The Skye Guides team has been flat out and, despite the worst summer in living memory, we’ve succeeded in getting the majority of ambitions achieved. Feedback from clients has been superb as people realise quite how skilled and knowledgeable our guides are. Equally the guides have been loving the challenges of choosing the right weather windows for Traverses, ingenious ropework to safeguard slippy terrain, keeping everyone focussed and finding the right way in near zero visibility. There is a feeling of immense satisfaction when it all comes together against the odds, some well earned beers, long hot baths and very solid sleep!
Many thanks to Andy Moles and Neville McBain for the superb images on this page from their successful Traverse on 18 & 19th August.
The gallery below has a mixture of the best shots from the period; click the pic to view more.
Weather always strongly affects what we suggest to do on any given day and there have been some challenging forecasts to interpret.
Damien & Sue booked a few days of winter walking around last weekend. Friday saw us take a 7 mile hike around the coast via Suisinish and Boreraig, villages abandoned in the Highland Clearances.
We pushed the boat out on ambitions and made an ascent of Sgurr na Banachdaich, the easiest Black Cuillin, in perfect weather on Saturday ahead of an enforced rest day Sunday.
We opted for 2 short (1.5hr) walks between showers and coffee shops on Monday, firstly out to the lighthouse at Neist Point
and then amongst the magical rock formations of the Quiraing.
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!
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On such a perfect windless day it seemed rude not to go and at least take a look for the humpback whale widely reported to be spending vacation time in the sound of Raasay- its got good taste because Her Majesty is also rumoured to love spending time here.
Calm seas boded well but the fantasy was flavoured with the usual mix of realism & pessimisim I get when it comes to spotting wildlife. Reports from watchers at Camastianavaig were encouraging though with minke whale apparently also adding entertainment. Leaving the village by the right exit (by the post box) was a good start but a bit of poor route choice at the first junction took us up out of sight of the shore.
A bit of bouldering entertained us between bog stomping up to the cliff top. Half an hour later and the Sound of Raasay opened up like a jewel in front of us. Only a handful of objects broke the mirrored surface and, while I zoomed in on what turned out to be a pod of kayaks, Ben spotted a whale instantly. Probably a good kilometre away but after surfacing a few times I managed to get the x16 zoom in focus and identify it as minke whale.
For the next hour a pod of 4 or 5 minke whales laid on a display that only started to wear thin as the warmth in the sun started to wain. As the tour boat reappeared out from Portree a larger ripple also appeared near to the minkes. Right on cue for all of us our humpback began to play.
The second act happened fairly close to the boat and, as it flicked the tail to finish we could hear cheering from the deck! A 10 minute lull in the action saw the boat heading for home and we gradually decided to follow their lead. It may have been a last glance but I think it was a distinctive blow that alerted us that our friend was back and this time heading straight towards us. Video of this is now on the Skye Guides facebook page.
After another brief lull and even a few steps towards home we got our own display less than 200m away below us with a fanfare flick to finish.
A great afternoon!
Monday looks like a good option for anyone keen, later in the week the wind is picking up but dry apart from Wednesday.
You may get views from other points along the sound but, for looking down and being able to appreciate the full size, I can’t recommend Beinn Tianavaig enough.
Many thanks to young Henry Jackson for some beautiful photographs of his day out with me back at the start of Easter. Everyone did extremely well and kept on smiling even when the stinging hail hit us on top. Nobody had a dip but Henry’s long exposure pics are a credit to the Fairy Pools and his skills!
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:-)
Just a quick bit of writing I’ve been meaning to do for ages. Advice on how to drive up here on the single track roads is sparse so here’s my go. No incident provoked it; just somebody asking if driving up here is different-
Single Track road advice
The biggest single driving issue in the Highlands is how to deal with the many sections of single track roads. Advice is not broadly publicised and misunderstandings can be the cause of “road rage Highland style”.
Passing places on single track roads are marked with white diamond signs and are generally frequent and well placed for a driver concentrating & anticipating well. When a car is coming in the opposite direction convention is to keep driving forward to the mutually central passing place then pull over to the left-hand side to allow the vehicle coming the other way to pass. Equally the other car may pull over for you first so you should carry on driving rather than also pulling over. It is not unusual to accidentally over-run the passing place and you should be happy and prepared to reverse back.
Passing places are also very important to allow following traffic to overtake. If a vehicle comes up behind you should pull over as soon as possible to allow this. Not doing so is a great source of frustration for local drivers in particular and they will not be slow to let you know by flashing their lights and honking their horn. Being followed in this situation is not pleasant, can be distracting and dangerous. Allowing passing immediately relieves this problem and allows you to carry on enjoying the journey and scenery.
UPDATE- Watch this very short video clip for a musical explanation- Passing Places
After work today Francis, Lou, Nathan & I all sneaked in some final climbs for May in the beautiful light at Elgol. I’ve never rated School-house Buttress much compared to the the main cliffs at Suidhe Biorach but have changed my mind now.
Lou & Francis were in action on Beekeepers Bother as Nathan and I arrived. Somehow I’d managed to avoid this, the best looking line on the crag. Their raving was enough to inspire me and their presence was enough to stop me wimping out when it got hard. A little hollow in places but superb climbing. Nathan followed in fine style and finished his week of work placement with his second E1 of the week.
I recommended an unlikely looking E2 behind the holiday cottage; bit of a sandbag it turns out as it is now given E3. Francis hung in well and enjoyed the surprisingly complex route finding for long enough for me to run around and take a fine selection of shots. Enjoy the gallery
Taking the Aquaxplore RIB into Coruisk gave a bracing but rapid approach to the jetty and a chance to envy the seals basking on the rocks.
The peak has 2 summits and on reaching the first summit a raven seemed reluctant to depart. Looking across at the 2nd summit 50m away a huge bird was sitting beside the cairn. With my 16X zoom I snapped a quick shot, studied it and concluded that it was just another raven. I was told I should have lied to keep the client happy but instead went one better. Our friend continued to sit there and eventually turned his head. This time the photo revealed a beautiful hooked beak and definite hints of gold.
Eventually our friend flew off, we scrambled up to his perch, sunny snacks then we had to leave. We spied the rest way below but caught them at the bothy in time for a delux picnic on the beach and the long but stunning walk back out to Elgol as the sun glinted magically.