Yesterday I was hopeful that South Buttress Gully (guidebook grade II but consensus is now III) would still be a good climbing option despite the current thaw. Once we could see into the line I was happy to go for it because the technical steps looked almost completely banked out.
The snow slopes were fine but sadly the “ice” was only good enough for a single placement. Luckily the right wall has just enough hand & foot holds to get up without ice so we were able to snatch a good winter climb against the odds.
White Wedding must be one of the best lines of climbing in the Cuillin but it has proved elusive to any second ascent ever since the legendary winter of 1986 (Mick Fowler and Vic Saunders popped up it the day after doing Waterpipe, South Gully & Icicle Factory!) I’ve been to the foot twice before but each time found there to be nothing but a thin glaze of ice in the lowest section. Studying the photo from this Sunday (below) I realised that there was actually a bulging line continuously to the start.
With a reasonable forecast Ally, Beads and I headed up into the mist early this morning with as much hope as optimisim. Wet snow lay low down and running water wasn’t what we had ordered. The situation improved markedly in the final approach however and a familiar mixture of excitement and fear crept over me as we kitted up.
Things started reasonably with firm snow but the limitations of this soon became apparent on the first small bulge as axes ripped through under any pressure. The next 15m was laid back and led to a very encouraging long blade peg before approaching what looked like the steepest step on the whole long first pitch. Sweeping ice and snow off the rocks with bare hands wasn’t a great sign but more cracks for gear was a good consolation for now having totally soaked gloves (thank goodness for the Dachsteins!).
Tenuous best describes the next 15m; single placements gave me just enough to delicately step up further (than I should) and one even held me as both feet collapsed. Backing off was definitely not an option and patience was finally rewarded with 5m of good placements in some well iced snow and a fairly good spike anchor.
My firm snow ran out immediately above and a further 30m of nerve-wracking porridge climbing lay ahead; the decision to back off was a no brainer. Such a shame; a hard frost would set this lot like concrete and possibly even be as easy as the grade IV that it is recorded as.
The guys were in excellent spirits despite getting cold on the belay; apparently something to do with relief! Plenty of laughter on the way down but a real determination to return if we can (please!) get a proper blast of Arctic air before this all snow melts away.
Desperate times make for desperate measures; with no serious climbing having been done since new year’s day a photo of fat ice at the Dubh Loch was enough to entice me into the huge drive to Ballater, 5am start, cycle and deep soft snow approach. It is a very beautiful part of the Highlands and the rewards soon started as the sun rose.
Sadly the lower half of the crag had lost a lot of ice in the past week but Robin came up with a plan.
A scary snowy approach over steep vegetation took us to the foot of The Last Oasis.
I took the first pitch with instructions to break right to block belays below the thinly iced rib.
Robin then took the helm, had a few words with himself on the initial thin steep slabs and finally sounded happier once the 3rd screw was placed without going down to rock. Classically I found the climbing far steeper than it had looked from below!
A drippy ice grotto after 35m gave a good screw belay but an intimidating step round the corner to reach the start of the Sword of Damocles final pitch.
The excitement continued with a cornice to finish-
and then a huge great avalanche down the face 100m to the right of where we’d been climbing; gulp. This was the final straw in deciding not to stash our kit for a return battle next day but, in a winter where any climbing has been hard to come by the day was a great result. A waist deep battle through soggy drifts confirmed we’d made the right decision & we were both completely ****ered by the time we reached the bikes.
If anyone is particularly taken by the colour and design of Robin’s climbing sack he would love to hear from you; I’ve certainly never seen such a magnificent hue of blue……. 😉
Uphill surfing with Clach Glas behind
The weather finally settled down a wee bit in the middle of last week, enough for Ally and I to get out and see what all this wild weather has produced. Very impressive indeed!
We opted for a broad open gully line that finishes near the sumit of Sgurr na Banachdaich. The line traverses out almost horizontally for 100m from just below the Bealach Thormaid on the Coruisk side. A short, 30m, steeper section leads up into a broad finishing bowl and the summit above. It was short and sweet giving 4 pitches and grade II for the steep section in the conditions we found.
