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Flying start to the season.

24/04/16

A complex & unusual set of circumstances, coupled with a blast of Arctic air, gave our first Traverse of the year a very unique feel.

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Basically I guided Phil on the first half of the Traverse then Scott Kirkhope took over for day 2 to successfully reach Sgurr nan Gillean.

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Our days couldn’t have been more different- I enjoyed largely dry, warm rock, no need for crampons and even some gorgeous sheltered picnicking.

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Often we were forced to stay on the very top of the crest which just added to the pleasure.

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Sgurr nan Eag to Ghreadaidh took us about 7.5 hours

Scott woke to fresh snow falling and had crampons straight from the bivvy until reaching Glaic Moire nearly 3 hours later.

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Much of the time was in the cloud with wind picking up in strength but Phil’s fitness & abilities kept them moving well. The clouds finally cleared on the final rise up Gillean, revealing once more the whole lenght of the Traverse. Ghreadaidh to Gillean had taken about 6.5 hours.

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Despite the darkness I enjoyed picking my way off, crampons completely necessary until way below An Dorus where Scott and I passed and compared notes before he joined Phil for the bivvy about an hour after I’d left. The final hour was a delight with the moon casting my huge shadow across the moorland. Catching last orders in Carbost seemed a deserved reward.

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One of the unusual circumstances was Phil flying himself into Broadford airstrip and, this morning, we were treated to a quick flight around South Skye before he headed home to England. Many thanks to Scott and Phil for a memorable time in so many ways.

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Alpine rock climbing. 14th April

14/04/16

Warm rock in the fingers with snow-reflected sun seeming to double the heat; we could have been on the south face of the Midi.

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No Japanese tourists clapping our efforts here though, just a couple of friends taking it all in with eagles circling above them.

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The sheer quality of the climb astounded me again, easily as good, if not better, than it’s classic neighbours. Clean rock, positive holds and great protection but no pushover. A positive effort was needed to avoid being drowned in the exposure, stay alert to what damage the harsh winter may have done or just suppress the temptation to jump for joy.

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South Crack I love you, and Peter had a Cheshire Cat grin even though he’s from Lancashire where smilin’ ain’t manly 😉

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Would have been rude to have run away without climbing the East and West Ridges too and three routes were saluted by 3 Sea Eagles but this pic is of 2

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There is a weather god.

02/04/16

John and I spent a large part of Wednesday with incredibly heavy snow falling out of dark black clouds but the weather gods smiled on us in great big stylee 🙂

Despite John’s undoubted fitness and ability my ambition to tackle the In Pinn was optimistic before we started. However, it was clear and dry as we left the glen and stayed that way for the first hour where we reached the 2000ft mark.

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The magnificent view into Coire Lagan was soon obscured as mushroom-sized snowflakes fell vertically out of the windless skies.

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The density of cloud and intensity of snow would have got many folk down but Johnny is a man who loves the mountains whatever they chuck at him. The carpet underfoot fairly rapidly became knee-deep but every foothold formed as a solid level tread. At the final narrowing it was time to don harness, helmet and crampons and the magic of the day really began to a crescendo. Words aren’t really enough so here’s a sequence that hopefully gives a flavour of it…….

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Just a few steps and the cameras just had to come out again……..

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And things just got better as we moved in on the Pinn itself….

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I have to admit to being both shocked and very pleasantly surprised at just how bare the route looked- compare it to the pictures of Gillean yesterday! Keeping crampons on seemed prudent but gloves were completely uneccesary with warm dry rock more positive than 90% of summer ascents I’ve done!

