Six stunning winter ridges to guarantee a grand day out

Posted by Becky McGovern on 22/09/2015

With the seasons changing now is the prime time to plan your winter adventures. To help you explore the mountains this winter we asked our experts James Thacker and Neil Johnson (British Mountain Guides) to give us the lowdown on six winter ridges that will reward you with a grand day out.

First up are Neils’s three walking ridges:

1. East Ridge of Carn Mor Dearg

This esoteric ridge lies in the middle of wild and spectacular scenery.  There are two options for access: the traditional long walk from Glen Nevis, or the more European style (lift access route) from the Nevis Ski range. Either way you are rewarded by a walk that winds up a beautifully shaped valley to a wild and remote feeling col. The ridge itself never falls into the category of “climbing” but does require good crampon skills and movement over winter terrain. Toward the top it narrows slightly and becomes a little rocky before reaching the summit of Carn mor Dearg. From here there are two options:
1. Round the Carn Mor Dearg arête. This would make for a long and committing day so speed and fitness are essential.
2. A descent west down the long and relatively gentle slopes of Carn Mor Dearg and into the valley to pick up the Ben Nevis North Face track.

Where: Lochaber, Scotland
Best for: Wild and spectacular scenery

2. Nantlle Ridge

Walking in the snow whilst looking out to sea is a winning combination. The ridge itself provides a great journey close to the North Wales coast in a wild setting, you are unlikely to encounter many other people.  It is usual to start from Rhyd Ddu and descend via Cwm Dulyn after retracing your steps to a col from the final summit of Mynydd Graig Goch. Although not technically difficult the ridge is exposed to all the weather going.  It has sections of easy but exposed scrambling so it pays to be well prepared and have sound crampon and axe skills. 

Where: Snowdonia, Wales
Best for: An enjoyable walk with lots of variety

3. The Old Man of Coniston

This was the first real winter walk I did. I have great memories of the dramatic scenery appearing and disappearing through swirling clouds. The walk has many variations and can be done circular from Coniston via Weatherlam, up on to the ridge and on to Coniston Old Man.  A broad ridge, the walk requires no scrambling, but at points can be confusing if the mist comes in and white out conditions are encountered. The ridge gives the opportunity to “bag” a number of summits and is a good introduction to more committing expeditions. 

Where: Lake District, England
Best for: Taking in a number of summits

WATCH: Winter hill walking: if they only knew on BMC TV:

James gives us three great winter climbing ridges:

1. Tower Ridge IV,3 (an unusual grade but testament to frequent epics)

My first foray on Ben Nevis was an attempt (you guessed it… it didn’t go well) on Tower Ridge. Starting early from the outskirts of Fort William, we made good progress – apart from getting lost in the golf course, now thankfully avoided by the North Face car park. Pleased with our efforts to be ahead of the crowds we climbed quickly upwards, only to find a tricky ice pitch. Eventually we negotiated the impasse only to find ourselves at the back of a massive queue. Route finding is an essential skill on such a big mountain and we were forced to descend having been taught our first lessons – check the route descriptions and start even earlier! We had been overtaken by lots of parties while taking our slightly more direct line.

A couple of years later on a quiet day I climbed Tower Ridge for the first time in good conditions. The 600m ridge took a fraction of the time but the bottlenecks and multiple tricky sections were all too evident. Tower Ridge remains a significant mountaineering challenge and still sees a fair share of benightments, not to mention rescues by Lochaber MRT. Before attempting these mammoth lines it’s essential to have mastered a range of rope techniques.

Where: Ben Nevis, Scotland
Guide book: Scottish Winter Climbs (Scottish Mountaineering Trust)
Best for: superlative experiences and length(!)

2. Pinnacle Ridge II/III

Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag is another classic ridge that is transformed from tricky scramble to a winter climb with the first snowfalls. High above Patterdale the route can be tricky to find and steep slopes need to be negotiated to reach the bottom.  Living up to its name the difficulties include a slab low down, a tricky wall and the pinnacles higher on the route.  Here good use of the rope will pay dividends with most people pitching or moving together depending on the conditions.

Where: Lake District, England
Guide book: Lake District Winter Climbs (Cicerone)
Best for: Variations and ‘quick’ pitching

3. Crib Lem Spur (Llech Ddu) I/II

The classic summer scramble of  Crib Lem will need little introduction to many people who frequently visit Snowdonia. This relatively short outing benefits from good access from Bethesda and fantastic views out to the coast. Presenting limited technical difficulty this route makes and ideal step up to more technical ground.  Good crampon work is essential as you are above the cliffs of Llech Ddu below, and negotiate a narrow ridge.  Many will find a rope useful for the small rocky steps and the well photographed narrow section.

Where: Snowdonia, Wales
Guide book: North Wales Winter Climbing (Ground Up)
Best for: Access and low technical difficulty

Keen to sharpen your winter skills?

Catch James and Neil this November at a BMC Winter Lecture where they will bring you up to speed on the skills needed to explore the winter mountains with confidence. Topics covered:

Equipment and clothing
Navigation
Footwork
Route planning
Avalanche awareness
Climbing and much more.

VENUES AND DATES

All lectures will start at 19:30 and finish at approximately 21:30

Liverpool: Tuesday 17 November
University of Liverpool, Legatte Theatre, Victoria Building, Ahston Street, Liverpool, L69 3DR (for posting)  L3 5TR (for satnav)

Leeds: Wednesday 18 November
University of Leeds, Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Michael Sadler Building, Leeds, LS2 9JT

Ambleside: Thursday 19 November
University of Cumbria, Percival Lecture Theatre, Langdale Building, Rydal Road, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 9BB

Leicester: Tuesday 24 November
University of Leicester, full address to be confirmed

London: Wednesday 25 November
University College London, Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, Wilkins Building (main campus), Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Cardiff: Thursday 26 November
Cardiff University, Cardiff School of Engineering, Phillip Lecture Hall, Trevithick Building, 14-17 The Parade, Cardiff, CF24 3AA

TICKETS

Tickets will be available to purchase from the BMC from the end of September. Tickets cost £5 per BMC member and £7 non-members. Group discount: £3.50 when purchasing 10 or more tickets in advance.

WATCH: The BMC Winter Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV

Check out our winter skills courses in North Wales here


Don't want to miss out on the climbing competition action? Whether you're a competitor, spectator or volunteer, sign up to the climbing calendar mailing list to get reminders for comp registrations, and start times here.

 

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