My Scarpa Oxygen approach shoes are one of two new pairs of Scarpa footwear I have to review. The rather bright blue and orange Oxygen were supplied by Barrabes Ski & Mountain and have been used for 15 days scrambling and climbing along with a handful of more casual outings. I have to say they are pretty much built for the Mountaineering Instructor although they are not without their pitfalls.

Scarpa Oxygen Review

I agree with Scarpa who describe the Oxygen as a ‘do-it-all’ shoe, they certainly surpass the typical ‘approach’ footwear, so much so I would say there are better models out there for simply approaching and carrying up the crag. In lots of ways the Oxygen is more of a mountain shoe with a Gore-Tex membrane giving them a waterproof lining, a Vibram Symbios sole that works well on slippery mountain paths and a very well designed sock-fit which feels secure and comfortable straight out the box.

Scarpa Oxygen Review

Scarpa Oxygen are pretty much perfect for working on Skye and its Cuillin Ridge

Personally I find the compound of the sole unit quite hard compared to other Scarpa shoes, definitely not quite as grippy as the gecko which I reviewed last year. This in turn gives less security on greasy or polished rock but suits mountaineering on classic ridges or easy climbs such as those found on Ben Nevis or Skye’s Cuillin Ridge. The Gore-Tex membrane is a nice addition whilst climbing in wet climates such as Scotland, although my feet did get quite sweaty on hot sunny days clambering around Dorset’s amazing sea cliffs. I also have narrow feet so I am a big fan of Scarpa’s sock-fit technology. They are as comfortable as any shoe I have used although the description on the Scarpa site may somewhat over-state their luxurious feeling of comfort the Oxygen might provide you.

The upper is made using Scarpa’s high quality suede and mesh which includes the brilliant SOCK-FIT DVL tongue system.  These elements, together, mean that your foot is wrapped in a protective, supportive and comfortable cocoon of GORE-TEX, leather and Shoeller material.  There’s a full toe rand to help protect sensitive areas.

If I was to summarize on the Scarpa Oxygen I would say they are an ideal shoe for the mountain professional. Or, someone who wants to have the comfort and freedom of a shoe instead of a boot which can be used in rain, hail or shine. Ideally suited to the cooler climate, almost perfect for adventures such as Skye’s Cuillin Ridge or anywhere wet ground can be found on approach to steep terrain. The Scarpa Oxygen can be found in bright orange and blue at Barrabes Ski & Mountain or newer but slightly more modest colours on Scarpa.co.uk

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Its been a wet and blustery season on the Isle of Skye so it was with great joy I finished my working season with a fair weather Munro course and a dry Cuillin Traverse, with just one minging day somewhere in the middle. All 7 days I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides.

Barry and I had been planning a Cuillin Traverse for a very long time. We have both been as flexible as possible to ensure the weather was in our favour, so much so its been around a year in the making to finally get together and set foot on the ridge. We took the boat from Elgol for the full experience, having previously owned a power boat Barry loved whipping over the sea but was maybe not so keen on the soggy walk to our first top Gars-bheinn. From here we made steady progress along the ridge, taking in some climbs and skipping underneath others. Barry had to fight hard to climb the Kings Chimney so I was glad I had talked him out of the TD Gap. However, at 65 Barry kept battling on up and over the In Pinn towards our four star bivi (not five as no spring!) at Sgurr na Banachdaich, where we found great shelter from the strong winds before settling in for a long night.

Theres never any reason to hang about after a chilly bivi so we were ‘up and at em’ for 7am over the tops of Mhadaidh and striding towards to northern end to beat the approaching gales. I knew Barry was feeling the burn but we kept a steady pace completing Am Basteir and our final peak; Sgurr nan Gillean for 3pm. It had been a great adventure in near perfect conditions, partnered by the ever positive Barry who should be super proud to complete such a task at 65 years of age. A fine way to finish my Skye 2017 season.

  1. Prior to the traverse Scott and I delivered a four day Munro course which aims to complete all main Cuillin Munros over four big days. Our team of eight had a real mix of experience from having done the Skye Munros twice previously to nervous scramblers ready to test themselves against Scotland’s most challenging summits. Four days and a good mix of weather and emotions for our team, in the end we had to miss the easiest Skye Munro; Sgurr na Banachdaich after hitting a queue on the In Pinn. Well done to all for putting the effort in!

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Returning home from the sunny South West last Friday to some very damp, drizzly Scottish weather, I didn’t hold too much hope of ideal conditions for a traverse of the Aonach Eagach. However, we were all pleasantly surprised as the day dawned sunny and still allowing us fine views and dry rock to scramble on. Kathryn had been on this journey many years ago but for eleven year old daughter Niamh, Tracey and Pamela it was to be a day of smiles, excitement and surpassing anxiety. Well done team for picking a rare summers day in 2017….

