Cuillin Ridge Traverse

May 6th, 2008 by Crofty

Approach to TD GapRichard and I attempted the Great Traverse of the Skye Cuillin during the May bank holiday week of 2006. We came close to finishing it, but early delays at the notorious TD gap and poor weather saw us retreating down the Tairneilear stone shoot in pouring rain. We had been reduced to using the rope on easy ground, due to slippery rock. On return to York, I could not get the ridge out of my thoughts and I spent every spare moment checking the weather forecast and making gear lists. The weather looked great for the following Saturday, so I suggested it to Richard in the pub on Thursday. I could tell he was interested and his parting words were ‘Give us a ring tomorrow’ Friday afternoon saw us throwing hastily assembled kit into the back of his car and a frustrating drive to Scotland. Traffic accident on the A66 and people heading away for the weekend. We made better time as we drove North and managed a couple of late pints of Guinness in the Cluanie Inn. Nearly getting into an argument with a guy from Edinburgh,, who did not know his geography. From there we drove a little further and slept in a lay-by near Kintail Lodge. Awaking to Rich’s mobile phone alarm at 3.00am, I crawled into the driving seat while he tried to grab a few more zeds, pretty hard to do at 90mph. Sorry Rich. Onto Skye and over to Glenbrittle, we were walking away from the car at 4.30am, arriving at Gars-bheinn at around 7.50am. We left the summit at exactly 8.00 after a quick drink.

Looking south along the ridge

I should add that we were moving slower than our last attempt as Rich had developed really bad stomach cramps on the walk up and I was quite concerned about how it was affecting him. As we approached the TD gap we could see a party just topping out. We did not know if more people were below, so went straight to plan B. This involves a traverse out under Sgurr Alasdair and a grade 3 scramble over its summit. This in some ways is a better route as you can top the highest peak on the island and not have to backtrack on yourself. Summit photo and handshake completed, we picked our way down and up and over Sgurr Thearlaich. This mountain has a tricky route off its Western end involving difficult downclimbing. Our next objective of Sgurr Mhic Coinnich turned into a race with another party, who we had passed below Alasdair. Luckily they chose to try to go directly down Thearlaich and ended up abseiling. We luckily found the quickest way and beat them to the belay of King’s Chimney. This is a really intimidating corner, but actually only Diff in grade. Nice holds and good pro, we were soon at the summit. The next part of the traverse always seems to take a long time, as you have to descend to the Bealach Coire Lagan and then climb all the way up tiresome scree to Sgurr Dearg, home of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. On arrival a film crew asked us if we could “just stay out of screen”. Apparently a Gaelic film is being made, the first ever, so we sat down, out of screen and ate some food. We decided to skip the Pinnacle as other parties were ahead and we had done it 10 days ago. Onward we slogged, over Banachdich, Thormaid, Ghreadaidh, and Mhadaidh, involving walking and up to grade 3 scrambling. I knew where someone had left a small amount water, from our previous trip, hoping to top mine up a bit, but when I checked the little cave it had already been raided. Also looking south along the ridge

The last 3 tops of Mhadaidh require ropework and we seemed to take ages from here to get to our previous attempt record of the notch, just after An Caisteal. The climb along the ridge of An Caisteal involves a stride across a deep chasm. Very atmospheric.

Sgurr a'Fionn Choire

Once past our past bail out point, we both felt a little bit renewed and found the reserves to make a long climb up Bruach na Frithe, taking a well earned break at the top. We found a spot out of the wind and sun, which had been bothering us all day. You were either in the sun getting hot and dehydrated or on the ridge getting blown about. We chose the lee side of the ridge for most of the way and got baked, better than being blown down a 500ft cliff.

View of Am Bhasteir Tooth

Time was slipping away and we wanted to try and get to the pub before they stopped serving food, so we traversed Am Bhasteir and climbed onto the lower slopes of Sgurr nan Gillean. Here a short rockclimb of about Moderate leads to the final West Ridge of one of the most stunning mountains in the British Isles. The ascent of this ridge leads through the famous ‘Window’, good for a couple of photos and then the summit. Another handshake and a look at the time revealed we had finished the ridge exactly 12 hours after setting off from the southern tip.

The last summit Sgurr nan Gillean Needless to say, we were soon off and just missed getting any food, but I think we were both just glad to have got from one end to the other. Would I go back? If you had asked me then I would of said never, but after a couple of good sleeps, I think I could be persuaded. Thanks to Rich for coming along and sharing one of the greatest adventures in the world. Jim Croft

2 Responses to “Cuillin Ridge Traverse”

  1. guido says:

    Will really have 2 go & try this sometime.

  2. Simon C says:

    I've tried this twice so far, both times from Coruisk. The first time, the rain was so heavy we didn't leave the hut. The second time, the wind was so strong we had to leave the hut after only one day, before the boats were confined to harbour for a week.
    Will let people know when we try again, so everyone can arrange to be somewhere else.

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