Jim, Merrissa and I ended the week on a high with an ascent of Liathach over on the mainland. On Friday night we braved wild weather just to drive the 70 miles and then a 10 minute walk to the Ling Hut in the dark and driving rain. Next morning little seemed to have changed by 8am but the forecast came right just before 9.
Archive photo of the SMC Ling hut with Liathach behind; our route gained the crest at the right edge and traversed to the obvious high point called Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m)
The ascent is quite possibly the fiercest anywhere in the UK, rising from 30m above sea-level to 833m in little over a kilometre.We put crampons on at about 700m and it was obvious our descent was going to be concentrated.
Along the crest the snow was immaculate with just a small amount of give in a uniform covering.
Roped together we wandered for the next hour in an almost dream-like manner with amazing light on the views all around.
From the summit the ridge still stretched away into the distance but a lack of time and light meant we reluctantly had to turn heel and begin our descent.Luckily a direct slope back into Coire Liath Mhor gave a good fast start to this stage. A lip of rock below made us do a short abseil before traversing back towards our original path.
I realised it had been over 10 years since my last pilgramage to Torridon; this left me with mixed feelings of embarressment but mainly joy at rediscovering the hills I used to know so well. Liathach is 2nd only to Ben Nevis for mainland mountains I have climbed on. It won’t be long before I’m back again.
I was treated to some cragging near Windhoek today by Richard Ford of the Namibian MCSA branch. I had given a wee talk on the Cuillin to some of their members last night and Richard managed to wangle an afternoon off work. Access is a big issue over here so I can’t report on the exact location (had to be blindfolded for the journey;).
The crag is in a beautiful dry river bed where a waterfall forms in the rainy season. The rock is a metamorphosed sandstone with horizontal bedding that forms great holds, very reminiscent of climbing at Elgol but without the sea below.
All the lines have been bolted sadly but Richard was keen for me to lead the routes on my trad rack as a side of climbing he really wants to get into more.
The cliffs are about 15m high and we had time for 2 routes. Both gave great moves on steep ground.
Graded 17 on the South African scale I would give them HS or VS The rock was solid and yielded plenty of gear on the 2 lines we climbed. There was much talk of exchanges with Namibian climbers coming to Skye for snow and ice and the potential for UK climbers out here.
Slabby granite with its huge crystals characterises the routes. I was limited to clipping a few bolts on one of the smaller areas but can’t wait to get back to tackle the peak itself and some of the huge long routes.
Hopefully Richard and I will manage to get something arranged over the coming months; anyone interested drop me an e-mail.
With the weather breaking in the west Lucy and I decided to hit the road for the final couple of days of her week. King Bee on Creag Dubh at Newtonmore gave us our fix of 3 star climbing on the journey across but we were saving energy for what looked likely to be a massive day next day; and so it proved!
The Needle on the Shelterstone Crag is a classic route cleverly weaving its way up the enormous clean face to reach Needle Crack and finally thread the eye to reach the top. With alternating pitches of 4b, 5b, 4b, 5b, 4c, 5a, 4b, 5a, 4b it looked like we could alternate leads to give a perfect culmination in a week where Lucy’s leading has shot up from V Diff to confident VS.
The day was a long one, the tale even longer but culminated with Lucy leading the Needle Crack in superb style while I followed in a more agricultural fashion on the fantastic lay-back holds. All the routes open to her now dawned upon Lucy as she browsed Scottish Selected Rock Climbs over breakfast!
Enjoy the gallery-
The intrepid explorers are safely home enjoying Arctic weather UK style now but here are a few final pictures & tales. It’s been a pleasure reading, seeing & being able to pass on the adventures; thanks to both Bruce & Steve for the entertainment.
“Longyearbyen has a festival today. It marks the first day of the year the sun can be seen from Longyearbyen. The days grow by 18 mins or so each day. The weather is fine and its about -28c. Steve climbed up to a plateau above the town with scant equipment and the view included a couple glaciers.
We are staying in Guesthouse 102. It is run/owned by a Norwegian guy called Trond who also runs wildlife tours and is very helpful. The high winter season commenced March 1st and twin couch/bedded rooms cost £364 per week according to exchange rate.
Expedition leader White; whiter than ever:)
“Steve and a guy from our hostel summited a snow arrette today in mild -12c conditions,They didn’t encounter an ice bear but a beautiful ptarmigan.“
“The 4hr dog sled trip costs £148 per person but I don’t think it could be more authentic. We set off with 5 teams and scattered reindeer on the plain that led us up to a glacier in -28c but beautiful sunshine. Steve was so good at getting the dogs from there individual kennels and attaching each of the 6 dogs to the line and unattaching on our return they suggested he could come and work for them. You can see from the attached pic how the ice affected him. My fingers gave up very quickly & I had cowered down into the sled; they thought I had died.. “
“Skol Letzboy,Ve kum ind der holitz,Ve hoppen ze vroom der vindow der terrain inderozt,Hoppen en joy der pic storeez.”
