Many will know club stalwart David ‘Wilkey’ Wilkinson either from his ramblings on the Mic on match days or his literary talent, penning match reports throughout the season.  However, some may not know Wilkey is a talented and dedicated rock-climbing enthusiast and has been, for some 60 years!

Following a weather-aborted attempt late last year, Wilkey completed both the Pinnacle Ridge AND the Cuillin Ridge Traverse.  This is widely viewed as the toughest mountaineering challenge in the UK, and rarely are the two completed together!

Wilkey has dedicated his achievement to a cause close to all our hearts. He is raising money for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), in memory of Mia Jennings, daughter of club friends James and Louise Jennings.  Mia was taken from us at the young age of 19, all donations will go to the testing of young people.

Wilkey’s story and a donation link follows:

Eric Beard (Beardy) an inspiration for many

Some people know that I’ve been working on my mountaineering challenge for a few years now, but it all started 60 years ago. As a young schoolboy, who had shown some promise as a rock climber, I was paired up with an instructor called Eric Beard. Beardy, as he was known, took me under his wing for the day, rock climbing, mountaineering, and fell-running, which turned out to be a seminal day for me in the mountains. I knew, from that experience, climbing was going to be my future; and so it turned out. I was to learn later that Beardy had just smashed The Cuillin Ridge Traverse record, as well as many other mountain challenges; but it would be 59 years before I had a crack at the Ridge. The passion for climbing, that he had kindled, got me on the path of rock climbing, and the challenges of the great North Face climbs in the Alps, as well as rugby; as such, the Ridge was put on the back-burner.

The Cuillin Ridge and its Munros

In 1998 I suffered a heart-attack, but I made a promise to myself that I would not let it define me, and carried on playing rugby and rock climbing. When I hit seventy, the same thing happened again (not the heart attack), so I drew up a tick list of climbing challenges that consisted of classic rock climbs in the UK, that I had not done, and some easier alpine ascents, than those from the days of my youth. The problem was, I had nobody to rock climb with at that standard, and it was highly unlikely that Mrs W would let me return to the Alps – and then I remembered The Cuillin Ridge Traverse: “The toughest mountaineering challenge in the UK”. Why not? If you’re going to challenge yourself, that age is only a number, then the challenge has to be really testing, otherwise there is no challenge, and nothing to really test you physically or mentally.

The ridge disappears into the clouds again

There are three other big ridge climbs in Scotland, which could be viewed as precursors to the Cuillin: Aonach Eagach, Liathach, and An Tealach. In 2021 I climbed the mighty Liathach, a ridge of 4 summits and pinnacles, and realised I was far from fit enough to take-on the Cuillin Ridge Traverse. 2022 was spent getting myself fit enough for a realistic challenge. 2023 would be months of big walks, scrambles and training in the UK before an ascent of An Tealach in July; I was ready. I teamed up with Guide Scott Kirkhope, the top man in AMI, with many traverses under his belt. We decided to climb up to An Doris on day one, approximately the halfway point, to dump bivouac gear, food and water; this would lighten the load for the first day’s climbing. The weather was not good, and on our decent we were drowned in heavy rain. Somehow we managed to dry our gear for our ascent the following day. Conditions were poor all day, and the going was tough, but after 12 hours we made our bivi site on schedule. The bad news was that the forecast had changed dramatically, from 2 hours of rain in the night, to continuous rain into the following day. We had no other choice, but to flee the mountain, it rained heavily for a day and a half. In an attempt to complete the traverse we then attacked from the northern end, but the rain returned and after two further summits our attempt was over, and I was now another statistic on the not-completed list.

Crinkled Tower one of last training climbs

Serious training re started in January 2024, with a targeted ascent date in May, in the hope that the weather would be more clement. In late February I was acquainted with John Cartmell, who joined me every week in the Peak District and Snowdonia. Before leaving for Skye we had covered over 160 miles and 50,000 feet of climbing. Together we scaled some serious climbs and I had got myself in the best shape that I had been for 30 years. Twice weekly training meant that other social activities were put on hold, with a restricted carb diet, and 0% beer, all the ducks were in a row, so to speak.

