The Cuillin Ridge Traverse is the UK's finest mountaineering challenge, but what does it take to succeed and how can you stack the cards in your favour? In this post I aim to share my top tips for success on the ridge.
1. Learn the ridge
You can't beat knowing the ridge. Get out on the ridge and learn some of the key sections. Doing this on the days which aren't good enough for a ridge traverse will mean you can cruise those sections of route finding on your attempt and allow yourself extra time and energy for the bits you know less well.
2. use the resources out there
Check the weather and keep watching it. The Met Office give a fairly accurate forecast for the ridge but due to it's topography there can be some variation in weather between different sections of the ridge on any single day. You can use this to your advantage, so check the forecast for the different summits. MWIS is very helpful for getting an overview of what's ahead and planning your time more broadly.
Harvey's Cuillin Map is the best map of the Cuillin Ridge. It's super handy for visualising the lay of the land and planning. That said, the ridge is too intricate for a map to be of much use when you're trying to work out which way to go at that next difficult step. For this there is no competition to learning the ridge, but there are some guidebooks out there in the meantime which can help with photo topos of the trickiest sections. Top Tip: The Harvey's map can also be great for collecting water.
The Cuillin and Other Skye Mountains published by Cordee and Skye's Cuillin Ridge Traverse published by Cicerone are two great assets for those attempting a ridge traverse without having learnt the ridge. There is a huge amount of variation which can be taken on the ridge and the routes documented in these books are only a sample, but they will help in those awkward route finding places. Remember, finding the way even with these tools will still be really hard if you're in the cloud so plan accordingly and go when it's clear.
3. have experience, fitness and energy in the tank
The ridge has close to 4000m of ascent and descent, over 30km including the walk in and out and includes climbing up to Severe standard if you include all the hardest climbing sections. Even without the climbs, bare in mind that much of the ridge is technical scrambling with large sections of grade 3 or harder and a lot of exposure. This is not a walk and expecting it to be like a big Crib Goch or Striding Edge will more than likely lead to failure. Don't underestimate it. Be prepared and know before you go that this is manageable for you and your partner. Get out on the hills near home and do a few days where you clock up the same sort of mileage before you get to the Cuillin, and do it with the kit you plan to use. Iron out any kit issues and know that you can climb thrutchy old school Severe in trainers or boots with a pack on if you hope to do the climbs.
If you find that's a bit much but still fancy going for the traverse then consider the bypass options on the ridge. It's still attainable if you're comfortable soloing on grade 3 scrambling ground. However, you should know what you're getting yourself into and be honest with you're ability level before you start so you can plan to make it achievable.
Be prepared to change plan, tactic or style. This is a big mountain route comparable to a massive alpine route; weather changes, tiredness creeps in and making it up that last climb or peak isn't always possible so be prepared to alter the route, bypass a climb or peak or descend if necessary. The ridge will be there next time.
4. Go light but safe
Take only as much kit as you really need to make the ridge traverse attainable and safe for you and your partner, and for the conditions you chose to attempt the ridge in. If that means carrying an extra jacket, stashing water and bivvy kit on the ridge the day before, or taking rock shoes to be in your comfort zone on the climbs, then so be it. It's your traverse; make it a safe and enjoyable one.
My Kit List:
This is what I take for a traverse. The rack and kit you take may need to be supplemented or altered according to your own ability level. A 40m single rope is the most appropriate rope for the ridge and will suffice for all the climbs and abseils.
5. be tactical
It's not always possible to take the boat in from Elgol, climb every rock climb in the sun and enjoy perfect dry rock all the way, arriving at the Sligachan Hotel on the second day (or the same day) for a pint as you watch the sun set on the ridge. Tactics can help you achieve this:
Bad weather options
So you have made it to Skye for your traverse attempt but the weather isn't good to go. What do you do?
Consider learning sections of the ridge in weather that otherwise wouldn't be ideal for a traverse. This will stand you in good stead for when the weather comes good and you can go for the traverse.
The Cuillin is famous for the Traverse but there is so much great scrambling on the ridge. Routes such as Pinnacle Ridge, the South Ridge of Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh, the Clach Glas-Blaven traverse, a Coire Lagan Round and an ascent of the Cioch can all be fantastic poor weather options.
Go cragging at one of Skye's many great sea cliffs such as Elgol, Neist, Kilt Rock, Staffin, Flodigary or Rubha Hunish. When the mountains are getting hit by the worst of the weather there is often dry rock to climb somewhere else on the island.
See the sights, taste the whiskey, eat the seafood and listen to the traditional music. For climbers and mountaineers Skye is all about the Cuillin and the sea cliffs but there's a wealth of great scenic sights and experiences to enjoy.
Consider hiring a guide to make the most of your time. Even with bad weather, a guide may just be able to make some great days out work based on local knowledge and experience.
Remember, this may be a challenge, but you're only challenging yourself. Have fun and take someone you want to share the experience with.
If all else fails feel free to get in contact, hire a guide, and we'll do all we can to show you the Cuillin ridge and a Cuillin Traverse at it's best.