Outdoor sports

Kintail wanderings: 9 Munros around Glen Shiel

Looking back along the Sisters and Brothers ridges above Glen Shiel in Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. The first summits of the day (A'Ghlas Bheinn and Beinn Fhada) are over on the left horizon.

Looking back along the Sisters and Brothers ridges above Glen Shiel in Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. The first summits of the day (A'Ghlas Bheinn and Beinn Fhada) are over on the left horizon.

I recently shared a stripped down gear list for occasions where I want to travel light outdoors but still wish to capture professional-quality images. Although the items of equipment I listed in that post are lighter than a full bag of camera gear, they are still too heavy for me to carry on occasions when I’m not working and I’d like to challenge myself a little in the mountains.

My inspiration for challenging days out on the hills comes from the athletes I photograph as well as my friends. I’m definitely not a mountain or a fell runner but I’ve had plenty of photography shoots with professional runners (and follow their adventures online) and the ease and speed at which they travel over rough ground has made me realise that I enjoy moving quicker than walking speed in the mountains (something which I have attempted to do in the past with a full camera backpack but my lower back seeks to constantly remind me).

In 2017, I purchased the lightest-weight camera I own, a Sony RX100 V for personal outdoor adventures where I want to move a bit quicker but still capture decent-quality images, especially when they aren’t the focus of my trip. The images I’m able to capture with the Sony RX100 are on the borderline of what I’d class as being acceptable for professional purposes (I’m happy to use them for editorial submissions and blogs) but the trade off when I’m not working is immeasurable. I can fit the camera into a stretchy front pocket of my backpack and easily fast-walk or jog with it up and down hills without any impairment on my activity, whilst still being able to document my day or take shots I can use later for editorial or e.g. location scouting purposes.

The type of outing I’d carry along a Sony RX100 on would be a trail run in the Alps, a long-distance mountain bike time trial or an attempt at multiple Munro summits in Scotland, where my objective is to achieve a relatively big thing (for me) in a certain period of time and I don’t wish to be encumbered with a heavy pack.

An example of this was when I was looking for ideas for a challenging day out in Scotland. My focus was on Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. If I wished to climb a lot of Munros in a day, Kintail’s South Glen Shiel ridge allows for 7 summits to be ticked off in a fairly easy fashion. Opposite them on the north side of the glen, there are 7 Munros that I could do the following day (or perhaps even on the same day).

The record for the most amount of Munros in a single day is 30 by Jim Mann from England who ticked off their summits in 22h 05mins in July 2017. The record for total Munro completions overall is Steven Fallon, who’s completed 15 rounds (of 282 hills, sometimes more) over a twenty year period. A qualified mountain guide, Steven is also an accomplished hill runner and his website has a number of running options if you’re looking to join groups of Munros together to make a longer day and set yourself a challenge.

I settled on Steven Fallon’s Kintail Sisters and Brother route, a 39km circular route with c.4000m ascent that includes two nearby Munros and takes in 9 Munro summits. The route starts and ends at the outdoor centre at Morvich and my goal was to complete the round in a certain timescale, using some adjustments I prefer to Naesmith’s formula (which I calculate at 4km/h for every km travelled and 1 hour for every 600m ascent). This isn’t running pace but to achieve it means not stopping so I figured it was a good enough challenge and it would provide me with a day out that would test me but not break my legs (figuratively speaking, not literally). In the end, I didn’t quite manage to complete the route in Naesmith’s timings (it took me 16 hours instead of 15) but I still felt in great shape at the end and it was a memorable day out.

Glen Shiel Sisters and Brothers route (including two additional Munros)

  • Distance: 39km / 24 miles

  • Ascent: 4105m / 13,467ft

  • Time: 16 hours 03 minutes

(Steven’s website records this route as 35km / 22 miles in distance with 3,140m / 10,300ft ascent but my calculations were as above, which I corroborated with a friend).

