Archive for January, 2012

British Rail Snow; what’s going to happen? 27th January


We’ve avoided the dreaded deep powder so far this season but yesterdays dump means hard work until some consolidation happens. Our battle weary legs couldn’t face trawling so Matt with Will and myself with Ian all opted for Sgurr an Fheadain. A 40 minute approach and thinly covered ridge made great sense.

The mighty Sgurr an Fheadain, all 688m of it!

We found great conditions low down with the slabs coated in solid ice and snow giving great foot placements all the way.

Ian starting to enjoy this mixed terrain

Eventually we reached the point where only powder lay but this just added a bit of spice to the wonderful summer scrambling

Will looking at home on the narrow arete

and Ian not looking down.

Skye-lining it.

The thin clouds rolled in & out all day and Ian finally got the sun/snow combo he deserved.

Ian needed an early finish so we left Will & Matt to head off into the sunshine for the views.

Matt caught lying down on the job; Bidean behind.

The strange meteorological conditions for the week ahead make predictions very difficult. At the moment there is tooo much powder for my liking. A brief thaw is possible (and needed) on Sunday. If that happens we’ll be in clover for the folowing week which suggests that the cold air will dominate

1-0 to 2/3 Gully 26th January


After 2 tropical days winter returned in style today. Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning still didn’t prepare me for hours of continuous fresh snow.

Red Skies over the Beinn Dearg’s this morning.

We went to check out the gully between 2nd and 3rd pinnnacles as a start to Pinnacle Ridge that is recorded as Grade II or I if banked out. What we found was considerably harder and in a very unfriendly mood.

Pinnacle Ridge; they are numbered 1-5 from left to right, with Gillean(5) in the cloud.

The bare steps proved awkward with mushy ice & powder but we did 4 small pitches. The big problem was the continual flow of spindrit from above.

Pitch below the cave; nice!

Finally faced with a choice of a waterall or a powderfall whilst backing up verglassed basalt cave we gave up the battle.

Happy to retreat from the spindrift.

Wintry but wet. Alasdair 24th January


Feeling robbed today as the warm wet weather arrived early. There was superb ice on the routes on Thearlaich but the temperature was rising fast and rain steady. We opted to dump the gear & run to the top of Alasdair. By the time we got back all of the rime had gone and the good ice of an hour before had turned to slush.

Ian taking shelter on the summit.

Matt took John’s party up NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe where the alpine training continued despite the weather’s best attempts to send them packing; breed them ‘ard in Essex!

Beautiful day on Blaven. 23rd January


The alpine training continued today in great conditions. Overnight snow lay down to 400m and early showers cleared by 10am.

Kitting up under the huge boulder in Coire Uiganish

John heads up toward our objective Great Gully, grade I.

We soon found ourselves floundering in graupel, a kind of hail that had rolled downhill into deep drifts. When we stopped to put crampons on it stuck to everything.

 Flask with a hail stone coating!

Technically graupel is a type of precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake. It has the consistency of small polystyrene balls and forms a particularly unstable layer that can easily cause avalanches. The quantities involved were fortunately not enough to worry me excessively and we decided to continue as 3 seperate ropes.

Getting close to the top

The scenery on the walls of the gully was as spectacular as ever and very soon we broke the crest.

John’s team traversing the narrow snow arete at the top; very alpine!

South End of the Main Ridge clear in the background behind Spud

Summit smiles

Descending with glorious golden light coming in from the Minch behind

Garbh-bheinn; rope training. 22 January


John, Steve, Marco, Ed, Tom & Spud are off to the alps this summer and have chosen the Cuillin for their alpine training course. After a couple of hours refresher in the warmth of the Luib office we headed just up the road to Garbh-bheinn to put it into practice.

Approaching up the NW ridge of Garbh-bheinn; Red Cuillin behind.

We roped into 3 seperate parties to descend a steep gully to the foot of the north face before discussing & setting up an abseil for everyone to learn from.

Concentration as Spud tests the anchors and checks that the rope reaches!

Tom feeling confident.

Marco with the snow-clad North face of Garbh-bheinn behind.

Main-man Ed with sunlit Belig behind.

Fine finish; Blabheinn 20 January


Tim, Paul & I enjoyed a beautifully quiet (windless) and snowy ascent of Blaven today.

