The Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye is considered to be the greatest mountaineering challenge in Great Britain. I would go a step further and say it’s one of the best in the world! The quality of the terrain is of an alpine standard, whilst the fact it is an island with views out to the ocean make it unique.
It’s a very special place to me and after becoming the first female to complete a winter day traverse, I was keen to set a summer record too. In particular I was hoping to climb everything without a rope, including downclimbing the abseils. After a day recce-ing some of the trickier sections with my friend, and overcoming my fear to solo in-and-out of the TD gap, I was raring to go!
After overcoming a few challenges ( driving back to Inverness to work two night shifts, bursting my tyre on the way back to Skye, eventually arriving at Glenbrittle in a couresy car!), I met up with my friend Murdoch. We had some discussions about whether to do the ridge together or not. We each had some motivations to do it alone (he could go faster without me, I was quite keen for a proper “solo”) but in the end decided it would be more fun together.
I wore leggings and t-shirt for the entirety of the day, and 5.10 tennies on my feet. In my bag, I carried 1200mls water, 6 chocolate bars and 2 bagels. I also carried a baselayer, a fleece, a softshell and a downjacket – none of which left my bag! It was very windy and cold at sea level, but sweltering on the ridge.
As we headed out to Ghars Bheinn, we were overtaken by 3 lycra clad runners (a pair and a solo). As we began our traverse, I could sense Murdoch was getting some FOMO as they disappeared into the distance. However, rock climbing experience was a strong card to play, and despite our (my!) slower pace, we actually caught them up on the way down from Sgurr Dubh Mhor. And as they got their ropes out at TD gap, we soloed into the distance and didn’t see them again.
Over Sgurr Thearlich, Kings Chimney, An Stac, suddenly we were at the in pin and it looked a bit busy. We passed two climbers on the way up who kindly stayed very still, and another slightly stunned group of three waited to abseil as we soloed down the steep side (with quite an audience below!). Tedious section over Banadich onto Ghreadaidh, then enough excitement to keep the mind occupied over to Bidean. The down climbing sections were easy on dry rock, and then came the long slog up Bruach na Frithe. By now, I was quite tired and extremely thirsty. Headache throbbing, sun burning, legs feel fine, keep going! Murdoch is well ahead and waiting for me often, I felt a bit guilty.
Just as the big, dark face of Naismiths route come into view, so did a snowpatch and I rehydrated greedily stuffing my mouth full of snow. Refreshed, we traversed out to the base of the climb and the exposure was already pretty big. We didn’t practice this bit, but the route was obvious. Halfway up was some dubious rock and suddenly I feel a bit scared and vulnerable. A moment to compose, keep going. Now the rock is good, we’re on top, and it’s the home straight! Touch the tooth, scramble over Am Bhastier, dump our bags at the col, and a final push to the summit of Sgurr na Gillean. I sit down at the summit, totally out of breath, thirsty, exhausted, delighted, elated!
6h34 minutes. More than twice as slow as Fin’s record time! The only thing that makes it at all notable, is that I am a girl. But not really a runner, in fact we barely ran at all. There are many female athletes narrowing the gap between male and female records, so I almost feel a little embarrassed to go claiming a speed record with such a comparably abysmal time! What makes the Cuillin Ridge unique though, is that the standard “record rules” involve some fairly significant climbing sections – not hard, but serious, and I think this puts a lot of females off. It certainly tested me. I would be delighted though if this would encourage more girls to try and do a fast traverse. I hope someone will beat this time soon!
Regardless, I want to go back and do it again and again, faster and faster. Practice more hillrunning, get fitter, take more water, take less clothes, sleep better beforehand, learn some of the shortcuts; there are lots of areas to improve. Now I’ve got the fire in my belly and I’m excited to make this my project!