Having been spoiled the previous day with hot sunshine, beautiful views and delicious ice cream, we were preparing to come crashing back down to earth on day two. We camped out on the Trotternish Ridge the night before and fully expected the weather to take a turn for the worst overnight. We couldn’t believe Skye would be kind to us two days in a row, especially in such a wild and exposed place like the ridge is.
Thankfully, the weather stayed dry and we didn’t have to pack up our tents in torrential rain or howling wind as that’s never a fun way to start the day. After pushing on so much further than planned the previous day, we didn’t feel under immense pressure to get things started immediately so could take our time getting up and ready. Easing into the day this like this made the mammoth task of walking the Trotternish Ridge with our full multi day backpacks on seem that little bit easier.
Day two of the Skye Trail was now under way but not before taking a small detour to a nearby stream for some fresh water. We had both armed ourselves with filter bottles for the Skye Trail which make multi day hillwalking trips so much easier and more enjoyable. My LifeStraw Go bottle is now one of my favourite pieces of gear and I’ve even started taking it out on single day trips too. I like to drink a lot of water when walking so the relief on my back and legs from not packing an extra three or four litres every day makes a huge difference to my energy levels. That is, if I know I will be passing a water source which isn’t always the case.
After turning around to take one final look back towards the Quiraing, cloud could be seen coming in from the west coast and shrouding the top of Meall na Suiramach at 543 metres high. Our route along the ridge took us constantly above and below that level so it felt like a day of walking in the mist and clouds was forecast for us from the beginning.
The first summit of the day was Ben Edra. It was almost two miles away with roughly 300 metres of ascent making it both the longest and highest single ascent of the day. After reaching it, the rest of the route comprised half a dozen short and steep ascents to some of the most dramatic summits I’ve ever stood on. Although the Trotternish Ridge is famed for being a brutal challenge, it’s different to that of climbing Beinn Sgritheall near Glenelg for example, which is regarded as one of the steepest Munros. The constant ascents and descents coupled with the very good chance of bad weather and limited views make this not only a challenge for the body, but also the mind.
As we got closer to the summit of Ben Edra, our legs already struggling with it’s steep ascent so soon after the previous day’s long effort, the bad weather finally caught up with us. The wind would only get worse for the rest of the day, constantly pushing us towards the ridge edge which made my dangerous habit of looking over clifftops slightly more exciting than usual!
The cloud would constantly come and go, sometimes clearing enough in the west to see the Fairy Glen by Uig on the coast below us, the small Ascrib Islands behind it and further on to the rugged coastlines of Uist, Lewis and Harris in the distance.
At this point in the day, the wind really began to pick up and was gusting extremely fast and strong. It was so strong that it became almost impossible to communicate without shouting in each others ears. When a dry stane dyke came into view between the small summits of Flasvein and Creag a’ Lain, we decided it was the perfect place and time to stop for a break to shelter from the wind and rest our weary legs. And of course, stuff our faces with all the food we’d been carrying this whole way. Both of us found that shortbread became a staple snack for our week walking the Skye Trail. Being easy to eat on the go, full of calories for energy and most importantly, extremely tasty, make it the perfect snack for walking trips.
Looking south down the ridge to the direction we were heading, the large outcrop of Sgurr a Mhadaidh Ruadh jutted out to the left. I was very much looking forward to standing on top of the summit and if the weather permitted, being allowed to see the views back to the Quiraing and ahead to The Storr.
By the time we reached Sgurr a Mhadaidh Ruadh, the wind was the strongest it had been all day. Depending on which way you look at it, I’ve had the fortune or misfortune of hillwalking in 90mph winds previously and this day on the Trotternish Ridge was as close to that experience as I’ve had since. Even with my walking poles in hand, the wind would constantly throw me off balance. Not exactly the ideal day to be traversing a 15 mile long ridge walk.
