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.


Mike Merchant said...

As one of the famous foursome I'd like to say how impressed I was with Iain's knowledge of the Cuillin, and his ingenuity. Thanks to both of these we managed a lot in what was the worst May weather I can remember since Silver Jubilee week (1977!) One more thing concerned those of us who are Munro baggers. I had thought this tendency of mine might be viewed a bit askance, but not a bit of it; in fact plenty of scope, and support. --Mike

ray said...

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