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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for inspiration for a great day out Innes!
Stunning light and colours on a quick trip up Bla Bheinn last Friday afternoon.
A warm week followed by another cold weekend but Monday’s forecast was better so we waited ’til today for our adventures. With low snow once more I was sure we’d get last week’s low lying ambition done but, yet again, conditions just weren’t playing ball. Even the high cliffs on Bla Bheinn looked dry and powdery so Beads and I agreed on a wander across to a buttress on the South Ridge that neither of us had visited before. Deep powder gave us a good work out but we were rewarded with a huge sweep of hillside dripping in good ice.
Too good to miss we soloed a bit then took the precaution of a rope for another 3 pitches or so, delightful movement in bright sunshine and a pretty good backdrop….
All this indulgence took us high on the South Ridge where the we met the weather; not a sign of Glen Sligachan, let alone the Main Ridge. It was time to run away but not until we got a good look at the buttress we’d originally been aiming for. Plunging down the nearest gully the powder was now our friend as we dropped a long way down, me mainly on my butt. Now there had been no intention of doing another climb but when a recessed gully suddenly appeared complete with a long ribbon of ice it was time to kick ass and accept a headlit descent.
Beads volunteered for the first pitch, very gallant given the thin, hollow ice and obvious lack of protection. He climbed it well, a relief to us both but particurly him with a bank of deep powder as the only consolation available. My pitch proved very similar in style but yielded a wire placement close to half height. Very hard to grade but, in the conditions we had today, probably IV,4. In perfect conditions it could be as low as grade II but any less frozen and it wouldn’t be possible.
It was then a long, very hard flog through the powder to the top of the gully
but rewarded with a view to the Main Ridge
Light was fading and the full sacks weighed heavily but the last light out over Rum gave one final special view
The first winter climbing day of the season is always daunting; so much extra kit to remember, fit, fix and, worst of all, carry. Yesterday though, I had a cunning plan; walking up Blaven on Saturday I’d spotted a couple of ideal new lines all icy and snow covered nice and low on the hill. Now I do remember clocking how warm it was on the walk back from the Broadford football dance too late on Saturday night but Sunday dawned stunningly and the car was coated in frost. Beads and Murdo were right on time and I felt smug remembering to pack the hot flask despite my thick head. Torrin was stunning with the eastern Cuillin as a backdrop but most obvious was that the snow-line had jumped half-way up the mountain or more; on the back of 3 fast days on the tops my body ached just at the thought of having to go right up again.
At the carpark Murdo let out an expletive as he located his boots as being back in Portree and my relief came in the most comical/painful/more comical manner. Smug we were not as Beads and I know it will be our turn to screw up soon enough but we did enjoy an extra cuppa with the time we knew Murdo needed to make the next rendezvous at Sligachan. So the crack team was finally in action before 10-30am.
Beads tried to tempt us to the flesh pots of his own personal face on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir but it was black as the ace of spades and obvious we needed to go high; either the Bhasteir face of Gillean or Am Basteir itself. Way back in 2009 I’d spotted an open-book corner directly above where The Deadline(III) turns hard right. Another attraction was that it seemed likely to be short enough that we might top out before dark 🙂
My pitch gave a sharp wake-up call for the new season with a wide range of tactics and plenty of fight needed to make upward progress. A couple of good ice placements early on were but a tease and above here I used everything from full body wedging to tiny finger edges. The protection was all a bit testing to construct and somewhat reliant on the rock holding together but luckily wasn’t put to the test.
A pull over the capping stone to finish saw both Murdo and I flop like seals onto the snow-covered scree bed but Mr Beads managed the whole pitch in some style.
The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.
Shining out from below our cloud cover was a dazzling aray of autumn colours out over the mainland to the south; here looking across to Loch Nevis with Mallaig to the right and Knoydart to the left-
The route was short (70m) but gave sustained and quality climbing. Wordmeister Beads had christened it The Breadline tied into the parent route The Deadline long before we had completed. Grading a route with so much thrutching is always hard but I’m going to settle on V,5 for now and see what future ascentionists think. It’s a good line that will be in nick frequently so shouldn’t be long….
Heavy sacks gave squealing quads on the initial steep downhill but I found myself back in a serene mindset once more as the moon lit the moorland path back to the car; a hair of the dog, a bath and a long lie-in…….
