February 17th to 25th 2019
An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.
It’s that time again for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. There is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had!!
2019- Its time for a return to the Glen!
5 days of stepping straight out of the door and into a Cuillin winter wonderland. This was how the festival started back in 2012! The Glen Brittle Memorial Hut is situated at the foot of the southern Cuillin with easy access to Coir’ a Ghreadaidh, Coir’ a’ Banachdaich, Coire Lagan and Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.
After 5 nights in the Glen the festival moves to the big smoke and 3 nights with our fine friends and the Waterfront bunkhouse at the Old Inn, Carbost.
Over the past 8 years The Skye Winter Festival that has seen high levels of activity including over 60 new winter routes. Over the years only 15 days out of 80 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.
The Skye Cuillin an Alpine-style range offering mountaineering and climbing of the highest calibre that attracts real mountaineers but there is also a huge attraction for those who just enjoy being in amongst mountain scenery of such grandeur.
The festival is open to anyone between these 2 extremes and our only rule is that nobody gets left out! Come alone or with a climbing partner.
Guests come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.
Over the past 8 years we’ve well and truly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2018 Skye was the place to be with Traverses happening for over 8 weeks and multiple new routes. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.
It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.
What’s to do?
Accommodation and Food
The meet will start in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.
Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn will be our hosts for the following weekend.
Beds cost £20 per night in both venues.
The Memorial Hut and Waterfront both have good kitchens for self-catering and pub meals are available next door in the Old Inn throughout the 2nd weekend.
The annual dinner is a big communal evening meal on Saturday 23rd at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine French fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us and let your hair down!
If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve beds. We’ll send you a booking form to complete with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking.
Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.
This is very much a climbing event and the traditional banter associated with it. Wonderful characters and craic are the norm and over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps.
The Annual Festival dinner is cooked communally.
Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL–#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebook page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.
Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.
Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.
Unsure? Don’t worry if you don’t know the Cuillin- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else.
A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.
Don’t be intimidated- if your ambitions are modest there will be somebody similar who knows any time on Skye is quality and happy to just rock back and enjoy!
Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts- there’s a part of the part of the booking form to help put you together with others offering/needing lifts
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