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.
After what seems like a long wait Winter finally arrived properly in the Cuillin today. BC Buttress on Sgurr Thearlaich came up trumps with great conditions despite only a matter of hours.
Iain, Jamie and I climbed Le Diedre Blanc with a slightly easier start.
BC Buttress. Our route follows the orange line but started by the short wall to the right of the the white pyramid.
This gave us a 2 star route at the slightly more amenable grade of IV,4.
There were some wintery showers
but we were rewarded with some spectacular light and views from the summit as we rigged the abseil back into the Great Stone Shoot.
Forecast is for alternating freeze & thaw for the week ahead so hopefully things will continue to improve even more.
The unseasonably fine weather continued right through to the weekend in the Highlands and Friday was a peach; it could easily have been June with the warm rock on the south face of Am Basteir.
Despite indulging ourselves thoroughly it was still early when we reached Bealach a’ Bhasteir and we couldn’t resist more sun time, continuing up and over Sgurr nan Gillean.
Enjoy the gallery-
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No sign of winter yet but its been another glorious week of late autumnal weather.
Mike & I were treated to a feast of light effects, warm sunshine and plenty of dry rock on a round of Coire na Banachdaich.
Lynsey & Rabbie the Dog are raising money for Help for Heros by climbing all of the Scottish Munros. In little over the 2 year mark they now have only 8 left to complete. A phenomenal effort from both but Rabbie does have 4 legs! This was painfully obvious as we descended steeply from the 5 Sisters of Kintail; while our knees screamed pure murder Rabbie chased his stick up and down the slope repeatedly.
One final word of warning to anyone descending towardss Sheil Bridge- the old suspension bridge at the east end of Loch Shiel is very unhealthy; I had to use special spiderman powers of praying to get across safely and avoid the 3km alternative detour!
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On such a perfect windless day it seemed rude not to go and at least take a look for the humpback whale widely reported to be spending vacation time in the sound of Raasay- its got good taste because Her Majesty is also rumoured to love spending time here.
Calm seas boded well but the fantasy was flavoured with the usual mix of realism & pessimisim I get when it comes to spotting wildlife. Reports from watchers at Camastianavaig were encouraging though with minke whale apparently also adding entertainment. Leaving the village by the right exit (by the post box) was a good start but a bit of poor route choice at the first junction took us up out of sight of the shore.
A bit of bouldering entertained us between bog stomping up to the cliff top. Half an hour later and the Sound of Raasay opened up like a jewel in front of us. Only a handful of objects broke the mirrored surface and, while I zoomed in on what turned out to be a pod of kayaks, Ben spotted a whale instantly. Probably a good kilometre away but after surfacing a few times I managed to get the x16 zoom in focus and identify it as minke whale.
For the next hour a pod of 4 or 5 minke whales laid on a display that only started to wear thin as the warmth in the sun started to wain. As the tour boat reappeared out from Portree a larger ripple also appeared near to the minkes. Right on cue for all of us our humpback began to play.
The second act happened fairly close to the boat and, as it flicked the tail to finish we could hear cheering from the deck! A 10 minute lull in the action saw the boat heading for home and we gradually decided to follow their lead. It may have been a last glance but I think it was a distinctive blow that alerted us that our friend was back and this time heading straight towards us. Video of this is now on the Skye Guides facebook page.
After another brief lull and even a few steps towards home we got our own display less than 200m away below us with a fanfare flick to finish.
A great afternoon!
Monday looks like a good option for anyone keen, later in the week the wind is picking up but dry apart from Wednesday.
You may get views from other points along the sound but, for looking down and being able to appreciate the full size, I can’t recommend Beinn Tianavaig enough.
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The 5th of November was a day to remember with clear blue skies and even a frost on the ground. John, Iain & I enjoyed Pinnacle Ridge and the joys of rapid drying gabbro with just the occasional streak of black ice keeping us vigilant.
Yet again I was dumfounded to find even the shady northern aspects mostly dry; amazing after so much recent rain.
