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Christmas Comes but Once a Year

15/02/20

2020 has not been a good year for winter climbing conditions, particularly here on Skye. December was tropical and January’s storms rolled wildly from hot to cold and back again, right on through into February without taking a breath. At last, word on the frustrated ice-warrior grapevine was that Thursday might, just might, be windless, cold and still snowy. Surely there must be some amazing ice left after so much precipitation, wind and fluctuating temperatures…..

Lucy is quite possibly the keenest Cuillin climber in the world, even though she lives in Fife. Last minute plans need this level of commitment and my part of the bargain was to head out and check conditions on the ground. By Wednesday lunchtime Storm Ciara was in her death-throws.

There was heaps of snow visible but steep rocks looked brown and dry, right to the tops. Beautiful though it was, I was feeling pretty pessimistic about finding us a big new route.

My mood swung enormously with pictures from Andy and Callum who were immediately above my head on the 5th Pinnacle. Acres of beautiful solid snow ice plastered everywhere; ye ha!

Lucy was on her way and my head was exploding with a mix of optimism and terror. The terror at this stage was more about making the right shout and finding a good option; physical fear could wait until we find a line. At the same time I was like a kid in a candy shop with so many amazing existing climbs that we could go for if my lines turned out to be blank; but that’s not the new-routing “game”.

Top of my list was a route first climbed in 1911. I went for a look back in December with Steve Worth but the blanket of wet snow wasn’t even remotely frozen.

Lucy and I arrived at Sligachan at first light and our line was “sort of” visible on a zoomed in photo-

The approach walk was glorious with crunching footfall and golden light.

 

Our line stayed out of view until the very last minute and there it was; thin but a continuous line of white ran up a shallow groove. 

Excitedly we kitted up with the pressure of a big route and many hours of work if we were going to succeed; and then disaster. I’d left my crampons behind. Chucking everything on the snow in a fit of frustration a set of micro-spikes miraculously appeared but they weren’t going to be much good with no front-points. Lucy didn’t skip a beat as she whipped off the crampons and pointed me at the sharp end; she wasn’t going to let a wee problem like this stop our fun!I didn’t share her optimism and set up a belay immediately above the initial ice so I could pass down the crampons but she insisted on giving the micro-spikes a go first. I kept the rope tight but smooth and steadily Lucy joined me with the usual big grin and the route ahead opening up.

The ice was definitely not going to be taking screws and the sheathed rock bands looked very compact. I played out some major head games before committing to this pitch but the ease with which Lucy climbed had removed my main excuse to run away. I finally got into the zone and was rewarded with a juicy big cam placement from beneath the continuous white canvas 5 metres higher.

The climbing was superb; never too technical or sustained but a thoroughly absorbing mental game of delicate footwork and imaginative axe-work, wonderfully interspersed with regular dollops of bomber ice. Lucy cruised steadily upward and I was able to admire some super-imaginative foot, knee and Dachstein work as she got closer-

The amphitheatre above didn’t have an obvious line but logic said follow the fattest ice for the easiest way. A footless pull-up to knee-jam was probably the technical crux and the angle began to fall back as the rope ran out. A final pitch where the ice was finally fat enough for a screw and then the end was in sight.

 

We fed, watered and drank in the views before a bum-slide and comparatively short walk out then home for tea, biscuits and whisky 🙂

 

High Crag Sgurr nan Gillean. Christmas Comes but Once a Year, IV,4 165m *** ML and Lucy Spark, 13/02/20

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Skye Winter Festival 2020

28/10/19

January 24th to 2nd February 2020; 10 days for our 10th Anniversary!!

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an active interest in the Skye mountains in winter.

It’s that time again for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. There is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had!!

2020- A full week in the Glen then to up to Skye Basecamp for the weekend and annual dinner.

7 days of stepping straight out of the door and into a Cuillin winter wonderland. This was how the festival started back in 2011! The Glen Brittle Memorial Hut is situated at the foot of the southern Cuillin with easy access to Coir’ a Ghreadaidh, Coir’ a’ Banachdaich, Coire Lagan and Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.

After 7 nights in the Glen the festival moves to the big smoke and 2 nights in the luxury of Skye Basecamp.

Background information.

Over the past 9 years  The Skye Winter Festival that has seen high levels of activity including over 60 new winter routes. The Cuillin offer massive challenges no matter how much or how little snow the gods decide to give us so there will be action every day.

The Skye Cuillin is an Alpine-style range offering mountaineering and climbing of the highest calibre that attracts real mountaineers but there is also a huge attraction for those who just enjoy being in amongst mountain scenery of such grandeur.

The festival is open to anyone between these 2 extremes and our only rule is that nobody gets left out! Come alone or with a climbing partner.

Guests come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.

The Climbing

Over the past 9 years we’ve well and truly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2018 Skye was the place to be with Traverses happening for over 8 weeks and multiple new routes. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

White Wedding IV,4

 

 

It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas. On the ground there are plenty of folk with good knowledge including the guy that wrote the guidebook…

Accommodation and Food

The meet will start in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.

Skye Basecamp will be our hosts for the following weekend. 

Beds cost £20 per night in both venues.

The Memorial Hut and Basecamp both have good kitchens for self-catering.

The annual dinner is a big communal evening meal on Saturday 1st February at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine French fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us and let your hair down!

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk to reserve beds. We’ll send you a booking form to complete with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing. 

Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking.

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.

Evenings

This is very much a climbing event and the traditional banter associated with it. Wonderful characters and craic are the norm and over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. 

The Annual Festival dinner is cooked communally.

 

 Social media

Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebook page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.

FAQ

Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.

Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.

Unsure? Don’t worry if you don’t know the Cuillin- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else.

A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.

Don’t be intimidated- if your ambitions are modest there will be somebody similar who knows any time on Skye is quality and happy to just rock back and enjoy!

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts- there’s a part of the part of the booking form to help put you together with others offering/needing lifts

 

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Winter Traverse conditions back again! 23 January 2019

24/01/19

Heads up to all Traverse aspirants that the Cuillin Ridge is in full winter condition and that progress is comparatively fast.

Blips of freeze thaw have left great cover and good consolidation. This improved by the day since the first snows arrived just last Thursday (17th) and walking out yesterday was a delight.

We approached by An Dorus and were glad of a trail but consistency was amiable and really we could have punched our own trail with just a bit more effort. The crest is glazed as well as snow cover so no squealing crampons. Summer bypass lines are holding more depth so harder work in ascent but quite forgiving in descent so choosing the best line is a good challenge. 

