Twenty five years ago James walked up Ben Nevis and looked across the North Face from the summit. You get a great view straight through Tower Gap and he saw some climbers making their way across. He thought you'd have to mad to do something like that. Today, he saw the view from the other perspective and, for the people looking from the summit, he was that mad person climbing Tower Ridge. So, this climb of Tower Ridge was 25 years in the making and it was done to raise funds for Cancer Research, a cause that deserves all the support it can get.
I had a cancellation this week which meant I could be a bit flexible with which day to go climbing with James. This worked out well - we had Tuesday booked, changed it to Thursday, then changed again to today. Thankfully this worked out and we got the best day of the week by far. It was cool and cloudy as we walked in but the sun came out half way up the ridge and we walked down in hot sunshine. James climbed really well and we got to the top in quick time, even with a few stops to enjoy the view.
A little mist swirled around the summit crags to show us the gullies and buttresses. The rock was dry and the views tremendous. There were a few other climbers out on Raeburn's Arete, Route One Direct and Ledge Route. There were several hundred people enjoying the good conditions on the summit as well, and the path was a continuous line of people walking up and down.
There was a huge amount of old rope, slings and tat at Tower Gap. I cleaned up all of this and half filled my rucksack with it. In the past I have got into trouble for doing this - it has been suggested that I want to make the route harder so that more people will book a guide. This is nonsense and I don't mind anyone leaving behind a bit of rope or a sling if they need to abseil. However, there is no need for subsequent climbers to keep on adding more rope and slings to it. Climbers should be able to assess the state of a sling and either use it or replace it, not simply add to it. We need to keep our playground clean and tidy, which is why I tidied up today.
The weather has been very changeable this week. The first half of the week turned out to be quite wet, especially on Skye, whereas the end of the week was hot and dry. Unfortunately this is the lottery we play when we choose dates to go climbing. For Gary and Steve it did not work out very well. They were climbing in the Cuillin on Monday to Thursday including a traverse attempt. At the end of Wednesday they decided to return to the valley, soaked through after the rain did not ease off as hoped for. They did a lot of great climbing but it was not what was hoped for.
For Chris and I it worked out much better. We started up into Coire a'Grunda on Thursday morning in the mist hoping the forecast was more accurate and that the clouds would clear away. We got as far as Sgurr Alasdair before they did but eventually the clouds broke and the sun came out. A lot of rain had fallen though so the cracks and seeps were wet for a long time. We avoided TD Gap knowing that it would be really wet but we did have a go at King's Chimney. This turned out to be pretty wet also!
We made excellent time, especially when the rocks dried out properly. The sun was hot the wind stopped us from over heating. We got as far as An Dorus on the first day and settled down for a dry night. Since there was so much water in the ground still we found a very good dribble close to An Dorus to fill up with water. This meant we could drink as much as we liked to re-hydrate, a crucial thing to manage on any traverse.
Yesterday morning was dry and breezy again, keeping the heat of the sun at bay thankfully. We got an early start (6am) and continued steadily and smoothly over Bidean and An Casteal before we saw anyone else. The last three, Bruach na Frithe to Sgurr nan Gillean are always more busy and we saw a good few people on this section.
With no hold-ups though we got to the end at just after 12noon and made it down to Sligachan just after 3pm. This was Chris's first trip into the Cuillin and what a way to start out! He has a lot of experience of climbing, mountain marathons and Alpine climbing, so he was very comfortable on the Skye Ridge. It was so nice to be able to enjoy it in such brilliant conditions as well. If it does not work out first time, it really is worth trying again until you get a dry and clear traverse. It's world class!
The west coast was shrouded in cloud at all levels today so there was nothing to see from the big lookout (or shepherd) of Etive. Buachaille Etive Mor is a great name as the view is so impressive over Rannoch Moor, when you can see it. Mike and I have both seen it before though so we were content to enjoy some slightly wet but fun climbing on North Buttress.
We did get a wee glimpse through the clouds from the top of Cuneiform Buttress to show us the grand scale of the mountain. It was very impressive to look down on the cars and trucks so far below. We traversed across the top of Great Gully on some horrible scree and found Great Gully Buttress to descend. This is a moderate scramble (grade 1/2) and goes straight back down to the path. So, not many kilometres travelled horizontally today but many metres of uphill and downhill on tricky ground! We also saw plenty of white lousewort. The pink version is more common but Buachaille Etive Mor has lots of the white stuff too.