I’ve been scuppered by black ice before so the crampons came along. Adding winter metalwork for the first time always hurts so it was also an opportunity to break myself in gently, especially as its nearly 6 weeks since I was last up on a big hill. Sadly the legs didn’t agree with my definition of “gently”.
With hardly a breath of wind John even had time to sketch during a relaxed summit lunch while Iain and I took on our quota of vitamin D.
With the sun so low in the sky the colours, light and shadows gave us a visual feast all day but my lasting memory will be John extolling the joys of grabbing gabbro; I coudln’t agree more.
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Blogging had to be dropped down the priorities this year because we were so busy. There’ve been hundreds of outings led by a total of 15 excellent guides who have been a pleasure to work with. Rough estimates of the 2 main outings currently lie at 24 successful Ridge Traverses and over 200 clients up the In Pinn!
Many thanks to all of our guests this season who chose to visit Skye and let us show you some of our wonderful island; our job is always made that much easier with such a dramatic and beautiful environment.Thank you for the positive feedback as well which is always passed on but I’m sure you’ll join me in thanking all of the guides that helped make so many dreams come true- Francis, Gillian, Rich, Scott, Guy, Mike T, Jonny, Lou, Ian, Iain, Jamie, Tamsin, Dave & Murdoch.
Congratulations to Gillian & Rich on tying the knot (boom boom). It was a great celebration and a few folk suggested quite possibly the biggest ever social gathering of Scottish mountain guides and instructors. Also in June, Scott Kirkhope and his partner Gillian were blessed with the birth of Gracie. A list of climbing congratulations for the guiding team, with their trips to Yosemite, alps and in Antarctica, actually just makes me green with envy. Suffice to say your guides are taking their “research” and “training” very seriously.
I’ve put up a gallery of the best shots and some to remind me of my own highlights in years to come (its the only way I can remember). Sweetest of them all was the completion of the classic Alpine trilogy with my good friend Bill. Back when he was a youngster (60yo) we’d tackled the Matterhorn, 5 years later his lifelong ambition of the Eiger (65yo) and this year we spent 3 days completing the hardest of the all, a Cuillin Ridge Traverse. Mixed in with some dry rock were bursts of heavy rain on each day. Not many would have completed in the conditions we had, let alone raved about the pleasures of bivvying in soaking sleeping bags. At 75 years old Bill is the oldest person I know of to have succeeded and I can’t wait to see what he fancies for his 80th;-)
I’ve always kept this blog for mountaineering topics but the importance of the upcoming vote justifies breaking the mould. The final catalyst to speak up has been the defection today of Tory MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP.
To me the vote comes down to culture; the social and economic outlook of the people I live with. After 21 years of living north of the border, I like Scotland. I’m sure there are other parts of the UK with an equally good case but Scotland has an opportunity to do something about it.
Political change is a natural, inevitable cycle in human nature and today’s political event, to me, summed up why I want my future to be in the hands of those closer to home. Right-wing tories moving further right to UKIP (BNP_in_disguise?) reflects a political direction as far from my own as imaginable in the UK. In a referendum on whether to stay in the EU a 100%, 4 million person, Scottish vote for staying in Europe wouldn’t scratch the surface of the UK result and yet only one seat was won by UKIP in the whole of Scotland in recent local elections.
In order to understand why there is so much conflicting information remember that a huge amount of negotiation is going to happen after the vote before full independence in 2016. This is a referendum on where the cards are going to sit at the table. At this moment both sides are in full political mode with the main game being to undermine the other; that’s what politicians do. I’ve tried to bypass the mire and stick to some logical truths.
Oil & other assetts
We’ve just gone to war in Iraq and Afganistan fundamentally over oil. Eastern Europe is unstable and I can only see the value of safe Scottish oil increasing and every last drop being extracted. Scotland also has a wealth of other assets to sell. I can only comment with any authority on tourism and whisky but both are industries on a major upsurge.
Negotiations at all levels will be intense with both sides wanting the best deal. What I am convinced about is that rUK does not want a 3rd world economy next door so I don’t fear impending poverty. I also know who I would back in a poker game between Salmond & Cameron.
