Matt met up with Gillian early on Friday morning at Spean Bridge. We had our sights set on climbing The Pumpkin (300m, Grade V,4). The ten vehicles already at the car-park convinced us to set a fast pace on the walk in and we managed to catch a few teams on the way through.
Gillian near the top of the first pitch.
There was a team just starting on The Pumpkin as we arrived at the bottom but their fast pace persuaded us to set off behind them. The ice was in fantastic condition giving great protection and providing good axe placements from every swing.
Gillian leading the second pitch
After five enjoyable pitches of climbing we topped out at about 2.30pm. We needed a swift bout of navigation to get off the summit plateau and then had an enjoyable walk back through The Window and down the Glen.
Looking back at the Post Face of Creag Meagaidh
Many thanks to Ann Jordan from down-under who sent me this clipping from the Canberra Times with a report of her outing with Matt last year.
I enjoyed a couple of days introducing 3 Jonathons, Alasdair & Donald to crampons and axes on Friday and Saturday. The guys flew up to Inverness and had a stunning sunny drive through to Kintail Lodge on Wednesday afternoon.
We fitted crampons that night and headed off from the Cluanie Inn next morning. Everything was frozen solid and crampons needed at about the 600m mark as we followed the stalkers path up Druim Shionnach (987m). Cloud blocked the vista as we reached the top but with hardly a breath of wind and conditions under foot just perfect everyone was keen to carry on.
Druim Shionnach (987m)
The next 2 kilometres took less than an hour as we headed west to our second Munro, Aonach air Chrith (1021m). We had passed some impressive drooping old cornices along the way but the closest col gave a gentle descent back into Coire an t-Slugain.
This is normally a boggy nightmare of a corrie but the heavy freeze let us wander happily. The clouds even decided to finally lift above the tops so we could fully appreciate the whole ridge we had just traversed. Spirits were high in the comfort of the Cluanie that we reached just before needing torches.
Saturday defied the forecasts and started with heavy mists and heavy heads for most of us after a fine night of Kintail Lodge hospitality. The stalkers path had a fair covering of ice despite the thaw but we only donned crampons on reaching the ridge east of Sgurr a Bhac Chaolais. Much talk was of the promised fine weather that seemed to have forgotten us but, right on cue, the mists started to clear just as we reached the summit. Wonderful glimpses of the Five Sisters and South Shiel Ridge came and went and then Brocken Spectres formed on the cloud still sitting in the corrie below. A golden eagle seemed as surprised to see the sun as us but then sank straight back in to the mist once he realised he had company.
Taking it in from the top of Sgurr a Bhac Chaolais (847m)
We continued west towards Sgurr na Sgine, used the rope to descend a surprise steep section (that cleared the heads) before heading back towards our approach path via Coire Toiteil.
Mike and I decided to reward ourselves for a few days of office work with an afternoon of activity. We were just heading for a dash into the Cuillin when it became apparent that rock climbing might be a good idea given the dry and mild weather.
After a quick change of clothing, equipment and direction we headed for Elgol. There are some striking mountain views along this road, starting with the classic view of Clach Glas and Bla Bheinn across Loch Slapin and culminating with a view of the whole Cuillin Ridge.
The classic view from Elgol. Sgurr na Stri (494m) is the mountain in the foreground. There are a myriad of different ways up it at all levels and on incredibly rough rock. The view from the summit is arguably the best on the whole island.
Suidhe Biorach is a beautiful south facing sea-cliff about 20 minutes walk south of the Elgol jetty. I led up Fertility Right, a 3 star Severe with great bridging up an intimidatingly steep corner. Hairy Mary was one of the few routes Mike had never led on the cliff so he felt obliged to see if it deserves the accolade as one of the best VS routes in the uk as somebody recently claimed on a climbing forum. The position is impressive but the climbing not a patch on Jamie Jampot the original route of the crag. It is also VS but gives a sustained technical and well protected route for its entire 25m length.
Matt enjoying the sunshine at the top of the abseil.
The few days of office work mentioned above has led to the production of the first Skye Guides Newsletter. You can have a read by clicking this link:
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With the gulf stream flowing over the top of Scotland it is spring-like on Skye just now and, for winter climbers, disappointingly mild. High pressure that is keeping the gulf stream suspended so far north is also producing some incredibly low tides.
