Archive for February, 2011

Very good snow-ice in Thuilm Right-Hand 600 ft, grade II. Sun 27 Feb.


We climbed the right hand of the obvious gullies leading to the summit today.

MikeA sharp approach from the Fairy Pools up steep grass, scree then through the defending rock band led us to the terrace that splits the upper & lower sections of these obvious fault lines in 2 hours. Once reached the old snow was in superb condition and gave 200m of easy but physical climbing on the front points of our crampons. We moved together throughout but took breaks for photos and calves to recover!

The route has superb character becoming increasingly enclosed……

….before emerging 100m from the summit

Views of the Ridge and out to the Hebrides weren’t too shoddy either…

Pinnacle Ridge Sat 26 March; testing despite the thaw.


Great weather at the end of a poor week. Chris Duckett and I did Pinnacle Ridge. Put crampons on half-way up 3rd pinnacle, 2 abseils from top of there then 3 pitches onto Knight’s peak, good snow for downclimbing then 4 more pitches up to the summit of Gillean. A couple of heavy snow showers added a wintry feel to what had started as a spring-like day. 9 hours with little break. Hopefully more wintry still tomorrow after a clear-sky night. Off to look for northern lights,


Clach Glas; not in deep snow (Sat 19th)


Heavy overnight on Friday snow clad everything above 500m in a thick layer of fresh snow. I’ve put a warning of “may be impossible in deep powder” in the guidebook description of the Clach Glas Traverse and so it proved. Approaching by Sgurr nan Each there were optimistic moments as progress was pretty rapid.

On Sgurr nan Each

This changed rapidly with aspect as soon as we started the rise from Bealach Clach Glas with everything swamped and no way of knowing what your foot was going to land on.

Our (not very) high point on Clach Glas

Lunar Corona


Matt’s Report

Last week the sun has been undergoing an intense period of solar flare activity, this apparently increases the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. (The northern lights are caused by cosmic particles from the sun colliding with the atmosphere and interacting with the magnetic fields at the poles)

I headed out late last night to see if there was going to be a show, sadly the cosmic particles were refusing to cooperate fully! There was a brilliant full moon which was obscuring any potential light shows. We did see some white stripes across the sky for a while (possibly just clouds but they were very picturesque) and there was also a beautiful corona round the moon. This is caused by light refracting through high altitude, thin clouds scudding across the moon. Apparently a lunar corona is seen as a harbinger of bad weather, presumably because the cirrus that cause the corona are often the the start of a frontal system. The best photos of the corona I could manage are below.

Pristine Ridge, Pinnacle & Ptarmigan. Friday 18 Feb


Despite the thaw low down the Main Ridge has remained in excellent condition for fast progress. We climbed up the An Stac screes on good stable snow with no need for crampons but needed them less than 100 feet higher up.

We hardly touched rock at all from there to the base of the Inaccesible Pinnacle some 400 feet above.

The Pinn was majestic in a garb of ice flutings as it rose into the mist but didn’t entice us to tackle it one bit.

A dream descent on perfect snow into Coire na Banachdaich followed. A final bonus was stumbling across 3 ptarmigan in their white plumage. They disappeared in the snow patches only to reappear as they crossed the rocks.

Gullies, Ridges and Sea-Cliffs


Matt’s report.


Dan and I ventured into the Great Gully on Bla Bheinn, I have been up here a few times in the last week and this has given me plenty of time to look around at new route possibilities. This time I could not resist investigating a route on the left hand side of the gully. We found a line at grade II that weaved around a lot of steep ground but did take in a couple of nice steeper steps. 

Dan Mackenzie down-climbing the short gully to gain the col connecting the north and south summits of Bla Bheinn on his first winter day out.


Beth and I explored the Flodigarry area yesterday, trying to combine fishing and climbing activities. This is a stunning part of the Island with the wonderfully shaped landscape of the Quirang dominating the skyline. I managed to sacrifice another portion of fishing gear to the sea-gods but success (and a fish supper) will surely come on another visit!

Looking north from Flodigarry

Looking back towards the Quirang


I continued the Alpine skills course with Peter today. We traversed Sgurr nan Gillean going up the Tourist Route and down the West Ridge.

A view of Clach Glas from low on the Tourist Route

On only his second winter mountaineering day out Peter looked relaxed and comfortable on the mountain and conditions meant it was pretty fast going. 

Abseiling off the West Ridge of Gillean

The freezing level has been up and down and with a cold moist wind blowing there is some fantastic hoar and rime developing on the hills. There is some powder lying on top of the rock and old snow that requires some caution but, overall, conditions are good, winter scenery and low avalanche risk compared to the mainland make Skye a good bet for the weekend.

