Rum Cuillin

Rum Cuillin bike-n-backpack, 12-15 April 2019

A blog post from one of our mountain adventures in the Scottish hills and mountains. We were on the Isle of Rum for 4 days exploring the island by bike and foot, including scrambling on the Rum Cuillin. Johnny Walker was leading.

Rum Cuillin bike-n-backpack

I like Rum. I like Rum a lot. It's hard to get to. It needs planning. It's a proper quirky island community, with wild and lonely places and some of the best small mountains in the UK in my opinion. The Rum Cuillin 'only' has two Corbetts, but a traverse of the whole of the ridge is a 19k day, with 1800m+ of ascent, much of it pathless, always rough, and very steep. The route-finding can be a challenge in poor visibility, and whilst the scrambling isn't of Skye standards, there is enough air below your feet to focus the mind! Then there are the lower, more grassy but perhaps even wilder hills to the North West, where you are very unlikely to see any folks, but with luck will have views of sea, mountain, islands and sky that could rival anywhere.

Of course, good weather is a necessity to get the best out of these views, and my heart soared when I saw a meteorological prediction of 'dry for the foreseeable'. It came to earth when I saw the wind - A cold, persistent SE, gusting to 50 regularly. The whole time. Boo!

Undeterred, we cycled from Kinloch, (Rum's pulsing metropolis of around 20 full-time residents) over the high point of the central part of the island at 260m, and down to Harris where we camped for the whole trip. Well, most of us did. One chap had converted his road bike into a tourer/MBK with a rack and panniers, but the skinny tyres weren't up to the job, even though the tracks on Rum are probably as good as you will find anywhere. A full MBK isn't necessary, but I have 40's on my hybrid, and I would say at least chunky tyres are a prerequisite.

Anyway, we were soon all camped up, and making plans. I like to do the full traverse, including Barkeval and Ruinsival, as most folks omit these, and in my opinion can't say they have 'done' the Cuillin. Harris is an atmospheric place, the runrigs still on the hillsides testament to the settlement that was finally cleared in the 1860's, the rough walls of the ruins echoing the harshness of their existence. Finally, the mad Greco-Roman mini-Parthenon mausoleum with the bodies of the Bulloughs interred within - Google it, it's barmy, but does make a great sunset photo.

We set off early Saturday morning, pleased at how relatively dry the walk-in was. We take an off-piste route around the back (or West) side of Barkeval, and pick our way up onto the summit from the NW. We got shelter from the wind there, but once on the summit, it was biting. Never quite strong enough to blow you over, but unpleasantly buffeting. The view of the route is captivating, but I think even the hardiest of us knew this would be a tall order in these conditions.

My main concern was the narrow ridge onto Askival from Hallival, and with a cross-wind of this magnitude, it wouldn't be justified. Consequently we took the deer trod across Atlantic corries that the Corbett baggers use as Route One to Ainshval. That gave us shelter, and made an attempt of Askival from the Bealach an Oir possible. It's probably fair to say that the rough ground wasn't to everyone's liking, but hey, this IS Rum.

At the Bealach an Oir, the wind was predictably ripping through, and here one of our party decided enough was enough, and took the long but lovely walk back down into Glen Harris from there. The rest of us pressed on, the wind not quite as strong once out of the gap, but still tiresome. We made the summit, where we met another intrepid group whom we had followed across the corrie. They, like us, knew that was enough for the day.

We descended steeply to the bealach, turned into Atlantic corrie and back down to the camp. It still took 9.5hrs to just get two summits, illustrating the toilsome nature of the wind.

Sunday it was decision time. Go as planned to the easier, lower North West of the island, or try to finish the job as best we could? Two guys decided to keep relatively sheltered, and with one being a qualified SML, I was happy for them to go off together to summit Ruinsival via the coast 'path'. The rest of us opted for a direct assault on the Corbett of Ainshval via Fiachanis, and the Bealach an Fhuaran. I had never been that way before, and enthused as I always am with a new route, we romped up it, aided by very dry conditions under foot. Once just below the bealach, two folks decided on going straight up to Ainshval, whilst two more and me went to try Trollaval after all. It was wild on the col, but once amongst the rocks, it was doable, and on the summit we had that crazy phenomena whereby the wind is channelled straight over your head. So much so, we even managed to scramble out to the true summit, airy and wonderfully exposed. Then it was down to catch up with the others, who had kindly waited on us.

The wind at the top of the initial scree slope was at least 60mph, possibly more, and quite unnerving, but it did ease as we negotiated Ainshval and the ridge onwards towards Sgurr nan Gillean. Together we staggered down the Leac a'Chaisteal towards Ruinsival, normally a pleasant open slope, today almost something to be endured in the wind. We wasted little time on the final summit, dropping quickly into shelter for our final snack. Then it was down 'Johnny's Ledge', a devious, rough, steep but direct descent that I have developed each time I have visited, bringing us eventually to the path back to Harris.

All in all a very successful bag of summits, Hallival being the only escapee in the end, very good for the conditions. Well done to the team for their flexibility and optimism.

I couldn't face another night being buffeted in the tents, so suggested to the guys that we broke camp and headed back to Kinloch where we would get shelter, and though most folks were tired, this we did. And how serendipitous?! On Monday, our 3pm ferry was brought forward to 12, and we had to board at 11.30. Had we gone off to Kilmory as planned, we would have missed it, and been on the island until Wednesday !

Another adventure on Rum. Grand !

More photos by Johnny Walker are here on Flickr.

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