Forecast is currently for a fair amount more snow to fall on Saturday, a bit better for Sunday onwards with more possible until Wednesday evening when winds are due to turn to the drier northerlies.

Climbing conditions are already good with plenty of ice forming and not needing that much more. Avoiding routes that are just blanketed will be the hard part but plenty of rewards to be had. The shot below is of White Wedding looking too thin for screws just yet.

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Skye Winter Festival 2019

19/11/18

 

 

February 17th to 25th 2019

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.

It’s that time again for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. There is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had!!

2019- Its time for a return to the Glen!

5 days of stepping straight out of the door and into a Cuillin winter wonderland. This was how the festival started back in 2012! The Glen Brittle Memorial Hut is situated at the foot of the southern Cuillin with easy access to Coir’ a Ghreadaidh, Coir’ a’ Banachdaich, Coire Lagan and Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.

After 5 nights in the Glen the festival moves to the big smoke and 3 nights with our fine friends and the Waterfront bunkhouse at the Old Inn, Carbost.

Background information.

Over the past 8 years  The Skye Winter Festival that has seen high levels of activity including over 60 new winter routes. Over the years only 15 days out of 80 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.

The Skye Cuillin an Alpine-style range offering mountaineering and climbing of the highest calibre that attracts real mountaineers but there is also a huge attraction for those who just enjoy being in amongst mountain scenery of such grandeur.

The festival is open to anyone between these 2 extremes and our only rule is that nobody gets left out! Come alone or with a climbing partner.

Guests come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.

 

 

The Climbing

Over the past 8 years we’ve well and truly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2018 Skye was the place to be with Traverses happening for over 8 weeks and multiple new routes. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

 

 

It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Accommodation and Food

The meet will start in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.

 Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn  will be our hosts for the following weekend. 

Beds cost £20 per night in both venues.

The Memorial Hut and Waterfront both have good kitchens for self-catering and pub meals are available next door in the Old Inn throughout the 2nd weekend.

The annual dinner is a big communal evening meal on Saturday 23rd at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine French fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us and let your hair down!

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk to reserve beds. We’ll send you a booking form to complete with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing. 

Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking.

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.

Evenings

This is very much a climbing event and the traditional banter associated with it. Wonderful characters and craic are the norm and over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. 

The Annual Festival dinner is cooked communally.

 

 Social media

Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebook page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.

FAQ

Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.

Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.

Unsure? Don’t worry if you don’t know the Cuillin- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else.

A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.

Don’t be intimidated- if your ambitions are modest there will be somebody similar who knows any time on Skye is quality and happy to just rock back and enjoy!

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts- there’s a part of the part of the booking form to help put you together with others offering/needing lifts

 

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Alpine success for Kevin. 18th July 2017

26/07/17

Kevin asked Skye Guides to help with his Alpine preparation in the Cuillin less than a year ago.
A mix days with dry rock, wet rock and snow in summer and winter culminated with a successful Cuillin Ridge Traverse here this Spring.
It looks like Kevin used a good mix of those experiences to succeed last week. What’s next Kevin?

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Stellar spell of snow conditions. January 29 & 30th

30/01/17

The snow this week came thick and fast and with no strong winds behind it, resulting in a beautiful uniform layer.

Smiler

Yesterday this provided a wonderful cushion with no real need for crampons as we headed up the classic NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe.

NW Ridge

Very different from this time last year where sheets of hard snow gave very serious conditions.

Handstand

Mara’s summit handstand was photobombed by Helen from Cioch Direct and we all enjoyed teasing glimses of the Ridge to the south as clouds rolled in and out.

S Ridge BnnF

Surprisingly a line of fresh prints led off ahead of us as we descended the South Ridge, others enjoying the superb conditions.

Blue Skies

A rope kept us safe on the few steeper steps before a descent from Tairnilear and out past the Fairy Pools with some obligatory litter picking.


With such superb conditions and an even better forecast it was time to up the fun levels for today and Clach Glas seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Gilchrist dawn

Phil joined me on the guiding today as Clair and Trevor started their Ridges and Routes course based at Skye Basecamp.

Crampon up

Far colder overnight had cemented the snow even better to the rocks. This meant crampons were compulsory but the combo gave incredibly positive footings.

CG start1CG start2

My guess is that anyone on the Ridge today will have made superb progress.

Window

The most technical section onto the Final Tower and descending the Imposter were pretty full-on, definitely grade IV climbing and a long abseil to get off the summit.

Phil Mara Imposter

The bitter wind hit us on this side and a free facial scrub was dished out every time someone moved much in front of you!

Clair

All in all a very full-on day in some of the best conditions I’ve ever had on Clach Glas.

Ridge 30Jan

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Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2017

12/01/17

This year’s festival has started in great style.

P1030200

Leaving Skye Basecamp this morning; snow arrived right on cue and right to sea-level.

Sgurr a Bhasteir was quite black looking as we approached but there was some ice in the foot of Mike The Bhasteird.P1030204

 

It soon became too thin so I took to the blunt rib on the left, and just in time! The heavens opened and I watched a waterfall of snow pummel down the groove on my right. Some really good moves (with enough gear to be fun) led to the ledge at 40m and Pok followed with style.

P1030208

 

Pok led on and coped well with the terrain and fierce stinging hail and gusting wind to find a semi-hanging stance below a final steep wall.

P1030219

 

By the time we got down our sacks had nearly been buried P1030221

 

The joys continued on the walk-out with amazing light and the mists rolled away.

P1030231

 

And Sgurr a’ Bhasteir had transformed into Snow White. Our line is marked in red and is called Formali Known As. 90m IV,4

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Thank you for all the support and help in 2016.

07/01/17

october-dreams-WEBPhoto courtesy of James Nichols-  www.jcheynne.com

 

2016 has been monumental in many, many ways.

In our own little world Skye Guides has expanded considerably. The number of guided days reached a total well in excess of 500. Over 1000 clients were involved in 200+ ascents of the In Pinn and 30+ successful Cuillin Ridge Traverses. An enormous thanks to clients who trust our company so much and to the incredible team of guides that make these dreams come true. Gillian, Rich, Iain, Jamie, Niels, Tamsin, Caspar, Mike, Steve, Karen, Scott. Rory, Lou, Ollie, Jonny, Andy, Iain and Emma.

Inn pin with Ciara Oct 16photo courtesy of Gillespie Macdonald

Much of my year was spent developing Skye Basecamp.  Creating a hub of climbing knowledge and information on Skye has been in plans for many years. Basecamp is a dedicated climbers’ hostel and realising this part of the ambition feels like a massive step in the right direction.

