Glencoe and Ben Nevis is really the home of Scottish Winter Climbing. A veritable wonderland of ice, snow and frozen turf. The Atlantic climate gives very special climbing conditions that are particular to Scotland and draw thousands of people to its gullies, ridges and ice-rimed rock.
The abundance of north-facing cliffs and their seepage lines, and vegetated crevices and ledges that make them such a challenging prospect to scale in summer, make it a climber’s paradise in winter.
Many have written far more eloquently and knowledgeably than I can about Scotland’s winter climbs: the stories, the characters, the noble history of epics and triumphs (see the short anthology of some of the many excellent books on the subject below). I am only an enthusiastic and – since my babies were born- increasingly armchair, amateur.
This is just a flavour of some of the main winter climbing areas within a stone’s throw of Cuil Bay – my top 5 of must-visit venues (NB inherently limited by being a list of the five places I have actually climbed in the area)
1. Stob Coire Nan Lochan
A bit of a Mecca for climbers, there are always lots of folks queuing up for the classic gullies in this beautiful corrie just below Bidean. And if you get up early enough and cut back the faff, you can scoot back round and do another, and another.
2. Aonach Mor
A magic wonderland of single pitch winter climbs above 1000m, pretty reliably in condition, while having the added advantage of a ski lift to take you most of the way up. Best experience: running into a large group of women climbers and, for once, feeling very at home as a woman in the winter hills.
3. Ben Nevis
A walk-in not for the faint-hearted but, oh what a mountain! Have to admit to having only scaled one route on this wonderful north face in winter. Bit out of my league. Top tip: bring a spare head-torch
4. Bidean nam Bian
Another mammoth walk-in, and a very early start. But just the place for a real adventure.
5. Aonach Eagach
A wonderful, if exposed, scramble in summer and a fantastically exciting winter day-out. When the scratch of your crampons on rock sends clods of snow sailing down into the void below, you can be glad you packed the rope.
6. Buachaille Etive Mòr
Got to be my favourite mountain for the elegant pyramid shape and position on the edge of Rannoch Moor giving jaw-dropping views.
There is simply nothing like the feeling of returning to the warmth of a cosy pub after a day in the Scottish mountains in winter, in fact sometimes that feels like the whole point of the venture. So thank goodness that the Kingshouse and the Clachaig are close at hand with their real ales and their steak pies and their fish and chips.
If you want to get out and do some winter mountaineering then there are plenty of guides who can teach the basics, or more advanced courses or just take you out for a day. I can highly recommend Chicks Unleashed for any women who are just starting out, or who want to take their climbing to another level. I am sure that they will even take blokes if you ask nicely.
Cold Climbs – Ken Wilson
Scotland’s Winter Mountains – Martin Moran
Ben Nevis – Ken Crockett and Simon Richardson
Mountain Guides (as recommended by my expert friend Dave Hollinger, who would be an excellent choice as guide!)