Thirty-five years ago I failed to traverse the Cuillin Ridge. I had never climbed on Skye before, and naively thought that a 9am start from Slichagan would give me enough time to complete the route and meet my new girlfriend at the other end in Glen Brittle at 5pm. It soon became clear that traversing the 12km-long Cuillin Ridge required far more than a mixture of blind optimism tinged with youthful fitness. Needless to say after innumerable route finding errors I was an hour late for my rendezvous, and had missed out the last two Munros. This failure has niggled me ever since, and it was another 25 years before I finally made a complete traverse. There is no question that if I had read Adrian Trendall’s superb guidebook Skye’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse, I would have been far better prepared first time around.
There is now a choice of excellent guidebooks to climbing and scrambling on the Cuillin. The SMC’s Skye Scrambles by Noel Williams is the definitive scrambling guidebook, and Skye The Cuillin by Mike Lates demystifies the technical climbing in the range. Last year, Tom Prentice published the magnificent The Cuillin and Other Skye Mountains which takes a wider look at the mountaineering challenges on the island. Back in 2002 Rockfax published Skye Ridge, a very useful mini guide in pdf format by Andy Hyslop describing the runner’s approach to the traverse. Whilst all these publications have route descriptions of the Ridge, Skye’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse is the first print guidebook to purely focus on the traverse.
I’ve never met author Adrian Trendall, but clearly he is an accomplished climber as well as being a mountain guide and photographer. Based in Skye and living at the foot of the Cuillin, Adrian is ideally placed to write this guidebook.
Skye’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse is a cleverly designed publication that consists of two volumes held together in a plastic sleeve. The first volume describes the strategy and tactics for a successful traverse together with ten classic scrambles that can be used for reconnaissance and preparation. The second is a topo booklet describing the traverse itself. Both volumes are illustrated with Harvey Maps, which is undoubtedly the clearest mapping of the Cuillin published to date. The idea is that you leave the first volume in the valley, and take the second with you on the traverse. This slim volume weighs a mere 100 grams (20 grams more than the Harvey map) and contains all the information you need while climbing the route.
Unlike Andy Hyslop’s mini guide that focuses on completing the ridge as fast as possible, Skye’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse is written for the more general mountaineer. Adrian explains that although the Cuillin Ridge is “a huge challenge, it is achievable by many climbers, and here lies much of its appeal.” His approach is deliberately sets out to be helpful and puts great emphasis on making everything work in your favour through maximising information up front together with careful preparation. Adrian suggests that the Cuillin Ridge attempts can be divided into CREST (Cuillin Ridge Expedition Style Traverse) or TRIAD (The Ridge In A Day). Both strategies have the pros and cons, and Adrian carefully outlines the recipes for success.
The first volume also includes a description of a winter traverse. This is normally done North to South (the opposite direction to summer) to allow the major difficulties to be abseiled. In recent years, winter traverses of the Cuillin Ridge have become more common. This is due to a number of factors such as better weather forecasts, and real time information on conditions posted on social media by Adrian and other Skye-based mountain guides such as Mike Lates. Another factor is the perception of what constitutes appropriate conditions for a winter traverse has changed.
When the Cuillin Ridge was first traversed in winter by Tom Patey, Hamish MacInnes, Dave Crabb and Brian Robertson in March 1965 it was considered to be an ice climb that required exceptional, once-in-twenty-year, conditions. But nowadays, more alpine conditions of hard neve and (and inevitably a little exposed rock) are often chosen to make an attempt. This provides considerably more opportunities for finding the crucial combination of appropriate conditions and settled weather. Adrian recognises this and advises “take lightweight waterproofs: if you need heavyweight shells then perhaps conditions aren’t right.” Conversely, I was fortunate to make the traverse during the once-in-twenty-year conditions of winter 2016. The whole ridge was untracked and cased in ice. My picks only touched rock a couple of times, but I paid for these pristine conditions with poor visibility and storm force winds. With lightweight waterproofs I would have been forced to turn back on the summit of Gillean. Like everything in mountaineering, there are trade offs, and ultimately you have to make a choice. The choice Adrian advocates is to attempt the winter traverse when the underfoot conditions and weather are benign, and for maximising your chances of success, this makes absolute sense.
All great guidebooks are labours of love, and clearly a huge amount of local knowledge, experience, thought and care have gone into this production. It contains a myriad of detail and information that will greatly assist the completion of the Cuillin Ridge Traverse in both summer and winter. Adrian Trendall and Cicerone should be congratulated for an outstanding publication.