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Guiding the Skye Munros

Over the past couple of weeks, Scott and I have been on the Isle of Skye, running a couple of Skye Munro weeks. We’ve been running these 4 day courses for a number of years in collaboration with Steven Fallon Mountain Guiding, with the aim being to summit all 11 Munros that lie along the spectacularly jagged crest of the main Black Cuillin Ridge.  The majority of these 11 Munros require very careful route finding (particularly in the mist) and involve technical scrambling, sometimes across very exposed terrain. The In Pinn and Sgurr nan Gillean also require a short abseil in order to descend safely.

Guiding Skye Munros

Raring to go!

For the first week, we were joined by Richard, Simon, Craig, Colin, David, Kevin, Stuart and John. As ever in the Scottish Highlands, the weather has a huge influence on the itinerary, and so with a good forecast for the first day, we decided to make the most of it, and tackle Sgurr Mhic Coinnich, the Inaccessible Pinnacle and Sgurr na Banachdich, which is one of the more challenging days, however, with dry rock underfoot and light winds, the day posed no problems for the team. That said, I think many were quite relived to get the In Pinn ‘out of the way’ early on! We stayed at the southern end of the Cuillins for day two, and took in Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Mor and Sgurr Alasdair. This day, whilst technically easier than the first, still involves plenty of interesting scrambling and complex terrain. The descent via the Great Stone Chute ensured that the team were fully focused until safely down in Coire Lagan. Again, with a better forecast for the third day, we took in the northern three Munros, Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Bastier and the easier Bruach na Frithe, before a shorter final day saw the team completing their 11 Munros by summiting Sgurr a’Mhadaidh and Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh. Despite moody skies, the rains didn’t materialise until we were down.

 

Guiding Skye Munros

Sgurr Mhic Coinnich

 

Guiding Skye Munros

Dave enjoying the In Pinn

 

Guiding Skye Munros

Sgurr na Banachdich

 

Guide Skye Munros

The Window, Sgurr nan Gillean

 

Guide Skye Munros

Sgurr nan Gillean

 

Guide Skye Munros

Am Bastier

 

Guide Skye Munros

Bruach na Frithe

 

Guide Skye Munros

On Saturday, Scott and I were back on the northern three Munros, this time with a smaller team (Stephen, Stuart, James, Diane, Kenny and Brian), who had attempted these Munros last September, but were repelled by strong winds and driving rain. This time round, the weather proved to be much kinder, although, unfortunately, the low clouds meant that the views from each of the summits were identical. You can’t have it all!

Guide Skye Munros

Am Bastier

 

Guide Skye Munros

Bruach na Frithe

 

After a day off, we were joined by Jamie, Jonny, Jo, Gary, Colin, Darren, Mark and Paul. With a slight deterioration in the weather forecasts from the previous week, and in particular, strong winds for the first day, we opted for Sgurr a’Mhadaidh and Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh. The ascent of both Munros from An Dorus is quite short and not too technical, so even with strong gusts, they can be tackled safely. As we descended back into Glen Brittle, we emerged out of the clouds and into clear skies and sunshine, lifting everyone’s spirits. The clouds lingering over the Cuillins whereas it being clear in the glens seemed to be a theme for the rest of the week. For the second day, we tackled the southern three Munros, before completing the remaining summits over the following two days.  The team did fantastically well, particularly considering the less than ideal conditions.

It’s been a very successful couple of weeks on Skye. We’ve got a number of guided teams up there over the forthcoming weeks. We will also be running three more of these Cuillins Munros Courses in September, on which there are still a couple of spaces.

Guide Skye Munros

Sgurr a’Mhadaidh

 

Guide Skye Munros

Clear over Loch Brittle

 

Guide Skye Munros

Sgurr nan Gillean

 

Am Basteir and Basteir’s Tooth

 

Guide Skye Munros

Bruach na Frithe

 

Guide Skye Munros

Clouds swirling around the northern Munros

Guide Skye Munros

Raeburn’s Arete and North East Buttress

I was back out on Ben Nevis today, this time with Andy and his brother Dave. Both have many years of winter climbing under their belts, but as yet no summer rock climbing experience. Today we changed that by climbing the brilliant Raeburn’s Arete (AKA the sit down start to North East Buttress) on Ben Nevis. This fine route gives five long pitches of good quality climbing on rough rock, before reaching the First Platform. Both Andy and Dave adapted well to smearing and using their fingers. Whilst on the route, we were in and out of the sun, but even in the shade, it felt very pleasant, and probably quite a contrast to what Andy and Dave normally experience when winter climbing up here!