Huge amounts of work were put in by friends old and new to finally allow us to open in August. Apologies to anyone I miss but thank you Catriona, Lucy, Beth, Annmarie, Tansy, Kieron, Ianto, Beads, Pete, James, Tom, Derek, Conor, Lachlan, Elanor, Mike, Faith, Chris, Helen, Remus, Bob, Jim, Jancis, Alan, Morgan, Nick, Ru & his mates, Innes, Ben, Uncle tom Cobbly n all….

kitchen3

We were busy from the outset and are managing to stay open right through this our first winter. Highlights are hard to select but the new kitchen inspired a series of visitors to get baking and cooking; the aromas as you come in the front door are superb.

Rendezvous at Basecamp gave a chance for guides and clients to discuss the days routes over an extra coffee whilst looking out at Broadford Bay vista.

Dawn Oct

Much has been made of what a mad world we became in 2016 and few of us are likely to be unaffected. What can be sure is that Skye and the Cuillin will continue show us what a wonderful world we do have around us.

Slainte Mha, Mike

 

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Skye Winter Courses- places available

12/12/16

 

2017 Winter courses based at Skye Basecamp are filling well but we’ve still got space available.

 

 

  • Single place available for climber on a Ridges and Routes course.

  • 28 January to 2 February

An advanced course suitable for guests with previous winter mountaineering experience and some knowledge of rope-work.

For those with ambitions to climb graded winter routes.

P1040283

The itinerary will be adjusted to suit experience with examples on these web pages- winter-climbing and winter climbing skills

  • 1:2 Ratio.
  • 4 days guiding
  • Up to 6 nights accommodation at Skye Basecamp
  • Just £645pp

Dates don’t quite match or you have less time available? Contact us by email or call Mike on 07769221500


  • 21-24 February.

A brilliant way to start exploring the Cuillin in winter. Suitable for guests used to full days of summer hill walking. There are some sample routes and itineraries here.

P1050869

  • Learn to safely tackle Cuillin peaks and ridges
  • Introduction to ice axe, crampons and many other winter skills
  • 1:4 Max Ratio
  • 3-days of guiding
  • 4 nights accommodation at Skye Basecamp
  • Only £395pp

Dates don’t quite match or you have less time available? Contact us by email or call Mike on 07769221500

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Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2017. New format- #skyewinterfest on tour!!

28/11/16

 

Week 1- Skye Basecamp Climbers’ Hostel, Broadford. January 12th to 15th

Week 2- Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 16th to 23rd 2017

Bonus facility- Access and beds in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut throughout.

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.

It’s that time again. 2 weeks for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole fortnight but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.

Angus, Ally, James, Spence & Brutus from the Old Inn

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk. We’ll send you a booking form to complete with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.

Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking.

Background information.

For the past 6 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 50 new winter routes. Over the years only 12 days out of 50 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.

Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.

The Climbing

Over the past 6 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2016 Skye was THE place to be with Traverses happening for over 4 weeks and legendary ice routes seeing their first repeats in 30 years! There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

Takin it all in

It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.

Last year’s festival had a superb first week with plenty of action. Week 2 turned tropical but those who hung around still got out for some quality adventures.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Accommodation and Food

On Tour!

This year we are splitting the festival between the new climbers hostel, Skye Basecamp in week 1 and then moving to the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn for week 2. Beds and and facilities will also be available in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.

Beds cost £15 per night in any of the 3 venues.

Catering 2017-

kitchen3Self-catering in the well-equipped kitchen or eat in a variety of pubs in Broadford or next door in the Old Inn during week 2. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine french fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us for these meals and let your hair down!

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.

Evenings

This is very much a climbing event not a film festival but, over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps.

The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost

 Social media

Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebok page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.

FAQ

Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.

Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.

Unsure?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Don’t worry if you don’t know th Cuillin- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else. A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.

Guiding– Although officially this is a playtime for the guides  private guiding will be available on request.

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.

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Silver Fox V,5. First new route of the season is a cracker.

21/11/16

 

An extra bit of motivation is always handy in winter so a new climbing partner, and Cuillin winter virgin at that, was very welcome.

20161119_081210

Bla Bheinn on Thursday had shown that the snow was very powdery. As we headed into Coire Lagan I was looking for something to climb that would still have some of that rain from earlier in the week holding the snow together.

20161119_094546

Old favourites on Thearlaich BC Buttress were tempting but the long slog up a powdery Stone Shoot was anything but.

I’ve had a long curving fault line from the corrie floor to the crest of Sgurr Mhiccoinnich on my radar for many years. It has a steep and intimidating finish that had put me off so far but my new partner has climbed with some auspicious partners and I didn’t want to disappoint.

20161119_102541

Taking in the views from the easy lower slopes.

We soloed up some pretty rough and rocky ground for the first 60m until a short corner suggested a rope may be wise. Things got surprisingly steep soon afterwards so the 2nd rope and full concentration were the order of the day. This flip into action sadly means there aren’t many photos but here is Sophie topping out at the end of what turned out to be the crux pitch.

20161119_121823

Another long and absorbing pitch followed with just the right combination of protection, hard won hidden hooks, turf, gymnastic manouvres and even some quality snow and ice.

20161119_120651

Entering the bowl below the intimidating exit grooves things were getting distinctly gloomy as the light faded and wet snow drove into the face. Studying the possibilities as I took in the rope I reckoned a crack in the rock face above looked like my best hope of reaching the top and still making the evening dinner dance appointment. If it proved too hard or slow it would just have to be defeat and a multiple abseil descent.

Silver fox_LI (2)

Fortunately the rock was wonderfully solid gabbro and everything came together even better than I could have hoped. High fiving on the crest was followed by a rapid pack and scary traverse along the deeply powdered summer line. Bum sliding the An Stac screes was a brief respite but I managed to lose us on the exit from the corrie as snow drove into the face (poor excuse!).

We bid farewell, I made the main meal thank goodness and its only been through today that I’ve fully appreciated quite what a quality climb we had done.

Sgurr Mhiccoinnich- South Face

Silver Fox, V,5 235m **

Mike Lates & Sophie Grace. 19 Nov 2016.

 

Post Script-

Sophie’s own account gives a more eloquent description and more technical details for the climber. Personally I found the route “thought-provoking” the whole time!

