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.
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.
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” 🙂
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.
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.
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.
That’s all for now but I’ll complete with Sunday’s pictures asap.
Lucy’s half term visit gave a chance far sooner than I expected to have a closer look. Stakes in the heather above were essential for a belay and I was respectful enough to use them to pre-inspect the route; apologies to the more purist amongst you.
First note was not to finish too directly with 10ft of vertical peat and dead heather above the central line. Apart from this I only remember wishing I’d got half a dozen half sized cams for the numerous uniform horizontal breaks. I got to the foot of the climb without much more of an idea of what to expect than I’d had from looking from afar.
A bizarre conversation ensued; a mix of positivity about the lack of steepness and more negative “maybe there’s a reason it hasn’t been climbed before”.
I lived; an intense hour or so of delicacy, cleaning, clever gear placing, funky moves, disco-leg, crimp after crimp, recalculation, long run-outs and a wee bit of finger crossing finally found me with some attached heather in hand pulling over the top.
Retrospectively a really intense cleaning/gardening session would probably have made things a bit easier but I’m pretty sure Arch Buttress will remain quite an adventure for any suiters. E1 5a and definitely worth a star for those who enjoy their nerve being tested.
The wonderful artistic shots are credit to Lucy Spark while she waited for me to prussic back up for the rope; all good practice for this weekend’s adventure to Stac Lee……
I did get comments after my last post that I mentioned the poor summer but the photos didn’t reflect it so here’s a couple of shots from the start of September showiing folk having fun despite the damp.A cold looking team at the foot of the Pinn.
Sunday 6th was pretty grim with cold wind and heavy showers but we got our timing just right to catch an hour of less heavy precipitation. It poured down again shortly after we left the In Pinn but this day typified what we’ve been doing all summer, close scrutiny of forecasts allowing us to get ambitions achieved.
Karen & Mo were up for a week of shadowing and had been briefed to bring sunshine with them from Plas y Brenin which they promised but it couldn’t keep up with Mo’s driving 🙂
The sun finally arrived on Monday with a stunning cloud inversion that I sadly missed but our guides and clients all raved about.
Karen watching the mists burn off Lochan a’ Ghrunnda
I had a great day at Neist on Tuesday with regular Jane Parfitt. A particular highlight was climbing Man of Straw, the cover shot of Jane’s coveted Seacliffs guidebook.
With the exception of Cioch and In Pinn ascents, in various degrees of poor weather, this season has been just too wet and cold for Cuillin rock climbing.
On Wednesday 9th I finally managed my first major Cuillin rock climb of the year and even managed to combine it with a glorious days work. We opted for Pinnacle Ridge as Robert (76) had never climbed it in his previous 8 rounds of Munros. Incidentally he has now completed the 9th round and is back on Skye starting his 10th which should be done before he reaches 80! Meanwhile modest old Brett (21) was happy to take the scenic route to Am Basteir on such a lovely day; for the record he has only Ben More on Mull to climb to compleat his 1st round of Munros.
I particularly like this shot of us on the exciting Traverse on Knight’s Peak where Robert appears to be levitating along a light-beam from Mo; perhaps that’s how he does it!
Mo and I left the others to descend to Sligachan while we headed for a line on the Bhasteir Face of Gillean. Some debris littered the ledges but 3 pitches of good climbing gave us Indian Buttress, HVS 5a.
Well enough of the tales; please enjoy some sunny pictures as much as we enjoyed being out there. The rest of September was largely warmer & sunnier than any point in the past 10 months.
The Skye Guides team has been flat out and, despite the worst summer in living memory, we’ve succeeded in getting the majority of ambitions achieved. Feedback from clients has been superb as people realise quite how skilled and knowledgeable our guides are. Equally the guides have been loving the challenges of choosing the right weather windows for Traverses, ingenious ropework to safeguard slippy terrain, keeping everyone focussed and finding the right way in near zero visibility. There is a feeling of immense satisfaction when it all comes together against the odds, some well earned beers, long hot baths and very solid sleep!
Many thanks to Andy Moles and Neville McBain for the superb images on this page from their successful Traverse on 18 & 19th August.
The gallery below has a mixture of the best shots from the period; click the pic to view more.
I first read about Monte Viso in 1999; Will McLewin’s classic book describing how every one of the Alps 4000m peaks could be seen from its summit. 3 days later and there it was, standing like an isolated church tower nearly 100km south of us. It stands 500m clear of any other mountains nearby and is one of the few “must do” peaks I’ve ever had.