Summer Mountain Leader Training courses include an over night wild camping expedition. We chose to go way out west to climb the two Corbets of An Stac and Rois Bheinn near Lochailort. I've been up these hills a few times before and they epitomise west coast hill walking and the kind of thing you can get up to with a Summer ML qualification. We had wonderful views out to sea and the islands of Rum and Skye, as well as fantastic walking over wild, pathless mountains.
Yesterday we went up Seann Cruach and An Stac. It was quite cold, even when the sun was out, and we had showers of huge hail stones as well. The air quality was great though and we could see for miles. We did lots of training in leadership and navigation as well as the environment we were walking through and camp craft skills to make sure we leave no trace. Since we did not get any poor visibility we did some night navigation for three hours. The stars were out and it was a beautiful night as well!
This morning we woke to a bit of cloud on the tops but this soon cleared in the sunshine and the wind died away slowly throughout the day. We walked up the wonderful peak of Rois Bheinn and carried on around the ridge to Druim Fiaclach. This is a brilliant ridge with easy walking over soft moss or clean grippy rock. The ridge is always interesting with knolls and dips, twists and turns. There is barely a path and we only saw one other person up there all day. If you want some breathing space and some wild mountains to walk up with amazing views this is the place to come.
Glen Coe looked brilliant today in the sunshine. Dave and I took our Summer ML Trainees to Buachaille Etive Mor for the emergency rope work training. Summer mountain leaders need to know how to use a rope in an emergency to safeguard group members down a section of steep scrambling type ground. There is so much rock on Buachaille Etive Mor that we it is easy to find a suitable spot and we set to work with the ropes.
We looked at different anchors and how to rate them, how to attach the rope to them and how to set up a body belay to safeguard people on the steep ground beneath them. This is all done with just a rope, no karabiners or slings are allowed. We also covered how the leader should look after themselves with the rope in descent. We had an amazing view all day with plenty of sunshine but a cool breeze. Two aeroplanes flew down the glen at low level to give us a cool spectacle as well. We're off on our camping trip out west tomorrow and on Friday so hopefully the dry weather will continue.
This week we are delivering a Summer Mountain Leader Training Course on behalf of Mountain Training with eleven trainees. It's a mixed group of students and other people with an international feel. Yesterday we covered lots of navigation training using the orienteering maps for Torlundy and today we were discussing all sorts of leadership and group management topics and techniques.
We went to Glen Nevis and made our way up the Pony Track and the SW Rib of Meall an 't'Suidhe. The wind was blowing straight up the slope and was going at 50mph as we topped out. Unfortunately a heavy shower caught us at exactly the same time so we got the full force of the weather! Lots of people made it up Ben Nevis today though and it was not as windy on the summit as where we were.
The fine spell of weather we have been enjoying on the west coast of Scotland finally broke down slightly yesterday, but not until Derek and I reached all the Munros on Skye and their subsidiary 3000' tops over three days. In the last 30 years or so Derek's hit rate on the Munros dropped to one per year on average so this was a coordinated hit to raise his tally and complete everything on Skye on his first ever trip there. Thankfully the weather helped us along the way.
We started out by warming up on Clach Glas and Blabheinn. I have only ever done this once before and it was misty so I did not get the full experience. On Monday we could see for a few hundred miles in all directions and the traverse is a stunner. The complex and narrow ridge is brilliant and made for a perfect warm up for us to get used the nature of the scrambling in The Cuillin. We made sure to reach both summits of Blabheinn too.
One of the subsidiary tops in the main Cuillin ridge is Knights Peak on Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean. If we were to make the full traverse from south to north as is common, the thought of descending to Knights Peak after two long days did not appeal. So we started at Sligachan and went up Pinnacle Ridge before traversing from north to south. What finer way to start the best ridge traverse in the country than by one of its finest ridge climbs?
The weather could not have been better for us. The wind dropped to a very gentle breeze and the sun was shining but without it being too hot. Derek and I made great progress all the way down past Sgurr a'Greadaidh to a bivi at the Three Teeth. We enjoyed 360 degrees of stunning views all evening with the sun setting and clouds billowing on one side, the full moon rising and shadows reaching out on the other. It stayed dry over night as well which is a really important thing. Waking up in the wet and getting going again in the morning is very hard so it was great that we had a dry start.
It was cloudy though and the route finding was made more difficult by the misty conditions. The cloud turned to a bracing dampness then a gentle drizzle and finally to light rain. Climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle was fine, the rocks were still just about dry there, but the ground was wet by the time we got to Sgurr Alasdair. We past a team of two trying the full traverse in a day - hopefully it stayed dry enough for them and they got along in good time.