I scrambled up the same line a couple of years ago in snow-free conditions. In summer it is often taken by mistake by climbers heading north along the Ridge so we’ve called it False Gully. Hopefully, in time, this will raise awareness of its presence as a false trail for future parties.
Conditions on Pinnacle Ridge yesterday were absolutely excellent but very serious at the same time. We put crampons on at the foot of 1st/2nd Gully and had great neve from then onwards.
Sadly squeezing any routes in between the storms this month is a frantic business. Our attempt on Pinnacle Ridge was cut short but climbing the 3rd Pinnacle on its own felt like a a very full-on adventure.
A broad streak of thick snow ran straight to the top of the 3rd Pinnacle and we reached it in 2 50m pitches.
The abseil from the top nearly reached the col below but not quite so a hanging belay had to be excavated.
The traverse out onto Knight’s Peak is always exposed and knarly with a swing into the void for both leaders and seconds a distinct possiblity.
With time against us and softer snow on the changed aspect we decided to run away with an abseil down to the east. A particularly black cloud engulfed us soon after, lashed us with hail that created a beautiful waterfall effect as they slooshed down the steep faces above.
As it was we finished in the dark so twas a sound decision. Hopefully back for the full ascent tomorrow if these winds calm down!
16 of us met in the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut last weekend for the annual Skye winter meet. The weather gods were gathering payback from us for such stonking conditions in 2013 but enthusiasm got everyone out still to build up an appetite for food and beers.Romain gives instructions on how to fondue and raclette- Over 5kg of cheese was consumed!
Friday was excellent and all 7 of the early arrivers headed to the snowy north end. Dave and John climbed North-west Face Route (II) on Gillean, Romain and Steve the NW Ridge of Bruach na Frithe
while Ian, Dave and I found some ice on Running on Numpty (II) on the flank of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.
Dave and Ian after climbing Running on Numpty
Dave went back to Bruach na Frithe with Nicola the next day and won again, the only team to brave the showers and they won with a 360 panorama from the top. Link to dave Bowdlers shots- https://plus.google.com/photos/103884480644177632031/albums/5970627149310564129
Other activities included walks out to Macleod’s Maidens & Glamaig. Some great dry-tooling was found just along from the beach and further out towards Ruabh Dunain and Lucy Janni and I climbed onto the Cioch for a sword fight.Lucy leading Slab Corner up to the Cioch
Romain’s videos- http://youtu.be/WbhbMYzGu7I
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.
See post on 8 Jan for update on this.
New year’s day was the only one with easterly winds forecast so Jim and I decided to head for a section of the Ridge and hopefully a view of the Pinn.
Avoiding the wind in Coire na Banachdaich a nice wee gully leading directly up winked at me. I convinced myself (and Jim) it would be a brief bit of added excitement and our limited kit would suffice with a bit of improvisation. I was right but only just-
Whillans would have been proud of my pebble-wedging that made prussic loops into runners before the final vertical wall of powder. Our 480cm sling was used and recycled for all 3 belays and Jim only had to do one of the cruxes just on gloves & feet to reach the axes dangling above ;-).
Ignoring all the improvisation the climbing was excellent with a mix of hooks, bridging and ice placements. The final 10m section will always be steep and a bit bold. Overall I’d say 100m of one star grade IV,5 with no name yet.
Above we found superb neve running right to the top of Sgurr Dearg. The Pinn looked fearsome and the views were magnificent throughout all 360 degrees.
The top of the West Ridge gave a final 20 mins of concentrated footwork then a gentle stroll back down before nightfall. It is really amazing to already have over an extra hour of evening light to play with already compared to pre-xmas outings.
Jim & I were on the verge of aborting today because of the rain and winds. Returning to base the red Cuillin peaks all around were suddenly clear and highly attractive with a warm cuppa in hand!
