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!




Climbing in the Valle d’Aosta, Italy

For the second half of my trip to the Alps, Tom and I found ourselves on the other side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel, in the stunning sun trap that is the Valle d’Aosta.  Whilst it is a beautiful valley, it wasn’t quite our intended plan from the outset…

Having met up with Tom, who had flown out to meet me, we started to hatch plans to stay within the Chamonix valley, and to focus on long mixed alpine routes up high, but a tricky combination of high freezing levels, Foehn winds,  lack of useful up-to-date conditions information, hut closures and shortened lift opening hours seemed to curtail our plans.  The final plan was to head up and climb the Swiss Route on Les Courtes, but on waking up and seeing that the freezing levels had shot up over night, and coupled with the forecasted strong sunshine, we both knew that there were too many factors against us, and that the descent from Les Courtes would have been too dangerous.  Later reports indicated that the route in fact wasn’t in great condition, confirming our thoughts.  All this was enough to see us leaving the higher mountains behind, and heading to the town of Arnad, in Italy.  Flexibility is key!

Whilst not exactly remote or serious, the climbing on the sweeping Gneiss slabs of Arnad were nothing short of excellent, with plenty of technical and varied climbing on 400-500m equipped routes, giving everything from thin and balancey moves, requiring precise footwork and a cool head through to the odd strenuous and thuggy layback or corner, which required more of a grunt.

With a wave of wet weather sweeping its way across the whole of the Alps last Wednesday, we ended up with a four day window, in which we climbed Lo Dzerby, La Spigolo, Toppo Pazzo, Diedro Bianco, Diretta Banano and Diedro Jaccod.

It’s worth noting that the crag does get very busy during the weekends, but we had it pretty much to ourselves midweek. A useful guidebook for the area, particularly for those just visiting for a short stint, is the Plaisir Sud guidebook by Filidor.  The nearby town of Arnad is very convenient for most essentials, with the larger town of Aosta not too far away.