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I finally found John’s nemesis with the abseil requiring him to trust a bit of science and let the rope slip through his fingers- you can just see the tension building across his face here perched above a 60ft vertical drop; sorry John couldn’t let your mates think you were that cool 😉

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The moment we reached our rucksacks again the clouds rolled in and heavy snow started falling all around us. It didn’t give up until we had crossed all the way over to Sgurr na Banachdaich and right down to 1500ft in Coir an Eich. 12928192_1669770583288975_2678343027123775390_n With perfect timing once more, instead of getting a soaking below the freezing level, the clouds cleared to warm sunshine

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and a perfect view of our whole routeP1000761

And just to top it all off eagle eyed John even spotted an eagle soaring high between the peaks of Coire Lagan; thanks to the mega-zoom on the Panasonic Lumix we can identify it as a wandering sea eagle. Another boring day in the office for me obviously 😉

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Winter is back! 30th March

29/03/16

Winter is back with a thick covering on all faces above 500m.

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Had a great fun family day on Bla Bheinn yester day with the Jackson 5 yesterday including a great snowman built by Hugo & Annabel on the summit. Another highlight was watching a golden eagle soaring amongst the cliffs as we walked in.Goldie Blaven 20160328

Today John and I enjoyed an enormous adventure on Am Basteir and Gillean with hard graft and plenty of challenge.

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One more wafer thin ice climb sir? 10th March

12/03/16

 

Winter climbing conditions this past month have been truly stunning on Skye, undoubtedly the best I’ve known in 23 winters. The elusive Winter Ridge Traverse has been in condition and completed for 4 weekends on the trot with debates over records making headlines in the climbing news. Mythical ice routes have been climbed for the first time since Mick Fowler’s ascents 30 years ago (1986 was a legendary winter climbing season across the UK), many quality new routes have been added and modern mixed test-pieces such as Hung Drawn and Quartered have been repeated.

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Most significantly though, dozens and dozens of folk have visited for the first time and discovered just how glorious the Cuillin are under a blanket of white. Sure the hardcore have grabbed the headlines but it’s those with more modest ambitions that have discovered that there is something here for everyone. It has been a pleasure meeting and hearing from so many folk who have finally “seen the light”.

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On Wednesday evening I met Adam & Sofia at Sligachan, climbers looking for their first Scottish winter experience. Working in Patagonia and Alaska normally they had opted against the crowds on  Ben Nevis, Adam’s grandad had always told him Skye was a climber’s Mecca. I agreed and pointed them towards the ice-clad amphitheatre on Mhadaidh for a look. A helpful assistant in Ellis Brighams had disuaded them from buying extra screws for the Cuillin but luckily I had a few spare in the back of car I wasn’t planning to use til Friday.

When I got home and saw Friday was forecast to see a major thaw all sensible ideas an office day on Thursday went out of the window and I asked my new friends if I could come & play with them; not only might this be the end of the Cuillin ice this season, I may not see it like this again for the next 30  years!

A stunning dawn greeted us, windless and crisp only base layers were needed for the short approach.

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We were spoilt for choice, big new lines were tempting, a rematch with Icicle Factory too but we opted to try Spirulina, a new grade V put up by Uisdean and Lea last week.

DCIM999GOPROBoys look in awe as Sofia sets the go-pro

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Adam led the first pitch very well, especially as he admitted it was his first ice for a couple of years. Sofia & I both got a good pump just following him up, typically, the deceptively steep ice.

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It had started to get noisy all around us as temperatures rose and snow sleuffed off from high above but the mixed moves above looked easy enough and would lead us to the mega looking higher pitches of Spectacula, irresistable!

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Irresistable that was until I got hit by the first big sleuff. Our planned descent was back down the route and into the amphitheatre; not a good place to be. I faffed back & forth with the up/down dilemma but reasoned that there was bound to be a good anchor above to abseil off after just “one more slice of icy indulgence”. Perfect climbing but not at all enjoyable as the volume of snow and noise increased and I wished I’d just backed off easily.

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Crap rock meant I had to dive into the channel for good ice anchors. Should I bring the others into this spot too or just make the decision myself? Logic is a hard thing to retain under these circumstances but I knew now there were no big ice pillars above us to fall off so it was unlikely that anything more than wet snow would come down. Belaying them up was still a tense affair but the shared easy decision to abseil back off and their happy banter allowed me to mentally relax just a wee bit.

