For experienced climbers looking to test their skills and resilience to the full, the Skye Cuillin Ridge Traverse is a popular choice. The awesome beauty of these craggy peaks off the west coast of Scotland is a magnet for mountaineers from all over the world.
The famous Skye Cuillin range consists of the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin mountains in the south of the island, separated by Glen Sligachan. The Black Cuillin are so-called because they are composed of a rough igneous rock called gabbro, which has a dark appearance. The gabbro forms an ideal grippy surface for scrambling and climbing.
The formidable main ridge of the Black Cuillins is about 14 km long and curves in a rough semi-circle around Loch Coruisk, an echo of its volcanic origins and subsequent glacial activity. The highest peak is Sgùrr Alasdair, which measures 3,255 ft, and altogether the ridge contains 11 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft).
It is this jagged ridge of the Black Cullins that draws the most adventurous of climbers. On average, the full ridge traverse of 11 kms takes around 20 hours, including an overnight bivvy to complete.
This makes the recent achievement of Matt Pavitt all the more astonishing. He completed the route in a winter record time of 4 hours, 35 minutes and 17 seconds.
UK Hillwalking reports that Matt travelled from Sgurr nan Gillean in the north to Gars-bheinn in the south on 11 January, knocking over 20 minutes from the previous winter record of 4 hours and fifty seven minutes, set by Uisdean Hawthorn in 2018.
Matt acknowledged that the conditions were dry and clear, and although there were lots of icy sections, it was not the classic deep or compacted snow or wet and windy conditions that can make winter climbing difficult and dangerous, if not impossible. However, his time was still a remarkable feat of skill, navigation, and speed.
It’s not recommended for anyone to attempt the full ridge traverse unless they are already a highly experienced climber. They will need to be a skillful scrambler and be able to use ropes and other equipment to climb and abseil confidently.
The rewards of reaching the summits are tremendous of course, with far-reaching views over land and sea on a clear day. The climb also brings an exhilarating sense of achievement and adventure.
If you have a reasonable level of fitness and some hiking and scrambling experience, then you may be able to experience the thrill of the full traverse with the assistance of a local mountain guide who will take care of the navigation. This leaves you with all your energy to focus on building your skills with advice and support on hand when required.
The Red Cuillin range is made of granite and less rocky and steep than the Black Cuillins, making them ideal for less demanding hiking conditions.