More than 130 years ago two men began a years’ long adventure to discover, climb and map Skye’s famous Black Cuillin.
The range of mountains forms one of the world’s best-known landscapes.
It also poses some of the toughest climbing challenges in Britain with its narrow ridges, pinnacles and rock buttresses – huge blocks of rock that jut out from the mountains.
The Cuillin has 11 Munros – mountains of more than 3,000ft, (914m). A 12th Munro, Blà Bheinn, is often considered as an outlier to the main range.
In the late 19th Century, Prof Norman Collie, a scientist specialising in chemistry who was born in Alderley Edge near Manchester, teamed up with Skye-born mountain guide John Mackenzie to explore the Cuillin.
Some of the mountains had been climbed before, but the range of coarse dark rock was largely unknown territory.
Mountaineers of the time were often drawn to climbing in the Alps. Perhaps they were put off tackling the Cuillin because of the long scrambles over loose rocks to reach the start of an ascent.
Collie was first inspired to tackle the Cuillin during a fishing trip to Skye with his brother in 1886.
The brothers visited the Sligachan Hotel and they sat at a window with a view of the distinctive pyramid-shaped 964m (3,163ft) Munro, Sgurr nan Gillean. Collie was impressed by the sight of two figures climbing on the mountain.
The Collies made two unsuccessful attempts to climb the mountain before seeking out the help of a local guide and crofter, Mackenzie.
Born in the small crofting township of Sconser, he had first climbed Sgurr nan Gillean when he was just 10 years old.
New Collie and Mackenzie statue
A statue dedicated to the mountaineers has been unveiled in Glen Sligachan.
The glen splits the Black Cuillin from the smaller hills of the Red Cuillin.
Friday’s unveiling followed 17 years of planning and fundraising
Individuals, local businesses and relatives of both Collie and Mackenzie contributed towards the £120,000 cost.
It was made by local artist Stephen Tinney and cast in bronze in a foundry in Ireland.
The Collie and Mackenzie Heritage Group said: “The sculpture represents mountaineering both past and present as the Cuillin continues to draw climbers from around the world.
“Equally, we have the story of the crofter and the chemist who through mountaineering created strong respect for each other despite the social divides of the period.”
When he was 14, Mackenzie was involved in the first ascent of the Cuillin’s 973m (3,192ft) peak Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh and four years later accompanied another climber for the first ascent of 944m (3,097ft) Sgurr Dubh Mor.
Armed with good advice from Mackenzie, Collie and his brother successfully summitted Sgurr nan Gillean on their third attempt.
Collie would go on to climb mountains all over the world, including in the Alps, Himalayas and Rockies, but he kept being drawn back to the Cuillin.
Collie and Mackenzie forged a friendship while exploring the range.
Collie sought to accurately measure and map the mountain range and with Mackenzie struck new routes up Sgurr nan Gillean and they made first ascents of other mountains.
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, one of the most challenging Munros to climb in the Cuillin, was named after Mackenzie.
The men also discovered a large block of rock which Mackenzie named the Cioch, while Collie named the rockface it sits on, Sron na Ciche.
Years later, the Cioch was used for a sword fight scene featuring Sean Connery in the cult sci-fi film Highlander.
Collie and Mackenzie are regarded to be among the greatest pioneering mountaineers of their time, venturing into tough, unchartered territory in tweed clothing, hobnail boots and rope and with little to no chance of being rescued if they got into difficulty.
Mackenzie was a mountain guide for 50 years. He died in 1933.
Collie spent the last years of his life living on Skye and was a permanent resident of the Sligachan Hotel.
He often sat at the window where he first pondered an ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean. The room today is known as the Collie Lounge.
Sgurr nan Gillean was the last mountain Collie climbed and when he died in 1942 he was buried in a grave next to Mackenzie’s at Struan within sight of the Cuillin.
Earn EASY Commissions OnlineClick Below To Get Access!
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe