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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.
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-
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…….
Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2016
Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 14th to January 27th 2016
An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.
It’s that time again. 2 weeks for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole period but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.
For the past 5 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 40 new winter climbs. Only 5 days out of 34 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.
Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb scene is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.
Over the past 5 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.
It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.
Last year’s festival was a resounding success with over 60 people enjoying superb winter conditions that spanned the whole 16-day period. It was undeniably hardcore on the majority of days and some got luckier than others, but people were out every day climbing more than 50 routes including 20+ first ascents.
Approaching Twicicle on the very wild “Black Friday”, 2015 Festival
How does it work?
Nothing complex- Come for as many days as you want. There are beds for 24 people available throughout the fortnight; first come first served. Use the meet as a base for climbing with a regular partner or come and match up. Collectively we make sure that nobody is left partnerless, short of inspiration or too far out of their depth.
What’s to do?
If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. We’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Accommodation and Food
The festival is based at the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn. 24 beds in 5 different rooms with bunkbeds and bedding provided. The accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door.
Catering 2016- different this year!!
Self-catering in the well-eqipped kitchen or eat from the pub’s superb menu. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine french fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us for these meals and let your hair down!
Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.
The Old Inn will be open for business and private rooms will be available for those wanting a bit more privacy and peace. Please contact them directly- Old Inn
Over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. The Old Inn is the climbers’ pub in Skye but also a busy local. It’s a lively spot with organised bands and impromptu jamming.
New for 2016- Skills symposium
Following a suggestion from guests last year some of our guides have committed a couple of days to specifically pass on their knowledge and skills. Limited places are available on a variety of full-day courses over the 2 festival weekends. Request more details when booking your place in the bunkhouse:-
- Introduction to winter walking skills; 6 places per course. Suitable for walkers with good fitness but little winter experience. £50pp
- Cuillin Winter Munros; 6 places per course. Suitable for fit winter climbers or walkers. £50pp
- Dry Tooling skills; 4 places per course. Low-level; £50pp
- Alpine rope skills for Cuillin ridges in winter; 4 places per course. Suitable for climbers or winter walkers of good fitness. £60pp
- Mixed climbing skills; 2 places per course. Suitable for those with some pitched winter climbing experience. £80pp
Every effort will be made to achieve the course objectives but the mountains are in charge! Full refunds will be given if it is not possible to run the courses. Please just ask if you would like private guiding at any other point in the course.
Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL–#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebok page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.
Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.
Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.
Unsure?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Skye Guides normal private guiding will be available throughout. Don’t worry if you don’t want to book anything- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else. A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.
Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.
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.
Sheltering under the Old Man of Storr
Neist. Friday 13th, not unlucky at all. First day of hot rock with Iain and Ally
Bruton party, 14th. A great day with miles of perfect snow to practice crampon & axe work.
Bla Bheinn with Lucy, Sunday 15th. Another immaculate day
Alpine conditions on approach.
Not a cloud to ruin the view.
Can’t beat that view out to Rum
Serious graft for the Skye MRT taking the radio relay down for fixing, all 200kg of it!
Lucy on the crux of South Buttress Gully, III.
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
The Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain
Smiles of delight?
Nah, pure relief eh Eilidh!
And that’s why she’s allowed to be happy!
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”.
Icky heading towards the exit chimneys that gave a superb steep finish to the 8 pitch day.
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.
The Eastern Black Cuillin looking wintery. We went to the right hand of the 2 obvious cols
Clac Glas from the shelter of a welcome overhang.
Main Cuillin Ridge laid out in front of us
Clac Glas, the Matterhorn of Skye and a fiercesome barrier to reaching Bla Bheinn
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.
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.
Snow cover was very limited and it really doesn’t show the steepness but, wow, what an arena to play in!
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.
Wow; what a fortnight. A huge thanks to everyone who came along to support the event, to Angus and all of the staff at the Old Inn for making us so welcome, to Annmarie for keeping us all domesticated and, perhaps most of all, to the weather gods for turning on the winter weather spectacularly. The only day when nothing was climbed was 25th January but it did mean that nobody was late for their Burn’s supper!
