Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Cuillin Ridge, solo in a day


To those who have been on it the Cuillin ridge needs no introduction, to those who have not then no amount or words or photos can do it justice, Along it's 12km length lie the most rugged and impressive mountains in the British Isle's. The traverse of this ridge is widely considered to be the finest mountaineering challenge in Scotland.
Me and Gary at Glen Brittle after the long Drive up

I have been meaning to do the ridge for a long time but have just never had weather, time off or partners land just right for an attempt. This time after seeing a forecast on thursday morning I was on the ridge in less than 20 hours. I decided to do it in one day as I was soloing and seen no real advantage over carrying more water and bivy kit that would slow me down when there was no reason I could not do it without a night out. Had I had a partner to do it with then depending on their fitness and aspirations, two days might have been better as it would also have allowed us to do some of the harder options.

Rum
Because I was soloing, my choice of route was limited by how hard I was prepared to solo. With this in mind I would have to avoid the TD gap and would not be able to do Naismith's route on the Tooth, despite wanting to keep weight down to a minimum I would also have a rope with me for abseiling so would be able to do the Inpin and this also meant any difficulties on the complex and to me, unknown, Bidein Druim nan Ramh section could be tackled should I be unable to downclimb.

The Cuillin Ridge from Gars-Bheinn
My brother was off and decided he wanted to come up as he had never been to Skye before, he was also happy to drive which meant I could try and catch some sleep as I hadn't slept since awaking on Thursday morning. We left at about 2330 and arrived in Glen brittle at 0430, I'd manged to get 2-3 hours car sleep, not ideal but better than nothing. I left my Bother to sleep in the car and I headed out on the path towards Coir a'Ghrunnda as the sun rose and brought the cuillin of Rum into a new day with a red glow. It had been some years since I have been up this path i'm pretty sure it had been done up in that time. I certainly didn't remember the impressive bastions of rock that terrace and make the coire far more high and secluded than it's more popular neighbor. Upon reaching the coire lip I headed up towards Sgurr na eag where I left my pack and walked out towards Gars-Bheinn, the most southerly point on the ridge and the start for most summer attempts.

Me on Gars-bheinn
I started from Gars-bheinn at 0725 and made good progress through the first easy section towards the TD gap. I didn't feel the need to go out to Sgurr Dubh Mor as it is off the main ridge and I really wasn't interested in purist ideas or ticking things. I cut down and skirted the TD gap towards the Easy Chimney on Alisdair's SW ridge. There was quite a lot of snow about and although it didn't hinder me at this stage I was quite apprehensive for the coming traverse to the Bealach Mhic Connich, not unjustly it would turn out. after Alasdair I descended to the top of the Great stone chute and headed up Thearlaich. There was a lot of wet snow on this section which made it problematic and I was very glad to have brought an ice axe. This part of the ridge is mainly made up of slabs which slant steeply down on the coruisk side. because of the snow on these slabs the route down traversing round the steep buttress at the bealach was very delicate and treacherous, what in dry conditions takes 5 minutes took me about 30.

The TD gap
Veiw form Sgurr Mhic Connich
From the Bealch Mhic Connich I went round Collie's ledge which was easy despite having snow on it. I back tracked to the summit of Sgurr Mhic Connich then headed towards the formidable tower of An Stac. I passed some guided parties at this stage, heading for Mhic Connich. An Stac is one of the most impressive features on the Ridge, it is perhaps under appreciated due to the Inpin resting a little beyond it's top. I progressed quickly up the exposed crest of An Stac and was soon at the base of the Inpin, the 'Hardest Munro'. The Inaccessible Pinnacle is a fine blade of rock perched upon a slab and it is extremely exposed. I put my harness on for abseiling before starting up. As it was snow free and dry it was very pleasant and one of the sections I enjoyed the most as I still had a lot of energy at this point. I abbed off the short side and continued towards Banachdich.

The Inpin
The next section passed without great event and was the busiest section with multiple parties at various stages. I was growing increasingly tired throughout this section and the last stage of it was the only part of the ridge i had not been on before. After the main summit of Mhadaidh a Woman passed me who doing a round of the Coire. She obviously know where she was going and it was good to have someone ahead for the complicated Bidein Druim nan Ramh summits. I had to abseil the final section off the main summit as I could not find the downclimb although I noticed it once I was at the Bealach. The next section up to Bruch na Frithe was a lot more time and energy consuming than I had expected and the mist had come down on the northern tops.
Looking back at Sgurr Mhic Connich and Sgurr Alasdair

Leaving the summit of Bruach na Frithe I passed a couple one of which asked if I was doing the traverse before saying well done. Later on i was thinking although I cannot be sure, I recognized him as the guide Mike Lates who's fantastic Blog I check quite often. The next top was the impressive Basteir Tooth. Since I was soloing I had little choice but to go up the scramble route from Lota coire. The route involves descending from the main ridge for some distance then climbing a weakness in the cliffs that run down form the Tooth. upon reaching the Tooth's summit I got a pleasant surprise. The Krab I had left to abseil at the end of march was still there! I retrieved it then continued up to Am Basteir via an awkward move above the Tooth also retrieving the other 2 Krabs I had left before.

After descending off Am Basteir, the west ridge of Gillean was next, choosing to go up one of the chimneys below the Gendarme's old stance. Before the summit I threaded the window and then arrived on Sgurr na Gillean the final peak at 1800, 10 hours and 35 minutes after I left Gars-bheinn. I felt no great elation as I knew  I still had a misty decent off the SE ridge before the long path out to Sligachan to overcome. By the time I reached the Sligachan MRT post it was 2020 and I was shattered and hungry. My feet did not look too healthy either! my Brother was happy to drive again as he had slept a lot of the day so a big thanks to him as it would have been a lot harder without his support.
Me on the top of Sgurr nan Gillean and the end of the travese

I am very happy with the 10.5 hours it took from peak to peak and I did not do it to set a time. I think it's a time that I can and will beat although not anytime soon! I was not as fit as i have been over the winter and I also didn't get a proper sleep before hand, will also look for it to be snow free next time!