We are both tired and the decision to head to Skye and attempt the Cuillin Ridge could not have been made with less enthusiasm. However, we cannot ignore the perfect weather window and tell ourselves that we’ll feel better once we get there. Sure enough, our reticent malaise fades with every mile of glorious Scottish Highlands that glides by. As the scenery amps up, so too does our psyche. The people become fewer and the mountains bigger. By the time we cross the bridge to Skye we have well and truly succumbed to an infection of carefree vigour and Andy has broached the subject of the Greater Traverse, something I have never even heard of.
Reaching Portree in the early afternoon we make a beeline for the Arriba Café, lay out maps and guide book and devise a cunning plan. Andy elaborates on The Greater Traverse – which I have to admit, sounds absurd. According to the guidebook:
‘Unlikely as it may seem, the pleb’s version (of the Cuillin Traverse) isn’t hard enough for some people. Including outlying Garbh-bheinn, Clach Glas and Bla Bheinn adds a huge distance and an additional 1000m of ascent to an already excessive total. This one’s strictly for masochistic whippets.’
It’s suggested to begin with the standard traverse, then cross to the outlying peaks, finally descending Bla Bheinn to Camasunary where a route march up the central valley takes you north to finish at the Sligachan Hotel. We quickly agree that this is contrived and disingenuous, aesthetically and logistically flawed: it’s neither the aesthetic line, nor does it create a loop.
A better option would start and finish at the Sligachan Hotel, taking in the eastern ridgeline first, before following the coastline round to the foot of the main ridge.
Having eaten well and made a plan we conduct a shambolic sweep of the local Co-op – expedition catering on the cuff – and drive back to Sligachan. By five we have completed our hasty packing and are heading off up the wide Sligachan valley. By quarter past I am running back to the van to get toothpaste and brush and Andy, not wishing to sit idle, is struggling on up the valley humping both bags. Something about less haste, more speed ….
The sky is a monotone grey, the scene void of greenery. Heather and tufty grass alone survives here. The mountains themselves are bare rock. It feels oppressive. Running back up the valley clutching dental supplies I break into a fierce sweat and pull off my shirt to avoid soaking it. It feels good – and slightly crazy – to be running bare-chested into this wilderness.
Andy has made better progress than I’d have thought and I’ve made a pact with myself not to stop running ‘til I catch him. As I crest each rise I expect to see him, only to be disappointed. I start to wonder if he hasn’t broken track, and let me run on by.
But sure enough, I eventually catch him, triumphantly brandish the toothpaste and joke that in case this wasn’t going to be hard enough I thought I’d give myself a half hour boot run by way of warm up.
It feels good to be back together again and isn’t long before we break away from the wide central valley and start our climb to the 429m bealach (Gaelic for ‘saddle’). Before climbing away from the stream we take a good drink and fill our bottles – 5 litres between us. There’s little pleasure in the climb: where it isn’t boggy, off camber and slippery, it’s steep, gravelly and loose. But soon we reach the bealach: the start of the first ridge. With an hour or so left of daylight we fight the temptation to stop and bivvy here and instead, set to on our first peak: Ghars Bheinn. It feels very committing and quite odd to start climbing a mountain at this time of day but with so much ahead of us it’s the right thing to do. It’s gone nine, yet still just about light, by the time we reach the bealach on the other side and lay out our respective sleeping arrangements.
The descent of Ghars Bheinn has afforded us a good look at what lies ahead. And having not been in the mountains for some time, I have to admit, it looks intimidating. Clas Glach, otherwise known as the Matterhorn of Skye, is a fine pinnacle of rock and will certainly give us our first taste of exposure come morning.
In the fading light we boil water and set about our rehydrated meals.
Darkness covers us like a veil and it’s not long before we are asleep.
I wake in a cloud just ahead of my 0515 alarm and rouse Andy who’s still gently snoring. Within minutes the cloud is breaking up and by the time coffee is ready we are sitting above one of the most beautiful cloud inversions I have ever seen. To the West the only thing visible above the cloud are the black peaks of the entire Cuillin Ridge, rising like the spikes of a crown from a bed of soft velvet.
By 0630 we are on the move, fuelled by coffee and porridge and inspired by everything around us. In fact, the morning is so beautiful that any sense of the enormity of what’s ahead is blurred and we simply delight in the moment. It takes a conscious decision, verbally reinforced, to get over being mind-smacked by our surroundings and concentrate on the serious business of not falling off.