Mike Lates and I went up Coire Lagain to have a look at an unclimbed basalt dyke line on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich.
It’s four or five pitches of superb climbing. The basalt is not always very helpful, and there was a whole lot of powder but there wasn’t a whole lot of ice. You repeatedly find yourself with your back or your right shoulder wedged into a bottomless left-facing corner, often undercut and overhanging, with plenty of right-hand hooks and placements in the depths of the corner (but careful–it’s loose in there), and bugger-all out on the sleek basalt powder-covered slabs to your left, which are only too solid. Footwork needs to be good, and tends to involve a single teetering crampon-point striking sparks out of some tiny rounded nubbin. As Mike said, it’s all about opposing forces. Bridging is your friend here. Foot-jams, knee-jams, elbow-jams, thigh-jams, pack-jams and full-body-jams were also deployed. So quite thought-provoking at times, and generally speaking much harder than it looks– till the much more user-friendly gabbro kicks in on the final pitch, which is the steepest and most fearsome-looking bit of the whole route, and nowhere near the hardest bit.

Belays marked with crosses

Pitch lengths were- Solo- 60m, P1-50m, P2-40m, P3-50m, P4-35m

The conditions were excellent. Not everything was frozen at the bottom, but it most certainly was at the top. There was heaps of snow already when we left the car park at dawn (8am), and plenty more had fallen by the time we got back there (7pm–so a short day in the Cuillin). While we were climbing we had two clear spells and two snow-showers.The second clear spell had actual sunshine–great for me as belayer, less good for Mike as leader. Standing on belay in the sunshine at 2500ft in knee-deep snow, looking out over Coire Lagain to Loch Brittle, over Canna and Rum and Muck, to Pabbay and Mingulay and the infinite ocean beyond: this is not something I will forget in a hurry.
Mike’s seen these conditions hundreds of times before, of course, but this is my first winter day ever in Skye. We were talking animals–he told me how when he did the Cuillin traverse in winter he was following a fox’s footprints all the way from Gars-Bheinn to Gillean. (Bruach na Frithe to Gars bheinn ML)
So it turned out the route was actually a completely brilliant day’s climbing. Not optimal conditions, sure, but way above the minimum acceptable. Mike led it like a boss, and I got up it with the odd wobble and squeak, but without actually falling off anything. And then on the walk-out we had a nice little botanical ramble in the dark. As you do 🙂
After all the pessimistic and sceptical meteorological banter on Facebook the other day about slush-covered rubble and unfrozen turf, and how there was nae chance of a decent climb anywhere this Saturday, let alone in a south-facing corrie in Skye, there was only ever one possible name for the route. After plenty brainstorming from us both during the day–slightly held back for most of it by the fact that until well after sunset we didn’t know for sure we were going to finish it–Mike finally nailed the name at the top of the walk-off… It is of course The Silver Fox**, 235m, V, 5.

 

 

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Good early start to Cuillin Winter. 17th Nov 2016

21/11/16

Conditions went from “ridiculous to the sublime” in just 3 days this week. On Monday Juan and Miguel from Mallorca had some type 2 fun across the knife edge of Ghreadaidh in a tropical rainstorm and certainly the wettest day of the year that I’ve had. No photos that day!

On Thursday, by contrast, Jo and Dan were able to take their time admiring and photographing immense scenery throughout our sortie up and across Bla Bheinn in deep snow. A selection of shots is enough to tell the tale of a wonderful start to winter-

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A new dawn- Skye Basecamp

05/10/16

Dawn over Broadford Bay yesterday.

 

Many apologies for letting the blogging slip this season but here’s the project we’ve been working on. Many thanks to everyone for their help and support which has been overwhelming.

SKYE BASECAMP- accommodation for lovers of the great outdoors.

Skye Basecamp Climber’s Hostel is now open in Broadford and available for booking.

We welcome everyone but we do want this to be a facility for walkers, climbers and outdoor lovers. In order to create this we are publicising first to guiding clients past & present, climbing friends and mountaineering clubs. Please feel free to share our news around; thanks.IMG-20160823-01121

 

SPECIAL OFFER FOR EARLY BOOKERS

We have some special offers on for just a few more days- book 3-5 days and get your last bed-night free or 10% off booking a whole room. Just click on the availability calendar for Skye Basecamp

WHY STAY WITH US AT SKYE BASECAMP?

  • The business is owned and run by Mike & Catriona who run Skye Guides, so you can expect the same high quality of service.

 

  • 30 brand new beds in a selection of private rooms and small dormitories (max 6 per room) with linen provided.

Basecamp beds

  • Prices from £20 per bed and private rooms from £90 per night.

 

  • 800 litres of pressurised hot water for 6 showers.
  • Large open plan kitchen/dining room with all the facilities and appliances you can want for self-catering.Skye Basecamp (3)
  • High efficiency drying room.
  • Large living room and conservatory with pool table looking out over the stunning vista across Broadford Bay.IMG-20160827-01150
  • Just one minute’s walk from the centre of town with the supermarket, 4 pubs and numerous quality places to eat out right on your doorstep.
  • Staffed full time and open all day ( but room check-out 10am & check-in after 4pm).
  • Open all year round.
  • The whole building is available for private group bookings; ideal for club meets, conferences or running courses
  • The guides room is reserved for our guiding staff through the summer season. They will be on hand much of the time to advise on routes and conditions.

    BOOKING-

    Booking on-line through the Skye Basecamp website will show all beds and rooms available.

    Look forward to seeing you all soon, Mike & Catriona
    www.skyebasecamp.co.uk is part of Skye Guides Limited.

Telephone 01471 820 044

REVIEWS so far-

Great base to explore Skye. Bunkhouse is fantastic, great showers, comfy beds, kitchen facilities are really good and most importantly really friendly and helpful staff. HC 19/09/16

The Skye Basecamp hostel is brand new and excellent for climbers or outdoor minded people. The showers are excellent, so are the beds. There is a large common area with a big kitchen. From the front you have a great view over the bay!
PS: great hospitality:) JK 28/9/16

Stunning vistas, handy location, good wifi, good drying room plus they’ve nailed the perfect atmosphere for people who enjoy the hills. RP 17/09/16

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Flying start to the season.

24/04/16

A complex & unusual set of circumstances, coupled with a blast of Arctic air, gave our first Traverse of the year a very unique feel.

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Basically I guided Phil on the first half of the Traverse then Scott Kirkhope took over for day 2 to successfully reach Sgurr nan Gillean.

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Our days couldn’t have been more different- I enjoyed largely dry, warm rock, no need for crampons and even some gorgeous sheltered picnicking.

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Often we were forced to stay on the very top of the crest which just added to the pleasure.

