Scottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UK Scottish Winter Climbing And Mountaineering Routes in Scotland UK
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 Contents
 
  Route selection
 Grading
  Timings & distances
  Gear
  Snow conditions
  Weather & season
  Avalanche hazard
  Glossary
 Acknowledgements
 
 
About this site
Intro
The traditional winter climbing guides are pretty daunting to most of us with their emphasis on hard, technical climbing. This web site is aimed at people who are looking for challenging winter days but are not ready for or interested in the hardest routes. However, that does not mean that these routes are easy! In fact, many of them are classic mountaineering routes and to complete them safely requires good winter skills and mountain judgment.
Although none of the routes involve difficult climbing (difficulty does not exceed Scottish Winter Grade II), they all require competence using crampons and ice-axe and some of the harder ones require basic climbing and rope work.
Feedback
The route descriptions on the web site are freely downloadable. However, I hope to publish a booklet at some stage in the future and would be extremely grateful for any comments/correction/route suggestions to help me improve the information. Please click here to send feedback or email mark@scottishwinterroutes.com
Disclaimer
The usual caveats apply! The author cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information on this web site and all route descriptions should be used in conjunction with map and compass. And, of course, use your own judgment as conditions vary massively. I would be grateful if you could notify me of any errors asap.
Winter mountaineering is an inherently dangerous activity.
This web site does not aim to teach mountaineering skills and recommends one of the winter skills courses run by the national mountaineering centres and others.
 
 
Route Selection
The routes have been selected with a number of criteria in mind.
  • They are all in locations that hold snow well and generally involve the ascent of at least one Munro (summit over 3,000 feet).
  • The difficulty level does not exceed Scottish winter grade II. I have chosen this as the cut-off because it is a grade to which most people can aspire and at which it’s largely possible to 'keep moving' rather than spending hours on cold belays. Inevitably, it does mean that some classic routes are excluded and I regret the resulting omission of the Aonach Eagach, Curved Ridge and the Liatach Traverse!
  • It should normally be possible to complete the route within a winter day, although this may necessitate a pre-dawn start early in the season. In the depths of January, there are only 7 hours of daylight, although this increases dramatically by mid-April.
  • Finally, the selected routes all have a certain quality. This may be the level of ‘excitement’, the attractiveness of the line or the historical significance and I hope you agree with my assessment. Many of the routes are established classics, some dating back to the earliest days of winter mountaineering, and take you to the heart of the major winter climbing venues - Glencoe, the North Face of Ben Nevis, Lochnagar, the Northern Corries - as well as classic ridge walking country in the Mamores, Glen Shiel and others.
  • Grading
    The grading is based on the tradition UK winter climbing system, which gives routes a Roman numeral, increasing in difficulty from I to X (currently the hardest).
    Although this system works reasonably well for winter mountaineering, a number of the easier routes are 'ungraded' as they are not classed as climbs. Do not take offence at this! They are still worthwhile and challenging days. I have resisted the temptation to create (yet) another system to cover this situation.

    The grades are as follows:
  • Ungraded - These routes are typically challenging ridge walks without specific difficulties
  • Winter I - These routes involve climbing easy snow gullies or more difficult ridges, possibly narrow or exposed
  • Winter II - These routes involve more difficult gullies or ridges with short climbing sections. A rope will definitely be required in places.
  • The grades assigned to each route are generally the accepted grades taken from the SMC (Scottish Mountaineering Club) winter climbing guide books. However, there area a number of 'scrambles' that are not included in the SMC guides. In this situation, I have worked on the basis that a grade I (summer) scramble roughly equates to a Grade I winter route.

    In another slight refinement to the system, the routes may be designated 'easy' or 'hard' within the grade. For example, East spur of Carn Dearg Meadhonach is designated II (easy) and is not as difficult as Dorsal Arete, which is simply II.
    Of course, it is important to understand that conditions can vary enormously depending on the amount and nature of the snow. Icy conditions can make routes difficult as can very powdery or wet snow. Given reasonable snow cover, all the routes here should be feasible but, if the conditions are marginal, good technique and safety precautions become more important than ever.
    Timings

    The times given are based on average how long each route has taken me (see note) and are adjusted for 'normal' winter conditions. In lean conditions, you can allow less time but under deep snow, allow much more. In reality, many of the routes will not be achievable (let alone safe) if there is a lot of new snow and, under such conditions, you may have to revise your ambitions!

