Guy Steven had me booked in for a weekends climbing months in advance. With Guy training to become a Guide, he has learnt the ability to look into the future and predict the mint weather.
Well this 2 day weekend grew arms and legs and became a 5 day trip. Anna Wells got in touch and expressed interest about doing the Skye ridge in a day. I reacted to this and was keen, but not at the start of a climbing weekend. So we bartend and settled for a wrecky of the technical sections from Sgurr nan Eag to the Inn Pinn. I have spent a fair amount of time on the Cullin for myself and guiding people. But, it was cool to look at it from a different perspective and actually solo the standard rope sections. Despite having a few grades in hand TD gap was playing havoc with my mind. I guess I have only ever glared at that steep greasy wall whilst rapping in. The day Anna and I approached the gap it was bone dry. So no need to faff, I just turned in and off I went. Ok, its not ground breaking news as Peter Herd says, ‘an E7 climber down climbs a severe’. But it’s not just a bog standard severe, its TD gap. I felt a bit guilty as I soloed down with the rope in my bag so poor Anna had to keep the standard and follow. Then of course there is the solo out. This time, I ran the rope out as Anna was keen to have a proper look at this grovel. I was due home on the Sunday night. But, just pottering about on the ridge that Thursday, I realised that this spell of weather was the time to strike and do a quickish day traverse. With no plans for the Monday, I mentioned to Anna I was going to stay on Skye. She has a proper job and had to work. So that gave her a bit of FOMO.
|Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, Sgur Thealach & Sgurr Alistair|
Anyway, enough of that mountaineering non sense. I was here to go climbing. Guy and I teamed up on the Friday and headed off to Bla Bheinn. Stairway to Heaven E5 6a was on the cards. A classic Fowler route featuring in the iconic book Extreme Rock. As we turned left out of Broadford, we bumped into Donald King who was at a loose end. Three people carrying kit sounded much more appealing and sociable so Donald jumped in for the ride. I was loving the chat on the walk in; in summary, if there was any traverses, put all the gear on Donalds rope and none Guys. That seems fair. Despite the sun beating down, the Great Prow was I the shade on arrival. The wind was howling up the gully and it was flipping baltic. Guy whipped out his multiple layers and so did I. Meanwhile Donald put his goretex over his sweaty t-shirt and shivered. Guy was nominated for Pitch 1 & 2. I was sent off up pitch 3 leaving those 2 monkeys to discuss equalising anchors and clove hitches. I have heard mixed reports about this pitch. Some says its fine, others say it’s not fine. Well I put the cams in and made the traverse right. Much longer than I was anticipating. Superb absorbing climbing to say the least. I’ll let you go and find out. Anyway, the best bit was yet to come. Donald was on the left hand rope. When he arrived at the cams, he eyeballed the traverse, then the rope running diagonally up to me…with no kit in. ‘Oh’ he said. Well, between me and him, we managed to arrange a back rope. Guy too wanted the same treatment. Just as well there was an insitu old cam in place…. The rest of the day went like clockwork with first class banter.
|Guy on Pitch 1 of 'Stairway to Hevan'|
|Guy following Pitch 3 of 'Stairway to Heavan'|
Guy and I planned to go into have a look at Skye Wall E7 6b on the Saturday. This interested Donald. I felt a bit bad as Guy was giving his time to me and now Donald also wanted to donate a day. Suddenly I felt a bit of pressure to perform. But I was reassured they were in it for the day out. With a strong support team, they requested to get the boat in from Elgol rather than the long slog over from Glen Brittle which I planned on doing. I couldn’t argue.
