Blog > Winter Climbs

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

15/02/20

2020 has not been a good year for winter climbing conditions, particularly here on Skye. December was tropical and January’s storms rolled wildly from hot to cold and back again, right on through into February without taking a breath. At last, word on the frustrated ice-warrior grapevine was that Thursday might, just might, be windless, cold and still snowy. Surely there must be some amazing ice left after so much precipitation, wind and fluctuating temperatures…..

Lucy is quite possibly the keenest Cuillin climber in the world, even though she lives in Fife. Last minute plans need this level of commitment and my part of the bargain was to head out and check conditions on the ground. By Wednesday lunchtime Storm Ciara was in her death-throws.

There was heaps of snow visible but steep rocks looked brown and dry, right to the tops. Beautiful though it was, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about finding us a big new route.

My mood swung enormously with pictures from Andy and Callum who were immediately above my head on the 5th Pinnacle. Acres of beautiful solid snow ice plastered everywhere; ye ha!

Lucy was on her way and my head was exploding with a mix of optimism and terror. The terror at this stage was more about making the right shout and finding a good option; physical fear could wait until we find a line. At the same time I was like a kid in a candy shop with so many amazing existing climbs that we could go for if my lines turned out to be blank; but that’s not the new-routing “game”.

Top of my list was a route first climbed in 1911. I went for a look back in December with Steve Worth but the blanket of wet snow wasn’t even remotely frozen.

Lucy and I arrived at Sligachan at first light and our line was “sort of” visible on a zoomed in photo-

The approach walk was glorious with crunching footfall and golden light.

 

Our line stayed out of view until the very last minute and there it was; thin but a continuous line of white ran up a shallow groove. 

Excitedly we kitted up with the pressure of a big route and many hours of work if we were going to succeed; and then disaster. I’d left my crampons behind. Chucking everything on the snow in a fit of frustration a set of micro-spikes miraculously appeared but they weren’t going to be much good with no front-points. Lucy didn’t skip a beat as she whipped off the crampons and pointed me at the sharp end; she wasn’t going to let a wee problem like this stop our fun!I didn’t share her optimism and set up a belay immediately above the initial ice so I could pass down the crampons but she insisted on giving the micro-spikes a go first. I kept the rope tight but smooth and steadily Lucy joined me with the usual big grin and the route ahead opening up.

The ice was definitely not going to be taking screws and the sheathed rock bands looked very compact. I played out some major head games before committing to this pitch but the ease with which Lucy climbed had removed my main excuse to run away. I finally got into the zone and was rewarded with a juicy big cam placement from beneath the continuous white canvas 5 metres higher.

The climbing was superb; never too technical or sustained but a thoroughly absorbing mental game of delicate footwork and imaginative axe-work, wonderfully interspersed with regular dollops of bomber ice. Lucy cruised steadily upward and I was able to admire some super-imaginative foot, knee and Dachstein work as she got closer-

The amphitheatre above didn’t have an obvious line but logic said follow the fattest ice for the easiest way. A footless pull-up to knee-jam was probably the technical crux and the angle began to fall back as the rope ran out. A final pitch where the ice was finally fat enough for a screw and then the end was in sight.

 

We fed, watered and drank in the views before a bum-slide and comparatively short walk out then home for tea, biscuits and whisky 🙂

 

High Crag Sgurr nan Gillean. Christmas Comes but Once a Year, IV,4 165m *** ML and Lucy Spark, 13/02/20

Skye Winter Festival 2020

28/10/19

January 24th to 2nd February 2020; 10 days for our 10th Anniversary!!

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an active 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!!

2020- A full week in the Glen then to up to Skye Basecamp for the weekend and annual dinner.

7 days of stepping straight out of the door and into a Cuillin winter wonderland. This was how the festival started back in 2011! 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 7 nights in the Glen the festival moves to the big smoke and 2 nights in the luxury of Skye Basecamp.

Background information.

Over the past 9 years  The Skye Winter Festival that has seen high levels of activity including over 60 new winter routes. The Cuillin offer massive challenges no matter how much or how little snow the gods decide to give us so there will be action every day.

The Skye Cuillin is 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.

The Climbing

Over the past 9 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.

White Wedding IV,4

 

 

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?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas. On the ground there are plenty of folk with good knowledge including the guy that wrote the guidebook…

Accommodation and Food

The meet will start in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.

Skye Basecamp will be our hosts for the following weekend. 

Beds cost £20 per night in both venues.

The Memorial Hut and Basecamp both have good kitchens for self-catering.

The annual dinner is a big communal evening meal on Saturday 1st February 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!

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk 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.

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.

Evenings

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.

 

 Social media

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.

FAQ

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

 

Winter Traverse conditions back again! 23 January 2019

24/01/19

Heads up to all Traverse aspirants that the Cuillin Ridge is in full winter condition and that progress is comparatively fast.

Blips of freeze thaw have left great cover and good consolidation. This improved by the day since the first snows arrived just last Thursday (17th) and walking out yesterday was a delight.

We approached by An Dorus and were glad of a trail but consistency was amiable and really we could have punched our own trail with just a bit more effort. The crest is glazed as well as snow cover so no squealing crampons. Summer bypass lines are holding more depth so harder work in ascent but quite forgiving in descent so choosing the best line is a good challenge. 

Forecast is currently for a fair amount more snow to fall on Saturday, a bit better for Sunday onwards with more possible until Wednesday evening when winds are due to turn to the drier northerlies.

Climbing conditions are already good with plenty of ice forming and not needing that much more. Avoiding routes that are just blanketed will be the hard part but plenty of rewards to be had. The shot below is of White Wedding looking too thin for screws just yet.

Skye Winter Festival 2019

19/11/18

 

 

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.

Background information.

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.

 

 

The Climbing

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?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

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!

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk 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.

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.

Evenings

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.

 

 Social media

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.

FAQ

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

 

Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2017

12/01/17

This year’s festival has started in great style.

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Leaving Skye Basecamp this morning; snow arrived right on cue and right to sea-level.