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We ducked (and prayed a wee bit) whenever stuff came down while Adam expertly built Abalakov anchors and Sofia and I sorted the ropes.

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We knew it would be close but there was great relief as Adam whooped and had obviously reached the bottom in one go, rather than needing to re-anchor for another abseil.

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At the base there was urgency as everything was rammed into sacks and we ran away from the hail of somewhat harder bullets. Only after exiting the Amphitheatre did we finally relax and start the process of really enjoying what a great experience Spirulina had been.

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Winter heaven continues. 9th March

09/03/16

Earlier this week the forecast was not good for Gill & Euan’s day out; so glad I don’t pay much attention to long term forecasts!

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With clear blue skies and tons of pristine new snow it was a no brainer to head out straight from their base at the Sligachan Hotel. Good on the hotel which has re-opened earlier than usual and looked absolutely packed out with residents as a reward.

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I did suspect we had a hard day of deep wading ahead so left our ambitions open but, instead, the very first snow we reached justified crampons. Broad Gully is a favourite of mine with superb rock architecture and conditions were utterly perfect with full foot support pretty much every step.

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Skiers would have loved conditions today as this continued almost uninterupted right to the top of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. There were a couple of very short wind-scoured harder sections but it was easy to cut back onto the good stuff.

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The vistas just kept coming as we crossed the head of Fionn Choire and out to Bruach na Frithe.

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Euan was so impressed with the “lady of the Trig point” he had to give her a kiss!

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We may not have had skis but such superb conditions weren’t to be missed- we headed back to Coir’ a’ Bhasteir and took a very direct line back to the corrie floor on our butts; definitely Gill’s highlight of the day!

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The quantity of snow that has come down over the past couple of weeks is astounding and there is unusual climbable ice everywhere; hopefully the thaw forecast for the weekend will be kind and leave us something to play on next week.

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Mega conditions continue. 3rd March update.

03/03/16

Ice above 700m has survived well by the look of things today so last weeks classics should all be in this weekend.
Some fresh snow but nothing like quantities I’m hearing about elsewhere. Effect on the Traverse is probably harder work for the first party again but still full nick & highly achievable by a fit team; what is the running total for this season so far???

For those who didn’t gather last week and weekend saw the best all round Cuillin conditions I’ve ever known. Plenty of Traverses over the weekend 20/21.
Beads and I got finally (tried 3 times beforehand) got the 2nd ascent of White Wedding on Tues 23rd with superb ice. By Saturday this was soloed by Andrew Barker on the 4th ascents.
Andrew climbed West Buttress of Bidean @ II/III earlier in the week. Andy Nisbet & Ssandy Allan climbed a line on the Coruisk side of the Pinn on Friday and another called SkyeFall at IV,5 on Sunday 28th.
Uisdean & Adam Russel climbed NE Gully on Mhiccoinnich with Guy Robertson who got the meaty pitch at V,6 and they all climbed another obvious line beside Practice crag at IV that afternoon.
I took to the air from the top of the icicles on Icicle Factory on Thursday after 3 superb approach pitches.; annoyed but now happy to be unscathed. Skye boys James Sutton, Ben Wear & John Smith finally got the 2nd ascent narrowly beating Uisdean, Adam & Douglas Russell. More than a consolation was the parallel line of Spectacula VI,6. The teams then swapped routes and James even tried to complete the trilogy with the Smear but found it brittle & wet. Thanks for retrieving my gear guys.- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=272086
Scott Webster & Yanis indulged in a sunny Traverse over the weekend while Anna Wells was back for another single day effort. Having to break trail they stopped short of the end but loved the experience anyway. Other teams also enjoyed but failed to complete with route-finding, exposure and general speed cited- great route but don’t underestimate how hard it is!
Escape from Colditz III is recorded as climbed and I’m sure there was plenty more I’ve missed.
Oh yep; Team Neil Adam & Silver climbed HDQ on Am Bastier on Sunday in ace conditions; it appears to be panning out at VIII,9 and uber classic.
Sounds crowded? An average of 1 team per corrie so not really Come & get it while you can cos looking warm from next Wednesday.

