|Tim and myself in Glen Brittle after our traverse|
Setting off at 05.25am to walk in up the South East ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean we were brimming with enthusiasm. The weather was clear and we could gradually make out the familiar mountain masses as the dawn developed. Popping out on the South East ridge and seeing the main Cuillin spread out before us in its winter coat lit by early morning light was breathtaking, beautiful and incredibly exciting. We have both spend a considerable amount of time in the Cuillin in summer conditions - what would it be like in winter?
|Looking south from Sgurr nan Gillean to the rest of the Cuillin|
|Looking from Sgurr nan Gillean to Am Basteir and the Northern Cuillin|
Several factors were key to our fast and light approach. The snow conditions were excellent, with both a decent base and a forgiving fresher covering on top. The weather was clear and the wind not too persistent. Several parties had been along the ridge in the past two days and so there was a trail already broken - which took a very good line for at least ninety percent of the route. We also had the advantage of light equipment. In particular, we both wore Salomon X-Alp Carbon GTX boots - which at 500g each are essentially a stiff running shoe with an outer gaiter. These take a crampon remarkably well. We decided to take two ice axes each, to allow a maximum of soloing, and used one technical and one super light axe each for the majority of the time. For the multiple abseils we took a 38metre length of 8mm rope, and a 26metre length of 6mm cord. We took multiple slings and abseil tatt although as hoped all but one of the abseils we made were already equipped by recent teams. In addition we had a small rack of nuts and 4 quickdraws, for use on the Inn Pinn and TD Gap. We took just over a litre of water each and ate mostly gels and jelly babies.
Setting off from Sgurr nan Gillean we were incredibly excited. Getting the timing right with days off work, weather, snow conditions and partner had all come to pass: now we could get on with the task at hand. Tim set a blistering initial pace and fell back on his alpine experience to rig the first abseil extremely quickly. From then on we developed an efficient partnership, soloing and running between the more technical short sections or abseils.
|Tim on Sgurr nan Gillean just before starting the traverse|
|Finlay on Sgurr nan Gillean|
|Ideal conditions: Tim on Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh with the southern half of the Cuillin beyond|
|Tim powering on up|
Having a broken trail which was in the right place was key to our speed. Also the recently used, visible abseils were quick to find and safe to use - they didn't need dug out, re-equipped or hunted for. We moved very quickly between the abseils on Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir, Bhasteir Tooth; the second and then third tops of Mhadaidh. At times were were overheating in just a single thin top layer, but as we got to Sgurr na Banachdich and the change of general ridge direction, it got a bit colder in the wind. Reaching a wintery Inn Pinn Tim took the lead and we simul climbed up to the summit block at about 3hrs 15mins elapsed. After a quick abseil and another gel we continued on, and warmed up. Abseiling Kings Chimney we should have used both ropes, but didn't and had a short awkward downclimb.
|Climbing the Inn Pinn|
|King's Chimney abseil|
Approaching the TD Gap I was apprehensive. Things were going well but we still had this final technical obstacle to overcome. Many winter traverses descend into Coire a' Ghrunnda from the gap, but we felt that the ideal aesthetic was to include the climb out of the gap. After a brief pitiful attempt at some lassoing of the top of the gap from abseil, we descended and I set off on an anxious lead. To my delight, I found several positive hooks which I had no idea were there, despite knowing this short section well in summer. It's pretty steep with poor feet and my forearms were screaming, but at least it is short and fairly soon I was up and out. Me delighted, Tim seconded up and we continued on.
|Finlay leading out of TD Gap|
The sun came out now again and it was getting hot. We also picked up the pace slightly and enjoyed a brilliant romp up Sgurr Dubh Mor. Racing down the snowy gully towards Caisteal a' Garbh-Choire was certainly easier than ascending it in summer, although we had to make a few minor route changes in these winter conditions. From Sgurr nan Eag we stayed close, pushing each other on, and finally reached Gars-bheinn and its eagle's eerie view in a pretty knackered state. We took in the ridge and that favourite view across to a snow topped Bla Bheinn, before stumbling our way down the south west screes to the track and some water. A friendly family on holiday squeezed us into their car at Glen Brittle and dropped us back at Sligachan, for a much needed cup of tea.
|Finished: At Gars-bheinn|
|The view back along the ridge|
See here for GPS watch trace:
Sgurr nan Gillean 00.00.00
Am Basteir 16m37s
Bruach na Frithe 20.57
Bidein DNR 38.45
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh 43.24
Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh 11.00
Sgurr na Banachdich 22.33
In Pin 40.53
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich 25.19
Sgurr Alasdair 26.58
Sgurr Dubh Mor 1.17.04
Sgurr nan Eag 28.50