Blog > Winter Climbs

Cascade des Ignes. 9th January

09/01/13

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!

Ice plays games with the head in terms of steepness and Graham assured me it wasn’t as steep as yesterdays routes but close acquaintance didn’t appear to back this up.

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 ice was mostly excellent but powder snow poured down the climb almost constantly to create a very Scottish feel.

Some filing of my new axe picks helped get them both in and out far more easily today and I felt a whole lot more at home leading the 2nd pitch.

Beyond the 3rd pitch the gully opened out and G did a fine job of breaking trail up 150m of knee-deep snow to reach the plateau above. 

The views rewarded our efforts hansomely.

 

Alpine interlude 8th January

08/01/13

I’ve finally got back to the Alps for the first time since 2006 and so glad to have made the effort.

Good friend and UIAGM guide Graham Frost has taken a few days off his hectic ski-guiding schedule to indulge us in some cascade climbing.

I’ve never actually climbed continental ice so there was a fair amount of trepidation on my part.

We started today with a couple of climbs to see what I was capable of and I was relieved to find that arms, axes & crampons do work away from Skye too;)

A 20 minute drive took us from Graham’s house in Eveline up to Arolla and a 5 minute walk to the foot of a 65m icefall. G dismissed with the first steepening easily but I knew it was steeper than it looked when I caught him shaking out an arm.

New tools and new boots all seemed to work well for me despite the “in yer face” feeling that I’d forgotten about. Pitch 2 was nicely stepped and led to a friendly abseil ring and quick descent.

After coffee back in the village & admiring the weather forecast for the week we headed for something a bit steeper and a bit longer above an avalanche tunnel.

Only grade 3 in the guidebook I won’t be wanting to go much harder this week!

 

Off for some snow-shoeing and a route with a proper name tomorrow…..

Happy New year on Blabheinn 1st January 2013

01/01/13

Marissa & Jim were in crampons for the first time on Bruach na Frithe yesterday. Today they put their new skills to good use on the Great Gully splitting the 2 summits of Blaven.We were joined by Mark who lives in Torrin right opposite, keen to clear his head after a Hogmanay ceilidh and a half.

Snow conditions in the gully were superb, the weather treated us well with glimpses of the main Ridge from the summit, broken spectres & some more wonderful vistas out to the Inner Hebrides on the descent. No apologies for brevity; just enjoy the gallery.

 

South Buttress Gully; grade II my foot. 19th December

20/12/12

Mark, Nathan and I enjoyed glorious weather on Blaven yesterday. The air was crystal clear giving superb views out to the mainland as we got higher.

After the heavy thaw & rain at the end of last week we weren’t sure what we’d find but the top third of the mountain looked well covered still.

We opted for a route I first climbed in 2010 and repeated the following season. At 600 feet long and grade II South Buttress Gully should have been a great first “proper” winter route for Nathan.

Mark led the first couple of easy snow pitches and was then keen for the first icy steps on pitch 3. After excavating a couple of good runners he made short work of a thinly iced slab and the awkward step above before completing another 50m pitch.

Nathan discovered the real meaning of “trust your feet” on the improbably thin ice and even left some for me to climb behind him:)

I was presented with the leading rack for the next pitch and I had to agree that it did look steeper than I remembered! There was a bank of snow leading up to ice above the cave and I knew there was a good cam placement in under the capstone. Alarm bells rang as my feet plunged through on the first few steps up this but I managed to take weight on the rock wall behind to help me get high enough to sink my axes into the lovely solid ice above. Using both hands to place the cam I suddenly felt the snow collapse beneath me and dump me unceremoniously into the cave behind out of sight my giggles reassured the others that I was alright and I emerged for round 2 of the battle.

Above the good ice I found yet more sugary snow for my axes so resorted to pulling as high as I dared and then mantleshelving on a combination of snow and iced rock; thank goodness for wooly Dachstein mitts that stick so well to ice! A tense few minutes followed as I juggled with more sugary snow and a couple of rock holds to surmount the second steepening. I certainly had a dry mouth by the time I reached the belay above!

Discussing the grade as we sat in the sun on descent we concluded that grade II is correct but only in good conditions; if the snow had been just a wee bit more solid it would have been a walk in the park by comparison. This is probably the greatest single lesson of winter climbing- routes are graded for good conditions and they are desperate/impossible if not in condition. Easy to comprehend at higher grades when an icicle just isn’t there but equally applicable in the lower grades which rely on a certain depth and consistency of snow.

