Apologies for the long delay in blogging; directly related to how busy we, and the whole of Skye, has been throughout June. The snows did finally recede and, thanks to a superb guiding team and great adventurous spirit amongst clients, we’ve still only lost a couple of days outright. We’ve even squeezed a few successful Traverses in as well as mopping up on plenty of Cuillin Munros (sorry:-). All proof that any day in the hills is better than being at work!
2015 has certainly won all the awards for the worst start to the summer season that anyone can remember- A client working in the Aberdeen met. office out last week said he’d ended the previous weekend shift with a promise of light south-easterly winds and high pressure; instead he got 2 of the wettest days I can remember. “The pressure in that rain is better than the shower I put into the bathroom last year!”
Friday typified the pattern with heavy rain forecast to clear by lunch. Adam & I left it til lunch to start but still got a good soaking for the first half hour. Things soon improved and Sgurr nan Each gave us some dry rock and views into Glen Sligachan appeared just before we started up onto Clac Glas; mists blowing off with beautiful effects to reveal the climb ahead.
Our hopes of glorious sunshine were soon dashed as the cloud cloaked us once more, handily disguising the drops as Adam observed. He coped admirably with the terrain although concentration was needed especially in the final chimney-
We were finally rewarded with a splash of sunshine and brief windows through to the sea from the South Top of Blaven.
C’mon summer; you can do it!!
I’ve seen some hefty snow-flurries in June before but never a complete coating down below 600m. This mad weather just continues to amaze, frustrate but also give superb entertainment in the form of mountaineering challenge.
Angela wanted to climb Sgurr Alasdair because it is the name of her eldest son; preferably before he climbed it himself! Normally a fairly safe bet, especially in June, I had quite serious doubts as we met at Sligachan and saw quite how much snow there was.
Sgumain stone shoot.
Things got considerably more interesting next with the exposed slabby descent to reach the start of Alasdair
The SW Flank of Alasdair would ordinarily have been a 15 minute scramble; instead nearly an hour was spent pitching our way carefully up snow-coated basalt.
Chimney at the foot of the face.
View back to Sgumain & where we’d come from.
Window across to Thearlaich & Mhiccoinnich
Heavy sleet/rain finally caught us out on the top of Alasdair but didn’t dampen spirits. The snow made for good cushioning for the knees on descent and the tops even all cleared to let Angela see where she’d been.
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.