The Cuillin Ridge Traverse - Summer 2021

The Cuillin Ridge Traverse - Summer 2021

In summer 2021, Rob and I completed the full traverse of the Cuillin Ridge from south to north, beginning in Glen Brittle and ending in Sligachan. It was a long two days with unusually stunning conditions and perfect rock. Bivvying at the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Sgùrr Dearg, we were treated to a beautiful cloud inversion in the valleys below.

Day 1

Our ascent began with a 5am wake up in a tiny village near Locharran at my aunt and uncle’s house (Sean and Ingrid). They would be meeting us on the ridge later having offered to haul up our dinner, bivvy gear and additional water supply then camp out on the ridge with us for the night. This completely nutty but generous offer turned out to be essential to us finishing the ridge. We drove to Glen Brittle in an exhausted haze, admiring the low hanging mist over the valleys and narrowly avoiding decimating the squirrels along the quiet roads. The car park was almost full except for one remaining space for our enormous van to squeeze into. We were parked right by the edge of Loch Brittle, watching people take paddle boards out on the flat water, which made me question what on earth we were doing with ourselves with the massive undertaking we had ahead. Then, leaving a note on the dashboard explaining why we would be parking overnight without permission, we headed off past the smell of frying bacon in the campsite and up the midge infested path around to the south end of the ridge. 

A view of the Cuillins from the road to Glen Brittle 

Lucy hiking in a stylish midge hat on the approach to the south end of the ridge

The Black Cuillins form a large semi-circular shape along Skye’s south west coastline, predominantly formed of the volcanic rock gabbro, which is exceptionally rough and provides excellent grip on a dry day. Basalt intrusions permeate the gabbro and are comparatively treacherous when wet, giving almost no grip at all. On a clear day the ridge dominates the skyline in the near vicinity, with imposing peaks and pinnacles jutting out from every direction. 

A conveniently Scottish basalt intrusion in gabbro rock

The approach was about 6km, with the initial section being an easy amble along a footpath, skirting around the base of the ridge. It was already becoming uncomfortably hot, despite it being only 8am, and we refilled our bottles with the most delicious tasting water from the mountain streams. Our stops were extremely brief given the sheer number of hungry midges whining for blood around our heads, so it was midge hats on all the way until the climb really began at Coir a’ Gruhnnda. We passed some curious stags, sweating absolute buckets at this point, and consuming an inordinate amount of our water supply. This was the tail end of the heat wave in July, which provided stunning views of the surrounding islands and lochs but also made progress up to Loch Coir a’ Gruhnnda slow and exceedingly sweaty. 

Rob looking towards Coir a’ Gruhnnda

By the time we reached the loch our water needed a second refill and we needed a swim. Given it was an exceptionally quiet day and our forethought had not extended to bringing swimwear and a towel, we hurriedly stripped off to our underwear and spent a glorious few minutes cooling off in the water, which was surprisingly warm. After a top up snack of a half melted wedge of cheese we began the real ascent up to Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn. This summit was not a Munro (a Scottish peak of 3000ft or higher) and in the interest of time we ditched our bags and made a rapid out-and-back to both Sgurr nan Eag (the first Munro of the ridge if doing it from the very very south end) and Sgurr Dubh Mor. They were fun and easy scrambles and took about an hour to do each summit. 

Taking a much needed dip at Loch Coir a’ Gruhnnda 
First Munro summit of the day - Sgurr nan Eag 

We then followed the ridgeline of easy scrambling overlooking the loch we had just wallowed in and reached the first pitch of climbing - the TD gap. We’re not super experienced alpinists, but we have completed some French and Italian alpine ridges and summits in the past so my knowledge of alpine grades was extremely off putting at this section. ‘TD’ in alpinism stands for ‘Tres Difficile’ or ‘very difficult’ and is one of the more extreme grades in alpine climbing, one that myself and Rob have not had the joy of experiencing. TD simply stands for Thearlaich-Dubh (Dubh meaning ‘blackness’ in Gaelic, and Sgurr Thearlaich being the summit). However, my lack of knowledge of this at the time put me into a bit of panic, worrying there would be some awful exposed and strenuous climbing involved. 

Amazing positions leading up to the TD gap

And it turned out to be just that. Thankfully Rob was leading, but the TD gap itself was a pitch of Severe grade climbing. We were only wearing our battered approach shoes which had been in desperate need of a resole for a while, Rob’s left shoe sporting a very large hole in the side and showcasing his socks. The climbing was probably one of the most difficult pitches of Severe I have ever done. The route was a polished chimney (of sorts) and it was extremely traditional in style i.e. uncomfortable thrutching, scrabbling and grunting until easier ground was reached near the top. An excellent lead from Rob who’s extraordinary ape index and appropriately sized legs for offwidthing made it look like a piece of piss. 

