The Cuillin & Other Skye Mountains Review

The Cuillin  © Mica Publishing
Skye's Cuillin Ridge is undoubtedly the most sought after mountaineering challenge in the British Isles, being peerless in terms of both length and difficulty. Whilst I'd done each and every peak on the ridge in isolation, I only got round to doing the full thing in a day last year and was once again astounded with its sustained nature and the endless intricacy of the outing. Because of this you need all the help you can get, which is one aspect of the book at hand; but there's also a whole lot more. Not only does this book cover the Cuillin, it also goes into the many other parts of Skye, giving a more rounded view of what is on offer throughout the area.

The Cuillin & Other Skye Mountains comes in a 170 x 240 mm format, which could be considered as A5 'Plus', being both wider and taller. As such, this isn't a book for the hill - it's more for planning at home. It puts this extra size to good use too, with plenty of full page photographs to inspire and topos to tell you where to go.

Maybe some moments actually aren't worth sharing after all...?  © Dan Bailey
Rob posing for a terrible photograph during his one-day traverse in 2018

However, given that a lot of this information - particularly where the ridge is concerned - is the sort of thing you want whilst you're actually on the ridge, it does mean there's a slight issue in transferring that data onwards. Realistically this would best be done via a photocopier and/or taking a picture on your phone, but obviously neither of these would quite replace the ease of having the original pages to hand. All-in-all it's a case of swings and roundabouts, where both have their positives and negatives.

In appearance it bears more than a passing resemblance to the SMC's own publications, which won't come as a surprise given that the author - Tom Prentice - has previously worked as both publisher and author for them. The publisher - Mica - will be familiar to many because of their much applauded 'Chasing the Ephemeral', and interestingly both books were printed here in the UK. The maps within the guide are based on Ordnance Survey small-scale mapping, with shaded contours and very little detail. It's a tough call here, as anyone that has been up on the ridge will know how useless a 1:25 OS Map is - it's just a thumb print of unreadable contours. What I would have preferred to see is something along the lines of the Harvey's Cuillin Map, which seeks to strip back on the complexity in favour of marking only the more meaningful features. What you actually want is a general impression of the lay of the land, which the heat map style images don't quite do.

When it comes to layout and features the guide has done some neat things, such as colouring in the arrows to highlight the main route and green arrows for the alternative (simple, but effective). It has also used a colour coding system on the various peaks due to the abundance of lists/categroies that are out there, including Munros, Munro Tops, Corbetts, Grahams, Sub-2000ft Marilyns, Other Fine Hills, and Other Hills. Eight digit grid references are also given for the start and end of each walk, and during the approach + occasionally on the route, but not for the peaks themselves. This info could have been quite useful in bad weather, but given the complexity of the environment would only give you an idea of direction and not necessarily which way actually need to go (i.e. which gully or vague line you need to follow that actually leads to the summit and not a dead end).

The Ridge - Traverse

The full traverse of the Cuillin Ridge isn't to be underestimated, so there are four (full) pages dedicated to planning and tactics, which give a good impression of the challenge that lies ahead, and provides you plenty of sage advice on how best to deal with it all. There's a detailed description of the rack and rope length you'd require, as well as a lot more on speed vs. safety, route finding, prior knowledge (or a lack of it), and a whole lot more.

The breakdown of the route and its various stages are done over 19 pages and 21 colour topos. Given the size of the book (287 pages) I had expected more. Having done the ridge in relatively recent history I'd say it has all the advice you'd need, but still - rightly or wrongly - I was expecting just a little more detail. Maybe if it did extend to beyond 19 pages it would be too detailed, providing an overwhelming amount of information which would be hard to absorb en route (not quite the same, but Ground Up's Gogarth North Guide is guilty of this at times - there's so much info that you actually climb the route quicker than you read the description!). Anyway, I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than to say that the amount of information provided is about right, but that a few more traverse-specific words and topos wouldn't have gone amiss; however this is where the next section comes in…

The Ridge - Individual Peaks

If you're after more words and images on the ridge then there is information aplenty throughout the next section, which contains a breakdown of different routes, and some enchainments, up each individual peak in three sections: Northern, Central, and Southern Cuillin.

In isolation this section works well, but it would have been great if these sections had been reversed (i.e. Southern, Central, and Northern) as this would have helped use some of the information/pictures within to help form a more detailed picture of what the ridge itself looks like for potential ridge-a-neers. That said, it's a tricky balance because, after all, this isn't necessarily how the book is going to be used as you're not going to be carrying it on the route - it's going to be done at home instead. Also, I need to repeat (just in case of any doubt) that this section is extremely thorough, detailed, and also contains some fantastic full page photography.

Other Areas

So far we've only actually covered 22 out of the 100 peaks, so there's a whole lot more of Skye to go within this guide, and this is what makes the book something truly special and different. It encompasses the island as a whole, and not just the Cuillin and the ridge.

The next few chapters take us through the Western Red Hills, Gabbro Outliers, Eastern Red Hills, Kylerhea, Trotternish, and Other Hills. The first four chapters contact the same sort of treatment that the guide has already given to the Cuillin, with a detailed breakdown of different routes up each mountain and potential enchainments. The final chapter - Other Hills - is largely dedicated to naming the remaining peaks on the islands, albeit with a short paragraph/summary as opposed to a distinct map and topography.

Summary

When I first picked up The Cuillin & Other Skye Mountains I was expecting a book dedicated to the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge, but the reality is something quite different. Whilst it does cover the ridge it is by no means the focus of the book, which is - I would say - the island as a whole. It's also worth highlighting that the book is (in my opinion) a guide written with hillwalkers, and not mountaineers, in mind. As such, this might not be what the climbing and full traverse types are after - not least because of its large size preventing it from being carried on the ridge itself. That said, I'm probably being unduly critical: it's a lovely book to read through and get inspired by, especially if you want to see more than just the ridge and take in the island as a whole.

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