On the rocky peaks atop Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Danny MacAskill rides his bike along the dizzying heights of the island’s Cuillin Ridge. Every inch of this 2014 two-wheeled journey is jaw-dropping, but as the end approaches the stunt becomes truly death-defying. Thousands of feet above sea level, the Scot finally reaches a personal peak as he conquers the landscape that has taunted him since childhood.
At almost 640 square miles, Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides – a scattered archipelago located off the West coast of Scotland. But even though the land mass is connected to the mainland by a 1,870-foot bridge, the isle’s enchanting scenery often seems to have come from another world.
Skye is hauntingly beautiful, from the igneous rock summits of the Cuillin mountains to the bewitching glens with their fairytale ruins of ancient castles. It is an endlessly appealing location for adventurers and tourists alike. In fact, latest figures indicate that record numbers of sightseers and thrill-seekers are flocking to the island. And even though more and more incomers are arriving, it is traditionally walkers and mountaineers who make up the bulk of visitors.
For these hikers and climbers, one of the most popular destinations is the Black Cuillin mountain range. While the tamer Red Cuillin offers walkers a comparatively easy time, Black Cuillin, located at the heart of the island, presents a much tougher challenge. And with its highest peak soaring to some 3,250 feet, many who try to tackle its summit often end up admitting defeat.
At the top of the Black Cuillin is the infamous Cuillin Ridge, a seven-mile stretch of rocky terrain that is inaccessible to all but the most experienced and hardy climbers. For many, this jagged spine is an area that remains resolutely off the tourist to-do list. But for one local man with keen mountain bike skills, the geographical feature posed a challenge too tempting to resist.
Danny MacAskill was born on December 23, 1985, in Dunvegan, a small settlement in the north west of Skye. In April 2009, the then 23-year-old released some fantastic video footage on YouTube of himself performing various impressive mountain bike stunts in and around the streets of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. The short film was a success, and MacAskill found that his impressive cycle skills – known as street trials – were in high demand.
Soon MacAskill could quit his job as a mechanic and focus on honing his street trials skills full time. And over the years, his corporate sponsorships allowed the professional pedaler to travel the world, visiting far-flung locations such as Argentina and Taiwan. However, it was the unique landscape of his home island that would eventually call him back.
Ever since he was a child, MacAskill has been fascinated by the isle’s tallest feature. “Growing up on Skye, the Cuillins for me have always been a very inaccessible place,” he said in a short film of his island exploits, The Ridge, released in 2014. He adds, “There’s an incredible knife edge that runs right the way along the top of them, and I’ve always wondered if it would be possible for me to ride my mountain bike up there.”
Improbably, MacAskill was considering tackling one of the most challenging mountaineering routes in the U.K. – armed only with his trusty bike. And after speaking to his friend, filmmaker Stu Thompson, the pair decided to make a short video. They would capture MacAskill’s breath-taking attempt to conquer the breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous Cuillin Ridge.
After gathering some funds from various sponsors, MacAskill and Thompson began planning their approach. But when they paid their first visit to the ridge, the infamously inhospitable Scottish weather was out in full force. As a consequence, the scouting MacAskill could not even see the scale of the sheer drop which descended perilously close to the path.
So, perhaps not fully aware of the dangers, MacAskill agreed to the challenge. He would drag his mountain bike to the ridge top, and navigate an improbable path over the summit of Skye. Finally, the day of the rider’s reckoning arrived. With Thompson filming, MacAskill placed his mountain bike in a rowing boat and began his scenic and treacherous journey.
And as the resulting footage shows, it was a thrilling ride from the very start. As he traverses the difficult terrain, MacAskill is shown riding over a narrow tree trunk, cycling across the top of a waterfall and jumping his bike between outcrops of rock. Finally, the mountain biker reaches an incline too steep to tackle on two wheels.
Instead, MacAskill simply picks up his bike and scrambles to the top of the peak. Once on the other side, the rider remounts and lets loose, careering down a tiny path as the land drops away on either side. Filmed from a height, the footage shows MacAskill as a tiny speck, dwarved against the rugged Cuillins as the Skye coast recedes in the background.
Next came the ultimate challenge. Atop Sgurr Dearg, one of the Cuillin peaks, sits an outcrop of rock known as the Inaccessible Pinnacle, or In Pinn. And at 3,235 feet, its summit is high enough to be classed as a Munro – one of the 282 Scottish mountains that reach heights over 3,000 feet. They were designated as such by famous mountaineer Sir Hugh Munro in the 19th century.
Over the years, for the many walkers who enjoy “bagging” Munros, the In Pinn has proven a frustrating challenge. In fact, the perilous peak is regarded as the only Munro that requires specialist climbing skills in order to conquer. And when MacAskill first began planning his ascent, the idea was to use ropes to help him reach the top.
However, when it came to it, MacAskill made a terrifying choice. Abandoning the rope idea, he decided to free scramble up the notorious peak. Then, having scaled the summit, he hoisted up his cycle. He posed triumphantly on top of In Pinn on his bike, an impossible figure stunningly silhouetted against the island sky. But amazingly, this was not the pinnacle of the film’s action. The most heart-stopping part of his journey was yet to come.
In order to manage his nerves, MacAskill adopted a special mental approach to the narrow-line challenge. “I kind of just pictured it just like my pavement outside my front garden,” he explained in The Ledge: Danny MacAskill Making “The Ridge,” a follow-up feature to the main film. He explained, “And that’s where I’m going. I’m not going to go off the kerb.”
At one point along the ridge, MacAskill’s bike glitched. And with a sheer drop to one side and nowhere to place his feet, it was super scary. Probably the most heart-stopping part of the filmed expedition. Miraculously, however, the mounted adventurer survived the ordeal intact. Not only that, but he even celebrated with an impressive front flip once he returned to gentler terrain.
The Ridge was released in October 2014, and currently boasts in excess of an astonishing 55 million views on YouTube. But despite the success of this venture, MacAskill is not one to sit still for too long. In fact, in the years since, he has already starred in four more films. These displayed his skills on the Spanish rooftops of Gran Canaria and the streets of Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. And while he hasn’t yet announced what’s coming next, MacAskill has already shown that Skye wasn’t even the limit.