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Sgurr nan Eag to Ghreadaidh took us about 7.5 hours

Scott woke to fresh snow falling and had crampons straight from the bivvy until reaching Glaic Moire nearly 3 hours later.

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Much of the time was in the cloud with wind picking up in strength but Phil’s fitness & abilities kept them moving well. The clouds finally cleared on the final rise up Gillean, revealing once more the whole lenght of the Traverse. Ghreadaidh to Gillean had taken about 6.5 hours.

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Despite the darkness I enjoyed picking my way off, crampons completely necessary until way below An Dorus where Scott and I passed and compared notes before he joined Phil for the bivvy about an hour after I’d left. The final hour was a delight with the moon casting my huge shadow across the moorland. Catching last orders in Carbost seemed a deserved reward.

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One of the unusual circumstances was Phil flying himself into Broadford airstrip and, this morning, we were treated to a quick flight around South Skye before he headed home to England. Many thanks to Scott and Phil for a memorable time in so many ways.

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Alpine rock climbing. 14th April

14/04/16

Warm rock in the fingers with snow-reflected sun seeming to double the heat; we could have been on the south face of the Midi.

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No Japanese tourists clapping our efforts here though, just a couple of friends taking it all in with eagles circling above them.

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The sheer quality of the climb astounded me again, easily as good, if not better, than it’s classic neighbours. Clean rock, positive holds and great protection but no pushover. A positive effort was needed to avoid being drowned in the exposure, stay alert to what damage the harsh winter may have done or just suppress the temptation to jump for joy.

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South Crack I love you, and Peter had a Cheshire Cat grin even though he’s from Lancashire where smilin’ ain’t manly 😉

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Would have been rude to have run away without climbing the East and West Ridges too and three routes were saluted by 3 Sea Eagles but this pic is of 2

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There is a weather god.

02/04/16

John and I spent a large part of Wednesday with incredibly heavy snow falling out of dark black clouds but the weather gods smiled on us in great big stylee 🙂

Despite John’s undoubted fitness and ability my ambition to tackle the In Pinn was optimistic before we started. However, it was clear and dry as we left the glen and stayed that way for the first hour where we reached the 2000ft mark.

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The magnificent view into Coire Lagan was soon obscured as mushroom-sized snowflakes fell vertically out of the windless skies.

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The density of cloud and intensity of snow would have got many folk down but Johnny is a man who loves the mountains whatever they chuck at him. The carpet underfoot fairly rapidly became knee-deep but every foothold formed as a solid level tread. At the final narrowing it was time to don harness, helmet and crampons and the magic of the day really began to a crescendo. Words aren’t really enough so here’s a sequence that hopefully gives a flavour of it…….

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Just a few steps and the cameras just had to come out again……..

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And things just got better as we moved in on the Pinn itself….

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I have to admit to being both shocked and very pleasantly surprised at just how bare the route looked- compare it to the pictures of Gillean yesterday! Keeping crampons on seemed prudent but gloves were completely uneccesary with warm dry rock more positive than 90% of summer ascents I’ve done!

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I finally found John’s nemesis with the abseil requiring him to trust a bit of science and let the rope slip through his fingers- you can just see the tension building across his face here perched above a 60ft vertical drop; sorry John couldn’t let your mates think you were that cool 😉

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The moment we reached our rucksacks again the clouds rolled in and heavy snow started falling all around us. It didn’t give up until we had crossed all the way over to Sgurr na Banachdaich and right down to 1500ft in Coir an Eich. 12928192_1669770583288975_2678343027123775390_n With perfect timing once more, instead of getting a soaking below the freezing level, the clouds cleared to warm sunshine

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and a perfect view of our whole routeP1000761

And just to top it all off eagle eyed John even spotted an eagle soaring high between the peaks of Coire Lagan; thanks to the mega-zoom on the Panasonic Lumix we can identify it as a wandering sea eagle. Another boring day in the office for me obviously 😉

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Winter is back! 30th March

29/03/16

Winter is back with a thick covering on all faces above 500m.

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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.Goldie Blaven 20160328

Today John and I enjoyed an enormous adventure on Am Basteir and Gillean with hard graft and plenty of challenge.

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One more wafer thin ice climb sir? 10th March

12/03/16

 

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

DCIM999GOPROBoys look in awe as Sofia sets the go-pro

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We ducked (and prayed a wee bit) whenever stuff came down while Adam expertly built Abalakov anchors and Sofia and I sorted the ropes.

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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.

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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.

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Winter heaven continues. 9th March

09/03/16

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The vistas just kept coming as we crossed the head of Fionn Choire and out to Bruach na Frithe.

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Euan was so impressed with the “lady of the Trig point” he had to give her a kiss!

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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!

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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.

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Mega conditions continue. 3rd March update.

03/03/16

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.

 

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Skye Winter Festival 2016. 14-27th January

22/02/16

The first week of the Skye Winter Climbing Festival was very productive with keeness, weather and conditions allowing great climbing every day. The weather for the second week wasn’t the best but Skye still produced its magic for everyone who ventured out.

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The small selection of the pictures here may make a few of you jealous but there were some stupid early starts, wild weather to battle, grit, determination and incredibly hard work needed to achieve this and we didn’t enjoy it one bit so don’t feel too bad 😉

 

The meet started with a huge bang from Skye boys James & Doug Sutton making the first winter ascent of Crack of Dawn. Grade VIII is as hard and serious as any route on the island and well untruly keeps the Cuillin on the hard man’s radar.

Crack Dawn nightLate finish on Crack of Dawn

Weipeng, Maymay & I had a more gentile day taking in a feast of light & colour on an ascent of Bla Bheinn. Their Sony camera produced some of the best quality shots of the week.

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On Friday Pat Ingram and I looked at a new crag low in the Cuillin to avoid the deep powder higher up. Park Lane V,4 wasn’t as frozen as hoped for but gave good some very good climbing.

IMG_0824Pat Ingram stepping into the main line on Park Lane

 

Beads & Dave Bowdler got a beaut of a route following North Rib of Banachdaich Gully at grade IV,5 with steep well protected climbing.

North Rib Beads approaching the crux of North Rib, IV,5

Saturday the good forecast was slightly out but just added more snow & ice to the fun. Lucy & Nathan must have had 1.5 hours on the belay waiting for me to top out on Owl Chimney IV,5; thanks guys.

P1110510Fierce weather on Owl Chimney IV,5 *

The route was technical right to the top but well protected. A bonus for all of us was seeing the Owl Pinnacle which is as elusive as the real bird from almost all angles in the corrie. Beads & Dave added a direct start to South Buttress just to our right at IV,4.