A chance opportunity to climb with my old mate Icky saw us heading off over high passes on Tuesday and down into Italy. Our first close sight of it got the adrenalin rising nicely but quite a worry about how Red the dawg was going to get on!
Gulp! Monte Viso out to the right.
We got there, Red opted to stay in the Andretti bivvy hut @ 3200m (top of the heavy red line marked below) and sadly the haze limited views somewhat. The whole experience was outrageously good though with possibly the most beautiful alpine approach & descent I’ve ever done, quality climbing, a tiny handful of friendly other climbers and superb company throughout. Enjoy the pics which I’ll label in time.-
Apologies for the long delay in blogging; directly related to how busy we, and the whole of Skye, has been throughout June. The snows did finally recede and, thanks to a superb guiding team and great adventurous spirit amongst clients, we’ve still only lost a couple of days outright. We’ve even squeezed a few successful Traverses in as well as mopping up on plenty of Cuillin Munros (sorry:-). All proof that any day in the hills is better than being at work!
2015 has certainly won all the awards for the worst start to the summer season that anyone can remember- A client working in the Aberdeen met. office out last week said he’d ended the previous weekend shift with a promise of light south-easterly winds and high pressure; instead he got 2 of the wettest days I can remember. “The pressure in that rain is better than the shower I put into the bathroom last year!”
Friday typified the pattern with heavy rain forecast to clear by lunch. Adam & I left it til lunch to start but still got a good soaking for the first half hour. Things soon improved and Sgurr nan Each gave us some dry rock and views into Glen Sligachan appeared just before we started up onto Clac Glas; mists blowing off with beautiful effects to reveal the climb ahead.
Our hopes of glorious sunshine were soon dashed as the cloud cloaked us once more, handily disguising the drops as Adam observed. He coped admirably with the terrain although concentration was needed especially in the final chimney-
We were finally rewarded with a splash of sunshine and brief windows through to the sea from the South Top of Blaven.
C’mon summer; you can do it!!
I’ve seen some hefty snow-flurries in June before but never a complete coating down below 600m. This mad weather just continues to amaze, frustrate but also give superb entertainment in the form of mountaineering challenge.
Angela wanted to climb Sgurr Alasdair because it is the name of her eldest son; preferably before he climbed it himself! Normally a fairly safe bet, especially in June, I had quite serious doubts as we met at Sligachan and saw quite how much snow there was.
Sgumain stone shoot.
Things got considerably more interesting next with the exposed slabby descent to reach the start of Alasdair
The SW Flank of Alasdair would ordinarily have been a 15 minute scramble; instead nearly an hour was spent pitching our way carefully up snow-coated basalt.
Chimney at the foot of the face.
View back to Sgumain & where we’d come from.
Window across to Thearlaich & Mhiccoinnich
Heavy sleet/rain finally caught us out on the top of Alasdair but didn’t dampen spirits. The snow made for good cushioning for the knees on descent and the tops even all cleared to let Angela see where she’d been.
Steff and Sarah did us proud today by bringing cloudless blue skies; in exchange I chose Suidhe Biorach & some spectacular routes for them to climb. Both ladies have climbed at home for a while so only a short session was needed on the practice slab before we got stuck into a progression of Elgol classics.
Fertility Right is one of the finest single pitch Severe’s I know; Jamie Jampot VS is better quality still; Hairy Mary VS I find growing on me after initially thinking it a bit contrived. The grade of Angel of Sharkness is much debated but the quality is without doubt as both aussies confirmed. The guidebook gives E1, 5b but it’s only HVS 5a to me. Interestingly the ladies thought it about Oz grade 17 which would put it in the lower grade by the comparison table on UKC
For its position alone Veritous Splendour deserves 3 stars but the climbing is quality too, with a dizzying crescendo as you layback the perfect arete to a gigantic jug at the top. The direct start is far easier than the original and makes it a stunning route that requires more by way of cunning and calmness than the usual Elgol thuggery.
Lizz had never done any scrambling before but an adventurous and athletic atttitude saw her balancing confidently along the knife-edge crest of Ghreadaidh today.Thanks to Iain who was out shadowing with us for taking these great images.
For some context I’d estimate that only 1 in 50 folk I guide along here have the bottle and skill to pull it off with most folk taking the safer hands & buttocks-on option! The knife-edge only lasts 10 minutes when done in such good style and we were soon heading down on easier ground but opting for the crest wherever possible.
