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Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2017

12/01/17

This year’s festival has started in great style.

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Leaving Skye Basecamp this morning; snow arrived right on cue and right to sea-level.

Sgurr a Bhasteir was quite black looking as we approached but there was some ice in the foot of Mike The Bhasteird.P1030204

 

It soon became too thin so I took to the blunt rib on the left, and just in time! The heavens opened and I watched a waterfall of snow pummel down the groove on my right. Some really good moves (with enough gear to be fun) led to the ledge at 40m and Pok followed with style.

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Pok led on and coped well with the terrain and fierce stinging hail and gusting wind to find a semi-hanging stance below a final steep wall.

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By the time we got down our sacks had nearly been buried P1030221

 

The joys continued on the walk-out with amazing light and the mists rolled away.

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And Sgurr a’ Bhasteir had transformed into Snow White. Our line is marked in red and is called Formali Known As. 90m IV,4

Silver Fox V,5. First new route of the season is a cracker.

21/11/16

 

An extra bit of motivation is always handy in winter so a new climbing partner, and Cuillin winter virgin at that, was very welcome.

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Bla Bheinn on Thursday had shown that the snow was very powdery. As we headed into Coire Lagan I was looking for something to climb that would still have some of that rain from earlier in the week holding the snow together.

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Old favourites on Thearlaich BC Buttress were tempting but the long slog up a powdery Stone Shoot was anything but.

I’ve had a long curving fault line from the corrie floor to the crest of Sgurr Mhiccoinnich on my radar for many years. It has a steep and intimidating finish that had put me off so far but my new partner has climbed with some auspicious partners and I didn’t want to disappoint.

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Taking in the views from the easy lower slopes.

We soloed up some pretty rough and rocky ground for the first 60m until a short corner suggested a rope may be wise. Things got surprisingly steep soon afterwards so the 2nd rope and full concentration were the order of the day. This flip into action sadly means there aren’t many photos but here is Sophie topping out at the end of what turned out to be the crux pitch.

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Another long and absorbing pitch followed with just the right combination of protection, hard won hidden hooks, turf, gymnastic manouvres and even some quality snow and ice.

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Entering the bowl below the intimidating exit grooves things were getting distinctly gloomy as the light faded and wet snow drove into the face. Studying the possibilities as I took in the rope I reckoned a crack in the rock face above looked like my best hope of reaching the top and still making the evening dinner dance appointment. If it proved too hard or slow it would just have to be defeat and a multiple abseil descent.

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Fortunately the rock was wonderfully solid gabbro and everything came together even better than I could have hoped. High fiving on the crest was followed by a rapid pack and scary traverse along the deeply powdered summer line. Bum sliding the An Stac screes was a brief respite but I managed to lose us on the exit from the corrie as snow drove into the face (poor excuse!).

We bid farewell, I made the main meal thank goodness and its only been through today that I’ve fully appreciated quite what a quality climb we had done.

Sgurr Mhiccoinnich- South Face

Silver Fox, V,5 235m **

Mike Lates & Sophie Grace. 19 Nov 2016.

 

Post Script-

Sophie’s own account gives a more eloquent description and more technical details for the climber. Personally I found the route “thought-provoking” the whole time!

Mike Lates and I went up Coire Lagain to have a look at an unclimbed basalt dyke line on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich.
It’s four or five pitches of superb climbing. The basalt is not always very helpful, and there was a whole lot of powder but there wasn’t a whole lot of ice. You repeatedly find yourself with your back or your right shoulder wedged into a bottomless left-facing corner, often undercut and overhanging, with plenty of right-hand hooks and placements in the depths of the corner (but careful–it’s loose in there), and bugger-all out on the sleek basalt powder-covered slabs to your left, which are only too solid. Footwork needs to be good, and tends to involve a single teetering crampon-point striking sparks out of some tiny rounded nubbin. As Mike said, it’s all about opposing forces. Bridging is your friend here. Foot-jams, knee-jams, elbow-jams, thigh-jams, pack-jams and full-body-jams were also deployed. So quite thought-provoking at times, and generally speaking much harder than it looks– till the much more user-friendly gabbro kicks in on the final pitch, which is the steepest and most fearsome-looking bit of the whole route, and nowhere near the hardest bit.

