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.
The magnificent view into Coire Lagan was soon obscured as mushroom-sized snowflakes fell vertically out of the windless skies.
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…….
Just a few steps and the cameras just had to come out again……..
And things just got better as we moved in on the Pinn itself….
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!
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 😉
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. With perfect timing once more, instead of getting a soaking below the freezing level, the clouds cleared to warm sunshine
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 😉
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’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.
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
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-
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!
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!
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.
Easterly winds are keeping us largely dry still and forecast to last right into next week 🙂 )))
We are in the very narrow flowering window for the rare Purple Saxifrage and it was great to find the Coire na Banachdaich patch more extensive thanI’ve ever seen before.
Rachel suggested a look at the Pinn would float her boat last week and I nearly baulked. Luckily a weekend of warm rain hasn’t stripped the Main Cuillin Ridge but has left the Pinn nearly snow free. Crampons & axe were uneccesary precautions but couldn’t begin to spoil the pleasure of a delightful warm reunion with me old mucker Mr Pinn.
The Pinn was just a cherry on the cake of a superb alpine outing though. We hit hard snow at under 600m mark and enjoyed perfect consistency right to the summit of Sgurr Dearg.
The sun started to do its damage soon after midday but even this was pretty limited with a keen breeze keeping things cool up there.
Time for a Traverse before things break down Thursday evening and I’d suggest seriously contemplating some head-torch time to make good time on the harder snow. You’ll touch rocks at the toe of An Stac for the first time proper and increasingly after that but noty enough to loose crampons from what I saw.
SHould be some clues in the gallery photos-
The fantastic Harvey Cuillin map has had an upgrade with
- Tougher but lighter paper.
- Updated map corrections to footpaths in particular.
- Crags from the SMC guidebook “Skye the Cuillin” all now marked and indexed.It is well known by Cuillin regulars that the Ordanance Survey maps covering these mountains are close to useless for fine navigation; indeed there are many copies of the old 1930’s SMC map still being used in preference!
Although any map has limitations in such intricate, steep and rocky terrain Harveys went a very long way to improve the situation when they first produced their Skye The Cuillin sheet over 10 years ago.
Why the maps are so much clearer is due to a broad combination of skills and techniques developed originally from producing very accurate orienteering maps. The 1:12,500 enlargement of the Cuillin Ridge very much resembles these fine navigation tools. 15m contour intervals and shading to highlight the ridge crest are just the base canvas for features, many of which are pure rock. Clever restriction of rock features seems to be the key to removing a lot of the clutter that the OS maps suffer from.
Getting the crags marked was actually a project I started way back in 2003 when I was first asked to write the SMC guidebook. A key problem I had found had been locating the cliffs, let alone the climbs. Harvey Maps were very accommodating and anyone with previous copies of the map will find the index of crags as I envisaged it back then. 55 crags from those early stages of planning eventually ended up as a total of 98!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping Harvey Maps; there are always small tweaks and doing a new run annually keeps this realistic. There is now a very good representation of just how far into the mountains it is possible to follow the footpaths. Check out those on Bla bheinn, Gillean & Banachdaich in particular.
The 1:25,000 side covers the massive area from Broadford north to Sligachan and South to Elgol in superb detail as well, making it a great tool for exploring closer to home.
It would appear that Skye stayed at least as cold on the tops as the rest of Scotland over the past weekend which I hadn’t anticipated myself. One guy made a fantastic effort on a full Traverse starting by Pinnacle Ridge on Friday, bivvying at Glaic Moire and finally being defeated by winds & blizzards at Mhicchoinnich. He reported near perfect snow conditions with little harder than grade III.
I can certainly confiorm this after 2 excellent days out with Andy & Nick Burton.
Winter and Cuillin virgins they coped very well in the howling gales on Banachdaich yesterday and definitely got the luck they deserved with a Traverse of Blaven Today. Out agin in the morning so I’ll just include a gallery below.-
Temperatures dropped overnight and left us a good thicknes of snow from about 650m today. I did worry about avalanches but snow pits showed a very old layer with 2 or 3 fresher layers resonably well bonded above.
The clouds clung thinly to the Ridge almsot all day but parted frequently enough to let us appreciate the grandeur of our surroundings.
Jim, Merrissa and I ended the week on a high with an ascent of Liathach over on the mainland. On Friday night we braved wild weather just to drive the 70 miles and then a 10 minute walk to the Ling Hut in the dark and driving rain. Next morning little seemed to have changed by 8am but the forecast came right just before 9.
