Sat 25th Aug - Fri 31st Aug, 2012
Isle of Skye - Glenbrittle camping meet
A meet with everything (except boredom)
The SPA meet. What could this be? A week of pampering at a luxury resort, with members making themselves smell pretty? No, this wasn’t the Alps meet (see September newsletter). What then? The Single Pitch Award meet? Most certainly not. Much better than that: this was the Skye Power Animals meet.
In attendance: Carolyn Mills, Jamie Ledingham, Dave “Cerise Dragon” Dillon, Christine “Blue Bat” Beeston, Emma “White Rhino” Timmis, Emily “Red Horse” Pitts, Lucie “Purple Lioness” Crouch and Gareth “Yellow Panther” Williams.
These innocent eight ventured overseas, expecting a week of sunny camping and relaxing climbing. No one had heard of the Skye Power Animals before the SPA meet, but by the end of the week one member uttered “when I’m blue bat I think I’m some kind of super-hero”. This was the way the Glenbrittle meet, on the Isle of Skye, turned out. Ignore the advice in the picture below, and read on to discover more!
Day 0: Friday 24 August
Lucie and Gareth leave Manchester at 2pm. Exceptionally, Lucie is allowed to drive the van and the combined tactics bring about what feels a quick journey. Arriving at 11pm in light rain, and enough breeze to fend off the midges, we find Carolyn and Jamie already pitched. They lend a hand figuring out how Lucie’s brand new tent works, and before long The Palace is erected. Word arrives from Dave, still in Manchester: “just finished new waterproof coating on flysheet.”
Day 1: Saturday 25 August
The Palace stayed up all night, and even looks as though it’s been pitched by someone who’s had a practice run. The team of four assembles at 9:30 with a plan to head to Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda. Carolyn points out we’ll have to walk past the Corie Lagan boulders and sparks an exchange:
Jamie: if you come to Skye and go bouldering, you won’t be sleeping in the same tent as me.
Carolyn: but it’s my tent.
Jamie: if you come to Skye and go bouldering, I’ll be sleeping in the car.
Carolyn: but it’s my car.
Jamie: it’s your bivvy bag too, right? Please can I carry your bouldering mat?
But the pull of high mountain rock was too great, and the mat stays in camp. Sunshine had been promised by the meet leader, and sunshine was the order of the morning. After a hot couple of hours walking, the team wished they had a bouldering mat upon which to picnic. We were not basking alone: in the lower Coire, Lucie stumbles, quite literally, upon an adder (photo on website).
Eventually we get high enough to realise the climbs left of the TD-gap are wet. Further right, the rock looks promising. Jamie and Carolyn swing leads on Grand Diedre, 70m of *** VS 4c. Lucie and Gareth set out on West Face, 90m of ** VDiff. The first two pitches are clean, but the upper route is wet and slimy. Lucie enjoys her first Scottish VDiff, but only with hindsight. Carolyn reports glee at not over-camming and Jamie reports offending a passer-by with an unorthodox climbing call.
We abseil into the TD-gap, but not without misadventure: Jamie’s rope doesn’t pull cleanly, and he is forced to sacrifice a few metres. The weather holds for the walk back to camp, where we arrive at 8pm to find the rest of the pack pitched and eager for fun.
Day 2: Sunday 26 August
The forecast is good, so Carolyn, Jamie, Lucie and Gareth decide to head for Kilt Rock, a sea cliff composed of columns of dolerite which resemble the pleats of traditional Scottish garb. Quoting from the SMC’s “Scottish Rock Climbs”, Kilt Rock is the “most spectacular of the three cliffs described on Skye’s Trotternish peninsula” with “atmospheric, often strenuous climbing” where “it is easy to run out of gear before the top”.
Jamie kicks off, with a strong lead on the superb Clandestine ***, 38m, VS 4c. Carolyn and Gareth follow, and we all agree the first few moves are tough for the grade. Carolyn points out that Jamie over-cammed the first placement.
Lucie is enjoying the sunshine on the cliff-top. Gareth wants to get on to Grey Panther, 45m of **** E1 5b (yes, four stars). Jamie points out that he used almost an entire rack on Clandestine, and asks if Grey Panther might demand some doubling up? Gareth clips as much as he can carry to his harness, and even takes Jamie’s chalk ball, complaining “mine is so empty that I get pumped having to squeeze my hands that tight when chalking up”.