Lucy tackling the TD gap 

Next up was the climb onto Sgurr Thearlaich. We decided to complete this via the Diff route ‘King’s Chimney’ rather than the slightly easier scramble of Collies Ledge. Scarily, Sean and Ingrid had recounted the story of their attempt of the full traverse of the ridge, which ended somewhat disastrously when they saw a climber fall about 30 meters from the top of King’s Chimney. The climber in question was soloing the route and luckily survived thanks to their efforts to call for mountain rescue and get him airlifted to hospital. With this in mind we, or rather I, approached the route with trepidation and, of course, we did not solo it. Perhaps this tale tarnished my enjoyment of King’s Chimney because I was unusually scared, perhaps due to how terrible it feels to climb in old approach shoes. Rob seemed to love it though, exclaiming loudly how pleasant the route was the entire way up. Some more scrambling led us to Sgurr Alasdair and the iconic Great Stone Chute. At this point it was 5pm and I was fully knackered.

Rob at the top of King’s Chimney
A brief rest above the Great Stone Chute 
Summit of Sgurr Thearlaich, adjacent to Sgurr Alasdair with the rest of the ridgeline we had to climb in the background!

It was at this point that I hadn’t quite assessed my bearings of where exactly we were on the ridge. It had been a pretty full-on day so far, lots of exposed scrambling, pitches of climbing, all the while being baking hot. We were aiming for the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Sgurr Dearg, a large spine of rock in the shape of a fin with another precarious lump of rock perched on top. This was where we would be meeting Sean and Ingrid to bivvy for the night. The In Pinn was not immediately obvious to me when looking from the south end of the ridge, its shape is more clearly seen looking back from the north, so I was mightily disappointed when Rob revealed that there was an estimated 3 hours more to go before we got there. The scramble to the In Pinn felt long and tedious and we passed a number of excellent looking bivvy spots that made me feel like crying with exhaustion. The In Pinn didn’t seem to be getting any bigger either, until we got to the bottom and it looked enormous. 

I was all for skirting around the base and collapsing in a crumpled heap at the top of Sgurr Dearg for the day, but Rob insisted we climb the Mod scramble up the back and do it properly. He kept saying ‘you won’t regret it’ and am so glad he convinced me to do so. We reached the top at golden hour, the sun lighting up the ridgeline behind us, exemplifying what we had just achieved. Just at that point, Sean, Ingrid and my cousin Kate crested the ridge below us, enormous bags on their backs and cheered us on as we made it to the top. It was a magical moment, and one that will be hard to forget. 

Halfway up the Inaccessible Pinnacle, looking towards Sgurr Alasdair
Rob cresting the ridgeline of the In Pinn

Getting ready to attach myself to the ab line, Rob quietly asked me to stay next to him for a moment and enjoy the view. My hunger and exhaustion were fighting to take over but I stayed just long enough for him to produce a small black box from his backpack. Completely taken back, and holding onto my prussik for dear life, he asked me to marry him. It was one of those moments that will be imprinted into my memory forever; Rob sat there, sunburnt and grinning expectantly, with my family cheering us on below. We had been together for 5 years at that point, summiting mountains, climbing all over the country, building a van together. We had always kind of known that we would get married, but I had never had any expectations of when that would be. Looking back, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. And of course, I said yes. 

Post engagement celebration!

We abed off in the sunset and celebrated with hot food, whiskey and prosecco lugged up by Sean and Ingrid. It was the perfect end to such an amazing day. Setting up camp under a sky full of stars and a blood red moon I slept incredibly well, right next to the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with.  

Setting up camp for the night with Ingrid

Day 2 

The second day started around 6am and we awoke to a stunning cloud inversion in the valleys below. A heavy dew had set on our bivvy bags during the night so we dried them out in the sunrise and had coffee and muffins for breakfast. Rob is most certainly not a morning person, his usual enthusiasm quelled until he is infused by at least three cups of coffee. Sean and Ingrid packed our bivvy gear to take back down then we refilled our water and eventually got going. 

Waking up to a cloud inversion with Rob impersonating a corpse in his midge hat

We headed on out over the next few ridges to Sgurr na Banachdaich, enjoying the cool morning air and the quietness of the ridge. We were both still reveling at our engagement yesterday and spent most of the morning excitedly planning what we would do for a wedding, which would of course have to be in the mountains somewhere. It turned out that I had been foreshadowing the whole day, saying things like ‘I can’t believe we’ve been together for 5 years and we haven’t got engaged yet’ and ‘you’re not prepared enough to plan an engagement when we both work from home’. Turns out I was wrong. 