Almost as a reward we were treated to a sight I’ve never had before with a flock of 8, yes 8, white-tailed eagles rising on the thermals from below us. Footage on the go-pro shows that this display lasted for over quarter of an hour before they rather spookily rose up into the cloud base 500 feet above us and disappeared in an instant.
The sight was spectacular but also gave me an uncomfortable feeling- these birds are just so huge and gregarious compared with true mountain royalty, the Golden Eagles. Goldies are failing to breed with anywhere near the same success as they used to here on Skye in the 90’s and I certainly see them less frequently. The causes are multifold and funding towards research is, as far as I’m aware, very minor. I’d like to see some of the enormous quantities of money spent on the White-tailed eagle flagship directed towards working out how to slow this decline.
An aging population has reduced fertility and I’m aware of my own guilt with ever-increasing numbers of hill-goers inadvertently distrurbing these shy birds by venturing too close to their nests. However, having a bigger bird that eats largely the same diet and needs similar sized territories reintroduced to their Skye stronghold has undoubtedly had a big impact. The RSPB line is that the 2 species don’t compete directly with each other and there are certainly shots of both species feeding from the same deer carcass. It is hard for me, however, not to envisage the “gang” we saw today, completely frightening a goldie off any prey.We continued our traverse to Banachdaich and these ranting thoughts subsided as concentration on footwork absorbed me once more. The clouds burnt off and half an hour was easily wiled away on the summit before a quick descent to beers while legs were soaked in the cool pools.
After the brief dose of summery warmth & dry weather winter has returned with a vengeance. Despite strong sunshine temperatures remained low enough through today to leave the thick covering of snow on the Ridge crest complete.
The snow is heavy and wet but crampons will still be needed by anyone wanting to tackle the narrower sections of ridge, Thearlaich, Mhiccoinnich, Ghreadaidh, Pinnacle Ridge of Gillean in particular.
A general recommendation would be to aim for individual peaks, add 50% to timings. SGurr an Fheadain, banachdaich, Blaven & Bruach na Frithe.
Sadly there doesn’t appear to be any full-on winter routing to be done.
Temperatures may rise a bit mid-week next week but no heavy rain forecast to wash it all away.
It’s been a busy beautiful time since Easter. Below are a selection of pictures of folk just having fun in the sun. Thanks to you all for bringing it and sharing some quality times. If anyone has shots from those days I forgot the camera please feel free to send them for me to add in.
March has been a hectic period as admin for the summer starts to dominate; very hard after such a fun winter. The wild conditions have continued pretty much identically to the past 3 months with plenty of good climbing conditions formed by bonkers winds, loads of snow, the odd thaw and repeat….. There’s snow settling at sea-level tonight and that’s not an April fool. Still basking in the glory of the In Pinn spoof in 2013; had folk who believed it well over a year later-
In fact I’ve bottled out of trying to catch you out this year so relax & enjoy a few pics from the past month or so.
Storr, 1st March. Driving there was scary enough! These guys had the harshest 3 days of the winter but still got out each day.
Sheltering under the Old Man of Storr
Neist. Friday 13th, not unlucky at all. First day of hot rock with Iain and Ally
Bruton party, 14th. A great day with miles of perfect snow to practice crampon & axe work.
Bla Bheinn with Lucy, Sunday 15th. Another immaculate day
Alpine conditions on approach.
Not a cloud to ruin the view.
Can’t beat that view out to Rum
Serious graft for the Skye MRT taking the radio relay down for fixing, all 200kg of it!
Lucy on the crux of South Buttress Gully, III.
South Buttress Gully- A mix of sugary snow, plenty of spice & god it was nice!
Eilidh & Matt. A magical day with the mists burning off and rock drying front of our eyes on Sgurr an Fheadian, 21st
The Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain
Smiles of delight?
Nah, pure relief eh Eilidh!
And that’s why she’s allowed to be happy!
Orion Face Direct, Wednesday 25th. Winter looked to be washed out very soon so Icky & I made a dash for the last route of the season. Spoilt for choice we chose Orion which I’d been on but never done in it entirity. Definitely didn’t disappoint and the legs really knew about it. Luckily the descent on a cushion of powder right to the door of the hut was as good as it gets; “If Carling made descents”.
Icky heading towards the exit chimneys that gave a superb steep finish to the 8 pitch day.
31st March. Video work on Human Geography with Phillip from Canada was quite some challenge in the mega-gusts we had but the stinging showers mostly left us alone until the very end of the day. I’m not sure quite how it works but the project is based on Munro Bagging and he’s off to interview Chris Townsend next. Looking forward to seeing the results.