The route is out on the main face and requires an approach by abseil. There are stakes in place a long way back, so a third rope is used to equalise these and create an anchor. Carolyn abseils first, demonstrating the importance of a prussik. Gareth follows, and clips in to Carolyn’s belay on a tiny ledge at the bottom of the cliff, and above almost vertical grass banks leading down to the sea. Jamie pulls up the abseil rope, and we’re committed. The route is so vertical that, despite its length, the top is in sight right from the bottom. It’s a long time until it appears any closer.
The climbing, however, is superb. No single move is too hard, but it’s sustained all the way. There are opportunities for rests, including one hands-off, shoes-off ledge. A combination of bridging, jamming and general good fun brings Gareth to the top, sweating but grinning widely. Carolyn follows with no trouble, and Jamie then abseils in for a go on top-rope.
Lucie, meanwhile, has walked to the viewpoint and enjoys explaining what is happening to the onlooking crowds of tourists.
Young girl: why’s isn’t he moving?
Lucie: he’s either at a hard bit or having a rest.
Young girl: it can’t be that hard. Why does he need so many rests?
Carolyn finishes off the day with a strong lead on The Electric Bagpipe, 33m of *** HVS 5a. It shares its first moves with Clandestine, and Carolyn over-cams that first placement just as much as Jamie did. Jamie and Gareth both follow. We are all thrilled with our ten-star day.
Meanwhile, Christine, Dave, Emma and Emily are out in the Cuillin. Emily has ambitions to nip up Sron “The Quiche” na Ciche, then over Sgurr Sgumain and Sgurr Alasdair before dropping into Coire Lagan to tick off a few boulder problems. Once she sees the Cuillin up close, she reassesses.
As two pairs, the four climb Cioch “Slippery B*****d” Gully. An under-graded E6, this was the hardest route climbed all week, so scary that climbers were relieved to escape with just wet pants. The “Clowns and Jokers” approach seemed to work, but even so, Christine was later heard to say “there were points where I was consumed with dread”. Upon reaching the neck of The Cioch, the weather breaks and a retreat by abseil is employed. These escapades have been documented rather brilliantly in Dave’s video, available on the KMC website.
Day 3: Monday 27 August
Jamie and Carolyn have had to go home, and they’ve taken the good weather with them. It’s blowing hard, and the rain is hammering on the tents. Dave is pleased with his handiwork: inside his tent is dry and the flysheet is beading the water beautifully. But strange things often happen when climbers are confined to camp, and this was one of those mornings.
Gareth: following Kilt Rock, call me “Grey Panther” from now on.
Lucie: surely “Yellow Panther” would suit your climbing colours better?
Gareth: OK, but if you had to be a colourful animal, what would you be?
Lucie: a Purple Lioness.
And so were born the first two Skye Power Animals.A bit like the Power Rangers, but with an animal theme.The rain continued all morning, and as more and more members sought refuge in The Palace, more and more Power Animals were born. Many laughs were had as names were selected, but eventually the Pack became restless. Rain or no, this Herd had to feed.
So off to Portree, where the dourest of waitresses prompts Cerise Dragon’s outburst: “we’ll go elsewhere!” And so on for a walk to The Old Man of Storr. The clouds clear, we are treated to a view, and continue to the summit of The Storr for even more fabulous views – but only if you were brave enough to open your eyes in the ferocious wind!
En-route back to camp, some running repairs to the vehicles are required. After much “umming” and “erring” and “try this”, the headlight bulb is replaced and we continue. The call of the Sligachan is too strong, and we stop here for tea. Back at Glenbrittle, the tents still stand. The Dragon’s lair is dry, the beads still streaming off the flysheet.
Day 4: Tuesday 28 August
The morning is wet, but at least the wind keeps the midges at bay. Power Animals won’t be cooped up for long, so a plan is hatched. The Cuillin are covered in clag, but the sea cliffs of Flodigarry remain dry between showers.
White Rhino, Red Horse, Cerise Dragon and Blue Bat scramble down into the main bay. Purple Lioness and Yellow Panther investigate a line requiring abseil, but opt not to hang about in the strong winds, so join the other Animals in the bay.
