Archive for March, 2014

Wild day in the washing machine! 24th March


Northend 24th marchDeceptively fine looking weather!

Plans to tackle Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean had to be rapidly changed yesterday as the wind picked up in strength far earlier than predicted; huge plumes of snow shot into the sky from the cols between each pinnacle.

2nd 3rd gullyLine of 2/3 gully shown

The logical theory was to stay in the lee of the hill which did work for us but not without other “added interest”. Our plan was to ascend 2nd/3rd Gully and then abseil off rather than get hit by the wind. Not many action photos of the climbing because taking the cameras out would have killed them pretty fast!

Approaching the foot of the gully I found myself stood on the “bank” of a river of spindrift and graupel (see blog from January 2012).  Handily it gave a clear view of the hard snow beneath which made the climbing far easier, to a point! The first steepening provided a 4 metre cold shower experience until I was able to get  my head above the surface once more.

1st showerAbseiling the first cold shower!

Belaying from a snow bollard I brought Dave & Cat up and mooted a retreat; this got the silence treatment so off I headed for my next shower. This one really was bracing and the power was turned up from an invisible source  way above.

Cat props up bollardPropping up the snow bollard

The hard snow was in excellent condition though and the climbing finished up a short vertical step to reach the shelter of a huge chockstone. A snow cone from an internal snow shower had to be negotiated before finally droping into the deep dry, windless cave beyond.

inside1Inside the washing machine

Cat and Dave joined me for a relaxed lunch here before setting up our escape abseils which went nicely to plan.

CaveLooking back into the cave


The gusts on the wlk out were some of the fiercest I’ve known; very glad not to be on anything narrow but even 20m to the gorge felt too close.

WildwindsWild winds

One final note is to repeat that 2nd 3rd Gully is not grade II as suggested by the guidebook. Even when banked out very well like it is now there is some pretty demnding looking climbing above the cave!


Proper Cold at last. 22 March


P1000925 (800x600)

Our great quantities of snow have been frustratingly soft for axe placements all winter but the hard freeze after this weeks thaw has finally given us the hard neve needed to climb some steeper routes. Hopefully a week of fun ahead!

Great day out today but very demanding and serious conditions which is the price to pay for harder snow. We started up Broad Gully then onto Sgurr a Bhasteir. Normally a simple grade I winter route the gully held some steeper sections but mainly a lack of any opportunity to rest the burning calves. Fresh snow drifted on top was thought provoking but our front points were able to bite through.

P1030653 (800x600)

The NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir is also a simple grade I route in both summer and winter ordinarily but sections of hard snow out above the yawning void of the north face heightened concentration & tension about as high as the lactic acid in the legs.

P1000929 (800x600)

The reward for all this graft was an immaculate horizontal crest of snow leading into Bealach na Lice and stunning views all around.

The obligatory bumslide was a mix of slow powder and ice sections that positively gave you a warm butt as the speed built up; not recommended anywhere apart from the gentlest of slopes at the minute!

In fact the icy conditions warrant a severe health warning not only in action but also when planning your route; I would certainly hesitate before planning to descend something like the Great Stone Shoot even with all the kit just now because of the combo of hard  snow with deep pockets  of powder.

Enjoy the pics-

South Buttress Gully, soggy but satisfying. 12th March.


Yesterday I was hopeful that South Buttress Gully (guidebook grade II but consensus is now III) would still be a good climbing option despite the current thaw. Once we could see into the line I was happy to go for it because the technical steps looked almost completely banked out.

P1000661 (800x600) Looking up the line the toughest move was the final wee dark section.

The snow slopes were fine but sadly the “ice” was only good enough for a single placement. Luckily the right wall has just enough hand & foot holds to get up without ice so we were able to snatch a good winter climb against the odds.

P1000669 (600x800)Luca taking to the right wall past the crux.

P1000674 (800x600)And a nervy “will it collapse?” moment pulling back into the snow.

P1000676 (800x600)Will taking a well-earned dram of Talisker on the way out.

First Pinn of the year!


