Sgurr MhicCoinnich, Sgurr Thearlaich and the Great Stone Shoot
UPDATE More up to date photos have been added at the foot of the page from 23 April.
As the first May bank holiday approaches rapidly snow fields in the Cuillin aren’t melting very fast at all; in fact there is more snow forecast over the weekend ahead. The heavy winter has left the old snow very consolidated; nearly a week of warm wet westerlies only removed a small percentage of this with north facing snow slopes appearing almost untouched. Most of the photos here were taken last Friday 19th April. Sue, Jane and I enjoyed beautiful weather and an ascent of Sgurr na Banachdaich.
Crampons will be needed for almost all of the Cuillin Munros with the exception of Sgurr na Banachdaich, Bla bheinn and Sgurr nan Eag. The In Pinn may be possible without crampons if the south facing slab to the foot of the route washes down & gets some sun over the next few days. Approach by the West Ridge of Sgurr Dearg has small snow patches but is quite well stepped.
TRAVERSES & CLASSICS
Classic routes such as the Traverse, Pinnacle Ridge, Coire Lagan will be very serious undertakings. Linking any peaks still involves a choice of adhering rigidly to the crest or scarily traversing steep snow that is sitting on the normal ledge systems; both slow work compared to ideal summer conditions. Clach Glas is almost clear of snow but the ascent to Blaven is definitely still axe & crampon terrain. Descent from the Putting Green is possible but some caution still needed in the first few hundred feet. Kings Chimney will be way preferable to Collies Ledge for a while to come. More abseils will be required than normal so extra tat should be carried. Quite a few parties have been using snow bollards for anchors too.
We are choosing our objectives as carefully as possible to avoid long snowfield descents; going up snow slopes is a lot safer than going down! Particularly daunting are the Great Stone Shoot, Coire a’ Bhasteir, Coire na Banachdaich and An Dorus. See the close-up shot of Great Stone Shoot above. Be prepared to turn in and front point down for some quite long distances with ice axe likely to be in “dagger” position.
South facing crags were incredibly dry and snow free until the latest rain arrived. They are likely to dry rapidly again luckily, just be careful on descents. The Cioch is clear but Eastern Gully has still got some big snow patches in and may affect choice of descent. There’s always the suntraps at the coast if the hills are too cold; guidebooks for Cuillin or Seacliffs can be ordered through this website if you need them.
UPDATE PICS 23 APRIL
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!
Back on Blaven today but time for some ice at last; it’s been close for weeks but not quite got there. Guy Steven was guiding Julian & George on the very high quality South Buttress Gully (II) and we were passed by Harvey the scottie dog and his owners while we kitted up. He proceeded to make what must be the first winter ascent of Great Gully by a dawg:)
Escape from Colditz (III) wasn’t as thick with ice as I would have chosen but I knew that the key lower section doesn’t need much to make it climbable. Backing and footing for 10m leads to a massive chockstone and then escape onto the wonderful ice ramps above.
I belayed below the steepest section of ice so that I could keep in touch with Simon as he fought his way up the tunnel.
The climbing in the top pitch was superb with an added bonus of topping out into the sun.
Here are a few more shots-
Far more worrying was the descent; I’ve never been off the pistes (as many of you will testify to; ha ha ) and deep snow with a thin crust looked like a good way to screw my knees. I was fully prepared to carry the skis down & wade through the deep snow but, despite wiping out a few times, had to agree that skiing down was quicker & easier.
Back on the pistes things suddenly seemed very easy and there was plenty of professional advice knocking around to help me feel almost competent by the bottom. 5000ft of skiing, nothing broken but definitely tired!
Winter continues with avengence here; after working with us this summer Scott Kirkhope enthusiastically travelled up from Fort Bill for his first taste of the Cuillin in winter on Wednesday. We were joined by my long term winter partner Icky and shared the BMC hut with Annie, Tom & Gemma.
Yellow moonlight tinted the snow as we set off up Coire an Eich but the joy was rudely interupted by a fierce blizzard that lasted well over an hour.It finally passed through just as we reached the summit of Sgurr na Banachdaich.
I had had ambitions on a new climb in Coruisk but so much fresh snow was going to make things very hard & remove any pleasure. It was a day to enjoy the amazing light & views so we headed off southward with the sun warming us nicely.
Flanks were covered in powder snow on top of an icy crust; luckily our boots broke through this crust and kept us feeling safe without crampons or ropes.The crest was the best choice with no drifts and a good cushion filling in the gaps and we made good speed to bealach na Banachdaich. The others appeared on the West Ridge of Dearg ahead of us so it was an easy choice to head up and meet up.
The mornings blizzard had produced a carpet of soft snow to cushion the footpath right back to the hut in the evening light and the compulsory glorious vista out across the Minch to Rum & Canna.
Cloud & rain hugged the coasts today so we headed just over the bridge to Glen Shiel; it may even be quicker than the drive to Glen Brittle for me. The difference in weather was amazing with heavy frost beautiful blue skies and very VERY snowy tops!
The snow did make for hard work but meant we were best to stick to the narrow crest.
We flushed up a couple of Golden eagles just as we started and I was made up to find their enormous talon prints part way up Sgurr na Forcan.