From the First Platform, we swapped rock shoes for big boots and continued up North East Buttress, which was largely snow free, aside from a small patch at the foot of the 40 Foot Corner and just before the final exit groove.

It was amazingly quiet on the north side of the mountain today. We saw one team climbing on Tower Ridge, and a few folk hanging outside the CIC Hut, but I’m not sure what they ended up doing.

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

's Arete and North East Buttress

Aonach Eagach & Tower Ridge

We’re enjoying an amazing spell of good weather in the Scottish Highlands at the moment, with plenty of blue skies and sunshine. For those after adventures in the mountains, it’s definitely a case of making hay whilst the sun is shining!

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Yesterday, I was out with Heather, who was over from Australia, visiting her motherland. She was keen to sample a classic mountaineering day in Glencoe, and with such good weather, we decided to traverse the Aonach Eagach, one of the finest ridge traverses on the mainland. It proved to be a social day, with a number of other instructors choosing the same objective. Great minds and all that… Despite everyone setting off at more or less the same time, there were no hold ups, and everyone made steady progresses over the ridge. For Heather, it was her first proper taste of scrambling, which she took well within her stride, and enjoyed the movement and exposure.

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Guiding the Aonach Eagach

Today, I was out with Andrew and Anne on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. The rock was dry throughout, although there were a couple of patches of firm snow, particularly at the end of the Eastern Traverse, up the Fallen Block Chimney and on the exit scoop, which could be largely avoided by steep scrambling immediately to the left of the snow. Andrew and Anna flew up the route, without much hesitation, and we were soon basking in the sunshine on the summit plateau. Today, I was working for Atlas Mountaineering.

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Guiding Tower Ridge

Pleasant day on Curved Ridge, Glencoe

For Gareth, Mike and Matt’s final day, having exhausted the supply of winter climbs currently in good condition (which will change on Monday thankfully), we decided to take a different, but still completely relevant tact, and climbed a non-wintry Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor instead.

Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe

Buachaille Etive Mor poking out above the cloud inversion

The day started with a cloud inversion, and it wasn’t long after leaving the car that we popped out of the clouds and were treated to brilliant views of the surrounding peaks.

Panorama Glencoe

Stunning views above the clouds

 

Curved Ridge & North Buttress

Looking up at the NE Face of Buachaille Etive Mor

 

Views to Ben Nevis from Glencoe

Clear views to the north

The trio led themselves up the route, moving together for much of it and making use of quick, yet effective belays. As rock climbers, they adapted quickly to the smoother and more efficient style of moving, but were fully aware of the limitations and safety considerations of this style of climbing.

Enjoying Curved Ridge

Mike and Gareth enjoying the ridge

 

Leading the team on Curved Ridge

Matt in the lead

With plenty of time in hand, we took the exposed yet well protected traversing path above Rannoch Wall, and continued up on to Crowberry Tower, which clearly doesn’t see as much traffic as Curved Ridge, despite being similar in difficulty and style. One short descent and ascent later saw the team on the summit of Stob Dearg, just as the clouds closed in.

Crowberry Tower

On the summit of Crowberry Tower

Better than expected: Aonach Mor

If the Met Office’s forecast had been anything to go by today, we would have been in for a wet one, and whilst it wasn’t exactly brilliant today, it was still much drier than expected.

With a rise in the temperature and extensive cloud cover, Gareth, Mike, Matt and I decided to head round to the eastern flanks of the Nid Ridge on Aonach Mor to have a more skills and techniques based day, which worked well, as we were sheltered from the westerly winds for much of the day, and probably stayed drier as a result. We kicked the day off by focusing on some movement, before finding a good blob of ice to look at placing ice screws, ice screw belays and building abalakov threads.

