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25 Scottish Winter Classics

25 Scottish Winter Classics
24 January 2018 No comments

This article was originally published in our Winter Mountaineering Guide - pick up a free copy in your local Ellis Brigham shop or view online here.

Winter is a special time in the mountains and nowhere is this truer than in Scotland, which with the arrival of snow becomes a winter playground for walkers and mountaineers to enjoy. In this article, we have teamed up with the Scottish National Outdoor Training Centre, Glenmore Lodge, to choose 25 classic winter routes with something for everyone – mostly grade I to III, but with a few walks and grade IVs thrown in for good measure.

There are routes included that would be on every mountaineer's wish list, but some that may surprise you too. They all require the skills of travelling through the mountains in winter, but most also require the technical skills of ice and mixed climbing. Winter mountaineering is extremely rewarding, but every winter the unprepared get caught out, so take care and if in doubt go with someone more experienced. Before we get started, let's have a quick recap on winter grades, courtesy of the BMC.

Winter Grades

Grade I: The easiest climbs. Straightforward snow slopes up to 50 degrees, or simple scrambles on snowed up rock. One ice axe is enough.
Grade II: Steeper sections with ice, but still normally less than vertical. Mostly climbable with one axe, but some may require two.
Grades IIi+: Increasingly long sections of steep climbing and commitment. Two axes are necessary.
Above III: individual crux pitches are also graded. For example, Point Five Gully at V,5 is a benchmark V, while a well protected hard mixed climb might be graded V,7. Zero Gully is less technical but serious so gets V,4.

1. Traverse of the Cobbler

Arrochar Alps

Grade II/III

A strikingly quirky low level trio of peaks that requires a good period of freeze/thaw to be in condition. The winter traverse links all three peaks in exposed positions with a few stiffer rock sections, turfy mixed climbing and even an abseil from the south peak.

2. The Cuillin Ridge


Grade IV

Probably the most sought-after prize in the UK for the competent winter mountaineer, but its proximity to the sea means it is not often in good condition. It is a long (24km) arduous route (4,000m height gain) with constant grade I terrain, lots of grade II and plenty of grade III steps.

3. Sunshine Gully

Beinn Udlaidh

Grade III

This easily accessible, low level, north-facing cliff at Glen Orchy has a fine selection of ice routes. In summer, lots of water flows over the cliff edge and, after a prolonged freeze, impressive 100m ice flows are created. Sunshine Gully is the left trending ramp on the right side of the main cliff. Another great route there is Quartzvein Scoop, grade IV.

4. Tarmachan Ridge

Meall Nan Tarmachan


In good conditions the classic Tarmachan ridge with the short lived but narrow Meall Garbh arête is varied and interesting, wandering over several knobbly summits, in a grand position overlooking Loch Tay. A good route for the less experienced winter mountaineer, but if there is lots of snow and poor visibility, navigation may be difficult.

5. Central Gully

Ben Lui

Grade I

The classic mountain of the Southern Highlands, rising high over its immediate neighbours. Central Gully is alpine in stature and is obligatory for all winter mountaineers. The gully starts narrow, but soon widens out. Take care with avalanche conditions and cornices. A descent down the ENE ridge makes a complete day out.

6. Traverse of Ben Starav

Glen Etive

Grade I

This excellent route takes you on a delightful, airy circuit culminating in the exposed rocky arête between Ben Starav and Stob Coire Dheirg. For the fit, or early starters, the day could be extended by taking in Glas Bheinn Mhor.

7. Aonach Eagach


Grade II

mountaineering on glencoe

This is arguably mainland Scotland's finest grade II winter ridge traverse of alpine proportions. Starting at the Am Bodach end, it is narrow in places with many spikes and notches, possibly requiring an abseil. It is a committing outing with few escape routes and speed is of the essence; finishing in the dark is all too frequent.

8. Curved Ridge

Buachaille Etive Mor

Grade II/III

Sheltered from south westerlies, it is one of the finest 'alpine style' routes in Glencoe. It has the feel of a climb, with short tricky steps for the grade and most people will be glad to have two axes. The scenery alongside the steep and imposing Rannoch Wall is outstanding. Take care on the descent in avalanche conditions.

9. Sron na Lairig

Stob Coire Sgreamhach

Grade II

stob coire sgreamhach

This fabulous, long and remote route is great for those starting out on their winter careers. Simple rock steps and short snow pitches lead to a final narrow ridge. It can be climbed as an end in itself or as an entertaining mountaineer's access route to the Bidean nam Bian range.

10. Dorsal Arete

Stob Coire nan Lochan

Grade II

A short, exciting route with the difficulties on a superb knife-edge ridge close to the top, which can be avoided by a short traverse. To continue to Bidean nam Bian, descend the south ridge of Stob Coire nan Lochan until a col is reached and the steepish ascent to Bidean nam Bian.