The Eastern Black Cuillin looking wintery. We went to the right hand of the 2 obvious cols
Clac Glas from the shelter of a welcome overhang.
Main Cuillin Ridge laid out in front of us
Clac Glas, the Matterhorn of Skye and a fiercesome barrier to reaching Bla Bheinn
With temperatures forecast to soar into double figures the following day it seemed that everyone wanted to get out on Wednesday. We were worried winter would come to an abrupt end but it hasn’t; we’ve more fresh snow down to 500m today, Sunday, with plenty of old snow on easterly aspects in particular.
Snow conditions were a wee bit “lively” but we eventually made it to the cave half-way up the Great Stone Shoot. It was a lovely day for a walk but we were a bit shocked to have a couple of French tourists in jeans & trainers join us! We assured them it wasn’t the voie normal so they gaily scooted off down again without a care in the world.
Snow cover was very limited and it really doesn’t show the steepness but, wow, what an arena to play in!
In December I suggested it may be IV,4 but with a thick coat of ice blocking both placements and protection the top pitch definitely felt worthy of its original grade V. Placements may have been blocked but the snow and ice was in superb condition which made the climbing feel a lot closer to traditional winter than modern mixed.
Weather always strongly affects what we suggest to do on any given day and there have been some challenging forecasts to interpret.
Damien & Sue booked a few days of winter walking around last weekend. Friday saw us take a 7 mile hike around the coast via Suisinish and Boreraig, villages abandoned in the Highland Clearances.
We pushed the boat out on ambitions and made an ascent of Sgurr na Banachdaich, the easiest Black Cuillin, in perfect weather on Saturday ahead of an enforced rest day Sunday.
We opted for 2 short (1.5hr) walks between showers and coffee shops on Monday, firstly out to the lighthouse at Neist Point
and then amongst the magical rock formations of the Quiraing.
Tony & Maija have ambitions on climbing Mont Blanc this summer so my brief was to get them confident on their crampons.
We met in awful weather on the first morning but the forecast was to improve through the day so we spent a very productive hour fine-tuning and discussing the kit. It was still damp as we left the carpark but breaks soon began to appear.
Our delayed start not only worked very well with the weather but we were the 3rd party up the Great Gully on Ba Bheinn that day so had a wonderful line of bucket steps right to the crest. As so often this season the summit views were outstanding.
We wore crampons for practice more than safety but were very glad to have them on as we started our descent; the change of aspect made meant the initial 10 minutes were on very hard old snow before we got back to the soft stuff and some essential bumsliding to avoid sinking every step.
Next day there were strong gusts so we opted for the low-lying Broad Gully on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.
On the ascent we encountered a wide variety of consitency, a common theme this season with so much weather going on. The ridge and corrie were surprisingly sheltered but the gusts were soon bowling us over on the way out.
On Wednesday we hid from the wet weather and had a concentrated skills session on the Portree high school wall and by Thursday it looked like we would struggle to find any snow to play on at all….
How wrong we were; snow with great consistency led right up the An Stac screes, around the bypass (and a huge new rockfall btw!) and up past the In Pinn to the summit crest.
I love it when the mountains treat you to such a wonderful surprise; a great way to finish the course.
Wow; what a fortnight. A huge thanks to everyone who came along to support the event, to Angus and all of the staff at the Old Inn for making us so welcome, to Annmarie for keeping us all domesticated and, perhaps most of all, to the weather gods for turning on the winter weather spectacularly. The only day when nothing was climbed was 25th January but it did mean that nobody was late for their Burn’s supper!
Over 40 people all appeared to be having a good time whatever the weather threw at them and reaped the benefits of some spectacular conditions for both mixed and pure ice climbing. More than 20 new routes were added between grades I and VII. Over half of the participants lost their Cuillin winter virginity and now can’t decide if they are nymphomaniacs or just perverts 🙂
Mentions in dispatches, in no particular order, go out to most folk and apologies if you’re not listed-
Craig, Rory & Dylan who embraced the spirit of the festival brilliantly despite their first day being more like a tropical typhoon than Scottish winter; they went on to add at least 4 new routes over the coming days.
Michael Barnard and partners for showing everyone quite how much Cuillin potential there is for the accomplished winter climber in the higher grades. He came up 3 weekends on the trot.
Antoni for keeping the standards of single malt incredibly high despite less cultured alcoholic interference.
