New Winter Season Finally Underway

Tilly Cottrell on the first ascent of North Buttress Gully (III) on Bla Bheinn on Skye. Once again Mike Lates takes the prize for reporting the first new route of the season. (Photo Mike Lates)

It’s been a slow start to the Scottish winter season and most of November has been remarkably mild. There were a couple of short bursts of winter at the end of October when snowed up rock routes in the Northern Corries when were climbed, but opportunities were few and far between. Winter climbing was only possible on routes that do not rely on frozen turf such as Pot of Gold and Savage Slit.

All this changed on November 26 when Storm Arwen swept in. Whilst the east side of Scotland was battered by hurricane force winds, Mike Lates and Tilly Cottrell took advantage of relative calm on the far west with the first ascent of North Buttress Gully (III) on Bla Bheinn on Skye. Mike is something of a past master at snatching early season routes in the Cuillin which can come into condition remarkably quicky. In November 2016 he made the first ascent of Silver Fox (V,5) on the South Face of Sgurr Mhiccoinnich with Sophie Grace Chappell, and in October 2018 he added Tour de Force (VI,6) on Sgurr Thearlaich with Stephen Wrede.

Above the bowl of Coire Uiginish the upper face of Bla Bheinn is split by the Great Gully (Grade I) that finishes with the South Top on its left and the Munro, North Top on the right. The buttress to the left has most of the climbing and is known as South Buttress. The huge broad north face right of Great Gully is known as North Buttress. This was misleadingly called the South-East Buttress in the 2011 Skye the Cuillin guidebook. North Buttress Gully starts on the right side of North Buttress where a stream enters an obvious square basalt recess.

Mike attempted the line in 2008 but was forced to traverse out below the obviously harder pitch. “This time it was justifiable and really good climbing,” Mike told me. “It’s an easier alternative to South Buttress Gully which, by consensus, is now thought III or IV in ‘average’ conditions.”

About Simon Richardson

Simon Richardson is a passionate Scottish winter climber
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