I’ve been spoilt with quality days recently but yesterday was right up there with the very best. Hard to say why but good company, a fresh covering of snow, an easy ice climb turning out to be serious, top out in the sun, knife-edge snow arete, blood-red snows and a moonlit descent all played their part.
The Amphitheatre held a huge dump of avalanche debris from last weeks washout.
As the mists cleared the ice pitches began to look pretty challenging.
4 sketchy pitches followed with just enough ice and protection to justify not reversing 200m of steep snow slope. The top-out was a relief combined with all the aesthetics of incredible views, sunshine and clear skies.
We opted to continue over the summit via the final 100m of the north ridge. This was the highlight as the snow arete dropped away on both sides and a combination of au cheval (leg either side bum shuffle), crawling and tightrope walking led to even more stunning vistas from the summit.
Descent from An Dorus still required concentration and effort but finally we were able to remove crampons and enjoy the darkening descent. Just as clarity was fading the moon provided an enormous burst of light rose from behind the Ridge; I genuinely thought that one of the guys had put a head-torch on!
Enjoy the gallery-
Mark and Brian were up to the challenge and everything went to plan.
Roping across the exposed snow on the Tourist Route was probably the most gripping and descending the same way unattractive.
Numerous exposed rocks offered up good anchors and the crest of narrow snow on the final 100m felt far less serious than what we had already crossed.
Weaving from side to side of the crest, mostly on rock, made the descent feel controlled but the final abseil came as a relief from the ankle twisting.
Descending together from Bealach a’ Bhasteir to the lochan was easier than I had feared and finally removing crampons on the lip of the corrie was like putting on a pair of slippers! Good day in the office!
Yesterday was probably the best day of the year so far with not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Having a break at the boulder in Coire Uiginish and lazing around in the sun, discussing rock climbing options, it was certainly tempting not to head for the shady confines of South Buttress Gully but we knew the rewards would be worthwhile.
We cramponed up beneath the Colditz routes that had been completely washed away. We were forced into the dog-leg entry to SBG but the snow pack was superb as soon as we were in the shade
I led the first mixed step and then passed the lead to Mark for the upper icy corner (he had missed out when we climbed it in December). Logistics for climbing as a team of 5 were interesting but the scenery and conditions gave plenty to admire while awaiting turns.
The stunning weather today belied the serious nature of the snow conditions. Rock hard on the rise out of Coire na Banachdaich became a wee bit slushy on the descent to the foot of the Pinn and then deep and unconsolidated on sunny slopes by the end of the day. Not a complaint but, with a perfect forecast, it is certainly a warning to concentrate through the week ahead.
Enjoy the pics-
Cracking first day with James, Sam & Josh. Strong wind kept us away from the ridges but we made great time up Coir’ a’Bhasteir, dodged quickly through Bealach na Lice and sneeked up onto the summit of Sgurr a Fionn Choire without getting blown off.
Highlight of the day was the superb bumslide from the bealach which took us down over 1000 feet in a couple of minutes. The snow as just the right consistency but may be too hard in another day or 2 for such indulgence:)
Snow conditions are thinned out but what’s left is consolidating rapidly now that we have some clear skies. Shame all the ice washed away but there’s gonna be some great days on the Ridge ahead.
2 days of intense wind & rain finally eased off yesterday morning and it was time to go and see what conditions were like. Parking for the beautiful peak of Garbh bheinn is just a 2 minute drive from home at the head of Loch Ainort.
We opted against the north face because we reckoned that the snow would be very soft after so much warm weather. Retrospectively this seems not to have been the case as the old snow fields are so well consolidated that they are still a good consistency.
An hour of walking up the Druim Eadar da Choire took us to the hill marked with a spot height 489m on the Harvey’s map; there is a local name for this wonderful viewspot (a best on Skye contender for sure) but I’ll have to write it down next time I remember to ask the crofters. The Main Ridge was clear and showed the crest to be well plastered still along the entire length. Undoubtedly some exposed rock sections but very, very wintery still!
The dip at point 429m just below is the geological boundary between the Red and Black Cuillin and the cliff of black gabbro can clearly be seen sitting on top of the more rounded red granite hillside. For another hour we all indulged in as much scrambling on the hugely crystaline gabbro as we could find with a fine narrow crest as a finale.
The view of the ridge from Clach Glas to Blaven from here is uber classic; great background for the team pic!
We’d planned to descend north-east towards Belig but the hard/sugary snow interspersed with rock-hard turfs looked far too serious for such a relaxed day out with friends so we retraced our steps and were treated to some wonderful mist and light effects out to the west.
Recovering from the re-rise to pt 489 and taking it all in Mark’s jaw hit the flaw and he gestured horizontally out over our heads; we all dived for cameras as quietly as possible as a mature golden eagle circled around and slowly upward.
Seeming to change his mind he suddenly folded the wings and soared down past us and settled amongst the boulders not far from where we had just descended. Magnificent display thankyou!
A groove & slab of thin ice right of Sailaway has enticed me for years. As well as waiting for enough ice I’ve been intimidated because I know the whole buttress is very compact and unlikely to yeild much protection; and so it proved. The climbing wasn’t too hard but all a bit thin & run out.
The first pitch eventually yeilded a good wire at 15m and a bomber belay at 25m. A detour for a good nut left a bit of good but delicate hooking to regain the ice groove. A column of stacked blocks was frozen together enough to justify a sling and the ice above finally began to thicken up nicely. The final steep ice was even well protected by 2 bomb-proof screws.
