Winter Climbing

Alpine-scale faces, hidden gems and new routes.

Read Mike’s article specifically on Cuillin Winter climbing for ideas & inspirations in this Free Download

A climbing course suitable for clients with previous experience of winter climbing as a leader or second. The emphasis is maximizing the amount of climbing through the week but new techniques will be taught including plenty of opportunities to lead.

Gully, face and buttress routes right across the grades are all possible ways to reach the peaks on the Cuillin Ridge. Traversing sections of this are alpine and very challenging. There are also often chances to pioneer first ascents. Conditions will dictate the suitability of routes.

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

Sample Itinerary: 5 Day Course

Evening of arrival: Discussion of conditions, ambitions and weather forecast. Check of kit and packing for the next day.

Day 1: Coir’ a’ Bhasteir

Ascend from Sligachan into Coir’ a’ Bhasteir, the Cuillin’s most wintry corrie. Assessment of snow and ice conditions will dictate the best objective for the day. The 50m backwall of the corrie holds ice regularly (III/IV). It gives an ideal chance to warm up for the day and make sure that all of the kit is adjusted well. Pinnacle Ridge IV is a popular long classic route to Sgurr nan Gillean but it can also be approached by a wide variety of superb climbs including West Ridge of Knights Peak III,4, Flutings Climb IV,6, Forked Chimney IV,5 or the Doctors Gullies II/III. The North Face of Am Basteir comes into condition regularly and gives good options including The Deadline III and Am Basteir Chimney, IV,6.

Day 2: Coire na Creiche

Waterpipe Gully (IV) dominates this large split corrie but needs heavy winter conditions to become climbable. The classic Spur (II) overlooks the gully and gives a good approach to the Main Ridge. Traversing the Ridge north or south from here from here gives a good taste of what a Winter Traverse can involve (IV). Narrow crests and short steep sections are interspersed with numerous abseils on the most intricate section of the whole challenge. Foxes Rake III is a 3 star route that gives a reliable sheltered route to the summit of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh with easy angle ice pitches on which to practice leading. Many harder lines are possible in good conditions of which the Icicle Factory VI still awaits a second ascent!

Day 3: Coire Lagan

Ascend to the lochan at 600m to assess the options. In good snow condtions an ascent of Sgurr Alasdair from this corrie gives a superb 400m long Alpine climb by the Collie or Abrahams routes III/IV. The most reliable routes lie high in the Great Stone Shoot on the steep walls of Sgurr Thearlaich. Gullies A-E are all mixed climbs from Grade III to VI.

Day 4: Blaven

Set apart from the Main Cuillin Ridge Blaven has the same geology but has a micro-climate of its own with many of the winter routes set on the huge and impressive North-east wall. Pick of the routes is Clough’s Cleft VI,6 which climbs ice and mixed terrain adjacent to Chock-a-block Chimney V. 250m long routes like Serious Picnic and Thrutcher’s Groove are Grade III adventures to practice leading for some and get comfortable with complex route-finding for all. Sailaway IV is a 50m ice-fall that forms regularly below the start of another classic mixed route Birthday Groove IV,5.

Day 5: Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda

The highest cliffs in the Cuillin face south but ice up instantly in south-westerly storms to provide a fine selection of hard mixed routes. Grand Diedre VI,6, Eilidh’s Ceilidh V,7 and West Gully V,6 are only the start of developments on this unlikely winter crag. The north face of Sgurr nan Eag can be seen from near our base in Luib and an ascent of the classic Chasm III could make an attractive objective.



Clients should be prepared for extremely testing conditions of weather and terrain. There is a high probability of making approaches and descents in the dark. The ideas for objectives listed above will form a basic agenda but the best approach to finding good winter climbing is to be very open-minded. Conditions will dictate the suitability of routes.

Water Ice

Water ice has been rare on the Scottish mainland in recent years but, if it is well formed, trips to attempt classic routes in Torridon, Glen Carron and Glen Shiel can all be reached with about one hour’s drive.

Winter Traverse of the Cuillin Ridge.

This is considered as the finest mountaineering expedition in the British Isles but conditions are only suitable on a handful of occasions each season. Advance bookings will not be taken but if conditions are good enough to justify an attempt a course upgrade is possible. The whole week would be dedicated to making this happen and usually involves two nights of bivvying. The upgrade charge reflects the incredible amount of extra time and effort required.

Other venues

Away from Skye, guiding is also available for Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, Torridon and Cairngorm with access to huts on Ben Nevis and in Torridon. Trips to the Alps for ice climbing or ski-mountaineering can also be arranged with Skye Guides.

Whatever the objective, whatever your experience, Skye Guides can give you a winter climbing experience to remember.