Winter Climbing and Mountaineering in the Black Cuillin
The Black Cuillin was the original home of Scottish winter climbing because railway access to Kyle in Victorian times made Skye far more accessible to the pioneers than Fort William or Glen Coe. Alpine in style and scale, the Cuillin offered up every standard of challenge and the perfect location to train hard for the annual trip to the Alps. These early snow & ice routes were largely climbed when winter lingered on right through to their Easter vacations.
When winter climbing began as a sport in its own right in the post-war years Skye was a long way for climbers to come and there were plenty of mainland treasures to be had. Focus in the Cuillin was on the Winter Traverse, the Holy Grail of Scottish Mountaineering. It was finally achieved in 1965 and was rightly hailed as the greatest mountaineering challenge in Britain. This accolade just polarised attention even further from away from all of the other winter climbing possibilities.
Massive improvements in the Highland roads culminated with the Skye Bridge being built in 1995. The journey time from the central belt probably halved in little more than a decade. A handful of climbers began to realise the huge potential and the past decade has seen over 70 new routes added. Dozens of buttresses, chimneys and gullies at all grades give a massive choice of climbing objectives to suit all conditions and aspirations. Routes come into condition very quickly and the exposed crest of the Ridge itself is always very challenging under snow.
Skye has dramatic weather even by Scottish standards and the Cuillin catches most of it. Conditions in the past 7 or 8 seasons have reliably been comparable with any other venue in Scotland. In the 2010 winter season the prolonged cold even brought a very continental-style ice arena into condition in the north of Skye. Coire Scamadal on the Trotternish Ridge is high on the agenda of many climbers when we get another prolonged freeze at low-levels.
Our knowledge of the terrain gives a unique opportunity to confidently offer winter guiding in mountains with a reputation for intricate navigation. Our local expertise means we have a good idea of routes that are likely to be in condition. Sheltered routes for windy days, faces that ice readily and knowing the best escape routes all enhance the experience of climbing in these fantastic mountains.
In addition to all of the climbing available Skye boasts miles of unspoilt coastline and an everchanging dramatic landscape for walkers to explore at will. The light in winter is very special and creates wonderful effects to capture in the mind or on the camera. Guiding for beautiful winter walks is available but we are also happy just to give out advice and ideas.