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.
No Japanese tourists clapping our efforts here though, just a couple of friends taking it all in with eagles circling above them.
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.
South Crack I love you, and Peter had a Cheshire Cat grin even though he’s from Lancashire where smilin’ ain’t manly 😉
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beads & Dave Bowdler got a beaut of a route following North Rib of Banachdaich Gully at grade IV,5 with steep well protected climbing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-
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!
Click on the images below, once for the thumb-nail and again to view full size.
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.
I did get comments after my last post that I mentioned the poor summer but the photos didn’t reflect it so here’s a couple of shots from the start of September showiing folk having fun despite the damp.A cold looking team at the foot of the Pinn.
Sunday 6th was pretty grim with cold wind and heavy showers but we got our timing just right to catch an hour of less heavy precipitation. It poured down again shortly after we left the In Pinn but this day typified what we’ve been doing all summer, close scrutiny of forecasts allowing us to get ambitions achieved.
Karen & Mo were up for a week of shadowing and had been briefed to bring sunshine with them from Plas y Brenin which they promised but it couldn’t keep up with Mo’s driving 🙂
The sun finally arrived on Monday with a stunning cloud inversion that I sadly missed but our guides and clients all raved about.
Karen watching the mists burn off Lochan a’ Ghrunnda
I had a great day at Neist on Tuesday with regular Jane Parfitt. A particular highlight was climbing Man of Straw, the cover shot of Jane’s coveted Seacliffs guidebook.
With the exception of Cioch and In Pinn ascents, in various degrees of poor weather, this season has been just too wet and cold for Cuillin rock climbing.
On Wednesday 9th I finally managed my first major Cuillin rock climb of the year and even managed to combine it with a glorious days work. We opted for Pinnacle Ridge as Robert (76) had never climbed it in his previous 8 rounds of Munros. Incidentally he has now completed the 9th round and is back on Skye starting his 10th which should be done before he reaches 80! Meanwhile modest old Brett (21) was happy to take the scenic route to Am Basteir on such a lovely day; for the record he has only Ben More on Mull to climb to compleat his 1st round of Munros.
I particularly like this shot of us on the exciting Traverse on Knight’s Peak where Robert appears to be levitating along a light-beam from Mo; perhaps that’s how he does it!
Mo and I left the others to descend to Sligachan while we headed for a line on the Bhasteir Face of Gillean. Some debris littered the ledges but 3 pitches of good climbing gave us Indian Buttress, HVS 5a.
Well enough of the tales; please enjoy some sunny pictures as much as we enjoyed being out there. The rest of September was largely warmer & sunnier than any point in the past 10 months.
With so much work going on this summer regulars will have noticed that blogging has dropped in the priorities. One important one I should have done at the time was with the Young family who, in addition to having fun, are training daughter Nina for an ambitious plan to cross Antarctica when she is 18. She hopes to raise a huge amount of money for the Teapot Trust. Details are explained in a letter from dad John below.
Much fun & many good lessons were learnt by the whole family over a couple of days, finishing with a full team ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Well done to John, Laura, Nina and Isla and every bit of luck with the Teapot Trust.
With our wonderful weather due to break over the weekend I was keen to get another Cuillin rock route done. Francis is right in the groove just now so we agreed to meet up once I’d finished guiding Colin on a round of Coire Lagan.
Overnight frost made things cool but perfect for scrambling and the rocks were bone dry as Colin and I zoomed around from the Pinn to Alasdair and down to the lochan in about 7 hours. Francis was waiting at the loch and we discussed the cold and lack of sunshine but decided to stick to our original ambition.
Temerity gains then tackles a wonderful looking arete hgh above Eastern Gully. I’d eyed it up for years but was beaten to it by Ian Taylor & Tess Fryer in 2009 who gave it a grade of E4 6a. More intimidating for me was mention of a “long” move on the first pitch whcih I was happy to leave for Francis 🙂
With just a couple of micros and a shallow rock 6 placement Francis justifiably took his time working out the “long” move. Climbing back down and balancing out left he got a bomb-proof nut that I could tell was going to be great fun for me to retrieve! Another good nut appeared in a horizontal break and suddenly Francis made the long move with apparent ease. I could see the holds he’d reached were big but didn’t appreciate quite how steep the wall below was. Mr Muscle hung in for ages arranging 2 big cams before finally moving out to the arete. Around the corner the ancient rusting peg had disappeared and the small friend placement didn’t inspire so Francis continued boldly up the arete to finally reach a decent anchor 20m higher.