Jonny for his modest “I’m not a climber” achievements through the week including the In Pinn; every team should have a Jonny to break trail!
Lucy for services to the team including top-roping 5 folk on the icefalls in a blizzard then missing out herself and being first to balance up the In Pinn with only a nut key to clear cracks.
James found Deep gash had little usable ice in it but his consolation route was the third ascent of Doug Scott’s The Smear!
And Romain, what can I say? For taking gaelic flare and passion for Skye & winter further than anyone thought possible, for winding me up to the great entertainment of everyone else and for surviving a diarrhoea filled car journey through drifts & blizzards.
I loved all of my days out but there were a few particularly good highlights-
A team effort with good friends Beads, Antoni & David in the wild blizzards of Friday 30th to finally tackle the twin icefalls (they’ve teased for 20 years) high on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir. We aimed for the pair but the weather dictated that teamwork was the best idea.
Twicicle was a superb grade IV with Beads & I sharing the gear & the craic on lead. Another highlight that day was the huge relief at the whole festival team reappearing back in the corrie cave out of the maelstrom; phew.
On the Sunday I got a complete beasting at the hands of James on Con’s Cleft (VII,7). He’d run out of daylight 2 days earlier and I was more than happy to come and help him get the project finished. It was a fantastic effort from him, poor style on my part but a long term ambition put to bed and great to climb with James again for the first time in over a decade.
James on the crux of Cons Cleft
Next day Ally & I were the only ones left and were rewarded with the first properly settled day of the meet. Onceicle had grown to suitable thickness, gave 45m of great steep fun and moonlight lit our walkout.
Wednesday dawned stunningly and I took a gamble to return to a mixed venue that had defeated me twice previously; the day turned out to be the highpoint of my festival. Lying on the north side of the West Ridge of Garbh-bheinn is a 100m high cliff of gabbro unusually adorned with loads of vegetation. Conditions were just right with frozen turf and oodles of ice smears. Mo, Stuart and I grabbed the first good looking line leading to a tight chimney with a crucial chockstone.
Mo’s pitch started by poking herself through a tiny squeeze before some great moves to top out. Full of character we decided Chockolates was a 2 star V,6. With some daylight left we shot down again and Mo led off up Yat for the Doh, II- a Hong Kong phrase meaning “one for the road”.
For more images and tales see the festival Facebook page. For those who were there please put links to your own accounts and look closely at your privacy settings so that as many folk as possible can see anything you have shared with the Skye Winter Festival page. Any photos gratefully received.
Too wild for the mountains today (Sunday) so went for a bit of gentle climbing at the seaside
Clear blue skies and heavy frost signalled stonking conditions and we weren’t disappointed. I opted for one of the longest snow lines in the Cuillin, Diagonal Gully on Ghreadaidh.
The snow was uniform from bottom to top; not steel hard but definitely calf burning.
I’ve had big crevasses in the lower reaches before but todays wasn’t wide; deep enough to swallow us but we all crossed safely and paced ourselves on “fast simmer” for the next 1000ft.
The views from the Ridge crest were stunning with snow-clad peaks laid out spectacularly.
Climbing along the narrow crest was a slow and delicate procedure with only tiny amounts of rime ice muting the squeals from our crampons. Check out the short video HERE
The descent of the crest was higher octane with long runnels of water-ice to negotiate and the hard snow in An Dorus gave 20 minutes of concentrated and thigh-burning descent.
My first outing in the Cuillin for over a week looked like it wasn’t going to be too wintery as I gazed on Coir’ a’ Bhasteir stripped of its ice. We rationalised down to single axe and single rope with the Tooth as an ambition.
By the time we reached the gorge a coat of rime was eveident above 600m and we donned crampons pretty soon afterwards on the NE Ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.
Still I exxpected a rock scramble up Collie’s Route which, in the full glare of westerly wind, sun & rain must surely have been stripped. No such thing as we descended past the Tooth into Lota Corrie.
5m of icy rock led into the diagonal break of Collie’s Route which rolled up away into the mist as a continuous white line of neve. We moved together placing runners every now & again but never on moves that were more than grade I. Traversing a (normally easy) horizontal ledge system proved the scariest with the banked out snow steepening up.
Dropping into the nick & up onto the Tooth was a simple exercise but all of the abseil tat was buried in King’s Cave Chimney. A sling on a block at the back allowed us to pull the ropes safely though (thank goodness) and we lapped up the scenery on the descent as the clouds cleared.