Stomper Belay

Stomper Belay

After a bite to eat, we then looked at a number of snow belays and anchors before heading down. We didn’t see another soul up there all day, but then again, we couldn’t really see much.

Descending off the Nid Ridge

Descending off the Nid Ridge

NC (Not Complete) Gully, Stob Coire Nan Lochan

First things first, Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you all enjoyed yourselves whatever you did. Fortunately not working on the 1st meant a nice night out with friends to see the New Year in.

No. 3 Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis

No. 3 Gully Buttress was climbed by a few teams.

I was back to work yesterday, and out with Darren and Jackie, who were looking to develop their winter mountaineering skills with a trip up Mont Blanc on the cards for later in the year. With a favourable forecast, we decided to head up to Coire na Ciste on Ben Nevis, where we focused on movement skills, before making an ascent of No. 3 Gully, which was in very friendly condition, with no cornice at the top. We then made our way over the plateau and down No. 4 Gully, which again lacked a cornice.

In No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

In No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

Good conditions in No. 3 Gully

No. 3 Gully, Ben Nevis

At the top of No. 3 Gully

Steve was also out working for West Coast Mountain Guides. He was out with Kieran and Richard, they had a productive day on the other side of Tower Ridge, in Tower Gully.

Many folk out yesterday, but unfortunately it’s rather slim pickings at the moment with the lack of snow and ice. Teams on Tower Gully, Tower Ridge, Gardyloo Gully (reported to be about grade IV and requires ice screws at the moment), No. 2 Gully, No. 3 Gully Buttress, one team backed off a very lean Thompson’s Route, Hobgoblin and multiple teams in No 3 Gully.

Gardylook Gully, Ben Nevis

Gardyloo Gully looking sporting, and certainly NOT grade II (thanks to Andy Wyatt for the photo)

Today, I was out with Gareth, Mike and Matt for the start of their Winter Mountaineering Course. With a slightly less than ideal forecast, but with another thaw due for later in the week, we decided to go for something in Glencoe, as nothing there (apart from Board Gully) is likely to survive another thaw.  It turns out that we may already have been one or two days late, but after recapping on movement skills, and bringing some these movement drills and skills to their conscientiousness, rather than doing things without realising, we made for NC Gully, where the effects of the thaw are making themselves known. The lads led where suitable, but I took over for the more exposed rocky steps.  We finished off by descending Broad Gully, which is complete. Some more unsettled weather next week, which fingers crossed, brings with it some well needed snow.

Glencoe Conditions

A rather black Stob Coire nan Lochan

Ptarmigan

White ptarmigan looking rather out of place.

NC Gully, Glencoe

Matt nearer the top of NC Gully

NC Gully, Glencoe

Mike and Gareth near the top of NC Gully

Scott was out with Darren and Jackie, they enjoyed a productive day covering further winter mountaineering skills around the Nid area of Aonach Mor. Good luck with Mont Blanc you two!

Where the snow gone? Ledge Route, Ben Nevis

On walking up to the north face of Ben Nevis this cold, crisp morning, I was quite amazed at how much snow had disappeared over the past few days, but then again, we’ve had a stable high pressure system, which has meant clear nights and frosty conditions in the glens, but quite warm temperatures on the summits (above freezing continuously since Thursday night) .  This has led to much of the unconsolidated snow being lost through sublimation.

Coire na Ciste, Ben Nevis

Coire na Ciste, Ben Nevis

Black on the North Face of Ben Nevis

Black, black, black

The Curtain, Ben Nevis

At least The Curtain is forming!

I went up there with Tony and Kristy, to climb Ben Nevis via the brilliant Ledge Route.  For Kristy, it was her first time in crampons, which were needed certainly to get up the first few meters of No. 5 Gully, and were useful in gaining the ledge above the Curtain and for ascending the leftward trending gully above.  Once on Ledge Route proper though, it was mostly dry, bare rock all the way, so we ditched our crampons, and scrambled our way up.  They both did very well, but in particular Kristy, from whom this was the first taste of mountaineering.  We topped out in glorious sunshine, but to a very dry plateau, almost devoid of all snow.

