Interesting goings-on of late on the Cuillin. Considerable publicity has already been given to the breaking of the main ridge record by the splendidly named Esmond Tresidder (who hails from Hamish Brown's old haunt of Kinghorn), but the feat is so impressive that the details need to be reported here too. Tresidder's first attempt in October 2006 saw him rained off before reaching the Thearlaich-Dubh Gap. He returned in late April and made it from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean in 3 hours 59 minutes. Most people would regard this as more than satisfactory, but it was done "more circuitously than necessary and without enough water" (he ran out around Bidein Druim nam Ramh), and he finished a fair way outside of Andy Hyslop's 7 August 1994 time of 3hr 32min 15sec.
Undaunted, and considering himself "close enough to the record to consider going back once more", the 27-year-old Tresidder returned on 4 May and nailed it, end-to-ending the ridge in 3hr 17min 28sec. He made a 6:30am start in near-perfect weather, with a cloud sea below for much of the way. Those who have made fast traverses of the ridge often seem to report oddities in the mid-section timings, and Tresidder was no exception. In his blog he notes having been "eight minutes ahead of [Hyslop's] schedule" by Sgurr na Banachdich, but despite "visualising him over a summit behind me", by Bidein he appeared to have lost seven minutes of the advantage. He then "put in a major effort going over An Caisteal and up Bruach na Frithe" (something of an understatement, one suspects, although it's likely that Hyslop and Tresidder took their timings from different summits on Bidein), and arrived on Bruach na Frithe 15 minutes ahead of Hyslop. The day's only patch of mist affected the descent off Am Basteir ("I panicked a bit in the confusion"), but "familiar rock for the climb up Sgurr nan Gillean" saw the 15-minute lead maintained to the finish.
In terms of the split times, Tresidder made it between the outliers Sgurr Dubh Mor and Sgurr Alasdair, via the TD Gap, in 20 minutes, then from Sgurr Alasdair to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, via Sgurr Thearlaich, in ten minutes. Sgurr Mhic Choinnich to the In Pinn took 19 minutes, admittedly bypassing An Stac on the Lagan side (but having to slog up the most chossy slope in the country). Bruach na Frithe to Gillean, via the Tooth and Am Basteir, took 22 minutes.
Asked on the UKC climbing forum about his training methods, Tresidder said that he did "lots of fell running, lots of climbing, reccying the ridge. Didn't do any other scrambling other than what was on the ridge." Needless to say, he's a high-grade climber and has considerable Alpine experience.
Quite how low the ridge time can go is an interesting question. Hyslop's time looked near-unbeatable, but 15 minutes have now been carved from it. Is below three hours possible? It's surely the next logical target. Note that in all the ultra-fast ridge times from Eric Beard's 1963 effort (4hr 9min 9sec), through the various Stott, Davies, Moran and Hyslop efforts to Tresidder's new mark, no one seems to have come a cropper in terms of accident or injury. These guys might be a bit mad, but they know what they're doing.
Oh, and for all that this might seem a very modern effort, one aspect provides a nice link with the hill heroes of the past: Tresidder reports that he hitched back home to Fife.
That, though, is arguably not the headline story from the Cuillin in the past few months. Here's what local guide Mike Lates posted on UKC on 26 April: "The Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgurr Dearg has been rocked, probably by a massive lightning bolt this winter (but possibly a Munrobagger with semtex?) The result is that the top has now changed to being the 'Bolster' stone - the one with the abseil chain around it. Previously the top had been measured as the more easterly, more easily reached boulder. This is now clearly more than a foot lower in height after being literally blown away/to bits. Touching the top is now a game scramble for those over 5' 6", but a more nervy step out into space for those any smaller or wanting to stand on the summit. [...] Five different rockfalls have happened. The biggest is a section about 4m x 4m x 10m just to the left of the west ridge which should have no effect for most folk. The three sections that have come off the south face have littered the slabby areas directly below the Pinn and on the horrible slabby approach from Coire Lagan. Nasty - say no more. The climbs on the south face left of South Crack will need a lot of caution."
Blimey O'Reilly. The most obvious thing to say about this is that it appears to have resolved the debate about the highest point of the Pinn. As Lates notes, the block that has been zapped was a little higher than the bolster stone (although not by much - see Ken Stewart's letter, TAC47 p18). Few have ever been so bold as to do the angels-on-a-pin thing of actually standing on either point (although it can be done: Robin Howie, who has recently racked up his ninth Munro round, has a picture in his study of him poised atop the bolster stone). But while most people, TAC's Ed included, have been satisfied with an ungainly and inelegant self-draping, there was little doubt that the old highpoint was easier in this regard than was/is the bolster stone. Hence, as Lates implies, the Pinn has now become a bit harder.
Major rockfalls are by no means uncommon in the Cuillin (the Gillean gendarme, the two collapses of the Am Basteir bad step), but this appears to be the first time an actual Munro summit has been affected. And although the change involves just a few centimetres of height, very little horizontal distance and (presumably) no alteration to the grid ref, a change it most definitely is.
No one from TAC Towers has yet had a chance to go and check the situation first-hand, so a site report would be of interest from any reader who happens to be there over the next few months. It sounds like there might well be scope for further rockfall, so take your hard hat.
Thanks to Steve Perry for first spotting this.
TAC 71 Index