'Munro Bagging' in Scotland on a Bike

Sep 7, 2019
by Andy Cole  

Words: Sean Green / Photos: Andy Cole

Grizzly Munro, Skye Diary.

TWO years in the back of my mind. FIFTEEN months of planning. FOUR weeks of bike prep and THREE weeks of body prep.

The time was now, I could hear the Cuillin calling.



This was always going to be a huge part of Grizzly Munro Diaries, my plan to conquer all of the Scottish Munro's while riding every piece of ride-able singletrack I can find.

It is without doubt the most technical and holds the greatest potential for injury or death. It's a topic I can't really escape whether online or on the hill. Everybody I meet or talk to wants to know if, or how I'm going to do the In Pinn (Innaccesable Pinnacle). Danny Macaskill made this imposing rock feature famous with us bikers in his edit, The Ridge.

My answer now has almost become scripted. When I started this project, it was a total whirlwind and sort of started by accident, I then broadened my horizons and wanted to find the golden trail on every Munro. Of course, there is next to no point in taking a bike to the summit of some Munros, but why go to all this effort of riding say 230 munros and leave out just 52 because they are deemed pointless or difficult? I've always maintained that if I was ever hillwalking and found even 30m of trail, I always wished I had my bike, the Cuillin, as inhospitable and daunting as it may be, is no different.

Which leads me here I guess, the week of the Cuillin. The truck was all packed on the Sunday, and the plan was to set off for lunchtime Monday, meeting with Andy on Skye sometime in the Afternoon.
The drive to Skye is always an enjoyable one, regardless of how many hundreds of hours I've spent over the last 30 years in a variety of vehicles getting to the Misty Isle.

I met with Andy at the Sligachan and after our now obligatory handshake and hugs, set off to meet Adrain Trendall, both anticipating just what we would capture on the camera sensors. Adrian, our guide for the week and his partner Bridgette host a beautiful B&B in Sconser known as the Boathouse. He had been really positive about the project and was very keen to be involved.

Over coffee, we made a general plan for the week ahead, largely based on the weather forecast, which turned out to be our nemesis for the week.

With tomorrows weather looking the best for the week we set our sights high, attempting to tackle the In Pinn first but I also wanted to include Sgurr Mhic Choinnich whilst we were so close. With a plan in place, Andy and I set off to find our first camp of the week.



Tuesday arrived and it was time to head for the mountains. The initial ride in really surprised us with it's well-built path, making for quick progress and an eager appetite for the return leg.



Once in Coire Lagan the sheer grandeur and menace of the Cuillin really hits you. Rocky outcrops tower above in every direction. Looking up, you can see just how small people appear on the summit ridge, putting everything right back into perspective and reminding me of the challenge that lays ahead of me. From here it feels like we are surrounded by sheer walls and unscalable scree, but Adrain assures us that there are routes here.



We make a b-line for the An Stac screes and begin the trudge up the slope. The going is relatively easy whilst making our way across the larger rocks but soon becomes much more tedious as each footstep fades away into the smaller scree. Our route kept us along the edge of the scree which came with its own problems whilst I had the bike on my pack, constantly catching on looming rock faces above. A real spacial awareness is needed in this environment to ensure I'm not knocked off my centre of gravity.




Within around 25 minutes we are topping out of Coire Lagan and finally onto the Cuillin ridge itself. The views are breathtaking but the real challenge is just about to start. A brief ribbon of singletrack lit up my eyes and imagination, and even with the exposure on either side, I had to ride all 30m of it.





For the majority of the ride/walk in and the scree slope, I was able to use the hookabike, but since topping out the Coire the wind picked up slightly and phantom gusts put me on edge. This tied in well with the overhanging rocks on the route ahead. I was grateful to have Adrian and Andy with me to pass my bike ahead at certain sections. You know things are getting pretty serious when you're getting harnessed up but also have a bike to contend with.






Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall


The last of the awkward moves were overcome and we reached the summit of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. The 360 degree views were exceptional and the In Pinn was looking a long way off.









It was around 4.30pm at the summit and judging by how long it had taken to get the bike along the ridge, I started to try and be a bit more realistic about the prospect of Munro number two, so I made the decision to leave the In Pinn for another day. Nevertheless, it was time to squeeze in as much riding as I could on this knife edge ridge. The rock in the Cuillin is intensely grippy when dry and I had that on my side as I sauntered along, trying to keep my eyes on the trail ahead instead of the several hundred metre drop to each side. There's no denying that 95% of this ridge is completely unridable, but for that 5% I felt on top of the world!




Some more rocky down climbs and we were once again at the scree which nearer the bottom started to peter out and I had a clear run down to the lochan. Things were finally looking up.
Once down though, the weather cleared once again and the sun even made an appearance, almost immediately making me regret my decision to leave the In Pinn for another day.


Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall



At this point though, I had made my rocky bed and I had to lay in it. I put on my big boy pants and wound my way down the rocky path, as the the trail opened up in front of me.



Before long the tight and technical was making way for flat and wide, but it allowed me to take in the sights and enjoy the sun blasting through the clouds. After the mediocre middle, the trail gods gifted me with the lower section which really got tight again before some fresh cut lines allowed me to float the rest of my way down, smiling from ear to ear.



I arrived back to the truck with a sense of accomplishment looking upto where I had just been. I was hopeful that the rest of the week would still bring some good weather so there was no real reason to feel deflated by the In Pinn.

I could Hear the Cuillin calling... and I answered.


After a reasonably successful Day One, Day Two's weather forecast changed overnight and forced us to abort plans.

Not wanting to waste any of our time on the Misty Isle, Andy and myself nipped into Portree for a cooked breakfast and then to the north of the Island where our weather Hopes were slightly better, initially aiming for Storr before seeing it was way too busy to capture any images, we continued on to the Quirang.
The aim of today was to focus on images with such a spectacular environment, but between stopping to set up some shots I was able to link up dreamy little sections of trail. The Quirang has a mystical feel to it and I guess that's why it's just so damn popular. Some aggressive XC made this a day to remember, between dodging tourists and dodging bad weather, we had it in the bag.








After an awesome day, we headed down to Staffin Bay to set up camp, sink a few beers and have a look at the images we had captured for the day.

Thursday's forecast was set to be another washout after a pretty flat and grey morning. With this in mind, we weren't in too much of a hurry to set off for the south of the island. A leisurely morning was had as we planned an attack for the days Munro.

Andy wasn't too bothered about Bla Bheinn as he had summitted it on a previous trip and the only other two reasons which would get him up there today would be having his bike or having great weather for photos... unfortunately, we had neither.

Now into the afternoon, I eventually set off, scrambling my way through tight rocky outcrops and boulder-strewn cliff faces. The going was tough and felt somewhat never-ending in places.

The weather was horrific and my mood was beginning to head in the same direction. All I could think about was getting back to the truck and into some dry clothes, sitting round the fire.

After a short turnaround at the summit, I descended between tight and twisting slabs of rocks, leading towards enormous drops. Before long flanks of green began to reappear and elation warmed my body as I was dropping into the Coire once again. The singletrack dived between enormous boulders but soon gave way to rivers of scree, many of which were un-rideable. The final section was steep, with 6ft step downs to contend with. These are great for climbing but really suck to ride down.

Beyond this is around 15 minutes of epic, wild, riding. The gradient is a little flat but the loose nature of the trail and the odd placed rock or water bar keep you well and truly on your toes. You can even open it up for a few short blasts.


On the final descent, I also happened to bump into none other than Andy, who had braved the storm with his classic photographer umbrella, quite the sight for the experienced walkers of the Cuillin. We briefly spoke about the opportunities we had missed in the morning and even thought of trying for a few on the way down but we both decided the horizontal rain was going to be too much to achieve any images worth the risk for soggy camera gear.


On return to civilisation for some supplies from my wet descent of Bla Bheinn, Andy's clutch decided to fail on his van, just as we pulled into Broadford. Morale was low, the trip so far hadn't transpired as we had hoped. And an already deflated pair were even more put off by the fact that Fridays weather forecast was for much more of the wet stuff. Now add to the fact that Andy wasn't sure if the van would be able to get him all the way back to Leeds, it put even more pressure on the situation. We rallied together to try and think of potential solutions and put some feelers out on our plans for the rest of the week. In the end we both decided that Andy making it home was a priority, especially with the limited prospect of photos the following day. We said our goodbyes and I watched my brethren drive off into the distance.

Now on my own, I reached out to Adrian, the guide, to inform him that it would just be on my own the following day, should the weather allow us to get out. He proceeded to fill me with even more dread as he went over the specifics of the forecast and the likelihood of not getting out.

At an all time low, there were only two things left for me to do, find somewhere to camp for the night, and speak to my wife. If one thing was for certain L-Jay would know how to put a positive spin on things and pick me back up.

After some words of wisdom and a big glass of 'man the f*ck up', I set out for a lay by at the back of the Sligachan and got camp ready. A couple of bottles of Bitter n' Twisted to wash down a pot noodle and my night was complete.

Like some divine intervention, I arose to a sweltering hot tent and when I opened the doors, wall to wall sunshine surrounded me. I dropped Adrian a message straight away with the intention of heading straight out and that was the plan. We were on the hill for around 7am, all the while those fantastic morning skies were quickly changing.

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

The walk into Bruach na Frithe is really quite relaxed and rewarding. The cascading of the white water next to you tends to have your mind drift off. Before long it's a slight bank to the left, in towards the Coire. Again the climb is a comfortable gradient and one that's got me excited for the descent. As we gained height, the clouds rolled in and out, I cant help but wish Andy had stayed for the morning as we would have been able to get absolute gold.

