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Busy June on Skye & in Lochaber

We’ve enjoyed a busy June, with a number of teams out and about, both on the Isle of Skye and in and around Lochaber. Here’s a quick summary of what’s been going on…

Despite a rather damp and windy day at the back end of May, Michael and I still enjoyed ourselves on a traverse of The Cobbler, one of the finest Corbetts in the Highlands. We took the classic route, ascending the SE Ridge of the South Peak, abseiled the Original Route, wandered over to the Central Peak where we climbed The Arete before snaking our way down the Doorway Route, before threading the needle and gaining easier ground. To complete the traverse, we also bagged the North Peak too.

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

Cobbler Traverse Guide

 

Ian was out guiding Steven at the beginning of June. They had a couple of brilliant days on Skye, where they tackled the Dubh Ridge on Sgurr Dubh Beag and Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr nan Gillean. The former is often said to be the best easy climb on Skye and a contender for the best easy climb in Britain. The latter is often compared to Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis for it’s scale and challenge.

Scott was out with Peter and Martin. Over four days, they reached the summit of all 11 of the Munros that lie along the main Cuillin Ridge. One of the challenges of these 4 day courses is picking the right route for the right day, particularly with a mixed forecast, but Scott and the team played their cards perfectly and made the most of the first couple of dry days, leaving them with the slightly easier Munros for when the conditions turned damp.

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Skye Guide

Meanwhile, Steve was out with John, Mark, Jacqueline and Donald. They had two contrasting days, with blue skies and dry rock for the Inaccessible Pinnacle, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and a descent of Bomb Ally on their first day and a rather wet ascent of Bruach na Frithe on the second day. It doesn’t matter what the weather does on Skye, there are always great adventures to be had!

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Cuillin Guide

Both Caspar and Ian were then out guiding the In Pinn. Ian was out with Yael and Andrew, who were over from Germany, Caspar was out with Manus. Caspar and Manus then went on to complete the Laggan Round ( in reverse, which considering the conditions, was a sterling effort on both of their parts.

Steve was then back out out for us, this time guiding John in the Cuillins, Skye. For them, the weather improved throughout the day and they made the most of it by climbing Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr Nan Gillean. They continued down the West Ridge before tackling Am Basteir and descending the atmospheric King’s Cave Chimney.

Lena returned again this year to the Highlands, and was out with Scott again. They made their way up Coire Leis and up to the summit of Ben Nevis. This was a step up from what Lena had done in the past, and she took it easily within her stride. Curved Ridge or Ledge Route next Lena?

Finally, this weekend gone, Dave was out with Phil. Phil, who is originally from Utah, had two goals in mind. Firstly to reach the summit of Ben Nevis and another Munro, and secondly, to spend a day on a classic scramble and a day on a classic rock climb.  Dave and Phil achieved both, by climbing Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis on day one, and the classic Agag’s Groove on Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe) on day two.

Tower Ridge Guide

Tower Ridge Guide

Glencoe Guide

Glencoe Guide

Glencoe Guide

 

 

 

 

 

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

Guiding The Greater Cuillin Ridge Traverse, Skye

Earlier this month, Ian Craigie, whilst working for West Coast Mountain Guides, achieved a possible first, by guiding, non-stop, The Greater Cuillin Ridge Traverse on the Isle of Skye.  This mammoth undertaking takes in the standard traverse of the Black Cuillin (from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean), before continuing over Sgurr Beag and Sgurr na h-Uamha, and dropping down into Glen Sligachan.  From here, the greater traverse reascends nearly 750m to reach the summit of Garbh-Bheinn, and finishes by tackling the brilliant Clach Glas – Bla bheinn traverse.  To say this is a big day out is somewhat of an understatement, as in total, it takes in 12 Munros, 20 miles of distance and approximately 4000m of ascent.  Initially, the plan was for a slightly more leisurely (but challenging and admirable none the less) 3 day Greater Traverse of the Cuillin, but it didn’t take long for a seed of a non-stop outing to germinate. Ian takes up the story…