Blabheinn at dawn today

Paul pointing out the route to me.

Heading up the “Normal Route” high above the east face

Admiring the drop

Re-ascent to the South Top

It was the last day of a very successful course that started with Gillean on Monday, Sgurr Dearg on Tuesday, Sgurr nan Fheadain on Wednesday and a walk up to the Storr on Thursday.

Tim’s shots and comments on his facebook page give a good flavour of the week and he has kindly opened them up for anyone here to view. Thanks Tim.

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

New guidebook arrives- Skye Sea-cliffs and Outcrops


Great news today is that first copies of the new SMC guidebook Skye Seacliffs and Outcrops have arrived back from the printers and should be on the shelves in the next couple of weeks.


Covering all of Skye outwith the Cuillin and our closest neighbouring island of Raasay. The book shows hundreds of new possibilities on the sundrenched cliffs at Neist, soaring jamming cracks at Kilt, solid sandstone overhangs at Elgol and Gneiss outcrops on Raasay.

The wonderful seacliffs of Suidhe Biorach at Elgol

On Trotternish the major addition is the ice arena at Scamadal as well as more hard mixed routes on the huge Storr cliffs.

Ice Arena at Scamadal just north of the Storr

The book also includes a guide to bouldering across the whole island (including the Cuillin), Deep Water Soloing and ticklists for wild seastacks and every notable pinnacle.

I can’t wait to get out and explore the dozens of new venues and climb those lines I’ve always wondered about but not had neck to try.

Copies will be available from us via the website once the bulk of books arrives at the distributers Cordee in a few days time. With 2 brand new definitive SMC guidebooks to the island, Skye is sure to be high on the agenda for climbers in the season ahead.

Full-on winter is back. January 16th


The Black Cuillin tops have been shrouded in mist for 3 days with mostly black rocks and just a few old patches of snow showing below. I opted for the Tourist Route on Gillean today expecting to be on dry rock to the summit so it was quite a surprise to find full-on winter above 700m.

The old snow was rock hard and gave perfect crampon & axe practice for Tim & Paul for the final 25 minute rise to the South-east Ridge.

Practicing axe & crampon work

Great snow stomping

On the crest we found a mix of verglass, hoar, old snows and really good thin “instant neve”. The bitter wind was gusting pretty fiercely from very low down but fortunately was no worse on the crest; the harshest bit was a face full of hoar crystals if I tried to look back to see how the guys climbing below were doing.

 Ow that hurts!

The crux corners just before the narrow finale were the only place we did a 20m pitch.

Tim on the crux corners

I’ve given this route a winter grade of II in the guidebook but today did make me wonder how far off III it might be, particularly for anyone unfamiliar with the easiest line.

On a descending section of the final narrows

The top of Gillean is almost always a windless haven and so it proved again today. My theory is that the winds bounce off the steep walls encircling it. So we enjoyed a peaceful lunch celebration on top before opting to retrace our tracks rather than heading down the West ridge.

Tim makes it to Gillean, a 10-year ambition come true.

We abseiled from the same sling I’d left in December which was a first for Tim and first time since school-days for Paul; they coped admirably despite being unable to hear much above the wind.

Paul reaching the foot of the abseil

All in all another cracking day in the office.

Hobnobbing at the Storr. 15 January


5-30am start and walking up to the Storr with a scarlet dawn breaking over the mainland sounds like the perfect start to some winter climbing on Skye.

Sadly climbing conditions aren’t quite right at the minute but a day of crewing on the film Prometheus has been a great laugh in a stunning location for Matt, me & a large number of other Skyefolk today.

Wonderful dawn light at this time of year

Matt watching first of many loads arriving

Overview of the main shooting area

The film is a prequel to the blockbusting Alien and director Ridley Scott was up there calling all the shots. Matt had been chewing the fat with “Ridders” yesterday as shots were planned but the main man was very busy making the most of short daylight hours on this beautiful day.

Female lead (presumably as a “young” Sigorny Weaver?) is Noomi Rapace of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame. A bitter wind was ripping across the slopes removing any heat from the sun & she looked very glad when her scenes were finished & she was whisked away in a chopper.

Noomi taking directions from Ridley

and Neil Maclean Sconser doing the really hard work of delivering coffee to the crew.

