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.
All the Ben Ridges in a day
I've been back at work in wonderful weather for the past few weeks but with a day off like Sunday there was no chance I'd be found lounging around. Ruari was over from the East for the day and I had a day off between stints on the Cuillin Ridge so we were keen to make the most of the cracking weather forecast.
Sally and I had spoken about doing all the Ben Nevis Ridges in a day through out Lockdown but just hadn't got round to it. Lockdown, weather, work commitments and the need to help out family came first. Now was the time.
We had a relaxed start, only leaving the carpark at 10am, and set off in the cloud and amongst the midges desperate to get on some ground where they would leave us alone. On the crux of Castle Ridge, our first for the day, we emerged above the clouds to a fantastic inversion. Heading down Ledge Route the clouds parted for us and soon we were cruising up Observatory Ridge, the hardest of the Ben Nevis Ridges, watching climbers on classic rock climbs like Minus One Direct.
Less than an hour later we wandered down Tower Ridge which since it was some time after mid-day was nice and quiet and we didn't have to be those annoying people trying to climb past in the wrong direction.
After descending Tower Ridge and remembering that this was the same way as it was first climbed we headed round into Coire Leis and onto North East Buttress where after saying hello to everyone topping out on their climbs on the north face Ruari got to climb the Mantrap and the 40ft Corner since he'd never done the route before.
After a snack on the top we headed over the CMD Arete enjoying the views looking back to all the other ridges we had already climbed over the last few hours and returned to the Fort for a cool, refreshing pint.
Time: 9 hours
Highest Point: 1345m
Ascent Time: 4h 43m
Descent Time: 3h 22m
Flat Time: 0h 55m
What's next? Well I guess the obvious thing is to try and get all the ridges in great condition with nice tracked out neve, on a good weather day, when I have a day off and find a partner who is equally psyched to do all the Ben Nevis ridges in a day...again...but in winter. Here's hoping it might be possible this coming winter.
After a great trip last summer to the Isle of Mingulay, south of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, I was keen to get back, this time to the Isle of Pabbay. The islands have been on my radar for a while but the commitment of getting together a group of people, everyone getting out to Barra and then getting on a small boat to drop you off for a week or so with no comms in whatever weather comes off the Atlantic is something I think holds a lot of people back.
This year I was climbing with Malcy after both his partner and mine from last year couldn't make it. Malcy has been going to the islands for over 15 years and knows them well. After a few routes on Banded Wall on the first day we went to check out his 'Crag X', a crag he'd been looking at for years but never gone and played on, just like everyone else.
We rigged a 90m abseil with numerous rebelays to access the promontory and then set about checking out lines, trundling blocks on the looser terrain and trying a few lines. Closer inland the rock seems to have seen less wave washing and has more loose rock on it but where the crags are exposed the rock is great and we got some nice routes in.
With a bit of a stormy forecast for the whole week we'd known from the outset that this trip could be a bit different to last year where we climbed great rock everyday, arrived and departed on the hoped dates and only got rained on when we were in bed. Having arrived on the Sunday night, Malcy and I found ourselves running around the island on Tuesday finding the rest of the team to discuss when we would be departing based on the latest weather and the boat offering a collection that day.
With a forecast from Chucky's InReach suggesting things were only really going to get bad around the weekend everyone agreed to stay on the island and see out a wet Wednesday hoping for a later pick up. Before Wednesday's rain we managed to snatch a handful of nice routes at Evening Wall close to camp.
With an updated forecast on Thursday morning and a a few messages out to the boat enquiring about a pick up, the whole team headed to the Poop Deck and Banded Wall in case we had to leave quickly. Good planning meant when the call came we were back in camp and ready for the boat back to Barra before the stormy weekend and fish super in the pub.
Slightly disappointing to have missed out on climbing any of the real classic lines due to a short trip with poor weather, but the days we did get have left me psyched to head back...maybe at a drier time of year.
The wandering flower philanderers
With Sally going through the International Mountain Leader qualification at present one of the stages of the process is to be assessed as a leader in summer in the Alps. So, in July, we booked a few weeks off in the calendar and drove out with the intention of allowing a couple of weeks preparation time and a week for the assessment with Glenmore Lodge.
I'm not currently going through the IML so I was just in the Alps acting as 'support' providing transport, flower documentation skills and most importantly, the need for daily cake stops. With Sally's assessment based in southern Germany on the border with Austria, a veritable cake honeypot site, I knew my role in the team. Basically I'm a big fan of Austro-German cakes and Italian coffee. I was in my element!