We make surprisingly light work of Clas Glach and enjoy the view and some food for a few minutes at the putting green – the grassy bealach between Clas Glach and Bla Bhein. It feels good to have Clas Glach behind us and be reacquainted with alpine-style climbing. Pushing on, we follow the route as it zigzags through the mountain’s formidable northern walls before arriving at the foot of a Diff corner. This we solo to reach the smooth eastern flank and a rapid yomp in the already warm sun to the summit – our first Munro.
We rest again, drinking in the panorama before crossing a snowy bealach to the Southern summit, from which we descend eastwards. The first phase seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Although we are already starting to believe that the Greater Traverse will go, I shut that line of thought down, reminding myself of the considerable distance that lies between us and even the start of the main ridge, let alone its finish.
An unpleasant descent on scree brings us to Slat Bheinn, a wide topped spur running all the way to the sea. We hold its western edge, picking an untracked line across a sparse landscape of tufty grass and bog. After the scree, the spongy ground feels good on the joints and we make a swift descent towards Camasunary Bay.
Towards the end of the descent Andy spots something on the ground and calls me over. There, coiled up in the grass is a snake, enjoying the warm morning sun. Switching to Gerald Durrell mode, I drop my pack, extract my camera and proceed to see how close I can get before it either attacks me or slithers away. As I edge nearer it rises up, looking really pissed off – its morning sunbath has after all been rudely interrupted. As it slithers away I follow it, mesmerized by the grace of its movement. It stops and hisses at me as again I get closer. I can see every individual scale – a shifting mosaic of green and black – as its body expands and deflates with the effort of hissing.
Entertaining and beautiful as this is, time is sliding by and these My Family And Other Animals antics are not getting us any closer to completing the Greater Traverse. Though Andy appears to patiently tolerate my behaviour, I suspect that he is silently vowing to keep future interesting fauna spots to himself.
That said, we are hardly rushing and soon stop again. This time it’s for the purposes of admin. I bathe my feet in the delicious chill water of a gently babbling stream. Our shirts and sleeping bags are laid across the heather to dry and we’re eating … again. We have prepared ourselves for a torrid and hurty experience on the Greater Traverse, yet so far it has been disconcertingly pleasant. Dare we now suppose that it won’t be so bad after all?
Suitably revived we stride out across the bay, passing the Camasunary bothy before heading out around the Rubha Ban headland. The bay is millpond calm and the water laps and sloshes gently in the clefts of rock just below us. To be in the process of climbing Britain’s biggest mountaineering route yet be enjoying a pristine coastal walk is both weird and wonderful.
During our Arriba Café planning session we had discussed the important matter of ethics and style and were in easy agreement that we would take in all of the named peaks and technical difficulties – a philosophy of total completion. We also decided to swim in the sea.
We round the headland into the next bay, just inland of which lies Loch Coriusk, joined to the sea by surely one of the shortest rivers in the world. Between us and it lies The Bad Step. Presumably, judging by the contours, this is a point at which the path is squeezed between rock and sea. How bad would it be?
Of course, the badness is purely subjective. As a hiker it probably feels quite sketchy. As a climber, it’s more like fun. Having passed it we descend to the water’s edge, dispense of our packs and our clothes and solo in our baby suits back to the crux, from which we plunge into the clear, cold waters below. The immersion shock is intense and wonderful. Whooping with joy and exhilaration we swim back round to our gear, air dry in the sunshine and ponder alternative names for the Bad Step: various permutations of expletive + Awesome + Step.
Moving along this eastern shore we take the opportunity to look at what lies ahead. The terrain on the other side of the bay looks complex and will have to be negotiated in order to reach the main ridge. There’s no obvious trail and abundant rock bands promise challenging route finding.
As we cross on stepping-stones over the Coriusk river we are surprised to find we are not alone. A boat load of day trippers have been dropped off in this remote spot and are bimbling around. There’s a striking contrast between their slow, happy meanderings and the intensity of our on-a-mission trajectory and I wonder if we appear as curious to them as they to us.
