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Rough gabbro rock on the Black Cuillin
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Black Cuillin

Reproduced from 'The Cuillin' by Gordon Stainforth -

'When seen by the traveller on the distant horizon, the great mountain ridge of the Cuillin is one of the most evocative sights in Britain.

It stands on the skyline like a massive castellated fortress - a mountain lover's dream, a vision full of indefinite hopes and infinite climbing possibilities.

The peaks that make up the Cuillin may not have the sheer scale and grandeur of the Alps, but they have nevertheless a grandeur and atmosphere all of their own.

Rising more or less straight out of the sea to a height of over three thousand feet, they share something of the character of both the high mountains and the Atlantic seaboard.

  Elgol looking towards the Cuillin

The Cuillin is much less a collection of individual peaks than one great mountain massif formed by a gigantic 'pluton' or intrusion of igneous rock from deep below the earth's crust.

This is no ordinary orogenic phenomenon - a mountain mass formed by the folding or buckling of the earth's crust - but something altogether more infernal, caused by a cataclysmic rupturing of the crust that allowed the magma, the molten layer beneath the earth's crust, to well up from the depths.

The Cuillin Pluton is a geological anomaly of enormous proportions, giving rise to a freak landscape which has nothing to do with the surrounding pre-existing rocks, nor for that matter, anything else in Britain.

It is not until we see the Cuillin at close quarters that we fully appreciate its power. It is altogether more extreme in character than is apparent from a distance.

  Cuillin Ridge from Elgol

The contrast, for example, between the rather benign appearance of Sgurr nan Gillean from Sligachan and the titanic saw-toothed reality that towers above the entrance to Coire Bhasteir has to be seen to be believed. Its sheer scale and precipitousness exceeds all expectations

In every corrie it is the same story: we enter a savage and diverse landscape of monstrous proportions which for the climber provides some of the most challenging climbing and scrambling routes in the UK.

Perhaps the most striking quality of the Cuillin is just how fresh and raw it looks, as if it were the work of a few nighmarish hours or days.

In fact, the main intrusion was a protracted process lasting five million years or more, starting about seventy million years ago, with further major periods of volcanic activity sixty and fifty-five million years ago.

  Sea cliffs at Elgol

These mountains had not even begun to be formed until after the age of the dinosaurs, and even then there was a long period of erosion in which all the overlying volcanic rock was removed before the onset of the Ice Age about six hundred thousand years ago.

The Ice Age was largely responsible for producing the landscape of narrow ridges and deep corries of the Cuillin.

The serrated, pinnacled crest is mainly the result of the varying resistance to erosion of the rock, the massive gabbro being seamed by more fissile basalt dykes.'

So there you have it - geology lesson over, you are now more aware than ever of the unique nature of these extraordinary mountains, on the wish list of every serious UK mountaineer.

We offer fully guided expeditions to the Cuillin including the most difficult and straightforward routes along the main ridge, a full ridge traverse and the Blaven and Clach Glas Traverse.

  Loch Scavaig and the Cuillin

Cuillin Images

Gars Bheinn - Sgurr na Stri - The Dudh Ridge - Loch Scavaig - Coast path Loch Coruisk

Sligachan Old Bridge - Sron na Ciche - Sgurr Dearg - Sgurr Alastair - Cuillin in winter - Blaven

To find out more about the history of Skye and the Highland Clearances - Click here

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