3 very different days out this week with Erik, Fabian and Andrew on their Skye break. Sorry but no pics from a rather damp traverse of Sgurr nan Gillean on Thursday. Skies cleared as temperatures dropped and gave us beautiful views on An Caistiel via Sgurr an Fheadain on Friday.
A baltic wind and thin skim of hailstones added a sharp edge to the scrambling and we were glad to abseil into some shelter on the way down; so much so that the 2 swiss guests went for a dip in thee Fairy Pools on the walk out.
Snow lay very low on a beautiful Saturday morning.
With rain forecast we opted for a quick romp to the summit of Blaven rather than the technicalities of Clach Glas.
The clouds did roll in and a few flurries of snow added to a festive feel.
Once on top the bitter wind became apparrent and we were all glad to wrap up fully for tackling the short awkward step betweeen the summits.
The guys came with an open mind, a good level of fitness and a willingness to take advice- a perfect way to approach the mountains but especially at this time of year. Sante!
“Hey Mike – just wanted to once again tell you that we had a great time and great experience – appreciate your time and patience, and look forward to seeing you again before long – we are already talking about a summer trip”
Day 2 Sgurr an Fheadain and An Caisteal
Day 3 Blaven-
Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2016
Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 14th to January 27th 2016
An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.
It’s that time again. 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.
For the past 5 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 40 new winter climbs. Only 5 days out of 34 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.
Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb scene is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.
Over the past 5 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.
It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.
Last year’s festival was a resounding success with over 60 people enjoying superb winter conditions that spanned the whole 16-day period. It was undeniably hardcore on the majority of days and some got luckier than others, but people were out every day climbing more than 50 routes including 20+ first ascents.
Approaching Twicicle on the very wild “Black Friday”, 2015 Festival
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.
What’s to do?
If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. We’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Accommodation and Food
The festival is based at the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn. 24 beds in 5 different rooms with bunkbeds and bedding provided. The accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door.
Catering 2016- different this year!!
Self-catering in the well-eqipped kitchen or eat from the pub’s superb menu. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine french fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us for these meals and let your hair down!
Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.
The Old Inn will be open for business and private rooms will be available for those wanting a bit more privacy and peace. Please contact them directly- Old Inn
Over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. 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.
New for 2016- Skills symposium
Following a suggestion from guests last year some of our guides have committed a couple of days to specifically pass on their knowledge and skills. Limited places are available on a variety of full-day courses over the 2 festival weekends. Request more details when booking your place in the bunkhouse:-
- Introduction to winter walking skills; 6 places per course. Suitable for walkers with good fitness but little winter experience. £50pp
- Cuillin Winter Munros; 6 places per course. Suitable for fit winter climbers or walkers. £50pp
- Dry Tooling skills; 4 places per course. Low-level; £50pp
- Alpine rope skills for Cuillin ridges in winter; 4 places per course. Suitable for climbers or winter walkers of good fitness. £60pp
- Mixed climbing skills; 2 places per course. Suitable for those with some pitched winter climbing experience. £80pp
Every effort will be made to achieve the course objectives but the mountains are in charge! Full refunds will be given if it is not possible to run the courses. Please just ask if you would like private guiding at any other point in the course.
Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL–#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebok page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.
Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.
Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.
Unsure?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Skye Guides normal private guiding will be available throughout. Don’t worry if you don’t want to book anything- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, 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.
We’re privledged to have the prolific climber, writer, (comedian?) Andy Kirkpatrick coming to Skye at the end of the month on his Cold Mountain tour. I’ve never met him or been to his talks but a recent video on UKC confirmed what I’d heard.
“He’s a great speaker, mainly because he realises that climbing is really boring to anyone who wasnt there at the time, and even if you were there half of it is boring.”
Anyway, the details-
WHEN?- Friday November 27th, 7.30pm
WHERE?- Aros visitor centre, Portree
TICKETS COST- £12 and £9. Buy them from Aros.
Special light, incredible colours and magical mists can all be a feature of autumn outings and today had all of them.
Martin is just back from the Kingdom of Bhutan and it was amazing to hear him say the scenery there reminded him of the Cuillin and had inspired this visit. Previously he has explored the Cuillin on his own but fancied pushing the boundaries a bit.
I chose a route that I’ve only succeeded on once before, the alluring ridge of Sgurr Eadar da Choire that leads straight to the summit of Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. After today I am sure to be repeating the route a lot more.
More dry rough rock gave great sport as the ridge soared above us to it’s fine peak and the situations just kept impressing.