There has been so much stonking ice in evidence on photos from Ben Nevis that I couldn’t resist a quick hit on Thursday. Icky, Lucy, Cat & I arrived late in the CIC and didn’t rise early but still had a clear Curtain to start with.
…..before the steep upper half-
We were heading over to Italian Climb when Mega Route X came into sight just above us. Now I watched Cubby climbing this on video over 20 years ago and even bought one of (a large collection??) the red Cassin axes that he’d used on the ascent; apparently quite a lot of people have also bought the same axes with the same background tale 🙂 I digress, I knew it had been climbed a fair bit recently and it looked like it had plenty of bobbles for footholds. The team gave me the nod of approval and so off we went.
I’ve reverted to using wrist leashes on steep ice and loved them instantly; my arms really do appreciate not having to keep hold of the shafts at all. The ice was of stunning consistency (better than the steep part of Curtain) and the bobbles for feet allowed plenty of stability while placing screws.
Icky romped up behind and, although her arms wouldn’t quite do it, Cat has the pose of the day-
Icky & Lucy joined me on the belay and we all admired the icicle fringes all around us. The top pitch started steeply but soon relented with a groove on the left and just one short cheeky section of snowy ice before the final steepening.
A 50m abseil back to the ground was followed by pizza, tea & beer in the hut before the most dangerous part of the day- the drive home. Thank you Big Bad Ben for a glorious day 🙂
Weather was testing but results were great. Wee sample but too busy having fun. Follow us on the Skye Winter Festival facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/skyewinterfestival?ref=hl
Michael Barnard in ation Ghrunnda
Relief from the storms on Friday
Ally’s 1st lead on Ice
There’s been some great Cuillin adventures already despite the roller-coaster temperatures.
Climbing highlight was day 1 when Michael Barnard and Tim Oates caught the last day of big ice. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow gave a big 50m pitch of grade IV,4 water ice in Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda. The name was a far too accurate prediction with almost all decent ice on the hill destroyed by Sunday’s warm wet pulse. They also climbed a good mixed route on Alasdair, possibly Central route which gave 3 pitches at V,6.
Meanwhile the rest of the team had a more leisurely intro & exploration in Coir’ a’ Ghreadaidh.
We climbed a 50m pitch of grade III ice and set up ropes for everyone who wanted to have a go.
We all retired to the bunkhouse for haggis neaps & tatties and a quiet drink & early night 😉
Monday dawned cold & clear again and the 5 of us that had stayed on all headed into Coire na Banachdaich. The missing ice was a blow but The White Line gave the best part of 1000ft of great fun snow stomping.
No need for crampons with such soft snow but the excitement was created by trying to “act like a feather” crossing the more hollow sections of old snow.
Rory easily won the competition for action when he dropped through a hole right in front of Craig and reappeared through a hole at his feet!
Annmarie has been off the hill for 2 years with surgery on her feet but you’d never have guessed; as the pics show she was like the proverbial pig in poo J
Things took a more serious turn once we reached the Ridge.
A wee blizzard made putting crampons on a real test but we were very glad of them for the next 2 hours. A thin cover of old snow & iced rocks led easily to the summit of Dearg and a cracking view of the In Pinn.
The wind was ripping into us by now and the descent of the West Ridge was very testing.
This theme is likely to remain over the coming week and choosing a good descent route in advance is going to be crucial. We made it down to the path just as darkness engulfed us but the crescent moon gave just enough light to allow us to save the batteries for a more serious occasion.
There’s very little but cold, wind, snow etc forecast for the coming week so looking forward to plenty more adventures. There’s a few spaces available still this weekend then plenty more room for the week after. Pack your goggles & Dachstein mitts!
After Charlie & Tom’s idylic introduction to ice on Monday the Scottish weather showed them its real teeth today. After a reasonable start to the day an impressive blizzard kicked in at lunch and tested many things over the next couple of hours.
A good 6″ or more of fresh snow fell on us as we climbed the 2 pitch grade IV Mike The Bhasteird. There was good ice there somewhere but even sweeping feet of snow off sometimes left nothing positive for the axes. Luckily the feet behaved and good axe placements arrived just in the right places above the steepenings.
Despite hotaches & consistent powder neck syndrome we avoided the temptation to run away after pitch 1 but adding another pitch above was deemed uneccesary.
The visibility was so poor I had to use a crag photo to navigate down despite it being a 30m wide terrace!
Plenty of snow now for a good while to come; excellent.