Sgurr a Bhasteir was quite black looking as we approached but there was some ice in the foot of Mike The Bhasteird.P1030204

 

It soon became too thin so I took to the blunt rib on the left, and just in time! The heavens opened and I watched a waterfall of snow pummel down the groove on my right. Some really good moves (with enough gear to be fun) led to the ledge at 40m and Pok followed with style.

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Pok led on and coped well with the terrain and fierce stinging hail and gusting wind to find a semi-hanging stance below a final steep wall.

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By the time we got down our sacks had nearly been buried P1030221

 

The joys continued on the walk-out with amazing light and the mists rolled away.

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And Sgurr a’ Bhasteir had transformed into Snow White. Our line is marked in red and is called Formali Known As. 90m IV,4

Skye Winter Courses- places available

12/12/16

 

2017 Winter courses based at Skye Basecamp are filling well but we’ve still got space available.

 

 

  • Single place available for climber on a Ridges and Routes course.

  • 28 January to 2 February

An advanced course suitable for guests with previous winter mountaineering experience and some knowledge of rope-work.

For those with ambitions to climb graded winter routes.

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The itinerary will be adjusted to suit experience with examples on these web pages- winter-climbing and winter climbing skills

  • 1:2 Ratio.
  • 4 days guiding
  • Up to 6 nights accommodation at Skye Basecamp
  • Just £645pp

Dates don’t quite match or you have less time available? Contact us by email or call Mike on 07769221500


  • 21-24 February.

A brilliant way to start exploring the Cuillin in winter. Suitable for guests used to full days of summer hill walking. There are some sample routes and itineraries here.

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  • Learn to safely tackle Cuillin peaks and ridges
  • Introduction to ice axe, crampons and many other winter skills
  • 1:4 Max Ratio
  • 3-days of guiding
  • 4 nights accommodation at Skye Basecamp
  • Only £395pp

Dates don’t quite match or you have less time available? Contact us by email or call Mike on 07769221500

Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2017. New format- #skyewinterfest on tour!!

28/11/16

 

Week 1- Skye Basecamp Climbers’ Hostel, Broadford. January 12th to 15th

Week 2- Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 16th to 23rd 2017

Bonus facility- Access and beds in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut throughout.

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 fortnight but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.

Angus, Ally, James, Spence & Brutus from the Old Inn

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk. 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.

Background information.

For the past 6 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 50 new winter routes. Over the years only 12 days out of 50 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 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.

The Climbing

Over the past 6 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2016 Skye was THE place to be with Traverses happening for over 4 weeks and legendary ice routes seeing their first repeats in 30 years! There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

Takin it all in

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 had a superb first week with plenty of action. Week 2 turned tropical but those who hung around still got out for some quality adventures.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Accommodation and Food

On Tour!

This year we are splitting the festival between the new climbers hostel, Skye Basecamp in week 1 and then moving to the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn for week 2. Beds and and facilities will also be available in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.

Beds cost £15 per night in any of the 3 venues.

Catering 2017-

kitchen3Self-catering in the well-equipped kitchen or eat in a variety of pubs in Broadford or next door in the Old Inn during week 2. 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!

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.

Evenings

This is very much a climbing event not a film festival but, 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 probably the best pub in Carbost

 Social media

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.

FAQ

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. Don’t worry if you don’t know th 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.

Guiding– Although officially this is a playtime for the guides  private guiding will be available on request.

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.

Silver Fox V,5. First new route of the season is a cracker.

21/11/16

 

An extra bit of motivation is always handy in winter so a new climbing partner, and Cuillin winter virgin at that, was very welcome.

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Bla Bheinn on Thursday had shown that the snow was very powdery. As we headed into Coire Lagan I was looking for something to climb that would still have some of that rain from earlier in the week holding the snow together.

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Old favourites on Thearlaich BC Buttress were tempting but the long slog up a powdery Stone Shoot was anything but.

I’ve had a long curving fault line from the corrie floor to the crest of Sgurr Mhiccoinnich on my radar for many years. It has a steep and intimidating finish that had put me off so far but my new partner has climbed with some auspicious partners and I didn’t want to disappoint.

20161119_102541

Taking in the views from the easy lower slopes.

We soloed up some pretty rough and rocky ground for the first 60m until a short corner suggested a rope may be wise. Things got surprisingly steep soon afterwards so the 2nd rope and full concentration were the order of the day. This flip into action sadly means there aren’t many photos but here is Sophie topping out at the end of what turned out to be the crux pitch.

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Another long and absorbing pitch followed with just the right combination of protection, hard won hidden hooks, turf, gymnastic manouvres and even some quality snow and ice.

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Entering the bowl below the intimidating exit grooves things were getting distinctly gloomy as the light faded and wet snow drove into the face. Studying the possibilities as I took in the rope I reckoned a crack in the rock face above looked like my best hope of reaching the top and still making the evening dinner dance appointment. If it proved too hard or slow it would just have to be defeat and a multiple abseil descent.

Silver fox_LI (2)

Fortunately the rock was wonderfully solid gabbro and everything came together even better than I could have hoped. High fiving on the crest was followed by a rapid pack and scary traverse along the deeply powdered summer line. Bum sliding the An Stac screes was a brief respite but I managed to lose us on the exit from the corrie as snow drove into the face (poor excuse!).

We bid farewell, I made the main meal thank goodness and its only been through today that I’ve fully appreciated quite what a quality climb we had done.

Sgurr Mhiccoinnich- South Face

Silver Fox, V,5 235m **

Mike Lates & Sophie Grace. 19 Nov 2016.

 

Post Script-

Sophie’s own account gives a more eloquent description and more technical details for the climber. Personally I found the route “thought-provoking” the whole time!