Originally planning for a 3 day Greater Traverse of the Cuillin, I met Stu and Tommy, both keen fell runners, in the Sligachan bar on the Sunday evening to discuss plans for the coming week. The Greater Traverse, as far as I was aware, had not been guided in its entirety before, and with it being a fairly substantial undertaking, a good game plan would be key to its success.  As the plans developed, I mentioned how amazing, or if at all possible it would be to attempt it in one day, to which Stu and Tommy both raised their eyebrows and said “well, we had been thinking the same thing”…

A new plan was hatched. After a training day on Monday we met at the Sligachan Hotel at 0715 on Tuesday morning and drove round to Elgol to catch the 0900 speed boat into Loch Coruisk, which in my opinion is the finest way to start a traverse, greater or otherwise. Whilst whipping over Loch Scavaig, we could admire out entire objective, laid out in front of us in the most magnificent panorama. The boat dropped us off on a natural rock pier close to which seals were basking in the sunshine. Off we leapt, the boat instantly shot away. This is where the fun starts.

Setting off from Elgol to embark on a Greater Traverse of the Cuillin Ridge

Setting off from Elgol to embark on a Greater Traverse of the Cuillin Ridge

The planned itinerary and timings were reasonably vague, to maintain flexibility, but basically we hoped to complete the main ridge, summit to summit in 12 hours, thus arriving at Sgurr nan Gillian at around 11pm. This would then have us completing the easier and less complex section down to Glen Sligachan, through An Fraoch-choire and up to Garbh-bheinn in the darkness and hopefully then by the time the sun came up we would be arriving at the beginning of the magnificent Clach Glas traverse which leads on to the final peak, Bla Bheinn.

We made good progress up to the first peak on the ridge, Gars-bheinn, arriving at its summit at 1130. From here the view opened out and the ridge really showed its fangs; twelve unrelenting, awesome kilometres of jagged peaks and arêtes snaking through to the horizon.

Kept cool by the cloud cover

Kept cool by the cloud cover

We moved quickly but surely through the initial easier section of the ridge and arrived at the first Munro, Sgurr nan Eag just after midday. A quick drink and snack and we were away again. For us to achieve this in a day we had to move efficiently and look after our energy levels to avoid crashing out later on. So, lots of snacks, little and often, lots of water and moving at a good rhythm and pace that we would be able to sustain throughout the expedition was essential.

Heading over towards the infamous and notorious TD Gap we felt rain. As it grew heavier our hearts began to sink. Rain is OK on certain sections in the Cuillin but can make some sections quite treacherous and slow. Particularly bad are the slabs of Sgurr Thearlaich and the steep, polished, basalt rock climb known as the TD Gap which can be virtually unclimbable in wet conditions. So based on this turn of events we sneaked down into Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda to bypass the Gap and ascended Sgurr Alastair directly to reach its summit and the highest point on the Isle of Skye. To our relief the sun came out again and quickly dried everything off.  We were cool and refreshed, feeling good and excited to be moving more comfortably on the dry rock again. Steadily and surely we ticked off the peaks and summits and made good progress along the ridge.

On the Inn Pinn, Cuillin Ridge, Skye

On the Inn Pinn, Cuillin Ridge, Skye

 

Abseiling off the Inn Pinn

Abseiling off the Inn Pinn

 

Four Munros down, eight to go on the Greater Traverse.

Four Munros down, eight to go on the Greater Traverse.

 

Skipping across dry rock on the Cuillin Ridge

Skipping across dry rock on the Cuillin Ridge

We aimed to take in all the notable summits and Munros along the main ridge, but due to the complex and difficult nature of the terrain, although we weren’t moving at a great speed, there were times when it felt very physically and mentally draining. We had taken 3 full litres of water with us but as that started to run out and with no water on the ridge our mouths ran dry and we had to slow the pace down to avoid further dehydration. The end of the ridge still looked a long way off.

Making our way down off the fourth and final peak of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh the most wonderful sight befell us. A tiny patch of snow, only about one square meter in surface area, but it was enough! Wonderful, dense, crystallised snow melted quickly in the water remaining in our bottles. We drank greedily and then re-filled, taking what we felt was required to complete the last section of the main ridge before we would descend into the valley and would be able to refill.