Guide Ledge Route

Tony and Kristy just about to start Ledge Route

Happy couple top of Ledge Route

Happy couple on Carn Dearg

The temperature on the summits has just dropped below freezing, which is good news, as we are due some snow later in the week as we enter a slightly less settled week, with some gentle thaw/freeze cycles and a picking up on the winds.  It’s early days yet, and if Netweather.TV is anything to go by, early to mid December sounds quite promising, with another high pressure system in the pipeline for the middle chunk of the month. Fingers crossed!

Stunning day in the Highlands

Clear day over Loch Eil

Successes on the Skye Munros Course & Cuillin Traverse

The second half of May has been busy period, mostly in conjunction with some amazing weather in The Scottish Highlands.

Firstly, Guy and I ran another Skye Munros Course, with a team of four each, on behalf of Steve Fallon.  The aim of these courses is to complete all 11 of the Munros that lie on the main Cuillin Ridge over four days, as well as to arm the participants with core mountaineering skills that they can then transfer to their own adventures.

The weather forecast for the week was for mixed conditions, very different to the sunshine and dry weather of the previous week, but with a bit of juggling of days and the teams being thrown into the deep end by tackling the Inn Pinn on the first day, which they all coped brilliantly with, we enjoyed a hugely successful four days, and summited all eleven Munros.  Well done to the teams for braving the elements, particularly on the final day!  Hopefully they will be back to enjoy the Skye Cuillin, in the sunshine, which does happen, in the future.

Back in Lochaber, Kenny was out with Joe, who is in training for a trip to the Alps.  They had a successful day on North East Buttress on Ben Nevis.  North East Buttress is a fantastic route in summer conditions, as well as being one of the finest climbs of its grade in winter, and perfect preparation for bigger objectives in the Alps.

David & David had a day out with Scott, on the Aonach Eagach, in Glencoe, and a day out with Ian on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and the Inn Pinn on Skye.  They enjoyed two productive days, in great conditions, on two of the UK’s finest single day mountaineering routes.

Ian also guided Steve, Jack and Jeremy on Skye that week.  It was their first time on the Cuillin Ridge, so a great opportunity to sample a number of Munros in the best mountaineering playground in the UK, as well as pick up some essential mountaineering skills along the way. A complete Cuillin Ridge Traverse next time chaps?

Speaking of complete Cuillin Ridge Traverses, Scott successfully guided brothers Bob & Peter along the ridge.  Bob and Peter had tried a traverse in the past, but had been thwarted for a number of reasons, however, this time, things were different, and everything fell nicely into place, allowing Bob and Peter to successfully complete the traverse, with perfect weather from end to end.

Success on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

Success on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

Finally, Tom enjoyed an adventurous day out in Knoydart, an area not often visited when working.  He was out with Humphrey, who in the past, has completed all of the Munros, and is now working his way through the Corbetts.  Humphrey had chartered a boat which left at 8am from Mallaig, and so the pair were dropped off at the head of Loch Nevis, to tackle the remote Corbett, Ben Aden.  This mountain extremely rock and steep on all sides, and one of the hardest summits to reach in the whole of the UK, so the pair did well to reach the summit in good time, and made it down in plenty of time, for a boat pick-up at 5pm.

So, fingers crossed that there’s more good weather over the next month, which predications are suggesting will happen: Monthly weather forecast for the UK – Net Weather.

Cuillin Munros Course

Last week, Guy and I ran a Cuillin Munros Course on the Isle of Skye, something West Coast Mountain Guides have been delivering for a number of years on behalf of Steve Fallon.  The aims of the course are very straight forward: to summit the 11 Munros on the main Cuillin Ridge over 4 days.

With a near perfect weather forecast, and 7 enthusiastic and experienced hillgoers joining us for the course, it promised to be a great week.

We kicked things off with an ascent of the southern three Munros: Sgurr nan Eag, Sgurr Dubh Mor and the highest peak on the Isle of Skye, Sgurr Alisdair.  Whilst on the move, the group practised their scrambling skills, and made short work of the first couple of Munros.  With such good conditions, we also took in the summit of Sgurr Dubh na Da Bheinn en route to Sgurr Alisdair.  The descent of the Great Stone Shoot proved to be the trickiest part of the day, and so with a bit of coaching, everyone’s technique improved as they gained the confidence required to tackle loose and awkward scree, of which there is plenty of on the Cuillin.