If the banks & goverment in rUK create problems with Scotland keeping the pound it would be economic vandalism against their own biggest (2nd?) trading nation with stupid repurcusions at home. Darling dropped a clanger by admitting there was nothing to stop it in the last debate. What is interesting is that we would be tied to the success or failure of the pound and rUK. The only conclusion I can make is that this common interest should act as a stabaliser between the countries.
Part of how I will measure wealth on my death bed will be the richness of far more than money. I want health, education and damn good facilities at the retirement home! I do expect to pay more tax to get what I want but the levels we pay will be more fairly balanced between rich & poor.
Can it work?
We have an enviable infrastructure in place already and many assetts to generate income. Maintaining this and budgeting for alterations in spending are all part of the negotiations that have yet to take place. Undoubtedly there will be highs and lows in the years to come but the risks are no greater than staying put in the UK and the potential benefits are far greater.
I’ve long thought that “letting our boys join the British Army” is one of the concessions Salmond may make. Too simplistic possibly but fundamentally I still see there being Scottish soldiers, sailors & airforce personnel in Scotland and overseas. Trident could be a huge problem to sort out and 5.5 years (currently proposed schedule) may well turn out to be 20 but it is far less likely that a new era of nuclear weapons will end up in Scotland and even less likley to be out of the Scottish budget.
So far the best thing I’ve witnessed is that the referendum has created conversation and debate. For over 2 years visitors have been shaken by the intensity of discussion going on in all circles of Scottish life. People young and old are interested in politics again. Modern life had become increasingly antisocial with opinions being shaped & formed by whatever the powers decided to release to our mobiles and laptops; Big brother’s perfect scenario. Whatever Scots vote for they will have chosen based on talking with those around them at least as much as what they have heard through the media. That interest in politics won’t subside quickly and the future of Scottish politics is bright.
South of the Border
The implications for rUK are big and I’m sure there will be political activity sparked as a result. I hope the result will be a similar rise in interest and political direction, inspired by a Scottish example that things can change. Talk of passports and borders is the worst spin from the No camp of the whole campaign. Its not just for currency reasons that Scotland will still retain a major interest in getting on well with its neighbours.
We hear about fighting for independence every day in the news but peacefully negotiated independence from a sovereign state is a privelege that incredibly few people in this world will ever get. You only get one life, seize your chance to do something positive about it. Bring the decisions made closer to home, to the people around you. Most importantly make sure you get out and vote but, on a personal note, please vote Yes.
With so much work going on this summer regulars will have noticed that blogging has dropped in the priorities. One important one I should have done at the time was with the Young family who, in addition to having fun, are training daughter Nina for an ambitious plan to cross Antarctica when she is 18. She hopes to raise a huge amount of money for the Teapot Trust. Details are explained in a letter from dad John below.
Much fun & many good lessons were learnt by the whole family over a couple of days, finishing with a full team ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Well done to John, Laura, Nina and Isla and every bit of luck with the Teapot Trust.
Simon saw the Cioch on Coast last year and wanted a bit of that action. Closer investigation revealed a serious sense of adventure so I suggested some fast-tracking into a rock climbing career; “if Cioch West doesn’t float your boat nothing will!”
Classic Misty Isle weather just now and the Cioch loomed out above our heads just to add to Simon’s “experience”.
Yesterday’s heavy rain left some damp streaks but nothing to worry us and it was good to see Simon’s brain grasp all of the technicalities needed to follow without getting tangled or stuck 🙂
Out onto Arrow Route was a no-brainer with 200 foot of beautiful dry slab.
The obligatory Sean Connery-style sword fight (new swords this week, who does take them away?)out on the Cioch rounded off the ascent before my favoured descent down Eastern Gully.
A great few days of rock climbing recently with my good friend Lucy back again to add any keenness I may be lacking!
Thursday started with a sunny walk up into Coire Lagan with the students of Landmark College.
