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These notes are intended to assist the walker and climber of considerable mountain experience who wishes to undertake the Cuillin Ridge. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way. Ultimately mountaineering is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead!
The full length of the Cuillin Ridge viewed from near the summit of Bla Bheinn which lies to the east. The peak at the left (south) end is Ghars-bheinn and that on the right (with the snow patch) is Sgurr nan Gillian.
The Cuillin Ridge is the traverse of the main summits of the Black Cuillin Mountains in Skye, one of the Western Isles in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Although the climbing technicalities are not great, the route is extremely long and exposed and calls for competent soloing at Diff (and occasionally Severe) standard in boots or running shoes on occasionally wet and sometimes dubious rock, combined with good stamina. It is important that you are competent in belaying and moving together "alpine style" ie shortening the rope and hitching it over flakes and nubbins on the move. There are only certain points at which it is easy to quit the Ridge and most of these leave you a considerable distance from a road which carries little traffic. Navigation is particulary complex. Compasses can be affected by the magnetic rock (hold it well away from the rock when taking a bearing, and take your bearing several times in different places). Mist when it descends (which can be often) is very disorientating and can linger for days. Even parties which know the ridge well are hard put to navigate in these conditions. The Cuillin Ridge is not really a rock climb at all - it is much better to think of it as a long and arduous alpine route of reasonable technicality that requires both stamina and experience for a successful attempt.
The current summer record stands at about 3hrs 17min 28sec and is held by Es Tresidder.
An alternative approach is to take two days and carry bivi kit and food (or stash them in advance). Whichever way you choose it is essential to carry plenty of water as there is no supply on the Ridge. 2 litres per person per day plus extra for cooking if bivouaccing should suffice.
Of these two approaches the former is definitely the best, provided you are fit enough, as you can carry a minimal sack containing little more than a rope, water and sandwiches.
The best time of year for the traverse is generally May and June when stable periods of high pressure can last for weeks and the infamous midges have not yet emerged from their burrows! Long days are an asset too. If going early, check that all the snow has gone.
Photo: The Inaccessible Pinnacle - looking up the East Ridge, the normal route of ascent.
The Winter Traverse is generally made from north to south as the major difficulties can be bypassed by abseil, though this still leaves a desperate short pitch out of the TD Gap (Grade IV according to the SMC guide, but can be much harder). Starting from the north means that Pinnacle Ridge (III) can be used to reach Sgurr nan Gillean if the conditions are good. There are many good bivi sites along the ridge and water is not a problem in winter. A major difficulty though can be getting a lift back up Glen Brittle to the Sligachan!
The current record for the winter traverse is 9 hours 7 minutes by Steve Ashworth - however most parties should plan on at least one bivi!
If you are uncertain as to whether you are quite up to the Cuillin Ridge, you can of course just pick out sections of it at a time and many parties do this as part of their training for the full traverse. However, if you don't wish to spoil the "on sight" (as they say in some branches of our weird and wonderful sport) a good alternative exists in the shape of the Clach Glas Ridge which lies to the east of Loch Coriusk. It is best started via an easy scramble up the East Ridge of Sgurr Nan Each from where the way over Clach Glas to the summit of Bla Bheinn is hard to miss in good weather. Climbing of up to Severe will be encountered if difficulties are taken direct but there are no abseils so it is possible to just take a rope and a few slings for the more difficult sections and dispense with harnesses. Despite being much shorter than the main ridge, this min version should not be underestimated, especially if the clag is down and the rock wet.
If you can cope with the Clach Glas Ridge you shouldn't have any problems on the Cuillin Ridge beyond keeping going for twice as long!
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