Cuillin Traverse Times Two

During the heatwave of July, Paul Tattersall set himself an ambitious personal challenge on the Skye Cuillin - Sligachan to Sligachan via two end-to-end traverses of the main ridge, north to south and then back from south to north. Paul describes himself as a climber, not a runner, but he managed a pretty respectable time nonetheless. Here's his account.  

A favourable set of circumstances recently gave me the chance to complete a day out on the Cuillin Ridge that I have had in my head for years. I have often wondered what it would be like to do a journey from one end of the Ridge to the other and back again, doing all the tricky bits. Pinnacle Ridge, Naismith’s Route, short and long side of the InPinn, An Stac, King’s Chimney, the TD Gap. A challenge of personal fitness, stamina and above all the will to go out and put myself in a situation where I would have to get on with it and put some effort in. Travelling light, totally unencumbered, food and water, just me.

A happy Paul back at Sligachan
© Alf Chamings

Wednesday 10th July was a hot day and I would have had to drop off the Ridge to find water a few times if I had not had a two litre bottle stashed at Gars Bheinn and friends Kirsty, Alf and Finlay mad enough to give up their time. They offered to drive me over there from home in Wester-Ross. Let me get a brief sleep in their camper bus. Saw me off from the Sligachan at 4am with a belly full of porridge. Walked up to the In Pin with food and water to help me along and generally be there to deal with whatever might happen. Three smiling faces to greet me at the end of the day, pat me on the back, put the kettle on and all that. Get me safely home to my own bed. Very good friends indeed and all without any forward planning at all, just a throwaway comment in a conversation.

As I set out the Karma was good, I was going to have a great day. When I popped out of the thick fog of a valley inversion into the soft rays of the early sun at the top of the first pinnacle on Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillean, I knew everything was as right as it could be and I was feeling pretty happy.

I didn't keep track of times to get from peak to peak or anything, partly because I don't have a watch, I certainly don't have a GPS toy. I do have an old mobile phone though and tried to look at it for the time, but sort of lost interest and couldn't do with the hassle of opening up my day pack to dig around for the phone. I forgot a lot of the timings I tried to remember anyway. I was not racing, I was just doing. Finishing before darkness fell was the main aim.

The interesting thing is that it took me exactly eight hours each way. At the halfway mark I fell asleep and rested in the shade on Gars Bheinn for half an hour. Later on, in the real heat of the day I spotted some inviting shade approaching Sgurr a'Ghreadaidh and just had to stop to eat and drink. I lay comfortably stretched out and blissfully dozed again. I remember trying to get moving several times. I ignored the pigdog snapping at my heels, trying to force me up. I soaked up the total relaxation for a few seconds longer.

On the way back north from Gars Bheinn I knew I had realised an ambition; now I was heading back towards comforts and safety, it was just time between me and a big cup of tea. All I had to do was keep moving and enjoy every little pleasure of it.

On the In Pinn
© Alf Chamings

Some times:

  • Depart Sligachan 03.59
  • Pinnacle Ridge to Sgurr nan Gillean 06.00
  • Am Basteir 06.15
  • Bruach na Frithe 06.30
  • Summit InPinn 09.07
  • Gars Bheinn 11.50
  • Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn 13.03
  • An Dorus 15.56
  • Bruach na Frithe 17.15
  • Sgurr nan Gillean 17.50
  • Return to Sligachan 19.57   

Getting back to the Sligachan sixteen hours after setting out was an amazing feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. Everything was hurting and I was tired to say the least but I was very, very happy. The day had been a lot of fun and as hard as I thought it would be. The little chats I had had with friendly people I bumped into along the way (some twice!), the dryness of the rock, the odd shady, overhung spot to lie in and rest for ten or fifteen minutes of blissful stillness, the taste of a sip of water, very familiar holds and mountain features for constant company.

It is no record, that is for sure, but for me it is. I can’t imagine ever doing it again. I told my wife Angela to stop me if I tried. But would I take any notice? Anyway, another sequence of memories to cherish forever, for as ever as I am alive. I love that. Sixteen hours car to car. I would describe it as fast walking, certainly not running. I am a climber for heaven's sake, I am really not a runner. But I might be going that way if I don't watch out. I'm inspired by my great friend Colin Meek who spent thirty days last summer running the Watershed of Scotland (see the interview on UKHillwalking here). Talk about digging deep.

For his day job Paul runs  West Highlands based guiding business Go Further Scotland


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