Filed under:Features, Mountaineering, Top Lists, Angel's Peak, Aonach Eagach ridge, ben nevis, Cairngorms, Carn Mor Dearg arete, Castle Ride, CMD arete, Fiacaill Ridge, Forcan Ridge, Liathich, Pinnacle Ridge, Scottish winter mountain, Scottish winter ridges, Sgurr nan Gillean, The Cobbler, Torridon
Everyone loves a snowy ridge! Paul Lewis of Peak Mountaineering chooses 10 of his favourite Scottish ridges to climb in winter…
Aonach Eagach Ridge, Glencoe (grade II)
One of the most famous (and certainly narrowest) of the mainland ridges and a route with everything. My preference is to head east to west which means, after the initial straightforward scramble up to Am Bodach, a tricky downclimb to access the ridge proper. From there a series of narrow ridges, scrambly ground and stunning views lead, via the Munro top of Meall Dearg, to the end of any difficulties beyond Stob Coire Leith. Finding the safe descent is key, but once down at the road you’ll reflect on what a fantastic adventure it’s been. Bear in mind that the ridge is inescapable for much of its length, it has a descent that can be tricky to find and follow, the consequences of slipping off the ridge will be very serious, there are difficulties that can only be overcome with good technical skills and it is a long route that’s needs fitness and speed to get it completed in a short winter day. Beyond that, the stunning location in the Glencoe valley, the continually interesting route and its place in Scottish history put it right at the top of every winter mountaineer’s ‘to do’ list.
North East Ridge of Angel’s Peak, Cairngorms (grade I)
I have only done this once and, although it is really one to be savoured on a clear day, my ascent was in unexpectedly high winds and with heavy snow falling – it’s definitely on the list for a revisit! The NE ridge is a great outing in a remote location and without significant technical difficulty, although is has more challenging ground near the top and parties need to be competent at route finding. My group approached from the main Lairig Ghru path until the fords across the Allt a’ Choire Mhòir. From there we crossed the Allt na Lairig Ghru and made our way over rough ground into Garbh Choire. We were on a snow-holing adventure but there is the option to use the Garbh Choire Bothy, although I understand it is in poor condition and you may, of course, find it full anyway. Overall, a great mountaineering outing for those in search of more isolated adventures.
FiacaIll Ridge, Cairngorms (grade II)
Fiacaill Ridge is reached from the Cairngorm ski area and makes a pleasant option for a short day. The walk-in is pleasant and the technical difficulties – although fairly short-lived – are fun and satisfactorily challenging. The ridge is reached by walking below the ski lifts in a westerly direction along the well used path towards Coire an t-Sneachda (watch out for the point where the path splits after about 500m). As the path turns northwards, the broad hump of the Fiacaill Ridge, which separates Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain, comes into view. Head across open ground and follow the blunt rib towards the more technical ground. Once the ridge is completed a nice loop can be made either towards Cairngorm or around the Coire an Lochain.
Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) Arete, Ben Nevis(grade I)
The CMD arete is the best easy grade winter scrambling route to the summit of Ben Nevis; on a clear day it offers stunning views of the famous cliffs of Ben Nevis’ North Face and is a great alternative to the tourist path. There isn’t much technical ground beyond some scrambly down climbs and rocky steps, but it still requires good mountaineering judgement, particularly in winter conditions. The ridge curves in a graceful line around the head of the Coire Leis and is best reached by pathless ground after branching off from the Allt a’ Mhuilinn path and, after ascending steep slopes, leading over Carn Mor Meadhonach and Carn Mor Dearg to reach the ridge. Once the traverse is complete, more steep slopes lead to the summit of Ben Nevis. It’s important to be aware that the descent from Ben Nevis can be particularly hazardous in winter conditions and the ridge can be dangerous in windy conditions.
South East Ridge and Arete of the Cobbler (grade III)
The Cobbler, at 884m, is relatively low compared to some of the peaks in this list. However, it is a majestic mountain with three shapely peaks framing the skyline. It also makes a good stopping off option for those heading up to the north or, indeed, back down to the south. The South East Ridge and Arete is an exciting traverse of the south and central peaks which offers interesting technical ground and, on a clear day, stunning vistas. The route starts at an obvious skyline ridge and what follows is a brilliant line up to the col splitting the peaks. A tricky down climb or abseil accesses the arete that then leads to the summit block. Summit selfies obligatory!
