The fantastic Harvey Cuillin map has had an upgrade with
- Tougher but lighter paper.
- Updated map corrections to footpaths in particular.
- Crags from the SMC guidebook “Skye the Cuillin” all now marked and indexed.It is well known by Cuillin regulars that the Ordanance Survey maps covering these mountains are close to useless for fine navigation; indeed there are many copies of the old 1930′s SMC map still being used in preference!
Although any map has limitations in such intricate, steep and rocky terrain Harveys went a very long way to improve the situation when they first produced their Skye The Cuillin sheet over 10 years ago.
Why the maps are so much clearer is due to a broad combination of skills and techniques developed originally from producing very accurate orienteering maps. The 1:12,500 enlargement of the Cuillin Ridge very much resembles these fine navigation tools. 15m contour intervals and shading to highlight the ridge crest are just the base canvas for features, many of which are pure rock. Clever restriction of rock features seems to be the key to removing a lot of the clutter that the OS maps suffer from.
Getting the crags marked was actually a project I started way back in 2003 when I was first asked to write the SMC guidebook. A key problem I had found had been locating the cliffs, let alone the climbs. Harvey Maps were very accommodating and anyone with previous copies of the map will find the index of crags as I envisaged it back then. 55 crags from those early stages of planning eventually ended up as a total of 98!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping Harvey Maps; there are always small tweaks and doing a new run annually keeps this realistic. There is now a very good representation of just how far into the mountains it is possible to follow the footpaths. Check out those on Bla bheinn, Gillean & Banachdaich in particular.
The 1:25,000 side covers the massive area from Broadford north to Sligachan and South to Elgol in superb detail as well, making it a great tool for exploring closer to home.
White Wedding must be one of the best lines of climbing in the Cuillin but it has proved elusive to any second ascent ever since the legendary winter of 1986 (Mick Fowler and Vic Saunders popped up it the day after doing Waterpipe, South Gully & Icicle Factory!) I’ve been to the foot twice before but each time found there to be nothing but a thin glaze of ice in the lowest section. Studying the photo from this Sunday (below) I realised that there was actually a bulging line continuously to the start.
With a reasonable forecast Ally, Beads and I headed up into the mist early this morning with as much hope as optimisim. Wet snow lay low down and running water wasn’t what we had ordered. The situation improved markedly in the final approach however and a familiar mixture of excitement and fear crept over me as we kitted up.
Things started reasonably with firm snow but the limitations of this soon became apparent on the first small bulge as axes ripped through under any pressure. The next 15m was laid back and led to a very encouraging long blade peg before approaching what looked like the steepest step on the whole long first pitch. Sweeping ice and snow off the rocks with bare hands wasn’t a great sign but more cracks for gear was a good consolation for now having totally soaked gloves (thank goodness for the Dachsteins!).
Tenuous best describes the next 15m; single placements gave me just enough to delicately step up further (than I should) and one even held me as both feet collapsed. Backing off was definitely not an option and patience was finally rewarded with 5m of good placements in some well iced snow and a fairly good spike anchor.
My firm snow ran out immediately above and a further 30m of nerve-wracking porridge climbing lay ahead; the decision to back off was a no brainer. Such a shame; a hard frost would set this lot like concrete and possibly even be as easy as the grade IV that it is recorded as.
The guys were in excellent spirits despite getting cold on the belay; apparently something to do with relief! Plenty of laughter on the way down but a real determination to return if we can (please!) get a proper blast of Arctic air before this all snow melts away.
It would appear that Skye stayed at least as cold on the tops as the rest of Scotland over the past weekend which I hadn’t anticipated myself. One guy made a fantastic effort on a full Traverse starting by Pinnacle Ridge on Friday, bivvying at Glaic Moire and finally being defeated by winds & blizzards at Mhicchoinnich. He reported near perfect snow conditions with little harder than grade III.
I can certainly confiorm this after 2 excellent days out with Andy & Nick Burton.
Winter and Cuillin virgins they coped very well in the howling gales on Banachdaich yesterday and definitely got the luck they deserved with a Traverse of Blaven Today. Out agin in the morning so I’ll just include a gallery below.-
Desperate times make for desperate measures; with no serious climbing having been done since new year’s day a photo of fat ice at the Dubh Loch was enough to entice me into the huge drive to Ballater, 5am start, cycle and deep soft snow approach. It is a very beautiful part of the Highlands and the rewards soon started as the sun rose.
Sadly the lower half of the crag had lost a lot of ice in the past week but Robin came up with a plan.
A scary snowy approach over steep vegetation took us to the foot of The Last Oasis.
I took the first pitch with instructions to break right to block belays below the thinly iced rib.
Robin then took the helm, had a few words with himself on the initial thin steep slabs and finally sounded happier once the 3rd screw was placed without going down to rock. Classically I found the climbing far steeper than it had looked from below!
A drippy ice grotto after 35m gave a good screw belay but an intimidating step round the corner to reach the start of the Sword of Damocles final pitch.
