Sorry about the radio silence but blogging is the lowest priority when life gets hectic I’m afraid. Last week the weather improved drastically and I enjoyed getting out 7 days out of 8.
They were all great outings but highlights included finally placing an icescrew (1st time in the Cuillin this winter), meeting a couple of Italian guides at the Pinn who were up as guests of Al Todd (who skied the Great Stone Shoot this year) and a couple of hot days on the wonderful cliffs at Elgol (see videos on the Skye Guides Mountaineering Face Book page- I’ve put a selection of galleries below from most days.
Conditions have warmed up considerably but you’ll see great quantities of snow on the northern Cuillin (Pinnacle Ridge gallery below) which I would guess will be with us until about late May. Elsewhere the only serious quantities are leading up to An Dorus and a small amount left in the Great Stone Shoot (pic in Italian invasion gallery).
Biggest news of the week was the successful campaign to win £24k of funding to help with the much needed improvements to the Bla Bheinn (Blaven) footpath. Considerd by many as having the finest views in Scotland Bla Bheinn probably attracts more visitors than any other peak in the Black Cuillin.
Skye’s Bla Bheinn path repair project has won EOCA’s Alpine category – securing us £24k funding for path repairs! Huge thanks to all who voted.
In the office enquiries and bookings flooded in as folk realised that Easter and Spring holidays are fast approaching.
Elgol Day 1-
The annual Belgian student outing around Coire na Creiche & Glen Brittle beach-
4/5 Gully approach to Pinnacle Ridge- spot the ice screw pic!-
Italian invasion at the Pinn-
Even hotter day at Elgol-
Plans to tackle Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean had to be rapidly changed yesterday as the wind picked up in strength far earlier than predicted; huge plumes of snow shot into the sky from the cols between each pinnacle.
The logical theory was to stay in the lee of the hill which did work for us but not without other “added interest”. Our plan was to ascend 2nd/3rd Gully and then abseil off rather than get hit by the wind. Not many action photos of the climbing because taking the cameras out would have killed them pretty fast!
Approaching the foot of the gully I found myself stood on the “bank” of a river of spindrift and graupel (see blog from January 2012). Handily it gave a clear view of the hard snow beneath which made the climbing far easier, to a point! The first steepening provided a 4 metre cold shower experience until I was able to get my head above the surface once more.
Belaying from a snow bollard I brought Dave & Cat up and mooted a retreat; this got the silence treatment so off I headed for my next shower. This one really was bracing and the power was turned up from an invisible source way above.
The hard snow was in excellent condition though and the climbing finished up a short vertical step to reach the shelter of a huge chockstone. A snow cone from an internal snow shower had to be negotiated before finally droping into the deep dry, windless cave beyond.
Cat and Dave joined me for a relaxed lunch here before setting up our escape abseils which went nicely to plan.
The gusts on the wlk out were some of the fiercest I’ve known; very glad not to be on anything narrow but even 20m to the gorge felt too close.
One final note is to repeat that 2nd 3rd Gully is not grade II as suggested by the guidebook. Even when banked out very well like it is now there is some pretty demnding looking climbing above the cave!
Our great quantities of snow have been frustratingly soft for axe placements all winter but the hard freeze after this weeks thaw has finally given us the hard neve needed to climb some steeper routes. Hopefully a week of fun ahead!
Great day out today but very demanding and serious conditions which is the price to pay for harder snow. We started up Broad Gully then onto Sgurr a Bhasteir. Normally a simple grade I winter route the gully held some steeper sections but mainly a lack of any opportunity to rest the burning calves. Fresh snow drifted on top was thought provoking but our front points were able to bite through.
The NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir is also a simple grade I route in both summer and winter ordinarily but sections of hard snow out above the yawning void of the north face heightened concentration & tension about as high as the lactic acid in the legs.
The reward for all this graft was an immaculate horizontal crest of snow leading into Bealach na Lice and stunning views all around.
The obligatory bumslide was a mix of slow powder and ice sections that positively gave you a warm butt as the speed built up; not recommended anywhere apart from the gentlest of slopes at the minute!
In fact the icy conditions warrant a severe health warning not only in action but also when planning your route; I would certainly hesitate before planning to descend something like the Great Stone Shoot even with all the kit just now because of the combo of hard snow with deep pockets of powder.
Enjoy the pics-
Yesterday I was hopeful that South Buttress Gully (guidebook grade II but consensus is now III) would still be a good climbing option despite the current thaw. Once we could see into the line I was happy to go for it because the technical steps looked almost completely banked out.
The snow slopes were fine but sadly the “ice” was only good enough for a single placement. Luckily the right wall has just enough hand & foot holds to get up without ice so we were able to snatch a good winter climb against the odds.
Too tired to write much but here’s some of the shots from todays superb outing-Last rise to An Caisteal with Bruach na Frithe behind
Rachel suggested a look at the Pinn would float her boat last week and I nearly baulked. Luckily a weekend of warm rain hasn’t stripped the Main Cuillin Ridge but has left the Pinn nearly snow free. Crampons & axe were uneccesary precautions but couldn’t begin to spoil the pleasure of a delightful warm reunion with me old mucker Mr Pinn.
The Pinn was just a cherry on the cake of a superb alpine outing though. We hit hard snow at under 600m mark and enjoyed perfect consistency right to the summit of Sgurr Dearg.
The sun started to do its damage soon after midday but even this was pretty limited with a keen breeze keeping things cool up there.
Time for a Traverse before things break down Thursday evening and I’d suggest seriously contemplating some head-torch time to make good time on the harder snow. You’ll touch rocks at the toe of An Stac for the first time proper and increasingly after that but noty enough to loose crampons from what I saw.
SHould be some clues in the gallery photos-
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…….