Munros climbed

  • A'Ghlas Bheinn (918m)

  • Beinn Fhada (1032m)

  • Ciste Dhubh (979m)

  • Aonach Meadhoin (1001m)

  • Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (1036m)

  • Saileag (956m)

  • Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m)

  • Sgurr na Carnach (1002m)

  • Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m)


One of the reasons I wanted to attempt Steven’s Kintail route was because I have an itch to attempt Tranter’s Round and the time I took in Glen Shiel would give me an indication if that was feasible. It’s relatively tight, with an additional 5 miles and 8,000ft I’d need to cover in the remaining 8 hours (which sounds straightforward enough but at my pace, which will no doubt be slowing by then, it only gives me one hour to play with).

In the Land of Fire and Ice: Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon

In July 2019, despite some challenging weather that included thick mist and driving rain, I had the pleasure of shooting promotional photographs for the inaugural Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon on the Snaefellsnes penisula in western Iceland. The race, a long course triathlon where competitors are challenged with a 3km swim beneath Kirkjufell, a 180km cycle around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and a marathon 42.2km run over the side of Snæfellsjökull, a glacier-capped stratovolcano, is the brainchild of US race directors Aaron Palaian and Tony Saap, who operate a company called ExtremeTris.com and put on the Ísland Extreme Triathlon with support from local athletes. Aaron and I first met in 2017 when I photographed him ahead of his participation in the Celtman Extreme Triathlon and we kept in touch. It was good fun to catch up with Aaron (and to trade insults, as only friends can do) but also to meet Tony and to visit the wonderful country of Iceland and meet other new friends. I’m definitely keen to go back.

Ísland Extreme Triathlon 2019

  1. Geir Omarsson (Reykjavik, IS) - Finish Time: 10:09:43

  2. Raphael Vorpe (Ittigen, Switzerland) - 10:48:17

  3. Pétur Gundnason (Reykjavik, IS) - 10:51:48

The first female home was Erin Green (Wilmington, NC, US) in a time of 15:34:39.

Hiking and trekking: Tour Glacier near Chamonix, France

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Aiguille du Tour is a 3542m high peak in the European Alps, north of Chamonix, that borders France and Switzerland. It is generally regarded as a simple peak, its normal route graded Facile, or Easy.

A friend and I had chosen Aiguille du Tour as our first attempt at an Alpine summit. We’d asked along another friend, Alex, who was much more competent than us at the time (and still is). When we arrived in Chamonix, the valley residents were experiencing a heatwave and it was a joy to gain height into the cooling air as we took the gondola from Le Tour and followed the trail up to the Albert Premier Refuge at 2706m. This was my first visit to the Chamonix valley and the domed summit of Mont Blanc, which glistened high above the valley, dominated my attention.

The following morning, we left the Albert Premier refuge before sunrise (my first true alpine start) and roped up as we ascended the Tour Glacier. Above our heads we could see the prominent rock table on the Couloir de la Table route. We were headed for Col Superior du Tour, following the first part of the famous Haute Route. At the col, we looked down onto the Trient Glacier in Switzerland. We had seen photos of terrible crevasses on the Trient Glacier but it was early in the season and thankfully the crevasses were full of snow (although breaking through a snow bridge and falling into a hidden crevasse would still be a risk).

I struggled to climb Aiguille du Tour on this occasion, mainly due to illness, and I chose not to continue to the summit. Which disappointed me but we continued with our plan and trekked over the Trient Glacier, with its spectacular views of Aiguilles Dorées, to spend the night at the Trient Hut in Switzerland. In the morning we retraced our steps back to France and took the time to check out the more broken parts of the glacier. In terms of climbing, it was an unsuccessful trip but I’ve learnt not to measure Alpine adventures simply in terms of summits I’ve reached. A lot of the joy I find is in the journey and, especially so, in the moments I can capture.

