He holds the Mountain Instructor Certificate and is an extremely experienced climber, mountaineer and hill walker. In this article he shares his experiences on the famous Skye ridge, and explores what is required for a successful traverse. From how to train and prepare to ridge tactics, top tips and a suggested kit list, this article will help you make the traverse in one piece. This article was originally published in , but has been revamped for
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He holds the Mountain Instructor Certificate and is an extremely experienced climber, mountaineer and hill walker. In this article he shares his experiences on the famous Skye ridge, and explores what is required for a successful traverse. From how to train and prepare to ridge tactics, top tips and a suggested kit list, this article will help you make the traverse in one piece.
This article was originally published in , but has been revamped for It includes photographs from the UKC user gallery. Water, there has got to be some somewhere? I have not drunk for hours and the sun is just relentless. I feel shrivelled like a prune. It all looks the same! The words above may read familiar to those who have attempted the Cuillin traverse.
Cuillin Ridge, mini-planet well it does feel like a whole separate world up there! They made the journey from south to north in a day, having taken a little over 12 hours between Gars-bheinn and Sgurr nan Gillean.
They were old Skye campaigners with many first ascents on the Cuillin so undoubtedly used their local knowledge. The Cuillin is steeped in mountaineering history. Even Bonnie Prince Charlie and his escorts would have walked in the shadow of the Cuillin, floundering through the bogs heading for Elgol to get a boat to the mainland and eventually France!
Ask yourself: are you fit enough? Going to the gym to jump on the treadmill once a week is not going to do it. To get fit for something of this scale requires careful planning and preparation.
You need to do this yourself, as I am not going to drop a full training programme on your lap. However, some things to include in your programme would be endurance, endurance and have I mentioned endurance?
Make sure you get your feet used to wearing your scrambling boots all day in potentially warm temperatures: basically break your feet in. To save your fingertips on the sharp Cuillin gabbro, purchase a cheap pair of canvas gardening gloves as this will save you hours of either taping up or blowing on your fingers in the evening. Mentally fit! You need to prepare body and mind for complete and utter full body exhaustion.
As there is so much ascent and descent involved it can get hugely demoralising and time seems to quickly fall by if you are on a technical section that requires rope work. When on the traverse, break it down into sections. For example when I do it north to south I break it down to three sections.
Let the clock tick for a whole section rather than an individual peak or crux section. It all evens out in the end! What I mean by this is two fold. One: you need to have a high level of personal competence in climbing and scrambling. Two: you need to have good knowledge and be well practised in rope skills required for rock climbing. The technical standard of the climbing on the ridge is never more than Very Difficult, but since most of the ridge is sustained and exposed scrambling with extensive sections of Moderate and Difficult climbing, it is certainly wise to be able to lead Severe so that most parts of the ridge can then be comfortably soloed.
As soon as a rope is deployed, time is lost. What could take five minutes to solo may take up to an hour when using rock climbing equipment and ropes. You need to be happy moving over moderately technical terrain wearing scrambling boots and a rucksack. Forget the rock shoes, it is big boots all the way. It is essential that you have the skill and knowledge to construct sounds belays, be able to lead climb whilst placing sound runners and have the ability to abseil and retrieve the rope.
You do not need a huge amount of climbing equipment, as many of the crux sections are fairly short and sharp, with the longer climbing sections requiring a cool head with fewer runners. What you can also do highly recommended is sections of the main ridge itself, not only to get the practice, but also to get familiar and gain valuable route finding knowledge.
To be successful on a full traverse attempt, previous knowledge is invaluable. Training in the area also gives you the feel for the Cuillin but also further tactical knowledge i. Other recommendations that may be more accessible to people would be some of the North Wales, Lakeland and Lochaber classic scrambles, such as the North ridge of Tryfan followed by Bristly ridge on Glyder Fach, Pinnacle ridge outside of Patterdale, the Aonach Eagach in Glencoe or Tower ridge on Ben Nevis.
Looking North from the summit of Sgurr Alasdair. The party in the foreground are on the summit of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich. To have more chance of success and to enjoy the experience then a two-day exped is recommended.
If you like to gamble, enjoy suffering and have good knowledge about the ridge then a one-day traverse is the way. Next you need to decide when you are going to do it. The obvious times are from May to September and cross your fingers that the weather gods are with you. A high pressure holding high cloud is perfect as it gives you clear weather but the cloud protects you from some of the sun. I have seen just as many people fail through wall-to-wall sunshine as I have from rain and wind.
Do not even consider an attempt if it is raining, you will be slow and never make to the end in daylight! As long as it is dry, not too windy with fairly good visibility then you have an excellent chance.
To give yourself the best chance arrive with several days to play with, so that you can pick the best day or days for your traverse attempt. You can still use the poor weather days to scope out sections of the ridge and place equipment such as bivi gear and food. Which way? Do you go north to south or do the opposite? Since my first encounter with the ridge over 15 years ago when Dougald was on one calorie, I have done the traverse in both directions several times.
I have no personal preference but when I guide students attempting a full traverse I go north to south. Doing the ridge from north to south has a couple of advantages. Firstly you have a less strenuous start and secondly you can abseil many of the technical sections. From this point dump your kit and proceed to bag the north section, consisting off Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Bhastier.
It is your choice if you want to bag Naismiths Route V Diff on the Bhastier tooth on your way past see below: highly recommended!
How to scramble: the Cuillin Ridge
I gained valuable training along the way even though the weather conditions were very challenging Steve made sure we got the training we went for. He is very patient and explains everything very well answering any question and making sure we understood anything explained to us. His knowledge in mountaineering is excellent and I felt very comfortable doing the different challenges he threw at us under his guidance over the weekend. I highly recommend Steve and look forward to using him myself in the future.
Cuillin Ridge Guide
The views from the main Black Cuillin ridge are truly magnificent and enhanced by the sea of the Inner Hebrides. Our Skye guides know these mountains like the back of their hands. Cuillin Ridge Traverse Outline On a good day it is not unusual to see the whole of the Hebrides The Long Island laid out on the western horizon from Barra to Lewis, whilst to the south east the unmistakable hump of Ben Nevis might also be visible. This is without question the most rugged and extensive high mountain ridge in the British Isles and would provide a logical continuation from the Fort William based ridge scrambling weeks for fit people with a knowledge and experience of rock climbing and simple rope work and abseiling. I booked very last minute but found the company to be extremely accommodating of this. It was my first time doing any real scrambling and I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone else.
SKYE CUILLIN RIDGE
Are you ready for the challenge? No, the real reason why so many attempted traverses end in failure is the enormous physical and mental toll posed by this Alpine-style epic. Remote, sustained, serious and with fantasy views over mountains and sea, this is scrambling at its most thrilling. Get training Like any marathon-esque mountain route, the Cuillin Ridge requires some serious preparation.