The final 100m of ascent became a bit more broken and rambling but popped us out to a magnificent panorama across the Cuillin bowl and out across the whole of the highlands-
Climbing the In Pinn was still highly exciting of course but Martin now understood quite how many more Cuillin adventures there are to be discovered for us all.
Alan called me exactly a year ago with an outrageous request to be guided up Stac Lee on St Kilda in October or November 2015 “if there’s a settled period of weather”; ha, bloody ha. But no, he was serious as it was his last remaining Marilyn; a list of 1556 peaks over 500 feet high.
The full tale is long and full of plot & intrigue but, basically, the phone rang last Wednesday and I had to drop everything for the weekend ahead including all the rugby matches which was no small sacrifice!
We sailed to Harris Friday lunchtime and camped in an idylic spot just 10 minutes from Leverburgh where we would sail from at 6-30 next morning.
Beautiful skies at
Seamus and the crew of the Enchanted Isle had us all loaded and heading off 40 miles westward before the sun rose and I was soon catching up on Z’s but was woken by a shout of land ahoy. Not far ahead stood some impressive stacks, immediately recognisable from what little I’d managed to read. Distance was deceptive however andd it took more than another hour to finally reach St Kilda. Stunning light, dolphins and even a Minke whale kept us occupied along with a palpable tension of excitement & fear rising.
Stac Lee was the aim for the day and Alan and I were given the first ride ashore. The plan was for us to head up with Bob Kerr and his guide Tim following behind and rigging a static to help the less confident leaders behind and everything went pretty much exactly to plan. Conditions were better than the previous year’s assailants had encountered with bone dry rock and, more importantly, far drier and less deep guano from the gannets.
The route was effectively 3 pitches, never harder than V Diff in the conditions we had, and then a long easy scramble zig-zagging to the summit. The rock is gabbro; another super volcano that errupted at a similar time to the Cuillin volcanoes on Skye & Rum. The result is similar to what the Skye Cuillin would look like if sea-level rose to the level of Coire lagan or higher.
We made it to the top just before half 12 where Alan had to remind me it was his final Marylin top and a good celbration was in order. Michael Earnshaw also compleated and the others were alldelighted to get the highest & hardest “out of the way” 🙂
Scorching sun & no wind added to the difficulties, not, as everyone gradually made it down for one big abseil descent and a safe return to the Enchanted Isle for tea & cake by about 4pm.
Speed was of an essence as we realised there was time to recce the next day’s objective, Stac an Armin. The swell was against us using last year’s landing so Tim & I rigged ropes on the East side. 35m of greasy slime covered rocks made us grateful for spikes & crampons but everything was set for a rapid ascent next day and return in time for the Scottish match on the ferry ride back from Tarbet……. if all went to plan. The swell nearly saw me in the drink as I abseiled onto the boat but, instead it was time to lap up the stunning light & scenery on the 20 minute ride to the old village on Hirta.
The MOD base on Hirta is horribly out of keeping with the haunting beauty of the abandoned village but this didn’t detract from this, the largest island in the world heritage site, or the bouyant atmosphere as everyone settled down with good food, drink & banter & finally relaxing on what had been a high-octane day.
That’s all for now but I’ll complete with Sunday’s pictures asap.
Lucy’s half term visit gave a chance far sooner than I expected to have a closer look. Stakes in the heather above were essential for a belay and I was respectful enough to use them to pre-inspect the route; apologies to the more purist amongst you.
First note was not to finish too directly with 10ft of vertical peat and dead heather above the central line. Apart from this I only remember wishing I’d got half a dozen half sized cams for the numerous uniform horizontal breaks. I got to the foot of the climb without much more of an idea of what to expect than I’d had from looking from afar.
A bizarre conversation ensued; a mix of positivity about the lack of steepness and more negative “maybe there’s a reason it hasn’t been climbed before”.
I lived; an intense hour or so of delicacy, cleaning, clever gear placing, funky moves, disco-leg, crimp after crimp, recalculation, long run-outs and a wee bit of finger crossing finally found me with some attached heather in hand pulling over the top.
Retrospectively a really intense cleaning/gardening session would probably have made things a bit easier but I’m pretty sure Arch Buttress will remain quite an adventure for any suiters. E1 5a and definitely worth a star for those who enjoy their nerve being tested.
The wonderful artistic shots are credit to Lucy Spark while she waited for me to prussic back up for the rope; all good practice for this weekend’s adventure to Stac Lee……