Between the intense storms this winter we’ve been dealt some of the most stunning clear days I’ve experienced. The entire northern Highlands were snow-clad and cloud free for the whole morning before a weak front sent in an awesome display of special effects. Enjoy a selection in the gallery below.
I was back on Bla Bheinn again today with Escape from Colditz the aim as an ideal introduction to ice climbing for Charlie & Tom.
Also along was dad Michael, a time-served climber still using his 1970’s kit but he more than made up for being “burnt by the kids” on the walk in. I coaxed him off his wooden tools and onto shiny curved shaft Piranhas; it’s under a decade since they were last made! He directed complex operations on the belay and coached technique to the others superbly, especially the ancient art of back & footing.
The route was good and icy and plenty climbable although the ice was never quite good enough to justify placing an ice-screw. The route involves a wide variety of techniques so Charlie & Tom had a rapid learnig curve that they dealt with in a way that must have made their old man proud.
As they ran off downhill on springy knees Michael & I exchanged climbing tales and marvelled at the sheer beauty of our world.
Winter feels well untruly underway today with snow on the roads at sea-level and more blizzrds forecast.
Next week looks far more settled and cold right through to the start of the winter festival. Fingers crossed for more of the same.
Attendance is looking good too with numbers already booked ranging from half a dozen some nights to over 16 through the central weekend. There are 24 beds available in total each night. Plenty more climbers are weather-watching and planning to come if things are half-decent. If you fit this bracket please give me a heads up unless you have your own van to sleep in. The pub kitchens are having some work done so food won’t be available. If you are local or making own sleeping arrangements you can join us at the bunkhouse for the communal evening meal but we will need notice. Everyone needs to bring their own brekky & lunch.
Loch Harport Oysters on sale in the village but are they good climbing food?
The meet will spill over into the pub next door (obviously just for space reasons not alcohol:-) and there will be illustrated talks or climbing videos early evening most days. Resident staff Farquhar & Seamus are preetty handy on the tunes but any musicians are welcome to join in with the entertainment.
There were some excellent days of weather over the festive period including Christmas day.
My own highlight was on Sunday 28th when Icky & I indulged in a walk up Bla Bheinn.
We spent over an hour of taking in the views on top and finished with a fantastic bumslide descent of the Great Gully that splits the north and south tops. Deep powder gave us a safe ride down half of the vertical height in just a couple of minutes. See the video here-BUMSLIDE; doesn’t get much more fun than this!
Inspired by the video footage 9 year old Innes climbed his first winter mountain the next day. An even faster descent more than compensated us for all the hard work and no views and he’s desperate for the next opportunity to come along. Snowballs compulsary!
Simon has finally squeezed the ambition of winter climbing into his hectic schedule of fell running, cycling & blowing up molecules (or something like that). In 2013 we had an exciting time climbing a route we called Broken Windows on Window Buttress so I knew he would be up for an adventure. XC forecast good weather until midday so I mooted a criminally early start.
I’d spotted a huge lump of ice on Friday so yesterday we aimed for that, fully armed with screws & screamers. We left the beach shortly after 5 and, as dawn broke, the icefall appeared but only half the man it had been. On closer inspection the remaining ice was clearly the best kind, grey and thick and still very much attached and my hopes rose again. I placed a screw then dashed past the cold shower (steep but on on perfect placements) for a closer look at the open book corner above. Sadly the nice ice ran out and this project came to an abrupt end.
Off to the right more ice led up to a good rock crack and offered an opportunity to give Simon his first go at swinging axes, even if we weren’t going to get to the top. Admittedly I got drenched while belaying but it was a good teaching exercise as Simon discovered the nuances of good/bad ice, how hard to hit, how to get the axes (and a screw) out. More importantly he learnt that it ‘s still all about the feet and discovered just how little a kick his crampon points needed in order to stay put.
We finished our 8-hour day & were back in the pub by 2 and the forecast bad weather eventually set in by 4.
All this set us in good stead for today and I was hopeful Foxes Rake, one of my favourite routes, would offer us some ice. We were joined by Ally (you’ll recognise the grin) for a very civilised 7am start and the rain had cleared through as predicted. As the light arrived The Smear and Icicle Factory ice shone big and bold above us (nowhere near complete but definitely fat where they had formed). Foxes also had some great looking sections but looked thin at the crux especially. I toyed with the pros & cons; the route had never looked so huge & alpine before. Knowing that good rock anchors are sparse exaggerated the seriousness, escape if the crux was too thin was going to be “interesting”. I decided Upper rake would be a better idea but would reconsider as we passed the start of Foxes. From closer up I realised there was far more ice and it all looked delicious again.