Sea kayaking: Patagonian Expedition Race

Team East Wind sea kayaking with a Peale’s dolphin down an unusually calm Strait of Magellan in Southern Chile

Team East Wind sea kayaking with a Peale’s dolphin down an unusually calm Strait of Magellan in Southern Chile

The Patagonian Expedition Race is an adventure race par excellence held in the wilderness of southern Chilean Patagonia. Teams of four are challenged to navigate a remote 700km+ course, with minimal support, that demands advanced skills in the disciplines of mountain biking, trekking, mountaineering and sea kayaking.

Team East Wind are a professional adventure race team from Japan who compete in expedition races around the world. They are led by team captain Masato Tanaka, a venerable adventure racer who continually proves that the best way to lead is by example (Masato continued competing in the 2016 Patagonian Expedition Race even after a mountain bike accident on stage 4 of the race fractured his nose and forced him to wear an immobilising neck brace). Masato is an experienced captain who skilfully picks his team according to their strengths and, most likely, their appetite for suffering.

I captured the photo above during stage 17 of a Patagonian Expedition Race, as Team East Wind kayaked the Strait of Magellan ahead of their final 100km mountain bike into Punta Arenas. I was aware Peale’s dolphins swam in the Straits of Magellan, having researched the history, flora and fauna of Patagonia thoroughly for a book I’d written on trekking in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. I also had a feeling they would follow boats on the water, based on my understanding that dolphins are naturally inquisitive. It was a combination of this knowledge and, likely, some luck that led me to drive down a dirt road in a 4x4 along the shore as I followed the kayakers and waited for a dolphin to emerge. Every time one did, and sometimes there was more than one, a cheer arose from Team East Wind, their enthusiasm buoyed as they battled their way to a second place finish.

Mountain running: Grey Corries, West Highlands of Scotland

Charlie Lees celebrating the dawn near the summit of Stob Choire Chlaurigh in the Grey Corries in the West Highlands of Scotland

Charlie Lees celebrating the dawn near the summit of Stob Choire Chlaurigh in the Grey Corries in the West Highlands of Scotland

The Grey Corries are a group of four Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft) that form a natural rocky ridge running south-west from Spean Bridge in the West Highlands of Scotland to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak. I’ve trekked over the Grey Corries many times, on day trips as well as backpacking them as part of the Lochaber Traverse and during an attempt on Tranter’s Round. Each time I’ve arrived on the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh, the highest summit in the Grey Corries at 1177m, I’ve made a mental note of the expansive views as the ridge snakes its way south-west towards Ben Nevis. I’ve always resolved to come back for a photo shoot.

The image I had in my head was of a trail runner descending from the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh as the sun set far in the west over Ben Nevis. I’d roped in a friend, Charlie Lees, who is supported by Gorewear, and we’d hiked up the mountain the previous afternoon so we were in a perfect position for the shoot. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Scotland, the weather didn’t play ball. The forecast was good but the light at sunset was muted by low-lying cloud and so we improvised instead, shooting a variety of shots until it got too dark (around 11pm). I wasn’t too concerned as we’d had the foresight to bring sleeping gear with us and we planned to spend the night on the summit so we could shoot again the following day.

In the morning, I woke early, well before sunrise. I was disappointed to find the cloud was still there but a wild mountain hare, stationary not five feet from my head, buoyed my spirits. The hare and I sat in silence for a while, perhaps both of us just admiring the view, before it hopped off down the ridge. I called out to Charlie and we got ready for the shoot.

My intentions were still to shoot facing west, catching Charlie as the sun caught the ridgeline out to Ben Nevis. The view to the east though as the sun rose behind the spine of a subsidiary top, Stob Coire na Ceannain, caught my eye and we headed along the ridge. As Charlie crested the summit, he leapt in the air slightly and I knew I had my shot. After a few repeat takes, including some without the leap, I was happy.

Capturing this image reminded me that the photograph I’m most glad to have captured is not always the one I had planned. It’s best I keep an open mind and consider all my options when planning and executing a shoot. It also reminded me to keep an eye on an athlete’s natural traits and take advantage of them, when it’s appropriate, when I’m producing an image.