The excitement continued with a cornice to finish-
and then a huge great avalanche down the face 100m to the right of where we’d been climbing; gulp. This was the final straw in deciding not to stash our kit for a return battle next day but, in a winter where any climbing has been hard to come by the day was a great result. A waist deep battle through soggy drifts confirmed we’d made the right decision & we were both completely ****ered by the time we reached the bikes.
If anyone is particularly taken by the colour and design of Robin’s climbing sack he would love to hear from you; I’ve certainly never seen such a magnificent hue of blue…….
Half way up. We made it about as far as where the cloud is sitting in the corrie.
Time for a change of hobby with all this soft snow. Angus and I loaded ourselves up and headed up into Fionn Choire at the northern end of the Cuillin. Going under foot wasn’t too deep and slow but the extra weight and wind catching the “sails” gave burning thighs.
Angus getting into the groove
No real action photos but some great videos of Angus boarding on Face Book; start here- https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=249402578571438&saved
I’m not looking forward to videos of my inept skiing leakiing onto the net but I got down in one piece, managed to put in a few turns and can’t wait to do it again.
Huge congratulations to South Skye A team for winning the p4/5 tournament tonight. It’s the second year in a row that they’ve beaten arch rivals Portree A to the trophy but has nothing to do with their lucky shirts
The guys won every match in the league stages, semi-final and very high quality final. Spectators and players nervously glanced at the clock as South End desperately defended their early goal before captain Lachlan Macpherson made space for himself cleverly before rifling home in the dying seconds.
Really well done to South End B as well who won 2, drew one and only lost to Portree A. The play-off against Portree, for the semi-final draw, was a marathon that went to extra time and then golden goal before their tournament was finally over.
Approaching the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean today
Chris is off for an expedition to Greenland in April and in serious training mode. Before spending the last 2 days with me he’d been climbing in Glen Coe for a week; his last day meant it was time to brace ourselves for some serious hard work.
With an improved forecast traversing Sgurr nan Gillean was the aim. Trying to decide whether Coir’ a’ Bhasteir or the Tourist Route would be less arduous was near enough 50:50 so we plummed for the more direct approach by the West Ridge. In the end the snow wasn’t too bad, rarely more than knee deep and we made it to the foot of the West ridge in about 2.5 hours.
The rest of the day was more than ample reward for our efforts- a 50m pitch up an incredibly banked out Tooth Chimney even had some nice ice. The ridge above was like something out of Narnia with dramatic sculptures of rounded snow and star-bursts of rime ice on the few rocks left exposed.
The summit cairn and narrow crest of the Tourist Route ahead resembled a weird cross between an anaconda and a beluga whale, intimidating as hell but far easier than in summer thank goodness.
A quick abseil was followed by a 100m traverse across steeep terrain that, again, proved far easier than its summer equivlant.
Abseiling down the Tourist Route
Normally the best line follows the ridge down for another 300m or so before cutting northward back towards Sligachan but so much wonderful deep snow was too good to miss. Everything apart from helmets was put into the sacks and, with Sochi in mind, we competed for the bumsliding gold medal. So fantastic were conditions that we ended up with possibly a new Skye record covering just under a kilometre and losing 300m of height in about 5 minutes! Who needs skis?
Some of you may have noticed the quality of pictures has dropped dramatically recently. Sadly a common problem with my wonderful Lumix is that the focus motor goes; new one arriving tomorrow so hopefully back to getting some decent shots again soon. The forecast is finally looking cold & promising!
Uphill surfing with Clach Glas behind
Yesterday morning Chris, Nathan and I sat in Glen Brittle watching horizontal plumes of powder ripping off the ridges above us. The afternoon promised even fiercer winds and the temptation to run straight to the pub was strong. Being a bit early for this we steeled ourselves for a bracing wander as far as the winds and deep powder snow would allow us. The decision was rewarded with great snow conditions, hardly a breath of wind until we topped out and an excellent climb. The rugby match results were well worth missing!
Despite yet more heavy snow fall there was very little depth on top of the consolidated layers so progress was rapid. The exception to this was the best bum-slide of the year so far as we shot 500ft down from An Dorus in a matter of seconds.
The motto is never write a day off but thats a lot easier said than done with some of the weather we’ve been getting so far this winter!
Enjoy the gallery-
Yet more large quantities of snow have fallen over the past few days and I got a tip-off to avoid swimming in the corries.
Approaching by a ridge somewhat limits objectives but the NE ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir is a firm favourite because it scours and goes, er, firm quicker than most.
What took me by surpise was the narrowness and size of the crest as we traversed into bealach na Lice. It was serious enough that I wanted to be roped up which somewhat surprised Graham & Peter. I may be getting soft but spying the boundary between the banked powder on either side was proving impossible. The drops may be less but this was a mini Rochefort Arete and Peter pointed out that the Alps normally have a trench of footsteps showing the best way!
At the head of Fionn Choire the drifts are now building up into huge bulging humps that must be rising 3 or 4 metres above the rocks. Huge fins of rime ice point out to the south-west and the summit cairn of Bruach na Frithe is nearly buried completely.
The knee-deep snow as we dropped down Fionn Choire just exaggerated my thought that I wish I had got skis; it would have been perfect right down to 1000ft!