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I have just finished a nice varied six days of work. Last weekend I was out with John and Beth both interested in learning about leading rock routes so they can climb a little more independently. John and Beth have been to climbing walls in the past, mainly focusing on top-roping so our first day was spent in the Ice Factor looking to break that mould. It was a nice progressive day which finished with Beth taking some pretty impressive leader falls; all in control of course. Day two was spent at Kingussie Crag with John and Beth abseiling and leading up to VDiff for themselves, the midge were out in force – enough to add a grade!

Monday and Tuesday I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides, two days of guiding for Jess and Dave who are visiting from the United States. We risked a 50/50 forecast by heading to Raonach Wall to climb the three star Agag’s Groove. The third pitch never disappoints but I did note a block missing just above the crux moves, hopefully not a sign of winter ascents and quite possibly the result of all the rain we have had! Tuesday with slightly sore muscles we made a half attempt to climb Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis but retreated under the heavy rain for a session at 3WM Climbing wall. Here David and his son; 4 year old Eli pulled out all the moves and had a great time running up and down the routes in the dry.

Yesterday was Roz and Richards turn for an adventure on the Aonach Eagach, no finer way to celebrate Richards 40th Birthday! We had a delayed start to miss all the heavy rain which actually turned out better than anticipated with a non-waterproof day – unheard of this summer…… Roz and Richard cruised along the ridge in great time, enjoying the scrambling and moody views through the swirling mist.

Finally today I have been guiding Neil up North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor; a wet weather alternative to the planned rock climbing over on Argour. I think Neil was surprised at how good the route is despite me calling it a consolation route! The midge were unbearable for a time and poor Neil got a pure mauling, zoom in on the photo of his face below – grim! Off on holidays now in search of dry rock, scones and cider – any guesses?

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Since getting home from a successful Skye traverse last week, I have enjoyed the start of the winter training season and embraced ‘more’ rain by running over a few local hills. I did have one great day of work last Sunday with Jon and Leanne on the uber classic Tower Ridge. These two seemed to enjoy every moment, even though rocks were typically slippery and greasy after all the rubbish weather we have had on the West coast. As per usual the North Face was very quiet with just one other team on Castle Ridge for company. After such a peaceful day on Tower Ridge we emerged to the crowds on the summit, reinforcing that ‘The Ben’ is a mountain for everyone. We took a quick exit from the madness and descended Ledge Route for a nice all round mountaineering experience. I’ve lots of rock climbing work over the next week or so – if only the clouds would part and summer would reveal itself!

The sign of a poor summer – winter psych!

Getting drowned running about Glencoe hills

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Cuillin Ridge Traverse Guide

The start of the expedition

Chris and Steve took a week off their work in the hope good weather would coincide with a trip to Skye. They had been to the Island previously so knew how fickle conditions can be and how important it is to get reasonable weather to complete a successful traverse. Wednesday turned out to be ‘the day’ so we made plans to get dropped off by the boat and make the preferable steady approach up the South flank of Gars-bheinn. Timings are always in the forefront of the mind whilst on a traverse, and thankfully we just about got infront of a gaggle of people at the TD Gap; the first proper climbing of the day. From here we had Kings Chimney, An Stac and the Pinn to ourselves allowing us to keep ahead of the game by leaving the Inaccessible Pinnacle by 1530. With such conditions we kept of chugging away, climbing over Ghreadaidh and Mhadaidh and its four tops before reaching our planned biv at Bealach Glaic Mor. I knew day two could turn out damp so the suggestion of carrying on was raised but not accepted. This I understand as tiredness had crept into Steve’s legs and he felt carrying on he’d become a burden. We settled in for a cool bivi but also an amazing sunset to warm morale.

TD Gap

Getting ahead of the crowd – TD Gap

Kings Chimney

Kings Chimney

In Pinn

All smiles on the In Pinn

Bivi Skye Cuillin

Amazing Bivi

After a slightly damp and windy night we awoke to a couple of inquisitive young stags wandering through our camp. It was soon clear however the rain which had fallen through the night had made things rather slippery so Bidein was forfeit to make haste towards Am Basteir. Unfortunately, things didn’t get better only wetter and windier making Naismiths  Route a little too risky to be fun. The team put in a huge effort to cut underneath and reascend to Bealach a’Bhasteir, from here we made an out and back twice to complete the final two Munros. Well done to Chris and Steve, who not only completed a long term ambition but did it in style too.

Sgurr nan Gillean

A damp but happy finish on Sgurr nan Gillean

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The Highland summer is continuing its theme of here one day and gone the next. Most recently I have been working with Donald and David on Skye then Harry and Conor around Lochaber, both teams had high expectations but sometimes you just cant fight the weather. The last four days I have been working for West Coast Mountain Guides.