Published in: Runner’s World, June 2018  (A variation of this image)

Trail and mountain running locations: Chamonix and nearby

In August 2017, I had the opportunity to photograph husband and wife Donnie Campbell and Rachael Campbell in Chamonix, France. Donnie Campbell is one of Britain's top ultra runners, sponsored by Salomon. Rachael is a nurse and a talented mountain runner, running for Team GB in 2018 and placing 5th female in the 2018 Marathon du Mont-Blanc 90km series. 

One of my first tasks was to decide where I would take elite athletes for a mountain running shoot near Chamonix that would help me to produce images I hadn't seen before.

Donnie Campbell running on Desert de Plate with Mont Blanc in the background

Location 1 - Désert de Platé

On the day Donnie and Rachael welcomed us to the Argentière campsite they'd been calling home for the Summer, my assistant Alex remarked how we appeared to have brought the Scottish weather with us (a temperature of 3 degrees C was reported for the following day). Although the Chamonix valley was socked in with low cloud and drizzle, we had done our research and the weather was looking better a few days ahead so we headed north in the rain to Plaine Joux and followed the route of Le Dérochoir (a fun, if initially sketchy-looking 'via ferrata' that follows a weak point up the dramatic cliffs of Rochers des Fiz and leads to Col de la Portette). Our plan was to stay overnight at Refuge de Platé and shoot sunrise shots of Donnie and Rachael playing on the amazing limestone rock landscape of Désert de Platé, with Mont Blanc in the background.

Désert de Platé was an area that had immediately sprung out when I did some location scouting online. I definitely did want to shoot running images in the Chamonix valley but, when I googled possible locations, the south side of Chamonix (the Lac Blanc side) was clearly the running photographer's location of choice. For good reason. The views are awesome. But I also wanted to find a location that no-one else had. So my plan for our 4-day shoot was to shoot on the balcony paths of Chamonix but also find another location that I hadn't seen any running shots of. Désert de Platé, as it transpired, wasn't an entirely unique location for running (whilst we were in Chamonix, Kilian Jornet posted a video of Seb Montaz and himself playing around between the rock crevasses) but I think we made a good choice. The cracked limestone rock offers huge potential for foreground interest in a photo shoot and the views of Mont Blanc are immense. We only had the time and the weather for one shoot before we headed back to Chamonix but I'd love to return and explore more.

Rachael Campbell running at lower Lac Blanc with the Chamonix Aiguilles in the background

Location 2 - Lac Blanc

When the sun became too bright for photographs at Désert de Platé, we descended via Le Dérochoir and returned to Chamonix for lunch. Two hours later, Alex and I were on our way to 2,352m high Lac Blanc, taking advantage of the chairlifts from Les Praz to Flégère to L'Index to help alleviate some of the weight of our camera and lighting gear. Donnie and Rachael chose to run up from Argentière. The location of Lac Blanc (the 'White Lake’) is, arguably, home to the most famous views in the Alps, with thousands of photos on the internet of the scenic lake and its mountain refuge, nestled beneath the Aiguilles Rouge, with its expansive views over the Chamonix valley to famous peaks such as Aiguille du Tour, Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, Aiguille du Dru, Grandes Jorasses, the Chamonix Aiguilles and Mont Blanc.

Donnie and Rachael met us at Refuge Lac Blanc. By the time they'd arrived, I’d already decided that a Saturday night in August wasn’t the best time for a photo shoot at this busy location. There was an awful lot of people around the lake. It was too crowded for the shots I had in mind so we descended to lower Lac Blanc and prepared to shoot there. There were already photographers set up (it's a popular lake for reflections) so I took the time to check they didn’t mind if we took some running shots and received a positive response (though in the morning I learnt there was a photographer I had missed and we had spoiled their time lapse. If this was you, I do regret it). After we wrapped up our shoot, I chatted to Salomon's social media manager, Jeremy. Donnie and Rachael returned to Argentière and Alex and I bivvied out so we could shoot some mountain landscape images at dawn. We arranged to meet up with Donnie and Rachael later that day.

