Crowded Cuillin Carparks :) 11 December
Icky & I were lucky enough to have completed a Traverse back in 2001 and, instead, fancied trying some of the ice we had spied in Coire Lagan last week. We invited Neil from Portree to join us for his first play with 2 technical ice axes.
Sadly the sun and thaw over last weekend had stripped this south-facing buttress right back to bare rock. Instead the North-west Ramp of Sgurr Sgumain looked a good option once more.
We put on the crampons from the lochan and headed up beautiful solid neve, mixing it with a few steps of ice for Neil to get used to some steeper manouvres. Normally I head out left to the foot of the ramp but today a direct approach pitch looked possible.
Heathcotes Gully lies directly above Neil’s head; the normal start to NW ramp lies out left.
Heathcote’s Gully is an 80m Moderate route that acts as an outflow for all the water pouring off this side of Sgumain that gains the NW Ramp route at half height. It has always looked unattractive in the past; in 1892 Heathcote described it as “steep with scanty footholds”. Today it was largely banked out with a couple of short ice steps. I found lovely solid placements in the first step but needed some clever footwork to reach the good ice in the second. I needn’t have bothered racking all the gear because the compact waterworn walls yeilded not a sausage. The belay above was little better; a well-equalised mix of warthog, bulldog, axes & 2 very shallow blades.
Fortunately the stance was good and Neil cruised up the steep sections with Icky close behind. I’m sure this feature has been climbed in winter before, probably unnoticed under a good bank-out, but will add a grade of II with a note about no rock gear to the SMC records.
Having climbed this route a few more times since the guidebook went to print I would suggest that grade I is a bit of a sandbag. The steepening was well banked out for Neil and I to move together but slabs above involve an unprotectable rising traverse, required delicacy and the position is daunting. Grade II is far more suitable.
Sgurr Sgumain (947m)
As we continued towards Alasdair the narrow crest and steep flanks ate into time and darkness wasn’t far away so we decided to make one long abseil to the safety of snow slopes below. Another first for Neil this and, as before, he coped admirably.
On the long walk out of Ghrunnda we were passed by the Traverse team of Guy Steven, Donald King, Kenny Grant & Duncan still romping along despite having been on their feet since half past one in the morning!