Alongside the need to sample all the cake, the IML requires a fair amount of mountain experience, good navigational skills, ropework skills of a slightly higher level than the UK summer Mountain Leader qualification and a hell of a lot of local flora, fauna and historical and cultural knowledge. With this in mind Sally had already been reading up for months before heading out to the Alps, but during our two weeks of alpine preparation time we spent a lot of time looking at amazing flowers and learning about the local culture.
With some inclement weather at various parts of the trip in southern Bavaria we dotted about the Alps occasionally enjoying a few days in Italy, Switzerland and Austria to make the most of the different weather windows. We also managed to throw in a few days rock climbing and a number of fun easy summits; the Grosser Widderstein being a really nice day out alongside the traverse of the Nebelhorn and it's via ferrata.
After all this preparation and a lot of exploring the local area around Oberstdorf, Bavaria, it was fantastic to see Sally come away from assessment having not only passed but seemingly cruised the 5 days. Without any hesitation winter assessment, the final stage of the qualification process, was booked and now we have that to look forward to in January. Nice one Sally!
To celebrate, and with a few spare days before we had to head back, we headed to Switzerland in search of the best weather and landed in Saas Grund psyched to climb a bigger alpine peak. Straight off the lift the next morning we wondered up the South Ridge of the Lagginhorn (4010m), a fantastic airy AD scramble, and with wheezy lungs due to our total lack of acclimatisation descended to normal route to the Weisshorn hutte in time for dinner and a Radler. A great end to the trip!
Torridon and Skye
The last week of June and the first week or so of July have been a great mix of personal climbing time and work on the Skye Cuillin. I had a week hanging out with friends in Torridon climbing some brilliant different rock types and going to the beach in glorious weather.
We used one of the wetter days that week to give Ruari the opportunity to work on preparing for his upcoming MCI assessment in August. This assessment will enable Ruari to guide and instruct in all non-winter climbing and mountaineering terrain, one of the highest awards in the UK Mountain Training scheme. During the day Ruari guided Owen and I up the Cioch Nose and it's continuation whilst we chatted about different ways of doing things and being efficient and safe. Brilliant fun to help out a friend going through the scheme on such a cool and classic route. Good luck in August buddy!
Either side of this I've been working on the Cuillin Ridge. Generally it's been pretty atmospheric weather working for The Highland Mountain Company, Skye Guides and Abacus Mountain Guides.
I had four days with Eunice for Skye Guides climbing some of the classic scrambles and mountains on the ridge. With poor weather on the first day we started off with an ascent of the Cioch via Cioch Gully. On the second day we had some fairly nice weather and smashed the Coire Lagan Round.
Over the four days we worked on building confidence and technical skills. With abseiling being a particular challenge we found various opportunities for some practice including abseiling off the Inaccessible Pinnacle and the abseils on Sgurr nan Gillean.
On our third day we went for an ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean via the uber classic scramble, Pinnacle Ridge, with it's many interesting pinnacles, traverses and exposed sections. Getting to the top of Sgurr nan Gillean via this route is a real must! Especially when complemented with a descent of the West Ridge.
With more poor weather for our final day we opted for one of the classic but shorter sections of the ridge, the traverse of Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh. A brilliant route in almost any condition and one of the most ridgey sections of the traverse with big drops on either side. To top this off we finished the day with an ascent of Sgurr a'Mhadaidh. Well done to Eunice for four excellent days on the ridge!
My last bit of work in July before heading to the Alps for a few weeks was out for Abacus Mountain Guides with Dick. Dick had wanted to go and spend a couple of days on the ridge getting a feel for it and experiencing the best parts, preferably with a bivvy high on the ridge. With trickey weather we opted for a late start and a bivvy near Sgurr Alasdair after visiting the southern end of the ridge.
After a short but sweet night, and Dick's first bivvy, we had an early start and traverse over, Alasdair, Mhic Choinnich, the Pinn, Banachdich and Ghreadaidh. With many of the classic parts of the ridge under Dick's belt at this point and with a full-on experience of the ridge over a couple of fairly intense days we headed down off the ridge. Well done Dick!
With a few great weeks in Scotland over it's now Alps time!
Skye Cuillin Munros...tick!
Over the last three years Richard has been coming up to the Isle of Skye to try and climb all of the island's Munros. Each season Richard and I have ascended some of the most challenging peaks on Munro's list and this year he wanted to finish them off.
With tricky route finding, often poor weather and large amounts of technical ground requiring scrambling and occasionally climbing, the Cuillin Munros can be a burden in the backs of many Munro Bagger's minds. Often the easiest choice can be to hire a guide who knows the mountains well and can help deal with the technical difficulties and warren of paths safely and efficiently. This is what Richard was after when he set out to climb them all.