Archive photo of the SMC Ling hut with Liathach behind; our route gained the crest at the right edge and traversed to the obvious high point called Spidean a’ Choire Leith (1055m)
The ascent is quite possibly the fiercest anywhere in the UK, rising from 30m above sea-level to 833m in little over a kilometre.We put crampons on at about 700m and it was obvious our descent was going to be concentrated.
Along the crest the snow was immaculate with just a small amount of give in a uniform covering.
Roped together we wandered for the next hour in an almost dream-like manner with amazing light on the views all around.
From the summit the ridge still stretched away into the distance but a lack of time and light meant we reluctantly had to turn heel and begin our descent.Luckily a direct slope back into Coire Liath Mhor gave a good fast start to this stage. A lip of rock below made us do a short abseil before traversing back towards our original path.
I realised it had been over 10 years since my last pilgramage to Torridon; this left me with mixed feelings of embarressment but mainly joy at rediscovering the hills I used to know so well. Liathach is 2nd only to Ben Nevis for mainland mountains I have climbed on. It won’t be long before I’m back again.
Anyone unfamiliar with the Harvey SKYE THE CUILLIN map should treat themselves to a copy this xmas. The 1:25,000 scale map covers a huge area from Broadford, up to Sligachan, Carbost, Glen Brittle and right across to Elgol. But it is the 1:12,500 enlargement of the Main Ridge makes it the only map of any real use to climbers and walkers wanting to explore the Ridge.
It’s been an enjoyable task this week helping Peter Child at Harvey Maps with updates for the reprint in January. The project has been ongoing for quite a few years now; they reprint just about annually so map corrections can be easily added.
This year I suggested that some of the larger trails higher in the Cuillin could justify being added becuase they are comparatively easy to follow in good visibility. Pete was then able to double-check the ideas with aerial shots and produce an accurate end result that should aid a huge number of visitors.
Cliff numbering correlation with the SMC Guidebook
There are a total of 98 different crags from the book now all marked as close to the start of the climbing as possible. Previous editions of the map have, since 2004, had 55 crags marked; don’t worry these are all in the right place and match the map index. Fifty-five was the number of crags I thought the Cuillin had at the early stages of writing the guidebook. It was another 7 years before we went to print but the end result, particularly with these latest Harveys updates, means that climbers have a hugely increased chance of identifying and navigating to the cliffs they want to climb.
Signed copies of the Cuillin Guidebook can still be bought direct from us if you want another Christmas present!
2 variations are marked in the Cuillin section for the more adventurous including a traverse of Bla Bheinn down to Camasunary and a detour into Coruisk via the Bad Step.
The 2014 map will also be the first made of the new generation of tough polyethylene that is both more waterproof but also far more resistant to tearing. Great news for all, including our guides who carry their valuable copies every day through all sorts of weather.
Finally I’d recommend browsing the Harvey maps website for a fascinating insight into how modern, high quality mapping is being done. Enjoy:-)
Apologies for not blogging so far this month; plenty going on but very little reliable broadband still!
There’s been a mixed bag of weather and a late surge from the midgies but the majority of missions have been accomplished with the use of cunning tactics and a great attitude by clients and guides alike. Monday last was only the fourth day this year that has been lost to the weather completely!
The work has varied from Ridge Traverses, stag dos and showing travel journalists the stunning Cuillin to stunt filming for a new Gaelic soap. Clients have come from as far away as New Zealand, Majorca and Colorado; ranged in age between 11 to 70 years old. Major achievements include Jenny Dunn climbing her last Munro, Laura climbing the Pinn for her first ever mountain in full “Scottish” conditions and Marcus completing his long-held dream of a Cuillin Traverse.
Basking sharks and Orcas, eagles Golden and White-tailed and the last of the alpine flowers like Devil’s Bit Scabbius have all added to the enjoyment.
Here are some images-
It’s been a funny old week but plenty of action still going on. Guy squeezed in a Traverse with Pete & Andy, Andy guided Chris & Anna across some classic Cuillin scrambles including Pinnacle ridge and the In Pinn.
My week was very varied and admittedly a bit of a blur but celebrating with Schnapps on Sgurr an Fheadian, descending Pinnacle Ridge in the pouring rain and lovely dry rock across the knife-edge top of Ghreadaidh twice in 3 days are highlights.
Enjoy the selection of pics below-