At the base of a waterfall we drink deeply and fill our bottles. This will be the last opportunity for many hours. Then begins the climb: sea level to the ridge, a test of grit; the hard yards that we knew would come. Our scoping of the mountainside from across the bay pays dividends and we successfully pick a good line, traversing upwards through the rock bands. Having gained over 200m we stop on a slight plateau. Our actions have become automatic: packs are dropped, shirts are pulled off and laid over rocks to dry. We stretch, eat, drink and chat. It’s already become very apparent (at least to me) that we are going to run tight on food and I am rationing myself accordingly. I try not to stress about it: stressing will only sap my energy, so why do it? I can’t magic up more food. Actually, it had crossed my mind to beg some food from the day-trippers but I hadn’t been ready to sacrifice our self-supported style. Would I live to regret this? Time would surely tell.
It feels good to have regained a bird’s eye view of things and having reached the shoulder, to feel the cooling caresses of a sea breeze. Below us a single yacht enters the bay. The water is turquoise and calm. In the shallows the seabed of white sand is a striking contrast to the dark blue of the deeper waters. What little breeze there is lightly ruffles the surface, which sparkles silver in the afternoon sun.
We toil upwards another 200 vertical metres and exit the upward traverse and the rock bands. We break again, careful not to push too hard and weakening with the exertion and the pouring out of sweat. Above us the terrain changes. A direct climb up steep scree will bring us to 686m: the southern end of the main ridge; the start of the Cuillin Ridge Traverse.
About to reach this next goal, and quite out of the blue, Andy proclaims his love of mountaineering. Certainly it takes you deep within yourself. Physically you toil and struggle; mentally you joust with the voices of weakness and fear. If you can back yourself even when these voices grow stronger and your physical state weakens, the rewards can be great.
In this instance, our reward is the Cuillin Ridge. Having toiled from sea level up its great flanks, melting under the sun, we are finally on it. It’s taken us nearly 24 hours to get this far. We have eyed the ridge from afar like shy teenagers looking across the dance floor at an impossibly beautiful girl. Somehow we’ve plucked up the courage to be here, face to face with her, and now she is right in front of our eyes, every detail of her beauty ours to behold and she is saying “Yes, you may dance with me”.
Wonderful though this is, dancing does require energy. Fearing our possible shortfall in this valuable resource, I share my concerns with Andy and we take a full stock check. Not for nothing is Andy’s mountaineering nom de guerre ‘Captain Chow’ – he has been consuming calories with gay abandon. He’s now just tipped his entire bag out on the ridge and, judging from the look on his face, it hasn’t spewed out as much fuel as he’d been hoping for. Between us ‘low but do-able’ is the consensus. Without further hesitation, we commit to the ridge.
45 minutes later we are on our first Munro of the main ridge, Sgurr nan Eag. Even though by the standards of the ridge the ground to here has been straightforward, it has nonetheless felt imposing and serious. We are on our own on Britain’s biggest ridgeline. For company we have just one another, rock, sea, cloud and open sky. Every step is serious. I am weak legged and suffering from the sustained exertion and the heat. I tell myself to just get through the next few hours. Once it cools down, things will improve.
From Sgurr nan Eag we cross to Sgurr Dubh an da Bheinn where we drop our bags and detour off the main ridge to climb Sgurr Dubh Mor, a classic in its own right which for some reason is generally omitted from the main traverse. Fortunately it turns out not to be as severe as it looks. We take the rope but don’t use it.
From here the peridotite boulder field heading towards the TD Gap makes for hard going. Most of the route is to the West side of the ridge which means full sunshine. The peridotite is warm to touch and radiates heat. It feels like being cooked. It’s with relief that we wriggle through a hole in the ridge and rest in the shade on the other side.
Beyond here the ridge suddenly narrows and we are both caught off guard by a section of hideously exposed rock climbing. Andy, having pulled ahead of me is up it by the time I arrive at its foot. It’s steep and there’s a lot of air to fall into so when Andy’s voice calls down offering me a rope, I don’t hesitate. Simple climbing it may be but in this environment pride and ego are laid firmly to one side.
Beyond this, a steep abseil brings us into the TD Gap. It’s a formidable breach in the ridge and an unavoidable obstacle. A rubbly, steep couloir points the way down to our water refill. Andy descends with a bottle in each hand. I am so tired that though it registers that he may have trouble climbing back up, I can’t see a solution to this and so don’t say anything. Instead, I sort myself out, clipping my Nalgene to my harness and stuffing my empty, rolled up Platypus bladder between my harness and body. I slither awkwardly down the horrible choss, kicking some down on Andy, which fortunately he avoids. A couple of rock steps are down-climbed and the gulley gives way to a scree field at the base of which are boulders and a trickle of water. I am two-thirds of the way down this when I realise that my Platypus is missing.