2 minutes back down the road we set off past the waterfall with the long snowfields on the North Face of Garbh-bheinn. These turned out to be very fine with crampons needed pretty much from the first patches of snow at 500m. 1000ft and an hour later we’d explored some exciting buttress terrain as well as the easy gully features to reach the summit.
Windows soon appeared through the mist as we descended. Golden light reflected off the sea at Camasunary. Gradually views into the main Cuillin appeared with mists being turned pink by the setting sun behind.
Ben has been dealt more than his fair share of weather for his course but enthusiasm and attitude has given us a couple of excellent days.
Yesterday we avoided the wind down on the beach at the Braes with a refresher session on gear placements and retrieving abseil ropes. We finished with a great bit of fun dry-tooling up a greasy steep corner. With nearly zero friction for the feet it was a fight to the top but great lesson (for both of us!) in trusting thin placements.
This morning winds dropped to gale force instead of storm force so we headed past the Fairy Pools toward the Spur of Sgurr an Fheadian. It looked very dry and unlikely we would need crampons so we gambled instead on heading higher, hoping that the wind gods would be kind.
A tail-wind up the Tairnilear stone shoot was most welcome.
Peace from the wind over the crest of the Ridge was made even better by the subtle colours out towards Blaven and beyond.
Midst of the heavy snow shower
The descent down Fionn Choire was another matter as we were battered from every direction, slapped by walls of spindrift and pelted by hail that felt more like lead shot; strangely no pics;-)
Enjoy the gallery-
Ally and I headed up into Coire Lagan today with some mixed climbing in mind but found the crag on thearlaich far too dry. We headed back to the iceflows beside the path on the outflow from the lochan.
Ice is always a worrying medium to climb, particularly at the start of the season, so it was good to “break the duck”. Faith in the theory saw axes not ripping and crampons not slipping but forearms far too pumped; must relax more when climbing but, more importantly, start some pull-ups!
Alan had thought about doing a winter course with us this year and accidentaly got a quality winter day at the end of April!
After an hour being blown up into Coire lagan by a blizzard we cramponed up at the first narrows in the Great Stone Shoot, climbed Bomb Alley to Bealach MhicCoinnich then climbed Thearlaich by the Coruisk side.
A 20m abseil took us into the head of the Stone Shoot from where we climbed Alasdair. Tantalising glimpses appeared of our roof-top route as the mists finally began to clear.
The climb was originally given grade V when V was the highest Scottish grade but we both agreed that it warranted grade VI by modern standards.
Things weren’t all glorious; a load of fresh overnight snow was sloofing off regularly from left right & centre. The “walk off” down the Upper Rake involved descending dangerous quantities of deep fresh snow lying on a very steeply banked terrace and probably more complex rope-work than the climb itself!
I first went to the foot of The Smear in 1994 but I’ve never seen it anywhere near climbable until this last week. Andy is sailing back to Australia this summer so such a notable bit of Scottish ice is a great Swansong. Looking forward to borrowing his tools & screws for the next few winters:)
Doug Scott below The Smear in 1979
To my knowledge the route hasn’t received a second ascent since; zooming in on Ginger Cain’s photo it looks like Doug Scott had been on the Red Bull to get up the first 10m as the icicle fringe doesn’t even appear to be touching down.
On Wednesday Guy Steven gave them a revision of crampon and axe skills before climbing Great Gully on Blaven. Amazing weather & views all day-
Today we opted for some sunny rock climbing down at Elgol which culminated in Louis leading his first route in over 5 years.
I’ve been spoilt with quality days recently but yesterday was right up there with the very best. Hard to say why but good company, a fresh covering of snow, an easy ice climb turning out to be serious, top out in the sun, knife-edge snow arete, blood-red snows and a moonlit descent all played their part.
The Amphitheatre held a huge dump of avalanche debris from last weeks washout.
As the mists cleared the ice pitches began to look pretty challenging.
4 sketchy pitches followed with just enough ice and protection to justify not reversing 200m of steep snow slope. The top-out was a relief combined with all the aesthetics of incredible views, sunshine and clear skies.