Rachel suggested a look at the Pinn would float her boat last week and I nearly baulked. Luckily a weekend of warm rain hasn’t stripped the Main Cuillin Ridge but has left the Pinn nearly snow free. Crampons & axe were uneccesary precautions but couldn’t begin to spoil the pleasure of a delightful warm reunion with me old mucker Mr Pinn.

Pinns not steep

The Pinn was just a cherry on the cake of a superb alpine outing though. We hit hard snow at under 600m mark and enjoyed perfect consistency right to the summit of Sgurr Dearg.

Long drop

The sun started to do its damage soon after midday but even this was pretty limited with a keen breeze keeping things cool up there.

Snow crest

Time for a Traverse before things break down Thursday evening and I’d suggest seriously contemplating some head-torch time to make good time on the harder snow. You’ll touch rocks at the toe of An Stac for the first time proper and increasingly after that but noty enough to loose crampons from what I saw.

SHould be some clues in the gallery photos-

Latest Cuillin map by Harveys review.


The fantastic Harvey Cuillin map has had an upgrade with

  1. Tougher but lighter paper.
  2. Updated map corrections to footpaths in particular.
  3. Crags from the SMC guidebook “Skye the Cuillin” all now marked and indexed.Skye_cuillin_cover_2014smallIt is well known by Cuillin regulars that the Ordanance Survey maps covering these mountains are close to useless for fine navigation; indeed there are many copies of the old 1930’s SMC map still being used in preference!

Cullin map 002

Although any map has limitations in such intricate, steep and rocky terrain Harveys went a very long way to improve the situation when they first produced their Skye The Cuillin sheet over 10 years ago.

Skye_cuillin_layout_2013_back copy

Why the maps are so much clearer is due to a broad combination of skills and techniques developed originally from producing very accurate orienteering maps. The 1:12,500 enlargement of the Cuillin Ridge very much resembles these fine navigation tools. 15m contour intervals and shading to highlight the ridge crest are just the base canvas for features, many of which are pure rock. Clever restriction of rock features seems to be the key to removing a lot of the clutter that the OS maps suffer from.

Skye_cuillin_layout_2013_back copyIndex of crags listed in SMC guidebook, marked with orange numbers at the toe of each cliff. NB. footpath now marked close to Banachdaich summit.

Getting the crags marked was actually a project I started way back in 2003 when I was first asked to write the SMC guidebook. A key problem I had found had been locating the cliffs, let alone the climbs. Harvey Maps were very accommodating and anyone with previous copies of the map will find the index of crags as I envisaged it back then. 55 crags from those early stages of planning eventually ended up as a total of 98!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping Harvey Maps; there are always small tweaks and doing a new run annually keeps this realistic. There is now a very good representation of just how far into the mountains it is possible to follow the footpaths. Check out those on Bla bheinn, Gillean & Banachdaich in particular.

The 1:25,000 side covers the massive area from Broadford north to Sligachan and South to Elgol in superb detail as well, making it a great tool for exploring closer to home.



It’s no White Wedding today, 4th March


White Wedding must be one of the best lines of climbing in the Cuillin but it has proved elusive to any second ascent ever since the legendary winter of 1986 (Mick Fowler and Vic Saunders popped up it the day after doing Waterpipe, South Gully & Icicle Factory!) I’ve been to the foot twice before but each time found there to be nothing but a thin glaze of ice in the lowest section. Studying the photo from this Sunday (below) I realised that there was actually a bulging line continuously to the start.

P1000346 (800x600)White Wedding is the prominent vertical line.

With a reasonable forecast Ally, Beads and I headed up into the mist early this morning with as much hope as optimisim. Wet snow lay low down and running water wasn’t what we had ordered. The situation improved markedly in the final approach however and a familiar mixture of excitement and fear crept over me as we kitted up.

Deep approachLast few deep steps on approaching the climb.

