Conquering Skye’s In Pinn
My latest Sunday Mail outdoors column revealed my fear and joy after summitting Skye’s scary Inaccessible Pinnacle. If I can do it then plenty more people can, too! Read the full article or see below.
I conquered my fear – and the In Pinn
For people attempting to tick off all of Scotland’s 282 Munros, the most challenging peak is the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Island of Skye. An extreme fear of heights meant our columnist Fiona Russell had no desire to go near it. Except she is keen to walk a full Munro round…
The Inaccessible Pinnacle – the In Pinn – is a huge plinth of rock that sits at a strange angle atop the mountain Sgurr Dearg on the Cuillin Ridge, Skye.
To bag this summit, walkers must hike to a height of 3208ft before climbing a narrow 200ft ridge with alarmingly steep drops on either side.
If you fear heights, like I do, it’s a dizzyingly scary route that can prevent some baggers from ever finishing a Munro round.
The In Pinn has been on my mind for the past few years as I’ve worked my way through the Munros Table, first compiled by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891.
The Munros are the 282 mountains in Scotland with a top of at least 3000ft.
My approach as been to ignore the In Pinn and to walk other less vertiginous mountains instead.
While there are many challenging Munros, none are as difficult as most of the eight located in the Cuillin.
Occasionally I have looked at photographs of the pinnacle – and those alone have made my stomach lurch and my hands sweat.
But I am now at a crux point in my pursuit of the Munros and with more than 200 of the 282 bagged I have had to face facts.
I needed to get on top of my heights fear – and summit the In Pinn – or give up on the full round bid.
So last month, I took advantage of a spell of mostly warm and dry weather and agreed to a trip to Skye with my partner.
Gordon is an experienced climber and while he has seen my nerves on other Scottish mountains he was sure he could help me to reach the top of the In Pinn.
Most Munro walkers hire a climbing guide to tackle this Munro, and also the other 10 Munro summits in the rocky Cuillin.
It’s a harsh and dangerous high-rise environment unlike any other in the UK and requires excellent navigation, climbing skills and a very good head for heights.
The conditions seemed perfect the day that Gordon and I headed up the path from Glenbrittle with friends Danny, Johnny, Tommy and Billy.
The weather in Skye is notoriously fickle but, for once, it was warm and settled.
The higher we climbed, however, the greater my dread. Looking up at the steep corrie above Loch an Fhir-bhallaich did nothing to calm my nerves.
The dark dinosaur ridge-back shape of the Cuillin loomed above and although it is immensely impressive it made me feel sick to my core.
I tried, instead, to focus on the path immediately ahead, hiking scree and boulders.
It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the In Pinn itself until you’re standing next to it.
The giant rock looks like a jaggy shark’s fin and so precariously positioned.
The Cuillin are the results of glaciated remains of a solidified volcanic lava reservoir from many million years ago.
While one side of the In Pinn is just 60ft, it’s at a vertical and overhanging angle that makes it tricky to climb. The other side is a gentler angle but almost four times longer.
Looking up I could see plenty of rocky steps and large holds, which gave me a small surge of confidence.
Then I realised just how narrow the ridge becomes and the horribly steep drops on either side.
As Gordon made the climb safe by setting up a system of ropes, belays and temporary protection points, I became increasingly anxious.
Sirens were going off in my brain, my head swirled, blood rushed through my ears and my stomach churned.
I could hear things going on around me and people telling me I’d be fine but I felt disconnected. This moment, the one I’d feared for years, was right here.
I was thankful that Tommy, who has done the In Pinn a couple of times, would climb next to me and give me much-needed support.
When I said I couldn’t do it, he told me I could; when I worried I was going the wrong way, he guided me; when my legs trembled and I could hardly lift my foot, he helped me to go on.
Just 20ft up I thought I’d need to descend again. I couldn’t focus on anything other than the severe drop and I felt awful.
Annoyingly the climbing was quite easy. If I had been climbing this rock at ground level I would have done it without any anxiety and in minutes.
But fear made me fumble and lose my holds.
Over and over I tried to calm myself. I kept saying: “Don’t look down, just keep going, don’t look down, just keep going.” Talking to myself out loud helped.
Gordon had set up two pitches. At the top of the first pitch – and half way through the climb – I met with him again and apparently I looked pale and ill.
But there was no going back without an equally scary back climb and so I had to focus on doing one move after the next.
If I caught a glimpse of the air below I shook uncontrollably. My calf cramped from holding myself taut and my mouth dried.
I also hated myself for being so afraid. I wished I could be braver and that I could enjoy the experience.
But I did it. I got to the top of the mighty Munro at 3235ft and slumped exhausted against the cold rock.
I still felt extreme fear. I was on top of the In Pinn and I didn’t want to be there.
Gordon was delighted I’d made it but he could see I was keen to make a descent.
The usual route is to abseil the shorter side and amazingly I found the courage to lean out from 60ft up and lower myself back to Sgurr Dearg.
While I can’t say I enjoyed the Munro, rather I endured it, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
I know that if I want something badly enough I’ll find the mental strength to achieve it. Just as long as I have an expert and my friends there to hold my hand!
To climb the In Pinn, book a guide