The seventh Skye Winter Festival was another great success. A short bout of winter at the beginning of the two-week event saw five new routes before the meet resorted to more traditional Cuillin games for the next ten days. Local mountain guide, festival organizer and Skye supremo Mike Lates, sends the following report:
“On January 12 Pok Siwinski and I visited the thinly covered North Face of Sgurr a’Bhasteir. Turf was the obvious attraction, but Mike The Bhasteird was spouting some ice, so I started up that. I was forced out onto its left arête after just eight metres which provided some excellent sporting mixed moves with occasional bomber gear. Pok headed left off the belay ledge then took steeper terrain to a semi-hanging belay below the final bulge. As another monster gust hit us I turned the bulge on the right to reach easier ground and the top of Formali Known As (IV,4). We had a beautiful walk out in a world that had turned white in just a couple of hours.
The following day (January 13), Michael Barnard headed in to Coire a’Ghrunnda with Pok and climbed a new line just left of South Crag Gully. Three other parties headed toward the huge broad flank of Sgurr Thuilm. Lucy Spark and I climbed the longest line, the 400m-long Giant’s Gully (III,6), mostly solo but with about ten short enclosed chimney pitches, with useful ice, that gave a real fight. We were very glad the blocky stuff was well frozen in. It is always hard to grade thrutches but I’d say the hardest was at least Tech 6. Sadly the final chimney thwarted our direct line. By this point the walls were thickly glazed with black ice and were giving nothing, so we landed on the crest between the two summits and a stunning Hebridean/Cuillin vista greeted us.
Mark Francis and Dave Bowdler climbed a parallel line that sounded very similar, left again on the same face. They topped out just 60m east of the summit but we didn’t see or hear them all day. Nathan Adam led Chris Brown up a shorter but similar sounding gully that started at the toe of Giant’s Gully and bore left above the recess climbed by last season’s addition, Park Lane.
On January 14 a massive team headed out to Bla Bheinn. The technical climbing teams both abbed off from near the top of good lines in good nick (so no pics or clues until those routes are complete). We introduced newcomers to twin axes and crampons and everyone eventually topped out to the Blaven panorama and a generous German chap dishing out bottles of Blaven beer. Great Gully was filled with plenty of deep powder so a mass bum slide ensued. Two other teams that day headed over to Glen Brittle for the ‘annual’ ascent of the In Pinn. This was successful despite the hefty glazing.
The annual dinner was a curry-fest in Skye Basecamp that night with over 30 guests and a talk on Gaelic hill names from Janni Diez. Amongst the team on Bla Bheinn and at the dinner were the new Torabhaig distillery site manager and boss, so when the warm weather arrived on January 15 we were all treated to a private visit just days before the first mash is put on.
Despite no snow the following week, guests enjoyed Cuillin scrambles, rock at Flodigary and Elgol and some dry tooling too. The second weekend was superb weather with 15 guests in total. Folk had a great time in the Cuillin on dry rock above some incredible cloud inversions. That evening Kevin produced a stunning venison fillet meal, rounded off with chocolate fruit fondue in the Old Inn bunkhouse.
The Seventh Skye Winter Festival was once again a resounding success. Quite simply, everyone embraces the fact that Skye is wonderful, whatever the conditions!”