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Scottish Winter Climbing

Scottish Winter climbing


When the rock climbing season comes to a close in Scotland, winter is just around the corner.  With the first dusting of snow, which can be as early as October, climbers from everywhere sharpen their axes and crampons.  Ready to tackle the early season Scottish winter climbing.


The reason Scottish winter climbing is so renowned around the world is for its unique conditions.  Like Simon Richardson titled his book, “Chasing the Ephemeral” (Link).  When you look up the definition of ephemeral it will say: “lasting a short time”.  And this is exactly what Scottish winter climbing is like.  Conditions can be in one day, and not the next.  One day you may be mixed climbing, the next it may be ice climbing.  It is not like climbing in the Alps, Norway or Canada where you have frozen waterfalls.  Hard, solid 1-meter-thick streaks of blue ice, where each ice screw is a guaranteed piece of certainty.


Scottish winter climbing consists of mixed climbing, ice climbing, cold snaps when turf needs to be frozen to make certain routes climbable.  Some of the routes rely on freeze-thaw cycles to build up these unique ice formations, which can look like mushrooms.  There is no fixed gear, and good judgement is needed to stay safe.  So, all in all, it is a very involving process.  On top of all this, the weather in Scotland can be “wild”.  Meaning, high winds, snow and spindrift means, “Lets still go climbing”.  Whereas other parts of the world, it may be too dangerous.  If we waited for blue sky and sunshine in Scotland, they may not always come 😏.


When to go?

The Scottish winter season can extend from October to April, sometimes even into May or June on a very cold year.  The season in variable, and cannot be predicted.  There are a mixture of routes allover Scotland.  From snow gullies to steep and overhanging ice climbs, and from snowy ridges to hard technical mixed climbing.


If you have experience as a trad climber, a lot of your skills are transferable to winter climbing.  But keep in mind, there is lots more to learn.  Like avalanche forecasting, predicting what routes may be in condition, winterising protecting routes, and many more.  It’s a challenging environment that requires skill & determination in sometimes less than perfect conditions.


Where to go?

Scotland is so big, and there are plenty of areas to go winter climbing.  These are all condition dependant.  Check out some of the following winter climbing guidebooks:

Chasing the Ephemeral
Scottish Winter Climbs West
Ben Nevis
Scottish Winter Climbs
The Cairngorms
Scotland’s Winter Mountains with one axe
And so many more


If you feel you could use some help here, feel free to book one of our courses.  These will give you the confidence to go and tackle Scottish winter climbs by yourself.  Or if you would like to take your winter climbing to the next level, book onto one of our more advanced courses.  Whether your aspirations are to climb a named route or dreaming of that classic grade 5, we can help you achieve your goals.  The idea behind our teaching/coaching is for you to become independent.


Scottish winter climbing courses