As I retrace my steps I have time to ponder the implications of not finding it. A reduction to 3 litres between the two of us might even jeopardise our ability to complete the ridge. And the Platypus could very possibly have disappeared for good down the deep dark crack between the bottom of the rock gulley and the bank of snow at its base. I can only hope it hasn’t.
I don’t find it on the scree, nor is it visible anywhere around the snow bank. I re-climb into the gulley, scanning every which way. Et voila! It lies unfurled, the reinforced loop that allows it to be clipped to things now clearly visible. Oops.
I pass Andy in the scree field and descend among the boulders, my ears guiding me toward the trickle. Filling is a slow process. As I squat on my haunches, the trickling water the only sound and the ridge towering above me, I enjoy a private moment – a connection perhaps to our primordial past. I have escaped the noise of our modern lives: the clutter, the technology, the things we own – and which own us. The only thing that matters now is water – that essential lifeblood. And right now, in this moment, I have it, and that is all I need.
Thirst well slaked I leave this tranquil rest spot and head back up. Andy is already a couple of easy moves up the steep climb out of this infamous notch. Losing no further time I put him on belay and watch him disappear around the corner and into the well-polished groove. Graded Severe, this is the technical crux of the day and indeed, of the whole ridge.
We are in shadow. It’s quiet and still. Our whole worlds have shrunk to this microcosm and the air is heavy with a strangely tangible feeling of concentration. This is crux time.
After the constant pressure to keep moving, it seems incongruous to have to be still. It gives me time to feel vulnerable and lonely. I can see only rock, sky and the rope that ties me to Andy, who somewhere out of sight is scrabbling and squirming, fighting his way up the awkward groove of pitiless grey rock. I can hear the occasional mutter and the sound of his pack grating on the walls of the groove.
It’s a relief when the pull on the rope becomes more fluid and sustained. The crux is passed.
“OK Mark, I’m safe”
My turn. Nothing in me actually wants to climb this pitch but it’s the only way out of here that ends with a successful Greater Traverse. Even the first couple of moves seem a bit tricky. Now I am at the foot of the groove. It looks horribly steep, smooth and awkward. I want to jam my left arm into the depths of the recess and torque it but I broke my elbow less than 11 weeks ago and this isn’t the gentle, controlled reintegration I had promised it. In fact, it’s way more than I’d bargained for. What to do? It crosses my mind to ask Andy for a hoist but some stubborn part of me crushes that impulse and instead, I focus yet more deeply on the grey cleft.
Though void of any mark of grace or finesse I start to progress upwards. Andy is worried that the sounds coming from below are those of pain but they are not. They are the base sounds of fear and struggle.
I climb through Andy’s stance and on to a slabby top. We have escaped the claustrophobic confines of the TD Gap and our eyes once more stretch to far horizons. In no time we are at the bealach just below Sgurr Alasdair. It’s 8 o’clock and we are exhausted. The ground ahead is technical and although there’s another hour of light, recent experiences have shown us that we’re getting sloppy. The progress we‘d stand to gain weighed against the increased likelihood of a costly mistake doesn’t seem worth it. That – and the fact that the highest bivvy on the Cuillin ridge is at our feet – and it’s a peach – makes it a no-brainer. This realisation and the speed of transition between the absorbing crux and the relief of stopping, creates a wave of elation. We drop our packs and hug.
Being here is hard-earned and totally worth it. The summit of Sgurr Alasdair, the highest peak on Skye is literally a stone’s throw away. We climb it and enjoy the scene, instinctively turning our gazes West towards the setting sun. Beyond the dark valley of Glenbrittle, far below us, banks of cloud sit over the ocean. They are lit orange in the evening glow and broken only by the peaks of the Outer Hebrides, poking through like shark fins towards the far distant horizon.
As the sun finally goes down, so too do we. Dew is already descending on our high bivouac. We have hot food and hot chocolate and fall asleep under a star filled sky.