 

 

Ideal Winter Traverse conditions this week 9th December

09/12/12

A Winter Traverse of the Cuillin Ridge is the Holy Grail of British mountaineering; the finest mountaineering route in the UK but requiring a unique set of circumstances to come into condition. Without going into detail too much that time has come and the crest of the Ridge should have a fairly consistently solid covering of snow from one end to the other that should allow pretty rapid progress. Equally importantly the forecast is for beautiful cold crisp clear skies over the next 3 days at least.

The route has been high on climbers tick lists ever since the first successful Traverse in 1965 by legends Tom Patey, Hamish MacInnes, Brian Robertson and Davey Crabb. I’m contracted to report weekly on conditions to UKClimbing and have been preparing folk as conditions build up with a series of increasingly positive reports. Below are a selection of the most recent posts for your amusement & information:

“Looking perfect for a Traverse now ’til Wednesday (or Thursday possibly). I’ll give up posting on UKC if I don’t hear about anyone going for it.”

Cuillin Ridge in winter; timings for different sections

“One oversight in the new guidebook is a winter grade for doing individual sections and rounds of the corries. With conditions looking good in the coming week the breakdown below may be useful. It should also be of use for those just doing individual sections.
Winter is when the Cuillin truly takes on its “Alpine” status with conditions affecting the seriousness, line & techniques differently through the day. Descents are particularly thought provoking! With this in mind I’ve opted for using an alpine grading rather than Scottish winter. Timings are for (R) rounds, (S) sections or (A) approach. Approach & descents will vary hugely but allow 3.5 hours to the first summit in all but perfect conditions. Allow a min of 2 hours to descend but the last hour will probably be on a good footpath.
Daylight is about 7-30am to 4pm just now but will vary a lot with cloud cover.

(R) Traverse Gillean up Tourist rte, Descend from Bealach A Bhasteir E-W AD 9hrs
(S) Traverse Am Basteir & Tooth AD 1.5hrs
(S) Bruach na Frithe to Bealach Harta AD 2hrs
(S) Traverse Bidean N-S (col to col on Traverse) D 1.5hrs
(S) Glaic Moire to An Dorus AD 2hrs
(S) An Dorus- Banachdaich AD 2+hrs
(R) Coire na Banachdaich PD 8hrs
(A) Dearg W Ridge PD 3hrs in ascent
(R) Coire Lagan, Pinn to Alasdair D 9hrs
(R) Dubhs from Ghrunnda AD 7hrs
(R) Sgurr nan Eag to Gars-bheinn PD 8hrs

A brief overview is also available –http://skyeguides.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/SkyeGuides_TheWinterTraverse.pdf”

“For those after climbs as opposed to the Traverse an article I wrote printed in Climb in January 2012 gives an overview of a more modern view of climbing in the Cuillin.- http://skyeguides.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/cullin.pdf
Having focussed on mixed climbing in the article, ironically, last winter saw some good ice routes form and we now have a situation where these are reforming & even the Traverse is looking likely. Overall the message is get up there & explore & you wont be disappointed.”

UKC Conditions report Skye 8 December

The excellent conditions and weather last weekend gave everybody a superb time. The winter skills day was well attended & well received by 11 of us on an ascent of Sgurr a Bhasteir.
Next day Jim Higgins & Ross made the 3rd ascent of HDQ on Am Basteir –http://scottishclimbers.blogspot.co.uk/
while Martin (HDQ 1st Ascent) & Pete (HDQ 2nd Ascent) were knocked back on their attempts to tackle a new line close by- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=209900.
Sadly nobody used the conditions & full moon to try the Traverse but all may not be lost despite a real plastering through the start of this week. A convincing thaw up to 800+m today and another warm blip tomorrow could well work in everybodies favour next week with a return to very cold settled conditions.
I was out on Wednesday (gallery- http://skyeguides.co.uk/deep-winter-play-5th-december/ ) but we just took our rack & ropes for a beautiful wander along the crest rather than swimming up any climbs. Despite drifts on the flanks there was an encouraging crust on the older snow below that made the very crest quite speedy & easy still. Worth watching the stability of the drifts higher up; we broke through an inch deep crust but this may thicken & make windslab more of an issue if it doesn’t thaw as much as I hope.
There was the beginnings of some quite sizeable ice, by Cuillin standards, in south facing corners at “mid-level” including Southern Comfort (IV)- http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=188294
Big winds in with the warm blips this weekend should all help keep things whiter more than black over the coming week and hopefully any fresh powder will drift off.
I noted the request for Skye routes on another post which reminded me of an outstanding mission to put guidebook times on sections of the Ridge in winter. Nearly finished that but will post seperately and also add it to my winter Traverse advice on the website.

Superb conditions and An Stac Chimney FWA 28th November.

