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  • Writer's pictureAlex Moran

How to Scramble and Climb the Cuillin Ridge

The Cuillin Ridge Traverse

KIT LIST and ADVICE  

THE CUILLIN RIDGE

Without a doubt the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye is the finest and most challenging mountaineering outing in the UK. It is the UK’s answer to the Alps with 22 peaks, 11 of which are major Munro summits, spread over 12 km of grade III scrambling and rock climbing up to Very Difficult/ Severe standard. 


The traverse is normally done over two days with a bivouac on the ridge, however, very fit parties can complete in a day (or even 2 hrs 59 mins and 22 secs!). The most difficult part of the Cuillin Traverse is the route finding which is complex and in many sections wrong decisions can quickly lead you on to some very difficult and precarious terrain. This is a serious undertaking and a serious achievement for those who make a successful traverse. 


Success on the Cuillin Ridge is the coming together of many variables, such as the weather, conditions underfoot, experience, route finding and fitness. Some of these are out of your control but there are many things that you can do to give you the edge.


FITNESS AND EXPERIENCE

This is the first and most important thing you will need to focus on. The Ridge demands a lot of you mentally and physically, therefore, being in good shape is really key to success. You will need to be able to maintain a steady pace for up to 8 hours per day with most of the ridge demanding use of your whole body. The best training would be to build a good ‘base fitness’ with extended durations of to low to moderate effort with elevation included. If you are struggling to get much height gain or live in a flatter area you could use a ‘stairmaster’ at the gym or a flight of stairs to train. Alongside your fitness you will want to have some experience with scrambling and, if possible, rock climbing. A big mental challenge on the Cuillin is the prolonged exposure which you will be dealing with, the more experience you have of scrambling on exposed terrain the more comfortable you will be. The more relaxed you are the better you will move over the terrain.


ROUTE CHOICE AND GUIDEBOOKS

Another reason for failure on the Cuillin Ridge can be your choice of route or having route finding difficulties. The sharp peaks of the Cuillin are a maze of small paths, ledges and broken ground which can easily lead the unsuspecting traverse hopeful into trouble. At best you will lose time and at worst get onto some really serious terrain very quickly. The ridge is normally done in Summer from South to North.

With this in mind having lots of available information is key. There are plenty of excellent guides to the ridge out there. The key here is to do lots of research beforehand and to have a really clear understanding of the different route options over each summit. Often weather or conditions will necessitate a change of plan so having all options open will help. The Scottish Mountaineering Club Skye Scrambles guide is a good place to start.


You will also want to have a clear idea of your escape routes off the ridge. There are very few places where you can safely escape from the main ridge. Often what seems like an escape can lead you onto very serious terrain.Outlined on Map 1 are the main escape routes off the ridge for emergencies.


MAP 1

CUILLIN MAIN ESCAPE ROUTES


THE MOST COMPLEX TERRAIN

Below are four maps of some of the most complex terrain on the Cuillin Ridge. Here your route finding will be key to success and these maps should help. These are by no means the only complexities but they cover the main difficulties.


All maps in this guide are for reference only and should not be shared or reproduced. All rights are reserved by Alex Moran.

MAP 2

Sgurr Mhic Choinnich Route Options



MAP 3

Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh Route Options

MAP 3

Bidein Druim nan Ramh Route Options

MAP 4

Am Basteir Route Options


BIVI SPOT

There are numerous locations all over the ridge to bivi out and there is no one recommendation which would work for everyone as the best plan is to push on as far as you can before the evening on Day 1 to give yourself more of a chance of completion. Lots of small rock shelters have been built along the ridge. Be prepared to get damp if it is misty and also make sure you have your midge spray! However, you are often rewarded with incredible views as the sun sets.


WATER SOURCES

As the ideal conditions for a full traverse of the ridge require dry rock it is often the case that there will be little water on the ridge itself. You will often have to drop off the ridge to find water sources. Therefore it is a good idea to have a clear idea of the locations that you can get this. Careful as you go in search of water and you will often find cliffs and broken terrain.


The two main locations which I use are:


Below the Inn Pinn at Bealach Coire na Banachdich approximately OS Grid Ref: NG 44183 21765, Altitude: 806 m


Bealach na Glaic Moire, approximately OS Grid Ref: NG 45246 23859 Altitude: 715 m


EQUIPMENT LIST


Weight is going to be the main issue on the ridge traverse. Overload yourself with heavy equipment and you will be setting yourself up to fail. You also will enjoy the climbing and scrambling much more if you have a lighter bag. However, there is a fine balance between ‘fast and light’ and ‘fast and cold’ or even ‘fast and having an epic!’.