P1110536The elusive Owl Pinnacle

Meanwhile Michael Barnard & Pat were climbing Tres Difficile V,6 a steep line immediately left of the TD Gap summer route. They then moved onto the south face of Alasdair and a line immediately right of Michael’s route from last year Skye High. They abseiled off after a pitch with Michael keen to come back and add anothe pitch to complete the route.

P1030102Michael high on Tres Difficile, V,6 TD Gap.

A 5am start on Sunday allowed Michael and me to get 2 new routes climbed on the Stone Shoot face of Thearlaich. Both were very technical and I was very glad to be following. The Bogeyman, VI,7 was a serious and sustained route that looked as promising as the route next door (Curse of the Hobgoblin V,6) but was very sparse on gear and had more than it’s share of loose rock.

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Far more solid but desperately steep the line closest to the top of the Stone Shoot gave Mr Charlie VI,7 which I finished off by squeezing under the summit cairn itself.

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On Monday Michael, Julian Goddard and Mark Pratt had a long day climbing Fox’s Rake III,4 in not quite ideal conditions with more snow than ice but all good fun and a headtorch descent.

actionJulian on Fox’s Rake

Tuesday had me kicked out of bed at 5 again as Michael had a mission to finish his route on Alasdair. Pat had promised me that the first pitch was very good and he wasn’t lying; a beautiful line with positive hooks and good gear all the way.

Temperatures were rising rapidly as Michael explored the options above before finally returning to the belay soaked through. I took the obvious easiest line of weakness up a tapering ramp above the steep initial wall. It looked blank and smooth to start with but a bit of courage was rewarded with a cluster of bomb-proof gear before running it out on a series of positive edges and small hooks. Michael’s sling was still there at the top of Skye High from last year and I was able to see the quality of that route as we abseiled straight down the line; inspiring stuff.

IMG_0860Michael’s quality route The Sheriff’s Ransom V,6 on Sgurr Alasdair

 

With the thaw setting in we intended to lower the bar for Wednesday’s ambitions; it seemed likely that the In Pinn would be stripped bare and make a suitable outing for what seemed likely to be the last day of winter climbing. It was very obvious we were wrong about the thaw from quite an early stage but this was embraced with glee by the others; I’ve been pretty scared on the Pinn in full winter garb so was reserving judgement.

IMG_0882Climbers for scale below the firigtening Inacceessible Pinnacle

The climb was pretty epic with Michael leading the route in 2 halves and then me,Mark and Johnny following. All captured nicely on a Go-pro on Johnny’s helmet you can enjoy it here- Inaccessible Pinnacle

Outings later in the week were more sedate but any efforts were rewarded hansomely as ever with drama and scenery like only Skye can do properly-

IMG_0932 IMG_0931Ardtrek point with Annmarie

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The annual dinner was a highlight as ever. Iain addressed the Haggis in stunning style that matched his dry-tooling earlier in the day; in fact that’s how he learnt to cut the haggis with the ice axe so accurately. Beads gave the after dinner speech, the before dinner speech and the during dinner speech. Slainte Mha!

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Click on the images below, once for the thumb-nail and again to view full size.

 

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Forcan magic. 10th January 2016

11/01/16

Had great fun introducing my good mate Innes to the joys of winter climbing yesterday and the weather gods treated us to a classic. The forecast had been for heavy rain/snow for most of the day but nothing came of it at all.

Now Innes built a lot of the Black Cuillin footpaths and has explored many of the peaks and ridges in that time. Instead he fancied Glen Shiel, having driven through it so often but never left the road.

A big part of the joy of the day was listening to the commentary- Innes was being blown away by every aspect of our environment. “It’s so 3-dimensional” was a comment really early on as the clever stalkers path weaved upward eventually revealing the hidden maze of glens beyond.IMG_0748 (3)

 

We left plans open but I reasoned that, if we were going to carry the crampons, rope etc we should aim for a route where they might actually be needed so the Forcan Ridge it was. I’ve done it many times but it never disappoints with progress often complex and time-consuming.

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Top pupil donned the harness although I sensed an element of doubt about any need for it as I coiled the rope in preparation. Heading to the foot of the first slab Innes was hard on my heels and the beast was momentarily unleashed only to watch me fail miserably getting up the opening groove. A rising zig-zag left us no choice but to balance across the groove 40ft above the ground and the need for rope became obvious. The lad grew very fond of that wee bit of string over the following couple of hours!

 

IMG_0759What a position

 

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The aesthetics were great but the pics don’t show the brutal hard work. Every inch was hard fought for but, as Innes pointed out, it kept the mind off the drop.

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After an hour or so in the mist, things began to get distinctly brighter until we were suddenly in bright sunlight and the mists dropped off the ridge running away in front of us towards the Saddle.

IMG_0763Top of Sgurr a Forcan with The Saddle appearing out to the north.

It was already close to 2pm when we reached the summit of Sgurr a’ Forcan so an easy decision to head down immediately beyond. Now the bumslide descent from the Saddle is such fun it justifies the effort almost every time in winter but I hadn’t told Innes because I hadn’t been sure about the short-cut we were about to take. A foot of powder is a great cushion though and the run-out was clear so I armed the lad with an ice -axe, gave him a brief lesson then set him free while I packed the rope.

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He was off like a shot and I was greeted by a cheshire cat-like grin 400 feet lower as Innes admitted the descent had been particularly troubling him whenever he made the mistake of thinking about it! With the tension released the eulogising really began in earnest; pretty sure I’ve another good keen climbing partner well broken in.

IMG_0771Looking back at where we’d been.

IMG_0769The Five Sisters of Kintail beautifully highlighted in the evening light

Thanks for inspiration for a great day out Innes!

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Beautiful Bla Bheinn. Friday 8th January

11/01/16

Stunning light and colours on a quick trip up Bla Bheinn last Friday afternoon.

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Nice ice surprise

01/12/15

A warm week followed by another cold weekend but Monday’s forecast was better so we waited ’til today for our adventures. With low snow once more I was sure we’d get last week’s low lying ambition done but, yet again, conditions just weren’t playing ball. Even the high cliffs on Bla Bheinn looked dry and powdery so Beads and I agreed on a wander across to a buttress on the South Ridge that neither of us had visited before. Deep powder gave us a good work out but we were rewarded with a huge sweep of hillside dripping in good ice.

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Too good to miss we soloed a bit then took the precaution of a rope for another 3 pitches or so, delightful movement in bright sunshine and a pretty good backdrop….