11. SC Gully

Stob Coire nan Lochan

Grade III

A classic gully climb through impressive rock scenery. Short ice pitches are interspersed with longer run-outs on steep snow which can make it intimidating. It is much harder in lean conditions and easier when banked out! Take care with the cornices.

12. Number 2 Gully

Ben Nevis

Grade II

The best 'easy' gully on Ben Nevis, passing through great rock and ice scenery. It is mainly a steep snow slope with the occasional short ice pitch, but early in the season it can give an ice pitch of III. The cornices can sometimes be large and are best avoided to the left.

13. Ledge Route

Ben Nevis

Grade II

Ben Nevis Green Gully

Probably the finest grade II ridge on Ben Nevis, with magnificent situations. It is easy for the grade, but a big day out with challenging route finding. It needs sound judgement as it is accessed via the potentially avalanche-prone Number 5 Gully. A descent via the CMD Arête gives the full-value Ben Nevis experience.

14. Ben Nevis

via CMD Arete

Grade I

Ben Nevis CMD Arete

Combined with an ascent of Ben Nevis, this graceful curving ridge connecting two 4,000 foot mountains is one of grandest walks in the UK. Though fairly straightforward, it is long and exposed, and deep snow or high wind will make it feel challenging. The summit plateau of Ben Nevis is a serious place, and good navigation skills are essential.

15. Golden Oldie

West Face of Aonach Mor

Grade II

This is the best-defined and finest of the 'summit ribs' on the west face of Aonach Mor. It has a feeling of solitude, remoteness and length even though it's just around the corner from the Nevis ski centre. It's a good option when strong westerlies have loaded east- facing slopes with snow.

16. Creag Meagaidh Circuit


Creag Meagaidh is a magnificent massif, a bare plateau fringed by the grandest cliffs in Scotland. This circuit takes in three Munros – Carn Liath, Stob Poite Coire Ardair and Creag Meagaidh. The summit plateau is Cairngorm-like and encircled by steep treacherous ground. Creag Meagaidh should be treated with respect, so ensure your map and compass skills are sharp!

17. Raeburn's Gully

Creag Meagaidh

Grade II

Coire Ardair is possibly the most impressive mountain scenery in Scotland. First climbed by Harold Raeburn, one of the great pioneers of Scottish mountaineering, Raeburn's Gully is a deep, diagonal slash through the cliffs behind the Lochan. It is a long gully climb that ends satisfyingly on the summit plateau of Creag Meagaidh.

18. Cairngorm Circuit

Via North Ridge


Cairngorm Plateau

A quieter and less-travelled way to the summit of Cairngorm in winter. Enjoy the peace and quiet over Sron an Aonaich before joining the Ptarmigan ski tow and complete the final ascent. A circuit over Cairn Lochan and down its north ridge makes a complete day out.

19. Fiacaill Ridge

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Grade II

Arguably the best mountaineering route in the Cairngorms and a good choice in high avalanche conditions. The technical difficulties are short lived, but the views into Sneachda and Lochan are stunning. The route finishes on the plateau giving a choice of routes back to the car park.

20. The Runnel

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Grade II

runnel scramble

A popular grade II with some straightforward climbing up steep snow before the crux, a narrow chimney that leads into an exit bowl of snow. There are generally good belays and rock runners.

21. Traverse of Liathach


Grade II

If there could be only one Scottish mountain, this is it. The east-west traverse is sensational, with continuously interesting walking and spectacular scenery; the Fasarinen Pinnacles are the hardest part. It is also home to some fantastic easy winter gullies and scrambles, which can be combined with the classic east-west traverse.

22. Morrison's Gully

Beinn Eighe

Grade II

A huge cleft in the buttress so big that when looking outwards, its walls form a giant picture frame around the distant hills. It finishes on the fine pedestal-like summit of Sàil Mhòr, then a sweeping airy saddle, before connecting to Beinn Eighe's main ridge by way of a short exposed scramble.

23. The Traverse of A'Chioch

Beinn Bhan

Grade II

One of the great mountains of the northwest and another contender for the best grade II in Scotland. Easy as far as A'Chioch, then an exposed ridge above the depths of Coire na Poite and Coire na Feola leads to the main mountain where the challenge increases to give a taster of the harder grades to be found here.

24. The North Ridge of Aonach

Air Crith

Grade I

The mountain name translates as 'ridge of trembling', which aptly describes this exposed alpine-like circuit. The ridge starts off broad, but soon narrows and has many rocky steps before easier-angled snow slopes lead to the summit.

25. Forcan Ridge

The Saddle

Grade I/II

A long and remote classic alpine-style ridge traverse. It has scrambling, traversing and abseiling. Staying on the crest pushes it into grade II ground, but the crux is short with excellent hand holds. A good freeze/thaw will reduce damage to the turf and avoid wading through long sections of deep snow.

This article was originally published in our Winter Mountaineering Guide - pick up a free copy in your local Ellis Brigham shop or view online here.

Ellis Brigham Winter Mountaineering Guide