29/11/12

The freeze thaw cycles have left great conditions in the Cuillin with a thin but complete cover from below 2000ft. The combination of conditions and forecast are the best I’ve seen for a winter traverse for  a couple of years. Still some small drifts that will be hard work for the first party along but I hope to hear of a few successes soon.

Ally took his “fast-tracking” into climbing a stage further today with a crash course in mixed climbing on the first winter ascent of An Stac Chimney in Coire Lagan. Graded moderate in summer I wrongly reasoned that it shouldn’t be too challenging for a winter ascent 😉

The initial squeeze pitch must have taken me half an hour to work out how to ditch my rucsack. Taking to the right wall just meant an exciting section above the jaws of the rift before finally getting back into the clutches and a good thread runner. More relaxed the final chockstonebefore the belay seemed easy with good frozen turf and hooks.

The next chimney was clearly too narrow to get into but bridging up worked well to start with. As the walls steepened I was forced out right on good footholds & tiny hooks to thankfully reach a bomber large nut. The steep sequence above was superb (or was that relief?) with great placements to pull onto a pedestal. Stepping back into the gully I was able to make good speed to the final narrows. Gorgeous colours on the snow in the corrie below suggested it was getting late so I stepped out right to join the crest of An Stac Direct above the drop into Coruisk.

Ally didn’t come off once all the way up despite it being his first time with axes & crampons; fine effort. Grade-wise I would say IV, 5 and worthy of at least one star. Similar to last December’s routes this was particularly pleasing because the route faces south so would be stripped very quickly by any sun; the depths of winter do have benefit for some of us.

We moved together for the final 100m to reach my favourite view of the In Pinn. Sadly it was too late to add that to Ally’s list of achievements for the day. Enjoy the gallery.

 

 

The Saddle by the Forcan Ridge 26 November 2012

27/11/12

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.

The pictures hopefully tell the tale of a great day out with Chris-

Deliverance, VII,7. 4th November

04/11/12

Todays new route gave us some great quality climbing up a beautiful corner-line. Every time I went down the Great Stone Shoot this summer I studied the line and concluded that it was very, very steep.

 

Having never tried anything similar it was clearly  beyond my leading abilities. Guy provided the perfect solution; strong, skilled, (a little bit loony?) and with masses of enthusiasm. My conclusion about the steepness wasn’t wrong but the corner crack just kept giving him positive holds and good protection. A superb clean, ground-up first ascent.

I only started using leashless axes last year but I was glad I had with all the hand swapping needed through the firece laybacking. Reaching the top of the first bulge upward movement still seems to be happening, placements keep appearing and, miraculously, my hands are still gripping the axes. Took a long rest to get the arms back before the 2nd bulge; although it was shorter, Guy wasn’t kidding when he’d warned me about it being fierce. Things didn’t give up right to the belay. While Guy squeezed his way out above my head I studied the anchors & realised it had been constructed to haul me up if neccesary.

Winter climbing in the Cuillin gave everything he expected & more for Guy; Deliverance is a great addition for the future; thanks Guy!

 

I’m going to write a seperate post on quite how much snow had come down since yesterday with views etc.

We have winter lift-off!

03/11/12

An early blast of winter has hit Scotland already. Guy Steven has been doing a lot of work in the Cuillin this season, getting really psyched for a winter play, and it was a pleasure to accompany him as he enthusiastically got stuck in today.

We held off til 9am to let the thunder & heavy showers clear then made good time back to my favourite playground on Sgurr Thearlaich. Snow conditions were surprisingly good underfoot right up the Great Stone Shoot until the final 100m where slabs of powder had built up but not dangerously.

CD Buttress was the route of choice; given grade V,6 and a 2* recommendation by Dave Ritchie on the first ascent we would agree wholeheartedly. It gave us 3 very good quality pitches and a finish right on the crest of the narrow summit ridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conditions were good, turfs frozen but could do with a wee thaw/freeze to cement a couple more blocks in.

We’re back up there in the morning for another bit of play. Incredibly heavy rain just now so we’re expecting some swimming on the approach.

Curse of the Hobgoblin V,7. 4th March

04/03/12

A quick overnight freeze was enough to bring Thearlaich, my current favourite venue, straight back into good condition and another great new route as a result. The 50m line is obvious & immediately right of Gully E.

I led the first 30m and Andy took over the final (and crux) 20m. Blocks were thankfully well frozen in and the ice smears were pretty crucial in the crux where the cracks ran out.

Wee bitty tired so just a few shots for now.

Clouds parting to reveal the white stuff; ye ha!

Looking down the first pitch…..

….and zoomed in

Andy geared up & ready to go….


Mid-crux…


Good gear

High step on good hooks

Winter Meet report no.4. Monday 6 Feb

11/02/12

No surprises really that when everyone else had returned home the weather really turned beautiful. Susan & I managed to clean & clear the hut by 8-30am and headed round to Sligachan after clearing ice off the windscreens.

