Simon has finally squeezed the ambition of winter climbing into his hectic schedule of fell running, cycling & blowing up molecules (or something like that). In 2013 we had an exciting time climbing a route we called Broken Windows on Window Buttress so I knew he would be up for an adventure. XC forecast good weather until midday so I mooted a criminally early start.
I’d spotted a huge lump of ice on Friday so yesterday we aimed for that, fully armed with screws & screamers. We left the beach shortly after 5 and, as dawn broke, the icefall appeared but only half the man it had been. On closer inspection the remaining ice was clearly the best kind, grey and thick and still very much attached and my hopes rose again. I placed a screw then dashed past the cold shower (steep but on on perfect placements) for a closer look at the open book corner above. Sadly the nice ice ran out and this project came to an abrupt end.
Off to the right more ice led up to a good rock crack and offered an opportunity to give Simon his first go at swinging axes, even if we weren’t going to get to the top. Admittedly I got drenched while belaying but it was a good teaching exercise as Simon discovered the nuances of good/bad ice, how hard to hit, how to get the axes (and a screw) out. More importantly he learnt that it ‘s still all about the feet and discovered just how little a kick his crampon points needed in order to stay put.
We finished our 8-hour day & were back in the pub by 2 and the forecast bad weather eventually set in by 4.
All this set us in good stead for today and I was hopeful Foxes Rake, one of my favourite routes, would offer us some ice. We were joined by Ally (you’ll recognise the grin) for a very civilised 7am start and the rain had cleared through as predicted. As the light arrived The Smear and Icicle Factory ice shone big and bold above us (nowhere near complete but definitely fat where they had formed). Foxes also had some great looking sections but looked thin at the crux especially. I toyed with the pros & cons; the route had never looked so huge & alpine before. Knowing that good rock anchors are sparse exaggerated the seriousness, escape if the crux was too thin was going to be “interesting”. I decided Upper rake would be a better idea but would reconsider as we passed the start of Foxes. From closer up I realised there was far more ice and it all looked delicious again.
Temptation got the better of me & up we went, moving together for the first 150m, moved in shortpitches for another 100m then got both ropes out for the beautiful wide ice pitch below the crux. A bombproof blade belay increased my optimism hugely as I studied the crux that I knew had very little protection. A positive mentality definitely helped as no cracks apeared for protecion. After some balancey steps a narrow groove offered up thicker ice and just enough excellent placements to keep things calm. The cave offered up 3 “better than nothing” runners but the solid line of immaculate ice above was the real source of safety. 25m above, and running out of rope forced me to leave the joyous medium for easier angled snow but we still managed 2 more pitches of indulgence after this.
The route ended just on cue as snow & hail suddenly whipped around us on the latest weather front. Descending back below Deep gash Gully we found fresh fox prints emerging from a dry cave and Simon even glimpsed him heading off into the murk; a fitting finish for a foxy day.
Apologies for no photos in the text but the images are refusing to be rotated. Hopefully the right way around in the gallery below.
Today’s forecast was for showers clearing through by about 10am so Iain and I were feeling pretty smug on the walk into Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda in beautiful weather.
Not far up into the corrie we were equally delighted to find thick ice glazing the rocks, just what we’d hoped for after a week of westerly storms.
We needed crampons for the steep wee section just before the loch and by this time the snow was beginning to fall heavily.
There aren’t any worthwhile pictures from the following couple of hours; all our efforts were put into fighting against the storm. Uphill, kitting up, and even some climbing but there was no end to the pummeling we were getting from all directions. Retreat was the only option and we finally got some respite a few minutes later in the large cave under Sgurr Sgumain.
After lunch we went back out into the maelstrom which continued until we had slithered half way back down the corrie. Finally the clouds broke up and lit up our ice kingdom and gave us magical views out to the very moody Inner Hebrides of Rum & Eigg.
No joy with the climbing but a fantastic day out all the same.
Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2015
Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 24th to February 7th 2015
An open invitation to winter climbers and walkers with an interest in the Skye mountains.
Following on from the success of the past 4 years the Skye Winter Climbing Festival has expanded to a whole fortnight! Yep, 2 weeks for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole period but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.
How does it work?
Nothing complex- Come for as many days as you want. There are beds for 24 people available throughout the fortnight; first come first served. Use the meet as a base for climbing with a regular partner or come and match up. Collectively we make sure that nobody is left partnerless, short of inspiration or too far out of their depth. You can self-cater but, in the past, we’ve pooled together for evening meals with one of our non-climbing friends knocking up a filling hearty meal ready for whenever we get off the hill.
£14 per night for a bed and £10 per night for evening meal (optional).
Background and information Skye Winter Festival
For the past 4 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet. The meet has seen high levels of activity including over 20 new winter climbs. It’s not all high-brow climbing however with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. As in summer it is the peaks and ridges that are the greatest attraction with adventures possible in almost any conditions.
Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb plays a big part for many but only to a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures they’ve had.
What’s to do?
Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn Evenings are informal; the accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door. We’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips, watched videos and guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps.
If you’re interested e-mail email@example.com or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. Wwe’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Got your own campervan- You’re still welcome to join us socially. Willy Sutherland’s campervan spot with hook-ups is at the Glen Brittle junction just half a mile away.
Last minute climber- We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about space though.
Unsure?- Many of the Winter Meet regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering is route advice and information on the ground but it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else. A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.
Travel- Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.
Confused by this blog post?- The commercial aspect of the festival announced in November has been removed to open the meet to a broader audience. If you are one of the regulars who has now found that a far longer meet is planned go book more time off work
Social- The Old Inn is the climbers’ pub in Skye but also a busy local. It’s a lively spot with organised bands and impromptu jamming. In the past we’ve had slideshows and talks, guitars & games. Let us know if you’ve got pictures or musical talents. The bunkhouse itself has an open plan lounge and kitchen area with television.