After cooling the feet back in Loch Brittle we set back off up and one of the hottest walk-ins that I can ever remember. The target was a direct finish to Techno Snob– that Malcy & I climbed in 2012.
All the effort was worthwhile as we were rewarded with an evening of climbing on glorious clean hot rock. The Oldest Raver on Skye finish was even good enough to be considerably easier (E1 5b) than the parent route with the crux being the stiff rockover move off the ground. A word of warning to aspirants is that the best gear on this move is very high, too high for me, so Lucy stood on my shoulders to place it!
On Friday three Mikes and a Lucy headed to Kilt rock and a race to climb as much as possible before the rain arrived. Clandestine (VS) and Secret Service (HVS) were topped off with ascents of the uber classic Grey Panther. With a full ropelength of superb climbing on a plumb vertical fault this is a strong contender for the best E1 in the UK.
Saturday was as wet as predicted but Sunday was forecast as wall to wall sunshine. The 2 Mikes had been reading up on the Girdle Traverse of Sron na Ciche in the guidebook and Lucy and I agreed it would make a great team climb. 3 years ago we’d taken 5 hours in perfect conditions but JEB Wright, a guide back in the 1920’s recorded climbing it with parties of 4, 5 and 6 in all sorts of conditions and never in more than 6 hours.
The clear tops sank back into the mist as we arrived and a cold wind nipped at the fingers as we geared up. 2nd time around and with a quality team we made good progress to the Serpentine Chimney. Lucy & I felt we had cheated last time by abseiling the downclimbs but our attempt to mirror them failed at the first hurdle with a long damp move at the foot of the climb.
Things warmed up after Eastern Gully as we sped past a continuous series of old classic routes; the Cioch, down to the Terrace and Doom Walls, another abseil, over the Hexagon Block and across Amphitheatre Arete. Gaining entry to Trap Face Route once again proved awkward and needed a few runners to keep us safe before following the trap right out to overlook Western Gully and some welcome sunshine and lunch.
We’d made it in under 4 hours this time and Mr JEB Wright now seems a little less superhuman. His first effort took only 2.5 hours though so we’ve a way to go to still!
The Kings Martin & Deidrie took me off for a great road tour around the north of Scotland last week and the weather treated us handsomely. The Old Men of Hoy & Stoer were major highlights supplemented by Vlad the Impaler on Stac Pollaidh and Sword of Gideon near Applecross. Fantastic trip thanks guys; superbly climbed and great company too.
It was a pleasure to help Lorraine McCall on her way by lending her a bike for the short ride between Sligachan and Portree today.
Lorraine is raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support while attempting the first continuous round of Corbetts (Scottish peaks between 2500 and 3000feet). Since April 8th she has managed the awkward first 54 with only 167 left to go! Key to the islands part of the project is the beautiful Iona of Clyde, chartered from Gairloch and skippered by Graham. Over the past 2 weeks they’ve been to Arran, Mull, Jura, Rum and Skye and are off to Harris in the morning!
There are loads of people in the support team and half of them spent today fixing the boat after storm force winds nearly ended badly right in the harbour yesterday when fishing rope got caught in the propeller. The same winds had a similarly dramatic effect on the hill as Lorraine descended Garbh Bheinn with John and Caz. A gust picked Caz up and ditched rudely and painfully into the rocks. Very glad to report that she was well enough to join the team still today despite the souvenir 🙂
All best wishes for a safe and successful trip ahead over the coming months to all the team. Follow her blog here
Francis inspired Lou and me to join him and explore what the guidebook calls “terrain adventure, steep & exciting” on the upper cliff at Duncraig, just across the water near Plockton. The book took a bit of deciphering but we were rewarded with 3 pitches of really good climbing. Our “combo” had Francis warm us up rapidly on Brigadier Braggart’s Little Secret, E3 5c. The obvious line above was eventually identified as Easy Rider, HVS 5a. This gave Lou a great curving crack pitch and then a very adventurous finish for me with route finding and vegetation adding extra spice to the high quality climbing.
