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
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.
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.
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!
Abi, Ivan, myself & Ally were treated to an incredible dolphin display as we finished our climbing last Saturday. For more than half an hour a huge pod of bottle-nose dolphins headed around the bay, right under the cliffs and around into the jetty at Elgol. Sharp boat operators were rapidly reopening & filling up with tourists to head out & look as we got back there.
Estimating numbers was hard, we had to leave before all of them had passed, but I’d guess at over 40 including mothers with calves all breaking the surface every 10 or 20 seconds. They appeared to be hugging the kelp beds feeding happily and our lofty position meant we could see them rolling around and playing even while they were underwater :-)))
This is the first time I’ve seen them close up to the cliffs in many years and a real privilege. I expect we’ll just have to cope with the normal otters, basking sharks and occasional minke whales for the rest of the season but you never know.
Ivan & Abi had only done a small amount of outdoor climbing before but progressed rapidly with a grand finale on Jamie Jampot.
The weather has been treating us all fantastically right through Easter and looks set to continue.
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-
Only a couple of the threatened heavy showers reached Skye this week so a lot of happy climbers. Humidity and heat were a feature so a lot of slimmed down climbers too:)
There were some cracking days on the peaks and a climbing day at Neist where the wildlife stole the show.
Thanks to Guy Andy & Gillian for keeping their clients happy and well throughout the week too.
Here’s a small selection-
Moody In Pinn, photo by Cameron
Quick update while BB is running; hopefully long enough to let me upload. Apologies to anyone missing a blog about their days out or updates on Skye weather. Investing in Highland Wifi is looking likely:-(
Sword fighting on the Cioch
It has been incredibly busy with 7 Skye Guides out working pretty much constantly for the past 5 week; a massive thank you to Gillian, Scott, Andy, Lou, John and Francis. Thanks also to Cameron and Nathan who both added help, enthusiasm and youth on their work placements from the UHI Outdoor course in Broadford.
“Just a short note to say you have one very happy client after my trip up Gillean and Bhastair with Lou. It was just a brilliant, brilliant day. Lou was excellent and we all got something out of it, which as we all had different experience and capabilities was a great testament to her and the Ridge! “
“Both Scott and John were excellent guides. Personally, I was very challenged by some of the terrain, but they were a great help; ten Munros bagged, incl. the In Pinn!”
After 2 mad stormy days everyone was glad the forecast for a settled sunny day turned out to be correct. Robert took my recommendation from last year to bag his last Skye Munro by the classic Dubh Ridge.
AquaXplore ran us in to Coruisk at high speed with just enough time to admire the basking seals. The nature continued with a new plant for me on the approach route that looks like a minature Cuillin red cabbage- any identification help much appreciated-
Cuillin Red Cabbage?
The cloud base lifted for lunchtime and sunburn kicked in as the sun reflected off the rapidly thawing snow.
There was enough snow to slow us a bit but not need crampons as we reached the summit of Dubh na Da Bheinn 5 hours after leaving the boat. Fortunately we had bypassed the summit of Dubh Beag and the awkward abseil to save time.
Happily I found my best ever line of descent down the Garbh (rough) corrie from the castle taking exactly 2 hours to reach the jetty with 5 minutes to spare before David whisked us home.
Sgurr MhicCoinnich, Sgurr Thearlaich and the Great Stone Shoot
UPDATE More up to date photos have been added at the foot of the page from 23 April.
As the first May bank holiday approaches rapidly snow fields in the Cuillin aren’t melting very fast at all; in fact there is more snow forecast over the weekend ahead. The heavy winter has left the old snow very consolidated; nearly a week of warm wet westerlies only removed a small percentage of this with north facing snow slopes appearing almost untouched. Most of the photos here were taken last Friday 19th April. Sue, Jane and I enjoyed beautiful weather and an ascent of Sgurr na Banachdaich.
Crampons will be needed for almost all of the Cuillin Munros with the exception of Sgurr na Banachdaich, Bla bheinn and Sgurr nan Eag. The In Pinn may be possible without crampons if the south facing slab to the foot of the route washes down & gets some sun over the next few days. Approach by the West Ridge of Sgurr Dearg has small snow patches but is quite well stepped.
TRAVERSES & CLASSICS
Classic routes such as the Traverse, Pinnacle Ridge, Coire Lagan will be very serious undertakings. Linking any peaks still involves a choice of adhering rigidly to the crest or scarily traversing steep snow that is sitting on the normal ledge systems; both slow work compared to ideal summer conditions. Clach Glas is almost clear of snow but the ascent to Blaven is definitely still axe & crampon terrain. Descent from the Putting Green is possible but some caution still needed in the first few hundred feet. Kings Chimney will be way preferable to Collies Ledge for a while to come. More abseils will be required than normal so extra tat should be carried. Quite a few parties have been using snow bollards for anchors too.
We are choosing our objectives as carefully as possible to avoid long snowfield descents; going up snow slopes is a lot safer than going down! Particularly daunting are the Great Stone Shoot, Coire a’ Bhasteir, Coire na Banachdaich and An Dorus. See the close-up shot of Great Stone Shoot above. Be prepared to turn in and front point down for some quite long distances with ice axe likely to be in “dagger” position.
