Traverse of The Cuillin Ridge

A red sky above Loch Coruisk had given way to a warm night and I slept with just the midge door zipped closed, vents open, waking once or twice to see the clear silhouette of the ridge above, falling asleep once more with the fervent hope the clear skies would hold.
Starting a little later than ideal, we climbed from the loch, rapidly gaining height and a view toward the Basteir Tooth and Sgurr nan Gillean beyond the banks of cloud gathering on the long ridge of Druim nan Ramh.
Passing the periodite boulder field above Meall na Cuilce before heading on and up the north-east ridge of Gars Bheinn. There is much heather bashing on any approach to Gars Bheinn, the slopes steepening appreciably as the summit tower is approached and we laboured higher through humid mists, to reach the rough blocky walls that guard the top.
The summit itself is gained by disagreeable scrambling though it is short lived, its conclusion leading to another world of blue skies, an Atlantic horizon and a blanket of cloud stretching south far below.
Between Gars Bheinn and Sgurr nan Eag, the ridge presents little in the way of technical difficulty though were it anywhere else, it would be held in the highest regard as one of the finest of exposed ridge walks. Its fate is to be the prelude to something altogether different, before which its drama pales.
High above Glen Brittle, and the mists are rapidly lifting...
...Sgurr Alasdair emerging above as we approached from Sgurr Sgumain having detoured from the main ridge and descended to Loch Grunnhda. The chimney, directly above me in this image, provides an enjoyable alternative to the TD Gap whether one is seeking to avoid the queues or the polished holds that are hideous in anything but perfect conditions.
Tim begins the remarkable descent of Sgurr Thearlaich...
...abseiling the final few metres.
Looking back on this complex section of the ridge...
...before heading out on Collie's Ledge which we joined in error, from the left of the bealach via a steep insecure groove. No wonder I could not remember the moves - the correct line joins the ledge simply, from the right. Even in good visibility, and on ground that has been covered before, route finding along the length of the ridge remains testing.
There followed the ascent of An Stac culminating with the In-Pin. Icon of the Cuillin, its east ridge is superb though far from the most difficult section of the ridge. More difficult is the descent of its west ridge which like most, we abseiled.
Beyond Sgurr Dearg, Tim moves along the easy but typically exposed south ridge of Sgurr na Banachdich...
...from which point, as legs tire and thirst grows, the difficulties steadily increase.
A moments rest and a view back towards Sgurr Alasdair and the distinctive summit of Sgurr Thearlaich whose sunlit arête in the centre of the image above - the left to right diagonal line apparently broken at half height by an overlap - we had descended hours before.
Arguably the most enjoyable section of the ridge is this: the superb crest of Sgurr á Ghreadaidh. Likened by Poucher to a titanic scimitar, its exposure demands respect though the moves are never difficult. I came as close here as at any point that day, to Rébuffat's sense of quiet satisfaction at moving well, the unhurried speed noted by Gordon Stainforth in his wonderful book, The Cuillin, as key to the traverse.
Another pause, this time bringing memories of our circumnavigation of Skye in 2011 and in particular the perfect evening on which we passed these, the stacks known as Macleod's Maidens off Idrigill Point.
Sgurr á Mhadaidh followed - perhaps the most difficult section of the ridge. Certainly it seemed more taxing than what I remembered of the traverse of Bidean Druim nan Ramh on a previous visit, this complex summit often being cited as the hardest on the main ridge.
By the time we had climbed the four tops, rather confusingly in reverse order - the fourth and highest being at the south-west end of ridge - the evening light was rapidly turning to dusk.
We had hoped to complete the full traverse, but with diversions from the main including a descent into Corrie Grunnhda as well as the ascent of Sgurr Sgumain, along with some dithering on unexpectedly difficult ground - the result of route finding errors - the descent into Corrie an Uaigneis was an obvious decision. There followed a long walk out - down steep screes, the rough heather and boulder strewn slopes and eventually along the river to reach Loch Coruisk and finally, more than three hours after leaving the ridge, the tents.
Walking out, our weather window closed, watching for the boat...
...such a welcome alternative on this day, to the long walk out to Elgol.
As the hull rolled and crashed in short steep waves offshore, I watched a solitary gannet cut across the bow, heading north across dark seas, back towards Loch Coruisk and the wild heart of The Cuillin.
I will follow soon enough, to complete The Great Traverse.
Final analysis
Although we left the ridge at Bidean Druim nan Ramh, we had completed 13 of the major Cuillin summits, covering a horizontal distance of approx. 16km on the map - closer to 20km allowing for the ups and downs - involving close to 10,000ft of ascent.

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