Liathach, Torridon (grade II)
Along with the Aonach Eagach and maybe An Teallach, the traverse of Liathach ranks right up there with the most committing of lower grade mainland ridges and, particularly in winter, it is a major undertaking. Liathach lies in Torridon which, although staggeringly beautiful, is an imposing and dramatic landscape which all adds to the drama of the route. The traverse is long, technically intricate and with few escape options – attempters should ensure they have the skills required. Having said that, although sections like the traverse of the Am Fasarinen pinnacles can provide brilliant technical scrambling, there are some difficulties that can be avoided by flanking paths. I guarantee that, although the traverse will live in the memory for ever, it will also make you work for those memories!
Pinnacle Ridge on Sgurr Nan Gillean, Skye(grade IV)
If you have been to Skye and looked at Sgurr Nan Gillean then you will have looked up at Pinnacle Ridge. It’s a big route on a big mountain feature on a big mountain – and technically it’s the hardest route on this list (although some guidebooks give this grade IV, I would personally say the ridge settles at around grade III in most conditions), but it really does offer an absolutely brilliant mountain day out. Technically interesting ground is interspersed with stunning vistas, ground that parties can move together on and a route finding challenge to find the descent line. It will certainly draw on a broad range of mountain skills as well as the ability to ascend rocky ground in winter conditions and descending from the Third Pinnacle also requires a 20m abseil. Yes, this route really has it all!
Forcan Ridge of the Saddle, Glen Shiel (grade II)
A traverse of the Forcan Ridge always feels like a classic Alpine day out. Maybe it is the feeling that it is right in the heart of big mountains or maybe it’s the terrain -–whatever it is, this is a great adventure for those with the required skills. Just driving up the A87 Glen Shiel road sets the scene and, after parking and then following the obvious stalkers’ path around and up on to the summit of Meallan Odhar, a broad ridge leads to the obvious crest of the Forcan Ridge. There is technically interesting ground and a notorious ‘bad step’ that either needs a confident down climb or abseil, but it won’t feel long enough by the time you are reaching the Saddle summit. The Scottish Avalanche Information Service forecasts don’t cover this area so care needs to be taken with the snowpack, but this is sure to be a route that long lives in memory.
East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban, from Glen Nevis (grade II/III)
For something a little less well known the East Ridge of the North Buttress, whilst being quite a mouthful, makes a pleasant and fun day out. From the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel the summit cone of Stob Ban is a spectacular feature drawing the eye of the winter mountaineer, and this shapely mountain – at a metre below the one thousander mark – offers a great winter day out. The East Ridge of the North Buttress varies slightly in grade depending on the line taken, but whichever line is taken it still requires good technical and route finding ability. After a rambling but still enjoyable lower section the upper part gets more defined, and what follows is a pleasant corner followed by some lovely knife-edge aretes. The descent back into Glen Nevis, while obviously needing care, is straight forward enough.
Castle Ridge, Ben Nevis (Grade III)
Compared to the more sought-after ridges of Ben Nevis, Castle Ridge is prone to being overlooked. However, although it is a steeper winter route with challenging terrain and – in some conditions – potential avalanche danger on the approach, for those with the required skills it offers a fine mountain day out. Approach by following the Allt a’ Mhuillinn path towards the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) Hut and the ridge, which is the first of the great ridges on the North Face, starts from the gully below the large buttress called ‘The Castle’. The climbing increases in difficulty as height is gained so don’t be fooled into thinking it is an easy option.
Thanks to the following people for contributing to this article:
Paul Lewis of Peak Mountaineering
Dan Parry of Strath Lodge, Glencoe
Gary Hodgson of Tarmachan Mountaineering
Rocio Simens or Ibex Mountain Guides
Ben Tibbetts of Ben Tibbetts Photography
Huw Gilbert of Huw Gilbert Mountaineering
Martin Moran of Moran Mountain
Ken Applegate of West Coast Mountain Guides