Dispatch received from Mike who is working out of the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis. The warm conditions have left gaps in some of the classic ice routes and Point 5 gully sounds as though it is thin. The skies have started to clear so hopefully that will stay the same overnight for a good frost and lead to better conditions over the coming days. Mike was on Ledge route with Frank today.
Frank with Tower Ridge, Observatory Buttress and NE Buttress in the background.
I was out with Tim and Nina today introducing them to basic winter skills in preparation for their attempt on Mt. Blanc later this year. We had an entertaining time walking into the wind and rain for a while but it was quite sheltered from the wind high up in Fionn Coire. We found a good variety of firm and soft snow so that we could practice moving around all types of terrain on the way up and down the coire. The snow-melt was increasing as we came off the hill today and I expect the hills will be looking quite bare in a day or two. There will be plenty of patches of snow along the ridge for quite a while yet though.
Going up the hill….
And down again!
After a week of heavy snowfall and strong winds it was time for Matt and me to find out what had been given to us by the gods of winter climbing. Deep drifts were a feature but we stuck to our guns and aimed for the first winter ascent of Gully E on Sgurr Thearlaich near the top of the Great Stone Shoot. This is thought to be the line taken by Charles Pilkington’s party on the first ascent in 1887.
A Dachstein Mitt day
Matt with the In Pinn behind.
On finally reaching the climb the weather gods decided that another hour or so of blizzarding would give us more of a challenge. While I froze slowly Matt excavated good protection and dived out of the spindift avalanches to belay on the left edge. I continued by the buttress and avoided returning to the gully for as long as possible but was finally forced back in. Swimming up steep powder snow for the next 20m was more like climbing on Ben Nevis than the usual Cuillin experience but I finally reached the crest of the Ridge as the sun came out once more. Overall the route we followed was probably grade III,4.
The blizzard kicks in as Matt reaches the crux.
And now enjoying his belay jacket to the full!
Deep powder at the top of Gully E
Mike rigging the abseil with the sun coming back onto Loch Brittle way below
We didn’t follow in Pilkington’s steps to the summit, opting instead for a long abseil back to the Stone Shoot and our real reward- a thousand foot bumslide back to the corrie below where hot afternoon sun reflected off the snow and the vistas out to the Hebrides were of the usual astounding high quality.
From L-R Sgurr Mhicchoinnich, Thearlaich and moon above Sgurr Alasdair. Our bumslide tracks can be seen in the Stone Shoot.
Sublime lighting over Loch Lagan looking out to the Outer Hebrides
The storms continue and with even more ferocity today. The house windows are being lashed by hail, rain and seaweed! Here’s just one wee spindrift flying past Luib on the loch.
Matt’s Report, Friday 4 March
There were plenty of walkers and picnickers out enjoying the spring weather in Coire na Creiche today. Conditions were idyllic by the fairy pools and it was almost tempting enough to have a quick swim under the arch. After considering this plan for at least a second Andy and I decided to stick to Plan A and go for a scramble. We went up Sgurr an Fheadain on the left hand spur, which is a nice grade 2 scramble with a short approach. Initially it all felt quite unfamiliar without the comfort of crampons and an axe but we soon got into a rhythm. The second half of the crest provides some great quality rough rock and we enjoyed popping onto the summit to see clear skies and sunshine. We also saw Brocken Spectre today, though this has been occurring so often on the ridge this winter it almost seemed common-place!
Nearing the summit, Brocken Spectre on the right.
Looking along the ridge connecting Sgurr an Fheadain to Bidein Druim nan Ramh
Matt’s Report, Thurs 3 March
I was out with Andy today, climbing the Eag Dubh (Black Notch) on Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. The warmer weather has made the snow contract in the gullies, leaving ridge like features to climb up. As the snow is up to ten feet deep in places it makes the snow ridges feel quite exposed, which is an unusual feeling when you are in the depths of a Skye gully! The ridge is a good mixture of ice, snow and rock at the moment, giving a very alpine feel to the crest. There is still a fantastic depth of snow in An Dorus, giving a simple step down into the gap instead of the usual steep scramble.
Approaching the Eag Dubh
Andy adopting unorthodox gully climbing tactics
And more conventional tactics higher up