ROCK SHOES

On the ridge itself there are sections of rock climbing up to Very Difficult (VDiff) or Severe (S) standard. These climbs are manageable in boots or approach shoes but you may feel that a lightweight pair of shoes will make you feel more secure.


HELMET

It always surprises me how many people you see on the ridge with no helmet. The ridge is often loose and there are uncountable places where you may have a tumble or have rocks fall onto you. Therefore, a lightweight climbing helmet is ESSENTIAL.


Recommended: Petzl Sirocco or Petzl Meteor

 

CLIMBING HARNESS

Full sit harness with leg loops and gear loops

Recommended: Petzl Aquila

 

HARDWARE

You can get this hardware online or in store, make sure that you buy it from a reputable supplier. Good brand names are either Petzl or DMM

  • 2 x long sewn Slings (11mm width) (1.2m length/2.4 metre circumference)

  • 2 screwgate Karabiners

  • 1 non-s/gate Karabiner

  • 4 extendable quickdraws

  • 3m length of 5mm cord to make prusik loops

  • Belay/abseil plate

  • 3 Friends or Cams at BD sizes 1, 2 and 3 (the number 3 is very useful on the Thearlaich Dubh (TD) Gap!)

  • A set of large sized nuts (sizes 5 - 10)

  • 1 lightweight single rope (Minimum length 50m to make sure you can make all possible abseils on the ridge)

 

RUCKSACK

45-55 litre capacity. Lightweight and comfortable.

plus waterproof /dry-bag liner or nylon rain-cover, sadly Scotland is famous for the odd wet and rainy day!


BOOTS

Just like the rock shoes you need to make sure that your boots are nice and comfortable to wear all day. You will be best to go into the store and try them on. 


Recommended:

(Boots must be walked in/worn in until comfortable - brand new boots will give you blisters and can ruin your fun!)

  • Climbers’ Approach shoes with stiffened edges which are excellent for scrambling in good weather but don’t offer ankle support and can get wet/cold quickly

  • Recommended: La Sportiva TX, Scarpa Zodiac


SHELL GARMENTS

  • Lightweight wind and waterproof Jacket

  • Waterproof Overtrousers

 

INNER CLOTHING

  • Lightweight Fleece or Softshell Jacket

  • Mid-layer Fleece shirt

  • Synthetic Down Jacket for the evening

  • Long-sleeved thermal Vest

  • Lightweight Stretch Trousers

Recommended: Mountain Equipment Ibex pants or any Leggings or Tracksuit Bottoms

  • a pair of good quality walking socks

  • Shorts if its hot!


GAITERS (not essential)

Lightweight Alpine gaiters (advised when weather is wet)

 

GLOVES/MITTS

  • Warm waterproof gloves/mittens

  • Durable grip gloves for climbing/abseiling (tight-fitting, leather-palmed gloves or plastic-coated hardware gloves are effective for scrambling and are cheap in hardware stores)

 

WOOL HAT/BALACLAVA

It can get cold even in Spring & Summer, it is best to prepare for all weather conditions in Scotland!


HEADTORCH LED

It is important to prepare for every eventuality. In many cases, you may be late into the bivi, it is important to have the right torch to allow you to navigate off the mountain. I now take two head torches, both fully charged, as this means if one runs out or malfunctions, you are not fiddling around with batteries and cold hands in the dark.

Recommended: Petzl Tikka , Petzl Swift RL  


CAMPMAT/THERMAREST AND SLEEPING BAG ( 2- 3 SEASON )

+ Camp Cutlery, Mug, Plate (for overnight expedition)


LIGHTWEIGHT STOVE

Taking some lightweight food and making a hot meal will really lift the spirits.


DRINK FLASKS

Thermos flask for hot drinks and 1 litre water bottle

 

SUNGLASSES AND SUNSCREEN

We are optimistic for sunshine and blue skies!

 

SKI/TREKKING POLES  (not essential)

Telescopic, not essential but very useful on descents


MAPS OS

Map App is recommended – £20 per year and enables download of any part of the UK map area. It integrates with Smart Phone GPS and has route-planning functions.

Sheet maps that may be used are:

1:25000 Harveys Superwalker: Skye Cuillin.


FIRST AID

For blisters and minor cuts and also some more traumatic injuries.

 

COMPASS AND GPS DEVICE

Silva type, REMEMBER, your compass may be affected by the magnetic rock on the ridge. There are a few places where this is the case. The compass is often useful to check your direction off summits in the mist. (bring a GPS if you have one, not essential)

 

MAP CASE

Waterproof plastic


If you have any queries about your kit or any advice- get in touch!

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