Archive for December, 2011

Seasons greetings from Skye 29th December


A quick hello to let everyone know we’ve survived the storms so far, touch wood. The excellent conditions got well stripped back but a good layer of fresh white stuff arrived overnight.

Sligachan view today.

The storms & freeze thaws are due to continue so hopefully some good stuff when work starts again next week.

Southern Comfort (on ice) IV,5 18th December


The fine spell is breaking down at last so I’m very glad to have managed another long standing project yesterday.

 Dawn reflections in Coire Lagan

The best ice appears to have all formed on south facing slopes so we headed into Coire Lagan where I knew of a few possibilities. Things were thinner than I expected but then a glimpse of grey ice appeared high above South Buttress and reminded me of a line I’d seen back in 1999. We carried on far enough to confirm that the bounding gully did indeed hold continuous ice before heading up.

The first 2 main pitches; we approached slightly from the right. The crux was at top of the xmas-tree shaped piece of ice half-way up what is visible.

1st Main ice pitch

There aren’t any photos of the crux steep step because I was focussed a bit too much on not falling off. Things relaxed a bit more above with a superb hidden pitch appearing 50m above.

 The hidden bonus pitch.

We even had a screw belay above here.

After 5 long pitches we reached the fine narrow ridge that links up to the summit of Sgurr Dearg still 250m above us. This slowed us & entertained us considerably but finally we topped out just 100m from the In Pinn.

Views appear for the top of our new route.

Matthew Au Cheval on the finishing ridge

 Looking out to the Ruadh.

Pinn rimed up.

I’ve opted for Southern Comfort as a name to honour the unusual conditions where south faces are offering better climbing than the norht faces.

White Lies, new line in ice paradise, 15th December


Firstly I should let anyone interested in doing a Winter Traverse “the holy grail of Scottish Winter routes” know that it is pretty damn good condition and the forecast ahead is good.

Looking at the back of Am Basteir today

I’m not offering but just letting folk know. I’ve got lots of projects to go for in conditions like these and today was a good start-

I followed my own advice from Monday’s Blog and went to climb the amazing looking ice on the south face of Gillean today. We did a new route that takes a line of ice right of the existing route and have called it White Lies; grade IV,5. It was 280m long so the descent was largely done in the dark.

My Skye mates Beads & Ben were great cpompany; we all shared the task of breaking trail, were all blown away with the views & all of us got plenty of time on the sharp end.

It’s great when a plan comes together!

Coir’ a’ Bhasteir at its best

Basteir Tooth looking awesome.

 Ben studying possibilities; we took the main line of ice visible here but…

….this is the ice arena that greeted us when we could see the whole south face of Gillean

Ben belays Beads on pitch one; our line lies up right. The main line is White Dreams, 275 m IV,5 (2000)

Beads on the steep top step high on pitch one.

Ben’s Corner, pitch 3. This was a lot steeper than it looked with the ice fairly rubbish. Beads & I had to climb the vertical thicker ice to Ben’s left because of a big hole that appeared.

A happy Ben as Beads leads pitch 4; first time placements all the way.

Final pitch looking down the steep finish

Ben on the finishing swings


Good to be back & great conditions 12 December 2011


A fortnight of freeze thaw conditions, with a few mental storms thrown in, has left some great climbing. Firstly a teaser- The Smear, V, which has porbably not had a second ascent since 1979, has a good start going as the pic below shows.

The Smear (V, 1979) lies below the 2nd Top of Mhadaidh.

I climbed directly up the broad West Face of Bruach na Frithe from Tairnilear which gave over 2000ft on snow.

I took a grade II line fairly directly to the summit of Bruach na Frithe on the left.

The face appears fairly featureless from below but the huge scale soon threw up route choices and plenty to concentrate the brain.

A crunchy start then short mixed band soon became well consolidated snow with accumulations of powder that never became more than a few inches in depth (so no avalanche worries). In the top 600ft (200m) I was able to take my pick of really beautiful solid steps of ice.

With calves burning it was good to finally top out a few minutes from the summit. There was a good narrow line of well consolidated neve running pretty much continuously with a complete covering of thinner snow filling in the gaps.

The wind sculpted ridge of neve.

Looking southwards these conditions appeared to be pretty uniform.

Good covering across the tops of Bidean Druim nan Ramh, 2700ft

Route possibilities were everywhere but the best looking option was White Dreams. This huge route takes a direct line up the south face of Sgurr nan Gillean from Lota Corrie and hasn’t received a second ascent.

The ice on White Dreams (IV) can clearly be seen splitting the South Face.

I carried on past Bruach na Frithe to Bealach na Lice for a close look at the north face of Am Basteir and the Bhasteir faces of Pinnacle Ridge. Although not as snowy as I’ve often seen it I’d guess the quality of ice & neve will make almost any route on these faces a good option just now. There’s a couple of better known exceptions but they could be good after todays storms.

 HDQ (VIII) looking black on Am Bastier

Bhasteir faces of 4th & 5th Pinnacles; Gingini Chimney is currently incomplete but close- takes the incomplete line low on 5th Pinnacle with Forked Chimney (IV) the dark gash to its left.

The descent down Fionn Choire was one of the easiest under foot I’ve ever had and the next strorm was just building nicely as I got back.
Everything is going to look a lot whiter when things calm down on Thursday. There’ll probably be deep drifts on lee slopes to watch out for but plenty to go for. White Dreams should be getting well scoured and my choice of approach is likely to be the NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir and descending from Bealach na Lice.

If you haven’t got your guidebook yet I’ve got a stock you can collect as you arrive or get sent out to you. Check the website consolation


My trip down south was great fun until travelling back on Friday; I’d made the mistake of feeling smug at missing Thursday’s storm but we were turned back from Inverness late Friday night by snow. The delights of the extra time in Gatwick were rewarded next morning by the best arial views of Scotland I’ve ever had the privelidge to see. Here’s a selection as we approached Lochaber from the south before turning east along the Great Glen-

Clouds clear to reveal the Highlands in full winter garb.

Ben Nevis is the highest peak on the left of shot with Aonach Mor the long sunlit crest stretching rightward.

Looking east to west along the dawn-lit tops from Beinn na Lap past the Grey Corries, Aonachs, Carn Mor Dearg to Ben Nevis.

Mountaineering magic-way more fun than xmas shopping!


Matts Report

I was out on the hill with Beads again today. We had some great weather and managed to climb a new route on the North face of Sgurr a Bhasteir-250 metres of grade II climbing. It made a lovely approach to the North-East ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir which gave us another 350 metres of  good ridge climbing. It was a great day out with some phenomenal views to the Outer Hebrides and the mainland, both of which were full of snow covered hills as far as the eye could see.

Dawn light on the Northern end of Skye

Beads leading on the new route

Glamaig and the mainland

The North-East ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir (grade I)

The Third Pinnacle, Knights Peak and Sgurr nan Gillean

Heading towards the main ridge

Snowy Skye


Matts Report

I was out with Beads yesterday on Meall Odhar (satellite peak of Sgurr a Bhasteir) we found a nice bit of easy climbing on the side of the hill and enjoyed some magnificent views of mountains, sea and snow! It started snowing at sea level last night and there is a good covering now. The hills themselves will be pretty swamped with powder and there is the beginnings of some good ice. I have taken a few photos of the view from my house-apologies for the quality but my mobile phone has my only working camera just now.

View from Sconser towards Raasay

Glamaig from Sconser

Winter is arriving!


Matts Report

It is looking hopeful for winter climbing on Skye in the not too distant future. Here are a couple of photos of the Ridge I took from Sligachan today.