Broad Gully. January 6th


Chris was back again after his first taste of the Cuillin in November, this time for an introduction to the white stuff. Despite the rain being heavier than the Beeb predicted we had a good day on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.

Enjoying the dry approach

We were helped by a dry start and then a fine set of tracks left yesterday by, at a guess, Sgurr a’ Bhasteir officianado Mr Beads. These led us not only to our objective but right up into it and a handy dry cave in which to kit up.

Our surprise shelter

Broad Gully is about 600ft long and gives a great way to approach the NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir and holds snow for most of the winter. There are some great icy alternatives on either side that form readily, all in the lower grades and all put up by Beads with a variety of partners.

 Looking up…..

…and looking down

On hitting the ridge the weather had deteriated to a tropical rain storm so it was time for a sharp exit with some ice axe breaking instruction on a perfect slope that dropped us straight down to the lochain in Coire a’ Bhasteir.

Far too much fun being had in this serious winter mountaineering game!

Superb conditions on Alasdair. 5th January


I didn’t know what to expect after the past few days of extreme weather but big dumps of snow & big thaws followed by a temperature drop should produce some useful conditions; despite knowing the theory I was amazed at what we found. From Coire Lagan we climbed NW Ramp of Sgumain in 3 full pitches. It is definitely grade II (as opposed to I in the guidebook) with some laid-back but only thinly iced slabs concentrating the mind well.

View of the route from Coire Lagan

2nd belay

Maybe next time this icicle will grow big enough to climb

Above me the top pitch weaves between snow patches & ice smears before finishing below The Final Tower, an impressive Severe rock climb in summer.

Traversing onto Sgumain and taking in the views

 Looking to the South end over Loch Choire a’ Ghrunnda

Around Sgumain; Blabheinn in the background

Lunch in the cave; Dubhs behind

Above here the views got even better and we continued around Sgumain and onto Alasdair by the SW Flank (II). Above the chimney there were a few small rock steps before the long runnel to the summit. The snow in this was in superb nick with just enough give for the toes and front points.

Rich & Andy on the last few steps to the top of Skye

Descending from the summit.

The narrow crest down the Stone Shoot was also in good nick but didn’t disguise the big drops. Descending the Stone Shoot was a dream with heels digging in and crampons off pretty quickly before the obligatory bumslide to finish.

Sgurr Dearg & the In Pinn in evening light seen from the Great Stone Shoot

Bright moon & stunning sunset colours to finish; what more could a boy want? Off to the ceilidh to find out.

Bruach na Frithe in a Blizzard. 3 January


Rich Sheehan is back with his mates Tom & Andy again for more winter fun. Despite dawn forgetting to appear until after 8-30am (because the cloud was so thick & low) we togged up & the old mantra of it’s fine once you’re out there proved right again.

Despite silly quantities of snow virtually from the car we made good progress, explored a gorge in Fionn Choire then gained the NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe.

The gorge at the base of Fionn Choire

There was some swimming whenever we turned the crest on the west flank but swinging the role of trail-breaking got us surprisingly rapidly to the summit.

Happy team on the NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe

We descended Coir’ a’ Bhasteir needing care on the old snow necklace around Am Basteir’s towering north walls.

Dwarfed by the walls of Am Basteir

Cuillin Glossy Mag Article. Climb, January edition.


Climb has printed a 6-page illustrated article on winter climbing in the Cuillin written by Mike. It uses a selection of photos including a classic shot by the superb mountain artist and photographer Jamie Hageman

Jamie Hageman’s classic self-portrait is the frontspiece

The article gives a brief history of modern developements in the Cuillin as emphasis finally shifts away from the Winter Traverse. There are tips on how to choose a route, what gear to take and some ideas of great routes right through the grades.

Sneak preview

Cover of the January issue.

Timely return for a freeze; 2 January


Happy 2012 from a snowy Skye. Let the year ahead be healthy & prosperous and may all your climbing ambitions be realised. We have freezing level right back down to the sea once more today.

View over the remaining stocks this morning.

The wild & wet weather was poorly timed for climbers and walkers over the festive period but did allow some excellent social. Great craic yesterday at the Edinbane Inn which is probably the best venue for live music on the island just now-