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All this indulgence took us high on the South Ridge where the we met the weather; not a sign of Glen Sligachan, let alone the Main Ridge. It was time to run away but not until we got a good look at the buttress we’d originally been aiming for. Plunging down the nearest gully the powder was now our friend as we dropped a long way down, me mainly on my butt. Now there had been no intention of doing another climb but when a recessed gully suddenly appeared complete with a long ribbon of ice it was time to kick ass and accept a headlit descent.

IMG_0253The beautiful Gully

Beads volunteered for the first pitch, very gallant given the thin, hollow ice and obvious lack of protection. He climbed it well, a relief to us both but particurly him with a bank of deep powder as the only consolation available. My pitch proved very similar in style but yielded a wire placement close to half height. Very hard to grade but, in the conditions we had today, probably IV,4. In perfect conditions it could be as low as grade II but any less frozen and it wouldn’t be possible.

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It was then a long, very hard flog through the powder to the top of the gully

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but rewarded with a view to the Main Ridge

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Light was fading and the full sacks weighed heavily but the last light out over Rum gave one final special view

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The Breadline, V,5.

23/11/15

The first winter climbing day of the season is always daunting; so much extra kit to remember, fit, fix and, worst of all, carry. Yesterday though, I had a cunning plan; walking up Blaven on Saturday I’d spotted a couple of ideal new lines all icy and snow covered nice and low on the hill. Now I do remember clocking how warm it was on the walk back from the Broadford football dance too late on Saturday night but Sunday dawned stunningly and the car was coated in frost. Beads and Murdo were right on time and I felt smug remembering to pack the hot flask despite my thick head. Torrin was stunning with the eastern Cuillin as a backdrop but most obvious was that the snow-line had jumped half-way up the mountain or more; on the back of 3 fast days on the tops my body ached just at the thought of having to go right up again.

At the carpark Murdo let out an expletive as he located his boots as being back in Portree and my relief came in the most comical/painful/more comical manner. Smug we were not as Beads and I know it will be our turn to screw up soon enough but we did enjoy an extra cuppa with the time we knew Murdo needed to make the next rendezvous at Sligachan. So the crack team was finally in action before 10-30am.IMG_0197

Beads tried to tempt us to the flesh pots of his own personal face on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir but it was black as the ace of spades and obvious we needed to go high; either the Bhasteir face of Gillean or Am Basteir itself. Way back in 2009 I’d spotted an open-book corner directly above where The Deadline(III) turns hard right. Another attraction was that it seemed likely to be short enough that we might top out before dark 🙂

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My pitch gave a sharp wake-up call for the new season with a wide range of tactics and plenty of fight needed to make upward progress. A couple of good ice placements early on were but a tease and above here I used everything from full body wedging to tiny finger edges. The protection was all a bit testing to construct and somewhat reliant on the rock holding together but luckily wasn’t put to the test.

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A pull over the capping stone to finish saw both Murdo and I flop like seals onto the snow-covered scree bed but Mr Beads managed the whole pitch in some style.

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The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.

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Shining out from below our cloud cover was a dazzling aray of autumn colours out over the mainland to the south; here looking across to Loch Nevis with Mallaig to the right and Knoydart to the left-

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The route was short (70m) but gave sustained and quality climbing. Wordmeister Beads had christened it The Breadline tied into the parent route The Deadline long before we had completed. Grading a route with so much thrutching is always hard but I’m going to settle on V,5 for now and see what future ascentionists think. It’s a good line that will be in nick frequently so shouldn’t be long….

Heavy sacks gave squealing quads on the initial steep downhill but I found myself back in a serene mindset once more as the moon lit the moorland path back to the car; a hair of the dog, a bath and a long lie-in…….

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Swiss selection

23/11/15

3 very different days out this week with Erik, Fabian and Andrew on their Skye break. Sorry but no pics from a rather damp traverse of Sgurr nan Gillean on Thursday. Skies cleared as temperatures dropped and gave us beautiful views on An Caistiel via Sgurr an Fheadain on Friday.

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A baltic wind and thin skim of hailstones added a sharp edge to the scrambling and we were glad to abseil into some shelter on the way down; so much so that the 2 swiss guests went for a dip in thee Fairy Pools on the walk out.

IMG_0135 (1024x768)Head on into a bitter wind

Snow lay very low on a beautiful Saturday morning.

IMG_0151 (1024x768)Eastern Cuillin giants; Blaven, Clach Glas, Sgurr nan Each and Belig

 With rain forecast we opted for a quick romp to the summit of Blaven rather than the technicalities of Clach Glas.

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The clouds did roll in and a few flurries of snow added to a festive feel.

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Once on top the bitter wind became apparrent and we were all glad to wrap up fully for tackling the short awkward step betweeen the summits.

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The guys came with an open mind, a good level of fitness and a willingness to take advice- a perfect way to approach the mountains but especially at this time of year. Sante!

“Hey Mike – just wanted to once again tell you that we had a great time and great experience – appreciate your time and patience, and look forward to seeing you again before long – we are already talking about a summer trip”

Day 2 Sgurr an Fheadain and An Caisteal

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Day 3 Blaven-

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Return of the Skye Winter Climbing Festival.

11/11/15

Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2016

Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 14th to January 27th 2016

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.

It’s that time again. 2 weeks for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole period but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.

Background information.

For the past 5 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 40 new winter climbs. Only 5 days out of 34 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.

Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb scene is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.

fonduefest 2Romain’s Fondue-fest 2013

 

The Climbing

Over the past 5 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

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It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.

Last year’s festival was a resounding success with over 60 people enjoying superb winter conditions that spanned the whole 16-day period. It was undeniably hardcore on the majority of days and some got luckier than others, but people were out every day climbing more than 50 routes including 20+ first ascents.

Approaching Twicicle on the very wild “Black Friday”, 2015 Festival

How does it work?

Nothing complex- Come for as many days as you want. There are beds for 24 people available throughout the fortnight; first come first served. Use the meet as a base for climbing with a regular partner or come and match up. Collectively we make sure that nobody is left partnerless, short of inspiration or too far out of their depth.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. We’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.

Accommodation and Food

The festival is based at the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn. 24 beds in 5 different rooms with bunkbeds and bedding provided. The accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door.

Catering 2016- different this year!!

Self-catering in the well-eqipped kitchen or eat from the pub’s superb menu. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine french fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us for these meals and let your hair down!

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.