    Notes:

    • Rest times are not included.
    • It is assumed that gully climbs will be pitched.
    • It is assumed that ridge routes will be climbed either solo or moving together, with the odd difficult step being pitched or abseiled.
    • Some are faster than me, some slower but, as I try to keep things consistent so if you are faster than me on one route, you will probably be faster on the next.

    Remember, winter days are very short!

    Total Distance/Ascent
    The distances given are for the round-trip back to the car. The ascent is the total of all ascents on the route.
    Gear
    For all routes, it is assumed that, at a minimum, the following gear will be taken:
  • Stiff boots
  • Crampons
  • Single mountaineering axe (50-70 cm)
  • Warm/Shell clothing

  • Additional gear that the author feels is necessary is highlighted in the route descriptions. However, some people choose to carry a short rope (e.g. 25 m) and some slings as a matter of course and this is a sensible precaution.
    Helmets are essential for some of the routes, particularly the gully climbs on account of the potential for rock or ice fall. However, should you slip anywhere on the hills, you could be grateful for a helmet - your call!

    Although all the routes can be climbed with a single axe, a second axe may be appreciated on some of the longer gully lines.

    Snow Conditions
    Lean Conditions:
    Gullies can be several grades harder in lean conditions and are best left alone if they appear incomplete. Ridges will be normally be easier, more akin to their summer gradings although icy conditions, particularly where running water has frozen can be very exacting.

    Full-on conditions:
    In deep fresh snow, ridge routes are safer than gullies from an avalanche hazard perspective. However, approaches must still be evaluated for avalanche danger and ploughing through deep snow is extremely hard work and could easily double your timings.

    Cornices
    Large cornices are often present at the top of large gullies which can make exiting gully routes very difficult - this can be a real sting-in-the-tail of an otherwise straightforward route. Large cornices are most likely to be found following a period of strong winds coming from the opposite aspect. For example, a NE facing gully could be expected to be heavily corniced after a period of strong south-westerly winds, particularly if accompanied by snow.
    If you do, encounter a large cornice, it may be possible to outflank it. If you need to climb a suspect cornice, belay beneath it, preferably with the belayer out of the line of fire! If you are lucky, someone will have already cut a slot to clamber through but, if not, you may need to do this.
    And don't rule out the possibility of backing-off. All the gullies on this site can be safely down-climbed with care, belaying and facing-in if necessary.
    Avalanche Hazard
    The general rules of avalanche avoidance are to be wary after heavy snow or during a rapid thaw; however, the subtle variations caused by earlier events and weather conditions are myriad. The SportsScotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) provides daily avalanche forecasts for 5 key winter climbing areas in Scotland. The forecast can be obtained from www.sais.gov.uk and contains details of hazards, including the category (scale of 1 to 5, in increasing severity) and effect of terrain, particularly the slope aspect on the avalanche risk.
    The route information indicates which forecast is most applicable to each route and you should try to tally up the forecast with the terrain (e.g. aspect of slope) encountered on the intended route. If the route seems threatened, consider changing plans before you start. If the category is 3, one of the ridge routes is likely to be a better bet. Definitely avoid gullies or steep exposed slopes if a category 4 is forecast. However, even the ridge routes may have dangerous approaches and I have highlighted any specific risks that I am aware of. Be prepared to change your plans en route if you see evidence of recent activity or notice ‘slabs’ sliding as you cross steep ground. A winter skills course should help you identify some of the threats.
    Weather & season

    Avoid exposed ridges if high winds are forecast.

    The Scottish winter season typically lasts from January to March but this varies from year to year. Reasonable conditions can often be found in December and the highest areas, particularly Ben Nevis, often provide good sport past Easter.

    Glossary
    Cornices
    The action of the wind blowing snow over a ridge causes a build up of snow on the opposite (lee) side of the ridge. This effect can result in large, overhanging 'cornices' which may collapse under you if you step on them. Ensure you give them a wide berth!
    Bealach
    Glissade
    Dog-leg
    Aspect of Slope
    © 2007 Scottish Winter Routes.