Fastest ever winter Cuillin Ridge traverse by Gomersall and Wild

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 23/02/2016
Tim (left) and Finlay (right) at the finish on Gars-bheinn. Photo: Finlay Wild
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In search of romance (perhaps) Tim Gomersall and Finlay Wild spent Valentine's Day trotting across 11 Munro summits, fuelled mostly by jelly babies, in an uncontested (so far) record six hours 14 minutes and 17 seconds. Tim tells the story of the day, the gear they took, and says it could definitely be done quicker, if anyone fancies rising to the challenge?

Last season it seemed the Cuillin Ridge was never in, but in recent weeks there have been dozens of traverses. The stars had aligned to offer something very rare: amazing weather on Skye, and brilliant conditions on the ridge.

Finlay Wild comments enthusiastically on his blog: "Several factors were key to our fast and light approach. The snow conditions were excellent, with both a decent base and a forgiving fresher covering on top. The weather was clear and the wind not too persistent. Several parties had been along the ridge in the past two days and so there was a trail already broken – which took a very good line for at least 90 percent of the route. We also had the advantage of light equipment."

Also of note is that the very next day rising Scottish winter hero Uisdean Hawthorn faced slightly less good conditons, but set what was probably the fastest ever winter solo traverse of the ridge, commenting on his blog:

"The track from the days before had almost totally gone, which left me with lots of route finding and trail breaking to do. The weather was perfect – basically no wind and I was just in a base layer with my feet overheating an alarming amount in my big B3 boots. I got totally involved in the moment for the first half of the ridge. I just kept moving all the time. You can’t think of anything else other than where your next footstep is going."

TG: That Sunday on the Cuillin was actually the first day Finlay and I ever climbed together. We had originally arranged a long day of ski touring but conditions looked so good on the Cuillin that we changed the plan at the last minute.

Finlay and I met back in January at one of the Skimo [ski mountaineering] Scotland races. We both regularly ski mountaineer and race in the UK and Europe. He has a strong CV as the British fell running champion for 2015, a regular winner of the Ben Nevis race, and the current record-holder for the Cuillin Ridge (2.59.22) in summer.

My record is a little more mediocre although I did manage 6th at the Glencoe skyline race last year. For me 2015 included a few projects of this style, including an eight-hour winter round of the Glencoe munros taking in Curved Ridge and the Aonach Eagach, and a day out on Ben Nevis on the four major ridges linked by steep ski descents. 

Leaving the van at 5:25, we walked up the tourist route onto Sgurr Nan Gillean to access the start of the ridge. The forecast had predicted some wind and we were both slightly apprehensive as to how the conditions would turn out. Encountering our first glimpse of the ridge coated in snow and bathed in morning light we had to reign in our enthusiasm and remind ourselves that the day hadn’t yet really started.

It’s a close call for the best moment of the day, between that first glimpse of the Cuillin in full winter garb and the second wind we both experienced on the out-and-back to Sgurr Dubh Mor. The sun was out, the wind had died away and we were traversing snowy slopes with the hardest parts of the ridge behind us, in only T-shirts.

I think the hardest part of the day was committing to the climb out of the TD gap. We’d discussed various inventive strategies for lassoing blocks on the far side of the gap and did at several stages consider running round. However, on the day none of these seemed viable and as per usual the best solution was to just get on and do it.

The most worrying moment was probably after abseiling Kings Chimney (VD). We should have used both ropes but didn't, which resulted in a short but awkward down-climb above an uncomfortably large drop.

Finlay counted us in with a 3,2,1… for the final jog up onto Gars Bheinn. The view from here is one of the best on Skye. We celebrated with a photograph and a Valentine’s Day pizza, whiskey and crisps!

We think it's a winter record, but would love someone to have a bash at beating our time. We certainly feel we made a few mistakes both in terms of route choice and equipment taken. Hopefully conditions will be ripe for a repeat attempt although given the location that might not be for a couple of years!

The gear:

We both wore Salomon X-Alp boots. Essentially a running shoe with a snow gaiter, these weigh about 500g each and take a crampon without producing bruised toes. We took two ice axes each to allow a maximum of soloing, and generally used one technical and one super light axe each with the exception of the climb out of the TD gap.

For the abseils we took a 36m piece of 8mm rope, and a 27m piece of 6mm cord. The rack was limited to slings, abseil tatt, six nuts and four quickdraws and was pretty much only used on the Inn Pinn and TD Gap. We took a litre of water each and ate gels and jelly babies.

Tim is supprted by Lonely Mountain Skis, a new ski company in Birnam, Perthshire. Finlay is sponsored by Norman Walsh UK and Anatom / Dynafit UK.

WATCH: Finlay Wild runs a sub-three-hour Cuillin Ridge Traverse in summer


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