Francis eyeing up the crux
Set above Plockton bay with the Torridonian sandstone mountains behind the crag really is in a phenomenal position. Our adventure ended with yet more exploration as we took faith in the guidebook and abseiled back over the edge from the trees. The heavy rain had arrived but we really didn’t mind one bit.
Set above Plockton bay with the Torridonian sandstone mountains behind the crag really is in a phenomenal position.
Had a fun & exciting day out with Elaine & Kerrin in the sun on Tuesday. They’re making high quality travel apps which is a hightec Lonely Planet using videos for those struggling to suss what that means. See this link to Humanity TV for a fantastic trailer featuring Iceland. Scotland was high on their list to cover in the next issue and I was recommended to them by the Skye based artist Julie Brook
The guys were a pleasure to work with, filming didn’t interfere with the climbing, the weather was perfect, eagles came out to play and both Elaine & Kerrin had monstrous grins as they revelled in the excitement of climbing the Cioch. Good luck with the enterprise!
I never use the same route twice and we found some delightful clean ribs well to the left hand side as we approached the abseil from Dubh Beag.
Great excitement for me was finding a huge cave feature that I’d never even spotted. Somebody has even smoothed out the base to make it comfy enough to lie down in.
Paul climbed very well and we even had time for a look into the TD Gap which was horribly cold and greasy.
The final part of the plan was meeting Ian and Jon and take their car back out of Glen Brittle. They started their Traverse by heading up to spend the night in Coire a’ Ghrunnda before a long & successful day next day.
Francis & Ulrich were also successful. A seasoned alpinist Ulrich came round to visit me the next day. He had very kind words about Francis being amongst the best guides he has ever used. He was equally complimentary about the Traverse. It was far, far bigger than he expected and bigger than most alpine outings. For reference the timings for this Traverse, in good conditions, were 2 hours ascent, 17 hours of climbing from one end to the other (with a bivouac as well) and 3 hours to descend; a total of 35 hours from start to finish.
Overnight mists are taking a while to clear through the days recently but gving some wonderful effects.
Next day the mists were slower to clear but we still stayed largely dry as Stuart, Sheena & Lorrimer completed their Skye Munros on Mhadaidh & Ghreadaidh. Antje and Ian just weren’t taking things seriously….
There are some parties tackling the northern Cuillin without crampons or axes at the moment but the consequences of a slip wouldn’t be pretty. With the right kit it made our approach to Bealach a’ Bhasteir far more pleasant than the normal scree treadmill.
Sue suffers from a condition known as acrophobia , an irrational fear of heights even when not at height. The Wikipedia definition also talks about the overuse of the word Vertigo, all making for intesting reading in my line of work! Anyway Sue harnessed her thoughts and determination for our run to the top of Am Basteir and shot up there in no time at all.
More challenging were the very exposed manouvres around the pinnacles as we started up Sgurr nan Gillean. I’d planned to avoid this by climbing Tooth Chimney but a big chunk of snow barred our way into that. Even Steve called for a rope halfway through. A quick pose for pics coming through the Window and then we were on top.
Sue sounded like she was looking forward to watching her old man eating some humble pie for mocking her ambitions nearly as much as a chinese takeout to celebrate!
With our wonderful weather due to break over the weekend I was keen to get another Cuillin rock route done. Francis is right in the groove just now so we agreed to meet up once I’d finished guiding Colin on a round of Coire Lagan.
Overnight frost made things cool but perfect for scrambling and the rocks were bone dry as Colin and I zoomed around from the Pinn to Alasdair and down to the lochan in about 7 hours. Francis was waiting at the loch and we discussed the cold and lack of sunshine but decided to stick to our original ambition.