|The Cullin from Elgol|
Aware that Calum Muskett had been there a few days prior, the wall was well chalked. I’m sure Gaz Marshall would have been disgusted. I was in two minds whether to give it an onsight attempt or to rap it and try a few moves. I played safe and rapped it. It is a serious route in the middle of nowhere. I know caff onsighted it last October, but as we all know, he is on a different planet. Blessed with a strong support team who specialise in building belays, Donald and Guy were on the case. Rapping the wall, was cool. I checked the gear and played on some moves. All in all, the main pitch boils down to a bold first 3rd where the climbing is thin and technical, quite away above kit. Then after that, the gear starts to improve and the climbing still remains at high quality, but a bit easier. I eyeballed the first pitch as I was busting for the toilet on the way past. Arriving on the ground I couldn’t get my harness off quick enough and run. With a lighter body, I racked up and went for it.
|Not a shit place to hangout|
Pitch 1 is a perfect E6 pitch in its own right. Thin gear, with a few hollow holds which you need to pull but not pull on. Proper climbing. Guy followed in good style proving that the Guides scheme training is not hampering his climbing ability. Pitch 2 went without a hitch. I guess that’s the difference between onsight and having inspected the route. I do love the onsight feeling, but it was nice just to relax a bit on the route and take in the surrounding atmosphere. Guy as always did a sterling job following. I am incredibly lucky as its pretty tough to find a partner willing to give their day up and allow you to lead the whole route whilst they sort all the back ground faff. Cheers Guy! I lead us up a 60 m pitch to easier ground then guy lead the final 8m V diff ground. Donald met us at the top and was back on the case sorting ropes and kit as I stood there faffing about. To end the day we did some wonderful esoteric scrambling over An Dorus to get us into Glen Brittle. A perfect day that I won’t forget. Thanks to Donald and Guy for their time and knowledge; a memorable day in the mountains which I won’t forget.
|Me on pitch 2 of 'Skye Wall' (Photo: Donald King)|
|Guy and Donald. A pair of legends. Thanks guys.|
|The Cullin at the end of the day from Elgol|
had a message from Anna saying she had managed to swap shifts and was able to join me for a ridge traverse on Monday. I was a bit toasted on the Sunday morning, so I just went and ran a few of the hills in the Red Cullin as an active rest day.
We had a sociable walk in with Peter and Amy. They planned the ridge over 2 days. The weather was a bit weird. Howling wind in glen brittle which lasted all the way up into Coir’ a Ghrunnda. This put a bit of doubt in my mind for making quick progress. But popping out onto the ridge, none! Dropping sacks off on the ridge, one must face the psychological torture of having to go out to Gars Beinn to start properly on the southerly top. With this fine weather there were a few other team out. We came across a solo runner and a pair of runners. I could sense a slight unsaid superiority. They were runners and we were punters. I never mentioned this to Anna, but I think she could sense my competitiveness. Anyway, off they went jogging into the distance. Never mind. Anyway, we were here to enjoy the day and not race other teams. So off we went at 9.07am. Trotting back along the ridge towards Sgurr Nan Eag, I could feel the early tingle of a blister. Bugger. I retied my shoes and that was forgotten about. Anyway, continuing on, Anna was setting a good pace uphill. She had rested legs whereas this was my 5th day on. the hill. Dropping down and around An Casteil, we momentarily discussed going out to Sgurr Dubh Mor. The guide suggests it’s not part of the ridge but I couldn’t bring myself to miss it out. Neither could Anna. So we kept pure and went out. To our surprise we me our running friends. ‘Ah ha, hmm, that’s interesting’ I thought. Tagging the summit, they were hot on our heels back over Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn. I could see that they were not quite as hot on moving on actual scrambling ground. The solo runner was all over the place. He asked if I had been here before. My reply ‘a few time’. He too decided to follow the slip stream. On the summit the runners took the lead. I knew TD gap would cause a bit of a block. So I upped the pace, poor Anna, hanging in. But it had to be done. The little climb leading up to TD gap, they paused and that was enough for me to step in front. Looking into the gap, they halted completely. I reversed and started to climb down. I told Anna to take a moment and not rush. Our pair of running friends gazed down and realised that these to lanky punters were not hanging about. To be fair we had some friendly banter with the guys. They were really nice chaps. But at the top of the gap on the north side, enough was said and we were off as they were tangled with their ropes. Moving quickly but cautiously we covered ground quickly. I was delighted to top out of Kings Chimney to find a new sling and new DMM Boa. That made my day. Even if I we never finished the ridge, my find was enough to keep me happy. Gazing back, no runners to be seen. A quick bite and off we went. We operated in our own wee worlds. Clambering up An Stac, I glanced at my watch. Hmm late morning. Two thoughts entered my head. 1st Finlay is 2/3rds along the ridge now and 2nd I bet there will be guided parties all over the Inn Pinn. Topping out of An Stac, I was correct. Charging over and clambering up the long side of the Pinnacle we met a team. They just stood and froze and ushered us past with some encouragement. Then on top a guided party shocked at the situation. ‘How are you going to get down without a rope?’ They seemed rather concerned. But I was down and onto Sgurr Dearg before they could understand the situation.