The simplicity of our situation is beautiful. Tomorrow is the only thing that matters. And tomorrow the only thing that matters, is climbing. The metric for success, so often complex and blurry, is instead binary and clear: complete the Greater Traverse: do not complete the Greater Traverse. As the latter does not even bear consideration, success seems strangely assured.
Today the alarm sounds at 0415. It’s a kind of grey darkness. The night was calm and still. No cloud on us this morning; just a God’s eye view down onto banks of the stuff, which seem not to have moved from where we left them as darkness fell, quilting the open ocean to our West. I sit up – still in my sleeping bag – set the stove down between us and fire it up. It burbles away, boiling water for our frothy brew. We take turns to cup our hands around it, not that we’re cold; more just that it’s soothing. And it protects the flame from the pre-dawn flutters of wind.
Frothy coffee made, we pass this vessel of heat, hydration and energy between us as though it were the most precious object in the world – which, at this place and point in time, it pretty much is. Porridge follows and all too soon the lazy pleasures of the day are already memories. From this point on, it’s hustle. And more hustle.
At 0515, in a grey half-light, we cross the ridge of scree that separates Alasdair from the main ridge. It brings us to a short steep wall, graded Diff. I spot Andy and then follow him up. He’s stood gazing East at a view of alpine perfection. The sun is lighting pink wisps and swirls of cloud towards the horizon. Below us the inversion is punctuated by yesterday’s peaks; dark whale humps breaching a sea of cloud.
This incredible gift of nature has momentarily popped our hustle-bubble. And we’ve only been going 5 minutes! But I am glad it has. It would be a waste not to stand and simply appreciate this for a minute or two.
Beauty acknowledged, hustle-bubble re-inflated, we turn North and hightail along the ridge until our path is blocked by Sgurr Mich Choinnich which we climb via The Kings Chimney (V Diff). As we descend into the Rotten Gulley the clouds, which for the last 2 days have sat over the sea to our West, engulf us.
Crossing the scree which surely earned the gulley its name, the flanks of the In Pinn tower above us and disappear into the gloom. As we draw along side it a slab of gabbro leads us upwards. As the slab is wet with snowmelt we suck at the rock, taking on valuable fluids.
As the In Pinn has the reputation of being the only Munro requiring a rope, we duly tie in and move alpine style along its impeccable, airy spine. Cloud swirls around us giving things an other-worldly impression. Peering down I can just make out our tracks across a bank of snow far below but otherwise, bar the rock we are climbing on, it’s a featureless scene. We are two flecks of ink; tiny intrusions in the middle of a vast and otherwise unmarked canvas of grey.
At a windy notch beyond the In Pinn we don jackets, do some eating and check map, compass and guidebook. The ridge jags about a bit and is joined by various significant spurs. With the cloud down we’re taking no chances: to go astray at this point is unthinkable.
Between here and the Bastair Tooth lie five Munros and several lesser peaks. We’re into our fortieth hour on the Greater Traverse and things are breaking down: not our teamwork, psyche or humour but simply our mental capacity. Making a short video journal at the top of each peak has been part of our process. Our succinct entries, full of useful reference information (names, timings and so forth) have given way to incoherent and repetitive babbling; case studies in mental deterioration. We ask one another for the name of the current peak but neither of us remembers it. It’s as much as I can do to tell the time, let alone calculate how many hours we’ve been going. In one brief piece to camera Andy states how tired he is, pauses thinking of something else to say but manages only to restate his tiredness.
And thus the next several hours merge into a melée of rock, cloud, climb, descend, abseil, route find, nav check: guide book, map, compass, continue. Being the faster of the pair, Andy picks up the bulk of route finding duties. I wonder if he minds. It seems to work. Where there are technical difficulties we move closer together. Where there are plodding climbs or straightforward scrambles he pulls ahead. We convene on the tops, figure out the next section, conduct morale checks on one another and then crack on.
Sgurr na Banachdich and Sgurr a Greadaidhe are straightforward and unremarkable. In the snowy notch of An Dorus we skip the opportunity to descend and refill water and decide we can push on through to Bealach na Lice, now only a mere four Munros away. The four tops of Sgurr a Mhadaidh present some route finding difficulties and sap our morale: one name but four distinct peaks. It’s as much as we can do to remember which number top we are on. Following a good riddance to these, we cross the wide, open Bealach na Glaich Moire. This is striking in so far as briefly, we are walking on grass. And it sticks in the mind as it’s here that I kneel and drink from a puddle. This is not the taste of gabbro but of mud. But it’s fine by me. So this is what it’s come to!