Temerity gains then tackles a wonderful looking arete hgh above Eastern Gully. I’d eyed it up for years but was beaten to it by Ian Taylor & Tess Fryer in 2009 who gave it a grade of E4 6a. More intimidating for me was mention of a “long” move on the first pitch whcih I was happy to leave for Francis 🙂
With just a couple of micros and a shallow rock 6 placement Francis justifiably took his time working out the “long” move. Climbing back down and balancing out left he got a bomb-proof nut that I could tell was going to be great fun for me to retrieve! Another good nut appeared in a horizontal break and suddenly Francis made the long move with apparent ease. I could see the holds he’d reached were big but didn’t appreciate quite how steep the wall below was. Mr Muscle hung in for ages arranging 2 big cams before finally moving out to the arete. Around the corner the ancient rusting peg had disappeared and the small friend placement didn’t inspire so Francis continued boldly up the arete to finally reach a decent anchor 20m higher.
No amount of arm-swinging or thrusting hands into pockets could bring my frozen fingers back to life so my climbing involved a scary approach into the groove followed by blatent hauling and hanging on the gear. A few tears were shed as my fingers pulsated back into life on the belay. I was finally able to appreciate the position & enjoy the final 20m of delicate slabby climbing as the sunlight reflected off the Minch. Temerity (def. reckless with a disregard for safety) is a very fine climb but I’ll wait for a warmer day to have another go!
Dry rock and a warm breeze is too good to ignore so Paul & I dropped work plans and headed off to An Stac in search of some adventure.
A steep curving fault line just below the summit had attracted my eye for a few years but it was hard to tell what angle the climbing would actually be. Perhaps just an exposed scramble or just plain impossible?
80m of great exposed scrambling, easy in our rock shoes, led us up to the start of the overlap and a wee struggle to find much of an anchor. Paul led up the next 20m and the theme of delicacy and carefully choosing which rock to place protection in continued. Above this slabby ledge the corner itself looked crumbling and hard, out right looked more solid but definitely avoiding the line of the challenge so I choose a faint groove heading straight up.
A cam buried deeply into hollow sounding rock was soon matched on the other rope with an RP2 – times are a bit tough when I resort to placing micro-nuts in gabbro! Time to climb…. Avoiding some obvious lose flakes I found most of the holds solid enough as I tiptoed upward on the wonderful sticky gabbro. 5m up a large offset cam fitted nicely into a hole where the basalt had separated from the face. It seemed solid to touch but you can never be too sure and I was grateful to be able to “strengthen” this by using a screamer; clever type of extender that absorbs 4kN if it’s shock-loaded. Doesn’t sound much but that’s the equivilant to removing the effect of a 400kg weight hanging from it!
All good preparation for what was clearly, even for an optimist like me, going to be quite a run-out. The climbing that followed was beautiful, all in the feet but just the right number of positive and solid holds and the loose sections weren’t too hard to avoid. I discovered I was now climbing the surface of a basalt layer and surmounting this gave a good footstep rest.
I got tempted into the corner next in an attempt to find protection, regretted it pretty instantly and escaped up and back right to the basalt ladder. Pulling hard on your arms on this stuff always begs the question of how good the glue is, 60 million years after these layers were stuck together. Fortunately I’ve always (touch wood) found it to be good enough for my bodyweight.
Another reasonable large cam kept things under control before flowing moves led to the top and a predictably difficult search for a solid belay. Paul romped up stylishly then ran the ropes out to the sunny summit of An Stac itself. Good endorphine rush! Quite a serious proposition but technically not too hard The Hanging Slab is about E1 5a.
The In Pinn stood gleaming in the evening sunshine and it would have been rude not to climb it. Paul led the 4 star Hard V Diff South Crack on delightful warm rock.
Francis popped up behind us with brothers Steve & Piers on their Traverse; hot work but all of them were “steadying away”.
After an overnight bivvy near An Dorus the guys finished on Sgurr nan Gillean at about 2pm today; congratulations are deserved all around!
The Hanging Slab-
South Crack & Pinn-
Just to prove I don’t just climb down at elgol here are some shots from a great day out with Simon in the company of Mr Fort Bill guiding himself Alan Kimber. Alan’s own blog can be read here- Skye Ridge
Overcast & moody but the rocks were dry and Simon got his first proper taste of some narrow Cuillin edges in preparation for a Traverse later this year.