With heavy rain due after lunch we decided to give winter skills a miss and enjoy some Cuillin scrambling. We hit pretty lucky with rolling mists but just light showers.
Scotch Mist effects with the huge Western Buttress behind
I opted for a tour of some impressive rock scenery on Cioch Buttress. Tim & Hui moved together using short-roping skills learnt at the indoor session yesterday. I led the less experienced Nat & Andy to show the way.
Lower Cioch Buttress showing our line- all about grade 2 scrambling
We started up into the Amphitheatre then up Cioch Gully. Half-way up this, before the rock climbing starts, a chimney breaks left and crosses Cioch West.
Nat contemplating the mantle-shelf out of a hole trick
One more 25m scramble leads up to the Terrrace below the Cioch. We had lunch here before following the Terrace back out to the Sgumain Stone Shoot.
Tim’s team’s winter skills course looked like it was heading for a wash-out this week but skills learnt from Matt on Tuesday were applied well in Great Gully on Blaven today.
Dodge the hole!
Athough the top 6 inches of the snowpack has suffered in the heavy thaw the very old snow below remains very hard. As as result we had over 500ft of good snowstomping in crampons with only a couple of short mixed sections.
Tim checking out the rock routes on the buttress above
The rewards on the summit were the same old mix of golden light effects that I can never tire of.
We all headed over to the mainland in search of dry weather on Monday. With warm rain still falling a team ascent of the Forcan Ridge was the decision.
Kitted up & ready to go
The route was in entertaining form with a mix of icy steps, soft snow & wet rock and the rope very welcome. A classic winter scramble and a worthy neighbour to the Cuillin my favourite part is always the mega bumslide from the summit.
Reaching the rock step on the Forcan Ridge before the final snowy section
Emma, Carly & Jill were back for a 2nd visit this winter, with friend Polly standing in for Chloe (doing something boring like the Annapurna trek!).
Spectacular backdrop to the climb.
They climbed the long N.E. ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir with Matt and put crampons on fairly early to deal with the frequent snow patches.
Polly in crampons for the 1st time
As the team headed in towards Bealach na Lice a whistle was heard coming from Fionn Choire
Matt pointing ou the views just before the whistle was heard.
The main casualty had fallen at least 200ft, sustained a broken leg and a head injury with the partner also suffering from cuts in a tumble. Matt took control of the situation but, as with any serious incident, the rescue took a long time to happen.
Stornaway Coastguard chopper arrives
The Buckley team helped out & kept themselves warm until the helicopter had finished eventually needing headtorches for the final hour of descent.
Not a situation that anyone ever wants but, equally, I’m sure we would all appreciate the level of help given if we’re ever unfortunate enough to have an accident ourselves.
Cuillin regular Chris was on the same wavelength as me for what to do on a fine day with only limited winter climbing options.
We shot around the complete horseshoe (Sgurr nan Eag to South top of Blaven)
Clach Glas was snow free and ther were only tiny patches until the final chimney. We avoided this by a variation on I’ve used before out to the west (right).
A thin covering of snow on the tops of Blaven completed the real alpine feel.
Heading towards the South Top with Hebrides in the background.
Grant & Susan have got ropes etc and done some leading in the past but wanted specific techniques for scrambling in the Cuillin. We started with a couple of hours of indoor training here in Luib then, when it had stopped raining, headed out t put things into practice. Sgurr an Fheadain is a great option for this with only a short approach and nearly 2000ft of terrain to practice on.
After a short deomonstration on the opening slabs I passed the rope over to Helen & Grant who worked well together safely to the summit.
Grant looking like the “real deal” in clothes that only an alpine guide would dare to wear!
No surprises really that when everyone else had returned home the weather really turned beautiful. Susan & I managed to clean & clear the hut by 8-30am and headed round to Sligachan after clearing ice off the windscreens.
Obligatory Cuillin morning glory!