Belays marked with crosses

Pitch lengths were- Solo- 60m, P1-50m, P2-40m, P3-50m, P4-35m

The conditions were excellent. Not everything was frozen at the bottom, but it most certainly was at the top. There was heaps of snow already when we left the car park at dawn (8am), and plenty more had fallen by the time we got back there (7pm–so a short day in the Cuillin). While we were climbing we had two clear spells and two snow-showers.The second clear spell had actual sunshine–great for me as belayer, less good for Mike as leader. Standing on belay in the sunshine at 2500ft in knee-deep snow, looking out over Coire Lagain to Loch Brittle, over Canna and Rum and Muck, to Pabbay and Mingulay and the infinite ocean beyond: this is not something I will forget in a hurry.
Mike’s seen these conditions hundreds of times before, of course, but this is my first winter day ever in Skye. We were talking animals–he told me how when he did the Cuillin traverse in winter he was following a fox’s footprints all the way from Gars-Bheinn to Gillean. (Bruach na Frithe to Gars bheinn ML)
So it turned out the route was actually a completely brilliant day’s climbing. Not optimal conditions, sure, but way above the minimum acceptable. Mike led it like a boss, and I got up it with the odd wobble and squeak, but without actually falling off anything. And then on the walk-out we had a nice little botanical ramble in the dark. As you do 🙂
After all the pessimistic and sceptical meteorological banter on Facebook the other day about slush-covered rubble and unfrozen turf, and how there was nae chance of a decent climb anywhere this Saturday, let alone in a south-facing corrie in Skye, there was only ever one possible name for the route. After plenty brainstorming from us both during the day–slightly held back for most of it by the fact that until well after sunset we didn’t know for sure we were going to finish it–Mike finally nailed the name at the top of the walk-off… It is of course The Silver Fox**, 235m, V, 5.

 

 

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.

IMG_0824Pat Ingram stepping into the main line on Park Lane

 

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.

P1110510Fierce weather on Owl Chimney IV,5 *

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.

Mr Charlie

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.

actionJulian on Fox’s Rake

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

P1110590 P1110617Core Lagan in full thaw!

P1110649Dry tooling at Fiskavaig

 

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.

 

Nice ice surprise

01/12/15

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.

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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….

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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.

IMG_0253The beautiful Gully

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.

IMG_0256Looking down pitch 2

It was then a long, very hard flog through the powder to the top of the gully

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but rewarded with a view to the Main Ridge

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Light was fading and the full sacks weighed heavily but the last light out over Rum gave one final special view

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The Breadline, V,5.

23/11/15

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.IMG_0197

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 🙂

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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.

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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.

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The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.

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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-

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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…….

Arch Buttress first ascent. 15th October

15/10/15

P1090182 P1100087 P1100082 P1100075 P1100069 P1100067 P1090205 P1090201 P1090193 P1090190 P1090189 P1090188 P1090187I was surprised to find the obvious buttress beside Prince Charlie’s Cave hadn’t had an ascent when I finally studied the guidebook last week.

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……

September and something of an Indian Summer.

06/10/15

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.P1080628A 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 🙂

P1080631Kevin & Fiona enjoying the brief lull & dry rock.

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.

P1080649Jane loving the sea & sun on Man of Straw, VS.

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.

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Indian ButtressProbably no stars until someone takes a sweeping brush to it but a good adventure in the sun.

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.

 

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P1080699Alan & Tina; his first ever mountain day!!

 

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P1080721Rainbow over Glamaig

IMG_0973Helen in heaven on her first day of climbing

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P1080902Brokn Spectre from high on Western Buttress looking down on Coire Lagan and across to the In Pinn.

P1080881Wonderful light on a reverse round of Coir’ a’ Bhasteir

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IMG_1015Ridge from the Bridge, last day of September 2015

Skye Winter Festival 2015 report.

22/02/15

Wow; what a fortnight. A huge thanks to everyone who came along to support the event, to Angus and all of the staff at the Old Inn for making us so welcome, to Annmarie for keeping us all domesticated and, perhaps most of all, to the weather gods for turning on the winter weather spectacularly. The only day when nothing was climbed was 25th January but it did mean that nobody was late for their Burn’s supper!

panoPanorama above the clouds from Friday 6th

Over 40 people all appeared to be having a good time whatever the weather threw at them and reaped the benefits of some spectacular conditions for both mixed and pure ice climbing. More than 20 new routes were added between grades I and VII. Over half of the participants lost their Cuillin winter virginity and now can’t decide if they are nymphomaniacs or just perverts 🙂

peepoStuart popping through Mo’s hole…..

Mentions in dispatches, in no particular order, go out to most folk and apologies if you’re not listed-

Craig, Rory & Dylan who embraced the spirit of the festival brilliantly despite their first day being more like a tropical typhoon than Scottish winter; they went on to add at least 4 new routes over the coming days.

P1050119Rory’s hole

Michael Barnard and partners for showing everyone quite how much Cuillin potential there is for the accomplished winter climber in the higher grades. He came up 3 weekends on the trot.

Skye HighMichael on Skye High V,7

Antoni for keeping the standards of single malt incredibly high despite less cultured alcoholic interference.

Jonny for his modest “I’m not a climber” achievements through the week including the In Pinn; every team should have a Jonny to break trail!

Lucy for services to the team including top-roping 5 folk on the icefalls in a blizzard then missing out herself and being first to balance up the In Pinn with only a nut key to clear cracks.

Pinn startLucy starting up the Pinn

James found Deep gash had little usable ice in it but his consolation route was the third ascent of Doug Scott’s The Smear!

And Romain, what can I say? For taking gaelic flare and passion for Skye & winter further than anyone thought possible, for winding me up to the great entertainment of everyone else and for surviving a diarrhoea filled car journey through drifts & blizzards.