The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost
Great outing on Monday with Iain & Jamie on Sgurr Thearlaich again, this time on Gully A. Higher up we were defeated by mad quantities of graupel (hailstones) appearing from nowhere but the first pitch was absolute quality.
The first winter ascent was solo by Roger O’Donovan in April 1970 (after soloing the 900 ft route Jeffrey’s Dyke in 1.5hrs). He recorded 3 short ice pitches and gave it grade III. He was head instructor at Glenmore Lodge and, significantly, one of the first people using drooped pick axes and front pointing on crampons. This technique had only begun to be experimented with during the winter before.
Uisdean & Callum probably made the 2nd ascent in the very good conditions in 2013 and reported it as considerably harder than grade III.
Yesterday, in pure mixed conditions (glazed & powder with no build-up of snow) the first pitch gave 30m of well protected crack climbing with some funky moves and probably modern grade V,6. It was so good I’m really looking forward to going back to get the route finished.
After what seems like a long wait Winter finally arrived properly in the Cuillin today. BC Buttress on Sgurr Thearlaich came up trumps with great conditions despite only a matter of hours.
Iain, Jamie and I climbed Le Diedre Blanc with a slightly easier start.
BC Buttress. Our route follows the orange line but started by the short wall to the right of the the white pyramid.
This gave us a 2 star route at the slightly more amenable grade of IV,4.
There were some wintery showers
but we were rewarded with some spectacular light and views from the summit as we rigged the abseil back into the Great Stone Shoot.
Forecast is for alternating freeze & thaw for the week ahead so hopefully things will continue to improve even more.
The unseasonably fine weather continued right through to the weekend in the Highlands and Friday was a peach; it could easily have been June with the warm rock on the south face of Am Basteir.
Despite indulging ourselves thoroughly it was still early when we reached Bealach a’ Bhasteir and we couldn’t resist more sun time, continuing up and over Sgurr nan Gillean.
Enjoy the gallery-
No sign of winter yet but its been another glorious week of late autumnal weather.
Mike & I were treated to a feast of light effects, warm sunshine and plenty of dry rock on a round of Coire na Banachdaich.
Lynsey & Rabbie the Dog are raising money for Help for Heros by climbing all of the Scottish Munros. In little over the 2 year mark they now have only 8 left to complete. A phenomenal effort from both but Rabbie does have 4 legs! This was painfully obvious as we descended steeply from the 5 Sisters of Kintail; while our knees screamed pure murder Rabbie chased his stick up and down the slope repeatedly.
One final word of warning to anyone descending towardss Sheil Bridge- the old suspension bridge at the east end of Loch Shiel is very unhealthy; I had to use special spiderman powers of praying to get across safely and avoid the 3km alternative detour!
On such a perfect windless day it seemed rude not to go and at least take a look for the humpback whale widely reported to be spending vacation time in the sound of Raasay- its got good taste because Her Majesty is also rumoured to love spending time here.
Calm seas boded well but the fantasy was flavoured with the usual mix of realism & pessimisim I get when it comes to spotting wildlife. Reports from watchers at Camastianavaig were encouraging though with minke whale apparently also adding entertainment. Leaving the village by the right exit (by the post box) was a good start but a bit of poor route choice at the first junction took us up out of sight of the shore.
A bit of bouldering entertained us between bog stomping up to the cliff top. Half an hour later and the Sound of Raasay opened up like a jewel in front of us. Only a handful of objects broke the mirrored surface and, while I zoomed in on what turned out to be a pod of kayaks, Ben spotted a whale instantly. Probably a good kilometre away but after surfacing a few times I managed to get the x16 zoom in focus and identify it as minke whale.
For the next hour a pod of 4 or 5 minke whales laid on a display that only started to wear thin as the warmth in the sun started to wain. As the tour boat reappeared out from Portree a larger ripple also appeared near to the minkes. Right on cue for all of us our humpback began to play.
The second act happened fairly close to the boat and, as it flicked the tail to finish we could hear cheering from the deck! A 10 minute lull in the action saw the boat heading for home and we gradually decided to follow their lead. It may have been a last glance but I think it was a distinctive blow that alerted us that our friend was back and this time heading straight towards us. Video of this is now on the Skye Guides facebook page.
After another brief lull and even a few steps towards home we got our own display less than 200m away below us with a fanfare flick to finish.
A great afternoon!
Monday looks like a good option for anyone keen, later in the week the wind is picking up but dry apart from Wednesday.
You may get views from other points along the sound but, for looking down and being able to appreciate the full size, I can’t recommend Beinn Tianavaig enough.
The 5th of November was a day to remember with clear blue skies and even a frost on the ground. John, Iain & I enjoyed Pinnacle Ridge and the joys of rapid drying gabbro with just the occasional streak of black ice keeping us vigilant.
Yet again I was dumfounded to find even the shady northern aspects mostly dry; amazing after so much recent rain.
I’ve been scuppered by black ice before so the crampons came along. Adding winter metalwork for the first time always hurts so it was also an opportunity to break myself in gently, especially as its nearly 6 weeks since I was last up on a big hill. Sadly the legs didn’t agree with my definition of “gently”.
With hardly a breath of wind John even had time to sketch during a relaxed summit lunch while Iain and I took on our quota of vitamin D.
With the sun so low in the sky the colours, light and shadows gave us a visual feast all day but my lasting memory will be John extolling the joys of grabbing gabbro; I coudln’t agree more.