Things started reasonably with firm snow but the limitations of this soon became apparent on the first small bulge as axes ripped through under any pressure. The next 15m was laid back and led to a very encouraging long blade peg before approaching what looked like the steepest step on the whole long first pitch. Sweeping ice and snow off the rocks with bare hands wasn’t a great sign but more cracks for gear was a good consolation for now having totally soaked gloves (thank goodness for the Dachsteins!).

ww1In the thick of it! The black sections at my feet are where I’d desperately scratched around for hooks for the axes; I eventually reached an anchor below the prominent black triangle way above.

Tenuous best describes the next 15m; single placements gave me just enough to delicately step up further (than I should) and one even held me as both feet collapsed. Backing off was definitely not an option and patience was finally rewarded with 5m of good placements in some well iced snow and a fairly good spike anchor.

Looking downLooking down from my high point

My firm snow ran out immediately above and a further 30m of nerve-wracking porridge climbing lay ahead; the decision to back off was a no brainer. Such a shame; a hard frost would set this lot like concrete and possibly even be as easy as the grade IV that it is recorded as.

North-West Face of Ghreadaidh 4th Feb 2014 The north-west face of Sgurr a Ghreadaidh as we departed

The guys were in excellent spirits despite getting cold on the belay; apparently something to do with relief! Plenty of laughter on the way down but a real determination to return if we can (please!) get a proper blast of Arctic air before this all snow melts away.

Beads holding court Great company and craic; what its all about

Back to incredible Cuillin conditions; 2 & 3 March.


P1000383 (800x600)Clach Glas from the Great Prow

It would appear that Skye stayed at least as cold on the tops as the rest of Scotland over the past weekend which I hadn’t anticipated myself. One guy made a fantastic effort on a full Traverse starting by Pinnacle Ridge on Friday, bivvying at Glaic Moire and finally being defeated by winds & blizzards at Mhicchoinnich. He reported near perfect snow conditions with little harder than grade III.

I can certainly confiorm this after 2 excellent days out with Andy & Nick Burton.

GLen sligachanForked Pinnacle Ridge above Glen Sligachan

Winter and Cuillin virgins they coped very well in the howling gales on Banachdaich yesterday and definitely got the luck they deserved with a Traverse of Blaven Today. Out agin in the morning so I’ll just include a gallery below.-

Creag an Dubh Loch; a climb at last! 28th Feb.


Dubh Loch - CopyThe Dubh Loch with the crag and avalanche debris visible behind.

Desperate times make for desperate measures; with no serious climbing having been done since new year’s day a photo of fat ice at the Dubh Loch was enough to entice me into the huge drive to Ballater, 5am start, cycle and deep soft snow approach. It is a very beautiful part of the Highlands and the rewards soon started as the sun rose.

The Lips of Dawn

Sadly the lower half of the crag had lost a lot of ice in the past week but Robin came up with a plan.

A scary snowy approach over steep vegetation took us to the foot of The Last Oasis.

Last Oasis&New&SwordDamocles1Our line

I took the first pitch with instructions to break right to block belays below the thinly iced rib.

Last Oasis&New&SwordDamoclesLooking up from the foot of the pitched climbing after the scary approach.

Robin then took the helm, had a few words with himself on the initial thin steep slabs and finally sounded happier once the 3rd screw was placed without going down to rock. Classically I found the climbing far steeper than it had looked from below!

Steep thin startThin starting moves on the new pitch; Sword of Damocles icicle behind!

A drippy ice grotto after 35m gave a good screw belay but an intimidating step round the corner to reach the start of the Sword of Damocles final pitch.

PanclothPanorama experiment to show the drop below!

The excitement continued with a cornice to finish-

COrnice finish

 and then a huge great avalanche down the face 100m to the right of where we’d been climbing; gulp. This was the final straw in deciding not to stash our kit for a return battle next day but, in a winter where any climbing has been hard to come by the day was a great result. A waist deep battle through soggy drifts confirmed we’d made the right decision & we were both completely ****ered by the time we reached the bikes.

Cycling out

If anyone is particularly taken by the colour and design of Robin’s climbing sack he would love to hear from you; I’ve certainly never seen such a magnificent hue of blue……. 😉