Tuesday 24 May 2011

Outdoors Magic Skye meet. May 14th - 21st 2011. Thursday & Friday.


Thursday saw the whole party back out together - with the intention of attempting the north end of the Cuillin Ridge and the Cuillin Munro summits of Sgurr Nan Gillean and Am Bastier.

The weather was due to be showery although not particularly windy as compared to the Wednesday when the whole ridge had been lashed by gales and rain - making it a place to be avoided.

In photo one, Rob, Ray, Sophia and Mike are pictured next to the Allt Dearg Bheag with the summits of (left to right) Sgurr Nan Gillean, Am Bastier and Sgurr A Bastier behind in the distance. Our route follows this stream in to Coire A Bastier.

On the walk in, we had a few heavy showers that drenched us all fairly and then, at the Bealach A Bastier, it started to clear. Iain decided to guide the party up the West Ridge of Gillean (a cracking moderate climb & scramble) and this is where the second photo was taken.

Firstly, a 20m climb - Tooth Chimney has to be dealt with. Once Iain had roped the party up this, easier scrambling ground took us to the foot of an exposed shoulder where the party needed to be roped again (photo 2). Once past this, we quickly arrived at the summit of the group's first Cuillin Munro of the day.

Photo three was taken at the summit of Sgurr Nan Gillean - with a fine view north west to the Sligachan Inn. The view towards Bla Bhein was unfortunately obscured by cloud on this occasion. By now, other parties were starting to appear on Gillean.

We had followed three guides with their clients in to the area, two had headed up to the classic scramble of Pinnacle Ridge and another party were ahead of us on the west ridge.

We could see parties climbing towards us from Pinnacle Ridge and a lot of people at the Bealach A Bastier. Knowing Tooth Chimney to be a bottleneck where queing is often necessary, Iain decided we had better get back to there reasonably soon.

Photo three shows Ray, Mike, Sophia & Rob at the head of the pitch in Tooth Chimney - all attached to a stacked abseil and ready to descend after Iain in order of name above.

Each person's belay device is attached to their harness via a sling & krab and allows security whilst giving a degree of freedom to move around. People cannot abseil whilst the rope is loaded and once down, the instructor can provide safety cover for each person descending from above. The climbing rope is doubled through a "tat" sling at the top of the pitch and once all clients have descended, the rope can be pulled through.

There are a number of roped climbs & abseils to be made on a Cuillin Ridge Traverse - regardless of whether or not you choose to do it from south to north or vice versa. Some of these can be avoided, some can not.

The unavoidable ones include the T/D Gap, (unless you ascend Sgurr Alasdair via the groove near the bad step which should also be roped) the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the traverse of Sgurr A Mhadaidh, the traverse of Bidean Druin Nam Ramh and the West Ridge of Sgurr Nan Gillean. For all other parts, roped abseils & climbs can be avoided - but if in doubt about either the conditions or your ability - get the rope out!

Once back at the Bealach a Bastier, we made a quick ascent of Am Bastier via the East Ridge. This is relatively simple grade two scramble from the bealach - apart from an eight foot high "bad step". Graded severe, this is not as hard as it looks - but it is quite polished and a slip could see you heading vertically either north or south for some considerable distance. Helmets & harnesses are a must and a short rope or 16 foot sling advisable with which to protect clients.

The summit successfully bagged, we returned to the bealach at 15:30 where we decided to call it a day. We descended under the buttresses of Pinnacle Ridge as a party had come up that way and Iain wanted to check out their route. Conclusion - unless you are going to the foot of the classic Cuillin scramble of Pinnacle Ridge, it's a rubbish way to get to the foot of the West Ridge of Gillean. Iain will be sticking to Coire A Bastier in future!


After an evening meal at the Old Inn in Carbost and a good night's sleep, we all set off at 08:00 on Friday with the intention of trying to continue the Cuillin ridge traverse from the Bealach Na Glaic Mhor to Bruach Na Frithe (another Munro).

We knew the forecast wouldn't be great, snow down to 750m, 1 - 3 degrees c at 900m and showers/ strong winds.

The first photo shows Ray & Mike standing in a hail covered car park at the head of Glen Brittle - with snow covered tops behind. We had just sat in the cars for 20 minutes waiting for the heavy hail showers to stop and watching and listening to the accompanying Lightning & thunder.

Because of the weather, Iain's plan for the day rapidly evolved and was downgraded from the aforementioned traverse to a walk up Bruach Na Frithe & return via Fionn Coire - and we would only top out if there was absolutely no risk of more thunder & lightning!

Photo two shows the party in Fionn Coire with a snow covered Sgurr A Bastier behind (left) Am Bastier and the tooth (centre) and Bruach na Frith (right).