|Anna climbing down the Inn Pinn|
Then Anna followed in good style. The long slog up Sgurr na Banachdich, Anna could feel her lack of sleep from nightshifts catching up. The pace slowed a bit. Finlay is on top of Sgurr Nan Gillean now. It’s quite funny the whole concept of traversing The Cullin ridge. I love the fact that everyone has a different experience on the same ground. Its what makes climbing and mountaineering so enjoyable. The folk on the Inn Pinn can’t comprehend a soloist, yet I can’t comprehend Finlay Wild moving twice as quick over this ground. But we all get satisfaction from being at our own limits. Bidein Drum Na Ramh played on my mind. The central peak has some tricky down climbing. I couldn’t recall much about it as I have always had a rope. Anyway, Ghreadaidh, and Mhadaidh passed keeping the mind focused.
|Anna on Sgurr Ghrueadaidh|
Arriving at the top of Bidean, I felt a tad apprehensive. I get psyched out by guidebooks. I could still visualise the sentence saying it was hard. We were down and up onto the north peak without hassle. Then there was the psychological grinding section from here to Bruach na Frithe. Anna was encouraging me to go off and do my own time. But I felt we started together and come this far, we should finish it together. She seemed concerned she was holding me back. Not at all, I was just loving being up there moving over Britains finest ridge. An Castiel, I made the same mistake I always do and went right then found myself belly shuffling on the perched blocks on the narrow ledge back round. Bruach na Frithe ticked, Naismiths was the last climb. Having never climbed Naismiths, I felt a tad intimidated. Even though I had a few grades in hand, you still treat it like an E7. Going up first, I felt the exposure. Not a place to mess up. Waiting for Anna half way, I talked her through the moves. She voiced concern, I felt concerned myself but kept a cool narrative to relax her fear. She took a breather whilst I bobbed on up to the top. A tricky mantel and I felt it was in the bag. Anna followed and felt relieved to be on top.
|Anna climbing up 'Naismiths'|
Am Basteir was passed, with a quick social chat with a previous Assistant Instructor from the Plas y Brennin. Dumping our bags at the col, we just had Sgurr nan Gillian left. We stuck together up the chimney and where the Gendarme used to be, then we moved at our own pace up the final section. Topping out was cool. Anna caught up. We sat and took a moment to admire the surroundings. 6hr 34min. Certainly not breaking any records by any means but respectable for not really knowing how quickly you could do it. The main thing was, we both enjoyed it and found it satisfying The rat was fed. For Anna, that complements her winter traverse which she did in a day. I have no FOMO of that… well a wee bit ;-). Thanks Anna for a superb day out!
So, Skye came up with the goods. Stairway to heaven, Skye Wall and a day traverse of the Skye ridge. Possibly one of my best trips. I see Caff has added a new E9 Moonrise Kingdom to Coir Uisg Buttress. Reading the interview, that sounds a different ball game. It’0s not quite made it onto my list of routes to do. But maybe in future years it may be pencilled on. But at the moment, I’ll play safe.