On Monday 26th February Uisdean Hawthorn set what is very likely to be a new speed record for a winter Cuillin traverse, knocking over one hour from the previous known fastest time. Seizing an opportunistic weather/conditions window, and with minimal planning, Uisdean set off from Sgurr nan Gillean just after 8am. Travelling solo and unsupported, he capitalised on good firm snow cover to reach Gars-bheinn at the southern end of the ridge just 4 hours 57 minutes and 7 seconds later.
Once he'd slept it off we caught up with him to find out more...
UKH: In February 2016 we reported Finlay Wild and Tim Gomersall's 6:14:17 as a probable winter record – in terms of records, and in the absence of any other known contenders, your 4:57:07 really has to be considered the new fastest time doesn't it?
Uisdean: Yeah I think it's a record. I did visit all the summits, including Bidein Druim nan Ramh. I suppose there are no set rules for winter, for example I abbed into the TD Gap but instead of climbing out the far side I walked 40m down the gully then traversed 150m back to where I would come out. It would have felt a bit silly soloing 10m of grade VI for no reason. This is what I did last time. I know Tim and Finlay climbed out when they did it in 6hrs 14 and I maybe would too if I was in a team. Fundamentally though I'm not too fussed if it's considered a record or not; it's a record for myself and I had a good day so I'm just happy with that!
That 2016 record time of just over 6 hours was quite some benchmark: did you aim to try for the winter record from the outset, or were you simply gunning for your own previous fastest time from 2016?
I thought 7 hours would be good and maybe closer to 6 if everything went absolutely perfectly. I wouldn't have thought it possible to do under 5.
How many times have you done it in winter now, and would you say familiarity is helpful?
I've done it once before in summer, and this was my second time in winter. It helped having done it before but last time I had to break trail for long sections and find the correct way. It felt like a big adventure, unsure if I could even solo all of it.
What were ground conditions like on the day and to what extent does that make a difference to speed and the sense of security?
This time the route finding was obvious, and with nice firm snow all the way along the crest it just felt like going for a run in the hills.
How was the weather? Again, that must be pretty pivotal to the whole endeavour?
The weather was good but cold and windy in the morning, I ran the first 30mins in my down jacket. Some high level cloud helped keep the sun off the snow which meant it was nice and firm with good snow cover all the way.
I guess those few days around last weekend were a great window in terms of weather and ground conditions: had you been planning a Traverse for a while or was this an opportunistic thing?
I had it in my head to do it again this year as over the last few months I did lots of running in Tasmania and felt quite fit. After that it was just luck that I managed to be there when conditions were good. Lukasz was wanting to take some photos of Scottish winter climbing and the weather looked good on Skye so we went there and I noticed conditions were really good so thought I would have a go the next day.
Which bits did you ab?
I can't remember them all but think I just did five abs out of the more normal 10ish, and I just downclimbed the others.
Can you give us a rundown of your gear?
- Two Grivel North Machine Carbon axes
- Grivel stealth helmet
- Mountain Equipment Aerofoil (prototype windproof weighs 100g!)
- Arete Down jacket
- 3 wires
- OTE Gels and AnytimeBars
- 1L of water
- 25L prototype M.E Tupilak pack
What about on your feet?
I wore Scarpa Ribelle Tech ODs, and some Grivel steel monopoints - but a bit modified.
And what did you abseil with?
60m of 5.5mm Edelweiss aramid rope - it's super light and very strong, but it does take a little getting used to!
You've just brought the winter record a whole hour+ closer to the summer record: what would it take in terms of fitness and conditions to narrow that gap further?
I suppose it'd be mainly down to fitness. I could be way faster if I just went hill running all year, rather than going on expeditions and wasting away in a tent at altitude! I'm not really that into speed records so can't see myself doing it faster unless conditions are really good again one year and I feel like a nice day out.
What else have you been up to this winter?
I was in Tasmania for a few months climbing and running, it's the perfect place to do both and always good to get back into summer and escape the dark nights. Since being back I have been going winter climbing which has been really fun due to the recent good conditions.
Any upcoming plans we should know about?
I'm heading to the revelations in Alaska with Tom Livingstone to climb some new routes hopefully, so better start using my arm muscles again.