Monday, December 2, 2013

Some Challanging Island Visits

I have had a few challenging and, at times, scary island encounters. I've written before about the climb up the south peak of Skellig Mhichael, where I had to turn back after being faced with having to traverse a 10 inch ledge, a shear 400 foot drop to its side. I could not do it.

The narrow ledge on Skellig (in immediate foreground)
Another 'turn back' that I regret is Garbh Eilean (the rough Isle), a tidal islet off the south end of South Rona. I'd been told there may be some ruined habitations on the island, and so on a fine spring day in 2007 I made my way to the crossing. But the only way onto the islet was to ascend a steep, rocky, and muddy ledge, some 20 feet high. Tracks in the hillside showed it had been traversed by deer, so I tried to climb it. But I'm not a deer, and being alone at the time, one wrong step and it would be a while before help would arrive, so I gave up the attempt.
Where Garbh Eilean joins South Rona (route up marked in white)
Another island-challange was the climb up, and back down, the slopes of another 'Rough Isle', Garbh Eilean of the Shiants. On my first visit in 2002, not knowing there was actually a route, I made the climb up the steep hillside to the top of the island from the stony isthmus that connects it to Eilean Taigh. Fortunately I managed to make my way up without injury, and from the top the 'safe' route down was found. But the beer I had in my pack, which I planned to drink at the high point of the island, went un-drunk, as I realized I would need all my faculties to make it safely down.

Looking to Eilean Tighe from the beginning of the descent down Garbh Eilean (Shiants)
That experience paid off 11 years later. In August of 2013 I was landed on the north end of that same Garbh Eilean. I had always wanted to see the puffin colony there, and to try to climb to the top of the island. And I knew if I could make it to the top, I could descend back to the sea on the south end of the island along the route I'd found in 2002. It was a close thing, getting to the top at the cliffs at the north end, and I almost gave up. But after zigzaging up the steep, grassy slopes I saw a notch in the clifftop that looked doable. I made my way slowly up to it, very slowly, for the gradient was about 65 degrees. I nearly turned back again, but taking my time, step-by-step, I was able to get to the top.

The way up the north end of Garbh Eilean (Shiants)
It was worth the effort, for I was then able to traverse the upper plateau of the island. Reaching the south end I started looking for the route down. Over a decade had passed since I'd stood there, and I could not see the route at first. But after traversing around the entire south end I eventually found the 'Eiger Pass', a small ravine that marks the first part of the route down the hill. In the last photo I have marked the route with a black line. Where the black line disappears, halfway up, is where the route through the 'Eiger Pass' lies hidden behind the humpy hill in the foreground.


  1. This might be very useful for me in May, Marc. I got to the top of Garbh Eilean on my second attempt. Found a route up but going up was the easy bit. Coming down with the sheer drop below and knowing that if you slipped you were going to fall a long, long way, was somewhat intimidating. If I do try it again in May I think I will make sure I'm not wearing slidy waterproof trousers, even if there is a monsoon!

    1. Finding the small ravine on the southwest side is key. I believe it's the only safe way up or down. Be careful, and definitely don't wear rain-pants.