Steff and Sarah did us proud today by bringing cloudless blue skies; in exchange I chose Suidhe Biorach & some spectacular routes for them to climb. Both ladies have climbed at home for a while so only a short session was needed on the practice slab before we got stuck into a progression of Elgol classics.
Fertility Right is one of the finest single pitch Severe’s I know; Jamie Jampot VS is better quality still; Hairy Mary VS I find growing on me after initially thinking it a bit contrived. The grade of Angel of Sharkness is much debated but the quality is without doubt as both aussies confirmed. The guidebook gives E1, 5b but it’s only HVS 5a to me. Interestingly the ladies thought it about Oz grade 17 which would put it in the lower grade by the comparison table on UKC
For its position alone Veritous Splendour deserves 3 stars but the climbing is quality too, with a dizzying crescendo as you layback the perfect arete to a gigantic jug at the top. The direct start is far easier than the original and makes it a stunning route that requires more by way of cunning and calmness than the usual Elgol thuggery.
Lizz had never done any scrambling before but an adventurous and athletic atttitude saw her balancing confidently along the knife-edge crest of Ghreadaidh today.Thanks to Iain who was out shadowing with us for taking these great images.
For some context I’d estimate that only 1 in 50 folk I guide along here have the bottle and skill to pull it off with most folk taking the safer hands & buttocks-on option! The knife-edge only lasts 10 minutes when done in such good style and we were soon heading down on easier ground but opting for the crest wherever possible.
Almost as a reward we were treated to a sight I’ve never had before with a flock of 8, yes 8, white-tailed eagles rising on the thermals from below us. Footage on the go-pro shows that this display lasted for over quarter of an hour before they rather spookily rose up into the cloud base 500 feet above us and disappeared in an instant.
The sight was spectacular but also gave me an uncomfortable feeling- these birds are just so huge and gregarious compared with true mountain royalty, the Golden Eagles. Goldies are failing to breed with anywhere near the same success as they used to here on Skye in the 90’s and I certainly see them less frequently. The causes are multifold and funding towards research is, as far as I’m aware, very minor. I’d like to see some of the enormous quantities of money spent on the White-tailed eagle flagship directed towards working out how to slow this decline.
An aging population has reduced fertility and I’m aware of my own guilt with ever-increasing numbers of hill-goers inadvertently distrurbing these shy birds by venturing too close to their nests. However, having a bigger bird that eats largely the same diet and needs similar sized territories reintroduced to their Skye stronghold has undoubtedly had a big impact. The RSPB line is that the 2 species don’t compete directly with each other and there are certainly shots of both species feeding from the same deer carcass. It is hard for me, however, not to envisage the “gang” we saw today, completely frightening a goldie off any prey.We continued our traverse to Banachdaich and these ranting thoughts subsided as concentration on footwork absorbed me once more. The clouds burnt off and half an hour was easily wiled away on the summit before a quick descent to beers while legs were soaked in the cool pools.
After the brief dose of summery warmth & dry weather winter has returned with a vengeance. Despite strong sunshine temperatures remained low enough through today to leave the thick covering of snow on the Ridge crest complete.
The snow is heavy and wet but crampons will still be needed by anyone wanting to tackle the narrower sections of ridge, Thearlaich, Mhiccoinnich, Ghreadaidh, Pinnacle Ridge of Gillean in particular.
A general recommendation would be to aim for individual peaks, add 50% to timings. SGurr an Fheadain, banachdaich, Blaven & Bruach na Frithe.
Sadly there doesn’t appear to be any full-on winter routing to be done.
Temperatures may rise a bit mid-week next week but no heavy rain forecast to wash it all away.
It’s been a busy beautiful time since Easter. Below are a selection of pictures of folk just having fun in the sun. Thanks to you all for bringing it and sharing some quality times. If anyone has shots from those days I forgot the camera please feel free to send them for me to add in.
March has been a hectic period as admin for the summer starts to dominate; very hard after such a fun winter. The wild conditions have continued pretty much identically to the past 3 months with plenty of good climbing conditions formed by bonkers winds, loads of snow, the odd thaw and repeat….. There’s snow settling at sea-level tonight and that’s not an April fool. Still basking in the glory of the In Pinn spoof in 2013; had folk who believed it well over a year later-
In fact I’ve bottled out of trying to catch you out this year so relax & enjoy a few pics from the past month or so.