Obligatory Cuillin morning glory!

We still needed to head high and the Bhasteir Face (5th pinnacle) of Gillean was my best option. Early sun and no wind soon had us down to t-shirts on the approach and crampons were donned just above the Bhasteir gorge.

Pinnacle Ridge from the Bhasteir gorge

Beautiful conditions made the stomp feel pretty pain-free and soon we were studying our options.

Most attractive was Flutings Climb which has probably only had a single winter ascent. Back in 1997 Martin Moran gave it IV,6 & described it as high in the grade. To me this means technically hard moves and well protected but the initial section through a basalt band was obviously gearless. The build-up wasn’t perfect but there was some ice underlying the refrozen snow. Susan, I suspected, was a great deal more comfortable dealing with thin ice than me and so it proved.

Susan starts the first of the 2 steep steps

The first 2 steps were deceptively steep & on only marginal placements with a big long icy tumble in prospect. Whereas Susan didn’t seem to have hesitated I felt I might pop off at any second.

Me wondering “Just how did you justify leading that?

Susan had doubts about continuing in these “Ben in Spring” conditions with a move of 6 still to come. Luckily this eejit, having got that scary exposed pitch out of the way, really quite liked the look of the enclosed chimney above.

Nearing the top of pitch 2.

Not only did the ice improve considerably but the 50m pitch was a real beauty, well protected and probably only grade III. Overall I’d suggest Flutings may be more like grade V,5; more serious, less technical but defintely needs good ice in the lowest 15m.

A lone photographer roamed the crest of Sgurr a Bhasteir opposite, undoubtedly spoilt for choice as thin veils of mist and linear clouds above picked up the beautiful light bouncing off the snows.

Spot the person!

Susan whooped true yank style at the perfect placements as she exited and then shot up the finishing snow gully.

Great conditions

The rewarding views (Susan felt more at home once she’d spotted Big Bad Ben out east) topped the meet off in real style.

Hebridean delight; great end to the winter meet.

An easy descent of the West Ridge and abseil back to our sacks saw us down before dark despite the late start.

Skye Winter Meet no.3 report. Sun 5th Feb.

09/02/12

A stunning dawn on approach today.

Platinum pink clouds approaching Coire Lagan

All of us (Paul & Brendan, Simon & Karen & Susan & Mike)were worried that too much damage had been done by the rain with the cliffs clearly darker. The rain had damaged Karens elbow on yesterdays walk too much to swing so she & Simon climbed up Bomb Alley (I) to Bealach Mhichoinnich for the view.

I was mighty relieved to see my predictions of good ice were right once we actually got up close & familiar. We discovered pretty soon that things were actually better than Friday but both teams had opted for easier objectives by then. Brendan led off into the depths of Gully C.

BC Buttress routes. Probably the most reliable winter crag in the Cuillin?

Red-Gully B VI,6, Blue- Gully C III, Green- BC Buttress IV,5 & Direct variation V,6, Yellow- Vent du Nord V,6, Orange-Diedre Blanc V,5

The screams I heard blown up the Stone Shoot were the audio aid needed to get through the initial squeeze. Far worse than the hole in Crypt Route apparently and the excuse for no photos was that all pockets had to be emptied.

Susan & I were somewhat obliged to make a direct ascent of Gully E that we had abseiled on friday night because I got the ropes stuck. Matt & I had climbed mostly on the left side of the gully last year because of deep powder. The direct version in such great condition gave a grade III well worthy of a few stars. Susan suggests it is called E is for Eejit!

Lovely ice in Gully E, III. My DMM axes in need of a respray already!

Unsticking & hauling up the ice-laden ropes left us on the Ridge with huge sacks.

Trying to seperate & coil the iced ropes!

Susan is off to China this autumn so we decided to see how far we could traverse for some real big mountain practice.

High Vis girl on the 2nd abseil off N. end of Thearlaich

Concentration on a banked out Collie’s Ledge

Traversing from Thearlaich to Bealach Coire Lagan took us close on 2 hours; 2 hours of great mountaineering that tested the concentration & techniques- Collie’s Ledge in full winter garb was a first for me too and one I’m glad to have found in pretty amenable conditions.


Winter Meet report no.1. Friday 3 Feb

07/02/12

There were less of us this year but good conditions on 3 out of the 4 days meant more success with 3 new routes and two 2nd ascents. Pushed for time so will do a day at a time.

Local walker Chris Armstrong enjoyed the stunning views in Coire Lagan in the morning. I’ve never seen the streams so “statuesque”; frozen solid with hardly a drop of running water to be heard.