B&B

The Old Inn will be open for business and private rooms will be available for those wanting a bit more privacy and peace. Please contact them directly- Old Inn

Evenings

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Over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. The Old Inn is the climbers’ pub in Skye but also a busy local. It’s a lively spot with organised bands and impromptu jamming.

The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost

New for 2016- Skills symposium

Following a suggestion from guests last year some of our guides have committed a couple of days to specifically pass on their knowledge and skills. Limited places are available on a variety of full-day courses over the 2 festival weekends. Request more details when booking your place in the bunkhouse:-

  • Introduction to winter walking skills; 6 places per course. Suitable for walkers with good fitness but little winter experience. £50pp
  • Cuillin Winter Munros; 6 places per course. Suitable for fit winter climbers or walkers. £50pp
  • Dry Tooling skills; 4 places per course. Low-level; £50pp
  • Alpine rope skills for Cuillin ridges in winter; 4 places per course. Suitable for climbers or winter walkers of good fitness. £60pp
  • Mixed climbing skills; 2 places per course. Suitable for those with some pitched winter climbing experience. £80pp

Every effort will be made to achieve the course objectives but the mountains are in charge! Full refunds will be given if it is not possible to run the courses. Please just ask if you would like private guiding at any other point in the course.

 Social media

Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebok page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.

FAQ

Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.

Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.

Unsure?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Skye Guides normal private guiding will be available throughout. Don’t worry if you don’t want to book anything- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else. A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.

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Andy Kirkpatrick coming to Skye

06/11/15

We’re privledged to have the prolific climber, writer, (comedian?) Andy Kirkpatrick coming to Skye at the end of the month on his Cold Mountain tour. I’ve never met him or been to his talks but a recent video on UKC confirmed what I’d heard.

“He’s a great speaker, mainly because he realises that climbing is really boring to anyone who wasnt there at the time, and even if you were there half of it is boring.”

Anyway, the details-

WHEN?- Friday November 27th, 7.30pm

WHERE?- Aros visitor centre, Portree

TICKETS COST- £12 and £9. Buy them from Aros.

 

Andy Kirkpatrick in Yosemite, 168 kb

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Awesome Autumn Adventure; November 4th

04/11/15

Special light, incredible colours and magical mists can all be a feature of autumn outings and today had all of them.

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Martin is just back from the Kingdom of Bhutan and it was amazing to hear him say the scenery there reminded him of the Cuillin and had inspired this visit. Previously he has explored the Cuillin on his own but fancied pushing the boundaries a bit.

IMG_0028 (1024x768)Sgurr Eadar da Choire is the pointed central peak

I chose a route that I’ve only succeeded on once before, the alluring ridge of Sgurr Eadar da Choire that leads straight to the summit of Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. After today I am sure to be repeating the route a lot more.

IMG_0030 (768x1024)We started out of Coire an Dorus by a shattered ridge left of the most prominent rib. A high degree of caution was needed but the quality of scrambling was continuous and excellent.

IMG_0035 (768x1024)Top of the first narrow rib

More dry rough rock gave great sport as the ridge soared above us to it’s fine peak and the situations just kept impressing.

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The final 100m of ascent became a bit more broken and rambling but popped us out to a magnificent panorama across the Cuillin bowl and out across the whole of the highlands-

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An early lunch was followed by a very swift traverse south across Ghreadaidh, Banachdaich and finally to the In Pinn with magnificent views changing all the time.IMG_0059 (1024x768)

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Climbing the In Pinn was still highly exciting of course but Martin now understood quite how many more Cuillin adventures there are to be discovered for us all.

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St Kilda; Climbing on the edge of the world

21/10/15

 

 

Alan called me exactly a year ago with an outrageous request to be guided up Stac Lee on St Kilda in October or November 2015 “if there’s a settled period of weather”; ha, bloody ha. But no, he was serious as it was his last remaining Marilyn; a list of 1556 peaks over 500 feet high.

The full tale is long and full of plot & intrigue but, basically, the phone rang last Wednesday and I had to drop everything for the weekend ahead including all the rugby matches which was no small sacrifice!

We sailed to Harris Friday lunchtime and camped in an idylic spot just 10 minutes from Leverburgh where we would sail from at 6-30 next morning.

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Beautiful skies at

Seamus and the crew of the Enchanted Isle had us all loaded and heading off 40 miles westward before the sun rose and I was soon catching up on Z’s but was woken by a shout of land ahoy. Not far ahead stood some impressive stacks, immediately recognisable from what little I’d managed to read. Distance was deceptive however andd it took more than another hour to finally reach St Kilda. Stunning light, dolphins and even a Minke whale kept us occupied along with a palpable tension of excitement & fear rising.

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Stac Lee was the aim for the day and Alan and I were given the first ride ashore. The plan was for us to head up with Bob Kerr and his guide Tim following behind and rigging a static to help the less confident leaders behind and everything went pretty much exactly to plan. Conditions were better than the previous year’s assailants had encountered with bone dry rock and, more importantly, far drier and less deep guano from the gannets.

The route was effectively 3 pitches, never harder than V Diff in the conditions we had, and then a long easy scramble zig-zagging to the summit. The rock is gabbro; another super volcano that errupted at a similar time to the Cuillin volcanoes on Skye & Rum. The result is similar to what the Skye Cuillin would look like if sea-level rose to the level of Coire lagan or higher.

We made it to the top just before half 12 where Alan had to remind me it was his final Marylin top and a good celbration was in order. Michael Earnshaw also compleated and the others were alldelighted to get the highest & hardest “out of the way” 🙂

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Scorching sun & no wind added to the difficulties, not, as everyone gradually made it down for one big abseil descent and a safe return to the Enchanted Isle for tea & cake by about 4pm.

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Speed was of an essence as we realised there was time to recce the next day’s objective, Stac an Armin. The swell was against us using last year’s landing so Tim & I rigged ropes on the East side. 35m of greasy slime covered rocks made us grateful for spikes & crampons but everything was set for a rapid ascent next day and return in time for the Scottish match on the ferry ride back from Tarbet……. if all went to plan. The swell nearly saw me in the drink as I abseiled onto the boat but, instead it was time to lap up the stunning light & scenery on the 20 minute ride to the old village on Hirta.

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P1100783Boreray (right), Stac Lee (left) and Stac an Armin (centre)

The MOD base on Hirta is horribly out of keeping with the haunting beauty of the abandoned village but this didn’t detract from this, the largest island in the world heritage site, or the bouyant atmosphere as everyone settled down with good food, drink & banter & finally relaxing on what had been a high-octane day.P1100800

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That’s all for now but I’ll complete with Sunday’s pictures asap.

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