Newspaper Taxis is a 40m * Severe following a “prominent rib”. The rib is indeed prominent, but the line is not. The three parties are each sure they’ve followed the right line, despite very few holds in common. The rock is solid, at a slabby angle, with good gear and mostly dry holds. But the route is long, and by the time Purple Lioness is able to leave the ground, the tide is alarmingly close to her paws.
A heavy downpour halts play early, and the team investigates the Art Café at Staffin, where the staff are as friendly as the scones are delicious and fresh. Back at camp, Cerise Dragon is delighted that his hard work proofing his tent is paying dividends.
Day 5: Wednesday 29 August
It’s 10:30 and the Animals are already en-route to Coire Lagan. It’s hardly great weather, but no one pays much attention. Red Horse had wanted a rest day, but couldn’t bear to miss out on a mass assault on the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The An Stac screes are running with water and it’s a hard slog up to the base of the In Pinn. The clag is down, but amazingly the wind and rain have stopped.
Taking advantage of this “eye of the storm”, we set off climbing as two threes on the East Ridge (*** Mod). We’re in big boots, with much pared down racks, but the climbing is easy when the clag’s hiding the exposure! Both teams climb together, and before we know it, there are five people on the same stance.
Yellow Panther leads off again before the sixth Animal reaches the ledge. With three on a rope, there’s only 30m available. But it’s 35m to the top, and as the rope comes tight there’s a convenient block to arrange a belay. Again, five bodies on the stance at a time, with Cerise Dragon’s left boot being used not just to keep his toes warm, but as a thread anchor and handhold!
The team reaches the top safely and abseils off the fixed chains. White Rhino regrets not having her abseil outfit of choice (see video on website). Everyone agrees the climbing was straightforward enough, but that the polished holds demanded care in the wet conditions.
As we descend the south west ridge of Sgurr Dearg, the rain starts again, and it’s only now that we realise how lucky we were to have had dry conditions for the Pinnacle itself. It seems a long way back to the campsite, but the Animals aren’t quite exhausted yet. White Rhino now has her abseil outfit of choice, and persuades Blue Bat and Red Horse to join her for a dip in the sea. The ladies try to persuade Yellow Panther to join them, but being a responsible meet leader, he sacrifices his own enjoyment to undertake lifeguard duty from the beach. Finally, as reward for a hard day’s work, we enjoy cake and custard in The Palace, to the tune of the week’s drinking song: “One raki-raki, Two saki-saki, Three Talisker, Four the lonely drinker, Stuck on the Cuillin Ridge.”
Day 6: Thursday August 30
After waking, the first thing we notice is that the wind and rain have stopped. There’s an unfamiliar yellow ball hanging in the sky. Cerise Dragon is dismayed there’s nothing to bead on his flysheet, but at least he can break out his solar panel to recharge his (camera) batteries.
Plans are slow to form. Red Horse is adamant she wants a rest day, and refuses to listen to whatever else is being discussed in case it’s just too tempting. In the end she opts for “a few minor tasks” and then goes for a run along the coast.
Meanwhile, Purple Lioness and Yellow Panther set out for The Quiche, with ambitions of the classic link-up over The Cioch. But the morning is almost gone before they start, and the sun hasn’t been on that side of the Coire at all. The rock is still wet, and it’s cold climbing. After running a couple of pitches together, a spot of mental arithmetic indicates that, at this rate, we’ll not top out until 11pm. Another bit of mental arithmetic and we realise the sandwiches won’t hold out that long. A final piece of mental arithmetic, and we conclude we’re still within reach of the ground by one abseil. So the ropes are tied together, and we descend. It’s still nearly 4pm by the time we get back to the campsite.
The other three Animals set out for the South Buttress of Sgurr Dearg. Cerise Dragon didn’t need to do any mental arithmetic to realise that side of the Coire would catch any sun going, and the trio are basking in it. They settle on Lagan Route, a 90m Severe. But as Blue Bat later remarked, “it was hard to tell where the buttress ended and the rest of the mountain began again”. Only after five pitches, each one a full rope length, does the team realise mental arithmetic is useful in certain circumstances.
Our trio traverse left into what they establish is Western Drainpipe. It doesn’t live up to its name, and there’s no water running down it, so the Animals use it as a descent. Eventually reaching a terrace, an exposed traverse follows. Their descriptions make it sound like the sort of situation one might find on a Via Ferrata, but with no cable it’s just a simple Via. All goes to plan, the team descends safe and sound, and arrives back at camp just as darkness is falling.