There was a strong westerly blowing on the walk in to the Bealach A Mhaim and Iain felt we would be safest following the corrie floor up to the ridge - rather attempting the NW ridge of Bruach Na Frith where another party were quite clearly having a difficult time in the wind.

As we left the shelter of the upper part of the corrie, we began to get blasted by a recirculating wind which was picking up sheets of snow/hail and giving us all a fair pasting.

Iain was surpised by the depth of snow - over a foot in places. It was a 50/50 mix of hail & snow with the snow being at depth - suggesting it had fallen overnight.

It's quite a while since Iain has run a winter mountaineering day on the Cuillins - in May! 2006 was the last time. Apparently, snow on the Cuillin Ridge in May used to be very common. Good old global warming!

Photo four from Friday shows the team at the summit trig point of Bruach Na Frithe.

Originally, our plan for the day had been much more ambitious, but the weather had put paid to that - adding a different degree of excitement in it's place. It was a magical place in the snow!

We all knew that this was the last top of the week during our May 2011 Skye meet, but all of these Outdoors Magic members agreed that it had been a fantastic experience - despite all that the weather had thrown at us.

Finally, a view south along the ridge from Bruach Na Frithe to Bidean Druin Nam Ramh (centre) - our original planned route.

Iain has many shots of this section in summer garb - but none in winter rainment. It's a great section of ridge and it's always there for next time.

We were back at the vehicles just after 3pm and had a chance to tidy up the cottage and relax awhile before heading back to the Old Inn for another evening meal and a few beers. A fine conclusion to another successful week for the team from Outdoors Magic and Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services - enjoying the experience of the Cuillin Ridge of Skye.

A good aspect of the way in which Iain organises these weeks is this - for your fee, you get four days guiding spread over six days. This allows us to pick the best weather days and it worked well this time. We didn't complete the full Cuillin Ridge traverse, this is something that cannot (and should not) be guaranteed, but as a competent & knowledgeable guide, Iain was able to provide some very satisfying days out for his clients - making the best of the conditions and local knowledge.

If you would like to book a place on the September Skye meet or subsequent courses get in touch with Iain at the Kendal Mountaineering Services website.

Additional photos taken during Thursday & Friday can be viewed here.

Outdoors Magic Skye meet. May 14th - 21st 2011. Monday & Tuesday.


The Outdoors Magic May 2011 Skye Meet kicked off on Saturday the 14th, although due to the weather, Iain didn't begin his guiding of the Cuillin Ridge until the Monday.

Numbers this year were down 30% on the same time last year, this could well be a sign of the current economic picture, folks need to consider this though. The cost to OM Members for 7 nights in a self catering cottage on Skye is currently £375 each and that includes 4 days of guiding on the Cuillin Ridge. You get to stay in a great wee cottage and get the services of a very knowledgable guide. Iain reckons that to find something similar elsewhere you would probaly be looking at a minimum of £600 per person - and that would probably be for the guiding alone. Anyway, the cost for this will have to go up in 2012 although we have the September Skye meet in the offing - the same thing for £375! Roll up folks - there will only be six places!

Anyway, for the first day out, Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services decided to take the four clients - Rob, Mike, Ray & Sophia to the southern end of the Cuillin Ridge. The first photo shows the four (in order from left to right) on the path to Coire Lagan just above the Glen Brittle Memorial Hut in the "dreich" weather.

The rain was coming down in bucketloads although the wind wasn't too bad - an important consideration as you don't want to be on an exposed and precipitous part of the Cuillin Ridge in a gale. The second photo gives an indication of just how much rain there had been, The Eas Mor waterfall on the Allt Coire Na Banachdich was spectacular - even though the stream wasn't bank full.

We continued up in to Coire Lagan in the rain and after a brief break, climbed the An Stac screes to get to the Bealach Coire Lagan. As we gained hieght, so the windspeed increased and by the time we reached the bealach, Iain had already decided that an ascent of Sgurr Mhic Coinnich was out of the question.

The Cuillin Ridge in mist is not a great place to be. Basically, it is one long ridge of rock, scree & rubble and route finding for someone new to the ridge is fraught with difficulty. Even for an experienced mountaineer with a keen eye for paths & route finding - one can still find themself looking over a precipice having followed what appears to be the only obvious route. Epics and benightment are not uncommon, if the weather is bad or the ridge is in cloud and you don't know the ridge well - then don't go!

Of course the only problem with that is that you may have booked a specific holiday week in which to do the Cuillin Ridge traverse. So what can you do if the weathers is bad? Well, hire a guide with which to do the traverse or specific scrambles or rock climbs that you may have your eye on. There are many guides resident both off and on the island who, with their expect knowledge of the ridge, will ensure that whatever the weather, you'll still have a great day out!

