Climing Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.
The aim of this page is to give winter mountaineers and climbers who want to visit the
Ben Nevis & Glen Coe area of the Scottish Highlands some idea of what is available in
the area and how to go about it. What I've tried to cover is - the climbing areas,
when to come, navigation, local knowledge,
recommended guide books and reading, local guides & instructors and local climbing
Information about avalanches is available from The Avalanche Server Pages.
It is important to stress that walking and climbing in the Scottish hills in winter is
a serious business. Being on the West coast means that we are subject to wild variations
a South Westerly wind can bring warm air from the Gulf Stream visibly stripping snow from
the lower hills and then suddenly swing North Westerly and bring freezing air from the
Arctic. Temperatures can vary as much as 15o Centigrade in a single day. This freeze/thaw
cycle is the essence of winter climbing in this area, thawing and freezing of the snow
pack favours the formation of perfect Neve and superb ice falls.
When deciding on routes to do there are quite a number of factors to take into account:
The Climbing Areas
Glen Coe is a magnificent playground for the winter mountaineer, with
the classic Aonach Eagach ridge on the north side, a good grade III when in
condition, and the Bidean Massif on the South with the Buachaille Etive Mor
standing guard over the desolate Rannoch Moor. These hills are lower than Ben Nevis but
never-the-less provide some superb climbs and mountaineering routes of all standards.
The North facing cliffs of Ben Nevis in winter provide serious mountaineering
routes and climbs of an Alpine nature. Early starts, efficient climbing, fitness and
careful navigation are the order of the day. You must take this mountain seriously as
it is very unforgiving of mistakes.
The classic Grade V routes - Point Five, Zero Gully, Smiths Route and the Orion
Face are known throughout the world. Who would have thought that such unimaginatively
named gullies like zero, point five, minus one, minus two would be able to conjure up so
much passion, fear and dread and emotion in the very souls of those who have climbed them
or are aspiring to.
It is very important to note the way off the Ben; most
the guide books give the exact bearings from the 'Trig' point on the top. Not all climbs
finish at this point, so make sure you know exactly how to get off from where you finish
your climb. Many people have died descending into Five Finger Gully due to
navigational errors, beware! (The 1:25000 Mountain Master of Ben
Nevis has an inset map of the top of the Ben in 1:10000 scale, very useful.)
Recommended Guide books:
When to Come
February and March prove to be the most reliable months, however there is winter
climbing being done from as early as October and sometimes through to June. The climbing
November through to January is a bit of an opportunists sport as temperatures and weather
vary so much. April and May have quite often been good times to do the higher climbs on
Ben Nevis with the snow & ice remaining longer than on the lower hills.
It is always worth checking what the conditions and weather before leaving; you can usually get this from the local Police
There are a dozen or so fatal accidents every year in this area during the winter
season, a large majority of these accidents usually stem from navigational error. Make
sure you know your way on to your climbs and more importantly off them and have
alternative descent routes worked out should the weather deteriorate. A planned descent
down a perfect neve slope can be transformed into a dangerous avalanche prone slope by
fresh or blown snow whilst you are climbing. It is really worthwhile writing down and
attaching the direction and distances for the descent to your map. It is much easier to
work out distances and directions at home than in the teeth of a howling blizzard on the
top of a mountain. The Ordnance Survey 1:50000 landranger number 41 map is the one
for this area and the 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Mountain Master for Ben Nevis for more
To get the best out of the area it is important to know what climbs are in condition
and what the history of the snow pack is. You may be an experienced mountaineer but in
poor or lean conditions without inside knowledge it is difficult to know where to go, so
it might be worthwhile hiring a professional guide for a day or so.
These are the folk who are out on the hill nearly every day watching and noticing what
climbs and routes are in condition.
There is a list of guides at the end of this
Although we do not get the severity and size of avalanches experienced on the
Continent, avalanches in Scotland do maim and kill mountaineers every year. Last year
 an enormous avalanche nearly wiped out several members of the Glencoe Mountain
Rescue Team, whilst trying to rescue some people who had been buried by a previous
avalanche in Coire na Tullaich.
Avalanche prediction is an art based on science and many factors have to be taken into
account, weather, wind, snow, temperature, previous conditions and so on. Again local
knowledge is important here. You might arrive here on Saturday night and notice a strong
wind blowing from the North West and quite rightly think that, potentially slopes with an
easterly aspect could be avalanche prone; however what you might not know is that we have
had easterly gales all week!
See the recommended reading guide on avalanches. There is an avalanche prediction service which posts up a notice at
various points in the area and is usually attached to the weather forecasts in the
Scotsman and the Herald newspapers. Last year it was also posted onto the WWW by Glasgow University,
The avalanche predictions are based on past history of the snow pack and the weather
forecast, so if the weather forecast is wrong the avalanche prediction may well be wrong
Information Pages and Server are here. ]
Local Guides & Instructors
The local guides and instructors listed all have relevant qualifications.
It is worth noting that in the UK. anybody can take anybody out on the hill as a
professional guide without having any qualification or training at all. Now obviously
there are some guides who have a vast experience of mountaineering who have no
qualifications and are probably better than some of those who have but it is worth while
checking the qualifications and experience of those people who will be taking you out.
If you need an instructor or guide for winter climbing there are two important
qualifications to look for :-
- The highest guiding qualification is the International Guides Carnet the
U.I.A.G.M. this qualification is a must if you are guiding above the snow line in
The British Mountaineering Council can provide a list of the UK guides with this
qualification. These Guides will have the capability and experience to take you up some of
the hardest winter climbs in Scotland.