Mike Lates and I went up Coire Lagain to have a look at an unclimbed basalt dyke line on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich.
It’s four or five pitches of superb climbing. The basalt is not always very helpful, and there was a whole lot of powder but there wasn’t a whole lot of ice. You repeatedly find yourself with your back or your right shoulder wedged into a bottomless left-facing corner, often undercut and overhanging, with plenty of right-hand hooks and placements in the depths of the corner (but careful–it’s loose in there), and bugger-all out on the sleek basalt powder-covered slabs to your left, which are only too solid. Footwork needs to be good, and tends to involve a single teetering crampon-point striking sparks out of some tiny rounded nubbin. As Mike said, it’s all about opposing forces. Bridging is your friend here. Foot-jams, knee-jams, elbow-jams, thigh-jams, pack-jams and full-body-jams were also deployed. So quite thought-provoking at times, and generally speaking much harder than it looks– till the much more user-friendly gabbro kicks in on the final pitch, which is the steepest and most fearsome-looking bit of the whole route, and nowhere near the hardest bit.

Belays marked with crosses

Pitch lengths were- Solo- 60m, P1-50m, P2-40m, P3-50m, P4-35m

The conditions were excellent. Not everything was frozen at the bottom, but it most certainly was at the top. There was heaps of snow already when we left the car park at dawn (8am), and plenty more had fallen by the time we got back there (7pm–so a short day in the Cuillin). While we were climbing we had two clear spells and two snow-showers.The second clear spell had actual sunshine–great for me as belayer, less good for Mike as leader. Standing on belay in the sunshine at 2500ft in knee-deep snow, looking out over Coire Lagain to Loch Brittle, over Canna and Rum and Muck, to Pabbay and Mingulay and the infinite ocean beyond: this is not something I will forget in a hurry.
Mike’s seen these conditions hundreds of times before, of course, but this is my first winter day ever in Skye. We were talking animals–he told me how when he did the Cuillin traverse in winter he was following a fox’s footprints all the way from Gars-Bheinn to Gillean. (Bruach na Frithe to Gars bheinn ML)
So it turned out the route was actually a completely brilliant day’s climbing. Not optimal conditions, sure, but way above the minimum acceptable. Mike led it like a boss, and I got up it with the odd wobble and squeak, but without actually falling off anything. And then on the walk-out we had a nice little botanical ramble in the dark. As you do 🙂
After all the pessimistic and sceptical meteorological banter on Facebook the other day about slush-covered rubble and unfrozen turf, and how there was nae chance of a decent climb anywhere this Saturday, let alone in a south-facing corrie in Skye, there was only ever one possible name for the route. After plenty brainstorming from us both during the day–slightly held back for most of it by the fact that until well after sunset we didn’t know for sure we were going to finish it–Mike finally nailed the name at the top of the walk-off… It is of course The Silver Fox**, 235m, V, 5.

 

 

One more wafer thin ice climb sir? 10th March

12/03/16

 

Winter climbing conditions this past month have been truly stunning on Skye, undoubtedly the best I’ve known in 23 winters. The elusive Winter Ridge Traverse has been in condition and completed for 4 weekends on the trot with debates over records making headlines in the climbing news. Mythical ice routes have been climbed for the first time since Mick Fowler’s ascents 30 years ago (1986 was a legendary winter climbing season across the UK), many quality new routes have been added and modern mixed test-pieces such as Hung Drawn and Quartered have been repeated.

P1040644

Most significantly though, dozens and dozens of folk have visited for the first time and discovered just how glorious the Cuillin are under a blanket of white. Sure the hardcore have grabbed the headlines but it’s those with more modest ambitions that have discovered that there is something here for everyone. It has been a pleasure meeting and hearing from so many folk who have finally “seen the light”.

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On Wednesday evening I met Adam & Sofia at Sligachan, climbers looking for their first Scottish winter experience. Working in Patagonia and Alaska normally they had opted against the crowds on  Ben Nevis, Adam’s grandad had always told him Skye was a climber’s Mecca. I agreed and pointed them towards the ice-clad amphitheatre on Mhadaidh for a look. A helpful assistant in Ellis Brighams had disuaded them from buying extra screws for the Cuillin but luckily I had a few spare in the back of car I wasn’t planning to use til Friday.

When I got home and saw Friday was forecast to see a major thaw all sensible ideas an office day on Thursday went out of the window and I asked my new friends if I could come & play with them; not only might this be the end of the Cuillin ice this season, I may not see it like this again for the next 30  years!

A stunning dawn greeted us, windless and crisp only base layers were needed for the short approach.

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We were spoilt for choice, big new lines were tempting, a rematch with Icicle Factory too but we opted to try Spirulina, a new grade V put up by Uisdean and Lea last week.

DCIM999GOPROBoys look in awe as Sofia sets the go-pro

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Adam led the first pitch very well, especially as he admitted it was his first ice for a couple of years. Sofia & I both got a good pump just following him up, typically, the deceptively steep ice.

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It had started to get noisy all around us as temperatures rose and snow sleuffed off from high above but the mixed moves above looked easy enough and would lead us to the mega looking higher pitches of Spectacula, irresistable!

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Irresistable that was until I got hit by the first big sleuff. Our planned descent was back down the route and into the amphitheatre; not a good place to be. I faffed back & forth with the up/down dilemma but reasoned that there was bound to be a good anchor above to abseil off after just “one more slice of icy indulgence”. Perfect climbing but not at all enjoyable as the volume of snow and noise increased and I wished I’d just backed off easily.

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Crap rock meant I had to dive into the channel for good ice anchors. Should I bring the others into this spot too or just make the decision myself? Logic is a hard thing to retain under these circumstances but I knew now there were no big ice pillars above us to fall off so it was unlikely that anything more than wet snow would come down. Belaying them up was still a tense affair but the shared easy decision to abseil back off and their happy banter allowed me to mentally relax just a wee bit.

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We ducked (and prayed a wee bit) whenever stuff came down while Adam expertly built Abalakov anchors and Sofia and I sorted the ropes.

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We knew it would be close but there was great relief as Adam whooped and had obviously reached the bottom in one go, rather than needing to re-anchor for another abseil.

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At the base there was urgency as everything was rammed into sacks and we ran away from the hail of somewhat harder bullets. Only after exiting the Amphitheatre did we finally relax and start the process of really enjoying what a great experience Spirulina had been.

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Mega conditions continue. 3rd March update.

03/03/16

Ice above 700m has survived well by the look of things today so last weeks classics should all be in this weekend.
Some fresh snow but nothing like quantities I’m hearing about elsewhere. Effect on the Traverse is probably harder work for the first party again but still full nick & highly achievable by a fit team; what is the running total for this season so far???