The summit of Sgurr a Mhadaidh Ruadh – which sits atop the rugged cliffs sticking out to the left in the below image – is reached via a narrow path which drops off steeply on both sides. I made a point of keeping my centre of gravity low and stepping through this section quickly before making it to the top where the wind speed had grown to new unimaginable levels. My usual ritual of standing on the edge, posing for a photo and looking down the steep drop below simply wasn’t possible this time. Digging my poles into the ground, with the wind pushing into me from behind, I stood as close to the edge as I dared, looking down towards the islands of Raasay and Rona, way below me. Having stood for a few seconds, barely able to hold myself straight I retreated back to safety, away from the summit and onwards to continue the ridge walk.
There was one more summit to reach before we could escape the Trotternish Ridge and get back down to hopeful calm weather. Hartaval, at 669 metres required an ascent of almost 200m from Bealach Hartaval below it. With the wind punishing us more than ever and the rain pouring down on us relentlessly, it was one of the hardest climbs of the day as we slowly started to run out of energy.
The views were non-existent now which made the walk even tougher. Without the beautiful views of the island around us, there wasn’t much keeping us going, other than the blissful thought of crawling into our tents to sleep when we finally finished.
Upon reaching the summit of Hartaval and descending down the other side towards Bealach a’Chuirn, I had to deliver some bad news to Jack. Through the mist we could see nothing ahead of us, to which Jack assumed was because we were going downhill and there were no more ascents. Unfortunately, as the mist cleared briefly and the north ridge of The Storr peeked into view ahead, towering 100 metres above us, I had to explain that we were joining the path on the other side of it and we must go up once more before we could go down.
It wasn’t easy but together, we finally made it over the top and joined the path back down towards the Old Man of Storr. After miles of trudging through the wet grass, fighting against the wind, rain and our own desire to just give up, we were on the home straight and had almost finished our traverse of the Trotternish Ridge.
Much to our surprise, we seen our first person since leaving the Quiraing car park the previous day not long after joining the path. For the rest of our descent, we would pass more and more people that were heading up to reach the summit of The Storr or simply just walking as high as they needed to in order to see the Old Man of Storr before heading back down to the safety, dryness and warmth of their cars. That was a luxury we didn’t have now that we had completed Stage 2 and were essentially in the middle of nowhere with only our tents for comfort.
Upon reaching the car park at the foot of The Storr, we had a decision to make on where to now spend the night. The wind hadn’t dropped at all since we descended, it was blowing in from all directions and bringing rain with it almost horizontally so we were in dire need of shelter to recharge ourselves and dry our now soaking gear. The forest to the north of Loch Leathan, next to the power station was always the plan for a camping spot but it wasn’t until we reached it that we realised it wasn’t at all ideal. We wandered around both the edges and deep inside the forest, contemplating all our options. Squeezing our tents into a bumpy and uncomfortable part of the forest, camping outside on the soaking wet grass that would inevitably soak us through too or hitch a lift to Portree and stay in a hostel or campsite, to return again in the morning and carry on where we left off.
After much deliberation, we decided on the forest purely as it was dry and would provide us with a much need rest from the elements. Hitching a lift to Portree was not an option as we knew we were tougher than that and would take more pride at the end of the week if we stayed in the wild.
We were lucky enough to stumble across what must have been the one relatively flat part of the forest with just enough space for our tents. We got everything set up, hung our gear up to dry in a small clearing and set about safely building a fire. The raging winds and wet wood made it nigh on impossible to get the fire going but it finally roared to life and brought back some warmth to our cold bodies. Finding enough dry wood was almost the most challenging part of the whole day, as we ran around the forest in the pitch black, with our headtorches on, searching desperately for any fallen branches we could burn before the fire died out.
With almost everything we carried with us soaked through and hanging up around us, we sat by the fire cooking our dinner and reliving the ups and downs of the day. We were cold, wet and tired but the Skye Trail was still giving us the time of our lives. With what we always knew would be the toughest day of the week now behind us, we were feeling confident that it was going to be a successful journey, encouraged by the thought of reaching Portree the following day to treat ourselves with some pub grub and a few cold beers.