"Dubh Be Good To Me" - The Dubhs Ridge, Skye

01st June 2013
In: Blog
Back from a short trip up to Skye I though I had to pass on a quick recommendation to fellow climbers and mountain devotees. As a short day out after our Cuillin ridge attempt (report to follow) Ben and I took the opportunity of a day of forecast showery weather to do the ultra-classic Moderate rock route of Dubh Ridge (sometimes referred to as 'The Dubhs Ridge' of Sgurr Dubh Beag, one of the Cuillin Ridge outliers.

The Dubh Ridge is the long rock ridge just behind the foreground ridge of Gars Bheinn.

The route presents two main dilemmas to prospective ascentionists. The first is how to pronounce the name. I'm reliably informed that it's correctly pronounced "do", although it seems to have greater comedic and pun potential to say "dubs", so I'm going with the latter. The second problem is how to get to the start of the route. It begins on the southwest shore of Loch Coruisk, essentially at the centre of a huge extinct volcanic caldera, the rim of which forms the main Cuillin ridge. So its not too easy to get to and is far from roadside. The cheapest and longest option for access is to start at Glenbrittle campsite, ascend to the crest of the ridge via Coire Lagan and the Great Stone Chute then descend the other side. This involves a lot of ascent and descent just to get started but has the advantage of costing nothing and is more convenient if you are based at Glenbrittle. The option we took however was to base ourselves at the Sligachan and drive 40 mins to Elgol where we took the first boat of the day in with the tourists at 9AM. This cost us £30 per head but was a really fun way to start the day and you have the bonus of seeing a bit of wildlife on the way in, and the view of the ridge from Elgol is worth seeing too.

View from the boat on the way into Loch Coruisk

A short 20minute walk from the boat gets you to the start of the route. The length of the route is open for discussion depending just where you draw the line between climbing at scrambling/walking. But the main meat of the route is a set of huge rough clean gabbro slabs extending off into the distance at an average angle of about 30degrees from the shore of the lock for about 900m, at which point there is a steep 20m abseil to a bealach followed by more scrambling up the final ridge to Sgurr Dubh Mor, and then more scrambling onto Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn. The whole outing from the lock to this final summit involves close to 1km of ascent, and with the main section of climbing at 900m long it must be a contender for one of the longest rock routes in the UK.

The main climbing section of the ridge, 900m of gabbro slab perfection

The climbing on the route itself is pretty easy padding and in most places you can just walk or run straight up it without stopping, but there's a few places where it steepens enough to need hands, and you can meander around to take in whatever interesting bits take your fancy. Most people will not need rock boots for this so walking boots or approach shoes are your best bet. The ridge is split by a few regular ledges which provide a good point for a stop to admire the view - you soon realise that sprinting up a 30degree slope for the best part of the kilometre can be quite tiring! As we knew we would need a rope for the abseil near the top we did all the climbing on the slabs roped up and moving together alpine-style placing the odd bit of gear, but really most climbers would be happy to do this all unroped, but personally I reckon if you've got to carry the rope anyway you may as well use it.

Ben arriving at one of the large ledge areas

After the ab and re-ascent to the two tops you then descend to the Casteal and then down left into An Garbh choire (or down right into Ghrunnda if you came from Glenbrittle), which is a bit of a pain in the arse as the best line isn't clear and the first few hundred metres involves climbing down and over a lot of mid-sized blocks, so progress is quite tiring until a better path can be picked up, which leads you down to the loch shore. I had done something to my ankle on our ridge attempt a couple of days earlier and descending to the loch over this type of rough terrain was really causing me some grief, quite painful and slowed us down a lot, and at one point I was seriously worried that we might miss out boat out a 16:30. In the end we arrived with 20 minutes to spare, otherwise we'd have faced a 4 hour walk along at sealevel back to Elgol.

Ben walking up slabs as the angle eases

Apart from my painful ankle it was a superb day out in the mountains, quite a short one compared to a full Cuillin ridge attempt but still tiring enough. What's really amazing about this route is the quality of the rock - acres of clean slabs where you can pick your own line, very little loose rock at all, and enough interest to keep you focussed. The setting is of course stunning, being in the heart of in what is (for my money at least) the finest mountain environment in the UK. It really is a pleasure and one that I would recommend to anyone.

Dubhs Ridge meets Loch Coruisk

Note on photography: All the above images were taken on a Canon S95, my wife's compact which I had borrowed for my trip to Skye, with an eye on keeping weight to a minimum on the ridge. On the Dubh Ridge you could easily accommodate the weight of a full SLR or m4/3 camera, but one of the advantages of a compact here is it can be stored in a small pouch on a harness or belt and be accessed easily with one hand if required. The RAW output from these Canons is pretty good as long as you're aware of its limitations. In harsh light you can expect to have to keep an eye on highlights blowing and have to clean up some CA in post, but other than that they are great. The main problem I had with mine was getting it to infinity focus reliably as the actual horizon often doesn't have enough contrast and I lost at least one shot due to this. The other issue is there is because you compose every shot on the rear screen you are at the mercy of the Canon designers, who apparently didn't think that a viewing option with minimal clutter would be worth including. As a result it is hard to compose carefully around the edge of the frame simply because of the amount of symbols obscuring your shot. But I am really nitpicking here, overall its great for this type of use


Photo comment By Des: Brilliant article and photos on dubh ridge, really informative and inspiring. Planning to shoot up to skye on motorbike over easter and do it if weather permits, i shall be taking your notes too! Des Barnett

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