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.
Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2016
Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 14th to January 27th 2016
An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.
It’s that time again. 2 weeks 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. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole period but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.
For the past 5 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 40 new winter climbs. Only 5 days out of 34 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.
Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb scene 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 5 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. 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.
Last year’s festival was a resounding success with over 60 people enjoying superb winter conditions that spanned the whole 16-day period. It was undeniably hardcore on the majority of days and some got luckier than others, but people were out every day climbing more than 50 routes including 20+ first ascents.
Approaching Twicicle on the very wild “Black Friday”, 2015 Festival
How does it work?
Nothing complex- Come for as many days as you want. There are beds for 24 people available throughout the fortnight; first come first served. Use the meet as a base for climbing with a regular partner or come and match up. Collectively we make sure that nobody is left partnerless, short of inspiration or too far out of their depth.
What’s to do?
If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. 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. We’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Accommodation and Food
The festival is based at the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn. 24 beds in 5 different rooms with bunkbeds and bedding provided. The accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door.
Catering 2016- different this year!!
Self-catering in the well-eqipped kitchen or eat from the pub’s superb menu. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend 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 for these meals and let your hair down!
Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.
The Old Inn will be open for business and private rooms will be available for those wanting a bit more privacy and peace. Please contact them directly- Old Inn
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 Old Inn is the climbers’ pub in Skye but also a busy local. It’s a lively spot with organised bands and impromptu jamming.
New for 2016- Skills symposium
Following a suggestion from guests last year some of our guides have committed a couple of days to specifically pass on their knowledge and skills. Limited places are available on a variety of full-day courses over the 2 festival weekends. Request more details when booking your place in the bunkhouse:-
- Introduction to winter walking skills; 6 places per course. Suitable for walkers with good fitness but little winter experience. £50pp
- Cuillin Winter Munros; 6 places per course. Suitable for fit winter climbers or walkers. £50pp
- Dry Tooling skills; 4 places per course. Low-level; £50pp
- Alpine rope skills for Cuillin ridges in winter; 4 places per course. Suitable for climbers or winter walkers of good fitness. £60pp
- Mixed climbing skills; 2 places per course. Suitable for those with some pitched winter climbing experience. £80pp
Every effort will be made to achieve the course objectives but the mountains are in charge! Full refunds will be given if it is not possible to run the courses. Please just ask if you would like private guiding at any other point in the course.
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 facebok 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?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Skye Guides normal private guiding will be available throughout. Don’t worry if you don’t want to book anything- 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.
Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.
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.
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-
It would appear that Skye stayed at least as cold on the tops as the rest of Scotland over the past weekend which I hadn’t anticipated myself. One guy made a fantastic effort on a full Traverse starting by Pinnacle Ridge on Friday, bivvying at Glaic Moire and finally being defeated by winds & blizzards at Mhicchoinnich. He reported near perfect snow conditions with little harder than grade III.
I can certainly confiorm this after 2 excellent days out with Andy & Nick Burton.
Winter and Cuillin virgins they coped very well in the howling gales on Banachdaich yesterday and definitely got the luck they deserved with a Traverse of Blaven Today. Out agin in the morning so I’ll just include a gallery below.-
Beautiful calm day today for some Cuillin exploration.
The kids all enjoyed the boulders while waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
I love the light at this time of year with the subtle hues of dawn pretty much blending in with the sunset.
Climbers will be interested in the conditions and potential fun just now; below is my report for UKClimbing. I’ve put a zoomed picture of the top of Sgurr Dearg and the In Pinn immediately below.
“The heavy snows have been stripped out right up to 700m but, above this, serious quantities are still plastering all rocks. With temperatures up to 7 degrees or so yesterday it is very likely to have thawed to the tops and is now solidifying nicely.
Worth an attempt on a Traverse if we can get a settled period of weather but I can’t spot that window myself.
Not much ice visible and all but the steepest mixed lines likely to be swamped. Not sure it is cold enough for the plastered snow to be much use.”
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:-)
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.
The Black Cuillin tops are harsh and serious just now so I opted to take Jacqui & Dave around the snow-free Red Cuillin horseshoe on Tuesday.
With dry and mostly frozen bog the approach walk was a pleasure.
The biting wind nipped at the left ear on the initial rise so we took some shelter in a wee recess as soon as we could. Reward for this move came in the form of a magnificent display by a golden eagle in the corrie below us. She eventually spotted us as she came level and soared away out towards Portree.
Fantastic; I’ve got a bit of a bee in the bonnet about white-tailed eagles taking over the Golden eagle territory so a victory all round as it meant Jacqui didn’t have to go on the disneyland Sea-eagle ride the next day:)
Fed & watered we zipped to the top of Beinn Dearg Mheonach with snowflakes growing in thickness and size.
Cloud clung to the Black Cuillin tops but the views were just as magnificent in that dramatic way that Skye does so well.
Conditions as we continued along the ridge deteriated to a “mild blizzard” which was pointed out to me as a blatent oxymoron. I agreed to full-blown blizzard as our bearing changed straight into the teeth of the weather right up and over Beinn Dearg Mhor and down to the Glamaig bealach where it was time for a sharp exit in the direction of Sligachan rather than the 1000ft rerise.
2 days of intense wind & rain finally eased off yesterday morning and it was time to go and see what conditions were like. Parking for the beautiful peak of Garbh bheinn is just a 2 minute drive from home at the head of Loch Ainort.
We opted against the north face because we reckoned that the snow would be very soft after so much warm weather. Retrospectively this seems not to have been the case as the old snow fields are so well consolidated that they are still a good consistency.
An hour of walking up the Druim Eadar da Choire took us to the hill marked with a spot height 489m on the Harvey’s map; there is a local name for this wonderful viewspot (a best on Skye contender for sure) but I’ll have to write it down next time I remember to ask the crofters. The Main Ridge was clear and showed the crest to be well plastered still along the entire length. Undoubtedly some exposed rock sections but very, very wintery still!
The dip at point 429m just below is the geological boundary between the Red and Black Cuillin and the cliff of black gabbro can clearly be seen sitting on top of the more rounded red granite hillside. For another hour we all indulged in as much scrambling on the hugely crystaline gabbro as we could find with a fine narrow crest as a finale.
The view of the ridge from Clach Glas to Blaven from here is uber classic; great background for the team pic!
We’d planned to descend north-east towards Belig but the hard/sugary snow interspersed with rock-hard turfs looked far too serious for such a relaxed day out with friends so we retraced our steps and were treated to some wonderful mist and light effects out to the west.
Recovering from the re-rise to pt 489 and taking it all in Mark’s jaw hit the flaw and he gestured horizontally out over our heads; we all dived for cameras as quietly as possible as a mature golden eagle circled around and slowly upward.
Seeming to change his mind he suddenly folded the wings and soared down past us and settled amongst the boulders not far from where we had just descended. Magnificent display thankyou!