Storr, 1st March. Driving there was scary enough! These guys had the harshest 3 days of the winter but still got out each day.
Sheltering under the Old Man of Storr
Neist. Friday 13th, not unlucky at all. First day of hot rock with Iain and Ally
Bruton party, 14th. A great day with miles of perfect snow to practice crampon & axe work.
Bla Bheinn with Lucy, Sunday 15th. Another immaculate day
Alpine conditions on approach.
Not a cloud to ruin the view.
Can’t beat that view out to Rum
Serious graft for the Skye MRT taking the radio relay down for fixing, all 200kg of it!
Lucy on the crux of South Buttress Gully, III.
South Buttress Gully- A mix of sugary snow, plenty of spice & god it was nice!
Eilidh & Matt. A magical day with the mists burning off and rock drying front of our eyes on Sgurr an Fheadian, 21st
The Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain
Smiles of delight?
Nah, pure relief eh Eilidh!
And that’s why she’s allowed to be happy!
Orion Face Direct, Wednesday 25th. Winter looked to be washed out very soon so Icky & I made a dash for the last route of the season. Spoilt for choice we chose Orion which I’d been on but never done in it entirity. Definitely didn’t disappoint and the legs really knew about it. Luckily the descent on a cushion of powder right to the door of the hut was as good as it gets; “If Carling made descents”.
Icky heading towards the exit chimneys that gave a superb steep finish to the 8 pitch day.
31st March. Video work on Human Geography with Phillip from Canada was quite some challenge in the mega-gusts we had but the stinging showers mostly left us alone until the very end of the day. I’m not sure quite how it works but the project is based on Munro Bagging and he’s off to interview Chris Townsend next. Looking forward to seeing the results.
The Eastern Black Cuillin looking wintery. We went to the right hand of the 2 obvious cols
Clac Glas from the shelter of a welcome overhang.
Main Cuillin Ridge laid out in front of us
Clac Glas, the Matterhorn of Skye and a fiercesome barrier to reaching Bla Bheinn
With temperatures forecast to soar into double figures the following day it seemed that everyone wanted to get out on Wednesday. We were worried winter would come to an abrupt end but it hasn’t; we’ve more fresh snow down to 500m today, Sunday, with plenty of old snow on easterly aspects in particular.
Snow conditions were a wee bit “lively” but we eventually made it to the cave half-way up the Great Stone Shoot. It was a lovely day for a walk but we were a bit shocked to have a couple of French tourists in jeans & trainers join us! We assured them it wasn’t the voie normal so they gaily scooted off down again without a care in the world.
Snow cover was very limited and it really doesn’t show the steepness but, wow, what an arena to play in!
In December I suggested it may be IV,4 but with a thick coat of ice blocking both placements and protection the top pitch definitely felt worthy of its original grade V. Placements may have been blocked but the snow and ice was in superb condition which made the climbing feel a lot closer to traditional winter than modern mixed.
Weather always strongly affects what we suggest to do on any given day and there have been some challenging forecasts to interpret.
Damien & Sue booked a few days of winter walking around last weekend. Friday saw us take a 7 mile hike around the coast via Suisinish and Boreraig, villages abandoned in the Highland Clearances.
We pushed the boat out on ambitions and made an ascent of Sgurr na Banachdaich, the easiest Black Cuillin, in perfect weather on Saturday ahead of an enforced rest day Sunday.
We opted for 2 short (1.5hr) walks between showers and coffee shops on Monday, firstly out to the lighthouse at Neist Point
and then amongst the magical rock formations of the Quiraing.
Tony & Maija have ambitions on climbing Mont Blanc this summer so my brief was to get them confident on their crampons.
We met in awful weather on the first morning but the forecast was to improve through the day so we spent a very productive hour fine-tuning and discussing the kit. It was still damp as we left the carpark but breaks soon began to appear.
Our delayed start not only worked very well with the weather but we were the 3rd party up the Great Gully on Ba Bheinn that day so had a wonderful line of bucket steps right to the crest. As so often this season the summit views were outstanding.
We wore crampons for practice more than safety but were very glad to have them on as we started our descent; the change of aspect made meant the initial 10 minutes were on very hard old snow before we got back to the soft stuff and some essential bumsliding to avoid sinking every step.
