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.
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.
Finally, the selected routes as per Sam's Outdoors.co.uk 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Aonach Air Crith Map Photos