Iain Gallagher of Kendal Mountaineering Services is one such guide. A qualified Mountaineering Instructor, he has been on the Cuillin Ridge every year since 2006 with Outdoors Magic members on seven separate occasions and has completed the traverse a dozen times. Our party was glad to have Iain along in this foul weather as we made our way up to the summit of Sgurr Dearg (photo three shows the Inaccessible Pinnacle looming throught the mist) and then down the winding route inbetween the west facing buttresses in to Coire Na Banachdich where photo four was taken - on what was actually the path!

Despite getting very wet, everyone was happy with what had been achieved during the day.


Initially, the Cuillin forecast for Tuesday was looking poor and because of that, the initial plan was not to go to the ridge on that day, but to go wednesday to Friday instead as the weather was supposed to improve. However, reviewing the updated MWIS forecast made us realise that it wasn't going to improve much and that Tuesday morning into early afternoon would be one of the better days.

This first photo from the day shows Sophia, Ray and Rob taken at 05:45 with a largely cloud free Cuillin Ridge in the background. As it gets light at 4am there's no excuse for not getting an early start at this time of year!

We set off to Coire A Ghrunnda with the intention of getting from Sgurr Nan Eag (the most southerly Munro) to Sgurr Alasdair if possible -providing conditions didn't deteriorate too much.

As we commenced climbing in to the coire, Sophia decided to turn back, so, Iain was left with two clients (Mike had decided to go to Arisaig for the day). We could see rain cloud moving in across The Minch and it reached Rhum by about 07:30. It looked as though the prediction about the worst of the weather holding off until mid afternoon was about to be scotched!

The second photo from day two shows Rob & Ray high on Sgurr Nan Eag just about at the "rucksac drop point". Coire A Ghrunnda with it's loch is below us and Sgurr's Alasdair & Sgumain had just disappeared into the cloud. Shortly afterwards, we were also enveloped in cloud and the drizzle began "this is it!" thought Iain, then suddenly, it started clearing again and soon we could see the Outer Hebrides, Rhum and the rest of the ridge again - great!

So, as a trio, we cracked on! Up on Sgurr Nan Eag by 09:15, down past the Caisteal An Garbh Coire
and by using a traverse under Sgurr Dubh Na Da Bheinn, we arrived on the top of the next Cuillin Ridge Munro of Sgurr Dubh Mor at about 10:45.

By 12:30, we had put Sgurr Dubh Na Da Bheinn behind us and were approaching the infamous Thearlaich/Dubh Gap. It had clouded in again and the wind was rising, it didn't look great but would we be able to do it? After a lot of thought, Iain decided that we would give it a go - after all, if it rained, or the wind got too strong, we could always abseil down the south side of the gap into Coire A Ghrunnda.

However, the "TD Gap" isn't the only tricky bit of ground to be negotiated and so after a bit of lunch out came the rope. In this third photo of the day Rob & Ray have just climbed an exposed pitch of ground immediately before the TD Gap - the ridge narrows and after climbing past a few pinnacles in an exposed position one finds the way barred by a steep wall and chimney. The way is out left on to a short wall with good holds but an abyss below -the exposure is quite something! A rope is definitely necessary here.

Then of course there is the gap itself. A frightening chasm that cleaves the ridge and is some 15m wide and 10m deep - with a fearsome drop to the right of the boulders on which you land when descending into the gap from the east. Scores of people have left loads of "ab tat" though so abseiling in is easy. In the fourth shot of the day Ray is the first to descend whilst Rob looks on from the top of the wall.

Iain employed a stacked abseil for this descent - basically leaving the clients attached to the abseil rope for their safety. Being first down into the gap, he was then able to cover the clients safety from below as they descended to join him.

Soon both Ray & Rob had joined Iain in the gap. The windspeed had increased to the point where if it increased much more the place would become untenable and for that reason, it's a no go place in strong winds as the wind is literally funnelled through the gap making it a chilly place where communication can become difficult.

Despite the conditions, both guys still wanted to climb the polished 20m crack that leads to the easier ground beyond. So, after securing Rob and making sure that both he & Ray knew what the plan was to follow, Iain climbed on up.

It was very chilly climbing due to the wind and Iain's hands quickly went numb - even though the crack actually offered some protection from the wind. The chimney is steep & polished but Iain employed his "boot-jam-shimmie" technique to get up the crux and it works every time (it won't for people who haven't got big feet though!). After a pause to warm up his hands, he quickly climbed the remainder of the route, set up a belay and brought Rob up.

After this, all three of our sacks had to be hauled followed by Ray on the other end of the rope (yes - he actually asked to be hauled! Iain merely needed to pull!) In this final shot from the day, Ray is almost at the belay and is warming his hands.