For those who didn’t gather last week and weekend saw the best all round Cuillin conditions I’ve ever known. Plenty of Traverses over the weekend 20/21.
Beads and I got finally (tried 3 times beforehand) got the 2nd ascent of White Wedding on Tues 23rd with superb ice. By Saturday this was soloed by Andrew Barker on the 4th ascents.
Andrew climbed West Buttress of Bidean @ II/III earlier in the week. Andy Nisbet & Ssandy Allan climbed a line on the Coruisk side of the Pinn on Friday and another called SkyeFall at IV,5 on Sunday 28th.
Uisdean & Adam Russel climbed NE Gully on Mhiccoinnich with Guy Robertson who got the meaty pitch at V,6 and they all climbed another obvious line beside Practice crag at IV that afternoon.
I took to the air from the top of the icicles on Icicle Factory on Thursday after 3 superb approach pitches.; annoyed but now happy to be unscathed. Skye boys James Sutton, Ben Wear & John Smith finally got the 2nd ascent narrowly beating Uisdean, Adam & Douglas Russell. More than a consolation was the parallel line of Spectacula VI,6. The teams then swapped routes and James even tried to complete the trilogy with the Smear but found it brittle & wet. Thanks for retrieving my gear guys.- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=272086
Scott Webster & Yanis indulged in a sunny Traverse over the weekend while Anna Wells was back for another single day effort. Having to break trail they stopped short of the end but loved the experience anyway. Other teams also enjoyed but failed to complete with route-finding, exposure and general speed cited- great route but don’t underestimate how hard it is!
Escape from Colditz III is recorded as climbed and I’m sure there was plenty more I’ve missed.
Oh yep; Team Neil Adam & Silver climbed HDQ on Am Bastier on Sunday in ace conditions; it appears to be panning out at VIII,9 and uber classic.
Sounds crowded? An average of 1 team per corrie so not really Come & get it while you can cos looking warm from next Wednesday.

Photo credits to Lucy Spark, Scott Webster, Yaris Volmer.

 

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Skye Winter Festival 2016. 14-27th January

22/02/16

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.

Nathanmike

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.

Crack Dawn nightLate finish on Crack of Dawn

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.

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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.

IMG_0824Pat Ingram stepping into the main line on Park Lane

 

Beads & Dave Bowdler got a beaut of a route following North Rib of Banachdaich Gully at grade IV,5 with steep well protected climbing.

North Rib Beads approaching the crux of North Rib, IV,5

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.

P1110510Fierce weather on Owl Chimney IV,5 *

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.

P1110536The elusive Owl Pinnacle

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.

P1030102Michael high on Tres Difficile, V,6 TD Gap.

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.

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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.

Mr Charlie

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.

actionJulian on Fox’s Rake

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.

IMG_0860Michael’s quality route The Sheriff’s Ransom V,6 on Sgurr Alasdair

 

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.

IMG_0882Climbers for scale below the firigtening Inacceessible Pinnacle

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-

IMG_0932 IMG_0931Ardtrek point with Annmarie

P1110590 P1110617Core Lagan in full thaw!

P1110649Dry tooling at Fiskavaig

 

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!

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Click on the images below, once for the thumb-nail and again to view full size.

 

Nice ice surprise

01/12/15

A warm week followed by another cold weekend but Monday’s forecast was better so we waited ’til today for our adventures. With low snow once more I was sure we’d get last week’s low lying ambition done but, yet again, conditions just weren’t playing ball. Even the high cliffs on Bla Bheinn looked dry and powdery so Beads and I agreed on a wander across to a buttress on the South Ridge that neither of us had visited before. Deep powder gave us a good work out but we were rewarded with a huge sweep of hillside dripping in good ice.

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Too good to miss we soloed a bit then took the precaution of a rope for another 3 pitches or so, delightful movement in bright sunshine and a pretty good backdrop….

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All this indulgence took us high on the South Ridge where the we met the weather; not a sign of Glen Sligachan, let alone the Main Ridge. It was time to run away but not until we got a good look at the buttress we’d originally been aiming for. Plunging down the nearest gully the powder was now our friend as we dropped a long way down, me mainly on my butt. Now there had been no intention of doing another climb but when a recessed gully suddenly appeared complete with a long ribbon of ice it was time to kick ass and accept a headlit descent.

IMG_0253The beautiful Gully

Beads volunteered for the first pitch, very gallant given the thin, hollow ice and obvious lack of protection. He climbed it well, a relief to us both but particurly him with a bank of deep powder as the only consolation available. My pitch proved very similar in style but yielded a wire placement close to half height. Very hard to grade but, in the conditions we had today, probably IV,4. In perfect conditions it could be as low as grade II but any less frozen and it wouldn’t be possible.

IMG_0256Looking down pitch 2

It was then a long, very hard flog through the powder to the top of the gully

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but rewarded with a view to the Main Ridge

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Light was fading and the full sacks weighed heavily but the last light out over Rum gave one final special view

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The Breadline, V,5.

23/11/15

The first winter climbing day of the season is always daunting; so much extra kit to remember, fit, fix and, worst of all, carry. Yesterday though, I had a cunning plan; walking up Blaven on Saturday I’d spotted a couple of ideal new lines all icy and snow covered nice and low on the hill. Now I do remember clocking how warm it was on the walk back from the Broadford football dance too late on Saturday night but Sunday dawned stunningly and the car was coated in frost. Beads and Murdo were right on time and I felt smug remembering to pack the hot flask despite my thick head. Torrin was stunning with the eastern Cuillin as a backdrop but most obvious was that the snow-line had jumped half-way up the mountain or more; on the back of 3 fast days on the tops my body ached just at the thought of having to go right up again.

