January 24th to 2nd February 2020; 10 days for our 10th Anniversary!!
An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an active interest in the Skye mountains in winter.
It’s that time again for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. There is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had!!
2020- A full week in the Glen then to up to Skye Basecamp for the weekend and annual dinner.
7 days of stepping straight out of the door and into a Cuillin winter wonderland. This was how the festival started back in 2011! The Glen Brittle Memorial Hut is situated at the foot of the southern Cuillin with easy access to Coir’ a Ghreadaidh, Coir’ a’ Banachdaich, Coire Lagan and Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda.
After 7 nights in the Glen the festival moves to the big smoke and 2 nights in the luxury of Skye Basecamp.
Over the past 9 years The Skye Winter Festival that has seen high levels of activity including over 60 new winter routes. The Cuillin offer massive challenges no matter how much or how little snow the gods decide to give us so there will be action every day.
The Skye Cuillin is an Alpine-style range offering mountaineering and climbing of the highest calibre that attracts real mountaineers but there is also a huge attraction for those who just enjoy being in amongst mountain scenery of such grandeur.
The festival is open to anyone between these 2 extremes and our only rule is that nobody gets left out! Come alone or with a climbing partner.
Guests come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.
Over the past 9 years we’ve well and truly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. In 2018 Skye was the place to be with Traverses happening for over 8 weeks and multiple new routes. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.
It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.
What’s to do?
If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas. On the ground there are plenty of folk with good knowledge including the guy that wrote the guidebook…
Accommodation and Food
The meet will start in the newly refurbished Glen Brittle Memorial Hut right at the foot of the Cuillin.
Skye Basecamp will be our hosts for the following weekend.
Beds cost £20 per night in both venues.
The Memorial Hut and Basecamp both have good kitchens for self-catering.
The annual dinner is a big communal evening meal on Saturday 1st February at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine French fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us and let your hair down!
If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve beds. We’ll send you a booking form to complete with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.
Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking.
Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £20 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meal will cost £10.
This is very much a climbing event and the traditional banter associated with it. Wonderful characters and craic are the norm and over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps.
The Annual Festival dinner is cooked communally.
Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL–#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebook page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.
Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.
Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.
Unsure? Don’t worry if you don’t know the Cuillin- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else.
A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.
Don’t be intimidated- if your ambitions are modest there will be somebody similar who knows any time on Skye is quality and happy to just rock back and enjoy!
Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts- there’s a part of the part of the booking form to help put you together with others offering/needing lifts
Warm rock in the fingers with snow-reflected sun seeming to double the heat; we could have been on the south face of the Midi.
No Japanese tourists clapping our efforts here though, just a couple of friends taking it all in with eagles circling above them.
The sheer quality of the climb astounded me again, easily as good, if not better, than it’s classic neighbours. Clean rock, positive holds and great protection but no pushover. A positive effort was needed to avoid being drowned in the exposure, stay alert to what damage the harsh winter may have done or just suppress the temptation to jump for joy.
South Crack I love you, and Peter had a Cheshire Cat grin even though he’s from Lancashire where smilin’ ain’t manly 😉
Would have been rude to have run away without climbing the East and West Ridges too and three routes were saluted by 3 Sea Eagles but this pic is of 2
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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-
Francis on the crux of Veritas Splendour; it certainly is!
Had a great work out on Tuesday following Francis through the overhangs on Veritas Splendour, E3 5c and then the even huger ones on Mother’s Pride, E4 5c.