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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Kings Martin & Deidrie took me off for a great road tour around the north of Scotland last week and the weather treated us handsomely. The Old Men of Hoy & Stoer were major highlights supplemented by Vlad the Impaler on Stac Pollaidh and Sword of Gideon near Applecross. Fantastic trip thanks guys; superbly climbed and great company too.
Francis inspired Lou and me to join him and explore what the guidebook calls “terrain adventure, steep & exciting” on the upper cliff at Duncraig, just across the water near Plockton. The book took a bit of deciphering but we were rewarded with 3 pitches of really good climbing. Our “combo” had Francis warm us up rapidly on Brigadier Braggart’s Little Secret, E3 5c. The obvious line above was eventually identified as Easy Rider, HVS 5a. This gave Lou a great curving crack pitch and then a very adventurous finish for me with route finding and vegetation adding extra spice to the high quality climbing.
Francis eyeing up the crux
Set above Plockton bay with the Torridonian sandstone mountains behind the crag really is in a phenomenal position. Our adventure ended with yet more exploration as we took faith in the guidebook and abseiled back over the edge from the trees. The heavy rain had arrived but we really didn’t mind one bit.
Set above Plockton bay with the Torridonian sandstone mountains behind the crag really is in a phenomenal position.
Had a fun & exciting day out with Elaine & Kerrin in the sun on Tuesday. They’re making high quality travel apps which is a hightec Lonely Planet using videos for those struggling to suss what that means. See this link to Humanity TV for a fantastic trailer featuring Iceland. Scotland was high on their list to cover in the next issue and I was recommended to them by the Skye based artist Julie Brook
The guys were a pleasure to work with, filming didn’t interfere with the climbing, the weather was perfect, eagles came out to play and both Elaine & Kerrin had monstrous grins as they revelled in the excitement of climbing the Cioch. Good luck with the enterprise!
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-
Francis on the crux of Veritas Splendour; it certainly is!
Had a great work out on Tuesday following Francis through the overhangs on Veritas Splendour, E3 5c and then the even huger ones on Mother’s Pride, E4 5c.
The fine finishing arete of Veritas Splendour
For my lead I choose Ogmorian, one of the few routes here I hadn’t climbed before. Being pretty dirty I didn’t feel it really deserved the 1 star recommendation when there are so many other quality routes on the crag, but others may think differently.
Mother’s Pride, by contrast, is an uber-classic pitch that follows a crack splitting 2 massive overhangs. If you lower off the 25m route from the top you land 15m away from the foot of the climb!
It’s also really hard to grade with absolutely enormous holds all the way. Although generally considered low in the E4 grade the position is uttelry wild. Samurai Groove is another wildly overhanging route on big holds in North Wales and graded E3 5c. I’d climbed it probably only 3 years before my first time on Mother’s Pride and remember clocking the Elgol route as distinctly more outrageous. If you are feeling very strong and are good at placing your gear you should certainly give it a whirl!
Francis is very strong just now; not only did he pose for a pic at the top but he also climbed back down the final few metres for an in situ wire once I’d sweated my own way up pumped out of my mind.
Abi, Ivan, myself & Ally were treated to an incredible dolphin display as we finished our climbing last Saturday. For more than half an hour a huge pod of bottle-nose dolphins headed around the bay, right under the cliffs and around into the jetty at Elgol. Sharp boat operators were rapidly reopening & filling up with tourists to head out & look as we got back there.
Estimating numbers was hard, we had to leave before all of them had passed, but I’d guess at over 40 including mothers with calves all breaking the surface every 10 or 20 seconds. They appeared to be hugging the kelp beds feeding happily and our lofty position meant we could see them rolling around and playing even while they were underwater :-)))
This is the first time I’ve seen them close up to the cliffs in many years and a real privilege. I expect we’ll just have to cope with the normal otters, basking sharks and occasional minke whales for the rest of the season but you never know.
Ivan & Abi had only done a small amount of outdoor climbing before but progressed rapidly with a grand finale on Jamie Jampot.
The weather has been treating us all fantastically right through Easter and looks set to continue.
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-
Anyone unfamiliar with the Harvey SKYE THE CUILLIN map should treat themselves to a copy this xmas. The 1:25,000 scale map covers a huge area from Broadford, up to Sligachan, Carbost, Glen Brittle and right across to Elgol. But it is the 1:12,500 enlargement of the Main Ridge makes it the only map of any real use to climbers and walkers wanting to explore the Ridge.
It’s been an enjoyable task this week helping Peter Child at Harvey Maps with updates for the reprint in January. The project has been ongoing for quite a few years now; they reprint just about annually so map corrections can be easily added.
This year I suggested that some of the larger trails higher in the Cuillin could justify being added becuase they are comparatively easy to follow in good visibility. Pete was then able to double-check the ideas with aerial shots and produce an accurate end result that should aid a huge number of visitors.
Cliff numbering correlation with the SMC Guidebook
There are a total of 98 different crags from the book now all marked as close to the start of the climbing as possible. Previous editions of the map have, since 2004, had 55 crags marked; don’t worry these are all in the right place and match the map index. Fifty-five was the number of crags I thought the Cuillin had at the early stages of writing the guidebook. It was another 7 years before we went to print but the end result, particularly with these latest Harveys updates, means that climbers have a hugely increased chance of identifying and navigating to the cliffs they want to climb.
Signed copies of the Cuillin Guidebook can still be bought direct from us if you want another Christmas present!
2 variations are marked in the Cuillin section for the more adventurous including a traverse of Bla Bheinn down to Camasunary and a detour into Coruisk via the Bad Step.
The 2014 map will also be the first made of the new generation of tough polyethylene that is both more waterproof but also far more resistant to tearing. Great news for all, including our guides who carry their valuable copies every day through all sorts of weather.
Finally I’d recommend browsing the Harvey maps website for a fascinating insight into how modern, high quality mapping is being done. Enjoy:-)