Both guys climbed well and we quickly reached the top of the Great Stone Chute. Rob & Ray (Ray had been here before) quickly nipped up and bagged their third Cuillin Munro of the day - Sgurr Alasdair, before we all descended in the mist (and by now - rain) to Coire Lagan and out to the car in Glen Brittle and a waiting Sophia. Despite the weather, Iain reckoned this was one of the best days he had ever had on the ridge, both Rob & Ray agreed.

Additional photo's from our first two days out attempting the Cuillin Ridge traverse can be viewed here. To book your Cuillin Ridge traverse with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services, contact him here.

Monday 23 May 2011

Dan Broughton's Stag day Coniston, The Lake District, May 7th 2011.

Well, the Summer season is finally underway in The Lake District for us here at Kendal Mountaineering Services. Of course mountaineering courses aren't the only thing we offer - you can combine any of our many activities to make up a multi-activity day for your stag or hen event.

Dan Broughton from SCK Webworks booked a stag event for his stag party with Kendal Mountaineering Services
and we are personally known to him. Dan and the rest of the team at SCK revamped the Kendal Mountaineering Services website last year to make it the top performing website that it now is.

The first shot of the day shows Dan (laying on the road) and the rest of his 22 strong stag party - we were going ghyll scrambling in Church Beck at Coniston as the first part of the group's stag event.

As you can see - everyone was well kitted out for the occasion, no bare flesh! Wetsuits, warm cags, bouyancy aids, stout boots and helmets & harnesses are all essential if you are to have a well protected & comfortable ghyll scrambling & canyoning session as part of your stag day and we aim to make sure you have the best day out possible with us.

The second photo shows Dan having just slid down the chockstone pitch in Church Beck. The ghyll was busy on this day, but Iain managed to organise things so his team were able to get ahead of others and do this most exciting part of the Church Beck Ghyll Scrambling & canyoning session before we got held up behind others. Good planning!

As we had such a large group for Dan's stag event in The Lake District, Iain had brought in two other experienced & qualified instructors to help him run the sessions. At Kendal Mountaineering Services we can work with any size of group - whether it be a 30 strong stag or hen party or just you on your own. We are friendly, flexible and professional; and pride ourselves on giving you what you want!

Having done the Church Beck jumps, we headed back up to the head of the ghyll only to find one of our groups already in there. As time was getting on, Iain offered the lads a chance to abseil down the main waterfall in Church Beck and this challenge was eagerly accepted. The third photo shows one of Dan's stag party being lowered down the waterfall whilst others look on. After this, it was back to the vehicles to get changed in to dry clothes and off to the Black Bull Inn for a hearty pub lunch and a pint or two.

Whilst the guys were getting lunch there was no rest for the Kendal Mountaineering Services team. The lads had asked for a raftbuilding session as the afternoon part of the stag event and as it was handy - we chose to do this on Coniston Water.

The rafting tralier had to be unloaded and barrels, spars & lashings set out so there was enough for three teams to successfuly build their rafts.

Photo four shows Dan & his group working hard at lashing those barrels tightly to the raft having already built the framework to hold it all together

Raftbuiling is a great fun team event, suitable for any occasion - stag & hen events, teambuilding courses or just as part of a multi-activity day.

At Kendal Mountaineering Services, we always advise you on the best way to build your raft - after all we want you to succeed - not laugh whilst you raft falls apart and you all end up in the drink! Of course, your competitors might not agree with this and there is always time for a bit of good competitive sport on the water after you have built your raft - whacky races, a good "lets soak the competition" session and then a race to see who can get back to shore and dismantle their raft the quickest! Oh! and of course, some of Dan's buddies managed to find a moment to pick him up and chuck him in the drink - charming. With mates like these ...............?

And lastly, a final shot at the end of the afternoon. Everyone in Dan's stag party had enjoyed their stag event with us. The weather had not been great - but who's bothered about the rain when you are already soaked through! The adrenalin seekers had found their fun in the ghyll scrambling & canyoning session and all had enjoyed coming together to build three fab rafts that stayed together for the duration of this afternoon session. What was next? well, back to Kendal, get all spruced up and out for a curry, more beer and oh! a nightclub of course. It was a shame Iain couldn't have joined in - he would have liked to but he had to go to Scotland to run a cuillin Ridge traverse, never mind.

Thanks to Dan from SCK Webworks for using us to provide his stag day. Remember - you can combine any of the following activities for your stag or hen day - canoeing, kayaking, ghyll scrambling, canyoning, rock climbing, abseiling, raft building, caving and orienteering. Give us a call or contact us to organise your stag or hen event, we'll be happy to help. The rest of the photos from Dan's stag event can be viewed here.