With the old knee back to normal I was champing at the bit for some adventure so with an OK forecast for Saturday (when I saw it on Friday) I decided on Blaven, my old pal. Well Saturday dawned bleak, with cloud at sea level and a fast disappearing snowpack. Light rain at 300m and rather mild didn’t bode well for my plans for Great Gully, a 300m Grade I winter route. I’ve been wanting to climb this for years but never got round to it and today didn’t look the day either. At the big boulder in the coire visibility was about 10 feet and it was drizzling. Mike Lates, the very friendly chap who runs Skye Guides was there with some clients but I didn’t want to tag along and instead headed off into the murk. Whenever I’m up in the coire I usually get the bins out and have a look at the gully to see how to get into it as the foot is rather complicated with lots of cliffs and smaller gullies so I had a vague idea of the ramp that curves round under the cliffs of the east ridge but I wasn’t sure how to get onto it.
So, girding my loins I crossed the burn and poked and prodded at Blaven’t defenses. I eventually found a promising snow ramp that led into the clag, still with only a few feet of visibility but it led over to a rushing sound and steepened ’til I was walking across a steep sided snow slope above some pretty nasty drops into the soaking wet gully. The snow was pretty thin at one point when I had to cross some slabs but then firmed up and I headed round the corner into a superb gash in the mountain. A waterfall poured down the black rocks and I kicked steps up to the edge of the gully and looked in. Not a chance! And the continuation up the side was starting to look Grade III with no discernible exit. It was a rather exciting spot. A bit of gentleman’s sport as the first ascensionists would have put it.
I turned back and took a different line up another snow slope that led way out out to the left as by now it was obvious I was too far to the right and well below the access ramp. Superb snow romping and some time later I came out into what looked like an amphitheatre though it was difficult to tell in the mist. I hung around for a while thinking what to do but decided I’d go on. As long as I didn’t climb anything I couldn’t reverse I’d be fine if I ended up off route. Then lo and behold I bumped into Mike’s team where the gully narrows to a few feet across.
This was the worst bit of the route. Waist deep snow that was very tiring to wade up but we teamed up and took turns to break trail. Where the gully narrowed there’s a fin of rock that looked very enticing to get out of the deep snow but I stuck to the gully and took the left branch where it steepened again. I went up the side of a beautifully wind carved snow bank and headed up into the confines of the upper gully where the snow hardened and the going was much better.
The gully walls were festooned with ice that looked far too tempting to climb. My old ice climbing bone was twitching. The one that had driven me up the gully in the first place. Steady on now!
It was interesting to see the gully that leads up to the south summit completely banked out. The rock in the bottom centre in the pic above usually has about a 10 foot drop below it and the gully above it is quite deep. Not today.
Eventually we all popped out on the narrow summit ridge and I plodded up the last few metres to the top where the cloud was playing with us, pretending to drop below the summit while the sun pretended to break out above us. As I sat and watched, a huge mass of cloud between Blaven and the Cuillin ridge heaved and sighed and now and then sank low enough for Sgurr nan Gillean’s jagged ridge to break through, black against the puffy white cloud.
I sat for half an hour or so until it became too cold then cramponed down the tourist route, ecstatic at having finally climbed the gully. Here’s a wee video of conditions in the gully. I must say, it’s good to be back on the winter routes.