The BBQs are out, and that’s almost immediately after they’re lit. The food isn’t even warm, so Purple Lioness steps up to the challenge and before long we’re all munching pan-fried sausages. It’s a clear sky with a beautiful moon, and we all reflect on another good day.
Day 7: Friday August 31
It’s wet again, but with a bit of a breeze to keep the midges at bay. Gear is packed, tents are stowed. Cerise Dragon’s flysheet has done a great job all week, but he’s hasty in taking it down. The entire thing rips in two, the halves left flapping in the breeze with the rain still beading on them! Eventually cars are loaded, and the Animals begin the long journey back to Manchester.
Sincere thanks to those members who came along and made the week so much fun. The meet advert promised sunshine, and we did have some of the yellow stuff. There had been plenty of other stuff on the advertised list too, and they’ll all be there for a SPA reunion sometime in the future.
Everyone got home safely, Lucie and Gareth stopping overnight with Carolyn and Jamie in Glasgow (thanks guys). On Saturday, Carolyn and Gareth chased dry weather east to Limekilns, a great little limestone crag overlooking the Firth of Forth that neither of us had visited before. The crag is two quite separate, enormous, “blocks” of limestone, looking as though they’ve been somehow dropped into place. Presumably, though, the hillside was once quarried away around them. The rock, and the climbing, reminded us both of Trowbarrow, but on a much smaller scale. It seemed generally sound, though polished, and is well worth a visit. We climbed five routes from VS to E2, with a total of eleven stars and five E-points between them.
There are many more photos from the week on the club website, and two videos as well. Thanks to Dave for producing the latter.
The meet is on a bank holiday weekend, but the meet leader is staying up for the following week making a total of 25 to 31 August. KMC members are welcome to come along for any or all of the weekend and week. Please make your own accommodation arrangements. The meet leader will be based at the Glenbrittle campsite (midge nets advised) [You’d better believe it. Ed].
The Isle of Skye offers some of the most spectacular peaks in the UK. The awesome Black Cuillin mountains provide the best scrambling to be found anywhere -- and include the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the only Munro summit requiring the bagger to climb to earn their tick (Mod *** but with harder options too). For those who prefer to walk to their summits, the Red Cuillin hills are your best bet, with thrilling views across to the Black Cuillin.
The massive face of Sron na Ciche is home to the famous Cioch, is within easy reach of the Glenbrittle campsite and covered in top quality, classic multi-pitch routes from Moderate upwards. For a longer day out, why not walk around to Loch Coruisk and tackle the Dubh slabs, taking in about 900 vertical metres of Moderate ***? If exposure is your thing, have a go at Naismith's Route on the Bhasteir Tooth (V Diff ***).
Skye has a reputation for bad weather, but when the Cuillins are covered in clag, the coast is the place to go. Plenty of grand walking, and also some superb sea-cliffs to climb on. These are often dry when the higher mountains are dripping, and well worth a visit in their own right. There's also plenty of interesting walking to be done in the less popular northern parts of Skye, notably Trotternish. [Raasay is often sheltered by Skye too, Ed]
For those whose memory stretches back to the January 2012 newsletter, you'll remember a promise of a "bigger, better and sunshine guaranteed" bivvy meet in 2012. So, planned for this Skye meet, is "BBQ and Bivvy on the Cioch". For those up to the full challenge, this will involve Cioch West (7 pitches of Severe ***) followed by Arrow Route (2 pitches of V Diff ***) to gain the summit of the Cioch: prime spot for a BBQ and bivvy!
For those who make it to the morning, Integrity (2 pitches of Hard Severe **** (yes, four stars!)) will bring us to the top of Sron na Ciche and a dash back down for breakfast. If you prefer more leisurely climbing, you can still join in the fun on the Cioch via Collie's Route (Moderate ***).
Certainly bigger, definitely better, but let's not dwell on the guaranteed sunshine! Note this will be a responsible bivvy, taking all rubbish (including BBQ ashes) back down with us.
Also on the meet leader's wish list: a traverse of the main Cuillin Ridge in a day; the classics Grey Panther (E1 ****) and Internationale (E3 ****) at Kilt Rock; the unique Spantastic (HVS) at Flodigarry; the list goes on.... Please come along, and bring your own wish-list too!