We opted to continue over the summit via the final 100m of the north ridge. This was the highlight as the snow arete dropped away on both sides and a combination of au cheval (leg either side bum shuffle), crawling and tightrope walking led to even more stunning vistas from the summit.
Descent from An Dorus still required concentration and effort but finally we were able to remove crampons and enjoy the darkening descent. Just as clarity was fading the moon provided an enormous burst of light rose from behind the Ridge; I genuinely thought that one of the guys had put a head-torch on!
Enjoy the gallery-
Yesterday was probably the best day of the year so far with not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Having a break at the boulder in Coire Uiginish and lazing around in the sun, discussing rock climbing options, it was certainly tempting not to head for the shady confines of South Buttress Gully but we knew the rewards would be worthwhile.
We cramponed up beneath the Colditz routes that had been completely washed away. We were forced into the dog-leg entry to SBG but the snow pack was superb as soon as we were in the shade
I led the first mixed step and then passed the lead to Mark for the upper icy corner (he had missed out when we climbed it in December). Logistics for climbing as a team of 5 were interesting but the scenery and conditions gave plenty to admire while awaiting turns.
A groove & slab of thin ice right of Sailaway has enticed me for years. As well as waiting for enough ice I’ve been intimidated because I know the whole buttress is very compact and unlikely to yeild much protection; and so it proved. The climbing wasn’t too hard but all a bit thin & run out.
The first pitch eventually yeilded a good wire at 15m and a bomber belay at 25m. A detour for a good nut left a bit of good but delicate hooking to regain the ice groove. A column of stacked blocks was frozen together enough to justify a sling and the ice above finally began to thicken up nicely. The final steep ice was even well protected by 2 bomb-proof screws.
A bit of a steep learning curve but Simon took up the challenge well and also enjoyed the (nearly as hard) challenge of naming the route. Something related to Escape from Colditz and Birthday Breakout made sense and I’d heard about the escape glider they built but never got to use. We had to look up the name on-line but, 19 years after I first saw this line, it felt like the Colditz Cock had finally taken off!
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-
Chris and I headed up the West ridge of Dearg with an aim to do a round of Coire Lagan. The path was as icy as the road from the start and we donned crampons below 700m. The next hour was a sublime sunlit wander over solid snowpatches that soon merged into an icy blanket.
Encountering powder surprised me but the covering was only thin and easily avoided as far as Sron Dearg. Beyond I didn’t fancy the normal easy bypasses which were banked out with hard snow and a layer of powder so we roped up to tackle the narrow crest instead. Things were feeling quite intense by the time we reached the Pinn 20 minutes later.
Perfectly timed Cameron MacIvar was just appraoching the crux move on the Pinn in a bright orange jacket. There are some other excellent pics on his facebook page in the link above.
Traversing Mhicchoinnich was now looking seriously in doubt: would we be able to find the anchor to abseil from at the top of King’s Chimney? Intensity built up again as we gained height but we hit a section of perfect neve once more just 200m from the summit and I felt a wave of confidence. A few steps further and my optimism was dashed as the beautiful looking crest turned out to be what Chris described as a “Patagonian-style” wave-top of deep powder.
Back-tracking still required concentration but finally reaching the safety of Loch Lagan was quite a relief. The atmosphere relaxed completely as we were greeted by Angus from the Old Inn who was up with his snow-boarding mates and the Great Stone Shoot in mind. Conditions weren’t suitable but it was great to see a variation on local interest in the Cuillin.
Back to more wild storms in the next few days; this seems to be turning into one of the biggest winters I’ve known in the Cuillin.
John’s party from Essex learnt alpine skills and put them into action in the alps last summer. The brief this year was to introduce some higher grade winter climbing whilst based in the Village Inn in Arrochar.
The fine weather was coming to an end but temperatures were still cold so it was time to buckle down for some “real” Scottish climbing.
Eas Anie, IV. Friday 25th.
