A sort of calmness has descended over me, induced by the nirvana-like mountain artistry all around. I am floating above a sea of clouds: an achingly pretty inversion kissed with an exquisite, double-rainbow Brocken spectre. The blanket of white is pierced only by the jagged ridge below my feet. It feels like I’m surfing the clouds, riding the serrated backbone of a flying dragon. Am I in heaven?
No – but I’m close as it gets. I’m halfway up the notorious Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Isle of Skye’s Cuillin: a spiky, toothed ridge of legendary alpine proportions. Brutally built and terrifyingly sheer, it is a seven-mile-long labyrinth of monstrous turrets, razor-thin arêtes and precipitous craggy obstacles – the UK’s most iconic ridge and the Holy Grail for the British scrambler.
There are 11 Munro summits here and I’m taking on the most technically difficult one. The In Pinn – or Sgurr Dearg, to use its Sunday name – is a spectacular blade of rock with dizzying exposure. It reminds me of a shark’s dorsal fin: sharp, narrow and a sign of impending doom.
My task is to climb the edge of that forbidding fin.
Facing the crux
I’m already halfway up. The first pitch – a blur of trembling legs, tense fingers gripping cold bare rock, feet desperately searching for holds, and eyes being drawn, sadistically, to look down – is over. And now, perched on a rocky ledge, I can relax for a moment. Ahead of me is the crux of the climb, the most difficult manoeuvres and the scariest exposure – but I temporarily block them out of my mind. I pause and let the scenery soothe my soul.
Charismatic and imposing, the Cuillin ridge sweeps away below me, a masterpiece of rugged, rocky, frightful grandeur penetrating the cloud veil. It is a dichotomous scene: the inversion seems soft and delicate; the ridge is brooding and fearsome. In the distance Bla Bheinn, Skye’s sublime outlier, is just visible, its triangular, craggy top piercing the clouds rather dramatically, as if not wanting to miss out on the action. And, in the foreground, a sharp arête leads to the cliff-lined Munro summit of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. I stood atop that Munro this morning – a moment I know will live long in the memory.
After a misty, drizzly march up to Coire Lagan from Glenbrittle followed by a lung-busting slog over shifting screes to gain the ridge, I was cursing my luck, fearing another wet, uncomfortable and viewless day on the ridge. That was until – in a joyous, is-this-really-happening moment – the weather shifted as I scrambled over precipitous slabs to the summit of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. Did the cloud base sink? Or did we levitate above it? Either way, it felt like ascending into paradise.
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