Next day there were strong gusts so we opted for the low-lying Broad Gully on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.
On the ascent we encountered a wide variety of consitency, a common theme this season with so much weather going on. The ridge and corrie were surprisingly sheltered but the gusts were soon bowling us over on the way out.
On Wednesday we hid from the wet weather and had a concentrated skills session on the Portree high school wall and by Thursday it looked like we would struggle to find any snow to play on at all….
How wrong we were; snow with great consistency led right up the An Stac screes, around the bypass (and a huge new rockfall btw!) and up past the In Pinn to the summit crest.
I love it when the mountains treat you to such a wonderful surprise; a great way to finish the course.
Wow; what a fortnight. A huge thanks to everyone who came along to support the event, to Angus and all of the staff at the Old Inn for making us so welcome, to Annmarie for keeping us all domesticated and, perhaps most of all, to the weather gods for turning on the winter weather spectacularly. The only day when nothing was climbed was 25th January but it did mean that nobody was late for their Burn’s supper!
Over 40 people all appeared to be having a good time whatever the weather threw at them and reaped the benefits of some spectacular conditions for both mixed and pure ice climbing. More than 20 new routes were added between grades I and VII. Over half of the participants lost their Cuillin winter virginity and now can’t decide if they are nymphomaniacs or just perverts
Mentions in dispatches, in no particular order, go out to most folk and apologies if you’re not listed-
Craig, Rory & Dylan who embraced the spirit of the festival brilliantly despite their first day being more like a tropical typhoon than Scottish winter; they went on to add at least 4 new routes over the coming days.
Michael Barnard and partners for showing everyone quite how much Cuillin potential there is for the accomplished winter climber in the higher grades. He came up 3 weekends on the trot.
Antoni for keeping the standards of single malt incredibly high despite less cultured alcoholic interference.
Jonny for his modest “I’m not a climber” achievements through the week including the In Pinn; every team should have a Jonny to break trail!
Lucy for services to the team including top-roping 5 folk on the icefalls in a blizzard then missing out herself and being first to balance up the In Pinn with only a nut key to clear cracks.
James found Deep gash had little usable ice in it but his consolation route was the third ascent of Doug Scott’s The Smear!
And Romain, what can I say? For taking gaelic flare and passion for Skye & winter further than anyone thought possible, for winding me up to the great entertainment of everyone else and for surviving a diarrhoea filled car journey through drifts & blizzards.
I loved all of my days out but there were a few particularly good highlights-
A team effort with good friends Beads, Antoni & David in the wild blizzards of Friday 30th to finally tackle the twin icefalls (they’ve teased for 20 years) high on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. We aimed for the pair but the weather dictated that teamwork was the best idea.
Twicicle was a superb grade IV with Beads & I sharing the gear & the craic on lead. Another highlight that day was the huge relief at the whole festival team reappearing back in the corrie cave out of the maelstrom; phew.
On the Sunday I got a complete beasting at the hands of James on Con’s Cleft (VII,7). He’d run out of daylight 2 days earlier and I was more than happy to come and help him get the project finished. It was a fantastic effort from him, poor style on my part but a long term ambition put to bed and great to climb with James again for the first time in over a decade.
James on the crux of Cons Cleft
Next day Ally & I were the only ones left and were rewarded with the first properly settled day of the meet. Onceicle had grown to suitable thickness, gave 45m of great steep fun and moonlight lit our walkout.
Wednesday dawned stunningly and I took a gamble to return to a mixed venue that had defeated me twice previously; the day turned out to be the highpoint of my festival. Lying on the north side of the West Ridge of Garbh-bheinn is a 100m high cliff of gabbro unusually adorned with loads of vegetation. Conditions were just right with frozen turf and oodles of ice smears. Mo, Stuart and I grabbed the first good looking line leading to a tight chimney with a crucial chockstone.
Mo’s pitch started by poking herself through a tiny squeeze before some great moves to top out. Full of character we decided Chockolates was a 2 star V,6. With some daylight left we shot down again and Mo led off up Yat for the Doh, II- a Hong Kong phrase meaning “one for the road”.
For more images and tales see the festival Facebook page. For those who were there please put links to your own accounts and look closely at your privacy settings so that as many folk as possible can see anything you have shared with the Skye Winter Festival page. Any photos gratefully received.