UKH

Desert Island Peaks: Graham Uney

© Graham Uney

Among his all-time favourites, this week's castaway, mountaineering instructor and outdoor writer Graham Uney, picks the seat of a legendary Welsh giant, and a Lakeland fell he first climbed by mistake.


I'm often asked, "What's your favourite mountain?". This is an impossible question. Usually, when people think about their favourite mountain, it's got as much to do with who they were with when they climbed it, or the weather, or things they saw along the way, as with the qualities of the actual peak itself. People naturally assume that Helvellyn is my all-time favourite mountain. They reason that after five years working on Helvellyn as the Fell Top Assessor, it would have to be. Right? Well, no. Not really. Helvellyn is a great mountain, but if I was plopped down on a desert island and could choose only five mountains on which to spend the rest of my days, Helvellyn would not be one of them.

At work on Helvellyn  © Graham Uney
Graham at work on Helvellyn - not one of his choices

I like my mountains to offer superb hillwalking, classic rock climbing, burly winter climbing, and lovely wild camping spots. The five peaks I'd choose to have on my desert island offer all of these qualities, and much more.

First Forays into Scotland - The Cobbler

When you're born and brought up in the flatlands of East Yorkshire, and want to be a mountaineer, the nearest hilly bits of the country are the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Peak District, and for further forays away, the Lake District and Snowdonia. In my late teens, once I'd learned to drive and had my own car (a white Opal Kadett for those wondering), the hills of Scotland loomed large in my thoughts, and a bunch of us would bundle into my car and head north for weekends away. The Arrochar Alps became our playground. We camped, walked, scrambled and climbed on The Brack, Ben Donich, Beinn an Lochain, Beinn Narnain and Beinn Ime most weekends, but it was The Cobbler that most grabbed our attention.

The Cobbler is always worth a re-visit  © Graham Uney
The Cobbler is always worth a re-visit
© Graham Uney

As anyone from the Central Belt will tell you, it's a fantastic mountain. I don't know how many times I climbed it in my youth, but I returned there a couple of winters ago, after what felt like a lifetime of absence. This brought back lots of great memories and fuelled new ones too. On this occasion James Pierce and I climbed a straightforward snow gully directly to the summit block and posted pictures on Facebook that night. Within an hour I had received an email from the sadly-missed Andy Nisbet, jovially informing us that'd we'd managed to grab a first ascent on, as he put it, "the most-climbed hill in Scotland".

It Always Was Wild - Pillar

Long, long before certain businesses, conservation charities and government agencies got together to declare that they were going to make Ennerdale a wild place, the coves, ridges and rock faces of the Pillar massif were a wild place. Yes, the valley was full of serried ranks of Sitka spruce, but the upper reaches of the hills always felt pretty remote and natural. Here, at least where the sheep couldn't easily reach, there were rock ledges full of arctic-alpine plants. Peregrines and ravens nested, and there was even a hint of an old-abandonned golden eagle eerie being used once again by those great raptors.

The mighty Pillar would be an asset to any island  © Graham Uney
The mighty Pillar would be an asset to any island
© Graham Uney

Now the Wild Ennerdale rewilding project has recognised the importance of the place. A lot of great work has been and continues to be done to restore some of this wildness. It's an exciting place to wander and I always look forward to a day walking or climbing there, whether it's guiding clients on an ascent of Pillar Rock, or striding those magnificent ridges that rise out of Ennerdale.

The Wrong Mountain - Great Gable

The first time I climbed Great Gable it was by accident.

Great Gable is best climbed on purpose  © Graham Uney
Great Gable is best climbed on purpose
© Graham Uney

I'd been on Scafell Pike in thick hill fog, and was descending the Corridor Route. Somewhere in between the top of Piers Gill and the crossing of Skew Gill I caught up with a slowly descending group of DofE-ers. They were doing pretty well, and seemed keen to chat, so I kept them company as far as the MR stretcher box on Styhead Pass. We stopped at the box for a brew-up, and I asked them where they were headed next. "Scafell Pike," came the somewhat surprising reply. I explained that they had just come down from Scafell Pike. They glanced at each other, then, pointing up the south-east ridge of Great Gable, and clearly thinking they were just humouring me, said that they'd met me on Great Gable, and now were heading up Scafell Pike. My plan had been to nip down into Wasdale from the pass, but I thought I'd better head up Great Gable with my new friends, just to keep an eye on them.

Now that we have Great Gable right next to Pillar on my desert island, with The Cobbler close by too, I have a hankering to add something Welsh to my island skyline.

The Chair of a Giant - Cadair Idris

My first walk on Cadair Idris was quite late in my hillwalking career. It was in 1998 during my 2-month-long backpacking traverse of all the 2000ft peaks of Wales. I'd walked up through the Cambrian Mountains from the Brecon Beacons National Park, and was enjoying my first visit to the southern half of Snowdonia. From memory I think I'd been on the Tarrens the day before, and headed up Cadair from Llanfihangel-y-pennent, taking in the ridge of Tyrrau Mawr and the craggy dome of Cyfrwy along the way.

He came late to Cadair, but he's made up for it since...  © Graham Uney
He came late to Cadair, but he's made up for it since...
© Graham Uney

Years later I lived just down the road from Cadair Idris and was up there most days. I love every approach to Cadair Idris - Penygadair, the high point. Cwm Cau and the Minffordd Path is simply stunning, while the northern approaches from Ty-nant feel rock-girt and wild. Deep corries with hidden lakes are a real feature of Cadair Idris, and there are so many forgotten corners here that it's easy to feel like you're exploring unknown ways.

I think you'll agree that this desert island is starting to shape up into an attractive place to live. We've got Pillar and Great Gable over on the west coast and The Cobbler in the east. We now just need one big, bulky mass to face north and we'll have everything we could desire.

Bidean above the Beach - Bidean nam Bian

A predictable choice, I'm sure you'll agree. Bidean nam Bian fringes the north coast of my island, overlooking the only beach (the southern end of my island falls away in massive sea cliffs). Coastal it may be, but winter storms bring snow and ice to the great corries of Bidean, while the long ridges give some of the best hillwalking anywhere in the world.

Whatever the season, Bidean never disappoints   © Graham Uney
Whatever the season, Bidean never disappoints
© Graham Uney

Bidean nam Bian and Stob Coire Sgreamhach between them throw down long ridges, their sides steep and exciting. The valleys that have been carved between these ridges are beautifully wild places, while the crags are there for those with the correct skill and kit to discover, in both summer and winter. My best memories of days on Bidean nam Bian are with close friends. I return here most winters (sadly not this one) for climbing. In summer I tend to walk Bidean's ridges and corries, rather than explore its crags, but I've always got it in mind that there's a whole world of new-to-me rock climbing to enjoy on this mountain. Who wouldn't want that on their own desert island?


Graham Uney is a mountaineering instructor and outdoor writer. He runs grahamuneymountaineering.co.uk, and is currently working on two new books to be published by Pesda Press: Walking The Wainwrights, and The Nature of the Lake District.

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Graham Uney



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