Photo credits to Lucy Spark, Scott Webster, Yaris Volmer.

 

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Skye Winter Festival 2016. 14-27th January

22/02/16

The first week of the Skye Winter Climbing Festival was very productive with keeness, weather and conditions allowing great climbing every day. The weather for the second week wasn’t the best but Skye still produced its magic for everyone who ventured out.

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The small selection of the pictures here may make a few of you jealous but there were some stupid early starts, wild weather to battle, grit, determination and incredibly hard work needed to achieve this and we didn’t enjoy it one bit so don’t feel too bad 😉

 

The meet started with a huge bang from Skye boys James & Doug Sutton making the first winter ascent of Crack of Dawn. Grade VIII is as hard and serious as any route on the island and well untruly keeps the Cuillin on the hard man’s radar.

Crack Dawn nightLate finish on Crack of Dawn

Weipeng, Maymay & I had a more gentile day taking in a feast of light & colour on an ascent of Bla Bheinn. Their Sony camera produced some of the best quality shots of the week.

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On Friday Pat Ingram and I looked at a new crag low in the Cuillin to avoid the deep powder higher up. Park Lane V,4 wasn’t as frozen as hoped for but gave good some very good climbing.

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Beads & Dave Bowdler got a beaut of a route following North Rib of Banachdaich Gully at grade IV,5 with steep well protected climbing.

North Rib Beads approaching the crux of North Rib, IV,5

Saturday the good forecast was slightly out but just added more snow & ice to the fun. Lucy & Nathan must have had 1.5 hours on the belay waiting for me to top out on Owl Chimney IV,5; thanks guys.

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The route was technical right to the top but well protected. A bonus for all of us was seeing the Owl Pinnacle which is as elusive as the real bird from almost all angles in the corrie. Beads & Dave added a direct start to South Buttress just to our right at IV,4.

P1110536The elusive Owl Pinnacle

Meanwhile Michael Barnard & Pat were climbing Tres Difficile V,6 a steep line immediately left of the TD Gap summer route. They then moved onto the south face of Alasdair and a line immediately right of Michael’s route from last year Skye High. They abseiled off after a pitch with Michael keen to come back and add anothe pitch to complete the route.

P1030102Michael high on Tres Difficile, V,6 TD Gap.

A 5am start on Sunday allowed Michael and me to get 2 new routes climbed on the Stone Shoot face of Thearlaich. Both were very technical and I was very glad to be following. The Bogeyman, VI,7 was a serious and sustained route that looked as promising as the route next door (Curse of the Hobgoblin V,6) but was very sparse on gear and had more than it’s share of loose rock.

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Far more solid but desperately steep the line closest to the top of the Stone Shoot gave Mr Charlie VI,7 which I finished off by squeezing under the summit cairn itself.

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On Monday Michael, Julian Goddard and Mark Pratt had a long day climbing Fox’s Rake III,4 in not quite ideal conditions with more snow than ice but all good fun and a headtorch descent.

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Tuesday had me kicked out of bed at 5 again as Michael had a mission to finish his route on Alasdair. Pat had promised me that the first pitch was very good and he wasn’t lying; a beautiful line with positive hooks and good gear all the way.

Temperatures were rising rapidly as Michael explored the options above before finally returning to the belay soaked through. I took the obvious easiest line of weakness up a tapering ramp above the steep initial wall. It looked blank and smooth to start with but a bit of courage was rewarded with a cluster of bomb-proof gear before running it out on a series of positive edges and small hooks. Michael’s sling was still there at the top of Skye High from last year and I was able to see the quality of that route as we abseiled straight down the line; inspiring stuff.

