The Cuillin Ridge Traverse (CRT)
The Cuillin Ridge, found on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, is a complex jumble of rocky summits extending over 12km with big faces, soaring arêtes, near vertical drop-offs and jagged pinnacles - a mountaineers dream! It is predominantly made up of volcanic Gabbro, which is rough, sharp even in some places, solid and an absolute joy to climb over! It is shaped roughly like a horseshoe, curving around Loch Coruisk starting at Gars-bheinn 895m and ending at Sgurr nan Gillean.
The CRT is considered to be Britain‘s best mountaineering adventure which says a lot considering there are close to 35,178 mountains in Britain. To get an idea of the route, it has been said to be similar to climbing Matterhorn or doing a double ascent of Mont Blanc - a long, arduous and exposed alpine route with Difficult to Severe sections.
There are two parts to this blog - the first part consists of the important, technical and logistically information that’s relevant to attempting the CRT. Basically the facts without any of the fluff.
The second part is my experience and thoughts on the Ridge when I did it in May 2022, giving you a bit more insight into what it’s actually like. This part definitely contains some fluff but it’s pretty magical fluff when you see the pictures and videos of the CRT.
Just as a little FYI: I’ve written this blog for anyone wanting to do the Ridge with a guide as that’s what I did. If you are wanting to the Ridge without a guide then ccheck outthe recommended books, videos and resources below.
Part One: Everything You Need To Know About Doing The Cuillin Ridge Traverse (Without The Fluff)
Location: The Isle of Skye, Scotland
Actual Start Location: Glenbrittle Camp Site (57.20185, -6.28487)
Official First Summit Of The Ridge: Gars-bheinn 895m
Actual End Location: Sligachen Hotel (57.24815, -6.19320)
Official Last Summit Of The Ridge: Sgurr nan Gillean
Best Months To Do The Ridge: May and June. These have been said to have the best possible conditions and less midges although getting good conditions in any part of Scotland still takes luck!
Approach from Glenbrittle Campsite: 8km
Ridge from Sgurr nan Eag to Sgurr nan Gillean: 12km
Walk out to Sligachan Hotel: 7km
Duration: Overall 12 to 16 hours with 8 to 10 hours being on the Ridge. Duration is massively dependent on conditions and your capability and fitness levels.
Difficulty: Climbing to UK Severe (UIAA IV, US 5.5), some abseils and kilometres of sustained and exposed scrambling.
The Ridge is normally done over two days but can be done in one day for those who are fit and technically competent. If you are doing the one-day option then it’s a super early start (about 4 am from the Glenbrittle Campsite) and a solid 12 to 16-hour push. If you are doing it in two days then you’ll head up with your gear (including sleeping bag and bivi bag)
List of official summits and features on the Cuillin Traverse:
Gars-bheinn (895m) Sgurr nan Eag (924m)
Sgurr Dubh Mor (944m)
TD (Thearlaich Dubh) Gap
Sgurr Alasdair (992m)
Sgurr MhicChoinnich (948m)
Sgurr Dearg - The Inaccessible Pinnacle (986m)
Sgurr na Banachdaich (965m)
Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh (973m)
Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh (918m)
Bidein Drum nan Ramh
Sgurr na Bairnich
Bruach na Frithe (958m)
Sgurr a Fhionn Choire
Am Basteir (934m)
Sgurr nan Gillean (964m)
The summits in bold are Munros. 11 of the 12 Munros found in Skye are on the Cuillin Ridge.
Getting There & Places To Stay:
Best Airport To Fly Into: Inverness, Scotland.
From there it’s a 2-hour drive or so to Glenbrittle. You can either rent a car or get a taxi. If you take a taxi, I’d highly recommend Inverness Taxi (https://inverness-taxis.com/) - they were very reasonable, cheaper than renting a car and very professional. Asked for Fraser, lovely guy who was born and raised in Inverness so knows the area and parts of Skye really well.
Recommended Places To Stay & Eat:
Sconser Lodge (https://www.sconserlodge.co.uk/)
It’s a little further away from the start of the Ridge but worth it if you’d like a touch of luxury before you’re roughing it out on the ridge! I stayed here for two nights and it was lovely. Highly recommend it! I’d suggest calling and booking over the phone. They have a little restaurant that serves breakfast and delicious dinners!
Sligachan Hotel (http://www.sligachan.co.uk/)
I didn’t stay here as it was full but it is normally were you’ll come down to once you’ve come off the Ridge so makes it super convenient.
Glenbrittle Youth Hostel (https://www.hostellingscotland.org.uk/hostels/glenbrittle/)
I stayed here for a night and it was very pleasant. You’ll need to pack your own food but they provide bed linen and even have a drying room!
The Old Inn, Carbost (https://www.theoldinnskye.co.uk/)
I didn’t stay here but had dinner at the little pub, which was fantastic.
Quick Tips For The Cuillin Ridge Traverse:
Learn the Skye shuffle - ask your guide about it!
