Mike Lates of Skye Guides and author of last year's stunning SMC guidebook Skye The Cuillin gives us a roundup of the climbing action from Britain's most impressive mountain range in what's been a stunning spring and summer so far.
With the Gulf Stream heading south this year climbers making the annual pilgrimage to Skye have been treated to outstandingly good conditions in which to christen their brand new SMC guidebooks. The fine period started in mid-March and has only really broken down in the past few days. In nearly 20 years I can't remember a more prolonged dry period coinciding with the busiest time of the year. With dry rock and clear visibility first time visitors may have wondered why they had been warned to expect epics.
Possibly the biggest news was a very fast Traverse by Steve Ashworth in early June. In a very understated and under publicised account Steve describes how he finished in 3 hours and 25 minutes, just 8 minutes outside Es Tressider's record and the second fastest time on record. Steve already holds the record for the Winter Traverse and something tells me he may be paying us another visit before the end of this summer.
The Traverse was, as ever, top priority for many visitors and the good conditions lent themselves to a very relaxed attitude even amongst those who were clearly well behind schedule. The Sligachan bar seemed packed with successful parties every evening and I'd guess that the failure rate dropped dramatically. Through the hottest periods the alarm was consistently being set before 4am to make the most of the cool part of the day; by midday it was as if somebody had turned on a fan oven and progress became painfully slow. Water was a major issue for many and I had to change my own tactics to avoid dehydration in a number of different ways. High sources that involve little descent were useless by the start of May and by mid-June I was forced to drop considerable distances below even the most reliable springs.
In the Spring edition of The Scottish Mountaineer I discussed the lack of interest modern climbers have in Cuillin routes and suggested that the mantle of "Climbing Mecca" had slipped; rejuvenating opinions and inspiring a new generation is a bit of a personal mission. Multiple parties on the huge Western Buttress of Sron na Ciche and the Vulcan Wall area looking positively busy was very heartening. Equally pleasing was to see and hear reports of parties on the less visited routes & crags. The Great Prow area of Bla Bheinn, North Face of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich and the North face of Sgurr a'Mhadaidh have some absolute classic climbs, often cold and dank, but those who made the effort were well rewarded this year. The south facing cliffs of Coir' a' Ghrunnda take a while longer to reach but were very popular too.
Stairway to Heaven received a couple of ascents (Robin Thomas and Neil Foster) and I even saw the lower holds on Dave Macleod's Cioch E8, The Gathering, chalked up.
There was a fair amount of inevitable new routing from those more familiar with the area. Cuillin officianado Steve Kennedy was again unearthing quality routes, this time on North Crag. Pick of the bunch was Zeus at E3 5c climbed with Cynthia Grindley. Noel Williams and Simon Fraser climbed lines on the Coruisk side of An Dorus and Malcom Airey and I found Techno Snob at E2 5c on a new buttress on Sgurr nan Gobhar. Malcy climbed ground-up so a couple of turfs had to be removed to find gear but the climbing was all on excellent rock and reminded me a lot of The Pillar at Diabaig with a pokey crux right at the top.
Errors were inevitable in such a huge book project and I apologise to anyone adversely affected. The positive side is that I've received more information in the past three months than in all the years preparing the book. Many thanks to everyone who has been in contact and please do keep opinions coming. Every effort will be made to get errors and corrections well documented until the next edition is produced.
Mark Hudson's coastal guide Skye Sea Cliffs & Outcrops has been selling equally well and I've seen plenty of folk checking out the new crags and lines. All in all Skye delivered on its promise as a fantastic playground for climbers and it was very rewarding to see so many embracing the sense of adventure needed to make the most of it.