Mountaineering in Scotland
Scotland is one of the climbing meccas of Europe. For British climbers, mountaineering in Scotland is equivalent to scaling peaks in the Swiss Alps or Patagonia. It’s that good. There are a range of graded climbs to do in Scotland which will suit mountaineers from all walks of life. Newbie climbers should look for an introductory mountaineering course whereas intermediate and advanced climbers can test their limits on whatever peak takes their fancy.
Mountaineering in Scotland has a big scope for exploration. Some peaks in the northern Highlands are practically unclimbed. Other routes in the Cairngorms or Isle of Skye have more famous paths that are on the bucket list of all mountaineers. Depending on your climbing ability, you may wish to navigate your own trails or follow the most popular climbing routes instead. In either case, here are some of the best places to go mountaineering in Scotland.
1 . Isle of Skye
There are many mountaineering highlights on the Isle of Skye, but few are pursued harder than the Cuillian Ridge. A successful traverse of this 12 km scramble is perhaps the most coveted prize for anyone going mountaineering in Scotland, or the UK for that matter. Conditions are often poor, and the trail can either be completed in one long day or two days with a mountain bivvy in the middle. There is a total elevation gain of 4,000 metres, and the route hops from Grade I to Grade III scrambles.
In general, the Black and Red Cuillian ridges are fantastic locations for mountaineering in Scotland. There are plenty of ridges to rope up and ascend with each offering a unique set of challenges. The Dubh Slabs are another immensely scenic climbing area where one can summit Sgurr Dubh Mor. From the peak, there’s a 25-metre abseil back down to basecamp which will have you testing your ropework and belaying techniques.
2 . Ben Nevis & Glen Coe
Ben Nevis is the highest summit in Scotland and naturally, it has some of the best climbing routes. The north face is a 600-metre rock wall with some excellent opportunities for trad climbing. In the winter, daring adventurers use this spot for ice climbing. In summer, the Carn Dearg Buttress offers a tough 300-metre climb for intermediate mountaineers. If you’re new to mountaineering in Scotland, check out the Grade I scramble up the Carn Mor Dearg Arête.
In Glen Coe, you’ll find Buachaille Etive Mor, one of Scotland’s top-rated climbing routes (the Curved Ridge scramble garners particular attention). Climbs here range from short crag scrambles to high mountain ridges. For another great route nearby, try out the Aonach Eagach ridge. This is a Grade II scramble along a ridge that connects adjacent Munros. On this route, there’s no bail-out point so once you start climbing, there’s no turning back!
3 . Cairngorms National Park
The Cairngorms is great for a few reasons. It is the largest National Park in the UK, and it welcomes wild campers with open arms. It is also a brilliant mountaineering destination for ice climbing, snow-field camping, and mixed climbing on the Munros. For example, the Northern Corries are often on the lips of most hikers when discussing mountaineering in Scotland.
Close to the town of Aviemore, this hiking area is primarily known for its two big crags: Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain. Both offer plenty of mixed climbing opportunities. Then there’s the Grade II scramble across the Fiacaill Ridge – a trail known for its mean weather. Lochnagar is another peak for mountaineering in Scotland. The approach to this mountain is much harder than the Northern Corries but there are over 145 routes to choose from once you arrive with some ascents measuring 200 metres!
4 . Torridon
Torridon is a wonderful place for both summer and winter mountaineering in Scotland. An Teallach is a mountain ridge with expansive views, two spire-like Munros, and a handful of corries for winter mountaineering. Some of the routes can be scrambled, others require technical equipment. It’s all down to your experience and the time of year you wish to make an ascent.
The Liathach Traverse is one hell of a scramble. This ridge climb is rough and exposed gaining itself a Grade II scramble rating. Most of the trail can be accomplished without technical equipment in the summer. However, winter climbers should consider roping up on the infamous Am Fasarinen pinnacles or at the very least, make use of an ice axe and crampons.
5 . Bonus: Ice Factor, Kinlochleven
This is an unusual addition to the list as it is neither a mountain nor an outdoor climbing area. However, it is an excellent place to hone your mixed climbing skills in a controlled indoor setting. Just up the road from Ben Nevis, this climbing gym is one of the best places to train for mountaineering in Scotland.
There are 500 tonnes of snow onsite and a 12-metre frozen wall for mountaineers to practice their ice climbing techniques. There are also multi-pitch climbing walls in all grades from beginner to expert. This allows climbers to perfect their rope work and gain confidence when ascending rock faces.
Final Tips for Mountaineering in Scotland
Climbers in Scotland can enjoy scrambling, single-pitch outcrops, technical traverses, and multi-pitch mountain ascents. The scale of mountaineering in Scotland is vast. Not to mention the utter beauty of the landscapes. Climbing here isn’t simply about conquering peaks. It is also about the approach through the glens and the views from the tops of the Munros down to the black waters of the lochs or the shimmering Irish Sea.
The best way to go mountaineering in Scotland is to take a road trip throughout the country – such as along the Scotland 500. That way, you can set up a base camp with all your equipment beneath every climb. You can always be on the move and even stop off at a roadside crag whenever you feel like it. However you choose to travel, there are always adventures to be had when mountaineering in Scotland.