The Cuillin’s southern two – [# 201 – 202]

Sgurr Dubh Mor (944m); Sgurr nan Eag (924m)

  • Pronunciation:             Skoor Doo More; Skoor nern Yek
  • Translation:                  Big Black Peak; Peak of the Notches
  • Total distance:             16.1km
  • Total time:                    7hrs 53mins
  • Total ascent:                 1462m
  • Weather:                        Dry and bright with only the summits covered in mist.
  • Start / end location:   Beside the entrance to Glen Brittle campsite. [OS Map Sheet 32 – Grid Ref: NG 408 207]
  • Map:                               A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.

The high cirque of Coir' a' Ghrunnda

Our day started with us walking through the Glen Brittle campsite located right at the bottom end of the glen by the dark sandy beach on the north shore of Loch Brittle (sea loch). [We wild camped overnight in Glen Drynoch a few miles north of the top end of Glen Brittle and so weren’t camping at this site.]

Entering the hidden world of Coir' a' Ghrunnda

Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda lies beyond this rocky headwall

At the far end of the campsite a well-maintained path led east up the gently sloping hillside. After around 800m the path divided with the one to the left continuing east into Coire Lagan, and the one to the right, which we took, veering ESE around the foot of the huge Sron na Ciche buttress. Once we reached the 300m contour the path arced NE into the lower section of Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.

This corrie is a geologically fabulous amphitheatre of dark grey cliff walls. It consists of a lower half, which is characteristically U-shaped in cross-section and is blocked by a headwall cliff of smooth rock, which when ascended, providing access to the upper half comprising a traditional shaped corrie complete with a small loch. The cliffs that divide the two halves are convex shaped and quite smooth due to glacial scouring. A couple of small waterfalls cascaded beautifully down the cliff face.

Loch Coir' a' Ghrunnda with Sgurr nan Eag in the background (R)

We stayed close to the left hand edge of the corrie – right up against the steep crags on the eastern face of Sron na Ciche – from where it was easier to breach the headwall cliff. Reaching the upper corrie required a bit of “hands-on” scrambling over the cliff face – but it was great fun, always straightforward, and well worth the effort when we arrived. Once we’d overcome the cliff barrier we stood at the SW shore of the turquoise blue Loch Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda. On the opposite three sides of the loch stood the scree shattered peaks of Sgurr Sgurmain, Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Thearlaich, Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn and finally Sgurr nan Eag: all connected by the high traverse of the southern section of the Cuillin ridge.

Huge strange volcanic rock sculptures in Coir' a' Ghrunnda - probably peridotite layers containing olivine crystals

The geology within Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda is fascinating and exhibited many interesting features. The lower section, from around 300m up to the level of the loch at 700m, showed smooth crags and cliff faces characteristic of glacial erosion. This obviously indicated that during the last ice age glaciers would have filled this glen to at least just above the level of the loch. In contrast, above the loch the peaks (including parts of the ridge) probably formed nunataks that left them exposed and subjected to harsh freeze-thaw erosion, thus giving rise to the huge amounts of frost-shattered rock littering the surrounding slopes. This marking of a boundary between the frost-shattered rock on the upper slopes and the ice-moulded rock below is referred to as the periglacial trimline. Below this trimline the moulding effects of glacially moving ice can best be seen in several roches moutonnées and polished whalebacks, complete with their directional flow striations.

Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (R) and Sgurr Dubh Mor from the Bealach Coir' an Lochain

In much more ancient geological times, volcanic activity has laid down peridotite rock layers containing olivine crystals, which although bright “grass” green when fresh have weathered into an orange-brown hue. In places, the peridotite contains a reasonably high content of feldspar, which is harder wearing than the areas containing the softer olivine – this gives rise to the “egg-box” appearance with networks of the feldspar standing proud above the surface of the more easily eroded olivine. Such rock sculptures could be seen in a clear band a few tens of metres above the shoreline of the loch – this can be seen in one of the accompanying photographs. [Hopefully, our resident Scotlandinview mineralogist, Roy, will correct me if my analysis is widely off mark – thanks.]

Elaine with the summits of Sgurr Sgurmain (L), Sgurr Alasdair (centre in mist) and Sgurr Thearlaich (R) in the background

We circled round the west side of the loch and then began climbing between the peridotite band of rock, which was quickly followed by a steep section of scree that led us to just below and to the right of the infamous TD Gap (Thearlaich Dubh Gap). The TD Gap is a deep notch in the Cuillin’s main ridge and is probably the most technically challenging section to cross for those undertaking a traverse of the complete ridge in a single expedition. It calls for an abseil to reach the floor of the Gap followed by a technical climb out the other side. Today, however, we only had to admire the Gap from its south side once we’d reached the main ridge via the Bealach Coir’ an Lochain.

Elaine ascending steep rock en route to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor

From the bealach our route took us south along the ridge where we began the ascent of Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn, a subsidiary top. From this top we turned east and descended sharply down a rocky ridge, passing over a tricky block before reaching a small col immediately below a series of imposing cliff faces that rose right to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor. We climbed up these faces, which were broken by a series of ledges. The route upwards wasn’t altogether obvious and a few sections had to be re-negotiated in order to continue our upward progress. When we reached the summit ridge there was a small cairn of a few rocks at the western end (nothing bigger was possible due to the narrowness of the ridge). However, the true summit was actually a few metres further on to the east – on an equally narrow portion of the ridge. We crossed to the summit and took turns standing momentarily on the small jutting piece of rock that constituted the highest point at 944m or 3,097ft: there was only room for one of us at a time!

Cameron on the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor

We descended back to the little col by retracing our steps down the steep rock face. From this col we had to re-ascend Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn once again before, this time, descending to another col immediately below Caisteal a’ Garbh-choire – a huge, imposingly steep, block of rock that sat squarely on the line of the main ridge. We got round this block by following a faint path along the base of its northern side, after which we were able to rejoin the crest of the main ridge at the Bealach a’ Garbh-choire (another potential crossing point on the ridge).

The summit of Sgurr nan Eag from the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor

From the southern side of the bealach we climbed up the ridge to the summit of Sgurr nan Eag where a much more impressive cairn, built as though it was a natural extension of the ridge itself, greeted us at a height of 924m or 3,031ft. From our summit viewpoint we noticed that directly below us on the hill’s steep NE slopes there was evidence of a substantial and recent rock-fall, as there was also over on the far side of Loch Coruisk (also to the east). We could tell that the rock-falls were quite recent because the exposed and shattered rock had a light-bluish colouration that contrasted with the surrounding dark grey of the weathered gabbro.

Elaine on the summit cairn of Sgurr nan Eag

For our descent we headed back towards the Caisteal a’ Garbh-choire for a couple of hundred metres before veering off the ridge westward prior to reaching the Bealach a’ Garbh-choire. We descended quite steeply down scree (short-lived) until we reached the eastern shore of Loch Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.  A short traverse around the southern shoreline of the loch brought us back to the path below the eastern cliffs of Sron na Ciche where we joined the path that we used during our ascent into Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda earlier in the day. We retraced our steps along this excellent path (with some downward scrambling as required) to reach the Glen Brittle campsite where an ice-cream in the sunshine was our reward to end an excellent day in The Cuillin.

Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn (L) and Sgurr Dubh Mor from the summit of Sgurr nan Eag

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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