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

As we reach the foot of the Coire, the gradient gets a little steeper and the trail a lot trickier. At this point its still largely rideable, before climbing more steeply with a series of hairpin switchbacks for what feels like 100m. A traverse across the craggy face sees us just below the outline of the ridge, which you can almost make out amongst the clag.

Once on the ridge itself, the going is much easier and the terrain a lot more rideable than that of our previous Munro, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, at least the section in the clearing is. One final push and we're at the summit trig point on Bruach na Frithe, my third Cuillin Munro.

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

Image by Adrian Trendall of All Things Cuillin
Image: Adrian Trendall

The descent was on... and with all the rain we had on the climb my brakes were screaming as I headed off the ridge. There were still a few walking sections up high but as usual, it was, 'ride where you can'. Once out of the bulk of the Coire though was where things started to really get exciting. It was time to let off the brakes and have as much fun as I could. And damn was it fun. I honestly just couldn't stop smiling on this descent and it seemed to go on forever. This one really did have it all. Fast, flowing singletrack, slow tight and technical, loose corners, off camber, grass, rock, rideable scree, exposure and an incredible gradient. It had it all. Now me describing it like that could easily see you guys flock there in your masses, but you need to remember one thing... that all my descriptions are relative. It had all those things for me, because this is the riding I do. I ride real mountains on trails built by thousands of hooves and feet over hundreds of years. A far cry from maintained and manicured trails.

All that aside, I can confidently say that Bruach na Frithe is my new favourite Munro descent in the country and I cannot wait to have Andy return with me.

(A special thanks to) Adrian Trendall, our guide for the week. The man's wealth of knowledge is insane and he constantly had me at ease for my whole time in the Cuillin. If you're looking to venture into the motherland of all Munros then I suggest you get in touch with him. Alternatively give his page, 'All Things Cuillin', on FB and IG a follow for hundreds of amazing photos and great advice on routes. The man is quite simply an open book when it comes to the Cuillin, and that is refreshing to see.

Regions in Article
Scotland

Posted In:
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21 Comments

  • 2 0
 Awesome. Such a stunning place. Im desperate to get back up there. Went as a kid and it imprinted itself on my mind. Trouble is being down south is its not far off 700 miles and 12 hours of driving. Bar the ferry, all of France and beyond is in that range.
  • 5 0
 Epic photos but seems like a lot of work to me, time better spent pedalling me thinks!!
  • 1 0
 Few years back we done about 10 munros around scotland and I remeber all. Great n Epic. Lochnagar, Ben Macdui , Driesh n Mayar, 4 summits of Beinn A'Ghlo , Schiehallion , Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond , Ben Vorlich. Some of them multiple times
  • 1 0
 Ben Lomond is easy, me and my pal Stevie did it about 30 years ago. Stevie had a ridgeback and me a marin eldrige grade , i remember coming down the shoulder in the snow and the dark, a bit of an adventure so it was. Maybe we were the first to do it?
  • 4 0
 Someone needs to come up with a legit hike a bike pack... seriously.
  • 1 0
 Deuter has one.
  • 2 4
 Problem with Munro's, As for as Mountain bikes go, is that do not think any are ride-able up, or practically impossible even with widest range of gearing & carrying bike up to push down even some of it is more hike a bike than MTB?
  • 1 0
 mount keen is doable. the only munro in Scotland
  • 6 0
 Too true! No desire to summit all the Munros or even many. For me the ratio of hike a bike to epic descent is key.

Don't get me a wrong a good day can still be had but a "good ride" is different.
  • 3 0
 Tried it in 2000, sacked the bikes off very quickly and it ended up being a hiking trip.
Also, 60 mph blizzards in May/June. Pish.
  • 1 0
 @BenPea: sounds like good conditions for Scotland, keeps the midgies in bed.
  • 2 0
 Wicked riding!!
  • 2 0
 Some awesome photos.
  • 1 0
 Thank you.
  • 1 0
 wowww what an amazing place!!
  • 2 0
 Beautiful work!!
  • 1 1
 I read "'Munro Bagging' in Scotland on an E- Bike" first..
  • 1 0
 Not an e-bike, just a gearbox bike. Those Deviate Guides are actually pretty sick, I had one for a while and other than being heavy it did a lot of things amazingly well.
  • 1 0
 Considering they'd probably have to carry the bike anyway, that would be just as badass. His Pinion gearbox does have a wide range though, comparable to the old-school 3x9sp gearing (and much wider than the biggest 1x gearings we see now). That may help a little in places.

I read about the guy in the Cranked magazine a few issues back. Cool stuff.
  • 1 0
 Bagginnssssss
  • 2 4
 ego trip

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