A bit of a steep learning curve but Simon took up the challenge well and also enjoyed the (nearly as hard) challenge of naming the route. Something related to Escape from Colditz and Birthday Breakout made sense and I’d heard about the escape glider they built but never got to use. We had to look up the name on-line but, 19 years after I first saw this line, it felt like the Colditz Cock had finally taken off!
Back on Blaven today but time for some ice at last; it’s been close for weeks but not quite got there. Guy Steven was guiding Julian & George on the very high quality South Buttress Gully (II) and we were passed by Harvey the scottie dog and his owners while we kitted up. He proceeded to make what must be the first winter ascent of Great Gully by a dawg:)
Escape from Colditz (III) wasn’t as thick with ice as I would have chosen but I knew that the key lower section doesn’t need much to make it climbable. Backing and footing for 10m leads to a massive chockstone and then escape onto the wonderful ice ramps above.
I belayed below the steepest section of ice so that I could keep in touch with Simon as he fought his way up the tunnel.
The climbing in the top pitch was superb with an added bonus of topping out into the sun.
Here are a few more shots-
Rugby took precedence over blogging this weekend but below is a gallery of the 2 days out Paul, Martin & Damien enjoyed with early starts so matches weren’t missed.
Great Gully on Saturday was superb again with amazing ice formations hanging on the south walls. Harder work because of the snow that had drifted over from the north earlier in the week but it built up an appetite for the pub:)
On Sunday Sgurr an Fheadian looked quite black from below but was holding plenty of fresh powder which made the ascent pretty challenging.
With a blanket of fresh snow covering the tops Chris and I opted for an exploratory walk on the mainland today. Neither of us had been near Beinn Fhada so we parked up in Strath Croe and followed the beautiful stalkers path around the north side of the mountain.
It started snowing heavily again soon after leaving the car but half an hour later the clouds cleared to reveal a real winter wonderland. Most striking was the deep cleft of Bealach an Sgairne out to the north.
There are a handful of long routes recorded on the western most top of Beinn Fhada, Sgurr a Choire Ghairbh. Although it looked impressive soaring above us the white blanket and steep black buttresses suggested the routes here weren’t a good option.
Another hour of pleasent walking finally led us to the high point at Bealach an Sgairne and a great view out into the wilderness beyond.
Mullach Fraoch choire may be the Munro in the distance
Before we could even identify the peaks another heavy snow shower rolled in but we were very happy with our reconnaisance mission.
Back row; Cameron, Max, Lachlan, Callum. Front row: Ruari (c), Nuan, Aaron
Congratulations to the South Skye shinty team who won the P4/5 tournament in Portree tonight. 10 teams from across the island competed but before now the trophy read Portree, Portree, Portree so this was a major accomplishment by the boys.
The South Skye team had lost the round-robin match to Portree Tigers 1-0. The final was a superb close match; a brace of goals from Aaron set SS up well but a crucial penalty save by Max Stanicliffe at 2-1 up kept SS ahead.
Failing to get up the hill, given todays forecast, was less of a surprise than the fact that we got more than 100 yards from the Sligachan. In fact the walk across the moorland was really beautiful with great views of all the hills, only a few wee gusts and even some sunshine.
This all changed dramatically the moment we reached the foot of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir as huge gusts seemed to compete with each other to get at us. Valiantly we tried to reach the foot of Broad Gully with a vague hope that it might give some shelter; stupid idea!
Short & sweet, momentarily far too exciting and far better than sitting inside all day!
Chris and I headed up the West ridge of Dearg with an aim to do a round of Coire Lagan. The path was as icy as the road from the start and we donned crampons below 700m. The next hour was a sublime sunlit wander over solid snowpatches that soon merged into an icy blanket.
Encountering powder surprised me but the covering was only thin and easily avoided as far as Sron Dearg. Beyond I didn’t fancy the normal easy bypasses which were banked out with hard snow and a layer of powder so we roped up to tackle the narrow crest instead. Things were feeling quite intense by the time we reached the Pinn 20 minutes later.
Perfectly timed Cameron MacIvar was just appraoching the crux move on the Pinn in a bright orange jacket. There are some other excellent pics on his facebook page in the link above.
Traversing Mhicchoinnich was now looking seriously in doubt: would we be able to find the anchor to abseil from at the top of King’s Chimney? Intensity built up again as we gained height but we hit a section of perfect neve once more just 200m from the summit and I felt a wave of confidence. A few steps further and my optimism was dashed as the beautiful looking crest turned out to be what Chris described as a “Patagonian-style” wave-top of deep powder.
Back-tracking still required concentration but finally reaching the safety of Loch Lagan was quite a relief. The atmosphere relaxed completely as we were greeted by Angus from the Old Inn who was up with his snow-boarding mates and the Great Stone Shoot in mind. Conditions weren’t suitable but it was great to see a variation on local interest in the Cuillin.
Back to more wild storms in the next few days; this seems to be turning into one of the biggest winters I’ve known in the Cuillin.
The more I climb it the more I’m convinced that the Great Gully on Blaven is an absolute classic winter route; over 300m of grade I snow stomp right to the crest of the peak and (sometimes) the best mountain vista in Scotland as a reward.
No view of the Ridge today just some wonderful brief windows, a broken spectre and incredible sculpted snow.
Jane twisted her ankle visiting the Fairy Pools on Monday and has been listening with envy about our outings over the past couple of days. It was great to have her join us today and whatever medicine she’s been taking worked wonders as we all bombed up and down in under 6 hours.
I’ve started including galleries a bit more recently; let me know with comments what style is prefered please.