Thursday, 6 October 2016

ARRAN: Cioch-Nuis Sky Run

Cir Mhor, centrally located amongst the fine peaks of Arran

Fantastic, steep running over 7 of Arran's peaks.

The ascent of Cioch na h-Oighe is, at one point, technical, and should not be underestimated. 

The Cioch Pinnacles may, for some, feel exposed.

The inclusion of Beinn a Chliabhain shouldn't be omitted: the hill is a fine peak with a great mini-ridge.



Bus to the start of Glen Sannox (bus #324), then:

1) Cioch na h-Oighe (2175 ft)

2) Mullach Buidhe (2723 ft)

3) North Goatfell (2684 ft)

(Descent to The Saddle)

4) Cir Mhor (2621 ft)

(Bypass path on W side of A' Chir to Bealach an Fhir-bhogha)

5) Beinn a Chliabhain (2215 ft)

6) Beinn Tarsuinn (2710 ft)

7) Beinn Nuis (2598 ft)

(Descent to the Garbh Allt, down to Glen Rosa, then back to Brodick)


"What in the name of Zeus is Sky Running?"

It's another game runners play.  Like all runner's games, it's a little silly, but staves off the boredom during day release.  

For an overview, click Here.  

And here's a list of the Rules of the Game.

"Is it difficult?"

Yes!  Very difficult.

But it all depends on pace.  

A fast road marathon is far more difficult than a gentle jog/stroll up a few hills.  

However, all things considered, difficulty of running games could be classified as follows:

Road - Trail - Fell - Skyrun

But running is such a case-by-case sport that it isn't as black & white as above (i.e. a road run through the Pyrenees will be far more difficult than a trail run through a field in Norfolk).

"Do I need to buy special gear?  I hope so!  I love to waste money on overpriced products that make me look hardcore"

No need at all!  However, if you wish to waste money, yes, you can spend a fortune, should you desire.  

The most valuable assets are strong legs/heart/lungs.  These are earned, not bought.    

After this, a pair of trail shoes.  

And a pair of gardening gloves (I'll explain later).


...To the route...!

It's difficult to say how long the route will take other runners, as variance in sky-running ability can be huge.

I got the 9:45am ferry over (first ferry on a Sunday), and the bus reached the start point at Glen Sannox for about 11:30.

I was back in Brodick about 45 minutes before the 16:40 ferry.

But this is pretty fast.  If you're not a fast mountain runner, go on a day other than Sunday and get the 7am ferry (just in case).



Video overview Here.

As of the video, be sure to turn off from Glen Sannox just before the outflow of the Allt a' Chapuill.  The burn is the first main burn coming down from the left.  It should be very obvious, and is only a few minutes from your starting point (in the height of summer the path can be tricky to locate due to the ferns).

Follow this path to where the ground levels out, and cross the burn (shown on video).  After crossing the burn, traces of path come & go.  Don't waste too much time trying to locate a path: just bash over the moor.  Your feet will get wet here.  

If in doubt: when looking to Cioch na h-Oighe you'll see a scar/landslip on the hillside: if you aim just L of this, you'll eventually reach the hill path.

Ascent of Cioch na h-Oighe

The path contours round & up in the direction of Glen Sannox, and presents no problems.  When it curves round the hill, there is an obvious ascent point.  Take this, or contour further round.  If contouring further round, the path will eventually fade out (just before the path fades out, the hill can be climbed via a small weakness in the slabs/face).  

Regardless of which route you take, both paths meet just below steep granite slabs.

There's no avoiding it: you have to ascend these slabs.  If your thoughts of Arran hills are the tourist path on Goatfell, Cioch na h-Oighe will be something of a shock.  

If you lack hill experience, ascending the slabs will be a very scary affair.  The slabs themselves are only about 30 feet or so - but they'll feel steep, given the huge drop below to Glen Sannox (ascent of slabs not filmed for route, as I was using both hands to actually get up them!).

The ascent is a full-on scramble: you'll have to use both hands.  

Thankfully, once above, there's a good path all the way to the summit.  

Cioch Pinnacles


When you reach the airy summit of the Cioch you'll be presented with the next task of the day: the infamous Cioch Pinnacles.  

They look worse than they are.  However, they are exposed.  

Difficulty depends on which route you take (PS when descending from the summit of Cioch na h-Oighe, retrace your steps for a short distance, then break left).  

It is possible to stick to the true ridge of the pinnacles: however, most will likely avoid this, and opt for the path on the Glen Sannox side.  

If opting for the avoid path, be aware that on the ascent of the first pinnacle (at the very start of the ascent) you'll reach a rock step requiring a good stretch.  That, or a friend who can pull you up.  The step may prove tricky for those short in stature.  

For the video I primarily stuck to the ridge proper; hence lack of footage for this section.

