no exception.

We caught the 12.35 Friday ferry from Mallaig in unseasonably cold but bright conditions, and were soon yomping past the decadent Kinloch castle and off up the track bound for Harris bay on the SW of the island, a walk of 13k. The plan was to camp there, and do the traverse clockwise, but take in all the peaks of Barkeval and Ruinsival at the start and end, which are often missed out due to logistics. The standard route going from Kinloch, via Dibidil and back along the quagmire of a path involves a 15k walk at the end of the traverse, and we wanted to avoid that this time.

photo 2 The campsite we chose was on some terraced land between the abandoned buildings that sit alongside the mausoleum at Harris. It was part of what must have been a large settlement, thought to have been 'cleared' between 1826 and 1828, with extensive evidence of houses and rigged ploughing. Along with the mausoleum, built by George Bullough for himself and family in the late 1930's, it is an eerily atmospheric place.

We set off early on Saturday morning, on an intermittent animal and argo track towards Barkeval. It looked steep and rocky, but I was sure I could find a way through its defences by taking a spiral ascent to the NE, and sure enough, after passing some very intimidating looking gabbro walls, a devious little terrace took us to easier ground, and onwards to the summit, covered in soft slushy snow.

photo 1 Through the clearings in the cloud we could see our way ahead, and Hallival came next, picking up the tracks of a party ahead of us. I have rarely seen folks on the hills of Rum, it being so very much less frequented than the mainland hills, and this we put down to the Bank Holiday. After a steep scrambling descent, it was then onto the narrow ridge leading to Askival, made interesting by the snow and breeze. We then traversed left in deeper wet snow to avoid the pinnacle, which would have been very difficult indeed in these conditions, and during a heavy snow shower, scrambled carefully back onto the ridge and to the summit of the first Corbett of the day.

photo 2 The steep descent off Askival down to the Bealach an Oir is tricky enough in good weather, but coated in wet snow and slippery grass, it was rather unpleasant, and we had to make slow, steady progress. Crampons would have been problematic, and an axe not much use. Typical Scottish Spring neither-here-nor-there conditions which demanded concentration and care more than specific equipment. The re-ascent to Trollaval was much of the same, but we were bouyed by a meal break and a dry layer, so made the summit in good order.

There was then some exciting scrambling, more akin to Skye, to gain the final 2 metres that made the difference in the two summits. The gabbro was excellent and grippy despite being wet, and having left the sacks behind, we had a ball, enjoying the exposure on the sound rock. The descent to the next bealach was not as snowy as Askival, and we chatted and joked all the way down, at the expense of poor old Ainshval, that due to its shroud of murky cloud and snow had been called some rather unsavoury names - 'It's not the hill's fault' I fruitlessly defended.

photo 1 It would be fair to say the snow covered basalt 'path' onto Ainshval was not the most reassuring of ascents in these conditions, and we were happy to dispatch the final Corbett and then get onto some easier terrain. All that remained was what should have been an insignificant intermediate top with the spot height of 759m, but that again received some uncharitable names of 'Unnecessaryval' and even worse, 'B******val' due to the guys' fatigue and desire to relax :) After some final huffing and puffing, we got onto the wide grassy Leac a'Caisteall, and took a right turn for our last summit of Ruinsival, now dubbed 'Runtival' due to its demure stature. The indefatigable John wanted to bag Sgurr nan Gillean, and trotted off to do so, whilst we meandered down in the sunshine, tempered by a stiff and cold W breeze.

photo 2 The views that had been wonderful but fleeting during the traverse now took on a really expansive aspect that only a seascape can in my opinion. South West to Coll and Tiree, South to Eigg and Muck, NW to the Hebrides, and NE back to the dramatic hills we had traversed. Looking N was our base at Harris, and only the fantastically weathered gabbro of Ruinsival to go.

This was the final delight in my eyes. The brown gabbro dessert had been weathered into the most fantastical patterns, some so geometric they defied nature, and again, the views were to die for. This route we had chosen really was allowing us delights rarely seen by even the folks that make the Rum traverse, as the vast majority turn South then East for the return via Dibidil. The easy descent would have been SW, picking up a discontinuous path back N to Harris, but from camp I had spied a rake across the steep gabbro face that I thought would cut the corner, and sure enough, on wonderful dry grippy rock we scrambled W and then NW to pick to path up lower down. The soft grassy path was joy for our tired feet as we meandered back to camp in the evening sunshine.

photo 1 To say we were satisfied as we cooked our tea and washed it down with a wonderful dram courtesy of Johnston, connoisseur extraordinaire, would be an utter understatement. Indeed, we would even have slept like babies had it not been for the Westerly that whipped up in the night accompanied by driving rain. Ah well, we are on the Inner Hebrides. At least it made getting up and getting away in the morning a sharpish affair for the march back to the ferry, (NB - Mountain bikes would be a good idea for this trip), as there was no lingering.

And after a slap-up breakfast on board, we all caught up on a little sleep in between seal-watching as the ferry went via Canna on the return anyway!

Is Rum one of my favourite places in the Highlands? Possibly. Is it demanding, remote and atmospheric? Certainly. Will I be back? Definitely. If you have not been yet, get planning.

More photos by John are here on Flickr.
Some photos by Johnston are in a Flickr album.

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