I don’t know what one word I word use to describe a Scottish Winter, it embodies so much. In the last month and a half I have come to know both the agony and ectascy, for it is a double edge sword, where on the one hand you take massive reinforce chunks of concrete suffering, on the other there is immense satisfaction of the summit, the beating of the elements or occasionally the hallowed day of ‘Alpine Conditions’.
What I am sure of is that the days, although short in duration compared to the seemingly endless nights, are long. The hills are the biggest you’ll find in the UK, and on the west coast you start depressingly close to sea level, and ride the drizzle train up to where winter starts, and no matter how much you spend on goretex there are days when you’ll be soaked to your pants, cold and unable to stop for fear of dying. It is an ugly monster that is there to get you at every turn.
At best it is a snow ridge to heaven, a gully to the stars and an inversion to die for. There is something about Scotland in the winter though, something that you’ll never feel anywhere else, not in the lakes or wales, that’s for sure, and that’s the total isolation. In over a month of walking in the mountains of Scotland this winter I have bumped into only a handful of people.
It is perhaps our last real wilderness, although the mountains I have choosen to climb aren’t even remote compared to Knoydart, which is perhaps the only true wilderness left in the UK. Unspoilt by roads, villages or other development, I looked at the map of the area, and in the whole OS sheet, I saw one road just clip the corner of it!
What this means is that to survive the Scottish winter you’ll need every skill you have learnt in walking and scrambling in summer and a truck load more. Your navigation needs to be better than good. You need to be able to use and ice axe and crampons, and you need to be able to assess the risk of avalanches, and above all know when enough is enough and turn back from the summit, even if it is just a stones throw away.
Get it all right and the days will be the most rewarding wlking experience you’ll ever have, get it wrong and it becomes a nightmare of survival. That if you lucky you’ll be able to tell over a pint in the pub. For be under no illusion, heading out in the Scottish Mountains during Winter is a dangerous game. Every year people die in the Mountains, the tops are a place that on occassions people just aren’t meant to be.
“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.” – Ed Whymper
My Top 10 Winter Mountaineering Experiences?
This is a list of all the classic days out you can have in the UK, not just Scotland. I have included Wales, as it has some very good routes comparable to some of Scotlands finest. I have also had the opportunity to do them many times and often at least once in those stellar alpine conditions. These are in the order by which I remember them rather than 1 being the best, see it more as the ten must do winter mountaineering routes, also understand that I used the term mountaineering as some routes on this lst are grade II winter climbs, but all can be tackled with one axe, crampons, a rope and a couple of sling if you have the neccessary skills.
- East Ridge of Carn Mor Dearg and the CMD Arete up Ben Nevis and down No. 4 gully.
- Ledge Route – Ben Nevis
- A day out Soloing the Grade 1 gully of Corrie an T-sneacda
- East Ridge of Beinn A’Chorrain
- Traverse of Ben Alligin
- Traverse of Lliathach
- Traverse of Annoach Eaggach
- Traverse of Crib Coch
- Parsley Fern and Central Trinity on Snowdon
- Forcan Ridge on The Saddle – Glen Sheil