At around this point we have a decision to make. Bidean Druim na Ramh is not a Munro but it is a named peak with a spot height and it is very definitely on the true line of the ridge. The guidebook tempts us towards an easy option: a 25 minute skirt around its flank versus 90 minutes of technical difficulty to cross it. Andy asks the question to which we both know there is only one correct answer: we go over it.
Beyond this, An Casteal provides further technical interest while Bruach na Frithe demands nothing more than a head down slog; the simple act of propelling tired bodies upwards, step …. by step. From its summit, things come back into focus. I have been quietly holding Bealach na Lice as a kind of holy grail. It’s our final pit stop. A point from which the end is quite literally in sight; a point from which we can drop down for water and rehydrate; a point which, more important than all of this, is the zenith of perhaps my greatest test of will: the preservation of my second peanut butter and jam sandwich. Understanding the inextricable link between food and morale, I’ve been holding it in reserve – against great temptation – until this point. It’s my final piece of ‘real’ food. It will fuel me for the final test.
A snowy crest links Bruach na Frith and Bealach na Lice – joy for the joints after the impact of so much rock. At the bealach we drop our bags and positively bound down the snow slope to fill our bottles among the boulders at its foot. We’ve been hustling along the ridge in the cloud since dawn, more than eight hours ago. Suddenly it’s cleared, we have just Am Bhastair between us and the final peak, Sgurr nan Gillean, and it seems we have all the time in the world. Better to rest, recover and re-cock here before the final difficulties than to rush into them half-baked.
Naismith’s Route is the second and final pitch of Severe. What the climb from the TD Gap is to awkwardness, this is to airiness. Andy is visibly struggling for psyche and I can’t blame him. We’re in our forty-eighth hour. When it comes to my turn I have to concentrate incredibly hard just to wake myself up to how serious this is and how we are not yet at the end. In fact, on another day, what we are about to embark on now, might constitute a route in itself.
Light on gear and not in the mood for run outs Andy brings me up to a hanging belay from which we both dangle. Deep in concentration we change over gear before he climbs on, up the final crack before a heel-hook-body-flop sees him disappear over the top.
Having joined him – with no greater grace – we coil the rope for the final time, traverse and then negotiate one tricky step to the summit. Looking North we can see the Sligachan Hotel and even the van. It seems dangerously as though we’ve finished but of course, we are as vulnerable now as ever.
We descend, cross the bealach and follow a path that traverses below the ridge before petering out at the base of a Diff pitch, known reassuringly and not inaccurately, as the Easy Chimney. It’s the exposed moves around the pinnacles above which provide the final excitement and cause the inevitable “How silly would it be to fall and die here after all of this” thought to cross my mind.
With great suddenness there are no further obstacles and just a few easy strides to the summit: the end of the Cuillin Ridge: indeed, the end of the Greater Traverse. If the Cuillin Ridge Traverse were indeed a dance with a beautiful girl, then standing on Sgurr nan Gillean is the barely-dared-to-dream-of kiss at the end of the night.
Looking back, there are three things that stand out above all:
The first relates to ‘masochists’ (those who enjoy activities which are either painful or tedious) and whippets (super fast dogs). To succeed on the Greater Traverse you need be neither. What you do need is the right level of experience, endurance and the right head for it. So be realistic about your own abilities and don’t deselect yourself because of subjective and colourful guidebook commentary!
The second is the charming incongruity of the fact that in 50 hours on perhaps Britain’s greatest mountaineering route, our most exhilarating highlight was a mid-way jump in the sea – a feature of the route that perhaps makes it truly unique.
Finally, and most important, this experience is a challenge to misconceptions about what the UK does or does not offer; a challenge to the ease with which we turn our backs on it and jump on a plane. Having bobbed about among some of the great mountains of the world I have a memory-bank of incredible experiences deeply etched. Yet among all of these, our Greater Traverse carves its own niche; beaten by none in quality and surpassing all in its simple low cost, low carbon beauty. Needing nothing but an answerable weather window, and without the exclusivity of big budgets or the carbon harm of air travel, The Greater Traverse is a jewel in the crown of karma-intact mountaineering and independent big country adventure.