Alpine skills introduction, Thurs 17 Feb; a traverse of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh.


Peter did a complete Ridge Traverse with Gillian as his guide last year and has his focus on the big 3 alpine peaks of Eiger, Matterhorn & Mont Blanc this year. He has asked for a course giving an introduction to the skills he will need and today certainly covered most of these areas.

Pristine snow in An Doras

For starters we covered crampon and axe work on simple slopes as pristine snow led us easily to An Doras. Only one small step was needed to gain the slopes of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh above. We found wind-blasted hard snow on the Coruisk side with a complete contrast of softer powder on the lee slope above Glen Brittle.

Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh’s huge bulk behind us.

We moved together throughout the next 1.5km as far as Sgurr na Banachdich. Generally conditions were excellent but the knife-blade crest of Ghreadaidh was very taxing and required extreme concentration.

Yawning drops focus Peter’s concentration

Peter took to crampons superbly but also realised why the rocky ridges of his alpine objectives will need to be clear of snow.

The narrow crest section finally comes to an end.

Nova Scotia Gaelic students visit Skye. Wed 16 Feb


Sunrise at Sligachan was pretty spectacular yesterday.

Bronya & I accompanied a fine bunch of students, their teachers and Explorica guide Thea Stevens to give them a feel for their roots.Many had ancestors forced to emigrate in the clearances of the 19th century.

In addition to the usual haunts around the Trotternish Peninsula we added a walk up the Tourist Route from Sligachan as far as the second bridge.

15 Feb 2011; Good snow build-up on the Ridge crest


Tom, Sam (the tango boys) & I were out again and their final wish was granted with clear skies and views of the whole Ridge. Despite a good dump of fresh snow we made good time up the Upper Rake of Mhadaidh again thanks to the consolidation of the previous wet stuff on Sunday night.

Sam takes a breather.

We played on some steep climbing for practice before heading onto the summit of Mhadaidh once more. The difference in conditions in 3 days was phenomenal with compative swift easy progress and stunning vistas. Strong wind whipped us with spindrift but, yet again, this short section of Ridge provided one of the most memorable climbs of the whole course.

Up the narrow rib with Coruisk behind

Looking back to my belayers after crossing the slab pitch

Descending into An Doras

Sunshine on Skye; Tues 15th Feb


After a few days of viewing the inside of clouds it was good to see clear skies today. The views across to the mainland and over to the Hebrides were simply stunning and left me wishing for a better camera to capture it all. We also saw a couple of Golden Eagles soaring above the Elgol peninsular. Just a fantastic day for taking in the scenery.

South summit of Bla Bheinn in the background

Cairn climbing: Always use a rope for this dangerous sport!

Looking towards Beinn na Cro and Beinn Dearg Mhor.

Valentine’s Day 2011; South Buttress Gully (III) Blaven.


Hard to say why today’s route felt so good; it was probably the overnight transformation to superb snow and ice from low levels that caught me so much by surprise. The hidden gully has amazing rock architecture throughout the entire 250m length. The climbing pitches are thought provoking but well protected. III/5- always escapable but not a push-over by any means. Mike

Great Gully on Bla Bheinn. 14 Feb 2011


Matt was out with Phil and Andy today. We had a fantastic time making our way up the Great Gully to the summit of Bla Bheinn. The cold air has finally had an effect on the hill and the snow pack is really firming up now, it was so solid that we were extremely thankful for the old footsteps. We spent some time playing with the rope, digging bucket seats and body belaying on the way up the gully. Sadly the cloud had closed in when we topped out but it did provide an opportunity for some navigation practice. It was a grand day out and many thanks to the guys for good company on the hill and an entertaining natter.

Beinn Sgreithall on the mainland rising above the mists.

Andy coming to terms with the art of body belaying!

Mike was out with Sam and Tom on Bla Bheinn as well, climbing South Buttress Gully. They looked pretty happy when they passed us on the way down and Mike would not shut up about how much fun the climbing was!

South Buttress Gully is just visible to the left of the main buttress. Great Gully is on the right of the buttress 

Winter Mountaineering on Sgurr nan Gillean



Matt was out with Rich, Tom and James today. They went for the classic traverse of Sgurr nan Gillean, going up the West Ridge and down the Tourist Route. This is a great mountain day, taking in some short pitches of climbing, a brilliant exposed knife edge and an abseil. Your concentration has to be absolute for a good couple of hours but the reward is enjoying one of the best easy winter routes in Britain.

Climbing up Loose Chimney towards the pinnacles (The chimney was well frozen and not so loose!)

Crossing the pinnacles. There was just enough visibility to maximise the exposure, but Rich seemed to enjoy the view.

