Published 10th May 2023, 11:24

    THE enclosing walls in the higher reaches of the Great Stone Chute were pulsing as the evening sun began to take its final bow, igniting constant subtle variations of colour, light and shade.

    In contrast, Coire Lagan was awash with increasingly brilliant light, Rum and Eigg lay on a base of molten silver and the fearsome In Pin was reduced to a tiny, dark pimple on the crest of the ridge opposite backed by a tequila sky of violet, pink, orange, yellow and blue. 

    The colour scheme grew in intensity with every upward step towards the level gap at the top of the scree and patches of old snow. One final push and I was over that lip to be greeted by the sensational view of glowing copper peaks rising above the shadowed lower slopes of the southern Cuillin.

    I scrambled up the rocky ridge to the right to emerge on the airy boulder summit of Sgurr Alasdair a few minutes ahead of the final fireworks show.

    Sunset from the roof of Skye: it had been a long-held ambition and now that I had made it to the island's highest point at this hour, it didn't disappoint.

    North and south, the neighbours were basking in the dying embers of the day, every ridge, every contour, sharply defined in a kaleidoscopic finery. On the other side of the gap, Sgurr Thearlaich's chiseled face wore a chestnut complexion as it plunged on a direct line to the floor of the corrie.

    The effect was hypnotic, but I was well aware this beauty was fleeting. It wouldn't be wise to hang about too long: a fast exit down the chute was required to stay ahead of the coming darkness. This is not a place you want to be caught stumbling around in the dark.

    A spell of perfect weather had enticed me to Skye with the intention of finishing the last four Munros – Sgurr Alasdair, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh – needed to complete a fourth round. This could have been done in two days by linking the first two and then finishing on the other pair, the way I had managed on the previous three rounds. But with the opportunity for a sunset ascent of Sgurr Alasdair, I needed three days, leaving the trickier Sgurr Dubh Mor for the finale. 

    Besides, although I had been down the Great Stone Chute on three occasions, I had never gone up it. I know it sounds slightly masochistic, but I had always believed it to be a rite of passage that had to be tackled one day to truly know the mountain. 

    It was every bit as bad as I had been told, the lower two-thirds a constant struggle amid constantly sliding rocks, three steps forward, two steps back. At some points I found myself on all fours, on another I was carried a good few feet back downhill on my backside in a slew of boulders resulting in a few cuts and bruises.

    Once into the tighter confines of the higher section it wasn't so bad, and the solidity of seams of old snow helped progress. Nevertheless, there was an immense sense of relief in reaching the gap at the top. It is not an experience I intend to repeat. It had taken an hour and a half to ascend, but less than 30 minutes to get down again, mainly due to the fact that it was easier to spot the best lines from above for winding through the screes.

    Twilight seemed to have caused the landscape to have shifted on its axis, the depths of the earlier sunlit corrie now blackened and more intimidating with only the silver pool of the lochan as a focus, while the ridges and gullies above had adopted a peculiar form of daylight. The descent by torchlight had a weird vibe as well, the massive, sprawling gabbro slabs and plates that fill the corrie conjuring up images of hundreds of dead whales washed up on a beach.

    The distant horizon still held a fiery red and orange bar as I reached the finish line, but everything else was in darkness or had been reduced to silhouette. It had been a spectacular walk but after perfection there is almost always a downside and it came next morning.

    My attempt to go for Sgurr Dubh Mor via the Coir' a' Ghrunnda approach proved too much after the exertions of the night before, and it quickly became obvious I was never going to make it. It was also in my mind that this was not a hill to be tackled when exhausted. There would be no finish this trip.

    With hindsight, maybe I should have gone for the Sgurr a' Mhadaidh and Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh combo, a shorter and less serious day that would have allowed a later start, and left Sgurr Dubh Mor for another time, perhaps by the classic approach from Loch Coruisk.

    In the end, though, it was well worth sacrificing the finish for that magic feeling of sitting on the roof of Skye watching the sun going down.