An Cliseam - 799m
Monday 20th July 2009

Weather/Conditions: Cold, wet and windy. Cloud down to 500m, with showers passing through. Mostly drizzle with occasional patches of very heavy rain, first at the summit then near the bottom.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 5km / 650m / 1h 45m
Accompanying: Alone

I climbed An Cliseam during a week in the Western Isles and had spent the first several days at the Hebridean Celtic Festival with Stephen (brother) and some of my cousins and uncles. Once the Festival was over, Stephen, cousin Andrew and myself drove down to Harris to spend a couple of days there. We spent the night preceding An Cliseam at Horgabost in Harris, while as we camped on the sand dunes, wind, rain and a malfunctioning tent gave us a sleepless night.

Because I'd got so little sleep the night before, I was exhausted on the Monday morning. It was cold outside and rain lashed down, so hardly the most inspiring day for a hillwalk. Taking the tents down was a challenge in itself because of the high winds, so I figured that the conditions would be horrendous in the mountains. I'd wanted to climb something during my stay in the Hebrides, but now I wasn't in the mood. I didn't want to completely call it off, so Andy drove me to the foot of An Cliseam and then I could reconsider. If I didn't feel like it, we could easily drive on. If I was up for it, Steve and Andy could occupy themselves while I was away.

We parked by Loch na Ciste, south of An Cliseam, where there is a lay-by not marked on the map. This would give me the highest starting altitude although it would be trackless for much of the way. I was feeling better now and the weather had eased a little. In a moment of can-do mentality, I decided to go and gave Steve and Andy two hours; three if I was slow. I hoped not to be too long anyway: going at full steam, two hours seemed reasonable.

They drove off and I spent a five minutes organising my gear. First of all I realised I hadn't brought trekking poles and then realised that I'd forgotten all my food and water. There was no going back now, and even though I'd still go up the hill, but I began to doubt that two hours would see me to the summit and back.

An Cliseam

I crossed the A859 and began to climb the slopes beside Sron Carsacleit. It was very cold and very windy. Passing showers were forecast although the rain wasn't on now. I tried to keep my pace quick with the two hours in mind, but wasn't in the best of moods because I didn't know whether I could make it. Not wanting to worry anybody, it was one of the first times in memory that I'd kept the mentality 'there's no shame in turning back', because it gave me something that I could potentially abide by, should I need to.

Once past the steep lower slopes, the gradient eased off and then An Cliseam came into view, almost completely mist-shrouded. I could imagine the lower slopes ascending into a cone shape to the summit, although I'd hoped it wouldn't be too far. Past the flatter terrain, I began to climb the main summit cone. It wasn't long before I was up in the cloud and I continued to climb upwards.

I was climbing primarily over boulder fields and steep grass, and the map suggested that the slopes wouldn't become so steep as to turn into crags. The rock was very grippy and rough enough for a small slip to have left me with a cut. I kept a close eye on the time and tried to compare the time against my progress. If I hadn't summited by 10am, then I'd turn around. Perhaps if the top was within striking distance, then I might make a dash for it. The rain was drizzling down too, but I went on anyway, with thighs burning, wishing I hadn't said two hours. My mood could have been better.

After climbing the steep boulder fields, I came upon the summit ridge, where a boot eroded path would led me to the summit. The ridge was fairly narrow and boulder strewn in places and I'd imagine it could be quite exposed on a clear day. Today of course, there was nothing but the rocks and the grey of the mist.

I arrived at the summit at 9.55am, five minutes before my turn around time. Even if I had reached 10am and not been on top, I might have continued given that the ridge was narrow enough to let me know I was nearly there. The trig point was entirely encircled in a windbreaker/wall, so I climbed in over the top to sit down on the more sheltered inside. I'd only have a brief moment of rest because I'd have to get going again. The rain on the final stretch had been heavy and persistent, rain like I hadn't been in before, so I was glad to be in some sort of shelter.


With a couple of minutes rest, I got going again and headed down the ridge the way I'd came. On the way up, I'd used a distinctive rock to mark the place that I ascended from, but missed this on my return. The ridge broadened to the point that I realised that I wasn't where I should be, but these slopes were much less steep, and would allow for faster progress. Remerging from the cloud, I headed in the direction of Bealach na Ciste, walking first over the flat ground before the final descent into the valley.

Rain moved in from the west once more, and began to fall heavily. I was happy enough though because with the ascent behind me, I found the descent quite enjoyable. The rain was refreshing, even though it was intense and I was drenched. When my finishing point was in sight from above, there was no car, but I continued to descend with speed in mind, therefore running at points. I arrived at the lay-by at Loch na Ciste, with no pick up in sight. My frantic pace, rooted in uneasiness, had seen me up and down 15 minutes shy of two hours.


I'd have some waiting to do. The bealach was very cold, windswept and hardly the place to be waiting for a lift. A couple of more showers passed through, but I was more than happy to sit and wait, even if it became cold at points. Steve and Andy pulled into the lay-by at 11am, ten minutes late but hardly a concern to me. I was more worried of being ten minutes late for them. With the Stornoway - Ullapool boat booked for the next morning, we stopped at Dalmore and Calanais en route to the Butt of Lewis, before heading back to Stornoway for a final BBQ and night in the pub.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 8.50am Bealach na Ciste
(1.05) 9.55am An Cliseam
(1.45) 10.35am Bealach na Ciste
Written: 2009-07-31