Top Ten Less-Extreme Rock Climbing Routes

Cuillin Ridge, Scotland
By Cameron M. Burns

Cuillin Ridge: The Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Skye's Cuillin Ridge doesn't have the attributes you find on most classic climbing routes. First, it's not really a climb, but a long ridge traverse. Second, it's pretty low (the highest peak, Sgurr Alasdair is a mere 3,255 feet high). And third, it's not even in the Alps, but the remote Scottish islands, the Inner Hebrides.

But what the Cuillin Ridge lacks in height and alpine environment is more than made up for in other ways. The ridge is seven miles in length and offers sustained scrambling and easy rock-climbing along a narrow and frequently knife-edge crest.

Much of the route is climbed solo, but only the most confident will avoid roping up for some climbing sections, or rappelling some of the steeper descents. More than 30 rocky peaks have to be traversed on the ridge, above shear mountain "corries" (amphitheaters) rising straight from sea-level—no margin for error here. In general the rock is rough, solid gabbro, but this is a mountain expedition and all kinds of terrain are encountered.

Pulling off a successful traverse depends less on technical skills than it does on physical and mental stamina and a keen mountain sense of where you are and where you're going. More importantly, good weather is critical. Skye is notoriously misty and wet. (Ironically, dehydration—there is little or very little drinkable water on the ridge—has also ended many attempts.) And few of those who attempt the Cuillin Ridge without any prior knowledge of the ridge complete it on their first try, but thankfully, easy escapes are possible from the route in a number of places.

The ridge is usually attempted from a bivouac on Gars-bheinn, a peak at the southern end of the ridge, and finished, usually in the dark, on Sgurr nan Gillean, a peak at the northern end. The record for "running" the ridge is currently 3 hours, 32 minutes.

Just the Facts

First traverse: L. Shadbolt and A. McLaren, June 1911

Time required: 4 hours to bivouac on Gars-bheinn, 12 to 14 hours for the ridge, 3 hours descent from Sgurr nan Gillean

Technical grade: Class 4 with a few sections of 5.2 and 5.3

References: Skye Scramble, by Noel Williams, Scottish Mountaineering Club


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