Scotland's 'Last Great Ice Venue' comes of age: Coire Scamadal, Trotternish, Isle of Skye.
Mike Lates, UKC Skye correspondent, gives a full report of the recent development of Coire Scamadal, a venue he has waited patiently for many years to form. This year he wasn't disappointed.
He told me and I got the broad left-hand fall climbed in two stints on the 25th of December in 1996 (with Andy Young) and on the 7th of January in 1997 (with Beads) despite a massive thaw in the interim. It was originally called Finished at Last but is now a more fitting Scamtastic (V,5). It's the route that forms first but the crux bulge on the first pitch is never easy or solid. A traverse into the upper pitches is easy for those who find the starts not quite formed.
Mick Fowler & Dave Turnbull finally made a 2nd ascent in Febuary of 2009. Two days later I stood and nearly cried as the temperature jumped to 12 degrees in a couple of hours. I wondered if I'd be climbing in a Zimmer frame before they'd form again.
This December was cold though and a friend sent a shot of ice-clad walls through. Next morning had me dragging friends up to the top of Skye where the overoptimistic Lates was slagged all the way back to the Cuillin for more reliable ice. I made a painfully dedicated visit south for the festive period with the threat of a Fowler Skye trip looming over me but he, too, had his wings clipped.
On New Year's Day the bottom pitches were just too thin despite the best efforts of Angeus McCullough, myself and James Adams on his first ever water-ice but 2010 was gonna be good.
The action finally started on the 4th with Andy Huntington & I climbing the upper half of the LH central icefall above the terrace after a scary traverse in. Top Scam (V,6), broke through (literally) some very dry ice in the top umbrella. On the 8th Martin Welch and I backed off the obvious plum line which had only touched down in the day or two beforehand. The second line from the left was a three star consolation- Scamadaladingdong, (IV,6).
Saturday the 9th, the next day, saw Robin Clothier & Doug Hawthorn pick off the plum line of the broad sheet at the right-hand-side which they named The Fine Line. Robin considered it Canadian III, 5 which probably translates as Scottish VI,6. More importantly he texted Nick Harper to tell him he'd just missed out on the best ice climb in Britain!
On the Sunday Robin and Doug reached the huge hanging cigar, third from left, by a hidden corner that was thin but with good rock gear just where it mattered. The ice was very dry that day and some very large lumps were removed from the main pitch before Doug blasted up, placing just one screw and a wee thread, in incredible style according to the watching Skye boys. Named The Shard, this time Scottish traditional V, but, again, likely to be VI, 6 to most of us.
Ally, James and Ben were engrossed in their own battle with The War Path VI,6. Ally was worried he hadn't left enough ice on the previous days attempt but things held together with a very steep crux at the top of the first pitch. They then tackled the top tier in two pitches to give one of the longest routes at 140m.
Tuesday morning had a warm blip which stopped further advances apart from more direttissma on Scamtastic and sadly the end of my opportunities. Wednesday saw Nick Harper and friend make the second ascent of The Fine Line.
By Thursday a positive race ensued with Martin Welch and Stewart Anderson just beating Doug & Ben to the gaping corner-line right of Fine Line. Martin had wisely backed off the narrow bottom pencil in the warm blip on Tuesday after a huge tongue fell off with the merest of taps. Martin describes the resulting overhanging bulge as the hardest piece of ice he's ever climbed. Above here the ice-choked gully continued vertically in 2 more amazing pitches of weird and wonderful formations, called Thor, VI,7. The scariest ever plum vertical abseils completed the fun and an astounding week for Martin.
Doug and Ben created a superb line with a highly improbable looking mixed start 30m left of Fine Line over a roof and onto a slab. Where the fall ran out they veered right to gain an ice-choked chimney finishing 15m left of the top of Fine Line. Silverpine is another Doug H grade V but the mixed start with a "soft snow landing" for protection, thinner ice than Fine Line and 50m before reaching a belay I might suggest this route is also in the league of VI, 7. For a man who started the week trying to hammer in screws because that's how it was done when he last climbed he didn't do bad!!
Nick and his mate were enjoying Scamtastic while all this action went on and will hopefully have some superb distance shots. Tragically the warm westerlies have arrived with a fair amount of rain. I'll be back for a look to see what's left next time we get below two or three degrees or perhaps I'll just have to wait until pension day.
You can read more about Mike Lates on his website Skyeguides.
Colin Threlfall sadly broke his leg on Boxing Day. He would have loved the action and I'm sure all who know him will wish him a speedy recovery.