I don’t know if you’ve ever been subjected to a psycho symmetric test, mine generally come back as ” A doer, not so good at planning. Soon gets bored easily, distracted” (Oops that was my school report). I’m on the Isle of Skye to explore the Skye Hills. I have had a looked at a variety of hostels on Skye and I am staying at Skye Basecamp. I am organizing myself to climb Beinna Caillick and The Broadford Red Hills. Luckily I bumped into German efficiency, some would say common sense, which highlighted the dangers of my “up and at ’em” mentality. Staying in the same hostel is a keen, nay enthusiastic climber, walker and general all round sporty type, Ralph, from the German city of Munich.
We’ve both hit on the same View from the Skye Hills mountain range to climb, the Broadford Red Hills. Over a bite to eat and a few drinks much was discussed but nothing agreed on climbing together. As he’s at least 20 younger than my aging bones, I think he’s waiting for tell tale signs of comfort and aging. You know the ones: “On that’s a lovely cup of tea” or, “Don’t you think it’s drafty with that window open”, or the sure deal breaker, “Is that the time?” Expressed with concern as the clock ticks past 9pm, I’m sure he’s waiting for my need to comment when sitting or getting up, such as, when taking a seat, “Oh I’m glad to take the weight off my feet”, or on rising, “Made it” as if the Eiger’s north face has been completed.
Come dawn Ralph is ready to go up the Broadford Red Hills and much to my surprise wants to know if I’m coming? Half an hour later we are on our way. From hostel to start point we are peas in a pod, happily striding along with an ascent on our minds. However just like the weather things change, it quickly becomes apparent chalk and cheese are representative of our ideas on how to continue. I have a finger which points out “it’s over there”. Ralph has GPS coordinates which also tell him “it’s over there”. He’s not the first and probably won’t be the last to follow the finger. Off we trudge over small streams, boggy fields and by bemused cows. Some fifteen minutes later I hear a voice “Owen, Owen do you know where you’re going?” Which is a strange question from a man with a GPS set up on his phone. I stop, he catches up, showing me a map layout with coordinates. We both agree it’s his turn to lead. As we get to the base of Beinn na Caillick its 732 meters looks huge at this angle. There isn’t any discussion required on the step, its up, up the Broadford Red Hills.
“Oh just before we start I’ve left our climb plans with the hostel” explains Ralph. Good idea I think. “…and I’ve informed friends when we should be back. Just in case” he continues. “…I’ve also posted updates on Twitter and Facebook.” He’s either very thorough, or this climb is harder than I’ve anticipated. “Here is your copy of the route”, little does he know directions and I originate from different planets. The climb is steady soon requiring scrambling techniques in order to progress. Ralph stops for the occasional GPS check and photo opportunity, I just crack on. We come to a particularly tricky section. Its narrow footholds are few with a clear view (down) of how far we’ve climbed. Concentration is required. We finally reach the summit of Beinna Caillick a couple of minutes apart. We sit down, open up our supplies, looking out over peaks and mountains ranges, swathed in misty clouds. Simply a pleasure to be here with such a panoramic view of the Broadford Red Hills all around us.
I break the comfortable silence and tell Ralph something for no apparent reason, “I’m scared of heights”. “What?”, he responds more than a little surprised. “Yep, even climbing a ladder is a problem”, I tell him. There follows a further five to six second silence, then he breaks out into an uncontrollable laughing fit which echos across the peaks and valleys. With appetites satisfied we carry on covering the two remaining Red Hill ranges. This is walking territory, no scrambling required. Somehow we’ve hit an easy balance not having to walk together with chat at a minimum. The formula seems to work well for us both. As the final peak is reached, more photos and food are taken. A thick clouds descends at which point I lose the plot completely.
I check with Ralph, we are ready to go. Within 30 seconds he’s calling after me, ” Owen where are you going?”. He doesn’t strike me as a practical joker so I give him a straight answer, “I’m making my way down”, aided by my trusty pointing finger. “You’re going the wrong way. It’s this way”, he says now using his pointing finger. Walking back to my starting point I’m anything but convinced he’s right. The low level cloud obscures any visual reference to the right way down, but Ralph has faith in his GPS coordinates. He talks through the rational showing me a map and digit coordinates once again. I want to debate the subject, he’s not interested. Instead he calmly walks away. Everything he says make sense. By the time I’ve decided to follow his route plan, he’s gone, out of sight.
The descent is horrible. Loose shale, no footholds, steps taken at a sideways angle. To stay safe there’s a constant need to look only at your next step. When I stop to break up the monotony of the descent I see the cloud has lifted. Ralph is 50/60 yards ahead of me, and guess what…we are going the right way. I never doubted it for a minute!
Finally the descent is done, we pause again for liquid refreshment. He’s checking on GPS data. “It’s this way”, he states firmly. No doubt he’s in charge of our expedition. Again we are striding over huge boulders, streams and boggy fields with only an odd sighting of sheep for company. More than a bit foot weary Ralph tells me we have been walking for seven hours. I tell him thanks to his GPS and his personal confidence he saved me from walking in the wrong direction. Who knows what could have been the end result.
We reach the road and shake hands agreeing we have just completed a truly exhilarating and inspiring walk/climb on the Skye Hills. Although I was leading the walk in terms of being in front, Ralph was controlling the situation. No doubting German efficiency had made the Broadford Red Hills an event to remember for all the safe reasons.
Take a look at our Skye and The Hebrides Map to find a hostel on Skye.