Over 40 people all appeared to be having a good time whatever the weather threw at them and reaped the benefits of some spectacular conditions for both mixed and pure ice climbing. More than 20 new routes were added between grades I and VII. Over half of the participants lost their Cuillin winter virginity and now can’t decide if they are nymphomaniacs or just perverts 🙂
Mentions in dispatches, in no particular order, go out to most folk and apologies if you’re not listed-
Craig, Rory & Dylan who embraced the spirit of the festival brilliantly despite their first day being more like a tropical typhoon than Scottish winter; they went on to add at least 4 new routes over the coming days.
Michael Barnard and partners for showing everyone quite how much Cuillin potential there is for the accomplished winter climber in the higher grades. He came up 3 weekends on the trot.
Antoni for keeping the standards of single malt incredibly high despite less cultured alcoholic interference.
Jonny for his modest “I’m not a climber” achievements through the week including the In Pinn; every team should have a Jonny to break trail!
Lucy for services to the team including top-roping 5 folk on the icefalls in a blizzard then missing out herself and being first to balance up the In Pinn with only a nut key to clear cracks.
James found Deep gash had little usable ice in it but his consolation route was the third ascent of Doug Scott’s The Smear!
And Romain, what can I say? For taking gaelic flare and passion for Skye & winter further than anyone thought possible, for winding me up to the great entertainment of everyone else and for surviving a diarrhoea filled car journey through drifts & blizzards.
I loved all of my days out but there were a few particularly good highlights-
A team effort with good friends Beads, Antoni & David in the wild blizzards of Friday 30th to finally tackle the twin icefalls (they’ve teased for 20 years) high on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. We aimed for the pair but the weather dictated that teamwork was the best idea.
Twicicle was a superb grade IV with Beads & I sharing the gear & the craic on lead. Another highlight that day was the huge relief at the whole festival team reappearing back in the corrie cave out of the maelstrom; phew.
On the Sunday I got a complete beasting at the hands of James on Con’s Cleft (VII,7). He’d run out of daylight 2 days earlier and I was more than happy to come and help him get the project finished. It was a fantastic effort from him, poor style on my part but a long term ambition put to bed and great to climb with James again for the first time in over a decade.
James on the crux of Cons Cleft
Next day Ally & I were the only ones left and were rewarded with the first properly settled day of the meet. Onceicle had grown to suitable thickness, gave 45m of great steep fun and moonlight lit our walkout.
Wednesday dawned stunningly and I took a gamble to return to a mixed venue that had defeated me twice previously; the day turned out to be the highpoint of my festival. Lying on the north side of the West Ridge of Garbh-bheinn is a 100m high cliff of gabbro unusually adorned with loads of vegetation. Conditions were just right with frozen turf and oodles of ice smears. Mo, Stuart and I grabbed the first good looking line leading to a tight chimney with a crucial chockstone.
Mo’s pitch started by poking herself through a tiny squeeze before some great moves to top out. Full of character we decided Chockolates was a 2 star V,6. With some daylight left we shot down again and Mo led off up Yat for the Doh, II- a Hong Kong phrase meaning “one for the road”.
For more images and tales see the festival Facebook page. For those who were there please put links to your own accounts and look closely at your privacy settings so that as many folk as possible can see anything you have shared with the Skye Winter Festival page. Any photos gratefully received.
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.
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.
The views from the Ridge crest were stunning with snow-clad peaks laid out spectacularly.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…..before the steep upper half-
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.
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-
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.
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 🙂
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
Michael Barnard in ation Ghrunnda
Relief from the storms on Friday
Ally’s 1st lead on Ice
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.
Meanwhile the rest of the team had a more leisurely intro & exploration in Coir’ a’ Ghreadaidh.
We climbed a 50m pitch of grade III ice and set up ropes for everyone who wanted to have a go.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The wind was ripping into us by now and the descent of the West Ridge was very testing.
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.
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!