Jenny was ticking the Munros off on this years trip to Skye and she had a few left to tick off on the Cuillin Ridge. Sugar Dubh Mor was one and she fancied the Dubh Slabs approach. Fantastic I thought!
This has to be one of the best mountaineering days out at the grade in the UK, it has it all - the journey getting there, nearly a kilometre of steep slab, an overhanging abseil, a classic bit of exposed Cuillin ridge and then the descent which still contains some excitement!
There are a couple of ways to approach the slabs, my favourite is to get an early morning water ‘taxi’ across from Elgol catching the seals as you pass them hanging out, now depending on where you’re saying this does require an unsociable start to the day and presents some logistical problems! You either race and down and get the last boat back or go over the ridge and down into Glen Brittle, where hopefully you’ve remembered to leave another car! Personally I think the sea to sea journey over the ridge adds another huge tick to the quality of this outing.
It always seems that with any decent route on the ridge, there is a technical obstacle early on, almost as though it guards the route and if you can unlock it then you are granted access! The slabs probably have the most technical bit right at the beginning and gives you a fab indicator as the quality of the friction, once gained, it’s unlocked and away you go. You don’t really climb in the true sense of pitching it with ropes, rather you seek out the weakness’s, follow them and use the rope where appropriate. It’s not really walking terrain either…..there’s a lovely description of a similar angle set of ‘climbing’ slabs on Arran and how the technique of ‘padding’ is used - kind of an in between walking and climbing! So as you pad upwards and pause at the couple of natural places to do so, you genuinely do start asking ‘how much further….’. Seriously it just goes on and on.
Then you arrive on the top Sgurr Dubh Beag (Little Black Peak) and you have a pretty exciting abseil to do, not the place for your 1st one! You can avoid this if you want too a few hundred meters before, but why would you? There are 2 ab points, both classic Cuillin….1 with millions of tat on it round as much rubble as can be found and the 2nd a medium sized boulder just perched on a ledge. After a quick game of paper, scissor, stone….someone has to go first! You quickly become detached from the wall and give your core muscles a good workout.
This is the end of the slabs and where the ridge becomes more prominent and narrower, still a motorway compared to the main ridge though. It rears up pretty quickly and somewhere along here you get your first views towards Loch Brittle. Route finding is a little tricky in places especially in poor weather, trust me on this one! Sgurr Dubh Mor (Great Black Peak) appears and the ridge levels off, but the focus needs to stay high as with everything on Skye, even a short distance will take time as there are a couple of surprises waiting to ambush you.
Munro ticked and it’s a relatively easy descent / ascent to Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (Black Peak of the Two Tops), access to Coire a Ghrunda and eventually Glen Brittle.
On this day we ticked off Sgurr Nan Eag (Peak of the Notches) too as it was so close….90 mins later we started heading down arriving back at the sea after a long fabulous day.
The slabs were 1st climbed around the 1880’s which is phenomenal and an ascent by 2 past presidents of the SMC inspired a much quoted piece of verse:
Said Maylard to Solly one day in Glen Brittle,
“All serious climbing, I vote, is a bore;
Just for once, I Dubh Beag you’ll agree to do little,
And, as less we can’t do, let go straight to Dubh Mor.”
So now when they seek, but a days 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’.
There is no such thing as an easy day on the Cuillins, but doing the Dubhs the rewards are massive and this route is one of the finest….