At the carpark Murdo let out an expletive as he located his boots as being back in Portree and my relief came in the most comical/painful/more comical manner. Smug we were not as Beads and I know it will be our turn to screw up soon enough but we did enjoy an extra cuppa with the time we knew Murdo needed to make the next rendezvous at Sligachan. So the crack team was finally in action before 10-30am.IMG_0197

Beads tried to tempt us to the flesh pots of his own personal face on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir but it was black as the ace of spades and obvious we needed to go high; either the Bhasteir face of Gillean or Am Basteir itself. Way back in 2009 I’d spotted an open-book corner directly above where The Deadline(III) turns hard right. Another attraction was that it seemed likely to be short enough that we might top out before dark 🙂

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My pitch gave a sharp wake-up call for the new season with a wide range of tactics and plenty of fight needed to make upward progress. A couple of good ice placements early on were but a tease and above here I used everything from full body wedging to tiny finger edges. The protection was all a bit testing to construct and somewhat reliant on the rock holding together but luckily wasn’t put to the test.

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A pull over the capping stone to finish saw both Murdo and I flop like seals onto the snow-covered scree bed but Mr Beads managed the whole pitch in some style.

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The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.

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Shining out from below our cloud cover was a dazzling aray of autumn colours out over the mainland to the south; here looking across to Loch Nevis with Mallaig to the right and Knoydart to the left-

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The route was short (70m) but gave sustained and quality climbing. Wordmeister Beads had christened it The Breadline tied into the parent route The Deadline long before we had completed. Grading a route with so much thrutching is always hard but I’m going to settle on V,5 for now and see what future ascentionists think. It’s a good line that will be in nick frequently so shouldn’t be long….

Heavy sacks gave squealing quads on the initial steep downhill but I found myself back in a serene mindset once more as the moon lit the moorland path back to the car; a hair of the dog, a bath and a long lie-in…….

Return of the Skye Winter Climbing Festival.

11/11/15

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.

Background information.

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.

fonduefest 2Romain’s Fondue-fest 2013

 

The Climbing

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.

 Foxes RakeAlly on Foxes Rake III

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 unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk 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!

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.

B&B

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

Evenings

fonduefest

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.

The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost

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.

 Social media

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.

FAQ

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.

Sugar & Spice & all things nice. March 2015

31/03/15

March has been a hectic period as admin for the summer starts to dominate; very hard after such a fun winter. The wild conditions have continued pretty much identically to the past 3 months with plenty of good climbing conditions formed by bonkers winds, loads of snow, the odd thaw and repeat….. There’s snow settling at sea-level tonight and that’s not an April fool. Still basking in the glory of the In Pinn spoof in 2013; had folk who believed it well over a year later-

In fact I’ve bottled out of trying to catch you out this year so relax & enjoy a few pics from the past month or so.

Storr, 1st March. Driving there was scary enough! These guys had the harshest 3 days of the winter but still got out each day.

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Sheltering under the Old Man of Storr

P1050672Sunshine; yey!

Neist. Friday 13th, not unlucky at all. First day of hot rock with Iain and Ally

Green Lady DirectIain on Green Lady

 

Spring tide funSpring Tide excitement

 

Man of StrawMan of Straw, VS 4c

Bruton party, 14th. A great day with miles of perfect snow to practice crampon & axe work.

P1050892Broad Gully, grade I, seen on descent

 

P1060647Tooth taken by Lucy that day

 

P1050869Perfect snow all day; here heading to Bruach na Frithe

 

 

Bla Bheinn with Lucy, Sunday 15th. Another immaculate day

Glory day

Alpine conditions on approach.

 

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Not a cloud to ruin the view.

 

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Can’t beat that view out to Rum

 

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Serious graft for the Skye MRT taking the radio relay down for fixing, all 200kg of it!

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Lucy on the crux of South Buttress Gully, III.

 

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South Buttress Gully- A mix of sugary snow, plenty of spice & god it was nice!

 

Eilidh & Matt. A magical day with the mists burning off and rock drying front of our eyes on Sgurr an Fheadian, 21st

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The Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain

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Smiles of delight?

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Nah, pure relief eh Eilidh!

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Action Man

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And that’s why she’s allowed to be happy!

IMG_0610Magical mists

Orion Face Direct, Wednesday 25th. Winter looked to be washed out very soon so Icky & I made a dash for the last route of the season. Spoilt for choice we chose Orion which I’d been on but never done in it entirity. Definitely didn’t disappoint and the legs really knew about it. Luckily the descent on a cushion of powder right to the door of the hut was as good as it gets; “If Carling made descents”.

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Icky heading towards the exit chimneys that gave a superb steep finish to the 8 pitch day.

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Position

 

 

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Mega Ice

 

P1000427Dodgy belay on the exit slopes.

31st March. Video work on Human Geography with Phillip from Canada was quite some challenge in the mega-gusts we had but the stinging showers mostly left us alone until the very end of the day. I’m not sure quite how it works but the project is based on Munro Bagging and he’s off to interview Chris Townsend next. Looking forward to seeing the results.

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The Eastern Black Cuillin looking wintery. We went to the right hand of the 2 obvious cols

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Clac Glas from the shelter of a welcome overhang.

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Definitely winter.

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Main Cuillin Ridge laid out in front of us

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Clac Glas, the Matterhorn of Skye and a fiercesome barrier to reaching Bla Bheinn

Val di Lagan winter sports resort

09/03/15

With temperatures forecast to soar into double figures the following day it seemed that everyone wanted to get out on Wednesday. We were worried winter would come to an abrupt end but it hasn’t; we’ve more fresh snow down to 500m today, Sunday, with plenty of old snow on easterly aspects in particular.

Plastered

Laden with snowboards, skis and climbing kit our team made “steady” progress but nobody minded with the warm spring sunshine on the face.Spluttering start

Snow conditions were a wee bit “lively” but we eventually made it to the cave half-way up the Great Stone Shoot. It was a lovely day for a walk but we were a bit shocked to have a couple of French tourists in jeans & trainers join us! We assured them it wasn’t the voie normal so they gaily scooted off down again without a care in the world.Stone Shoot stomp

Angus opted for an extended rest so we had to miss his boarding but you can look it up on facebook.Here he comes

Snow cover was very limited and it really doesn’t show the steepness but, wow, what an arena to play in!