Setting out for day two towards Sgurr na Banachdaich

It was already getting pretty hot again by mid morning but the views were amazing and the ridge itself was still largely unpopulated apart from the odd couple of people. The scrambling felt a bit more technical than the previous day, involving several sketchy down climbs and tricky steps across huge drops. Summiting the next two Munros; Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh and Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh involved some slightly dodgy scrambling which was just easy enough not to require a rope but you really really wouldn’t want to fall. Luckily the rock type being mostly gabbro meant it was incredibly rough and grippy, even in worn down approach shoes. So falling was off the agenda for the day. 

Scrambling and walking scenes from day two

It seemed like the end of the ridge wasn’t too far away, as the final Munro of Sgurr nan Gillean was clearly visible the whole way along, but the scrambling and walking just went on and on and on. I think we had our Welsh eyes on, where the mountains are smaller than they appear, which was absolutely not the case on the Cuillins. 

We stopped for lunch at the actual halfway point along the ridge, slowly roasting in the sun and applying liberal amounts of suncream, as if our skin needed to be any more sticky than it already was. The mist was slowly catching up to us in the late afternoon as the cloud inversion started to rise out the valleys and by 5pm were completely immersed in cloud at Bruach na Frithe. 

Clouds creeping in during the mid afternoon
Rob astride one of the more intimidating hard steps

At Am Bastier, we decided to skip the 4 pitch Severe climb onto the Bastier Tooth and take the longer but easier way round by descending to a gully and scrambling up again. I say it was easier, but my energy levels were running low and I was a full on grump by the time we got to the hard step at the top. As we approached Sgurr nan Gillean I was shedding exhausted and frustrated tears and was finding the constant rope work really tough. Our rope was definitely too long and it took a long time to pile and tie up. Stupidly we kept putting it away only to need it again a few minutes later. 

The route up Sgurr nan Gillean was a scramble according to the guidebook, but I found it pretty hairy and exposed and was glad to be on the end of a rope. There was no view to speak of at the top which made route finding down quite difficult and also shielded our eyes from the sheer length of the walk out to Sligachan where Sean would meet us to drive us back to Glen Brittle. 

Scrambling up the gully towards Am Bastier
Topping out at Sgurr nan Gillean in the mist 

Descending out of the mist we thanked our lucky stars that the conditions had been good as we stepped across soaking wet rock, slipping over the basalt intrusions in the gabbro which were utterly deadly to walk over when wet. Our walk out concluded with an extremely rapid swim at Slig pools where the midges were out in force. Our naked bodies were feasted upon as we dunked ourselves in the icy water and hightailed it back to the footpath. 

Death by midges, Sligachan style 

Thus concluded our traverse of the Cuillin Ridge! It was an epic experience but looking back I think we massively underestimated just how long the ridge actually was. On a map, the Inaccessible Pinnacle (which in my mind was the halfway point) is in fact nowhere near halfway along. It actually seems ridiculously close to the start now I think about it. 

Overall the route took us 25 hours to complete over two days with a total elevation gain of 2,692m. Day 1 was just over 13km from Glen Brittle campsite to Sgurr Dearg, and Day 2 was just over 15km from Sgurr Dearg to Sligachan, totalling around 28km all in. It was an absolute behemoth of a route, and most certainly the best scrambling the UK has to offer. Our eternal thanks go to Sean and Ingrid for carrying up our bivvy gear, an additional 12 litres of water and a lift back to Glen Brittle! It would have been an absolute battle without them, particularly on the pitches of climbing with heavy bags. Finally, a huge thank you to my now fiance-in-crime, Rob, for encouraging words, excellent navigation skills and endless enthusiasm. 


Route analysis & packing list

If you’ve read my ramblings this far and are interested in what we packed I have included our packing list below. Bear in mind that we had (much needed) help in carrying some of our gear and the whole experience would have been significantly harder if we had to carry it all ourselves. 


  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • 60m half rope (could have gotten away with a 40m) but it was only 7.5mm so not very heavy 
  • 4 nuts of varying sizes 
  • 2 cams, sizes 2 and 3
  • 4 alpine slings 
  • 2 tapes 
  • Belay devices each 
  • 1 extra locking carabiner each 
  • 1 prussik each 
  • Gear hook 

The trad gear was all attached to Rob’s harness which he wore for the majority of the route, and we didn’t bring much in the way of gear so it wasn’t super heavy. 


