I’ve been spoilt with quality days recently but yesterday was right up there with the very best. Hard to say why but good company, a fresh covering of snow, an easy ice climb turning out to be serious, top out in the sun, knife-edge snow arete, blood-red snows and a moonlit descent all played their part.
The Amphitheatre held a huge dump of avalanche debris from last weeks washout.
As the mists cleared the ice pitches began to look pretty challenging.
4 sketchy pitches followed with just enough ice and protection to justify not reversing 200m of steep snow slope. The top-out was a relief combined with all the aesthetics of incredible views, sunshine and clear skies.
We opted to continue over the summit via the final 100m of the north ridge. This was the highlight as the snow arete dropped away on both sides and a combination of au cheval (leg either side bum shuffle), crawling and tightrope walking led to even more stunning vistas from the summit.
Descent from An Dorus still required concentration and effort but finally we were able to remove crampons and enjoy the darkening descent. Just as clarity was fading the moon provided an enormous burst of light rose from behind the Ridge; I genuinely thought that one of the guys had put a head-torch on!
Enjoy the gallery-
Mark and Brian were up to the challenge and everything went to plan.
Roping across the exposed snow on the Tourist Route was probably the most gripping and descending the same way unattractive.
Numerous exposed rocks offered up good anchors and the crest of narrow snow on the final 100m felt far less serious than what we had already crossed.
Weaving from side to side of the crest, mostly on rock, made the descent feel controlled but the final abseil came as a relief from the ankle twisting.
Descending together from Bealach a’ Bhasteir to the lochan was easier than I had feared and finally removing crampons on the lip of the corrie was like putting on a pair of slippers! Good day in the office!
Yesterday was probably the best day of the year so far with not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Having a break at the boulder in Coire Uiginish and lazing around in the sun, discussing rock climbing options, it was certainly tempting not to head for the shady confines of South Buttress Gully but we knew the rewards would be worthwhile.
We cramponed up beneath the Colditz routes that had been completely washed away. We were forced into the dog-leg entry to SBG but the snow pack was superb as soon as we were in the shade
I led the first mixed step and then passed the lead to Mark for the upper icy corner (he had missed out when we climbed it in December). Logistics for climbing as a team of 5 were interesting but the scenery and conditions gave plenty to admire while awaiting turns.
The stunning weather today belied the serious nature of the snow conditions. Rock hard on the rise out of Coire na Banachdaich became a wee bit slushy on the descent to the foot of the Pinn and then deep and unconsolidated on sunny slopes by the end of the day. Not a complaint but, with a perfect forecast, it is certainly a warning to concentrate through the week ahead.
Enjoy the pics-
Cracking first day with James, Sam & Josh. Strong wind kept us away from the ridges but we made great time up Coir’ a’Bhasteir, dodged quickly through Bealach na Lice and sneeked up onto the summit of Sgurr a Fionn Choire without getting blown off.
Highlight of the day was the superb bumslide from the bealach which took us down over 1000 feet in a couple of minutes. The snow as just the right consistency but may be too hard in another day or 2 for such indulgence:)
Snow conditions are thinned out but what’s left is consolidating rapidly now that we have some clear skies. Shame all the ice washed away but there’s gonna be some great days on the Ridge ahead.
2 days of intense wind & rain finally eased off yesterday morning and it was time to go and see what conditions were like. Parking for the beautiful peak of Garbh bheinn is just a 2 minute drive from home at the head of Loch Ainort.
We opted against the north face because we reckoned that the snow would be very soft after so much warm weather. Retrospectively this seems not to have been the case as the old snow fields are so well consolidated that they are still a good consistency.
An hour of walking up the Druim Eadar da Choire took us to the hill marked with a spot height 489m on the Harvey’s map; there is a local name for this wonderful viewspot (a best on Skye contender for sure) but I’ll have to write it down next time I remember to ask the crofters. The Main Ridge was clear and showed the crest to be well plastered still along the entire length. Undoubtedly some exposed rock sections but very, very wintery still!
The dip at point 429m just below is the geological boundary between the Red and Black Cuillin and the cliff of black gabbro can clearly be seen sitting on top of the more rounded red granite hillside. For another hour we all indulged in as much scrambling on the hugely crystaline gabbro as we could find with a fine narrow crest as a finale.
The view of the ridge from Clach Glas to Blaven from here is uber classic; great background for the team pic!
We’d planned to descend north-east towards Belig but the hard/sugary snow interspersed with rock-hard turfs looked far too serious for such a relaxed day out with friends so we retraced our steps and were treated to some wonderful mist and light effects out to the west.
Recovering from the re-rise to pt 489 and taking it all in Mark’s jaw hit the flaw and he gestured horizontally out over our heads; we all dived for cameras as quietly as possible as a mature golden eagle circled around and slowly upward.
Seeming to change his mind he suddenly folded the wings and soared down past us and settled amongst the boulders not far from where we had just descended. Magnificent display thankyou!
A groove & slab of thin ice right of Sailaway has enticed me for years. As well as waiting for enough ice I’ve been intimidated because I know the whole buttress is very compact and unlikely to yeild much protection; and so it proved. The climbing wasn’t too hard but all a bit thin & run out.
The first pitch eventually yeilded a good wire at 15m and a bomber belay at 25m. A detour for a good nut left a bit of good but delicate hooking to regain the ice groove. A column of stacked blocks was frozen together enough to justify a sling and the ice above finally began to thicken up nicely. The final steep ice was even well protected by 2 bomb-proof screws.
A bit of a steep learning curve but Simon took up the challenge well and also enjoyed the (nearly as hard) challenge of naming the route. Something related to Escape from Colditz and Birthday Breakout made sense and I’d heard about the escape glider they built but never got to use. We had to look up the name on-line but, 19 years after I first saw this line, it felt like the Colditz Cock had finally taken off!
Back on Blaven today but time for some ice at last; it’s been close for weeks but not quite got there. Guy Steven was guiding Julian & George on the very high quality South Buttress Gully (II) and we were passed by Harvey the scottie dog and his owners while we kitted up. He proceeded to make what must be the first winter ascent of Great Gully by a dawg:)
Escape from Colditz (III) wasn’t as thick with ice as I would have chosen but I knew that the key lower section doesn’t need much to make it climbable. Backing and footing for 10m leads to a massive chockstone and then escape onto the wonderful ice ramps above.
I belayed below the steepest section of ice so that I could keep in touch with Simon as he fought his way up the tunnel.
The climbing in the top pitch was superb with an added bonus of topping out into the sun.
Here are a few more shots-
Rugby took precedence over blogging this weekend but below is a gallery of the 2 days out Paul, Martin & Damien enjoyed with early starts so matches weren’t missed.
Great Gully on Saturday was superb again with amazing ice formations hanging on the south walls. Harder work because of the snow that had drifted over from the north earlier in the week but it built up an appetite for the pub:)
On Sunday Sgurr an Fheadian looked quite black from below but was holding plenty of fresh powder which made the ascent pretty challenging.