All Action team

Short on time we opted for Diedre Blanc again with Beads & Icky enjoying the lead.Pitch1

In December I suggested it may be IV,4 but with a thick coat of ice blocking both placements and protection the top pitch definitely felt worthy of its original grade V. Placements may have been blocked but the snow and ice was in superb condition which made the climbing feel a lot closer to traditional winter than modern mixed.Diedre Blanc

A long abseil took us back to the sacks (well nearly:-) Icky’s just below the skyline here-abseil2

before a traditional bumslide descent for me. Icky grabbed his skis from the cave and made an olympic standard descent with axes jangling like swiss cow bells.Survived

Things were warming up all day and, as well as some friendly red deer, we even spotted the first lamb of the season.First lamb 4 march

Skye Winter Festival 2015 report.

22/02/15

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!

panoPanorama above the clouds from Friday 6th

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 🙂

peepoStuart popping through Mo’s hole…..

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.

P1050119Rory’s hole

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.

Skye HighMichael on Skye High V,7

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.

Pinn startLucy starting up the Pinn

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.

RomainRomain

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.

trenchTrench warfare approaching Twicicle

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.

JonnyJonny, Cat & Jo sheltering from the maelstrom on Friday 30th

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.

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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.

OnceicleOnceicle, just below the steepening

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.

starfishMo on the crux chimney of Chockolates

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.

Alpine route for an Alpine day; 15th Feb

15/02/15

Clear blue skies and heavy frost signalled stonking conditions and we weren’t disappointed. I opted for one of the longest snow lines in the Cuillin, Diagonal Gully on Ghreadaidh.

The snow was uniform from bottom to top; not steel hard but definitely calf burning.

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I’ve had big crevasses in the lower reaches before but todays wasn’t wide; deep enough to swallow us but we all crossed safely and paced ourselves on “fast simmer” for the next 1000ft.

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The views from the Ridge crest were stunning with snow-clad peaks laid out spectacularly.

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Climbing along the narrow crest was a slow and delicate procedure with only tiny amounts of rime ice muting the squeals from our crampons. Check out the short video HERE

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The descent of the crest was higher octane with long runnels of water-ice to negotiate and the hard snow in An Dorus gave 20 minutes of concentrated and thigh-burning descent.

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Lucky Friday the 13th.

14/02/15

My first outing in the Cuillin for over a week looked like it wasn’t going to be too wintery as I gazed on Coir’ a’ Bhasteir stripped of its ice. We rationalised down to single axe and single rope with the Tooth as an ambition.

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By the time we reached the gorge a coat of rime was eveident above 600m and we donned crampons pretty soon afterwards on the NE Ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.

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Still I exxpected a rock scramble up Collie’s Route which, in the full glare of westerly wind, sun & rain must surely have been stripped. No such thing as we descended past the Tooth into Lota Corrie.

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5m of icy rock led into the diagonal break of Collie’s Route which rolled up away into the mist as a continuous white line of neve. We moved together placing runners every now & again but never on moves that were more than grade I.  Traversing a (normally easy) horizontal ledge system proved the scariest with the banked out snow steepening up.

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Dropping into the nick & up onto the Tooth was a simple exercise but all of the abseil tat was buried in King’s Cave Chimney. A sling on a block at the back allowed us to pull the ropes safely though (thank goodness) and we lapped up the scenery on the descent as the clouds cleared.P1050392

 

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Mega Ice on the Ben; too good to resist. 12thFeb

14/02/15

There has been so much stonking ice in evidence on photos from Ben Nevis that I couldn’t resist a quick hit on Thursday. Icky, Lucy, Cat & I arrived late in the CIC and didn’t rise early but still had a clear Curtain to start with.

A gentle angled pitch full of footsteps and hooks gave a good warm up-P1060420

…..before the steep upper half-

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We were heading over to Italian Climb when Mega Route X came into sight just above us. Now I watched Cubby climbing this on video over 20 years ago and even bought one of (a large collection??) the red Cassin axes that he’d used on the ascent; apparently quite a lot of people have also bought the same axes with the same background tale 🙂 I digress, I knew it had been climbed a fair bit recently and it looked like it had plenty of bobbles for footholds. The team gave me the nod of approval and so off we went. IMG_1560

I’ve reverted to using wrist leashes on steep ice and loved them instantly; my arms really do appreciate not having to keep hold of the shafts at all. The ice was of stunning consistency (better than the steep part of Curtain) and the bobbles for feet allowed plenty of stability while placing screws.

Icky romped up behind and, although her arms wouldn’t quite do it, Cat has the pose of the day-

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Icky & Lucy joined me on the belay and we all admired the icicle fringes all around us. The top pitch started steeply but soon relented with a groove on the left and just one short cheeky section of snowy ice before the final steepening.

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A 50m abseil back to the ground was followed by pizza, tea & beer in the hut before the most dangerous part of the day- the drive home. Thank you Big Bad Ben for a glorious day 🙂

 

Skye Winter Festival photo update from week 1.

03/02/15

 

P1060320Bhasteir Icefalls

Weather was testing but results were great. Wee sample but too busy having fun. Follow us on the Skye Winter Festival facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/skyewinterfestival?ref=hl

 

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Lagan fun

Marsco

Marsco cloaked

MB

Michael Barnard in ation Ghrunnda

Onceicle

 

Onceicle

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Relief from the storms on Friday

Ally 1st lead

Ally’s 1st lead on Ice

bridge

bridge1Monkey business

Full body armour

Twiceicle

 

How Steep

How Steep

james Cam manJames Cam Man

james pullJames pulling the ropes after finishing Con’s Cleft

Lagan vistaCoire lagan from the Sgumain Pinnacles

 

Skye Winter Climbing Festival- off to a good start.

29/01/15

There’s been some great Cuillin adventures already despite the roller-coaster temperatures.

Climbing highlight was day 1 when Michael Barnard and Tim Oates caught the last day of big ice. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow gave a big 50m pitch of grade IV,4 water ice in Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda. The name was a far too accurate prediction with almost all decent ice on the hill destroyed by Sunday’s warm wet pulse. They also climbed a good mixed route on Alasdair, possibly Central route which gave 3 pitches at V,6.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Meanwhile the rest of the team had a more leisurely intro & exploration in Coir’ a’ Ghreadaidh.

