Scottish Winter Climbing
Winter climbing and ice climbing are strange pastimes. Most people are astonished to think that you spend time on a snow plastered rock faces or a frozen
waterfall, in freezing conditions, experiencing spindrift and hot aches. Scotland has been a winter playground for climbers for over 100 years and has been at the
centre of winter climbing development for nearly as long. The best climbers are continuing to put up test piece climbs at the highest standard both at previously
unexploited venues and in popular places like the Northern Corries. Winter conditions in Scotland are quite unique, due to the country's latitude, the surrounding
seas and the prevailing weather systems of the polar front. Nowadays though, slightly warmer winter conditions in the UK mean that many of the harder winter
climbing routes are really only 'in condition' once every couple of years or so. Winter climbing in the Lake District and Snowdonia may be limited to only several
weeks each season. Because of this, winter climbers have been looking further afield and I have been part of the movement promoting Rjukan in southern
Norway as an ice climbing playground. Gauranteed conditions and over 150 icefalls within a 20km radius draw climbers from all over the world. See my Rjukan
page for more information. However, this page is simple to offer a taste of my interest in winter climbing - enjoy!
Near the west coast of Scotland, you will find Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. The two pictures below left are from 1997 of Andy Heslop standing
next to the summit cairn after we had climbed Good Friday Climb, grade III on Indicator Wall. The climb has the highest belay in the country - the summit trig
point. The view as you can see was not extensive. Navigating off The Ben in these conditions requires care, the nearby jaws of Gardyloo Gully are sharp and
hungry. Above right, you can see Ben Nevis from the approach to the Charles Inglis Clark  (C.I.C.) Memorial Hut along Allt a' Mhuilinn. Although there doesn't
appear to be a great amount of snow, conditions for climbing were excellent on that day.
Below, on Haston Line, grade III. This is an excellent straight forward
mixed line starting from the foot of Jacob's Ladder in Coire an t-Sneachda.
It offers several short and tricky steps that are quite entertaining.
Left: Dave Macleod leading the second pitch of Belhaven V,6 on
the Fiacall Buttress in excellent conditions. Dave is one of the
absolute top British winter climbers and has pioneered several
routes at the top end of the grades currently climbed. Below, me
seconding on the second crux pitch of Stirling Bomber.
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Above, a photo of the Coire an Lochain face of Aonach Mor taken early
one February morning from our camp, the sun revealing perfect cimbing
conditions. Below, with such conditions expect a popular area like this to
be sprawling with other climbers, here on the plateau near Easy Gully,
the normal descent route to the climbs of Coire an Lochain. From here
you can be blessed with fantastic views of the Ben and the Grey Coirries
On Scottish winter climbs, the right clothing is essential. I am sure every
winter climber has, at some time or other, experienced the feeling of
almost freezing to death on a belay and painful hot aches at the end of a
climb. Above right , climbing up easier ground on Fiacall Buttress, Coire
an t-Sneachda. Right, on the first pitch of Stirling Bomber, a classic grade
V with a technical grade of 7 which allows you to push your technical
standard on ground that is fairly easy to protect.
Left, leading off up Perplexed IV,4 a new route I put up in February 2006 on
the North Buttress of Coire an Lochan on Aonach Mor. The conditions
were, as you can see, Scottish (and we missed the last gondola down).
Above, walking in to Coire an Lochan in the Cairngorms under slightly lean conditions.
Below right, posing for the camera in Central Gully and right, climbing into The Vent III in Coire an Lochan.
Below, approaching the summit cairn of Cairn Lochan after a successful days climbing.
Below, training in a very frozen clay quarry not far from my house. I have got my old axes out so as not to ruin the picks on my good axes. Although it's not possible
to lead on this stuff the 20m high faces provide excellent training albeit on a top rope anchored to the car.