And the final gallery-
More tales from Bruce; thanks mate we’re really enjoying hearing about it.
We woke this morning and Steve saw a set of horns sticking out of the snow,When we looked a little later there were 3 reindeer hoofing holes down thro the soil to feed,A male and 2 females just outside our hostel,We kitted up to go out in the -26c to take pics.
Steve decided to hike up to a disused coalmine he encountered sheet ice wearing his snow boots and contemplated his situation on a 30degree slope 100metres up and tenuously retreated in the absence of crampons and ice axe.
A very stiff breeze feels like -40 and is blowing fine snow into drifts.
Steves snore valve is not operating thank goodness. Our dog sled trip is booked for Thursday when it’s forecast to be -31c.
The weather had calmed down after yesterday’s blast. We are told it was minus -40 in the teeth of the wind and we went up onto a glacier this evening on snowmobiles with guys that claimed the temperature had gone down even lower at higher levels.
We went into a cave caused by summer melt underneath the Longyearbyen glacier.
The ice crystals formed by condensation are amazing in there variety. The hike up onto the glacier would be a welcome activity but we would have to hire someone with a rifle as Polar bears have killed people here. The dog sled trip will be at 9am tomorrow morning and we have discovered how important it is to have the right equipment: One of our cave guides had no skin on the tip of his nose from frost nip. The wind chill on sled and skidoo rides will get you unless you completely cover up.
Damp mist was clinging to Skye this morning so we headed inland to find the Glen Shiel tops mostly clear of cloud; good result.
We opted for the classic Forcan Ridge and were rewarded with a truly apline day with a mixture of dry rock, mixed climbing and a fine snow arete to finish.
We skipped the usual descent east towards Sgurr na Sgine. Instead we doubled back from the summit headed directly north down the glen before traversing back below the cliffs to rejoin the approach path. With the snow so perfect it was an easy variation that was also far quicker.
Our descent was pretty much straight down the snow slopes from the peak before cutting out left.
The clients certainly seemed happy with it all:)
More incredible stuff coming from Bruce James in the Arctic. If you haven’t looked yet check out just where Svalbard is; nearly 80 degrees North!
“We’ve just arrived at Guesthouse 102 in Svalbard. Our flight was delayed from Tromso due to a minor navigation problem.
Tromso is on mainland Norway; a mere 70 degrees north.
As there are no other landing options in these latitudes they were not permitted to fly without all nav devises working. We arrived 3am in -23c conditions set to go lower. The permafrost on this archipelago is 100-150m deep and up to 400 in the mountainous region. The Raasay contingent of Steve, Duncan and Naomi have their youth to sustain them but my silver surfer status has given me a struggle.”
Bruce James (the Now World Famous:) is a climbing enthusiast who didn’t discover the joys until well into his 60’s. A couple of bad car accidents haven’t exactly helped the mountaineering but his enthusiasm has seen him reach the summits of Sgurr nan Gillean, Blaven, & Sgurr Alasdair. He is most at home on rock climbing and made an ascent of the Cioch last year.
Arrived this evening after an epic 22hr railway trip Oslo to Boda,It must rank amongst the greatest rail journeys but stopped at every station and didn’t sleep a wink so am exhausted,Weather fantastic but we’ve been thro a couple of really heavy snow storms,At one stage we had to abandon the train and do a 2hr coach trip,Norway had a hard cold winter and a sharp short thaw brought a lot of melt water threatening bridges that were in deep gorges so trains unable to use them,It’s awesome seeing the sea froze but when we got off at Boda you could imagine the sea can freeze and we have a 24hr sea journey and 2hr flight,Need sleep and back online Monday.
update, we r on the Hutigruten off the Lafoten islands, We have seen incredible ice climbs and northern lights this evening,My god the arctic is awe inspiring.
Holiday of a lifetime here. It was so bleak this morning with fine powdery snow in a stiff wind ( like spindrift) and the environment here well inside the arctic circle is absorbing,A white tailed sea eagle flew over the ship with a group of seagulls accentuating its size with a background of sea cliffs around 4000ft high creating a scene that is captivating. We are having so much fun and laughter and today I learned my team won and are 5th and within 3/4 points of the leaders. “
With a blanket of fresh snow covering the tops Chris and I opted for an exploratory walk on the mainland today. Neither of us had been near Beinn Fhada so we parked up in Strath Croe and followed the beautiful stalkers path around the north side of the mountain.
It started snowing heavily again soon after leaving the car but half an hour later the clouds cleared to reveal a real winter wonderland. Most striking was the deep cleft of Bealach an Sgairne out to the north.
There are a handful of long routes recorded on the western most top of Beinn Fhada, Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh. Although it looked impressive soaring above us the white blanket and steep black buttresses suggested the routes here weren’t a good option.
Another hour of pleasent walking finally led us to the high point at Bealach an Sgairne and a great view out into the wilderness beyond.
Mullach Fraoch choire may be the Munro in the distance
Before we could even identify the peaks another heavy snow shower rolled in but we were very happy with our reconnaisance mission.