Winter is back with a thick covering on all faces above 500m.
Had a great fun family day on Bla Bheinn yester day with the Jackson 5 yesterday including a great snowman built by Hugo & Annabel on the summit. Another highlight was watching a golden eagle soaring amongst the cliffs as we walked in.
Today John and I enjoyed an enormous adventure on Am Basteir and Gillean with hard graft and plenty of challenge.
Winter climbing conditions this past month have been truly stunning on Skye, undoubtedly the best I’ve known in 23 winters. The elusive Winter Ridge Traverse has been in condition and completed for 4 weekends on the trot with debates over records making headlines in the climbing news. Mythical ice routes have been climbed for the first time since Mick Fowler’s ascents 30 years ago (1986 was a legendary winter climbing season across the UK), many quality new routes have been added and modern mixed test-pieces such as Hung Drawn and Quartered have been repeated.
Most significantly though, dozens and dozens of folk have visited for the first time and discovered just how glorious the Cuillin are under a blanket of white. Sure the hardcore have grabbed the headlines but it’s those with more modest ambitions that have discovered that there is something here for everyone. It has been a pleasure meeting and hearing from so many folk who have finally “seen the light”.
On Wednesday evening I met Adam & Sofia at Sligachan, climbers looking for their first Scottish winter experience. Working in Patagonia and Alaska normally they had opted against the crowds on Ben Nevis, Adam’s grandad had always told him Skye was a climber’s Mecca. I agreed and pointed them towards the ice-clad amphitheatre on Mhadaidh for a look. A helpful assistant in Ellis Brighams had disuaded them from buying extra screws for the Cuillin but luckily I had a few spare in the back of car I wasn’t planning to use til Friday.
When I got home and saw Friday was forecast to see a major thaw all sensible ideas an office day on Thursday went out of the window and I asked my new friends if I could come & play with them; not only might this be the end of the Cuillin ice this season, I may not see it like this again for the next 30 years!
A stunning dawn greeted us, windless and crisp only base layers were needed for the short approach.
We were spoilt for choice, big new lines were tempting, a rematch with Icicle Factory too but we opted to try Spirulina, a new grade V put up by Uisdean and Lea last week.
Adam led the first pitch very well, especially as he admitted it was his first ice for a couple of years. Sofia & I both got a good pump just following him up, typically, the deceptively steep ice.
It had started to get noisy all around us as temperatures rose and snow sleuffed off from high above but the mixed moves above looked easy enough and would lead us to the mega looking higher pitches of Spectacula, irresistable!
Irresistable that was until I got hit by the first big sleuff. Our planned descent was back down the route and into the amphitheatre; not a good place to be. I faffed back & forth with the up/down dilemma but reasoned that there was bound to be a good anchor above to abseil off after just “one more slice of icy indulgence”. Perfect climbing but not at all enjoyable as the volume of snow and noise increased and I wished I’d just backed off easily.
Crap rock meant I had to dive into the channel for good ice anchors. Should I bring the others into this spot too or just make the decision myself? Logic is a hard thing to retain under these circumstances but I knew now there were no big ice pillars above us to fall off so it was unlikely that anything more than wet snow would come down. Belaying them up was still a tense affair but the shared easy decision to abseil back off and their happy banter allowed me to mentally relax just a wee bit.
We ducked (and prayed a wee bit) whenever stuff came down while Adam expertly built Abalakov anchors and Sofia and I sorted the ropes.
We knew it would be close but there was great relief as Adam whooped and had obviously reached the bottom in one go, rather than needing to re-anchor for another abseil.
At the base there was urgency as everything was rammed into sacks and we ran away from the hail of somewhat harder bullets. Only after exiting the Amphitheatre did we finally relax and start the process of really enjoying what a great experience Spirulina had been.
Earlier this week the forecast was not good for Gill & Euan’s day out; so glad I don’t pay much attention to long term forecasts!
With clear blue skies and tons of pristine new snow it was a no brainer to head out straight from their base at the Sligachan Hotel. Good on the hotel which has re-opened earlier than usual and looked absolutely packed out with residents as a reward.
I did suspect we had a hard day of deep wading ahead so left our ambitions open but, instead, the very first snow we reached justified crampons. Broad Gully is a favourite of mine with superb rock architecture and conditions were utterly perfect with full foot support pretty much every step.
Skiers would have loved conditions today as this continued almost uninterupted right to the top of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. There were a couple of very short wind-scoured harder sections but it was easy to cut back onto the good stuff.
The vistas just kept coming as we crossed the head of Fionn Choire and out to Bruach na Frithe.
Euan was so impressed with the “lady of the Trig point” he had to give her a kiss!
We may not have had skis but such superb conditions weren’t to be missed- we headed back to Coir’ a’ Bhasteir and took a very direct line back to the corrie floor on our butts; definitely Gill’s highlight of the day!
The quantity of snow that has come down over the past couple of weeks is astounding and there is unusual climbable ice everywhere; hopefully the thaw forecast for the weekend will be kind and leave us something to play on next week.
Ice above 700m has survived well by the look of things today so last weeks classics should all be in this weekend.
Some fresh snow but nothing like quantities I’m hearing about elsewhere. Effect on the Traverse is probably harder work for the first party again but still full nick & highly achievable by a fit team; what is the running total for this season so far???
For those who didn’t gather last week and weekend saw the best all round Cuillin conditions I’ve ever known. Plenty of Traverses over the weekend 20/21.
Beads and I got finally (tried 3 times beforehand) got the 2nd ascent of White Wedding on Tues 23rd with superb ice. By Saturday this was soloed by Andrew Barker on the 4th ascents.
Andrew climbed West Buttress of Bidean @ II/III earlier in the week. Andy Nisbet & Ssandy Allan climbed a line on the Coruisk side of the Pinn on Friday and another called SkyeFall at IV,5 on Sunday 28th.
Uisdean & Adam Russel climbed NE Gully on Mhiccoinnich with Guy Robertson who got the meaty pitch at V,6 and they all climbed another obvious line beside Practice crag at IV that afternoon.
I took to the air from the top of the icicles on Icicle Factory on Thursday after 3 superb approach pitches.; annoyed but now happy to be unscathed. Skye boys James Sutton, Ben Wear & John Smith finally got the 2nd ascent narrowly beating Uisdean, Adam & Douglas Russell. More than a consolation was the parallel line of Spectacula VI,6. The teams then swapped routes and James even tried to complete the trilogy with the Smear but found it brittle & wet. Thanks for retrieving my gear guys.- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=272086
Scott Webster & Yanis indulged in a sunny Traverse over the weekend while Anna Wells was back for another single day effort. Having to break trail they stopped short of the end but loved the experience anyway. Other teams also enjoyed but failed to complete with route-finding, exposure and general speed cited- great route but don’t underestimate how hard it is!
Escape from Colditz III is recorded as climbed and I’m sure there was plenty more I’ve missed.
Oh yep; Team Neil Adam & Silver climbed HDQ on Am Bastier on Sunday in ace conditions; it appears to be panning out at VIII,9 and uber classic.
Sounds crowded? An average of 1 team per corrie so not really Come & get it while you can cos looking warm from next Wednesday.
Photo credits to Lucy Spark, Scott Webster, Yaris Volmer.