Glen Dibidil to Harris

 After a long and peaceful sleep by Dibidil River, I had a satisfyingly slow start to my second day on the Isle of Rum. As someone who has traditionally done most of my backpacking and wild camping in winter and early spring, I have certainly begun to appreciate the longer days we get as the summer approaches. It definitely makes for a more flexible trip, allowing time to sleep in and also to find a decent camping spot in the late evening. That morning, I was in no rush, as I only planned to ascend onto the ridge a short distance away. While I like to be challenged physically when backpacking, I also think it’s important to slow down sometimes, and take time to appreciate the landscape we are in without simply rushing to get from A to B.

My plan was to ascend up onto the Rum Cuillin ridge, but I was flexible about whether I would do the full traverse in case I didn’t feel up to it with my heavy pack. I set off from Dibidil on the brief walk around the boggy coastal path to the south before starting the ascent almost directly north up Sgurr Nan Gillean at around 2pm. The weather was warm and clear and there was only the occasional cooling breeze as the odd stray cloud moved across the sky and blocked the sunlight. I spent a good hour on my way up just sitting and watching, breathing in the fresh sea air and admiring the blue tones of the sea and sky surrounding the beautiful Isle of Eigg. On arriving at what I thought would be the last water source for a while, I drank as much water as I could, knowing that there may not be another opportunity to refill higher up and unsure of how long I would be on top of the ridge. As I continued up and on, the ascent became very steep, to the point where I had to ditch my walking poles and use my hands to scramble.

At around 700 metres I saw that I was nearing the top and kept my eyes peeled for a reasonably flat spot to pitch my tent. I found just one decent spot about 50 metres below the ridge line. I set up my tent and bed and filled a dry bag with everything I would need for hanging out on the ridge for the rest of the day: my food, water, stove and camera gear. After setting off to the top of the ridge to get my first view over the rest of the island, I briefly looked back, and felt content with my new home in the mountains.

This must have been the shortest distance that I have ever backpacked, but I welcomed the freedom to just relax, the distinct absence of feeling the need to do more. The pictures that I had seen of the Rum Cuillins had not done them justice. In person and up close, they were all the more dramatic, rocky and rugged, and Askival in particular looked a little intimidating, a steep-sided mountain beast. I immediately got the sense that I might not be up to the journey over the ridge with my pack and with potentially few sources of water in such warm weather. I reassured myself that that is okay.

In the late afternoon I saw two walkers approaching from the north. After a brief chat I discovered that they had done the full traverse as a circular day walk and that I would likely see them in a couple of days at Guirdil bothy. I sat next to the cliff edge and boiled some water for a hot meal, and not wanting to waste a drop, I drank the remaining water from my titanium cup.

As evening approached, I watched as the landscape slowly evolved in the changing light, with shadows from clouds rolling over the mountain tops and the eastern slopes gradually blackening as the sun gently fell through the sky towards the western horizon. Just before the sun disappeared, I was treated to another display of crepuscular rays falling over the distant Outer Hebrides and as the wind chilled the surface of my skin, I could not have felt more content. This was why I had been dreaming of Rum.


Despite camping high, in a reasonably exposed position, there was not the slightest breeze during the night. I woke to the cold as my alarm went off at 5am. I had set the early alarm so I could watch the sunrise from the top of the ridge. The inside of my tent had a coating of condensation – I brewed a flask of coffee outside before heading up to the ridgeline for the fantastic view. The warmth as the sun appeared was glorious.

After packing up, I set off along the ridge, first reaching Ainshval, and after a brief rocky descent, then up to Askival. It wasn’t until I had already started the descent between Askival and Hallival, and reached some somewhat sketchy scrambling territory that I remembered reading about avoiding the particular route I had chosen. Simply following the ridge line led down to increasingly steep rocky ground with many loose bits of rock and eventually to a small cliff edge. Getting down there was difficult enough with my heavy pack, and it was a little frustrating to find that I would have to go back up again after reaching the cliff edge – particularly as I was starting to feel quite dehydrated. The heavy pack on such steep ground can throw off your balance quite easily so I took my time ascending again before finding a safer descent route just to the east of the summit of Askival. This was still steep, but more grassy and led to a path.

At this point I decided that lugging my pack over the entire ridge might be a little treacherous, and so I opted for plan B, which was to descend to Harris Bay where I would set up camp and hopefully find enough drift wood for a fire on the beach.

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