The Cuillin Ridge, the hardest, most committing mountaineering route in the UK



An Island that evokes as wide a range of thoughts in those that have set foot upon its soil as there are weather conditions to be experienced there.

My first visit was in May some years ago, a bank holiday weekend that consisted entirely of driving rain, soaking through to the skin, flooding campsites and sending us to a nearby b&b.

This was only my second visit and I’d been watching the forecast from two weeks out to see if any patterns were developing- all the forecast appeared to suggest was pleasant sunshine with a small risk of some rain and thunder.  For Skye, this was a good forecast.


I drove up to Scotland from the North West of England on my own and found the journey really enjoyable, I’ve always been a fan of travel, the scenery was truly awe inspiring as I passed through forested glens, winding father and farther Northwards into the vast emptiness of Rannoch Moor before the narrowing gorge of Glen Coe seemed to pull the mountain sides inwards, closer to me and allowing a drive similar to threading a fine needle along the valley floor.


This is scenery par excellence, visit if you enjoy majestic vistas on the grand scale.  Climb if you are able and watch as with each step a more compelling panorama opens up, showing the depth and breadth of peaks here in the Highlands.


Skye was reached by crossing the bridge from the mainland, a stunning piece of architecture in my opinion, the traditional ferry was of course still an option and is indeed a vital link when the bridge is closed off due to adverse weather.

Soon the Cuillin Ridge was in sight.  Only the most Northerly section is visible from Sligachan, where I was staying but what is visible makes no false promise of an easy journey, the Cuillin you see is the hardest ridge traverse anywhere in the UK.  Nowhere is there such sustained scrambling with climbing sections thrown in for good measure, no other route can provide the continuous challenge of the Cuillin.


This however, is not the only ridge on the Island, the Trotternish Ridge is to be found on one of the ‘wings’ of the Island (the Romans sailed around Skye and named it The Winged Isle, most likely as a result of the many peninsulas which radiate out).

I drove up to the Trotternish on the first day with a running friend and we tackled this ridge by winding our way underneath the Old Man of Storr, you’ll have seen some pictures of this on my twitter feed here, and it’s a remarkable place, towering as it does over the stretch of sea separating Skye from the Scottish mainland.

Today sea mists swirled around the needles of rock and moved up over the mountains hereabouts, we continued through them, savouring any views we were able to get.  Navigation wasn’t as easy as we thought it might have been, no main path was obvious, people seemed to spread out on this ridge, and so we made our own way over from The Storr, our first peak to Hartaval, our second.

We decided to head back from here as we both had to save some energy for the following day and the Cuillin.  Still all told we’d run for just over 9 miles and covered completely new ground – an area that both of us wanted to visit.


5am and we were up and about.  Last night had consisted of an early dinner then full preparations for today’s attempt on the ridge.  Our bags were packed, food ready and we were up and out and at Glen Brittle, the usual starting point for a South – North traverse.

I hadn’t been feeling my best over the last few days, the cold (possible virus) that had been with me for the past 2 weeks was still present and felt worse since a run in the middle of last week, and I felt that I’d be lucky to get to the summit of the first mountain.  At least I could help the other guys who were with me in carrying some of the gear up the steep and completely unforgiving ascent.

And it was unforgiving.

Ascents in Scotland are often more challenging, they begin lower, sometimes at sea level, and if you are climbing the higher peaks, you can end up ascending nearly 3000ft feet before you reach your first summit.

Unfortunately, this was one of those ascents.  We had a sea level start and a high peak to climb.

The top however, provided a view that started to explain the intricate story of the ridge to us.  It showed those peaks yet to climb and just how far the ridge spanned out before us.

From our eyrie, we could also see the wondrous scenery that just abounds up in Scotland, some of the emptiest places, untouched by man, at least in a direct industrial sense, even roads are a rarity here.

The scrambling was sublime, sections of rock which in some senses were no harder than scrambles of their type in Scotland, the Ring of Steall, or in Snowdonia the Crib y Ddysgl Ridge on Garnedd Ugain, but which would nonetheless be held in reverential apprehension.



The day moved on, the sun crossed the blue sky and beat down upon us, there was little to no wind up here on the roof of Scotland but we were treated to an inversion, one of those rare mountain phenomena were you find yourself looking down upon a sea of cloud.  Quite a treat.


The rock continued in good condition, so grippy and dry, it was wonderful to move across with super confidence.  Although the gabbro rock was rough, in fact it had torn into my shoes by the end of the day.


I descended with one of our group just before the infamous section of abseil known as the TD gap, to go on would have committed us both to an overnight on the mountain and neither of us felt that would be the right decision, for me as disappointing as it was I knew it was the right decision for health reasons, I have two major mountain races in June and July and they have to be my priority.


The ridge was superb, well worth another visit now I know part of the route, the only proviso would be the weather, hoping for good weather on Skye is akin to betting on the outsider in a horse race, still we’d been lucky this time…

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