There have been a couple of deaths on the Cioch: be very careful if running across the pinnacles (as opposed to walking).  Be very sure of your ridge-running ability, and be mindful of the dangers of a stumble.

In short: if you fall L, you're dead.  If you fall R, you'll break stuff.

If you lack mountain experience, the thought of running across the pinnacles will likely quickly evaporate from your mind, and you'll be happy to walk across.  

Confident runners shouldn't, however, omit the opportunity to run across a stunning piece of landscape.  It's a great experience.

Primary difficulties for the day are now done.

Looking back to Cioch na h-Oighe


Summit of Mullach Buidhe

After Pinnacle 2, the ascent to Mullach Buidhe is simple.  There is no technical difficulty whatsoever.  

Some use Mullach Buidhe to describe this entire ridge; others use it to describe the highest point.  I've opted to use it to describe the highest point.

From Mullach Buidhe it's a short descent/ascent to North Goatfell, from between which you'll likely see walkers heading up from Corrie on the Coire Lan path (down to your L) to ascend Goatfell.  Continue to the cairn on N. Goatfell.  

Goatfell & North Goatfell from Mullach Buidhe.  From the mainland N Goatfell is the distinctive half-moon shaped part of the skyline just to the R of Goatfell

From here it's a fast descent to The Saddle.  

Take care: the upper reaches of the path are becoming worse with each passing year.  Very loose in places.

As hill users, we're all to blame.  

When descending, be sure not to veer too far L on to the W face of North Goatfell: it only gets steeper.  Try to stick to the ridge proper.

After a few hundred feet, the angle relents, and some very fast running can be had all the way to The Saddle.

The shadowed foreground ridge is the descent ridge from N Goatfell to The Saddle.  Steep in its upper reaches: very fast in the lower two-thirds.  To the far R is Cir Mhor, with over 1000ft ascent from The Saddle.  The distant summit just covered by cloud is Beinn Nuis, final summit of the day.

Wear gloves if skyrunning... 

As of the above image: wear gloves when skyrunning.

The above cut bled quite a bit, despite being only a 1-inch cut.

You'll be grabbing rocks & moving over them at a fast pace.  You'll likely cut yourself if you don't have hand protection.

Don't waste money on a super-expensive pair of branded gloves: the gloves are going to get trashed - and probably very quickly (especially if granite is involved).

My own personal suggestion is summer gardening gloves.  They are great for traversing mountains.  The tough palm side is highly resistant to abrasion.  Cut the fingers out if you wish.

Summer gloves are (in Scotland anyway) also adequate for most winter running days.  Thermals can be a little too warm.

I'll possibly do an article soon on gloves.  And possibly a piece on first aid.  But first aid articles pose the danger of bringing preppers to the surface: preppers who have only recently gained their BASP outdoor first aid certificate and are very keen to cut a hole in your throat at the least opportunity...

You'll find gardening gloves in pound shops, home hardware stores, and the likes of B&M/XS Stock.  Last year I managed to get some summer end-of-season pairs from B&M for 20p (!) each.

Actually - Here's a site I just found that sells similar gloves for 55 pence a pair.

The cut hand in the above image.... I stupidly left my gloves next to the bicycle when I was chaining it up in Ardrossan.  Gloves still next to bike upon return to Ardrossan!

Arran granite is very grippy - but catch it fast and it'll rip your skin off!

Ascent of Cir Mhor from The Saddle

Online you'll read horror stories of the steepness of the ascent to Cir Mhor from The Saddle.  

But there are actually no problems whatsoever.  There's a great path all the way.  

It wasn't always this way - but now, there are no issues at all.  Have no fear, and ignore any reports of the 'steep path'.  

Caisteal Abhail ('The Castles') and the very obvious cleft of Ceum na Caillich ('The Witch's Step).  Cir Mhor looms large on the extreme L

Not far from the summit you'll contour round L, where you'll see the Rosa Pinnacle (Rosa Gully drops down to your L): from here the path winds up to just N of the Rosa Pinnacle:

There's a path heading up the grassy ridge just below Cir Mhor's upper rocks.  Good going, eventually pulling round to head up to the summit.

After which it swings round to the W face, easily making its way to the summit.  

Don't try to ascend directly to the summit from the Rosa Pinnacle: to do so would be to commit to a V.Diff tech rock climb (you'll avoid it when you see it anyway!).

The summit of Cir Mhor is possibly the finest of Arran.  An airy spot indeed.  

Descend to the col between Cir Mhor and A' Chir (you'll reach a cairn: this cairn is shown in the video, and marks a possible escape point to Glen Rosa, should legs be tired.  Decide at this point if you have the energy to continue, as continuing means committing to the ascent of at least one more hill).  

From the col, head up towards A' Chir.

Looking to some of the peaks thus far from the summit of Cir Mhor.  Views from the summit are spectacular in every direction


A' Chir Bypass Path

It'll feel like you're heading up on to the A' Chir ridge, but don't worry, you'll soon meet a path breaking off to the R.  