Over the past few days we ticked off Richard's final Cuillin summits with ascents of Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh and Sgurr a'Mhadaidh on Thursday in less than ideal conditions and Sgurr na Banachdich on Friday with the occasional view through the clouds. Well done Sir!
It's cuillin time!
May, June and July over the past four years have always meant Cuillin time for me, and this year is no different. Although the ridge feels like a second home to me in the meantime it's always super inspiring regardless of the weather.
Over the past week or so I've been out with lots of different people tackling various different objectives.
During the week I was out with Ian for Skye Guides showing him all the hardest parts of the ridge, some of the sneaky bypasses for poor conditions and the best line on the ridge in order to attempt a ridge traverse, unguided, next year with his brother.
We had some tricky conditions. First super strong winds whilst we were climbing from the TD gap to In Pinn on Wednesday, followed by strong winds and drizzle on Thursday whilst we climbed the northern three Munros, and finally wind and lashing rain on Friday as we traversed from Sgurr na Banachdich to Am Casteal. A real mix of weather but great for Ian to experience the hardest parts of the ridge in less than perfect conditions so he and his brother go into their traverse attempt fully informed and with the best chances of success. Best of luck!
On Saturday a big group from Peak Meet-Up were out with Abacus Mountain Guides and we managed to do a couple of laps of the Inaccessible Pinnacle for those who had that in their sights. For those that just came for the walk we were rewarded with the clouds parting whilst we were on Sgurr Dearg and some fantastic views.
Sunday was I was out with Chris and Peter, for Skye Guides again, up on Skye trying to complete their remaining Munros and Tops on the Cuillin Ridge. Thankfully the cloud stayed low whilst we were on the In Pinn so Chris didn't have to deal with the massive exposure of the climb, but whilst we were on Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, the second Munro for the day, we got some brilliant views of the surrounding mountains and further afield. A great outcome.
In between all these bits of work on the ridge, Sally and I managed to snatch a lovely sunny day out climbing perfect gabbro slabs at Ardnamurchan, no midges, just pure fun!
With the weather patterns at the moment seeming to be showers in the mornings followed by a slight lifting of the cloud over the afternoon and into the evening I'll be looking to utilise this so that the next few days out on the Cuillin ridge stay as fun and dry as possible.
Today Sally, Niels and I were on Ben Arthur/The Cobbler with a fun team up from various parts of the UK.
The rare diseases team were up on a work / team building trip for a few days. Originally we had discussed hiking up Ben Nevis but chose to climb The Cobbler instead and were rewarded with good weather, fantastic views and a great day out.
Well Done! Hope you enjoyed a fine pint or two at the Fyne Ales brewery after!
A varied second half of may
The last couple of weeks have been a great mix. A great mix of different activities and work, but also a lot of different weather to contend with. Everything from glorious sunshine and warm rock climbing in Glen Etive, through difficult showery spells trying to go cragging, to snow, hail, heavy rain and strong winds on the Cuillin Ridge on Skye and everything in between. Sometimes choosing the right objective for the weather is the most important factor for insuring a good day out.
John from Mountain Expeditions came up to Scotland for a bit so we hooked up to climb for a couple of days. With awkward showery spells we managed to play around at Glen Shian trying some of the harder, sparsely protected lines after fleeing the rain and midges in Glen Nevis. The following day we climbed the Etive Slab classic, The Long Reach. Didn't notice a particularly long reach but there were quite a few long runouts. A fantastic route!
With much of my work on the Isle of Skye again this summer, I've spent many days over the past couple of weeks bagging Cuillin Munros with clients. Numerous ascents of the Inaccessible Pinnacle and the other fantastic peaks, interspersed with the odd day of sea cliff climbing at Elgol. Whilst working for Abacus Mountain Guides, West Coast Mountain Guides and Skye Guides, we managed to avoid much of the bad weather and enjoyed some brilliant days out.
Though much of the past couple of weeks I've been on Skye, I also snuck in an ascent of Tower Ridge and a quick fun afternoon climbing one of Polldubh's classic climbs, Storm, with it's steep, exposed but juggy second pitch being the highlight.
West Coast Adventure Week
The past week has been a fantastic mix of mountain activities. The high pressure which seems to occur pretty frequently in May these days turned the West Coast of Scotland into an amazing adventure playground. Within one week we were out skiing on the Ben, climbing in Glencoe and on Ben Nevis and throwing in a few classic mountain scrambles to round the week off.
With slightly damper conditions forecast for the coming week I'll be back out on the Isle of Skye working on the Cuillin Ridge with it's fantastic Munros and scrambles, hopefully interspersed with a few days of climbing classic rock routes when the cloud lifts.