South facing crags were incredibly dry and snow free until the latest rain arrived. They are likely to dry rapidly again luckily, just be careful on descents. The Cioch is clear but Eastern Gully has still got some big snow patches in and may affect choice of descent. There’s always the suntraps at the coast if the hills are too cold; guidebooks for Cuillin or Seacliffs can be ordered through this website if you need them.
UPDATE PICS 23 APRIL
Taking the Aquaxplore RIB into Coruisk gave a bracing but rapid approach to the jetty and a chance to envy the seals basking on the rocks.
The peak has 2 summits and on reaching the first summit a raven seemed reluctant to depart. Looking across at the 2nd summit 50m away a huge bird was sitting beside the cairn. With my 16X zoom I snapped a quick shot, studied it and concluded that it was just another raven. I was told I should have lied to keep the client happy but instead went one better. Our friend continued to sit there and eventually turned his head. This time the photo revealed a beautiful hooked beak and definite hints of gold.
Eventually our friend flew off, we scrambled up to his perch, sunny snacks then we had to leave. We spied the rest way below but caught them at the bothy in time for a delux picnic on the beach and the long but stunning walk back out to Elgol as the sun glinted magically.
The Black Cuillin tops are harsh and serious just now so I opted to take Jacqui & Dave around the snow-free Red Cuillin horseshoe on Tuesday.
With dry and mostly frozen bog the approach walk was a pleasure.
The biting wind nipped at the left ear on the initial rise so we took some shelter in a wee recess as soon as we could. Reward for this move came in the form of a magnificent display by a golden eagle in the corrie below us. She eventually spotted us as she came level and soared away out towards Portree.
Fantastic; I’ve got a bit of a bee in the bonnet about white-tailed eagles taking over the Golden eagle territory so a victory all round as it meant Jacqui didn’t have to go on the disneyland Sea-eagle ride the next day:)
Fed & watered we zipped to the top of Beinn Dearg Mheonach with snowflakes growing in thickness and size.
Cloud clung to the Black Cuillin tops but the views were just as magnificent in that dramatic way that Skye does so well.
Conditions as we continued along the ridge deteriated to a “mild blizzard” which was pointed out to me as a blatent oxymoron. I agreed to full-blown blizzard as our bearing changed straight into the teeth of the weather right up and over Beinn Dearg Mhor and down to the Glamaig bealach where it was time for a sharp exit in the direction of Sligachan rather than the 1000ft rerise.
2 days of intense wind & rain finally eased off yesterday morning and it was time to go and see what conditions were like. Parking for the beautiful peak of Garbh bheinn is just a 2 minute drive from home at the head of Loch Ainort.
We opted against the north face because we reckoned that the snow would be very soft after so much warm weather. Retrospectively this seems not to have been the case as the old snow fields are so well consolidated that they are still a good consistency.
An hour of walking up the Druim Eadar da Choire took us to the hill marked with a spot height 489m on the Harvey’s map; there is a local name for this wonderful viewspot (a best on Skye contender for sure) but I’ll have to write it down next time I remember to ask the crofters. The Main Ridge was clear and showed the crest to be well plastered still along the entire length. Undoubtedly some exposed rock sections but very, very wintery still!
The dip at point 429m just below is the geological boundary between the Red and Black Cuillin and the cliff of black gabbro can clearly be seen sitting on top of the more rounded red granite hillside. For another hour we all indulged in as much scrambling on the hugely crystaline gabbro as we could find with a fine narrow crest as a finale.
The view of the ridge from Clach Glas to Blaven from here is uber classic; great background for the team pic!
We’d planned to descend north-east towards Belig but the hard/sugary snow interspersed with rock-hard turfs looked far too serious for such a relaxed day out with friends so we retraced our steps and were treated to some wonderful mist and light effects out to the west.
Recovering from the re-rise to pt 489 and taking it all in Mark’s jaw hit the flaw and he gestured horizontally out over our heads; we all dived for cameras as quietly as possible as a mature golden eagle circled around and slowly upward.
Seeming to change his mind he suddenly folded the wings and soared down past us and settled amongst the boulders not far from where we had just descended. Magnificent display thankyou!
Back on Blaven today but time for some ice at last; it’s been close for weeks but not quite got there. Guy Steven was guiding Julian & George on the very high quality South Buttress Gully (II) and we were passed by Harvey the scottie dog and his owners while we kitted up. He proceeded to make what must be the first winter ascent of Great Gully by a dawg:)
Escape from Colditz (III) wasn’t as thick with ice as I would have chosen but I knew that the key lower section doesn’t need much to make it climbable. Backing and footing for 10m leads to a massive chockstone and then escape onto the wonderful ice ramps above.
I belayed below the steepest section of ice so that I could keep in touch with Simon as he fought his way up the tunnel.
The climbing in the top pitch was superb with an added bonus of topping out into the sun.