It was 1900 and we had already had a long day. We had been moving for 9 hours, but the fresh water had invigorated us and we were feeling good as we tackled one of the finest but also one of the most complex and involved summits; Bidein Druim nan Ramh.
So after some amazingly exposed climbing to reach the summit and two abseils later we were back on more amenable ground.

From here we still had the three northern Munros on the main Cuillin Ridge to go. The setting sun spurred us on and we made good time over An Caisteal and up to the summit of Bruach na Frithe. It seemed rude not to watch the sun setting, so we dropped our packs and rested our legs for the first time since we had set out. Sandwiches were eaten and remarks at the beauty of it all were made. The softness of the light spilling over the greener northern end of the island was a powerful and refreshing contrast to the ground we had been on and our bodies and minds began to feel a little refreshed. As the warm orange glow turned grey, the wind grew cold and we knew it was time to move again.

The only trig point on the main Cuillin Ridge, Bruach na Frithe

The only trig point on the main Cuillin Ridge, Bruach na Frithe

Greater Traverse Cuillin Ridge 05.06.2016 09

Just after Am Bastier

Just after Am Bastier

After a quick detour to Am Basteir we began up Sgurr nan Gillean, excited to be approaching the end of the main ridge in good time, and well on schedule. We made the summit as the light disappeared, swiftly attached head torches and pressed on.

The window of Sgurr nan Gillean

The window of Sgurr nan Gillean

 

Completion of the main Cuillin Ridge Traverse

Completion of the main Cuillin Ridge Traverse

Before the descent into Glen Sligachan, there sits the lonely peak of Sgurr na h-Uamha that marks the geological finish of this section of our journey so we made an eerie scramble up through the darkness before descending back into the valley. Tommy’s feet had taken an absolute hammering by this point and he was fighting through a lot of pain so he decided that it wouldn’t be sensible for him to carry on to Bla Bhienn. So after a spooky walk through the misty moorland we arrived at the path and waved Tommy off as he made his way back to the campsite and a well-deserved bed. We kept going, relishing the soft ground, and the kilometres were eaten up as we were able to stride out for the first time in hours.

Before we knew it the sun started to rise again and we took our torches off at the top of Garbh-Bhienn. It was 0400 and we had been on the move, non-stop, for 18 hours.

Staring across towards Clach Glas, the steep sided and gnarled ridge that guards passage to our final peak, we began to realise that we were actually going to make it! The rope went on for the final time and the excitement of what we were about to accomplish drove our legs on and we moved swiftly and smoothly across the ridge, up to Clach Glas’ table top summit, down the other side and up the final crux chimney to reach easier ground and an eager jog to the trig point, cairn and our finish point… It was done. We had just completed the most magnificent and majestic mountaineering expedition in the UK. Our feet hurt and our legs ached and our minds were exhausted but we had made it. We sat for a while and looked across at the pinnacled skyline feeling relaxed, proud and very pleased with ourselves… And then we remembered we still had to walk down.

(19 hours summit to summit, sub 24 hours start to finish).

The Imposter on Clach Glas

The Imposter on Clach Glas

 

The end is in sight, starting up Bla Bheinn

The end is in sight, starting up Bla Bheinn

 

The final chimney of the Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn Traverse

The final chimney of the Clach Glas – Bla Bheinn Traverse

 

Stu on the summit of Bla Bheinn, having competed a non-stop traverse of the Greater Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

Stu on the summit of Bla Bheinn, having competed a non-stop traverse of the Greater Cuillin Ridge Traverse!

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.

Good ice in Green Gully, Ben Nevis

Early morning on the Ben.

Early morning on the Ben.

Well finally the weather settled down. It has left some great climbing conditions as well as skiing. Yesterday Ken was out with Peter, on Ben Nevis and they climbed Green Gully, which was in good condition along with a number of other routes.
Over the last few days the Curtain, Point Five, Vanishing Gully, Hadrian’s Wall to name just a few have all been getting climbed. Over on the East the climbing sounds good but hard going with all the snow that is about.

The Curtain looking good.

The Curtain looking good.

Peter enjoying Green Gully.

Peter enjoying Green Gully.