Time, instead, for a long-standing project to cross from Skye to Scalpay at Strollamus. Previous attempts on equinox tides in March & September would have required going in over the thigh for a couple of steps but water barely went over the welly level yesterday. We then discovered a sand-bar 50m to the north would have let us cross with dry feet- doh.
The real joy of these tides is the variety of sea-life. Big pink sea urchins sit like beacons; the gulls must have learnt that their spikes aren’t worth tackling.
A new one for me was a huge star-fish that was also armoured with hard spikes.
Jets of water spurted from the sand all around us on the Scalpay side, possibly razors but I’m not sure. More accessible on the edible front was a single princess scallop which wouldn’t make much of a meal on its own but I’ve previously found a couple of king scallops and was hopeful more than optimistic of finding another. Our luck was in and we’re looking forward to scallops for Sunday lunch.
I saw rainbows a few times over the last couple of days for the first time in what seems like ages; guess they have struggled to form with the sun being so low over the last month.
Double Rainbow seen from the Skye Bridge
It reminded me of a fantastic effect I was priveliged to witness whilst working on a fish farm when I first arrived on Skye. I saw half a dozen rainbows at the same time. The passage of time made me think I’d imagined it but a web-site I was directed to explained how reflected rainbows are created- Atmospheric Optics
I wrote to Les Cowley who runs the site to thank him and this was his reply:
You are very lucky. Not only because Skye is such a marvellous location but also with its frequent showers interspersed with sunshine it appears to be one of the world’s top spots for rainbows. Your lochs then give reflection bows. Hawaii is the other top spot.
Do carry a camera!
The climbing conditions and weather in the Cuillin were perfect yesterday. Making the approach and descent in the dark Francis & I (Mike) didn’t miss a minute of it and my body is certainly letting me know today.
Looking east over Glamaig to the mainland
Approach conditions were harsh underfoot but strangely mild; I only wore a base layer right to the summit of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir (2900 feet) despite the deep drifts. Across the corrie Beads & Donnie could be seen slowly traversing beneath Pinnacle Ridge to climb Just a Boy’s Game on Sgurr nan Gillean.
Beads & Donnie below Sgurr nan Gillean
We played on a wee project for a couple of hours before descending to the foot of Am Basteir Chimney (IV,6) for probably the second winter ascent. The line is hidden from most angles but splits the North Face. The first 60m pitch had a mix of short steps with good ice and snow.
Start of pitch one
Francis then offered me the lead on the next steep pitch which I happily accepted. 10m higher, 30 minutes later and unable to find any protection the happiness had evaporated and my calves were exploding. The poorest of tricam placements held me until I had lowered back down halfway before dropping me unceremoniously at Francis’s feet. Mild consolation was the time that he, too, spent digging around the same verglassed cracks that I had explored before finding a hole in the bed of the gully above with his pick. Threading a wire through this proved the key.
Francis half-way up pitch two
The pattern of excellent climbing but awkward snow covered protection continued right to the top of the 35m pitch. Seconding it was a real pleasure. With rocks less glazed it may be far easier but I may suggest an upgrade to V,6 in the final edits of the guidebook.
The final pitch was a delight; a mix of good ice and snow with good protection to pass the 2 steep steps before breaking through a small cornice for a spectacular sunset.
Hebridean Winter Sunset
Matt was out with Simon and Tony again today. We went with expectations for amazing weather, great views and quality climbing and weren’t disappointed. The South Buttress of Bla Bheinn had caught our attention yestrerday.
Birthday Groove (IV,5) is the left hand of the two corner lines in the centre of the buttress. The initial pitches were great fun and provided a mix of chimneys and chock-stones covered by a liberal layer of powder snow that, when cleared, revealed some good neve and frozen turf.
High in pitch 2
The views just got better as we got higher; here looking out to Kintail
As darkness approached we got closer to the top of our route and the climbing got steadily steeper and harder.
Finally we were only eight feet from easier ground when a heavily verglassed chimney put paid to our ascent. We made the difficult decision to retreat back down the route in three long abseils. It was gut-wrenching to get so close to the top and be able to see the easier ground. However we’d had a wonderful adventure on a quality route in a dramatic setting and there were plenty of smiles during our trip down the mountain!