The rain did not put us off or indeed slow us down that much either. The ground eases off the further south you go on the ridge and the last peak of Shurr nan Eag is simple enough. We made sure to go over to Sgurr Sgumain since this is a subsidiary top as well and a first for me on the summit of this peak!
Derek did an amazing job and we made it down in very good time, before the rain came in for the evening. Reaching all the Munros in the Cuillin Ridge is a big enough job for most and throwing in the tops as well certainly adds an extra couple of hours of work. For a first time trip to Skye, completing all this was a fine achievement. However, make sure you go back to Skye Derek, there's lots more to do!
Mike seems to have a way with the weather this year. This is the third day out we've had in brilliant weather this year! The last two were winter climbing but this time it was definitely the conditions for rock climbing. We went to Glen Coe, the home of the mountain crags, and climbed a couple of V.Diff. routes on the NE Face of Gearr Aonach in full on sunshine.
Many people know of a scramble called The Zig Zags up this side of Gearr Aonach. From the base of The Zig Zags and further left there is a collection of really good rock climbs that do not see much traffic. As it happens another two guys had the same thought today so the crags was relatively busy with two teams climbing.
First up, Mike and I climbed High Flying. This has a tricky first pitch going the way I went but you could choose a different line to make it the same grade as the rest of the climb. The second and third pitches were great and we found an easy walk off back down The Zig Zags. We had plenty of time for a second climb so we followed Ian and Donald up Hairy Kipper. This has a good bit of heather on it, hence the name, but also plenty of steep rock with great holds. It's a cool climb that is well worth doing. Down in the glen it was busy busy in the car parks and it was nice to think we gave them something extra to look at while they soak up the natural wonder that is Glen Coe.
Jim and I enjoyed climbing the Skye Cuillin Munros over the last few years, sometimes joined by his daughter Aileen. Now he has finished the Munros Jim is focusing on the Corbets (and potentially the Grahams as well!). The wonderful island of Rum has two Corbets and a Graham and these were the focus of our trip on Friday and Saturday. After so many years of looking west from Ben Nevis to the distinctive profile of Rum it was so nice to make the trip at last and experience the hills here.
If you get the ferries right, you can reach these three tops with just one night on the island. There is a very nice new hostel to stay at and a bothy on the south coast at Dibidil. The forecast was for dry weather though so we chose to bivi out at Beallach an Oir in between the hills. We got there after two and a half hour's walk from Kinloch with a neat traverse underneath Askival. With plenty of time left in the day we went up Askival with light bags and just missed the best of the view as a cloud stuck to the top as we got there! We were intrigued to see all the Manx Sheerwater burrows and lush green grass all around them. It all seemed quiet though so we were not sure if the birds were in residence at this time of year.
A few hours later, after a fine dinner and settling down for a dry and cold night, our question was answered. About 200,000 Manx Sheerwaters came in off the sea and started squabbling over whose burrow was whose. This was quite an experience and one that people travel from very far away to be part of. At first it was quite amazing to be in the middle of this cacophony of noise. After five hours of it I must admit the novelty had worn off a little! These are quite brilliant birds and it is well worth reading up on them and going to Rum to see them. You can play a sound track of the noise they make from this link!
Askival is a really nice hill that has steep sides and a couple of rocky steps but is not any where near as rocky as the Cuillin on Skye. On our second day, Jim, Aileen and I went up Trollval first which does have a short exposed section of simple scrambling and a few rocky steps to get down in the direction of Ainshval. The walk up Ainshval is steep but has a good path that is easy to follow and easy to climb as well. The clouds were playing with us and it seemed like they built up just as we reached the tops!
It did stay dry though and the wind was not too strong so we achieved our objectives with plenty of time to traverse back to the bivi col and back along and down to Kinloch. There is a nice wee community here where it seems everyone does a few different jobs. We booked ahead and enjoyed a fantastic meal in the village hall with huge portions of great food at a very reasonable price. The late ferry on a Saturday gave us plenty of time to enjoy being on Rum and to learn more about the wildlife on the island including the noisy birds that kept us awake all night! Rum is fantastic and if you have not been yet I can recommend it very highly!
Self reliance is a fundamental principle of mountaineering. By participating we accept this and take responsibility for the decisions we make. These blog posts and conditions reports are intended to help you make good decisions. They do not remove the need for you to make your own judgements when out in the hills.