Tuesday 24 May 2011

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.

1 comment:

ray said...

It was a great experience and I thoroughly recommend it to all. Map and compass are not as useful as one might expect in the Cuillins, nor are paths obvious but Iain always knew where we were even in poor visibility.