Matt with wide-eyes!
After our Ridge adventures Matt, Tony and Simon opted for an easier day today on Blaven. Mike’s suggestion that Escape from Colditz (grade III) was in condition was confirmed by Colin Threlfall and his great blog pictures from Sunday-http://colinthrelfall.wordpress.com/ The route turned out to have an easy approach and full of character for such a small crag with a mix of snow, ice and even some rock gear for added confidence.
The escape tunnel.
Above this we climbed a great new 2 pitch corner (grade I/II ) that led to the south-east ridge and an easy walk-off.
Our new line.
Matt set out with Simon and Tony early on Saturday morning to see if (my!) rumours of incredible neve on the ridge were true! We experienced a certain amount of trepidation when we saw that the snow line was 500 metres lower than two days ago. However we decided to have faith and press on to the South-East ridge of Sgurr Nan Gillean, where we were rewarded with a view of the entire Cuillin ridge.
Sadly the rumours of quality neve on the crest of the ridge turned out to be just that. Fortunately the amazing situation, incredible views, sunshine and enjoyment of the climbing more than made up for this.
The ridge seemed truly Alpine in appearance and appropriately an alpine approach of moving together provided maximum enjoyment in continuous but safe progress. Am Bhasteir had a massive covering of snow that made progress easier than in summer conditions. There was even a soft landing below the bad step!
We made good progress along the ridge despite the occasional bout of wading and arrived at the An Caisteal cave just as dark fell. There was a lot more snow than we expected in the cave so we decided to make our way past Bidean Druim nan Ramh to another bivouac site at Bealach na Glaic Moire. The 10ft deep drifts on the Bealach put paid to this plan so we found an alternative site to eat and lay our heads down at.
Sunday morning found us picking our way down the slopes of Coir a Mhadaidh and admiring the amazing views all along the ridge. There is an amazing amount of snow on the Cuillin and all the gullies seem complete (even Waterpipe Gully) and while it is mainly powder just now the mixed climbing should be in good condition and gullies should hopefully respond well to the upcoming melt-freeze cycle…
Matt went into Coire a Bhasteir with Simon yesterday and we decided to see what routes looked best on the Bhasteir face of Sgurr nan Gillean. Pinnacle ridge was looking very impressive and certainly dominated the skyline as we approached.
We encountered very firm snow from the foot of Pinnacle ridge all the way to the foot of McLaren`s Chimney which made the walk an absolute pleasure. We got a good view of Am Bhasteir, the summit ridge was covered in snow and the north face had a good covering of hoar frost and rime ice.
The chimney itself was a lot of fun. It divides neatly into two pitches with an atmospheric cave belay half-way. It should be noted that rucksacks are best left at the bottom of the climb unless you want to engage in some exciting manoeuvres.
It is easy to traverse off and descend into fourth/fifth gully or join up with a selection of other routes to continue to the summit of Gillean.
The sharp freeze yesterday has consolidated the vast quantities of old snow superbly. We were on Blaven today and Matt & Simon were on Gillean reporting the same ideal underfoot conditions. The guys did Maclaren’s Chimney IV,5 (having read the description on yesterdays blog) which was in great condition and Matt will post something soon.
Friends Vickie and Lisa had a bit of spice added to the Munro bagging this holiday as we opted for the obviously continuous line of good snow up Great Gully that splits the tops of Blabheinn (Blaven).
Our route in red and climbs we passed.
We donned crampons at the huge boulder in the corrie below and discussed the avalanche risk considering the overnight precipitation. Reasoning on the fresh layer being comparatively thin we agreed to keep an eye on the bonding in the windslab.
Testing the snow stability
All went well and the accumulations never got deeper than a few inches. The gully is a classic grade I, never more than about 45 degrees but steep enough to concentrate the mind. Vick opted for a rope while Lisa prefered to see what her heart monitor could get up to which was 175bpm compared to 155 max on previous outings this holiday for those interested.
A cold wind and snow greeted us as we reached the top and the main Ridge disappeared but a few minutes wait at the summit rewarded us with peaks popping out of the mists, brocken spectres and the sun glinting off the sea far below.
