Winter Climbing Skills

An introduction to the skills and equipment used to undertake graded climbs in Scotland through the winter months. It is suitable for walkers with little or no experience of climbing or climbers with limited experience of winter conditions.

Instruction in use of two ice axes, belaying and placing secure anchors is added to the skills taught on the Winter Mountain Craft course. Suitable ground is found on which to practice the skills and ridges and gullies up to Grade III will be used to tackle peaks. The balance of teaching and indulgence can be altered to suit your ambitions and experience.

1:1 or 1:2 recommended.
1:3 or 1:4 available for lower grade routes.

Sample Itinerary: 5 Day Course

Evening of arrival: Introduction discussion on the basics skills of winter walking such as weather and route choice. Check of client kit and packing for the next day.

Day 1: Ascend from Sligachan into Coir’ a’ Bhasteir, the most wintry of Cuillin corries. A full range of skills can be taught and practiced in safety on the lower slopes of this awesome corrie. These will be practiced further on ascents during the rest of the week. More time can be spent practicing particular skills on any given day.

  • Assessment of snow conditions.
  • Introduction to use of walking safely in crampons.
  • Introduction to different uses of a single ice axe including step cutting and self-arrest.
  • Introduction to use of 2 axes on the ice-falls that regularly form on the back wall of the corrie.
  • Time and conditions will dictate whether to gain the crest of the Cuillin Ridge for your first view of the British Alps.

Day 2: Ascent of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh (918m) from Glen Brittle.

Thuilm Right and Left are a pair of 300m long Grade I snow gullies that are reached in an hour from the road. Foxes Rake is a 3 star Grade III route with some easy angled ice pitches in the middle of a 400m climb.

  • Introduction to the many different ways to use a rope for safety in winter. Overcoming short exposed steps, moving together safely over snow slopes and judging when to pitch a section will all be covered.
  • An introduction to how to create safe anchors; from snow buckets to ice screws and rock pegs depending on conditions and terrain.
  • Advice on the many ways in which to cunningly use axes for climbing the mixed terrain of snow and ice-covered rocks.

Day 3: Ascent of Sgurr Alasdair (993m) by the North-west Ramp of Sgurr Sgumain, Grade I/II.

A classic long easy climb to the highest point on Skye. Much of the terrain is easy but there are at least three sections where a pitch or two of easy ice climbing will be encountered. Descent of the great Stone Shoot is great fun in a lot of conditions but can also be very serious. An alternative descent into Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda via the TD Gap may be necessary by abseils.

  • Lead climbing.
  • Abseil anchors and techniques.

Day 4: Ascent of Blaven (928m).

Blaven has some very good winter possibilities. The central Gully between the two summits gives a high quality Grade I gully climb that is condition frequently. The views of the Main Cuillin Ridge from the summit are rated as being amongst the best mountain scenery in the country.

Also often formed is a 75m Grade III ice climb called Escape from Colditz that tunnels out of a gully past an icicle curtain. Although only short it gives a great insight into many aspects of ice climbing including peg placement and threading of icicles.

Day 5: Ascent of Sgurr nan Gillean (965m)

The summit of Sgurr nan Gillean can gleam like a white jewel at times even when many other parts of the Ridge are speckled with black rock. Its altitude and aspect can give a build-up similar to the snow that plasters the walls of Ben Nevis. The Bhasteir Face alone has ten different big routes crammed into it and the four other pinnacles of Pinnacle Ridge hold many more of similar quality.

The skills and experience of the week will all be tested on the final day. Conditions will dictate which route to use. The South-East Ridge is known as the Tourist Route and is the easiest possibility but is still a serious Grade II ridge route. The West Ridge has a difficult Grade III start with welcome easier terrain most of the way to the summit . Pinnacle Ridge in good conditions may also be possible but is often a long and serious Grade IV route. North-West Face Route and Just a Boys Game are two Grade III routes with some pitches of ice that lead directly to the summit from Coir’ a’ Bhasteir.

Foxes Rake