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We climbed a 50m pitch of grade III ice and set up ropes for everyone who wanted to have a go.

Ally

We all retired to the bunkhouse for haggis neaps & tatties and a quiet drink & early night 😉

Monday dawned cold & clear again and the 5 of us that had stayed on all headed into Coire na Banachdaich. The missing ice was a blow but The White Line gave the best part of 1000ft of great fun snow stomping.

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No need for crampons with such soft snow but the excitement was created by trying to “act like a feather” crossing the more hollow sections of old snow.

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Rory easily won the competition for action when he dropped through a hole right in front of Craig and reappeared through a hole at his feet!

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Annmarie has been off the hill for 2 years with surgery on her feet but you’d never have guessed; as the pics show she was like the proverbial pig in poo J

Things took a more serious turn once we reached the Ridge.

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A wee blizzard made putting crampons on a real test but we were very glad of them for the next 2 hours. A thin cover of old snow & iced rocks led easily to the summit of Dearg and a cracking view of the In Pinn.

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The wind was ripping into us by now and the descent of the West Ridge was very testing.

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This theme is likely to remain over the coming week and choosing a good descent route in advance is going to be crucial. We made it down to the path just as darkness engulfed us but the crescent moon gave just enough light to allow us to save the batteries for a more serious occasion.

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There’s very little but cold, wind, snow etc forecast for the coming week so looking forward to plenty more adventures. There’s a few spaces available still this weekend then plenty more room for the week after. Pack your goggles & Dachstein mitts!

 

Sublime to the rediculous, 21st Jan

21/01/15

After Charlie & Tom’s idylic introduction to ice on Monday the Scottish weather showed them its real teeth today. After a reasonable start to the day an impressive blizzard kicked in at lunch and tested many things over the next couple of hours.

Trawling for ice

A good 6″ or more of fresh snow fell on us as we climbed the 2 pitch grade IV Mike The Bhasteird. There was good ice there somewhere but even sweeping feet of snow off sometimes left nothing positive for the axes. Luckily the feet behaved and good axe placements arrived just in the right places above the steepenings.

Wild

Despite hotaches & consistent powder neck syndrome we avoided the temptation to run away after pitch 1 but adding another pitch above was deemed uneccesary.

Belay below

The visibility was so poor I had to use a crag photo to navigate down despite it being a 30m wide terrace!

Peasouper

Plenty of snow now for a good while to come; excellent.

Clear & crisp in Colditz, 19th January

20/01/15

Between the intense storms this winter we’ve been dealt some of the most stunning clear days I’ve experienced. The entire northern Highlands were snow-clad and cloud free for the whole morning before a weak front sent in an awesome display of special effects. Enjoy a selection in the gallery below.

P1040957 (800x600)First wisps of cloud on the weak front approaching abive South Buttress

I was back on Bla Bheinn again today with Escape from Colditz the aim as an ideal introduction to ice climbing for Charlie & Tom.

P1040967 (600x800)Waiting to escape from Colditz

Also along was dad Michael, a time-served climber still using his 1970’s kit but he more than made up for being “burnt by the kids” on the walk in. I coaxed him off his wooden tools and onto shiny curved shaft Piranhas; it’s under a decade since they were last made! He directed complex operations on the belay and coached technique to the others superbly, especially the ancient art of back &  footing.

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The route was good and icy and plenty climbable although the ice was never quite good enough to justify placing an ice-screw.  The route involves a wide variety of techniques so Charlie & Tom had a rapid learnig curve that they dealt with in a way that must have made their old man proud.

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As they ran off downhill on springy knees Michael & I exchanged climbing tales and marvelled at the sheer beauty of our world.

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2 days of excellent weather for learning to climb ice.

17/12/14

Simon has finally squeezed the ambition of winter climbing into his hectic schedule of fell running, cycling & blowing up molecules (or something like that). In 2013 we had an exciting time climbing a route we called Broken Windows on Window Buttress so I knew he would be up for an adventure. XC forecast good weather until midday so I mooted a criminally early start.

I’d spotted a huge lump of ice on Friday so yesterday we aimed for that, fully armed with screws & screamers. We left the beach shortly after 5 and, as dawn broke, the icefall appeared but only half the man it had been. On closer inspection the remaining ice was clearly the best kind, grey and thick and still very much attached and my hopes rose again. I placed a screw then dashed past the cold shower (steep but on on perfect placements) for a closer look at the open book corner above. Sadly the nice ice ran out and this project came to an abrupt end.

P1040280Looking down from my high point

Off to the right more ice led up to a good rock crack and offered an opportunity to give Simon his first go at swinging axes, even if we weren’t going to get to the top. Admittedly I got drenched while belaying but it was a good teaching exercise as Simon discovered the nuances of good/bad ice, how hard to hit, how to get the axes (and a screw) out. More importantly he learnt that it ‘s still all about the feet and discovered just how little a kick his crampon points needed in order to stay put.

P1040307No sign of the poor weather just yet…

We finished our 8-hour day & were back in the pub by 2 and the forecast bad weather eventually set in by 4.

All this set us in good stead for today and I was hopeful Foxes Rake, one of my favourite routes, would offer us some ice. We were joined by Ally (you’ll recognise the grin) for a very civilised 7am start and the rain had cleared through as predicted. As the light arrived The Smear and Icicle Factory ice shone big and bold above us (nowhere near complete but definitely fat where they had formed). Foxes also had some great looking sections but looked thin at the crux especially. I toyed with the pros & cons; the route had never looked so huge & alpine before. Knowing that good rock anchors are sparse exaggerated the seriousness, escape if the crux was too thin was going to be “interesting”. I decided Upper rake would be a better idea but would reconsider as we passed the start of Foxes. From closer up I realised there was far more ice and it all looked delicious again.