The path breaks off just before the beginning of the ridge.  You'll know you're at the break-off point when the following view opens up:

The exhilarating A' Chir ridge.  Don't worry, you aren't heading along here.  But when you see this view, it's time to break off & down to the R.

There will also be a rock buttress to your L.  

From here, break down to the R.  

"Why no ascent of A' Chir?"
It's too steep & technical to recommend to runners.  A stumble would be fatal.  

The A' Chir ridge is classed as a climb.  It is a serious affair.  

Most who cross the A' Chir ridge do so with rope/harness etc (and the knowledge of how to use the equipment properly & safely... don't try the ridge if you don't know what you're doing...).  

I have a climbing background, and as such, the ridge feels fine.  I've been across it a few times with no rope/equipment etc.  

But recommending the ridge to other runners would be foolhardy.  

That aside, the bypass path is a joy.  Round the back of A' Chir is a very quiet, peaceful place (great views of Arran's Western Hills).  It is one of the more isolated paths on Arran.  

At this time of year (October), you'll also be lucky to hear the rutting stags.

Arran's Western Hills from the back of A' Chir.  Fine spot

The path drops down before pulling back up to reach the Bealach an Fhir-bhogha (this is simply the name given to the col between Beinn Tarsuinn & A' Chir).  

Coire Daingean Headwall Path/Beinn a Chliabhain

From the Bealach it's possible to head straight up Beinn Tarsuinn, and omit the out & back to Beinn a Chliabhain ('Chliabhain' is pronounced 'clay-ven').  But to do so would be to miss a great hill - and a great path.  

On your L is Coire Daingean - it's a very steep corrie.  

Just ahead you'll see a very steep wall (the Headwall): there's a path cutting directly under this wall.

Looking to Beinn a Chliabhain

This path isn't mentioned often in guidebooks/reports etc, but it's worth being aware that it can feel quite exposed (especially so if running across it).

The path is a narrow singletrack cutting across a very steep hillside.  The drop to your L may feel slightly unnerving (in winter the path is often completely obliterated by snow, and the entire slope can become bullet-hard neve.  Ice-axe & crampons required).

Yip - it's narrow!  More like the paths to be found in the Slovakian Tatras

After crossing the path you'll pull up through a short chimney on to easier ground, from where a good path can be followed to Beinn a Chliabhain.  

Head beyond the summit of Beinn a Chliabhain to the far S end of the hill (you'll see the path cutting across the hillside): this allows a run across the Chliabhain ridge (short, but not to be missed).  

Beinn a Chliabhain is something of the 'neglected hill' of Arran.  However, it's a fine viewpoint, and a great introduction to granite ridges.

A' Chir, Caisteal Abhail, and Cir Mhor from Beinn a Chliabhain

From the summit, head for Beinn Tarsuinn (avoiding the Headwall path this time).  

Very impressive from here is the Meadow Face:

The vast, 250m sweeping Meadow Face of Beinn Tarsuinn, as seen from Beinn a Chliabhain.  Terrifying stuff: most rock climbs here are in the E grades.  Not for amateurs!

Beinn Tarsuinn & Beinn Nuis

The distant Paps of Jura.  Many will know Jura as where Orwell penned his dystopian masterpiece '1984'.

The ascent of Beinn Tarsuinn is without difficulty.  The path pulls round the back of the hill (at one point there's an interesting 'squeeze' in the rock: an ideal hiding place in foul weather), before rejoining the ridge proper.  

The summit itself is a granite slab perched right on the edge of a stupendous drop (refer to the video) - it's one of those summits you could swing your legs over the side of (more akin to a summit on the Lofoten Islands than one in Scotland!).  Proceed with caution to the summit edge if the wind is blowing!  

The ridge from Tarsuinn - Nuis is a runner's joy.  Keep an eye out for the distinctive rock formation of the Old Man of Tarsuinn:

The 'Old Man' of Tarsuinn

On the ridge between Tarsuinn & Nuis.  Glen Iorsa is to the R, with the diamond-shaped Loch Iorsa visible.  Don't be tempted to run Glen Iorsa: it's something of a bog!

It's a short pull to the summit of Beinn Nuis, the final summit of the day.  

From here follow the descent path to reach a crossing point on the Garbh Allt.  You'll see a stile going over the deer fence: ignore this, and cross the river - after which you'll pass through a kissing gate on the opposite side.  

The path sticks to the course of the Garbh Allt, soon heading down towards Glen Rosa.  

Beinn Nuis from the Garbh Allt

PS this section is where you'll most likely encounter adders on Arran.

In no time at all you'll be at the Glen Rosa bridge (have a quick look up the glen for a fine view of Cir Mhor).

From Glen Rosa it's a very quick run by the campsite and back to Brodick.   

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