After a great trip last summer to the Isle of Mingulay, south of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, I was keen to get back, this time to the Isle of Pabbay. The islands have been on my radar for a while but the commitment of getting together a group of people, everyone getting out to Barra and then getting on a small boat to drop you off for a week or so with no comms in whatever weather comes off the Atlantic is something I think holds a lot of people back.
This year I was climbing with Malcy after both his partner and mine from last year couldn't make it. Malcy has been going to the islands for over 15 years and knows them well. After a few routes on Banded Wall on the first day we went to check out his 'Crag X', a crag he'd been looking at for years but never gone and played on, just like everyone else.
We rigged a 90m abseil with numerous rebelays to access the promontory and then set about checking out lines, trundling blocks on the looser terrain and trying a few lines. Closer inland the rock seems to have seen less wave washing and has more loose rock on it but where the crags are exposed the rock is great and we got some nice routes in.
With a bit of a stormy forecast for the whole week we'd known from the outset that this trip could be a bit different to last year where we climbed great rock everyday, arrived and departed on the hoped dates and only got rained on when we were in bed. Having arrived on the Sunday night, Malcy and I found ourselves running around the island on Tuesday finding the rest of the team to discuss when we would be departing based on the latest weather and the boat offering a collection that day.
With a forecast from Chucky's InReach suggesting things were only really going to get bad around the weekend everyone agreed to stay on the island and see out a wet Wednesday hoping for a later pick up. Before Wednesday's rain we managed to snatch a handful of nice routes at Evening Wall close to camp.
With an updated forecast on Thursday morning and a a few messages out to the boat enquiring about a pick up, the whole team headed to the Poop Deck and Banded Wall in case we had to leave quickly. Good planning meant when the call came we were back in camp and ready for the boat back to Barra before the stormy weekend and fish super in the pub.
Slightly disappointing to have missed out on climbing any of the real classic lines due to a short trip with poor weather, but the days we did get have left me psyched to head back...maybe at a drier time of year.
With Sally going through the International Mountain Leader qualification at present one of the stages of the process is to be assessed as a leader in summer in the Alps. So, in July, we booked a few weeks off in the calendar and drove out with the intention of allowing a couple of weeks preparation time and a week for the assessment with Glenmore Lodge.
I'm not currently going through the IML so I was just in the Alps acting as 'support' providing transport, flower documentation skills and most importantly, the need for daily cake stops. With Sally's assessment based in southern Germany on the border with Austria, a veritable cake honeypot site, I knew my role in the team. Basically I'm a big fan of Austro-German cakes and Italian coffee. I was in my element!
Alongside the need to sample all the cake, the IML requires a fair amount of mountain experience, good navigational skills, ropework skills of a slightly higher level than the UK summer Mountain Leader qualification and a hell of a lot of local flora, fauna and historical and cultural knowledge. With this in mind Sally had already been reading up for months before heading out to the Alps, but during our two weeks of alpine preparation time we spent a lot of time looking at amazing flowers and learning about the local culture.
With some inclement weather at various parts of the trip in southern Bavaria we dotted about the Alps occasionally enjoying a few days in Italy, Switzerland and Austria to make the most of the different weather windows. We also managed to throw in a few days rock climbing and a number of fun easy summits; the Grosser Widderstein being a really nice day out alongside the traverse of the Nebelhorn and it's via ferrata.
After all this preparation and a lot of exploring the local area around Oberstdorf, Bavaria, it was fantastic to see Sally come away from assessment having not only passed but seemingly cruised the 5 days. Without any hesitation winter assessment, the final stage of the qualification process, was booked and now we have that to look forward to in January. Nice one Sally!
To celebrate, and with a few spare days before we had to head back, we headed to Switzerland in search of the best weather and landed in Saas Grund psyched to climb a bigger alpine peak. Straight off the lift the next morning we wondered up the South Ridge of the Lagginhorn (4010m), a fantastic airy AD scramble, and with wheezy lungs due to our total lack of acclimatisation descended to normal route to the Weisshorn hutte in time for dinner and a Radler. A great end to the trip!