Skye Cuillin Ridge Traverse
Over the last 2 days I have been guiding the famous and also intimidating Skye Cuillin ridge traverse. The Cuillin ridge is like no other mountain range in the UK with each of its 11 munros requiring some form of mountaineering to reach the summit, plus intricate route finding through the rocky ground and sometimes endless boulders and scree.
The Cuillin Ridge traverse is a challenge that a lot of mountaineers aspire to do, involving 2 days on the ridge with an overnight bivi on the high summits. This challenge requires not only a good head for heights, confidence on rocky ground but also good hill legs and the ability to keep on going.
There are a few ways that you can mentally and physically approach the traverse, most see the ridge starting at the munro summit of Sgurr an Eag in the south and finishing on Sgurr nan Gillean in the north. What ground you cover in the middle is up to you.
There are climbing sections like the TD gap near the start, a Severe climb and abseil, the Kings chimney climb, the In Pinn, Bidean Druim nan Ramh and Naismiths route on Am Basteir. If some or all of these are incorporated into your south to north traverse they will add up to a very technical route. They can however be individually missed out by bypass routes making the ridge easier and also quicker.
A lot of people plan to travel over the 11 munros on the ridge as part of their traverse route. This is simple enough with only a detour to Sgurr Dubh Mor near the start, the other munro peaks need to be summited to continue progress along the ridge.
2 of the main mistakes that people make when planning a Cuillin traverse is assuming that the ridge is one continuous line that you simply follow along the crest, the other is in the kit that is carried. The ridge is rarely taken straight along the crest with constant weaving left and right and up and down to make progress and avoiding the big cliffs and dead ends, it really is complicated even when you have good visibility. A reccy trip before your traverse attempt is ideal to get a feel for the lie of the land and to make sure that you don’t go round in circles.
A lot of people take too much kit and make their bag heavy, this then means progress is slow. For my bivi kit I just take: bivi bag, sleeping bag and mat. And that’s it. No stove, toothbrush, socks etc that you might normally take on a camp out, it is a horizontal rest rather then a good nights sleep.
The climbing kit needs to be kept light as well: a rope just long enough for the longest abseil and no more, a few slings, helmet, harness and ab kit. If I am not doing any of the climbing pitches I do not take any rack at all and use the rope for my safety. If I am doing the climbing pitches, 4 quickdraws half set of nuts and 2 cams and that is it.
One of the best guides for the ridge is the Rockfax Skye mini guide. This is downloaded in a pdf format that you then print yourself, so also small to carry. It is designed just for the ridge traverse for walkers and runners, so it shows the most efficient line and also the more technical sections. All with sketch diagrams that are easy to follow along with maximum and minimum time periods between sections of the ridge. I still find this the most useful guide.
If the Skye Cuillin traverse is something that you do want to do in the future, the best months are between May-June and September when the weather is normally at its most stable. If you want advice on a reccy trip with an instructor or want to be guided along the traverse then please have a look at our Skye section of the website and we can aid your trip to success.