Frozen falls just below Loch Lagan with Sgurr Mhicchoinnich behind

Chris returned for a civilised lunch in the hut and then explored Coire na Banachdaich in the afternoon.

Paul Cunningham & Brendan Croft headed up the Upper Rake on Mhadaidh and finally found a good looking possibility. I tried Fox Trap last winter myself but bottled out of the fierce looking upper section.

Paul was bolder than I had been and found a fault system breaking away from the tight chimney after a few metres. The one shot they did take makes it look quite an adventure into the unknown.

Paul well out there on pitch 2 of The Wildcat Flap


Beyond where Paul is his route description says “Step left into a steep corner, using good hooks, and make some strenuous moves (crux) to reach easier ground.” Fine effort!

Naming the route proved fun at naturalist Paul’s expense; apparently the prints in the snow could be the lesser known Skye Wildcat he’d informed Brendan:- Hence The Wildcat Flap V,6

Susan & I headed for Sgurr Thearlaich which is rapidly becoming my “best guarantee” for good conditions. Despite not donning crampons until over 800m we found the cliff in superb condition with runnels of ice and fully rimed.

Susan & I dwarfed by the mighty walls of Sgurr Thearlaich (pic-Chris Armstrong)

We were relaxed enough to even pop up to the top of the Stone Shoot for the views-

Looking over to the Dubhs

Pinn & An Stac with a golden eagle soaring at the top of the pic


Our new route took a continuous line on the buttress right of Gully E. Despite the obvious large roof Susan went for it with great confidence & skill to eventually find a tiny ledge and enough gear to justify a belay (35m).

 Susan approaching the overhangs on first ascent of High Visibility VI,6


Low Vis on High Visibility VI,6 Sgurr Thearlaich!

Looking pleased as punch & rightly so.


Pleased to have stayed on that pitch I was glad to see mine started quite gently and even had a good gear crack. Somewhat inevitably the mood changed around the first wee corner as things steepened up. Some careful calculation mixed with mental blanking let me do a lovely sequence of long moves to reach a wonderful solid spike. Above the choice of 3 grooves was reduced to one by a process of elimination. Luckily it held some great hooks and a big thread before the final roof. This was far smaller than I feared & soon I was being battered by the wind on the broad Ridge crest.

Susan pulls over the top in the High Vis Belay jacket that gave us the route name

1-0 to 2/3 Gully 26th January

26/01/12

After 2 tropical days winter returned in style today. Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning still didn’t prepare me for hours of continuous fresh snow.

Red Skies over the Beinn Dearg’s this morning.

We went to check out the gully between 2nd and 3rd pinnnacles as a start to Pinnacle Ridge that is recorded as Grade II or I if banked out. What we found was considerably harder and in a very unfriendly mood.

Pinnacle Ridge; they are numbered 1-5 from left to right, with Gillean(5) in the cloud.

The bare steps proved awkward with mushy ice & powder but we did 4 small pitches. The big problem was the continual flow of spindrit from above.

Pitch below the cave; nice!

Finally faced with a choice of a waterall or a powderfall whilst backing up verglassed basalt cave we gave up the battle.

Happy to retreat from the spindrift.


Beautiful day on Blaven. 23rd January

23/01/12

The alpine training continued today in great conditions. Overnight snow lay down to 400m and early showers cleared by 10am.

Kitting up under the huge boulder in Coire Uiganish

John heads up toward our objective Great Gully, grade I.

We soon found ourselves floundering in graupel, a kind of hail that had rolled downhill into deep drifts. When we stopped to put crampons on it stuck to everything.

 Flask with a hail stone coating!

Technically graupel is a type of precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake. It has the consistency of small polystyrene balls and forms a particularly unstable layer that can easily cause avalanches. The quantities involved were fortunately not enough to worry me excessively and we decided to continue as 3 seperate ropes.

Getting close to the top


The scenery on the walls of the gully was as spectacular as ever and very soon we broke the crest.

John’s team traversing the narrow snow arete at the top; very alpine!

South End of the Main Ridge clear in the background behind Spud

Summit smiles

Descending with glorious golden light coming in from the Minch behind

Fine finish; Blabheinn 20 January

20/01/12

Tim, Paul & I enjoyed a beautifully quiet (windless) and snowy ascent of Blaven today.

Blabheinn at dawn today

Paul pointing out the route to me.

Heading up the “Normal Route” high above the east face

Admiring the drop



Re-ascent to the South Top



It was the last day of a very successful course that started with Gillean on Monday, Sgurr Dearg on Tuesday, Sgurr nan Fheadain on Wednesday and a walk up to the Storr on Thursday.