No amount of arm-swinging or thrusting hands into pockets could bring my frozen fingers back to life so my climbing involved a scary approach into the groove followed by blatent hauling and hanging on the gear. A few tears were shed as my fingers pulsated back into life on the belay. I was finally able to appreciate the position & enjoy the final 20m of delicate slabby climbing as the sunlight reflected off the Minch. Temerity (def. reckless with a disregard for safety) is a very fine climb but I’ll wait for a warmer day to have another go!
Dry rock and a warm breeze is too good to ignore so Paul & I dropped work plans and headed off to An Stac in search of some adventure.
A steep curving fault line just below the summit had attracted my eye for a few years but it was hard to tell what angle the climbing would actually be. Perhaps just an exposed scramble or just plain impossible?
80m of great exposed scrambling, easy in our rock shoes, led us up to the start of the overlap and a wee struggle to find much of an anchor. Paul led up the next 20m and the theme of delicacy and carefully choosing which rock to place protection in continued. Above this slabby ledge the corner itself looked crumbling and hard, out right looked more solid but definitely avoiding the line of the challenge so I choose a faint groove heading straight up.
A cam buried deeply into hollow sounding rock was soon matched on the other rope with an RP2 – times are a bit tough when I resort to placing micro-nuts in gabbro! Time to climb…. Avoiding some obvious lose flakes I found most of the holds solid enough as I tiptoed upward on the wonderful sticky gabbro. 5m up a large offset cam fitted nicely into a hole where the basalt had separated from the face. It seemed solid to touch but you can never be too sure and I was grateful to be able to “strengthen” this by using a screamer; clever type of extender that absorbs 4kN if it’s shock-loaded. Doesn’t sound much but that’s the equivilant to removing the effect of a 400kg weight hanging from it!
All good preparation for what was clearly, even for an optimist like me, going to be quite a run-out. The climbing that followed was beautiful, all in the feet but just the right number of positive and solid holds and the loose sections weren’t too hard to avoid. I discovered I was now climbing the surface of a basalt layer and surmounting this gave a good footstep rest.
I got tempted into the corner next in an attempt to find protection, regretted it pretty instantly and escaped up and back right to the basalt ladder. Pulling hard on your arms on this stuff always begs the question of how good the glue is, 60 million years after these layers were stuck together. Fortunately I’ve always (touch wood) found it to be good enough for my bodyweight.
Another reasonable large cam kept things under control before flowing moves led to the top and a predictably difficult search for a solid belay. Paul romped up stylishly then ran the ropes out to the sunny summit of An Stac itself. Good endorphine rush! Quite a serious proposition but technically not too hard The Hanging Slab is about E1 5a.
The In Pinn stood gleaming in the evening sunshine and it would have been rude not to climb it. Paul led the 4 star Hard V Diff South Crack on delightful warm rock.
Francis popped up behind us with brothers Steve & Piers on their Traverse; hot work but all of them were “steadying away”.
After an overnight bivvy near An Dorus the guys finished on Sgurr nan Gillean at about 2pm today; congratulations are deserved all around!
The Hanging Slab-
South Crack & Pinn-
Apologies for not blogging so far this month; plenty going on but very little reliable broadband still!
There’s been a mixed bag of weather and a late surge from the midgies but the majority of missions have been accomplished with the use of cunning tactics and a great attitude by clients and guides alike. Monday last was only the fourth day this year that has been lost to the weather completely!
The work has varied from Ridge Traverses, stag dos and showing travel journalists the stunning Cuillin to stunt filming for a new Gaelic soap. Clients have come from as far away as New Zealand, Majorca and Colorado; ranged in age between 11 to 70 years old. Major achievements include Jenny Dunn climbing her last Munro, Laura climbing the Pinn for her first ever mountain in full “Scottish” conditions and Marcus completing his long-held dream of a Cuillin Traverse.
Basking sharks and Orcas, eagles Golden and White-tailed and the last of the alpine flowers like Devil’s Bit Scabbius have all added to the enjoyment.
Here are some images-
Only a couple of the threatened heavy showers reached Skye this week so a lot of happy climbers. Humidity and heat were a feature so a lot of slimmed down climbers too:)
There were some cracking days on the peaks and a climbing day at Neist where the wildlife stole the show.
Thanks to Guy Andy & Gillian for keeping their clients happy and well throughout the week too.
Here’s a small selection-