Firstly confirmation that the crest of the Ridge is not in ideal condition for a full winter traverse.This statement is extremely misleading however as there have rarely been such perfect snow conditions for exploring the Cuillin in winter. Neve (hard snow) is continuous from below 200m right to the crest with extensive cover on all but the narrowest sections.
An interesting analysis went on between Matt and I this evening after one of the most beautiful days that either of us had ever had in the mountains. Both climbers at heart we were initially disappointed to find our objective very dry and unwintery despite there being loads of snow and temperatures well below freezing.
Hose-pipe Ban, III,4
We had enjoyed wearing crampons from well below the 1000ft mark in Coire a’ Tairnielear. The temptation to skip the climb was definitely strong but we reasoned that exploration of the intriguing gully would be fun even if we failed. It was fun, a well protected exercise in chimneying past 2 wedged chockstones with axe use minimal but both glad of the crampons.
Above the crux
It probably warrants III,4, we’ve not named it yet and would only give it a single star at most.
From a cloudless start the mist had rolled in while we climbed and we sat eating lunch and realised the hoar crystals were growing on the rocks around us. It was tempting to bail out but we had a mission to find out what condition the crest of the Main Ridge was in so pushed on up towards Bidean Druim nan Ramh. The mist above suddenly became yellowish and we got excited at the prospect of breaking up through it. One of my favourite little short-cuts onto Bidean is climbing the gully between the south-west and central peaks. It was banked out with hard neve and led to the “Gates of Heaven”, a tunnel looking out into the yellow mist with the peaks just emerging beyond.
Matt in the Gates of Heaven and the emerging view of the Ridge below.
I lost track of time after that as every step we took seemed to lead to even more incredible vistas. Brocken spectres are circular rainbows caused by your own shadow cast on the mist below. They are pretty special but quite common in the Cuillin; today they formed just one part of the mindboggling array of effects that went on around us. I climbed a pitch above the Gates to the summit of the south-west top and the “Cottage Block”.
My spectre central in a white halo (possibly called the glory?)
Mist enveloped us as Matt arrived but then sank ever deeper revealing more by the minute. A shaft of light passing through the Gates appeared to be projecting our Brocken spectres on the mist whilst the triple peaks of Bidean cast their shadows below. The northern peaks of Bruach na Frithe, Sgurr a’ Fionn Choire, Am Basteir and Sgurr nan Gillean were speckled black and white against the pure blue sky and a weir of mist tumbled between Gillean and Basteir.
Brocken Spectre and a shaft of light shining through the “Gates of Heaven”
The analysis we discussed as we descended down 2000 feet of hard snow was just where such a day sits in Scottish winter climbing. In conclusion, as so often with the Black Cuillin, there simply is no easy pigeon hole; the whole experience just felt very alpine but definitely unique.
Sgurr Thuilm sitting proud.
I’m still providing a weekly conditions report for UKC and will also post it here.
A good thaw has started today with temperatures up to about 8 degrees. All the snow recently needs this to settle it in and if the predicted freeze returns next week there could be the most incredible conditions for any number of Skye objectives. I’ll keep regular updates of temps, rain, snow levels etc through the next few days.
The Cuillin action of last week was rounded off nicely by hearing of the successful Traverse on 29 and 30th November by Neil and xxxx. This is the earliest Traverse I’ve heard of in a season, possibly the first ever before the turn of the year. All backed up with Jamie Hageman’s superb photo of the guys abseiling from the Basteir Tooth that won pic of the week on UKC- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=160721
JAMIE’S SELF-PORTRAIT (taken at the same time)
Heavy snow started falling again last Friday and has pretty much put the Cuillin out of reach since so attention switched to the Storr and the ice in Coire Scamadal. Robin Clothier & Doug Hawthorn found new objectives a bit thin but enjoyed the 3 pitches on Scamtastic V,5. This line repeatedly seems to form first.
SCAMTASTIC, pitch 2.
On Wednesday Doug was back with Ewan Todd who had bravely driven through from Aviemore. Doug pointed Ewan at the unclimbed line of ice left of Silverpine (2010) that ended half-way up the face. Ewan belayed to the steep top icicle. Ultimately they opted against attacking it (the belay!) direct and Doug took a weaving line left then right which required him to be “reasonably confident at getting runners/ belays sorted.” Ewan finished out right with a long pitch over the top.
FA (First Ascent) Greymane wall, possibly V,4. The 1st belay was on the large icicle beneath the lowest climbers feet.
An excellent selection of shots and video are on Colin’s Blog- http://colinthrelfall.wordpress.com/
The strong team of Pete Macpherson, Martin Moran and Francis Blunt were up on the Basteir Tooth today making an external finish to Shadbolt’s Chimney. Previously climbed by Dave Ritchie and Mark Shaw in 2002 by the through tunnel (IV,5) Pete went around the outside variation finish at grade VII,7.
SHADBOLT’S CHIMNEY TODAY