Within this blog, I hope to briskly share my experience of attempting the Cuillin Ridge traverse, as well as walking the Five Sisters of Kintail and the Aonach Eagach Ridge.
I am a qualified Mountain Leader; I have spent over 100 days in the UK mountains and have summitted almost 300 peaks. I have been fortunate enough to complete the Welsh 3000 challenge and attempt the Bob Graham Round in an expedition style.
And the Cuillin Ridge is by far the most remarkable place I have visited in the UK.
Little bit about the Cuillin Ridge
Situated on Isle of Skye, Cuillin Ridge is the longest mountain route in the UK, a magnificent ridge that all mountaineers dream of doing one day. 11 Munros (Scottish mountain above 914m), 25km and around 3000m of ascent, the ridge has it all.
The spectacular views of the fine sharp aretes and beautiful Scottish sea in the distance, not to mention the remoteness and challenge of the route, it really is a special place.
The route is quite technical in terms of planning, equipment, safety, commitment, weather etc. and is very exposed in most places. Rock climbing and scrambling experience is certainly needed to tackle the complex and often polished terrain that entails significant consequences.
Most mountaineers fail on their first attempt because of their skills, ability, tactics etc, but a traverse in 24 hours is very well respected.
The team and the temptation
The plan of attempting the ridge has always been in the back of our minds. Typical mountaineers, always thinking about adventures and waiting for the right moment, to flip our lives upside down and do what we love in the spur of a moment.
Well right after graduating from University in June and the global pandemic slowly easing off, August 2020 came around very quickly. Myself and two of my best mates, James and Richard, got in the car after many hours of contemplating and nothing was going to stop us.
After being stuck in our homes for almost 5 months, we could not resist the temptation for some adventure therapy, to celebrate our university achievements. Due to Covid, the trip was so last minute that we had no accommodation booked whatsoever.
2-day Traverse with a Bivvi
Rather than really pushing our limits trying to be Jedi mountaineers, the team had decided for a 2-day traverse with a bivouac (sleeping on the floor in a bag) on the ridge high up. Enjoying the journey and every special moment that came along was the key to our approach.
The only disadvantage with our approach was that we needed to carry more equipment for the bivvi (mattress, sleeping bag, jet boil, ration packs, extra water etc.) Going light and fast was not an option for us.
It all started from Glen brittle around 0530. The slog to the top of our first summit ‘Gars-bheinn’ was a beating that I was not expecting. Perhaps I was a little out of shape, but I am pretty sure that nobody enjoys a 10km approach just to get to the start of the ridge.
Nevertheless, we got a first glance of the full ridge and the sea around, it was the most rewarding view I could have ever imagined of. We even had a minor cloud inversion - the pictures speak for themselves.
‘Sgurr a’ Choire Bhig’ and ‘Sgurr nan Eag’ passed by quickly, followed by some abseiling action at ‘Caisteal a Garbh-choire’ and then some technical roped up grade 3 scrambling to the top of ‘Sgurr Alasdair’.
It was about 1800 by then and we desperately needed a small brake to refuel. But we also had the risk of doing some exposed grade 3 scrambling in the dark before we would get to the bivvi we were aiming for. It was a risk that we were not willing to take and instead we opted for a five-star hotel just below the summit of ‘Sgurr Thearlaich’.
A slow but a glorious day of adventuring. Day 1 exceeded all our expectations with a beautiful sunset to finish the day off, whilst setting up camp at 984m high.
Day two was forecasted to be another spectacular day, we were hoping to start early and finish the rest of the ridge on the day. However, it was completely the opposite. Waking up to low clouds, poor visibility and heavy rain is not what we were expecting at all, classic British weather.
It was too dangerous for us to carry on, we were there for the adventure and not for the challenge. It was an easy decision to escape and head for the pub.
Sadly, that was the end of our Cuillin Ridge experience, but the memories will stay with us forever. Hence why the title ‘attempting’ because the mother nature was not on our side.
Top tip – become a professional at avoiding misadventures because the mountains will always be there.
After having some quality food at the Sligachan pub and a quick analysis of the weather conditions, we decided to move on as there was not another weather window to give the ridge one more shot. But the adventures did not finish there…
The Five Sisters of Kintail
Luckily, the weather conditions around Kintail were almost perfect, apart from the midges. After some research and some recommendations from fellow mountaineers, The Five Sisters of Kintail were irresistible.
The Five Sisters (Sgurr nan Saighead, Sgurr Fhuaran, Sgurr na Carnach, Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, Sgurr na Moraich) are one of forty defined areas with exceptional scenery in Scotland.
It was a less technical day of following a main ridge line, we spotted a pack of wild deer and some red foxes too. The nature was at its finest but 25km and 10 hours later, I was ready to throw my boots away.
The peacefulness and the remoteness, not to mention the views, really allowed us to connect with the nature.
The sense of enjoyment you get from being in that environment creates some deeply embedded experiences, a true testament for a meaningful life. Each time it makes me think – the mountains are calling, and one must go, like John Muir said.
Aonach Eagach Ridge
To finish our week of Scottish adventures, the Aonach Eagach ridge was unquestionably the top choice.
Located in Glen Coe, a grade two scrambling route with three stars *** to signify top quality rock and terrain. The superb scrambling is world class, and many would describe as the iconic route that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
A video by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) describes the route as long, committing and extremely exposed where scrambling experience is critical.
The 10km ridge line, looks at Ben Nevis (highest mountain in UK) on one side and the Buachaille Etive Mor on the other, basically a mountaineers dream playground.
Although the Cuillin Ridge and the Five Sisters of Kintail were incredible, the Aonach Eagach ridge was official the best mountain day I have ever experienced. Usually, when adventuring most people tend to think about the next adventure, that next step. Well in this instance, I was not thinking about anything, I was enjoying every pure moment.
Testing ZULUDIVER Straps
During our Scottish adventures, I had the pleasure of testing some Zuludiver products. My top choice, as you can see in some pictures on here, was the 1960s Swiss Style Divers quick release watch strap, in orange with black finish.
Simply, a breathable, comfortable and very durable strap that was a true companion on my adventures. Keeping an eye on the time and the distance was crucial. The feeling of not worrying whether I was going to lose or damage my watch was reassuring.
The company values are nothing short from quality products and quality customer services. We have some more epic adventures planned for 2021 and we look forward to designing more products for people who love exploring.
I have really enjoyed writing this brief summary of our Scottish adventures in August 2020 and the key aspect I can take away from this, is creating a positive connection with my experiences. Especially during these difficult times where COVID has taken over our lives.
Reflecting on our journeys is a very powerful tool for understanding the meaning of our lives. Our opportunity to travel and endure some adventure therapy was not to be missed. Taking away the routes, the summits, the names and the locations, we had an incredible time.
Top tips for adventuring are – have a very specific list of adventures that you would like to tick off. Grab life in the spur of a moment and do whatever it takes to stay happy. If there is a will there is a way.
I hope you enjoyed reading, let us know what you think!