RomainRomain

I loved all of my days out but there were a few particularly good highlights-

A team effort with good friends Beads, Antoni & David in the wild blizzards of Friday 30th to finally tackle the twin icefalls (they’ve teased for 20 years) high on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. We aimed for the pair but the weather dictated that teamwork was the best idea.

trenchTrench warfare approaching Twicicle

Twicicle was a superb grade IV with Beads & I sharing the gear & the craic on lead. Another highlight that day was the huge relief at the whole festival team reappearing back in the corrie cave out of the maelstrom; phew.

JonnyJonny, Cat & Jo sheltering from the maelstrom on Friday 30th

On the Sunday I got a complete beasting at the hands of James on Con’s Cleft (VII,7). He’d run out of daylight 2 days earlier and I was more than happy to come and help him get the project finished. It was a fantastic effort from him, poor style on my part but a long term ambition put to bed and great to climb with James again for the first time in over a decade.

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James on the crux of Cons Cleft

Next day Ally & I were the only ones left and were rewarded with the first properly settled day of the meet. Onceicle had grown to suitable thickness, gave 45m of great steep fun and moonlight lit our walkout.

OnceicleOnceicle, just below the steepening

Wednesday dawned stunningly and I took a gamble to return to a mixed venue that had defeated me twice previously; the day turned out to be the highpoint of my festival. Lying on the north side of the West Ridge of Garbh-bheinn is a 100m high cliff of gabbro unusually adorned with loads of vegetation. Conditions were just right with frozen turf and oodles of ice smears. Mo, Stuart and I grabbed the first good looking line leading to a tight chimney with a crucial chockstone.

starfishMo on the crux chimney of Chockolates

Mo’s pitch started by poking herself through a tiny squeeze before some great moves to top out. Full of character we decided Chockolates was a 2 star V,6. With some daylight left we shot down again and Mo led off up Yat for the Doh, II- a Hong Kong phrase meaning “one for the road”.

For more images and tales see the festival Facebook page. For those who were there please put links to your own accounts and look closely at your privacy settings so that as many folk as possible can see anything you have shared with the Skye Winter Festival page. Any photos gratefully received.

Let the good times rock….. new climb, Kilt & Girdle Traverse

14/07/14

A great few days of rock climbing recently with my good friend Lucy back again to add any keenness I may be lacking!

Thursday started with a sunny walk up into Coire Lagan with the students of Landmark College.

P1040067 (800x600) (2)Coire Lagan

After cooling the feet back in Loch Brittle we set back off up and one of the hottest walk-ins that I can ever remember. The target was a direct finish to Techno Snob– that Malcy & I climbed in 2012.

LlINED HEART BUTTRESS (800x600)Heart Buttress

All the effort was worthwhile as we were rewarded with an evening of climbing on glorious clean hot rock. The Oldest Raver on Skye finish was even good enough to be considerably easier (E1 5b) than the parent route with the crux being the stiff rockover move off the ground. A word of warning to aspirants is that the best gear on this move is very high, too high for me, so Lucy stood on my shoulders to place it!

P1040080 (800x600)Oldest Raver???

On Friday three Mikes and a Lucy headed to Kilt rock and a race to climb as much as possible before the rain arrived. Clandestine (VS) and Secret Service (HVS) were topped off with ascents of the uber classic Grey Panther. With a full ropelength of superb climbing on  a plumb vertical fault this is a strong contender for the best E1 in the UK.

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Saturday was as wet as predicted but Sunday was forecast as wall to wall sunshine. The 2 Mikes had been reading up on the Girdle Traverse of Sron na Ciche in the guidebook and Lucy and I agreed it would make a great team climb. 3 years ago we’d taken 5 hours in perfect conditions but JEB Wright, a guide back in the 1920’s recorded climbing it with parties of 4, 5 and 6 in all sorts of conditions and never in more than 6 hours.

P1040191 (800x600)Starting out in the mist

The clear tops sank back into the mist as we arrived and a cold wind nipped at the fingers as we geared up. 2nd time around and with a quality team we made good progress to the Serpentine Chimney. Lucy & I felt we had cheated last time by abseiling the downclimbs but our attempt to mirror them failed at the first hurdle with a long damp move at the foot of the climb.

P1040197 (800x600)Eastern Gully delicate pitch

Things warmed up after Eastern Gully as we sped past a continuous series of old classic routes; the Cioch, down to the Terrace and Doom Walls, another abseil, over the Hexagon Block and across Amphitheatre Arete. Gaining entry to Trap Face Route once again proved awkward and needed a few runners to keep us safe before following the trap right out to overlook Western Gully and some welcome sunshine and lunch.

P1040226 (600x800)In the Trap Dyke

We’d made it in under 4 hours this time and Mr JEB Wright now seems a little less superhuman. His first effort took only 2.5 hours though so we’ve a way to go to still!

P1040233 (800x576)My first ever Cuillin fawn

 

 

T-shirt weather for Cuillin cragging, 28th April

29/04/14

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.

P1020245 (600x800)What’s in that shadowy corner?

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.

P1020249 (600x800)Scrambling approach

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!

leadNearing the top

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

P1020283 (600x800)Sunlit South Crack

Francis popped up behind us with brothers Steve & Piers on their Traverse; hot work but all of them were “steadying away”.

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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-