Here are a few more shots-
Far more worrying was the descent; I’ve never been off the pistes (as many of you will testify to; ha ha ) and deep snow with a thin crust looked like a good way to screw my knees. I was fully prepared to carry the skis down & wade through the deep snow but, despite wiping out a few times, had to agree that skiing down was quicker & easier.
Back on the pistes things suddenly seemed very easy and there was plenty of professional advice knocking around to help me feel almost competent by the bottom. 5000ft of skiing, nothing broken but definitely tired!
Winter continues with avengence here; after working with us this summer Scott Kirkhope enthusiastically travelled up from Fort Bill for his first taste of the Cuillin in winter on Wednesday. We were joined by my long term winter partner Icky and shared the BMC hut with Annie, Tom & Gemma.
Yellow moonlight tinted the snow as we set off up Coire an Eich but the joy was rudely interupted by a fierce blizzard that lasted well over an hour.It finally passed through just as we reached the summit of Sgurr na Banachdaich.
I had had ambitions on a new climb in Coruisk but so much fresh snow was going to make things very hard & remove any pleasure. It was a day to enjoy the amazing light & views so we headed off southward with the sun warming us nicely.
Flanks were covered in powder snow on top of an icy crust; luckily our boots broke through this crust and kept us feeling safe without crampons or ropes.The crest was the best choice with no drifts and a good cushion filling in the gaps and we made good speed to bealach na Banachdaich. The others appeared on the West Ridge of Dearg ahead of us so it was an easy choice to head up and meet up.
The mornings blizzard had produced a carpet of soft snow to cushion the footpath right back to the hut in the evening light and the compulsory glorious vista out across the Minch to Rum & Canna.
Cloud & rain hugged the coasts today so we headed just over the bridge to Glen Shiel; it may even be quicker than the drive to Glen Brittle for me. The difference in weather was amazing with heavy frost beautiful blue skies and very VERY snowy tops!
The snow did make for hard work but meant we were best to stick to the narrow crest.
We flushed up a couple of Golden eagles just as we started and I was made up to find their enormous talon prints part way up Sgurr na Forcan.
CORRECTION AND UPDATE- I originally misidentified the eagles as Golden eagles but was corrected by Bob Macmillan who runs Skye Birds.com. The birds were acually White-tailed Sea Eagles. On a personal note I am very disappointed that the Sea Eagles are increasing so dramatically in numbers at the apparent expense of the native Golden Eagle. Bob informed me that the larger Sea eagles have now been seen to have taken over the eyries and territory of at least 3 pairs of Golden onm Skye in the past couple of years. The RSPB official line is that there is no impact but I can certainly vouch for seeing far fewer Golden in the past 5 years or so. Prior to this numbers certainly seemed to be on the increase. The reason for further reintroductions is cited as neccesary to prevent too much inbreeding but I think the priority should be given to the Golden, the true native bird of the Highlands.
My old friend Ann-Marie has climbed Gillean on many occasions and it was a privelidge for Chris & me to join her today. The real reason for her visit is to watch the derby match with me tomorrow and, if today’s luck is anything to go by, it’ll be a red night tomorrow:-)
Firstly the weather was immaculate, an effect that was enhanced by A-M’s friends texting all day about heavy rain south of the border, shame. But most impressive was the way A-M communicates with nature- “I’d love to see an eagle now”, “you’ll be bloody lucky” said I. Less than 2 minutes later a huge eagle with great hearing seemed to fill the sky just 50m above our heads…
We watched it soar up and out of sight around Pinnacle Ridge before we set off again. “Whats going on now Mike?” demanded A-M 5 minutes later and there above us was now a train of 3 eagles flying over the top of the first pinnacle.
A poor shot but easy to spot the 3 eagles.
“Flocking Eagle” I’ve never seen that before, said I.
The day continued in a similar vein of high quality; t-shirt weather, views to the Ben 75 miles away & bone-dry rock.
A-M lovin being on top of her fave mountain
Chris wasn’t the biggest fan of the airy summit of A-M’s fave mountain but was fine once we started moving again.
Not a forced grin at all eh Chris?
There were dozens out enjoying every peak today; we hope the chopper was doing some practice rather than a real rescue on Ghreadaidh
Looking west to folk on Am Basteir & Bruach na Frithe
We descended the West Ridge by a new variation (for me) that stayed on the south side of the window so we avoided the icy hard snow on the north face. The walls at the abseil section were stripped of the ice flutings that were there just 3 days ago.
Sunny walls instead of the ice from 3-days ago
Looking up the Bhasteir Gorge to Sgurr nan Gillean
The happiest woman in the world who’ll be happier still if Man United win tomorrow; C’mon the Reds!!!!!
After a few days of viewing the inside of clouds it was good to see clear skies today. The views across to the mainland and over to the Hebrides were simply stunning and left me wishing for a better camera to capture it all. We also saw a couple of Golden Eagles soaring above the Elgol peninsular. Just a fantastic day for taking in the scenery.
South summit of Bla Bheinn in the background
Cairn climbing: Always use a rope for this dangerous sport!
Looking towards Beinn na Cro and Beinn Dearg Mhor.