The Main Ridge refused to clear so we cramponed happily back down to about 500m before the wonderful neve ran out.
TRAVERSE- I was amazed at the quantity of old snow that was left on the summit. Implications for Ridge traverses were the first thought and my suspicions confirmed tonight when Matt reported that the back of Am Basteir looked like a continuous line of neve from col to the summit. With cold forecast until Tuesday this weekend could well be the best conditions for a Traverse so far this season; admittedly a very different opinion from my ground opinion yesterday but on top is really the only place to assess things properly. A free down-load of tips is available on the website- http://www.skyeguides.co.uk/Downloads/SkyeGuides_TheWinterTraverse.pdf
CLIMBS- We also passed numerous mid-grade climbs that were in good condition. Descriptions either in the ‘96 SMC guidebook or reproduced here-
Escape from Colditz III looked good as a starter and South-East Buttress Gully 210m II/III above looked a superb follow-up.
Escape from Colditz
South Buttress Gully 210m II ** (2010)This is the large gully immediately to the left of Central Pillar. A good route with an easy 30m ice pitch leading to the main fault line. Three small steps gave well protected mixed climbing higher in the route.
Those wanting mixed climbing will enjoy Birthday Groove or Virgo both IV,5 and anyone after a struggle Maclaren’s Lament
McClaren’s Lament 60m V,6 * (2007)
A short and very entertaining route some 70m up the gully from Scorpion. Finishes on the huge terrace which gives an easy walk off.
1. 15m Take an obvious leftward rising break to a large flake belay. This is directly below a large deep chimney.
2. 25m An awkward step off the belay flake gives entry to the deep chimney. Fun moves lead behind two massive blocks to a confined ledge below the final impasse. Excellent gear protects some ridiculous contortions in a battle to the top.
3. 20m Break out of the cleft. Finish easily up to a broad terrace.
The long slow thaw has finally stopped with fresh snow thinly down to 600m today. There is plenty of snow still around but full Ridge traverses are out for a while to come. I’m not sure if any of the fat mid-level ice will have survived- it was certainly hanging in there- see Matt’s report on Coir’a’ Bhasteir below.
Best winter options over the next few days will probably be some of the easy long snow lines left that stretch from low-down to the crest. Left & Right Gullies direct to the summit of Thuilm, Diagonal Gully on Ghreadaidh and many more. 1/2, 2/3, 4/5 gullies between the pinnacles of Pinnacle Ridge all looked complete today as did Just a Boys Game (III) and NW Face Route (II/III) on Gillean. Remember that the Ridge crest is likely to be at least as challenging in most places that these fine approaches lead to and Pinnacle Ridge is likely to be full value IV. Last year I posted some other suggestions and descriptions that may be useful- http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=394251&v=1#x5685936
I wasn’t out- Tom & Rachel had hired winter tools from me and showed me their pics this evening as they raved about their round of Fionn Choire. They started by the NE ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir (I) putting on crampons from about half-height. The wind died as they topped out and they indulged in the horizontal section leading to Bealach na Lice below the Tooth before heading out to Bruach na Frithe and practising ice-axe breaking down Fionn Choire. It is easy to forget how stunning both the scenery and mountaineering is on the Cuillin in its proper Alpine garb. Here’s to a continuation of this fine winter long into 2011. Slainte.
I (Matt) went into Coir’ a’ Mhadaidh with Francis today. We had managed to convince each other that conditions were going to be thin but positive so burdened ourselves with huge amounts of rope and assorted spiky bits of metal. We started our walk in the dark but as dawn arrived it became clear that the recent thaw had stripped more snow and ice than we’d hoped. We went to the foot of South Gully but it was incomplete and running with water.
Glaic Moire face; North and South Gully lead to either end of the horizontal bealach. Descent is by the continuous snow-line left again.
All the snow that we crossed was very firm and there are still extensive patches on the slopes and in the easier angled gullies. Hopefully the next week will bring some more snow and a good melt-freeze cycle to improve the situation…
The Smear (V) living up to its name. It has probably never had a second ascent.
Doug Scott before the first ascent in 1979 (photo Ginger Cain)