IMG_0860Michael’s quality route The Sheriff’s Ransom V,6 on Sgurr Alasdair

 

With the thaw setting in we intended to lower the bar for Wednesday’s ambitions; it seemed likely that the In Pinn would be stripped bare and make a suitable outing for what seemed likely to be the last day of winter climbing. It was very obvious we were wrong about the thaw from quite an early stage but this was embraced with glee by the others; I’ve been pretty scared on the Pinn in full winter garb so was reserving judgement.

IMG_0882Climbers for scale below the firigtening Inacceessible Pinnacle

The climb was pretty epic with Michael leading the route in 2 halves and then me,Mark and Johnny following. All captured nicely on a Go-pro on Johnny’s helmet you can enjoy it here- Inaccessible Pinnacle

Outings later in the week were more sedate but any efforts were rewarded hansomely as ever with drama and scenery like only Skye can do properly-

IMG_0932 IMG_0931Ardtrek point with Annmarie

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The annual dinner was a highlight as ever. Iain addressed the Haggis in stunning style that matched his dry-tooling earlier in the day; in fact that’s how he learnt to cut the haggis with the ice axe so accurately. Beads gave the after dinner speech, the before dinner speech and the during dinner speech. Slainte Mha!

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Click on the images below, once for the thumb-nail and again to view full size.

 

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Forcan magic. 10th January 2016

11/01/16

Had great fun introducing my good mate Innes to the joys of winter climbing yesterday and the weather gods treated us to a classic. The forecast had been for heavy rain/snow for most of the day but nothing came of it at all.

Now Innes built a lot of the Black Cuillin footpaths and has explored many of the peaks and ridges in that time. Instead he fancied Glen Shiel, having driven through it so often but never left the road.

A big part of the joy of the day was listening to the commentary- Innes was being blown away by every aspect of our environment. “It’s so 3-dimensional” was a comment really early on as the clever stalkers path weaved upward eventually revealing the hidden maze of glens beyond.IMG_0748 (3)

 

We left plans open but I reasoned that, if we were going to carry the crampons, rope etc we should aim for a route where they might actually be needed so the Forcan Ridge it was. I’ve done it many times but it never disappoints with progress often complex and time-consuming.

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Top pupil donned the harness although I sensed an element of doubt about any need for it as I coiled the rope in preparation. Heading to the foot of the first slab Innes was hard on my heels and the beast was momentarily unleashed only to watch me fail miserably getting up the opening groove. A rising zig-zag left us no choice but to balance across the groove 40ft above the ground and the need for rope became obvious. The lad grew very fond of that wee bit of string over the following couple of hours!

 

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The aesthetics were great but the pics don’t show the brutal hard work. Every inch was hard fought for but, as Innes pointed out, it kept the mind off the drop.

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After an hour or so in the mist, things began to get distinctly brighter until we were suddenly in bright sunlight and the mists dropped off the ridge running away in front of us towards the Saddle.

IMG_0763Top of Sgurr a Forcan with The Saddle appearing out to the north.

It was already close to 2pm when we reached the summit of Sgurr a’ Forcan so an easy decision to head down immediately beyond. Now the bumslide descent from the Saddle is such fun it justifies the effort almost every time in winter but I hadn’t told Innes because I hadn’t been sure about the short-cut we were about to take. A foot of powder is a great cushion though and the run-out was clear so I armed the lad with an ice -axe, gave him a brief lesson then set him free while I packed the rope.

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He was off like a shot and I was greeted by a cheshire cat-like grin 400 feet lower as Innes admitted the descent had been particularly troubling him whenever he made the mistake of thinking about it! With the tension released the eulogising really began in earnest; pretty sure I’ve another good keen climbing partner well broken in.

IMG_0771Looking back at where we’d been.

IMG_0769The Five Sisters of Kintail beautifully highlighted in the evening light

Thanks for inspiration for a great day out Innes!

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Beautiful Bla Bheinn. Friday 8th January

11/01/16

Stunning light and colours on a quick trip up Bla Bheinn last Friday afternoon.

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