We still needed to head high and the Bhasteir Face (5th pinnacle) of Gillean was my best option. Early sun and no wind soon had us down to t-shirts on the approach and crampons were donned just above the Bhasteir gorge.
Pinnacle Ridge from the Bhasteir gorge
Beautiful conditions made the stomp feel pretty pain-free and soon we were studying our options.
Most attractive was Flutings Climb which has probably only had a single winter ascent. Back in 1997 Martin Moran gave it IV,6 & described it as high in the grade. To me this means technically hard moves and well protected but the initial section through a basalt band was obviously gearless. The build-up wasn’t perfect but there was some ice underlying the refrozen snow. Susan, I suspected, was a great deal more comfortable dealing with thin ice than me and so it proved.
Susan starts the first of the 2 steep steps
The first 2 steps were deceptively steep & on only marginal placements with a big long icy tumble in prospect. Whereas Susan didn’t seem to have hesitated I felt I might pop off at any second.
Me wondering “Just how did you justify leading that?”
Susan had doubts about continuing in these “Ben in Spring” conditions with a move of 6 still to come. Luckily this eejit, having got that scary exposed pitch out of the way, really quite liked the look of the enclosed chimney above.
Nearing the top of pitch 2.
Not only did the ice improve considerably but the 50m pitch was a real beauty, well protected and probably only grade III. Overall I’d suggest Flutings may be more like grade V,5; more serious, less technical but defintely needs good ice in the lowest 15m.
A lone photographer roamed the crest of Sgurr a Bhasteir opposite, undoubtedly spoilt for choice as thin veils of mist and linear clouds above picked up the beautiful light bouncing off the snows.
Spot the person!
Susan whooped true yank style at the perfect placements as she exited and then shot up the finishing snow gully.
The rewarding views (Susan felt more at home once she’d spotted Big Bad Ben out east) topped the meet off in real style.
Hebridean delight; great end to the winter meet.
An easy descent of the West Ridge and abseil back to our sacks saw us down before dark despite the late start.
A stunning dawn on approach today.
Platinum pink clouds approaching Coire Lagan
All of us (Paul & Brendan, Simon & Karen & Susan & Mike)were worried that too much damage had been done by the rain with the cliffs clearly darker. The rain had damaged Karens elbow on yesterdays walk too much to swing so she & Simon climbed up Bomb Alley (I) to Bealach Mhichoinnich for the view.
I was mighty relieved to see my predictions of good ice were right once we actually got up close & familiar. We discovered pretty soon that things were actually better than Friday but both teams had opted for easier objectives by then. Brendan led off into the depths of Gully C.
BC Buttress routes. Probably the most reliable winter crag in the Cuillin?
Red-Gully B VI,6, Blue- Gully C III, Green- BC Buttress IV,5 & Direct variation V,6, Yellow- Vent du Nord V,6, Orange-Diedre Blanc V,5
The screams I heard blown up the Stone Shoot were the audio aid needed to get through the initial squeeze. Far worse than the hole in Crypt Route apparently and the excuse for no photos was that all pockets had to be emptied.
Susan & I were somewhat obliged to make a direct ascent of Gully E that we had abseiled on friday night because I got the ropes stuck. Matt & I had climbed mostly on the left side of the gully last year because of deep powder. The direct version in such great condition gave a grade III well worthy of a few stars. Susan suggests it is called E is for Eejit!
Lovely ice in Gully E, III. My DMM axes in need of a respray already!
Unsticking & hauling up the ice-laden ropes left us on the Ridge with huge sacks.
Trying to seperate & coil the iced ropes!
Susan is off to China this autumn so we decided to see how far we could traverse for some real big mountain practice.
High Vis girl on the 2nd abseil off N. end of Thearlaich
Concentration on a banked out Collie’s Ledge
Traversing from Thearlaich to Bealach Coire Lagan took us close on 2 hours; 2 hours of great mountaineering that tested the concentration & techniques- Collie’s Ledge in full winter garb was a first for me too and one I’m glad to have found in pretty amenable conditions.
