Ridges through the Sky

There is something truly magical about being up high in the mountains, following the line joining the highest points with the ground dropping away on either side of you. Particularly in winter, this can give exciting enough terrain to keep your mind engaged, whilst allowing for quick enough movement to keep warm. And the views are guaranteed to be epic!

Last weekend, my friend Dave and I travelled north to Torridon to traverse the immense mountain of Liathach. We decided on an East to West traverse, taking a low line out to the crest to avoid the potentially loaded snow-slopes.

The west coast hills are stunning. Each arising, individual giants, from an otherwise quite flat landscape. This makes the mountains look closer than they are; but an hour later, when you are still on the flat approach, you realise that they are actually both far away and giant!

The day was a lot more challenging than I had expected, we had to break trail through deep snow and there was wet slidey snow on all the scrambling sections. I hadn’t thought we would need our rope, but it came out several times to protect ourselves.

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Two days later, at the end of my day’s work as a junior doctor in Oban, my boyfriend Alex messaged to tell me the sky looked clear in Glencoe. We had been keeping a vague check on the weather for a few weeks, intending to do an overnight winter traverse of the Aonach Eagach. This is a ridgeline above Glencoe, dubbed the hardest mainland ridge in the UK. We had done it as an overnight (double) traverse last year in summer condition - I’ve never actually done it in the daylight!

As I drove over from Oban, I was both tired and energised by the prospect. The weather forecast was not perfect but sometimes you just need to look up and see, and there was a brilliantly clear sky full of stars. We decided to go for it and I think we knew it was the right decision from the moment we left the car.

The snowline was at about 700m, so the ridge was in full winter condition. There were a few centimetres of fresh snow since the last tracks, but the snow beneath felt well consolidated. The forecast was for minus nine temperature and fortunately we were sheltered from the wind.

Sometimes winter climbing feels like ‘type 2 fun’, but this night was one of the most prolonged doses of type 1 fun I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying! The scrambling was fun, exciting and secure. The rope stayed in the bag all night. It just shows how variable Scottish winter can be depending on the conditions.

I slept about 4 hours that night before driving east to go ski-touring with my friend Pete. We set our sights on a remote munro in the Monadhliath, but basically ended up taking our skis for an extremely long walk! You win some and lose some, but you need to try!

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By Anna Wells