On Friday heavy snow and high winds didn’t encourage me to go high and I fancied the low-lying classic icefall of Eas Anie which must have been building for nearly a fornight. A superbly timed post on UKC confirmed that a team had climbed it the night before.
Heavy snow on the roads meant parking at the Green Welly & cutting through the forset before picking up the vehicle tracks right to the mine. The guys there took pity & let us kit up inside, surrounded by ingots (not).
We roped up across heavily laden slopes to the foot of the fall where the maelstrom continued to challenge the concentration.
Some more great steep steps suddenly led to the top and the first bit of shelter we’d had since the mine. Great route.
The blizzard was tempered once we re-entered the forest and Tyndrum that evening would have looked completely at home in the alps.
The Cobbler, Arrochar Alps 26th January
Saturday dawned beautiful and the Cobbler opposite the hotel looked magnificent.
Most bizarre for me was the sheer number of folk all aiming for the same objective with most making us feel totally over equipped, most notably the shorts clad fel-runner (competent) and the trainers & shellsuit clad bloke (statistic material).
Trails had been blazed which was a total pleasure until I realised we had overshot the intended route. Fortunately there was a party breaking trail up the broad north face of the North Peak from where an easy traverse rejoined the best line to the summit.
The true summit is a stack of rock which is gained by “threading the eye of the needle”. It was utterly plasterd in hoar frost and, in its virgin state and having carried the rope, it was an obvious challenge.
We used some traditional methods to safeguard John to the top followed by Spud & I while Tom took pics. The weather drew in around us as Tom had his go and then we had a familiar blizzard to contend with on descent.
Beinn Udlaidh. 27th January
More high winds and heavy showers weren’t putting John & Tom off another chance to swing their axes. We headed to Beinn Udlaidh with its easliy formed ice and very fierce but short approach. A nameless 80m icefall on the right at the start of the corrie looked both suitable and attractively close given the blizzard was just kicking in again. A wall led right to the foot of the ice.
A vertical tier at the very top gave a fitting finish to three very succesful days on the road.
The ship was sinking (in alcohol?) and the rats abondoning fast but Andy & Iain went off to enjoy one final Cuillin winter romp up the Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain while Spike & I decided it was time to tackle the daunting North face of Mhadaidh.
Descent off Foxes Rake was thought provoking but the deep snow now seems well bonded and we enjoyed a romp back below the impresive sight of the Smear. This grade V still hasn’t seen a second ascent since it was first climbed in 1979!
Image Gallery Below-
Considerably fewer pics as the carefully organised photo collecting of the first 2 days faltered somewhat. Hopefully shots will emerge of-
Spike, Nathan & Kim headed into Coir’ a’ Ghreadaidh to practice some skills; Spike practising for his MIC assessment and the others getting yet another instructors opinions!
Paul & Brendan headed to Window Buttress and climbed Curtain Call-
“New route on the West Face of Window Buttress.
side of the gully to an open area with a choice of exits. Climb the steep groove on the left (crux) for 35m before escaping right. Follow easy-angled grooves for 200m before joining the final pitches of Deep Cut Gully.“
8 of us headed out to see what the wind and weather had done to the huge amounts of snow. I’ve never seen the likes with crampons needed from the earliest snow patches right up to the summits. Serious but fantastic.
Blue ice up the Stone Shoot
Romain, Steve, Antoni and I headed up the North Face of Sgumain. andy and Iain climbed Gully E on Thearlaich and paul & Dave took the plaudits for a new line on the southern face of Sgurr Dearg’s West Ridge. “Away from the (drunken) crowd” gave a superb 100m of grade IV in the middle of a very long line in the sun!
Approaching Bealach Sgumain pinnacles from the North face
I used snow shoes for the first time today to approach the magnificent Cascade des Ignes above Arolla. A couple of hours of this certainly did my fitness the world of good!
Having taken fashion advice from his Cioch Direct clad guru Graham today wore a bright blue Montane jacket set off nicely by a bold orange Black Diamond helmet. (Sponsors please apply direct 🙂
The views rewarded our efforts hansomely.