Blog > Winter Mountaineering

Stellar spell of snow conditions. January 29 & 30th

30/01/17

The snow this week came thick and fast and with no strong winds behind it, resulting in a beautiful uniform layer.

Smiler

Yesterday this provided a wonderful cushion with no real need for crampons as we headed up the classic NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe.

NW Ridge

Very different from this time last year where sheets of hard snow gave very serious conditions.

Handstand

Mara’s summit handstand was photobombed by Helen from Cioch Direct and we all enjoyed teasing glimses of the Ridge to the south as clouds rolled in and out.

S Ridge BnnF

Surprisingly a line of fresh prints led off ahead of us as we descended the South Ridge, others enjoying the superb conditions.

Blue Skies

A rope kept us safe on the few steeper steps before a descent from Tairnilear and out past the Fairy Pools with some obligatory litter picking.


With such superb conditions and an even better forecast it was time to up the fun levels for today and Clach Glas seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Gilchrist dawn

Phil joined me on the guiding today as Clair and Trevor started their Ridges and Routes course based at Skye Basecamp.

Crampon up

Far colder overnight had cemented the snow even better to the rocks. This meant crampons were compulsory but the combo gave incredibly positive footings.

CG start1CG start2

My guess is that anyone on the Ridge today will have made superb progress.

Window

The most technical section onto the Final Tower and descending the Imposter were pretty full-on, definitely grade IV climbing and a long abseil to get off the summit.

Phil Mara Imposter

The bitter wind hit us on this side and a free facial scrub was dished out every time someone moved much in front of you!

Clair

All in all a very full-on day in some of the best conditions I’ve ever had on Clach Glas.

Ridge 30Jan

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.

P1040283

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.

P1050869

  • 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.

Good early start to Cuillin Winter. 17th Nov 2016

21/11/16

Conditions went from “ridiculous to the sublime” in just 3 days this week. On Monday Juan and Miguel from Mallorca had some type 2 fun across the knife edge of Ghreadaidh in a tropical rainstorm and certainly the wettest day of the year that I’ve had. No photos that day!

On Thursday, by contrast, Jo and Dan were able to take their time admiring and photographing immense scenery throughout our sortie up and across Bla Bheinn in deep snow. A selection of shots is enough to tell the tale of a wonderful start to winter-

20161117_09395920161117_09525620161117_10214220161117_11392120161117_12215620161117_12573320161117_13003920161117_12583420161117_13373620161117_13375120161117_134602

There is a weather god.

02/04/16

John and I spent a large part of Wednesday with incredibly heavy snow falling out of dark black clouds but the weather gods smiled on us in great big stylee 🙂

Despite John’s undoubted fitness and ability my ambition to tackle the In Pinn was optimistic before we started. However, it was clear and dry as we left the glen and stayed that way for the first hour where we reached the 2000ft mark.

P1000717

The magnificent view into Coire Lagan was soon obscured as mushroom-sized snowflakes fell vertically out of the windless skies.

P1000721

 

The density of cloud and intensity of snow would have got many folk down but Johnny is a man who loves the mountains whatever they chuck at him. The carpet underfoot fairly rapidly became knee-deep but every foothold formed as a solid level tread. At the final narrowing it was time to don harness, helmet and crampons and the magic of the day really began to a crescendo. Words aren’t really enough so here’s a sequence that hopefully gives a flavour of it…….

P1000724 P1000727 P1000729

Just a few steps and the cameras just had to come out again……..

P1000736 P1000734 P1000733

And things just got better as we moved in on the Pinn itself….

P1000743 P1000747 P1000745

 

I have to admit to being both shocked and very pleasantly surprised at just how bare the route looked- compare it to the pictures of Gillean yesterday! Keeping crampons on seemed prudent but gloves were completely uneccesary with warm dry rock more positive than 90% of summer ascents I’ve done!

P1000748 P1000754

I finally found John’s nemesis with the abseil requiring him to trust a bit of science and let the rope slip through his fingers- you can just see the tension building across his face here perched above a 60ft vertical drop; sorry John couldn’t let your mates think you were that cool 😉

P1000755

The moment we reached our rucksacks again the clouds rolled in and heavy snow started falling all around us. It didn’t give up until we had crossed all the way over to Sgurr na Banachdaich and right down to 1500ft in Coir an Eich. 12928192_1669770583288975_2678343027123775390_n With perfect timing once more, instead of getting a soaking below the freezing level, the clouds cleared to warm sunshine

P1000757 (2)

and a perfect view of our whole routeP1000761

And just to top it all off eagle eyed John even spotted an eagle soaring high between the peaks of Coire Lagan; thanks to the mega-zoom on the Panasonic Lumix we can identify it as a wandering sea eagle. Another boring day in the office for me obviously 😉

P1000762 (2)

Winter is back! 30th March

29/03/16

Winter is back with a thick covering on all faces above 500m.

P1000698

Had a great fun family day on Bla Bheinn yester day with the Jackson 5 yesterday including a great snowman built by Hugo & Annabel on the summit. Another highlight was watching a golden eagle soaring amongst the cliffs as we walked in.Goldie Blaven 20160328

Today John and I enjoyed an enormous adventure on Am Basteir and Gillean with hard graft and plenty of challenge.

P1000701 P1000708 P1000711 P1000715 P1000713

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”.

IMG_1403 (2)

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.

P1000226

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

P1000230

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.

P1000236

IMG_4259

IMG_4256

P1000243

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!

IMG_4276 IMG_4279

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.

P1000247

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.

P1000248

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

IMG_4282

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.

P1000256

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.

P1000258

Winter heaven continues. 9th March

09/03/16

Earlier this week the forecast was not good for Gill & Euan’s day out; so glad I don’t pay much attention to long term forecasts!

P1000166

With clear blue skies and tons of pristine new snow it was a no brainer to head out straight from their base at the Sligachan Hotel. Good on the hotel which has re-opened earlier than usual and looked absolutely packed out with residents as a reward.

P1000170

I did suspect we had a hard day of deep wading ahead so left our ambitions open but, instead, the very first snow we reached justified crampons. Broad Gully is a favourite of mine with superb rock architecture and conditions were utterly perfect with full foot support pretty much every step.

P1000177

 

P1000180

Skiers would have loved conditions today as this continued almost uninterupted right to the top of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. There were a couple of very short wind-scoured harder sections but it was easy to cut back onto the good stuff.

P1000185

The vistas just kept coming as we crossed the head of Fionn Choire and out to Bruach na Frithe.

P1000193

 

P1000190

 

P1000205

Euan was so impressed with the “lady of the Trig point” he had to give her a kiss!

P1000207 P1000210

We may not have had skis but such superb conditions weren’t to be missed- we headed back to Coir’ a’ Bhasteir and took a very direct line back to the corrie floor on our butts; definitely Gill’s highlight of the day!

P1000203

The quantity of snow that has come down over the past couple of weeks is astounding and there is unusual climbable ice everywhere; hopefully the thaw forecast for the weekend will be kind and leave us something to play on next week.

P1000215

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.

 

IMG_1414 (2) IMG_1487 (2) IMG_1402 P1110820 P1110947 P1110997 DSCN8150 P1210223 DSCN8141 IMG_1521 LINED IMG_1510 (2)

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.

mists weipeng

weipeng

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.

IMG_0846 (2)

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!

P1110666

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