P1040308North Face of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh at dawn with The Smear prominenet between 2nd & 3rd top

Temptation got the better of me & up we went, moving together for the first 150m, moved in shortpitches for another 100m then got both ropes out for the beautiful wide ice pitch below the crux. A bombproof blade belay increased my optimism hugely as I studied the crux that I knew had very little protection. A positive mentality definitely helped as no cracks apeared for protecion. After some balancey steps a narrow groove offered up thicker ice and just enough excellent placements to keep things calm. The cave offered up 3 “better than nothing” runners but the solid line of immaculate ice above was the real source of safety. 25m above, and running out of rope forced me to leave the joyous medium for easier angled snow but we still managed 2 more pitches of indulgence after this.

The route ended just on cue as snow & hail suddenly whipped around us on the latest weather front. Descending back below Deep gash Gully we found fresh fox prints emerging from a dry cave and Simon even glimpsed him heading off into the murk; a fitting finish for a foxy day.

Apologies for no photos in the text but the images are refusing to be rotated. Hopefully the right way around in the gallery below.

Graupeling with Gully A, December 8th.

10/12/14

Great outing on Monday with Iain & Jamie on Sgurr Thearlaich again, this time on Gully A. Higher up we were defeated by mad quantities of graupel (hailstones) appearing from nowhere but the first pitch was absolute quality.

small from FBBridging delicately up the groove; the inside of the chimney looked very involved with a nasty chockstone to finish.

The first winter ascent was solo by Roger O’Donovan in April 1970 (after soloing the 900 ft route Jeffrey’s Dyke in 1.5hrs). He recorded 3 short ice pitches and gave it grade III. He was head instructor at Glenmore Lodge and, significantly, one of the first people using drooped pick axes and front pointing on crampons. This technique had only begun to be experimented with during the winter before.

Uisdean & Callum probably made the 2nd ascent in the very good conditions in 2013 and reported it as considerably harder than grade III.
Yesterday, in pure mixed conditions (glazed & powder with no build-up of snow) the first pitch gave 30m of well protected crack climbing with some funky moves and probably modern grade V,6. It was so good I’m really looking forward to going back to get the route finished.

052Placing great protection in the crack before setting off up the steepest section.

First climb of the Winter. 5th December

06/12/14

After what seems like a long wait Winter finally arrived properly in the Cuillin today. BC Buttress on Sgurr Thearlaich came up trumps with great conditions despite only a matter of hours.

P1040157 (800x600)Full of Cuillin promise…………..

Iain, Jamie and I climbed Le Diedre Blanc with a slightly easier start.

photoBC Buttress. Our route follows the orange line but started by the short wall to the right of the the white pyramid.

This gave us a 2 star  route at the slightly more amenable grade of IV,4.

P1040174 (600x800)Iain starting up pitch 2

There were some wintery showers

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but we were rewarded with some spectacular light and views from the summit as we rigged the abseil back into the Great Stone Shoot.

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Forecast is for alternating freeze & thaw for the week ahead so hopefully things will continue to improve even more.

Blog Backlog & Bla Bheinn footpath funding success.

04/04/14

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.

CropBack to hot rock fun at Elgol; ye ha!

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.

italian2Italian joy on the Pinn

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-

 

Wild day in the washing machine! 24th March

25/03/14

Northend 24th marchDeceptively fine looking weather!

Plans to tackle Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean had to be rapidly changed yesterday as the wind picked up in strength far earlier than predicted; huge plumes of snow shot into the sky from the cols between each pinnacle.

2nd 3rd gullyLine of 2/3 gully shown

The logical theory was to stay in the lee of the hill which did work for us but not without other “added interest”. Our plan was to ascend 2nd/3rd Gully and then abseil off rather than get hit by the wind. Not many action photos of the climbing because taking the cameras out would have killed them pretty fast!

Approaching the foot of the gully I found myself stood on the “bank” of a river of spindrift and graupel (see blog from January 2012).  Handily it gave a clear view of the hard snow beneath which made the climbing far easier, to a point! The first steepening provided a 4 metre cold shower experience until I was able to get  my head above the surface once more.

1st showerAbseiling the first cold shower!

Belaying from a snow bollard I brought Dave & Cat up and mooted a retreat; this got the silence treatment so off I headed for my next shower. This one really was bracing and the power was turned up from an invisible source  way above.

Cat props up bollardPropping up the snow bollard

The hard snow was in excellent condition though and the climbing finished up a short vertical step to reach the shelter of a huge chockstone. A snow cone from an internal snow shower had to be negotiated before finally droping into the deep dry, windless cave beyond.

inside1Inside the washing machine

Cat and Dave joined me for a relaxed lunch here before setting up our escape abseils which went nicely to plan.

CaveLooking back into the cave

 

The gusts on the wlk out were some of the fiercest I’ve known; very glad not to be on anything narrow but even 20m to the gorge felt too close.

WildwindsWild winds

One final note is to repeat that 2nd 3rd Gully is not grade II as suggested by the guidebook. Even when banked out very well like it is now there is some pretty demnding looking climbing above the cave!

 

Proper Cold at last. 22 March

22/03/14

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Our great quantities of snow have been frustratingly soft for axe placements all winter but the hard freeze after this weeks thaw has finally given us the hard neve needed to climb some steeper routes. Hopefully a week of fun ahead!

Great day out today but very demanding and serious conditions which is the price to pay for harder snow. We started up Broad Gully then onto Sgurr a Bhasteir. Normally a simple grade I winter route the gully held some steeper sections but mainly a lack of any opportunity to rest the burning calves. Fresh snow drifted on top was thought provoking but our front points were able to bite through.

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The NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir is also a simple grade I route in both summer and winter ordinarily but sections of hard snow out above the yawning void of the north face heightened concentration & tension about as high as the lactic acid in the legs.

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The reward for all this graft was an immaculate horizontal crest of snow leading into Bealach na Lice and stunning views all around.

The obligatory bumslide was a mix of slow powder and ice sections that positively gave you a warm butt as the speed built up; not recommended anywhere apart from the gentlest of slopes at the minute!

In fact the icy conditions warrant a severe health warning not only in action but also when planning your route; I would certainly hesitate before planning to descend something like the Great Stone Shoot even with all the kit just now because of the combo of hard  snow with deep pockets  of powder.

Enjoy the pics-