Donald and David have been to Skye several times, both have completed the main ridge Munros yet both were very keen to try a Cuillin Traverse. Quite rightly they wanted the full experience so with a heavy thundery forecast things weren’t looking too promising. Instead, we had two very contrasting days on Pinnacle Ridge and Clach Glas / BlaBheinn traverse. As it happens every 6 hours the forecast changed only this time, annoyingly it got better. It wouldnt have made a difference to skipping past climbs such as the TD Gap and Kings Chimney as it rained very heavy the first morning, however; Naismith’s probably would have got a look as bright sunshine dried everything out quickly – some you win, some you loose.

The following day I met Harry and Conor, both wanted to learn to lead rock routes themselves and having been on taster courses previously there was nothing to suggest otherwise. Once again we did battle with some difficult conditions, making use of any brighter spells to climb Pinnacle Ridge, the Gutter and have a play on Tear in Glen Nevis. After dodging around on slippery schist we decided to have a day inside at the Ice Factor. Both Harry and Conor did well learning techniques in the Ice Wall but unfortunately we had to cut our day short as Harry managed to attack himself with his ice axe. Back to Skye this week hoping to capitalise with a  blip of high pressure!

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Sgurr Alasdiar looking Himalayan above the cloud

Last Tuesday had to be one of the best weather days I have experienced on Skye. The combination of a cool wind, cloud inversion and warm sunshine was a refreshing change; a day that is certainly a diamond in the rough – the story of summer 2017 so far!

Jeremy, David and Rob requested a classic Skye day, in-particular a Lagan round which David had done nearly 30 years ago, only this time we would do it in reverse. Arriving at the In Pinn to see nobody else there was a real bonus, sunny days like this on Skye often attract a queue at Scotland’s most difficult Munro but today we had it to ourselves. Following this we made short work of Sgurr MhicCoinnich along Collies Ledge and up onto Thearlaich before dropping down and reascending back to Alasdair. A fine day with Brocken Spectre’s, amazing weather and largely we were without company. I was working for West Coast Mountain Guides.

David enjoying the In Pinn 27 years after first climbing it

Rob having done very little climbing was in his element

One of those days .!

Iain guiding his clients tot he summit of MhicCoinnich having just done Kings Chimney

Got to be an amazing way to descend

 

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The last little stint of work has fallen on ‘good weather’ days, which was nice. Last week I was out with Matt, Bobby and Gill, all keen and fit walkers that wanted to maximize their time in the hills. I agreed to a big day providing we met a couple of time restrictions and nobody was fading half way through. We started with a swift ascent of the In Pinn before heading onto Sgurr MhicCoinnich and along Collies Ledge. A nice bit of scrambling up and over Sgurr Thearlaich left us on the summit of Sgurr Alasdair by 1pm. From here a steady bit of scrambling leads down and over to Sgurr Dubh Mor and finally onto the Southern most Munro Sgurr nan Eag. All made possible by lots of psyche, enthusiasm and Skye’s generous day of clear blue skies and perfect temperatures. I was once again working for West Coast Mountain Guides.

The following day I met up with Patrick and John for what I hoped would be a good day of rock climbing. These guys were a great laugh, both in their 70’s with lots of climbing experience.Patrick was going to relax at the foot of the route whilst John was keen to sample a Scottish classic. As he was soon departing for Yosemite John wanted to climb around VS level, the closest dicey, granite climbing I could think of had to be Etive slabs, so Spartan Slab it was. We were blessed again with the weather, and even though it was ferociously windy at times, the midges didn’t get a snipped.

Finally today I met with Caroline, Andy and Peter for a traverse of the Aonach Eagach. Peter having done quite allot of scrambling and climbing in the past where as Andy and Caroline were very experienced ultra distance runners. this made a nice mix and plenty to chat about over the course of the day. It was quite windy and damp on the approach but blowing from the East meant our backs were to the weather all morning. By midday things were looking brighter and the team made steady progress on ever drying rock. Another great day int he mountains, thanks to all!

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Andy and I have been working for West Coast Mountain Guides with a group of 8 friends who all traveled up from London to attempt Scotland’s original 24 hour challenge; the Tranter Round. Having spoken with Alex who was co-ordinating his friends we planned to split the event into two long days starting with a Lochaber Traverse (Stob Choire Claurigh – Ben Nevis) and finishing with the Mamroe’s (Mullach nan Coirean – Sgurr Elide Mor).

As with many of these challenges there were a few spanners in the works that meant the initial day was cut short and the second day was spent with a speedy ascent of Ben Nevis. Sometimes, aspirations dont quite match abilities however, that’s what makes us try harder and drive us forward to greater challenges in the future.

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