The Sligachan Horseshoe (A full traverse of the Red Cuillin’s, Sgurr Na Stri and the entire Black Cuillin Ridge)
“Enjoy hearing the story of adventure that goes along with these epic pictures, words by James Gibson” Ian Penney, Owner Swift Running Company
After first hearing about this amazing route, I’ve had it in my mind ever since and have probably been waiting about three years to actually give it a go. The route is relatively small in distance, but it encounters the roughest and technical terrain that you’ll find in the U.K. along with some huge height gain (28 miles and 6,500 meters of ascent)
On Friday myself and Steve attempted the round and had the best day ever. The panoramic views of Skye, the Cuillin’s and the west coast of Scotland were simply amazing!
Starting at 4am we left the Sligachan Hotel, with the intention of completing the round before last orders, how wrong were we! If anyone knows the area well, there is a huge cone shaped mountain called Glamaig, which sits in front of the hotel and rises a mighty 775m above sea level, a nice way to start the day I guess. We timed it so we hit the summit for sunrise, which was just incredible. The view from the summit is surreal and from here you truly get the scale of what the day entails.
Leaving the summit you make your way over the first few summits of the Red Cuillin, with plenty of height loss/ gain, scree and rough ground, with the occasional runnable section.
In the middle of the traverse of the Red’s sits Marsco, in my opinion, one of the finest mountains on the red range. From the summit you can see the entirety of the Black Cuillin Ridge, Sligachan and also all of the Red 👌🏻
After a bit of a pull up you reach the summit of Garbh Bheinn, from which we saw a golden eagle soaring in the Corrie below. From Garbh Bheinn you get to see the exciting part of the traverse, Clach Glas, a sustained scrambling ridge, which leads to the summit of Blàbbeinn, the final top. The ridge is fantastic, giving continued interest all the way.
We both looked back across what we had done and I think it’s safe to say, we completely underestimated how tough it was actually going to be, but it was such a great morning and we started to feel like we were making progress. The weather at this point started to really improve, it stayed sunny and warm the rest of the day.
Leaving Blàbbeinn, we made our way down the south west ridge, with ‘some’ runnable sections. Our plan for the round was to go over Sgùrr na Stri, from which the views up Loch Coruisk are arguably Britain’s finest view. On the ascent of Sgùrr na Stri, Steve began to bonk pretty hard, which was very understandable as this was to be his longest day ever out. With lots of sugar and PMA (positive mental attitude), he pulled through and was feeling full of energy again🤘🏻
The view lived up to what we had heard and we could see our line back down to sea level, for the third time!
After another water top up and a good soak, we worked our way up in the scorching sunshine, to the summit of Gars-beinn, another 895m climb from sea level, which we could really start to feel. Reaching the top and start of the Black Cuillin at 5.30pm (13.5 hours in), we had the enjoyment of having the ridge in beautiful light and it all to ourself. It crossed our minds that we were somewhat behind what we had in mind for time, but we were enjoying ourself so much, we just cracked on.
After lots of eating food and keeping hydrated we made our way along the most technical ridge in Britain and loving every minute. Hitting the Munro’s of Sgurr nan Eag, Sgùrr Dúbh Mórr, we reached the first climb on the ridge, the TD gap, with much enjoyment and motivation we swiftly made our way over the fantastic technical ridge terrain to our second climb, the Kings Chimney, which tops out on the beautiful Munro of Sgùrr MhicChoinnich.
As the sun began to set into the Atlantic Ocean, we were treated to golden slopes of the Red Cuillin’s, the silhouette of the outer Hebredies and the golden light of the inaccessible pinnacle. The climb is fairly easy in terms of difficulty and soloing it in that light was just perfect!
With light fading, we had a quick bite to eat and began to move over towards the summit of Sgurr na Banachdich, the exact midpoint of the Cuillin ridge. It was around here where I thought getting to Sgurr nan Gillean (the final Munro of the Black Cuillin), wasn’t such a great idea. There was a few things that were playing on my mind at this point, firstly me not having a head torch (idiot!), secondly, both of us being tired after being on the go for some 18 or so hours at this point. Thirdly, an approaching front of wet weather arriving around 1am and finally, we were close to the navigationally testing part of the ridge. All of these things against us, we wisely came up with the idea of getting off the ridge.
As darkness approached we decided to get to the next Munro on the ridge Sgùrr a’ Ghreadaidh, to make our way down from An Dorus, in to the Corrie below, eventually leading to the road some 970 meters below. Moving along the ridge before the decent was pretty scary and the feeling of getting off was at the forefront of both of our minds!
Finally getting to An Dorus and making our way into the Corrie below we discussed what the options were about getting back, hiding under a rock in the Corrie with a small bivi shelter and our synthetic jackets was one that was mentioned, but thankfully this wasn’t what we did. Steve suddenly mentioned that his girlfriend was on the island and gave her a ring in desperation. She answered and heroically saved the day, otherwise we would of had a very long walk back to Sligachan, thank you so much Lauren!
With physically and mentally drained body’s, we started to reflect on what we had done and how hard it was, but yet how enjoyable it was. Like I said before, it has to be up there as one of the best days on the hill ever! Half falling asleep and aching feet and knees, we finally reached the car, 22 hours after leaving Sligachan. What a day!
Thanks Steve for such a awesome day and better yet, what an adventure 🤙🏻
We’ll be back to finish the entire round as we were so close, just next time we’ll start earlier, bring a head torch, not take quite as many photos and move a bit quicker. Still a epic day out.