Top tips: Ten of the best, Winter Quality Mountain Days

Probably my proudest gained outdoor QUALIFICATION is mountain training’s winter mountain leader. In order to pass this qualification you must be an extremely competent winter mountaineer and leader. Scotland in winter is a harsh place to hone your skills but is also extremely rewarding. as a fully qualified MIC, who commits to spending the winter seasons in Scotland, I deliver a huge number of days to a variety of clients using the skills of a Winter ML.

Similar to my earlier blog on Snowdonia summer Quality Mountain Days, I thought I’d write a blog to help those of you going through the Winter Mountain Leader journey. I'd imagine that most people are familiar with the honeypot areas around the northern Cairngorms, Ben Nevis and Glencoe so the ten listed here are further flung and some of my favourite days out to help boost your logbooks (and most give you two munros too)…

Route information is provided by links to Walk Highlands and UKHillwalking, click the hill names for details

1.      Horns of Alligin, Torridon. The furthest north of all the days here, this is a tricky one to get in good winter nick. The closeness of the sea to Torridon means the hills can be quickly stripped, having said this, I first did this day in snowy condition in early May!

Late season conditions in the North West

Late season conditions in the North West

2.      Five sisters of Kintail, Glen Shiel. A monster of a day out. This one requires some good coordination of logistics. Glen Shiel is easily reached from Fort William in a couple of hours but realistically you need two vehicles, one at either end, to facilitate a shuttle back to the start. I’ve always gone from east to west but it could be completed in the opposite direction. It’s well worth scoping out your descent carefully as this is rough terrain especially after a long day. You get 3 munros from this one!

Local Alternative: The Saddle super day out although definitely mountaineering and therefore a tad harder

High above Glen Shiel

High above Glen Shiel

3.      Sgorr Gaoith, Glen Feshie. A bit of a Cairngorms outlier, Glen Feshie in winter is one of the more impressive places I regularly visit. The Moine Mor above Carn Ban Mor I have heard described as the ‘Winter ML graveyard’ as it is a bleak and featureless place in bad visibility presenting a huge navigational challenge for anyone out in poor conditions. The link here is a summer route, personally in winter I prefer to go over Carn Ban Bheag and Carn Ban Mor before heading north to Sgorr Gaoith itself.

4.      A' Mharconaich and Geal Charn, Drumochter. Most people pass these hills on their way north to Aviemore. The lack of people on these hills always surprises me as the various options on both sides of the road allow lots of choice regardless of the avalanche conditions plus easy road access. One of my favourite days out with clients is this one.

5.      Stob Coire Easain and Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin, the Easians. The hills above Loch Laggan stretch far into the bleak heartland of the highlands towards Rannoch Mor, these two give a brilliant ridge walk although it is slightly tricky to get a circular route.

6.      Stob Ban, North ridge. This is a classic Mamores expedition, best undertaken as a horseshoe from Glen Nevis, and finishing over the munro of Muillach nan Coiran to the west and down it's gentler north east ridge and back to the Glen.

The North Ridge of Stob Ban under heavy snow. Photo credit: Rory Shaw, Snowdonia Mountaineering

The North Ridge of Stob Ban under heavy snow. Photo credit: Rory Shaw, Snowdonia Mountaineering

7.      Ben Starav, Glen Etive. This wild glen just south of Glencoe is another quiet place considering the busier hills of the Glencoe ski area and the Bidean massive to the north. Driving down the single track road can be the crux when snow is down to glen level so once again well worth carefully thinking about the access in and out. The route described here descends down a valley so worth considering the avalanche risk and whether heading down the ridge of Glas Bheinn Chaol is a safer choice

8.      Beinn Challuim, Tyndrum. The one on this list I haven’t done! The hills around the classic journey stop of the Green Welly are largely concealed from the road but all around are some hidden gems. This option described on UKHillwalking looks fantastic

Local alternative: Ben Lui one of my all time favourite solo days out. I am keen to go back to ski ‘Central Gully’!

9.      Ben More, Crianlarich. The largest southern most Munro, I only recently discovered these hills by chance as we were looking for an adventurous ski day on the way north. What followed for us was an early season gem involving some great skiing but some very tricky nav in a whiteout. Lots of steep ground around; be aware!

10.   Tarmachan ridge, Killin. This one has a special significance for me as it was the first Scottish mountain day I ever did and it was also in winter conditions. Ben Lawers is a frequently good holder of snow in the winter but this one is I think (controversially) a better day out!

Burly day above Ballachulish

Burly day above Ballachulish

11.   The bonus one. I ummed and uhhed about adding this one in. During the last 5 winters, I have stared daily into this cirque from our house windows. The ridge which cleaves the coire is one of my favourite mountaineering routes. I have a very close affinity with these hills, leaving me to want to leave this one out, however so many people suggested it, here it is... the Ballachulish horseshoe. The descent on the link here is another one to consider carefully as can be avalanche prone. If you decide to cut this one short and descend north off Sgorr Dhearg, beware the forest at the end is virtually impenetrable and known by many as the ‘forest of doom’!

As ever, walking in winter is a serious business. Be prepared, have the right skills and equipment and importantly don’t go fixated on your plan. Some great resources to help with your avalanche avoidance planning here

ANOther fantastic resource worth checking out is GArry SMITHs book ‘scotland’s winter mountains with one ice axe’ AVAILABLE here

Simon Verspeak