Negotiating the exposed crest at the top of the Tourist Route

James on his second ever abseil. Great effort!

Mike was also out on Sgurr nan Gillean today on Just a Boys Game (III,170m) with Sam and Tom. Thin low down, the ice got better after the 2nd pitch with quality conditions towards the top. Without good ice the line is sparse on protection and commitment felt pretty high.

Mike heading up towards 4/5 Gully with Sam and Tom

Just a Boys Game, III.

Pitch 4

12 February. Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh by the Upper Rake (Grade I)


Temperatures rose rapidly today after a cold morning making for a misty approach to eventually find the freezing level at 900m just as we hit the crest. Crampons had been needed from half-way up the amphitheatre for a mixed pitch in the rock band and on the neve above. Some unusual sculptures remain in the old snow I climbed back in November (see Gaugers gully report) but it is really just left in patches now. The crest to the summit of Mhadaidh made up for any impatience for excitement as Rich, Tom & James got their first taste of Cuillin exposure. It probably took us 50 minutes to reach the summit, a section which is less than 10 minutes in dry summer conditions. Icy groves lead to a narrow crest, an 8m vertical downclimb, some slabby traversing, another groove and finally the summit where the guys announced it was their first Munro.

The narrow rib between the 3rd & 4th tops of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh.

The Glen Brittle side was clear of mist and views out to Rum & Canna showed that the sun was coming. The drift of snow would have let us walk out of An Dorus onto Ghreadaidh (instead of the usual 6m step) but will have to wait for another day.

Looking across the Thuilm Ridge of Mhadaidh into Coire na Creiche below.

Sunshine and Snow on Bla Bheinn


Matt took Beth up Bla Bheinn today. We had a footwork coaching session at the bottom of South Buttress before ascending Great Gully. There was no scree showing and the snow was reasonably firm despite the sun beating down on us. The top three hundred feet was excellent neve which bodes well for conditions on the higher crags such as the Bhasteir face of Sgurr na Gillean.

Looking down the Great Gully

At the top we popped our heads over to see the entire Cuillin Ridge spread out before us. The air quality was excellent and it felt like you could reach out and touch the mountains; it also made the drops look enormous.

The northern end of the Cuillin Ridge lying the far side of Glen Sligachan

We visited the North top first and then enjoyed the exposed col and the short crest leading to the South top.

Poise and elegance above the precipice! The awkward step is behind Beth.

Climbing the awkward step from the col to the South top. This can look intimidating from below but the difficulties are very short-lived.

More from the Winter Climbing Meet. 3-7 Feb 2011


Our merry band had some more adventures in the Cuilin yesterday with teams were out on the North end of the ridge and on Sgurr Thearlaich.

In Pinn from the Great Stone Shoot

Snowfields of Coire a`Bhasteir below Pinnacle Ridge

Triumph on Sgurr nan Gillean!

Easy ground on The Deadline (III,4) North face of Am Basteir

North Chimney, III,5 or grade I if banked

Southern Cuillin and Coruisk viewed from Bidean.

3 days of fun and more to come: Photos from the Winter Climbing Meet


Friday was stormy

Saturday was mild low down but good on top.

West Ridge of Gillean for some,

Bruach na Frithe for others,

BC Buttress of Thearliach, IV,5 in mega nick.

Andy’s first ever outdoor route; good eyes!

And an exciting descent.

Gillian on Gillean

Doctor’s Gully

Grade II my butt!

Snow on Cue, 3rd February 2011


Turning from Spring to Winter overnight for the arrival day of the Skye Winter Meet is, of course, just what we ordered 3 months ago at the start of the planning. With the popularity of mixed climbing the arguement goes that Cuillin winter climbing is possible far more often than commonly perceived. Also overlooked is the Cuillin ridges and the incredible challenges they throw up. In combination with the alpine scenery there’s all the ingredients for a heady week of exploration & adventure Skye style ahead.

Marsco’s North Face from Luib

Winter Storms forecast & Skye Winter meet


After a quiet mild period it is good to see some weather back again. Howling lashing storms with a dose of Canadian arctic air thrown in from Thursday onward looks good to me. Westerly gales like this tend to be a lot better news for Cuillin mixed than the dry powdery stuff we’ve had last year and early this season so I’m optimistic just so long as the arctic air wins out as Unysis is suggesting.

The Skye winter meet starts on Thursday too so the change in weather is pretty handy. 20 of us will be based in the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut with an aim to tackle as big a variety of winter routes as possible. This could leave me with quite a bit of apologising to my guidebook editor if the developement of new routes continues at the same rate as the pre-christmas period.

Reports will be posted on the Skye Guides blog whenever we manage to get out of Glen Brittle but may not be too often.