- In the UK. the next is the M.I.C. (Mountaineering Instructors Certificate),
this qualification is given to people who can usually rock climb in the E grades and climb
in Winter at about grade V/VI.
The local guides & instructors run courses throughout the winter season ranging
from basic winter mountaineering skills to serious snow & ice climbing. They will also
take clients on specific routes, depending on conditions. So if you've had your eye on
that special route for some time but don't want to die on it, give one of them a call.
- Alan Kimber
- Site: http://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk
- Mountain Guide/Instructor - Author of guide book(Winter Climbs - Ben Nevis &
Glencoe)Up-to-date information on winter climbing conditions & accommodation for
- Tel: Winter Help line 01397 700451 or Fax: 01397 700489.
- e-mail: email@example.com
- Abacus Mountaineering
- Site: http://www.abacusmountaineering.com
- Instructor and Mountain Guide. Mike Pescod is a member of the Association of
Mountaineering Instructors. Summer and winter mountaincraft, scrambling, rock
climbing and Scottish winter climbing on Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, throughout the Western
Highlands and Skye. .
- 47 Lundavra Road, Fort William, PH33 6JJ Tel. 01397 701624
- e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mountain Craft Courses Ltd
- Glenfinnan, Fort William, PH37 4LT. Tel: 01397 722213 Fax 722300. Established 1986,
provider of instructional mountain courses for adults;BMC Approved Courses, SSC Approved
- Dave Hanna
- Ardarroch, Ballachulish, Argyll, PA39 4JQ. Tel: 01855 811620. Winter mountaineering
courses, daily guiding, self catering accommodation. Safety cover for film units etc. Dave
is a member of the Glencoe Mountain rescue team.
- Fraser Coleman Freelance Mountaineering Instructor MIC.
- 1 Mamore Road, Kinlochleven, Argyll. Tel : 01855 831658. Tailored courses and private
guiding throughout the year. Fraser is a member of the Glencoe mountain rescue team.
- Hadrian Mountaineering
- (Mark Tennent) 19b Carnoch, Glencoe, Argyll, PA39 4HS. Tel/Fax :01855 811472
Mountaineering instruction throughout the year and private guiding by arrangement.
- John Cuthbertson (MIC) Snowgoose Activities
- Site: http://www.highland-mountain-guides.co.uk
- The Old Smiddy, Station Road, Corpach, Fort William, PH33 7LS. Tel/Fax: 01397 772467.
Run Winter Mountaineering courses, including Winter Mountain Navigation, , Winter Hill
Walking and Mountain craft and Introduction to Snow & Ice climbing. John had
15 years active service with the RAF Mountain Rescue Team.
- e-mail: email@example.com
- Alba Mountaineering
- Site: http://www.alba-mtnguides.demon.co.uk/alba.htm
- Alba Mountaineering was set up by Andrew Ravenhill, an experienced walker and
mountaineer both at home in Scotland and abroad. Andrew has 14 years professional
experience and is well qualified to ensure your safety. He is a member of the Association
of Mountaineering Instructors the professional body representing Mountaineering
- e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Climbwise Mountaineering
- Site: http://www.climbwise.demon.co.uk
- Roger Wild, the director of Climbwise, based
in Fort William has 26 years experience of mountaineering and skiing in Scotland, Norway
and the Alps.
He is a British and International Mountain Guide and a member of the Association of
Mountaineering Instructors and the British Association of Ski Instructors
- e-mail email@example.com
- Mountain Motion
- Site: http://www.mountainmotion.co.uk
- Mountain Motion is run by Richard Bently, a holder of the Mountaineering
Instructors Certificate and a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.
Based in Torlundy, Fort William, Richard has many years climbing experience. (Himalayas,
the Alps and Canada) He caters for all typyes of courses. Ranging from intro climbing and
mountaineering to performance ice climbing
- e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Glencoe Mountain Sport
- Site: http://www.glencoe-mountain-sport.co.uk
- Glencoe Mountain Sport is directed by Mark Tennent, a holder of the
Mountaineering Instructors Certificate; member of the Association of Mountaineering
Instructors and British Association of European Mountain Leaders. This is the culmination
of an apprenticeship in the hills commencing in the late 1970's.
- e-mail: email@example.com
Scotland's Winter Mountains
- The Challenge and the Skills' by Martin Moran
ISBN 0-7153-9096-1 a brilliant inspirational book which will give you a very clear idea of
what climbing in Scotland is about.
- A Chance in a Million?
- Scottish Avalanches. Bob Barton & Blyth Wright.
ISBN 0-907521-11-8. The Bible of avalanches in Scotland
- Mountain Navigation
- Peter Cliff.
ISBN 1-871890-55-1. Clear, readable and understandable book on mountain navigation
- Mountaineering in Scotland & Undiscovered Scotland
- Bill Murray.
ISBN 0-906371-07-4. Is a classic of mountaineering literature.
- Cold Climbs
- Compiled by Ken Wilson, Dave Alcock and John Barry.
ISBN 0-906371-16-3. Is a collection of essays and photographs of winter climbs in the UK.,
mostly Scotland, if that doesn't have you running up and down the garden wielding your ice
axes looking for ice nothing will.
© Gillian Sweeney
Reproduced with the kind permission of Gillian Sweeney.
In memory of Ray Darker