Saturday the 4th dawned as appaling as predicted and I took full advantage of an empty dorm & no alarm. Tidying up & firesetting was followed by making my first ever vat of soup- very fine & simple it was too.
Chris rode up the glen with a tail-wind before a gear problem meant he had a right scrap to get back down again.
Karen & Simon returned right on cue to appreciate the soup, drenched to the bone from an attempt to get above the freezing level that had always been doomed but spirits weren’t dampened. The rain stopped suddenly and before we knew it the clouds parted to reveal a good covering of snow still remaining down to below 700m. It was the perfect recipe for yet more conditions is the skies would just stay clear & temperatures drop.
Spike & Matt had spent the day making the annual dinner and were due to deliver the Indian feast as soon as the rugby had finished. Typically inconsiderate timing saw the water supply fail and with a sense of deja vu I prepared to go in over the waist to clear the intake pipe. First I tried the more intelligent bleeding approach I’d been taught last year. Thankfully I was saved from the icy dip!
The meal was great but partying kept pretty minimal with the prospect of some good climbing next morning. I’m sure my wee slide show on Cuillin history helped everyone drop off quickly.
There were less of us this year but good conditions on 3 out of the 4 days meant more success with 3 new routes and two 2nd ascents. Pushed for time so will do a day at a time.
Local walker Chris Armstrong enjoyed the stunning views in Coire Lagan in the morning. I’ve never seen the streams so “statuesque”; frozen solid with hardly a drop of running water to be heard.
Frozen falls just below Loch Lagan with Sgurr Mhicchoinnich behind
Chris returned for a civilised lunch in the hut and then explored Coire na Banachdaich in the afternoon.
Paul Cunningham & Brendan Croft headed up the Upper Rake on Mhadaidh and finally found a good looking possibility. I tried Fox Trap last winter myself but bottled out of the fierce looking upper section.
Paul was bolder than I had been and found a fault system breaking away from the tight chimney after a few metres. The one shot they did take makes it look quite an adventure into the unknown.
Paul well out there on pitch 2 of The Wildcat Flap
Beyond where Paul is his route description says “Step left into a steep corner, using good hooks, and make some strenuous moves (crux) to reach easier ground.” Fine effort!
Naming the route proved fun at naturalist Paul’s expense; apparently the prints in the snow could be the lesser known Skye Wildcat he’d informed Brendan:- Hence The Wildcat Flap V,6
Susan & I headed for Sgurr Thearlaich which is rapidly becoming my “best guarantee” for good conditions. Despite not donning crampons until over 800m we found the cliff in superb condition with runnels of ice and fully rimed.
Susan & I dwarfed by the mighty walls of Sgurr Thearlaich (pic-Chris Armstrong)
We were relaxed enough to even pop up to the top of the Stone Shoot for the views-
Looking over to the Dubhs
Pinn & An Stac with a golden eagle soaring at the top of the pic
Our new route took a continuous line on the buttress right of Gully E. Despite the obvious large roof Susan went for it with great confidence & skill to eventually find a tiny ledge and enough gear to justify a belay (35m).
Susan approaching the overhangs on first ascent of High Visibility VI,6
Low Vis on High Visibility VI,6 Sgurr Thearlaich!
Looking pleased as punch & rightly so.
Pleased to have stayed on that pitch I was glad to see mine started quite gently and even had a good gear crack. Somewhat inevitably the mood changed around the first wee corner as things steepened up. Some careful calculation mixed with mental blanking let me do a lovely sequence of long moves to reach a wonderful solid spike. Above the choice of 3 grooves was reduced to one by a process of elimination. Luckily it held some great hooks and a big thread before the final roof. This was far smaller than I feared & soon I was being battered by the wind on the broad Ridge crest.
Susan pulls over the top in the High Vis Belay jacket that gave us the route name