25 November 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
In my opinion, many of Scotland’s winter routes are comparable with the big faces of the alps, if not in scale then certainly in effort required to climb them. There’s no getting the first telephrique up and skiing down to do your route, topping out, rapping back to your skis and being back in the bar for dinner and drinks! Scottish routes require strength, both physical and of character if you’re to succeed, along with a pair of strong legs to carry you repeatedly to its remote crags until conditions are right. The skills required are extensive, everything from winter driving, navigation, weather and avalanche forecasting, plus the ability to survive some hellish weather, and on top of that climb on-sight and ground-up in the worst on-sighting and ground-up conditions you could ask for. Self-reliance gives an edge not found on many Alpine routes these days, after all, there are no red rescue choppers buzzing us looking for business in Scotland – yet! Throw into this the oldest winter climbing history, the characters, fatty food, and you have one of the wildest red-blooded climbing locations on the planet – our very own Patagonia.
So here is a very small selection of routes that I feel give that big alpine flavour. But remember that any route that you might not climb is a big adventure climb, whether the summit is almost within your grasp of a mile away.
Central Buttress - VI, 7 - 250m - Beinn Eighe - Mixed
Big, bad, and with a reputation and history. Tons of easy ‘alpine’ climbing up this big buttress, with a few stings waiting for you.
Gemini - VI, 6 - 300 m - Ben Nevis - Ice
Classic steep ice, with tons of character and exposure. Take good quality ice gear for belays, including long and short screws, bulldogs and a small selection of rock gear.
Mitre Ridge - V, 6 – 220m - Beinn a’ Bhuird, Cairngorms - Mixed
Classic Chamonix climbing, a long way from anywhere, gives this a scale totally out of proportion to its height of difficulty. The climbing is very easy for the grade.
Orion Direct - V,5 - 400m Ben Nevis - Ice
Minimal pro, big face, bigger air! Comparable to any of the big classic North walls of the Alps. A right of passage.
Observatory Buttress - V, 5 - 340m - Ben Nevis - Mixed
Seems far longer than the guidebook says, especially if you end up climbing into the night. Take a good selection of pro from screws and ice hooks right through to pegs, wires and hexs – hopefully, something will go in somewhere!!
Route Major - IV, 5 - 280m - Carn Etchachan - Mixed
Like being on the Jorrase in winter. A big wall feel with moderately hard climbing will keep you thinking. Although only a few hours from the ski lodge café you can easily feel ‘out there’ on this crag.
Centre Post - III - 400m - Creag Meagaidh - Ice
Harder than the North Face of the Droites – but then again modern gear means that’s not hard anymore anyway! Classic ice face with plenty of variation. Make sure you have a good selection of screws and hooks and always try to climb within your limit. Scottish ice routes aren’t for falling off!
Castle Ridge - III - 600m - Ben Nevis - Mixed
Perhaps Scotland’s second greatest classic Alpine route after the Cullin Ridge. Get on it early and try to avoid the crowds. Read up on the history so you know who’s been ahead of you.