Book Review – Skye Sea-Cliffs & Outcrops

Skye Sea-Cliffs & Outcrops, authored by Mark Hudson, has recently been published by the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Although this is primarily a rock climbing guide, it is the only guidebook to describe the recently developed winter climbing on The Storr and Coire Scamadal. The cover photo shows Mike Hutton’s photo of Man of Straw (VS 4c) on Neist Point. (Reproduced with permission of the Scottish Mountaineering Club)

Hard on the heels of Skye The Cuillin, the SMC have recently published a new guidebook to the outcrops and sea cliffs of Skye. Authored by Mark Hudson, this is a carefully written and beautifully illustrated book that opens up a myriad of climbing opportunities on this fascinating island. Like many SMC guidebooks this is a labour of love and Mark’s enthusiasm for the island, and its huge variety of climbing, jumps off every page.

Although mainly a rock climbing guide, a review of this book does have a place on this blog as it includes descriptions of the winter climbing in Coire Scamadal. This recently developed venue is considered by several well-travelled ice warriors to be the finest ice climbing venue in Scotland. The carefully researched History section explains that Vertigo Gully (VI,7) was the given its technical grade by the first ascensionists (Martin Welch and Stewart Anderson) because “it was harder than any Scottish [ice] route or any WI,6 on the continent that the team had climbed. It makes this the hardest pure ice in Britain but will clearly vary with conditions.” Is this route set to be the modern equivalent if West Central Gully on Beinn Eighe, long thought to be the hardest gully climb in the land?

Naturally the guidebook details well-known rock venues such as Kilt Rock and Elgol, but also included are the excellent-looking mountain dolerite cliffs of Carn Liath in Trotternish, which have been developed over the years by Mark Hudson and Roger Brown. I was particularly struck by the number of superb looking climbs on the sea cliffs at Neist. Like many climbers I’d visited the area years ago, and climbed the classic Supercharger on Stallion’s head, but not realised that Colin Moody and friends had been busy opening up hundreds of excellent looking routes on peerless looking rock on the adjacent cliffs.

Skye sports a complex and rugged coastline with several dozen sea stacks. This is the first book that gives these a comprehensive treatment, and will open up the challenges of these spectacular formations to a wider audience. Mark has even included a tick list of stacks at the back of the book, and I was tickled to see that Stac an Tuill, which Mark Robson and I reached with an epic 800m swim, is described as one of the most inaccessible stacks in Scotland and “it would be quite unsporting to use a boat.” Who needs winter when you can continue ‘mountaineering’ through the summer with objectives like these!

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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5 Responses to Book Review – Skye Sea-Cliffs & Outcrops

  1. Tom Knowles says:

    Regarding the comment about the “hardest pure ice route in Britain”, I thought Jane’s Weep (FWA Dave MacLeod 2010) in Glencoe was the hardest at VIII,8? In the same week, Dave also did Dangerous Curves, same venue, at VII,8. Pretty sure both were climbed entirely on ice. Also, were the FWA’s of Fubarbundy and Ship of Fools (both VIII,7) not entirely on ice too (albeit very thin ice)?

    • Simon Richardson says:

      Hi Tom. Good points – Mark may have meant to say ‘hardest pure ice gully’ rather than ‘hardest pure ice’. Jane’s Weep etc are probably technically harder (and possibly more serious), but they are not exceptionally steep. They (deservedly) get their high grades due to thin ice nature of the climbing. If Martin or Stewart read this, it would be great to hear some details about your ascent of Vertigo Gully.

  2. Michael Barnard says:

    If this guide is the same quality as the Cuillin one then it will be excellent. I think it would have made more sense to put the winter stuff at Storr and Scamadal in the mountains guide than the outcrops / sea cliffs guide though, i.e. to have all the winter stuff in the one guide.

  3. Stuart McFarlane says:

    Hi Simon,

    When Martin lead the crux ice pencil, it was very delicate and vibrated when placing tools. From memory, they placed good screws at it’s base, nothing else until above the pencil. When seconding, Stewart found it very delicate, technical, couldn’t have done the moves if leashed to his tools (‘you would have struggled, Stuart!’)

    I also think the grade is wrong, perhaps WI6R would describe the climbing, more accurately than the given Scottish Grade.

    Would this ‘team’ like to comment?


    • Mike Lates says:

      Martin had climbed a monstrous route with Martin Moran in Norway the year before and both he & Stewart had climbed a good number of WI6. Both agreed that it was a clear grade harder than anything they had done. The “hardest pure ice pitch” noteriety arose weeks later, was news to Martin and, as anyone who knows either Martin or Stewart will agree, there wasn’t a snifter of ego or exaggeration in their grading.
      What they were very big on was just what a mental route it was altogether; we can but dream that these lines come back again in our climbing lifetimes. Mike

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