Donnie Campbell running nearby Le Brévent with the summit of Mont Blanc in the background

Location 3 - Le Brévent

Donnie and Rachael’s base in the Alps was their camper van at Camping du Glacier d’Argentière (www.campingchamonix.com). After Alex and I had descended from Lac Blanc (pleasingly, the trail popped out at a bakery in Argentière), it was nice to sit in the mid-day sun at the campsite with fresh bread and a chilled drink as we prepared for our last shoot of the trip. We had two locations in mind. A visit to Tête de Balme or Aiguillette des Posettes for a sunset view down the whole Chamonix valley or to head south-west to Brévent for a closer view of the Chamonix Aiguilles and the summit of Mont Blanc. The latter won, not least because I love looking at the Chamonix Aiguilles (and Les Drus - oh, Les Drus - along with Cerro Torre and Torre Egger in Patagonia, two peaks I could photograph simply every day).

Le Brévent is a popular destination in the Alps for Chamonix’s aerial specialists. Paragliders take off very close to the Plan Praz mid-station, taking advantage of thermals above the town, and BASE jumpers plunge from a pedestal not far from Le Brévent’s 2,525m high summit. We didn't see any BASE jumpers but we did see plenty of paragliders as we left the summit of Le Brévent and headed into a magnificent rocky playground that stretches out like one great, big, broken ridge into the distance towards the Aiguilles Rouges. I'm confident there's huge potential for capturing adventure sports images beneath the peaks that rise above the Grand Balcon Sud, including running, hiking and scrambling photos, all with stunning views across to the big alpine peaks. I made a note to discuss it with clients on my return.

All that was left was for us was to descend the 1,500m to Chamonix, first on an easy trail and then down the initially scrambly but fun Chamonix VK route steeply downhill to arrive in town well after dark. I knew my quads would burn from the 3,000m descent I’d had that day but it was a good feeling and I was sad to be leaving. Three days shooting running in Chamonix simply isn't enough. I'll look forward to going back.

Winter hiking: Daunted on the Devil's Ridge

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

In 2012, I met Edinburgh-based photographer Chris Lomas through a friend when we shared a great winter's day out on the popular Scottish Munro, Buachaille Etive Mor.

Earlier this year, I bumped into Chris again and we agreed we should catch up with another day in the hills. Fast forward to April 2016 and, after one false start earlier in the month due to bad weather, we caught up on our respective careers as we drove up the A82 headed to Glen Nevis and a winter round of the Ring of Steall.

The Ring of Steall is the name given to a group of mountains in the Mamores region in the West Highlands of Scotland. The peaks, which include 4 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft/914m high) form a dramatic horseshoe ridge around Coire a'Mhail, a great 'hidden valley' that has its exit barred by the 100m+ high Steall waterfall. The only technical difficulties on the Ring of Steall are a steep-sided, narrow arete at one end of the horseshoe (the 'Devil's Ridge' - pictured above) and a scramble over angled, broken slabs at the other (on the traverse from An Garbhanach to An Gearanach).

In Summer, most folk will find the scrambling on the Ring of Steall a breeze but, in Winter, freezing conditions and snow and ice up the ante. Winter mountaineering in Scotland involves a higher level of risk management, no matter how easy the terrain, and this was something we had to consider when, after traversing most of the Devil's Ridge - on fresh, decidedly sketchy snow - we reached a point c.2m below the end of a roof with a what looked like a treacherous cornice on one side and soft, unstable snow at a 40 degree angle on the other. "We'll only make the next mistake once", said Chris. And he was right. So after a discussion about other options, none of which appeared to present less risk, we took a common sense approach and reversed our steps until we could bail out into Coire a'Mhail. After an enjoyable descent to the floor of the corrie, we completed a somewhat unusual route around the inside of the Ring of Steall to An Garbhanach, but one that was no less enjoyable.