The jagged teeth of Pinnacle Ridge disappear into the clouds 

After being repulsed from the Ridge in July, a photograph of Pinnacle Ridge hung on my Study wall. Its four pinnacles leading up to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean, presented the perfect ridge line to the summit of a mountain; but this was at the very end of the traverse, and always avoided. But what if the Traverse was done North to South, one would then have the perfect traverse line? I twisted Scott Kirkhope’s arm by suggesting that we add Pinnacle Ridge to our traverse; usually a classic climb that is a good day out in its own right; it would make it a 3-day traverse, but the weather prospects made that a realistic option. I didn’t know at the time, but Scott had never climbed Pinnacle Ridge as the start of a traverse, and neither it seemed had his fellow Guides.

After drinking as much water as we could, we set off at 5.00 am from Sligachan at sea level, trudging up with our heavy sacs into the clouds. At 1,700 feet we repeated the process drinking about 2 litres of water and filling our water bottles, it would be the last water until our bivouac in 14 hours time. From here we traversed onto Pinnacle Ridge to start the climbing proper. The climbing was fantastic, generally at grade 2, with a good abseil of the third peak, and an interesting down-climb of Knight’s Peak.

Breaking through the clouds, Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillean

Just before the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean we broke through the cloud revealing an amazing cloud inversion. But when we reached the summit, the vision was awe inspiring; a 360 degree cloud inversion, with the peaks of the Ridge poking through.

The last pinnacle before Sgurr Nan Gillean summit

Ready for the challenge along the Ridge

I had to sit and compose myself, it was a privilege that I have never experienced before, Scott also concurred that he had never seen a cloud inversion quite like it.

A bird’s eye view on the Ridge

After taking photos we continued, climbing Am Basteir (The Executioner), followed by Bruach na Frithe. Here the Ridge drops 100 metres in altitude, numerous peaks are ascended until Sgurr Mhadaidh, and our bivi at An Doris; it had been a very long day, and we were soon in our bivi-bags, but the low, heavy cloud made for a damp night.

Leaving a’ Ghreadaidh to the South Top

Day two started wet in the clouds, which slowed our movement down a little, but the climbing on the Ridge was still excellent. The long zig-zag section of Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh and Sgurr na Banachdich led to Sgurr Deag and the Inaccessible Pinnacle.

About to abseil off the In Pinn

In Pinn, is the nemesis for Munro Baggers, these intrepid trekkers attempt to climb all of the 282 Munros, but In Pinn is a rock climb and a serious undertaking for them. As a consequence there is often a queue waiting to climb this perpendicular fin of rock. Voices drifted up, and it suggested a gathering of climbers below; Scott was all for pushing on, but I was keen to at least check out the situation. We dropped down through the cloud to find that there was a party on the start of the climb and two other groups waiting, all appeared to be Munro Baggers with Guides, we would lose an hour, but the traverse would be incomplete without the In Pinn. After coaxing the gentleman in front of us through the difficult climbing, we abseiled off the top, and were on our way again; only three more summits before the second bivouac.

Collie’s Ledge

We made the passage from Sgurr Mhic Choinnich along Collie’s Ledge, but the weight of my sac was now beginning to really tell. Towards the summit of Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak, my aching shoulders had turned to spasms in my neck. The pain was so bad, that Scott asked if I wanted to throw-the-towel-in! My perfunctory response was rather impolite, but he had had to ask. The 700 feet descent to the bivi site and water at Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda required numerous stops to apply pain relieving gel, but level ground was reached at 6.30pm, and the beast was off my back for the night. The bivi site is an amazing vibrant green haven in the middle of a mountainside, where a spring emerges from the mineral rich Peridotite rock; up-turned from the earth’s mantle, and the oldest substance known to man.

It’s becoming a struggle with the beast-on-my-back!

The last day, of 3 more summits and the walk out, almost got the better of me, with the heavy sac constantly giving me neck spasms. It was an experience I will never forget, with a cloud inversion on Saturday morning that nearly brought me to tears. In my 75th year it did take a lot of determination, but it’s one for us oldies, so to speak. I will concentrate now on just having fun, with climbing and scrambling in the mountains.

Mia Jennings

Every week in the UK at least 12, apparently fit and healthy young people die of undiagnosed cardiac conditions. This happened to  James Jennings’s daughter Mia, a teenage Swimming Instructor, with her whole life in front of her. James and his wife Louise are committed to helping Cardiac Risk in the Young, and although my Cuillin Ridge Traverse is complete, I would like to help their cause, please visit my page, many thanks. https://www.justgiving.com/page/david-wilkinson-1716536029293


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