On Wednesday, we tackled Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, The Inn Pinn and Sgurr na Banachdich.  There is a rather subtle line of reasonable sized rocks in amongst the loose An Stac screes that we snuck our way up, before we summited Sgurr Mhic Choinnich via it’s west ridge.  From here, we retraced our steps and ascended The Brown Ramp, which cuts beneath An Stac to gain the foot of one of the highlights of the ridge, The Inn Pinn.  The East Ridge of The Inn Pinn, an awesomely exposed but never difficult climb, was pleasantly quiet.  For many of the group, this was their first experience of pitched climbing, and what a great place for it!

Looking north along the Cuillin Ridge

Looking north along the Cuillin Ridge

With slightly tired legs, we opted for a shorter day on Thursday, well, it’s meant to be a shorter day, but with such good weather, basking in the sunshine on both the summits of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh and Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh seemed to be of high priority, and so we still had a full day, although about half of it was spent stationary!

For our final day, there was nothing for it, but to finish off the Munros on the Cuillin, by heading into Choire a’Bhasteir to tackle Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir and Bruach na Frithe.  There was still quite a bit of snow lying in Choire a’Bhasteir, so having ice axes to hand proved reassuring.  From the Bealach, Guy and his team headed east to ascend the brilliant West Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, whilst I took my team up Am Basteir, before swapping routes.   Our final leg took us over to our final Munro, Bruach na Frithe and then back via Fionn Choire.

Everyone did fantastically well, and it was great to see everyone’s skills and confidence grow throughout the week. Make sure that you keep those developing mountaineering skills up!

Guy and I will be starting another Cuillin Munros Course tomorrow, fingers crossed for such good conditions!

Guiding on Skye

Finally, it feels like summer has arrived!  On the Isle of Skye, it only really materialised this afternoon, but that was enough to get excited about!  I’ve been guiding on Skye this past week, the first half of the week for Moran Mountain, and today a day of private guiding with Les.  Actually, thinking back to Monday, we didn’t visit Skye at all, with a fairly cold and wild day, Mark, Sinclair, Nathan, Martin and myself decided to stay on the mainland and visit the brilliant Raven’s Crag, near Gairloch.

In amongst the squalls and fresh winds, we managed to get a couple of routes climbed and looked at personal abseiling and belays in preparation for the following day, where we ventured to Skye, and battled our way up through hail showers to the Inn Pinn, which was pleasantly sheltered from the worst of the SW winds, and despite there still being plenty of snow lying on the ridge, the East Ridge of the Inn Pinn was ok, I just had to clear a bit of graupel from some of the hand holds.

Wednesday saw us returning to Skye (from Lochcarron).  With another wild forecast and tired legs from the previous day, we decided to stay low, and climbed the easy, but sustained Spur on Sgurr an Fheadian.  This route finishes on the summit of Sgurr an Fheadian, and coupled with a quick descent down scree slopes into Coir a’Mheadaidh makes it a great choice for windy/wet/short days.  We finished the day off with a quick drink in the Sligachan Hotel, a must for any mountaineering trip to Skye!  Unsurprisingly, it was quite busy in there, with plenty of folk taking shelter from the rain.

I was back on Skye today, this time with Les, who has had the Inn Pinn on his radar for the past ten years.  We set off in amongst a few showers, but restrained from donning waterproofs, and sure enough, it paid off, as the rain soon cleared.  Quite a bit of snow had been washed away since Tuesday, and we were able to make our way to the Inn Pinn without the need for an axe.  The rock on the East Ridge was dry, and Les made quick work of the two pitches of moderate climbing, and we soon found ourselves back down again.  Another team were also enjoying the dry rock whilst making an ascent of South Crack.  The skies cleared on our descent to remind us both that Skye really is one of the best spots in the world.

I’m back in Lochaber this weekend for a couple of days of mountaineering, before heading back to Skye next week to run a Munros course.  The weather forecast is looking very promising!