Deep snow on Streap: West Highlands of Scotland

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

It's not often in Scotland you need snowshoes to get around. Our initial plans been to drive alongside Loch Arkaig in the West Highlands of Scotland and walk for a couple of hours into Glen Kingie to stay at Kinbreak bothy. Snowy weather conditions however on the drive from Edinburgh, with the occasional whiteout and stranded cars on the motorway as we travelled through Fife (not one-fifth of the way into our journey) led to what we felt was the sensible decision not to drive down an untreated road and we headed for the nearby Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy instead.

I'd been to Gleann Dubh-Lighe before, when we climbed Streap in 2016. The walk-in to the bothy is excellent and we took turns breaking trail through fresh, ankle-deep snow. It's not a difficult walk-in though, even with 10kg of coal, and we were soon settled in and and trading conversation in front of a roaring fire. A few hours later, a couple from Fort William arrived, soaked in fresh snow, and, later still, a group of six turned up from Glasgow. (The latter group had also changed their mind about walking in to Kinbreak bothy). All of us commented on the amount of snow that was falling.

In the morning, we had a leisurely start before we headed again to Streap. Our goal was simply to repeat the route we'd done a few years previously and share with a friend how good it was. As it transpired, we got nowhere near the summit. The depth of snow made any walking without snowshoes incredibly difficult and it took us nearly four hours to ascend just 700m from Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy onto Streap's south-west ridge. Our late start meant we arrived on the ridge mid-afternoon and, with our expectation being the deep and difficult snow conditions would continue (I was often waist-deep in powder and I’m 6’2” tall), we made what we deemed to be the sensible decision to bail on the still faraway summit and come back again another day (possibly for a summit camp in Spring). We were disappointed but our mood soon lifted when we returned to the bothy and the group from Glasgow had very kindly left us a half-full bottle of whisky (their good company and our own whisky being one of the reasons for our late start).

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

A backpacking challenge: Following in the footsteps of Tranter

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor, looking over to Ben Nevis, during a backpack of Tranter's Round, the original long-distance 24-hour fell-running challenge in the West Highlands of Scotland.

David Hetherington on the summit ridge of Binnein Mor, looking over to Ben Nevis, during a backpack of Tranter's Round, the original long-distance 24-hour fell-running challenge in the West Highlands of Scotland.

A progression when you've been going on backpacking trips is to look for opportunities to link together different routes, increasing length and difficulty to set yourself a challenge or to seek new experiences.

Tranter's Round is named after Philip Tranter, who in 1964 devised a 24-hour challenge for fell runners when he connected 18 Munros in the West Highlands of Scotland - the Mamores (10), Grey Corries (4), Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag (2), Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis (2) - in a 40-mile trail running epic that covers 20,600ft of ascent.

For our 2-day attempt at Tranter's Round (roughly 10,000ft of ascent each day), we started in Glen Nevis and ascended Mullach nan Coirean (939m), bivvying on the summit at 2300 hours (I'll accept we cheated slightly). Early the next morning, we continued over the Mamores - Stob Ban (999m), Sgurr a'Mhaim (1099m), Am Bodach (1032m), An Gearanach* (982m), Na Gruagaichean (1055m), Binnein Mor (1130m), Binnein Beag (943m) and Sgurr Eilde Mor (1010m) - before descending 16 hours later to spend the night at Meanach Bothy.