Temptation got the better of me & up we went, moving together for the first 150m, moved in shortpitches for another 100m then got both ropes out for the beautiful wide ice pitch below the crux. A bombproof blade belay increased my optimism hugely as I studied the crux that I knew had very little protection. A positive mentality definitely helped as no cracks apeared for protecion. After some balancey steps a narrow groove offered up thicker ice and just enough excellent placements to keep things calm. The cave offered up 3 “better than nothing” runners but the solid line of immaculate ice above was the real source of safety. 25m above, and running out of rope forced me to leave the joyous medium for easier angled snow but we still managed 2 more pitches of indulgence after this.
The route ended just on cue as snow & hail suddenly whipped around us on the latest weather front. Descending back below Deep gash Gully we found fresh fox prints emerging from a dry cave and Simon even glimpsed him heading off into the murk; a fitting finish for a foxy day.
Apologies for no photos in the text but the images are refusing to be rotated. Hopefully the right way around in the gallery below.
Today’s forecast was for showers clearing through by about 10am so Iain and I were feeling pretty smug on the walk into Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda in beautiful weather.
Not far up into the corrie we were equally delighted to find thick ice glazing the rocks, just what we’d hoped for after a week of westerly storms.
We needed crampons for the steep wee section just before the loch and by this time the snow was beginning to fall heavily.
There aren’t any worthwhile pictures from the following couple of hours; all our efforts were put into fighting against the storm. Uphill, kitting up, and even some climbing but there was no end to the pummeling we were getting from all directions. Retreat was the only option and we finally got some respite a few minutes later in the large cave under Sgurr Sgumain.
After lunch we went back out into the maelstrom which continued until we had slithered half way back down the corrie. Finally the clouds broke up and lit up our ice kingdom and gave us magical views out to the very moody Inner Hebrides of Rum & Eigg.
No joy with the climbing but a fantastic day out all the same.
Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2015
Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 24th to February 7th 2015
An open invitation to winter climbers and walkers with an interest in the Skye mountains.
Following on from the success of the past 4 years the Skye Winter Climbing Festival has expanded to a whole fortnight! Yep, 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.
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. You can self-cater but, in the past, we’ve pooled together for evening meals with one of our non-climbing friends knocking up a filling hearty meal ready for whenever we get off the hill.
£14 per night for a bed and £10 per night for evening meal (optional).
Background and information Skye Winter Festival
For the past 4 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet. The meet has seen high levels of activity including over 20 new winter climbs. It’s not all high-brow climbing however with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. As in summer it is the peaks and ridges that are the greatest attraction with adventures possible in almost any conditions.
Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb plays a big part for many but only to a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures they’ve had.
What’s to do?
Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn Evenings are informal; the accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door. We’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips, watched videos and guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps.
If you’re interested e-mail email@example.com or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. Wwe’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Got your own campervan- You’re still welcome to join us socially. Willy Sutherland’s campervan spot with hook-ups is at the Glen Brittle junction just half a mile away.
Last minute climber- We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about space though.
Unsure?- Many of the Winter Meet regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering is route advice and information on the ground but 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.
Confused by this blog post?- The commercial aspect of the festival announced in November has been removed to open the meet to a broader audience. If you are one of the regulars who has now found that a far longer meet is planned go book more time off work 😉
Social- 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. In the past we’ve had slideshows and talks, guitars & games. Let us know if you’ve got pictures or musical talents. The bunkhouse itself has an open plan lounge and kitchen area with television.
The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost
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Great outing on Monday with Iain & Jamie on Sgurr Thearlaich again, this time on Gully A. Higher up we were defeated by mad quantities of graupel (hailstones) appearing from nowhere but the first pitch was absolute quality.
The first winter ascent was solo by Roger O’Donovan in April 1970 (after soloing the 900 ft route Jeffrey’s Dyke in 1.5hrs). He recorded 3 short ice pitches and gave it grade III. He was head instructor at Glenmore Lodge and, significantly, one of the first people using drooped pick axes and front pointing on crampons. This technique had only begun to be experimented with during the winter before.
Uisdean & Callum probably made the 2nd ascent in the very good conditions in 2013 and reported it as considerably harder than grade III.
Yesterday, in pure mixed conditions (glazed & powder with no build-up of snow) the first pitch gave 30m of well protected crack climbing with some funky moves and probably modern grade V,6. It was so good I’m really looking forward to going back to get the route finished.