  • Down sleeping bag
  • Bivvy bag (Hunka XL) 
  • Lightweight insulated sleeping mat from Klymit (R value of 4)
  • Small camping stove and gas 
  • Plastic mug and spoon 

This stuff, although bulky, was not necessarily heavy as we’ve been building up our repertoire of lightweight gear over the past few years. We are, however, very thankful to Sean and Ingrid for carrying it up on our behalf as it made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. 


  • Sweet trail mix (x1 bag each for each day) consisting of nuts, dried fruit and M&Ms 
  • Savoury trail mix (x1 bag each for each day) consisting of bombay mix, savoury peanuts and giant corn. These were packed into ziploc bags. 
  • Wensleydale cheese for day 1 
  • Dried chorizo for day 2 
  • Coffee in the pre-mixed sachets with dried milk 
  • Soreen malt loaf x2 
  • Summit freeze-dried pasta & curry dinner x2 (the big ones of 1000 calories) 
  • Summit pudding bag x2 
  • For water we carried about 6 litres between the two of us, which were refilled at various streams on Day 1 and when we met Sean and Ingrid halfway. Overall we used about 14 litres of water for the whole route, including cooking. In cooler conditions and with a bit of rationing I’d estimate about 5 litres per person for the whole route. 
  • Muffins, whiskey and prosecco courtesy of my aunt and uncle 

I think in total I ate around 3,000 calories each day and Rob ate about 4,000. We weren’t keeping tabs on how much we ate, just stopping regularly to refuel. 


  • 40L rucksack for Rob, 30L rucksack for me (these would have been slightly bigger if we’d carried our own bivvy gear) 
  • 1 pair of spare pants and socks 
  • Very basic first aid kit 
  • Small portable charger and cables 
  • Midge hats 
  • Smidge 
  • Suncream 
  • Cicerone pocket guidebook
  • Two sit mats which also doubled as very uncomfortable pillows 
  • Down jacket (we didn’t bring waterproofs as it wasn’t forecast to rain, but it did get cold)
  • Sunhat 
  • Thermal baselayer   
  • Penknife 
  • Tissues 
  • Small biodegradable bin bags for carrying rubbish
  • Water bottles 
  • One headtorch each 


I have two main pieces of advice for anyone wishing to do a full traverse. Number 1 - don’t underestimate just how long the ridge actually is. It’s an extremely involved and exhausting route, even for an experienced mountaineer. In hindsight we should have spent a lot more time preparing ourselves by hiking with heavy packs for a few weeks beforehand. In reality we spent every sunny weekend climbing on the coast of south wales in the leadup to the trip, convinced we were going to be going to the Alps as our summer trip. As it was France was not allowing people in unless they were double vaccinated, which we weren’t at the time, so the trip to Skye was a last minute decision. 

Number 2 is to be prepared. With Sean and Ingrid living in such a convenient location, and their willingness to help us out with kit carrying, we had a pretty good deal. Had we not had their support matter such as getting back to Glen Brittle to fetch the van would have taken several extra hours (bear in mind we finished day 2 at 9pm). Some people stash water halfway along the ridge prior to their ascent, others aim for a bivvy spot where running water can be accessed by dropping below the ridge to a stream. Doing the ridge in the height of summer meant we drank A LOT of water. There is no way we could have carried the 14 litres we ended up using. 

Perhaps some other words of advice that I would have found useful:

Start early. Time is precious, especially when faffing around with ropes on the pitches of climbing, it can really slow you down. We should definitely have started earlier on the second day, but I have zero regrets about the swim in the loch, that was 100% worthwhile. 

Bring plenty of food. The amount of energy you use is colossal, so keep topping up frequently. There was a point coming off Sgurr nan Gillean where I was struggling to concentrate on downclimbing and became unnecessarily grumpy and tired. As soon as I’d had something to eat I could physically feel the energy coming back and it immediately improved my mood. 

Sleeping out on the ridge enhances the experience. Feel free to ignore if you’re gonna go for a single day traverse but it really made the whole thing feel like a true adventure when you’re camped out under the stars (or the cloud if you’re unlucky). 

The Inaccessible Pinnacle is a great place to get engaged!

The Cuillin Ridge was one of the most incredible experiences we have done, and is an absolute must do for any mountaineer. It is a truly magnificent set of mountains and one stunner of a route. 

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Thanks for posting. Really enjoyed that. Did my round over 4 days so not really continuous. But like you the weather was fab. We soloed up & down the Inn Pin so no rope to carry. We had it very misty in Corrie na Grunda. Shop looks good.

Sean Kelly

Wonderful blog!
Keep going and capture the all the wonders of the world in the rest of your lifetime together. You make a great couple.
Mum x

Tracy Tomlinson

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