For years I yearned to complete a traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye: possibly Britain’s greatest mountaineering challenge. To complete this traverse of 11 Scottish mountains you need legs of steel, have exceptionally good luck with the weather, you need to be on top of your game as a climber and to have the navigation skills of Captain Scott in an Antarctic whiteout. The challenge doesn’t stop there either: with the route spanning start and finish points that are around 20Km apart on a remote Scottish island, with little or no water supplies along the top you also need a fine head for logistics too.
For years I yearned to to have a crack at this route. But I worried maybe I wasn’t fit enough. Or, maybe my head wasn’t ready for the exposure to move unroped continuously through varying grades of uninterrupted scrambling. Or maybe my ability to climb confidently at the grades on unfamiliar rock with a light rack wasn’t quite up to the mark yet.
Then my mate asked me if I wanted to join him giving it a go. In fact not just him – but him and his mates from the South Yorkshire Police Mountaineering Club (SYPMC). I could write an essay on the antics of the SYPMC but that will wait for another day. Heck if they were doing it – then so was I! I was in.
I met up with the guys in the Sligachan Hotel. I’d spent some time doing detailed research, and I’d kept a close eye on the weather. There were fourteen of us and we were discussing tactics. It was suggested that maybe I was the most experienced person there and I was asked what my ideas were on how we should approach this mighty challenge …
“Well” I ventured “the weather for the next three days looks amazingly good.” (This is the West coast of Scotland after all. When it’s not raining hard and blowing a hoolie, it’s normally covered in man-eating midges). “The forecast is for sunshine and low winds. I reckon we should head up tomorrow, do a recce of the climbing, establish exactly what rock gear we will need, stash some water at the top and then do it over the next two days.”
There was silence. They looked around each other, these 13 burly Yorkshire coppers, and unanimously as one, went “Nah – let’s just do it tomorrow!” We were doomed and I knew it.
Before we’d even reached the ridge, the overweight driver had called it a day and headed back to the van. With only three Munros ticked off, more of the team retired from the challenge. And on we went, ticking off peaks and losing people along the way until there were just myself plus two of the guys… And one them had a fear of heights.
I’m not sure how far we managed to get, but after 14 hours on the go, with light now fading, we got out our bivvy bags and slept the night up on the tops hoping for better luck and God’s speed the next day. What we got was light drizzle instead. Two hours later and we too were headed down.
But we weren’t sad, nor were we disappointed: we were elated! We’d had a right EPIC! It had been a long day of continuous decision making, climbing, navigating, route finding and it had been BRILLIANT.
If I had waited for the “right moment” to give this challenge a try I’d never have experienced that day for waiting. So my message to you? Don’t procrastinate with your dreams and challenges – get started NOW.
… And I have yet to return to the Isle of Skye … One day.