Tim’s shots and comments on his facebook page give a good flavour of the week and he has kindly opened them up for anyone here to view. Thanks Tim.

Day 1:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.309819542395132.70986.100001012669249&type=3&l=6e39b84e97

Day 2:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.310482905662129.71098.100001012669249&type=3&l=978d679b51

Day 3:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.311158158927937.71191.100001012669249&type=3&l=7adc16064a

Day 4:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.311722612204825.71277.100001012669249&type=1&l=6c8157c9ad

Day 5:

Full-on winter is back. January 16th

16/01/12

The Black Cuillin tops have been shrouded in mist for 3 days with mostly black rocks and just a few old patches of snow showing below. I opted for the Tourist Route on Gillean today expecting to be on dry rock to the summit so it was quite a surprise to find full-on winter above 700m.

The old snow was rock hard and gave perfect crampon & axe practice for Tim & Paul for the final 25 minute rise to the South-east Ridge.

Practicing axe & crampon work

Great snow stomping

On the crest we found a mix of verglass, hoar, old snows and really good thin “instant neve”. The bitter wind was gusting pretty fiercely from very low down but fortunately was no worse on the crest; the harshest bit was a face full of hoar crystals if I tried to look back to see how the guys climbing below were doing.

 Ow that hurts!


The crux corners just before the narrow finale were the only place we did a 20m pitch.

Tim on the crux corners


I’ve given this route a winter grade of II in the guidebook but today did make me wonder how far off III it might be, particularly for anyone unfamiliar with the easiest line.

On a descending section of the final narrows


The top of Gillean is almost always a windless haven and so it proved again today. My theory is that the winds bounce off the steep walls encircling it. So we enjoyed a peaceful lunch celebration on top before opting to retrace our tracks rather than heading down the West ridge.

Tim makes it to Gillean, a 10-year ambition come true.


We abseiled from the same sling I’d left in December which was a first for Tim and first time since school-days for Paul; they coped admirably despite being unable to hear much above the wind.

Paul reaching the foot of the abseil


All in all another cracking day in the office.

Broad Gully. January 6th

06/01/12

Chris was back again after his first taste of the Cuillin in November, this time for an introduction to the white stuff. Despite the rain being heavier than the Beeb predicted we had a good day on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir.

Enjoying the dry approach

We were helped by a dry start and then a fine set of tracks left yesterday by, at a guess, Sgurr a’ Bhasteir officianado Mr Beads. These led us not only to our objective but right up into it and a handy dry cave in which to kit up.

Our surprise shelter

Broad Gully is about 600ft long and gives a great way to approach the NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir and holds snow for most of the winter. There are some great icy alternatives on either side that form readily, all in the lower grades and all put up by Beads with a variety of partners.

 Looking up…..

…and looking down

On hitting the ridge the weather had deteriated to a tropical rain storm so it was time for a sharp exit with some ice axe breaking instruction on a perfect slope that dropped us straight down to the lochain in Coire a’ Bhasteir.

Far too much fun being had in this serious winter mountaineering game!

Southern Comfort (on ice) IV,5 18th December

19/12/11

The fine spell is breaking down at last so I’m very glad to have managed another long standing project yesterday.

 Dawn reflections in Coire Lagan

The best ice appears to have all formed on south facing slopes so we headed into Coire Lagan where I knew of a few possibilities. Things were thinner than I expected but then a glimpse of grey ice appeared high above South Buttress and reminded me of a line I’d seen back in 1999. We carried on far enough to confirm that the bounding gully did indeed hold continuous ice before heading up.

The first 2 main pitches; we approached slightly from the right. The crux was at top of the xmas-tree shaped piece of ice half-way up what is visible.

1st Main ice pitch

There aren’t any photos of the crux steep step because I was focussed a bit too much on not falling off. Things relaxed a bit more above with a superb hidden pitch appearing 50m above.

 The hidden bonus pitch.

We even had a screw belay above here.

After 5 long pitches we reached the fine narrow ridge that links up to the summit of Sgurr Dearg still 250m above us. This slowed us & entertained us considerably but finally we topped out just 100m from the In Pinn.

Views appear for the top of our new route.

Matthew Au Cheval on the finishing ridge

 Looking out to the Ruadh.

Pinn rimed up.

I’ve opted for Southern Comfort as a name to honour the unusual conditions where south faces are offering better climbing than the norht faces.


White Lies, new line in ice paradise, 15th December

15/12/11

Firstly I should let anyone interested in doing a Winter Traverse “the holy grail of Scottish Winter routes” know that it is pretty damn good condition and the forecast ahead is good.