The rock on the ridge tends to be very, very sharp so make sure you pack some light gloves to protect your hands.
The North side of the Ridge tends to have very slick and slippery rock. The entire ridge requires your focus but even more so on these sections.
Grass and momentum are not your friends on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse! The grass on the Ridge is deceivingly slippery and well, momentum, especially uncontrolled momentum, near vertical drop-offs kind of explains itself as to why it’s not friendly.
Recommended Books & Maps:
OS Landranger #32 (1:50,000) - it’s great to see the Ridge as a bigger picture but pretty limited in terms of micro-navigating on the more complex ground on the ridge crests.
OS Explorer #411 (1:25,000)
Harvey’s “Skye and The Cuillin” - brilliant resource as the Harvey cartographical style makes the more complex sections of the ridge easier to understand and visualise but best of all, it includes useful information such as possible escape routes off the ridge.
My POV of Skye’s One-Day Cuillin Ridge Traverse by KeepPeak
Cuillin ridge traverse by Peter Herd
The Cuillin Ridge Traverse - Isle of Skye - Scotland - Munro’s, Scrambling and Climbing
The Cuillin Traverse: Ten Top Tips by Anna Wells
On A Knife Edge: The Cuillin Ridge by Adrian Trendall
Isle of Skye: Cuillin Ridge Traverse | The Basics by James Garner
Part Two: My Experience Climbing The Cuillin Ridge Traverse
I hadn’t planned on climbing the Ridge or even heard of it to be honest until it came across my laptop screen while I was researching “long, exposed mountaineering routes” in April. I was looking for a route to train on as part of my preparation for the Lions Crest Route on Matterhorn (planned for the end of August 2022). A few pictures in and that was all I needed to see, to know that I wanted to do The Cuillin Ridge Traverse.
Ridges are the hosts to my favourite type of mountaineering terrain - it’s something about the precision of each movement, the incessant reminder of the consequences but most of all, it’s the overcoming of the fear of potentially falling and defying it with every step that truly speaks to me and pulls me in.
A few short weeks later, in May I found myself at the Glenbrittle Campsite with my guide, Alex, at 4am staring up towards the Ridge, filled with excitement and the good kind of nerves. We had hoped for two days of good conditions but the Scottish weather Gods weren’t playing ball and what we actually got was a weather window between 2am and 1pm, followed by rain and light wind increasing in magnitude to storm conditions by 5pm hence the 3am start and 4am stare up the Ridge.
Our goal was to be up at the start of the Ridge by 5am and get over Sgurr a‘ Mhadaidh by 1pm knowing that we could do the rest of the Ridge in less than ideal conditions and also knowing that we’d get soaked at 5pm but we’d be nearing the end so that would be okay.
Well, the weather forecast was correct in that we’d be expecting bad conditions that day… They just arrived a lot earlier than we had expected. We arrived at the In Pinn at 8:30am and were welcomed by about 90kms/hour winds. It was a quick and easy decision to skip the In Pinn and traverse around to Sgurr na Banachdaich, with speed, and a lot of it. By 11am the first drops of rain started to come down and with it came more regular, mighty gusts of that 90km/hour wind. We managed to get over Sgurr a‘ Mhadaidh by 1pm before I suggested we end the attempt and get down. We could have held on a little longer and pushed through to An Caisteal but we had a good escape route down Bidein Druim nan Ramh and the weather was only going to get worse.
It was, of course, disappointing to head down/run down but the weather is King on the mountains. You can’t negotiate with it, you can’t bargain or plea for another way. No matter how fit or strong you are or how competent you are as a mountaineer; the weather dictates everything. I am so proud that I made that decision knowing full well that I had plenty of energy, strength and grit to make it to the end but whether you are full of energy or not, the weather is the same. The risk is the same.
Over the next two days, Alex and I played on different sections of the Ridge with the small weather windows that we had each day, ticking off Sgurr nan Eag, Caisteal a‘ Garbh-choire, Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn, Sgurr Dubh Mor, Sgurr an Fheadain and An Caisteal. To say it was fun would be an understatement!
Skating down great scree shoots,
jumping from boulder to boulder,
dancing along the edges,
bounding freely in joy and gratitude.
These are the days and moments we remember, the feelings that we look for and hope for in life.
There’s just something about the Cuillin Ridge - I don’t know if it’s the magical light, the dark and dramatic rock or the immense scale of it all. It looks so foreboding and terrifying yet it invites you in to play, to go a little further, to see what’s around the corner, to peep over the void, to look beyond the edge of your fear and see the magic all around you.
Maybe it’s the mixture of that all and the ever-changing weather that charges the air around you with an electric kind of excitement. There’s just something about it that I hope calls you as it called me. Here’s to the Cuillin Ridge and all the lucky people in the world who have had the privilege of travelling its path and all those who are to come.
If you're reading this, I hope you get there too!