How to scramble The Inaccessible Pinnacle, Isle of Skye

Sgurr Dearg’s ‘In Pinn’ is arguably more of a proper climb than a scramble. That it is the most spectacularly exposed mountain summit ascent in the UK is a matter of fact.

Britain's greatest scrambles: The Inaccessible Pinnacle, Isle of Skye

by Ben Weeks |
Published on

Total distance 8km | Total ascent 1020m | Scramble rating moderate rock climb | Go there with an expert guide

Of all the summits in the British Isles, very few insist that you rock climb to reach them. Sure, Snowdonia’s Tryfan will require some hand-on-rock manoeuvres at some point, and the final few metres onto both the Cobbler’s and Helm Crag’s true highest points are exposed and nervy. But none of these come close to the summit of Sgùrr Dearg on the Black Cuillin of Skye. For a long time, the 978m rounded top upon which the walkable path up terminates was thought to be Sgùrr Dearg’s highest point. The actual truth is less convenient. Just to the east, and 8m higher, is the feature whose name is more famous than the mountain it caps: the Inaccessible Pinnacle.

The In Pinn is variably described as a shark’s fin, or a spear head, or a dragon’s tooth. It’s a thin, sheer-sided fang of stone jutting from the rocky flesh of Sgùrr Dearg with all the ferocity and violence of a harpooned behemoth. Reaching the top of it requires nerves of steel and some expert help.

The actual movements that need to be linked together to climb its eastern ridge to its plinth-topped summit are typical scrambling territory, but the exposure – which verges on the ridiculous – is unlike anything most walkers will have experienced before. Ropes, harnesses, and the expertise to protect yourself are essential. Ignore the fact that stunt-cyclist Danny Macaskill carried his bike up there – the usual laws of physics don’t apply to him (although his short film The Ridge is well worth a watch). For mortals, hiring a mountain instructor – preferably one who is familiar with the Cuillin – is the best way to go. Because with the safety side of things taken care of, all you then need to do is take your senses by the scruff of the neck, give your nerves a firm talking to and convince your body to do what it’s told. And that will be hard enough.


Park near Glen Brittle Hut and follow the path that leads initially alongside the Allt Coire na Banachdich and past the spectacular Eas Mòr waterfall before forking off over open hillside to climb onto Sgùrr Dearg’s western ridge. This is followed, with cracking views of Sgùrr Alasdair and some light scrambling, to the In Pinn.


From the base of the Pinnacle’s south face (where you’ll stop to rope up), a short ramp leads to a broken chimney. This is climbed to a ramp that runs parallel to the crest and the first potential belay point.


Beyond the belay, the ridge itself is gained and soon steepens with some exceptionally exposed moves for which your guide is likely to keep you on a tight rope. This section was described by an early climber as “a knife-edged ridge with an overhanging and infinite drop on one side, and a drop on the other side even steeper and longer”. You’ll see his point.

The route over the In Pinn and up onto Sgùrr Dearg’s top (abseil out of sight).
The route over the In Pinn and up onto Sgùrr Dearg’s top (abseil out of sight). ©Adrian Trendall


There’s another belay spot at about 30m on the right side of the arête which your guide will likely have used to protect you on the crux. Beyond this the ridge widens slightly, although the exposure is still phenomenal.


The top of the In Pinn is crowned by the Bolster Stone. Technically the summit of the Pinnacle and therefore Sgùrr Dearg, many folk are happy to just slap the top of it with an outstretched hand, rather than climb fully onto it! Others will be satisfied with a cursory nod as they edge past to the abseil point beyond it.


A solid chain around the Bolster Stone provides the anchor for the abseil. Your guide will provide a back-up safety rope to protect your descent, or if you’re not happy to abseil they can lower you down the Pinnacle’s western end.


Once back on solid ground with your heart rate returning to normal, ascend the slabs to the rounded top of Sgùrr Dearg and admire your accomplishment with great views of the In Pinn. From here, unless other Cuillin challenges beckon, the easiest route down is to head north to Bealach Coire na Banachdich and then drop to the west back towards Glen Brittle. Alternatively, just follow your guide – they’ve got you this far!


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