Looking at the back of Am Basteir today

I’m not offering but just letting folk know. I’ve got lots of projects to go for in conditions like these and today was a good start-

I followed my own advice from Monday’s Blog and went to climb the amazing looking ice on the south face of Gillean today. We did a new route that takes a line of ice right of the existing route and have called it White Lies; grade IV,5. It was 280m long so the descent was largely done in the dark.

My Skye mates Beads & Ben were great cpompany; we all shared the task of breaking trail, were all blown away with the views & all of us got plenty of time on the sharp end.

It’s great when a plan comes together!

Coir’ a’ Bhasteir at its best

Basteir Tooth looking awesome.

 Ben studying possibilities; we took the main line of ice visible here but…

….this is the ice arena that greeted us when we could see the whole south face of Gillean

Ben belays Beads on pitch one; our line lies up right. The main line is White Dreams, 275 m IV,5 (2000)

Beads on the steep top step high on pitch one.

Ben’s Corner, pitch 3. This was a lot steeper than it looked with the ice fairly rubbish. Beads & I had to climb the vertical thicker ice to Ben’s left because of a big hole that appeared.

A happy Ben as Beads leads pitch 4; first time placements all the way.

Final pitch looking down the steep finish


Ben on the finishing swings


Psych!


Good to be back & great conditions 12 December 2011

13/12/11

A fortnight of freeze thaw conditions, with a few mental storms thrown in, has left some great climbing. Firstly a teaser- The Smear, V, which has porbably not had a second ascent since 1979, has a good start going as the pic below shows.

The Smear (V, 1979) lies below the 2nd Top of Mhadaidh.

I climbed directly up the broad West Face of Bruach na Frithe from Tairnilear which gave over 2000ft on snow.

I took a grade II line fairly directly to the summit of Bruach na Frithe on the left.

The face appears fairly featureless from below but the huge scale soon threw up route choices and plenty to concentrate the brain.

A crunchy start then short mixed band soon became well consolidated snow with accumulations of powder that never became more than a few inches in depth (so no avalanche worries). In the top 600ft (200m) I was able to take my pick of really beautiful solid steps of ice.

With calves burning it was good to finally top out a few minutes from the summit. There was a good narrow line of well consolidated neve running pretty much continuously with a complete covering of thinner snow filling in the gaps.

The wind sculpted ridge of neve.

Looking southwards these conditions appeared to be pretty uniform.

Good covering across the tops of Bidean Druim nan Ramh, 2700ft

Route possibilities were everywhere but the best looking option was White Dreams. This huge route takes a direct line up the south face of Sgurr nan Gillean from Lota Corrie and hasn’t received a second ascent.

The ice on White Dreams (IV) can clearly be seen splitting the South Face.

I carried on past Bruach na Frithe to Bealach na Lice for a close look at the north face of Am Basteir and the Bhasteir faces of Pinnacle Ridge. Although not as snowy as I’ve often seen it I’d guess the quality of ice & neve will make almost any route on these faces a good option just now. There’s a couple of better known exceptions but they could be good after todays storms.

 HDQ (VIII) looking black on Am Bastier

Bhasteir faces of 4th & 5th Pinnacles; Gingini Chimney is currently incomplete but close- takes the incomplete line low on 5th Pinnacle with Forked Chimney (IV) the dark gash to its left.

The descent down Fionn Choire was one of the easiest under foot I’ve ever had and the next strorm was just building nicely as I got back.
Everything is going to look a lot whiter when things calm down on Thursday. There’ll probably be deep drifts on lee slopes to watch out for but plenty to go for. White Dreams should be getting well scoured and my choice of approach is likely to be the NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir and descending from Bealach na Lice.

If you haven’t got your guidebook yet I’ve got a stock you can collect as you arrive or get sent out to you. Check the website

Mountaineering magic-way more fun than xmas shopping!

06/12/11

Matts Report

I was out on the hill with Beads again today. We had some great weather and managed to climb a new route on the North face of Sgurr a Bhasteir-250 metres of grade II climbing. It made a lovely approach to the North-East ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir which gave us another 350 metres of  good ridge climbing. It was a great day out with some phenomenal views to the Outer Hebrides and the mainland, both of which were full of snow covered hills as far as the eye could see.

Dawn light on the Northern end of Skye

Beads leading on the new route

Glamaig and the mainland

The North-East ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir (grade I)

The Third Pinnacle, Knights Peak and Sgurr nan Gillean

Heading towards the main ridge

Snowy Skye

05/12/11

Matts Report

I was out with Beads yesterday on Meall Odhar (satellite peak of Sgurr a Bhasteir) we found a nice bit of easy climbing on the side of the hill and enjoyed some magnificent views of mountains, sea and snow! It started snowing at sea level last night and there is a good covering now. The hills themselves will be pretty swamped with powder and there is the beginnings of some good ice. I have taken a few photos of the view from my house-apologies for the quality but my mobile phone has my only working camera just now.