On day 2, we ticked off the Grey Corries - Stob Ban (977m), Stob Choire Claurigh (1177m), Stob Coire an Laoigh (1116m) and Sgurr Choinnich Mor (1094m) - commonly known as the Lochaber Traverse - before a steep, grassy scramble took us up onto a very wintry Aonach Beag (1234m). It was here we decided to cut our trip short. A storm that had been distant for much of the afternoon brought in 50mph winds and freezing rain and, in true Scottish style, what had been a pleasant Summer's day turned distinctly nasty with a great risk of hypothermia. None of us are new to bad weather but with 8 hours in, 2 Munros to do (including Britain's highest mountain) and a sharp scrambly ridge between them, it wasn't hard to make the decision to bail over Aonach Mor (1221m) and make a miserable descent to the roadside through the debris and detritus of the Nevis Range.

Despite our disappointment, it was a great outdoor trip. Tranter's Round is a very worthy backpacking route in Scotland.

Note - The record for Tranter's Round, as at 01 October 2016, is 10hrs 15mins 30secs, set by Fort William GP Finlay Wild. In fell-running terms, the route has been superseded by Ramsay's Round, named after Charlie Ramsay who lengthened the route in 1978 to 56 miles and 28,500ft of ascent over 24 (now 23) Munros. The record today for Ramsay's Round is 16hrs 12mins 32secs by Es Tressider in 2019 (who was supported at one point by previous record holder Jasmin Paris, who’ recorded 16hrs 13mins 53secs). I’m envious and respectful of all. (Source: Scottish Hill Runners)

*I didn't go out to An Gearanach, choosing instead to spend the time in the sunshine drying out my sleeping bag after the previous night's damp bivvy.

Isle of Skye: Black Cuillin Ridge traverse

Looking south from the summit of Bruach na Frithe, a Munro in the Black Cuillin range, towards Bidein Druim nan Ramh on the Isle of Skye in the North-West Highlands of Scotland.

Looking south from the summit of Bruach na Frithe, a Munro in the Black Cuillin range, towards Bidein Druim nan Ramh on the Isle of Skye in the North-West Highlands of Scotland.

I visited the Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, taking advantage of a trip with friends to scout out potential locations for a mountain running shoot later in the year. 

The extremely rocky Black Cuillin is often described as Britain's answer to the European Alps. There's certainly nowhere else in the UK of such a serious mountaineering nature, with sustained difficulties on many peaks needing overcome before you can reach the summits.

The Black Cuillin hills and surrounding area are the remains of a large volcano in Scotland. The igneous and gabbro-covered mountains were first explored in the 1800s (Sgurr nan Gillean was first climbed in 1836) but the big challenge for mountaineers today is a full Cuillin ridge traverse, scrambling and climbing over the 11 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft high) and their many tops, navigating c.7 miles of complex, narrow ridges with precipitous drops where a slip would often be fatal. 

Most mountaineers attempting to traverse the Skye ridge aim to complete it in 2 days, after multiple recce trips, but fit, competent alpinists confident of the route have been capable of achieving it within one day. The record for the Cuillin ridge traverse is held by Finlay Wild, a Scottish GP and fell / mountain runner with excellent climbing and mountaineering skills. Over a period of 5 months in 2013, Finlay first reduced the Skye ridge record to 3 hours, 14 minutes and 58 seconds (beating the previous record holder Es Tressider's time of 3 hours, 17 minutes and 28 seconds) before he ran the ridge, from the summit of Gars-Bheinn to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean, including 4 climbing pitches up to VDiff grade, in an astounding 2 hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds. 

Finlay also [held] the winter Cuillin Ridge traverse record. Along with Tim Gomersall, he completed an icy Skye ridge traverse in March 2016 in 6 hours, 14 minutes, 7 seconds. (Update - Uisdean Hawthorn traversed the Black Cuillin ridge on 26th February 2018 in just 4 hours 57 minutes to claim the current winter record).


Hire a guide for the Cuillin Ridge Traverse

Paul Tattersall (Go Further Scotland) is excellent company. Paul has guided the Skye ridge many times and holds the distinction of completing a double Cuillin Ridge traverse in the same day. You can see Paul in action in Nadir Khan's film, 'The Black Cuillin'.