Dave Birkett above the crux on Skye Wall (3 Pitches: E6 6b 25m, E7/8 6b 30m, and VS 60m), Isle of Skye, Scotland. Birkett managed the full route cleanly on his second trip, May 2. He claims the new route, which is the first on the cliff’s face, graces ?the most awesome wall of rock in the UK.? [Photo] Alastair Lee
A few years ago, British rock explorer Tom Walkinton mentioned to Dave Birkett that an untouched cliff on Scotland’s Isle of Skye was dying to be climbed. The 300-foot virgin gabbro wall, tucked past the Dubhs Ridge and Loch Coruisk, is not easy to get to, but Dave proved it was worth the effort. After two days of work he redpointed the full route, Skye Wall (3 Pitches: E6 6b 25m, E7/8 6b 30m, and VS 60m–comparable to 5.12d/13a, 5.13d/14a, 5.8), Isle of Skye, Scotland.
I joined Dave, as did Alan Steele and Dave’s uncle Bill Birkett, for the adventure. On our first trip, we headed north out of the Lake District on the night of April 25 to catch the 10 a.m. ferry out of Elgol the next day. Once we were on the Scottish Isle, we hiked to the head of Loch Coruisk to reach our makeshift basecamp. We took our gear from there for a more strenuous and trail-less tramp that required a bit of navigation. Eventually we found the cliff–a striking piece of rock. There is an easy route to the left of the buttress which was first climbed in the 1940s. However there has been no activity on the main imposing face of the buttress other than Tom Walkington’s effort up a hanging corner, which he backed off nearly twenty years ago.
Dave and Alan rapped in and inspected the potential route, a vertical face with thin, balancy and scary moves. Protection is difficult to arrange on the mostly blank wall, as many of the thin cracks flair. The crux section involves a thin undercling and some imaginary foot holds well above any protection. The scariest section of the climb is above the crux which involves a thin flake which must be handled with extreme care. Dave practiced the route for two hours on the first afternoon, bruising his tips on the sharp gabbro, but he was so excited about the line that he decided to go for the lead the next morning. He fell off above the crux on some poor gear–my heart was in my mouth–but the Rock no. 1 wire held, barely. A bit shaken up, and sweaty from unusually hot weather on Skye, we called it a day and bombed back down the valley to catch the 2 p.m. boat.
Two days later we left for Skye again, fueled by our new found inspiration. We woke up at 6 a.m. on May 2 to get back up to the wall. Dave got on the lead straight away, but the temperature was already rising and Dave’s fingers hadn’t healed properly. He fell at the same place but grabbed his gear as not to risk a huge fall. He cursed a lot, which I’d never heard him do before, and lowered. Without even a thought of rest, he took the lead again and fired off the line in fine style. The upper section of the crux pitch was all untouched rock and although technically easy, the climbing required great caution as protection was often difficult to arrange. Dave was on the crux pitch for fifty minutes during his successful lead.
Alan Steele (53) followed Dave up the route with a couple of rests then proceeded to lead the final pitch at about British 5a.
The wall is about 60 meters across; the hanging corner that Tom Walkington got halfway up looks a classic, and there may well be other routes on the wall–but they would prove very hard and even bolder.
Recently Dave has been totally inspired. Although he’s done lots of hard repeats in Scotland, I think this could be a big year (again) for Birkett first ascents. Next on his list is a project in the Lake District.
Looking up the valley across Loch Coruisk. The Skye Wall buttress is at the head of the valley. There is no trail to the cliff. [Photo] Alastair Lee