View from Sconser towards Raasay

Glamaig from Sconser

Excellent Winter Traverse Video

16/11/11

Winter bivvy

Many thanks to Simon Richardson and his fantastic winter climbing site Scottish Winter. com for bringing a well composed 18 minute Cuillin video to my attention. You can read Simon’s comments and fim-maker Iain Young’s comments about the Traverse here or click direct on the video The Cuillin Ridge- A Winter’s Traverse

Bring it on!

Ben Nevis News

22/03/11

Dispatch received from Mike who is working out of the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis. The warm conditions have left gaps in some of the classic ice routes and Point 5 gully sounds as though it is thin. The skies have started to clear so hopefully that will stay the same overnight for a good frost and lead to better conditions over the coming days. Mike was on Ledge route with Frank today.

Frank with Tower Ridge, Observatory Buttress and NE Buttress in the background.

Full Skye Winter Experience on Thearlaich; 14th March

14/03/11

After a week of heavy snowfall and strong winds it was time for Matt and me to find out what had been given to us by the gods of winter climbing. Deep drifts were a feature but we stuck to our guns and aimed for  the first winter ascent of Gully E on Sgurr Thearlaich near the top of the Great Stone Shoot. This is thought to be the line taken by Charles Pilkington’s party on the first ascent in 1887.

A Dachstein Mitt day

Matt with the In Pinn behind.

On finally reaching the climb the weather gods decided that another hour or so of blizzarding would give us more of a challenge. While I froze slowly Matt excavated good protection and dived out of the spindift avalanches to belay on the left edge. I continued by the buttress and avoided returning to the gully for as long as possible but was finally forced back in. Swimming up steep powder snow for the next 20m was more like climbing on Ben Nevis than the usual Cuillin experience but I finally reached the crest of the Ridge as the sun came out once more. Overall the route we followed was probably grade III,4.

The blizzard kicks in as Matt reaches the crux.

And now enjoying his belay jacket to the full!

Deep powder at the top of Gully E

Mike rigging the abseil with the sun coming back onto Loch Brittle way below

We didn’t follow in Pilkington’s steps to the summit, opting instead for a long abseil back to the Stone Shoot and our real reward- a thousand foot bumslide back to the corrie below where hot afternoon sun reflected off the snow and the vistas out to the Hebrides were of the usual astounding high quality.

From L-R Sgurr Mhicchoinnich, Thearlaich and moon above Sgurr Alasdair. Our bumslide tracks can be seen in the Stone Shoot.

Sublime lighting over Loch Lagan looking out to the Outer Hebrides

Snow Fun on Ghreadaidh!

03/03/11

Matt’s Report, Thurs 3 March

I was out with Andy today, climbing the Eag Dubh (Black Notch) on Sgurr a Ghreadaidh. The warmer weather has made the snow contract in the gullies, leaving ridge like features to climb up. As the snow is up to ten feet deep in places it makes the snow ridges feel quite exposed, which is an unusual feeling when you are in the depths of a Skye gully! The ridge is a good mixture of ice, snow and rock at the moment, giving a very alpine feel to the crest. There is still a fantastic depth of snow in An Dorus, giving a simple step down into the gap instead of the usual steep scramble.

Approaching the Eag Dubh

Andy adopting unorthodox gully climbing tactics

And more conventional tactics higher up

Very good snow-ice in Thuilm Right-Hand 600 ft, grade II. Sun 27 Feb.

27/02/11

We climbed the right hand of the obvious gullies leading to the summit today.

MikeA sharp approach from the Fairy Pools up steep grass, scree then through the defending rock band led us to the terrace that splits the upper & lower sections of these obvious fault lines in 2 hours. Once reached the old snow was in superb condition and gave 200m of easy but physical climbing on the front points of our crampons. We moved together throughout but took breaks for photos and calves to recover!

The route has superb character becoming increasingly enclosed……

….before emerging 100m from the summit

Views of the Ridge and out to the Hebrides weren’t too shoddy either…

Pinnacle Ridge Sat 26 March; testing despite the thaw.

26/02/11

Great weather at the end of a poor week. Chris Duckett and I did Pinnacle Ridge. Put crampons on half-way up 3rd pinnacle, 2 abseils from top of there then 3 pitches onto Knight’s peak, good snow for downclimbing then 4 more pitches up to the summit of Gillean. A couple of heavy snow showers added a wintry feel to what had started as a spring-like day. 9 hours with little break. Hopefully more wintry still tomorrow after a clear-sky night. Off to look for northern lights,

mike