Chasing the early routes. Often ending in taking the gear for a walk.

Looking back at early winter!

I remember when I climbed a lot trying to get the first winter route in. We were pretty competitive at the time there were a few of us in the team Usually when the first snowfall came we were off for a look, does that ring a bell?
If we were unlucky we “took our kit for a walk” big bags then and lots of gear. We were out all over Scotland a different Base each weekend. Looking back the knowledge we gained by walking in the hills and Corries was extensive.
We did once in late October get a route done on Corrie Sputan Dearg in the Back of MacDui. After that we stayed in the Hutchison Hut meeting Andy Nisbet who had been putting up some new route. The weather was awful we were running on empty when we got into the bothy, Andy arrived far later snow covered, we new of him but after a brew we had a fun night. He was as interested in our adventure as his route. After that we spoke a lot met on the hills and in remote areas. He is sadly gone but would have been out this week on a new adventure.

Oui Oui – Wee Wee Newtonmore. 1978

In the team we would venture onto Braeraich for an early adventure long hard days on big routes. Huge walk outs but we were fit young and invincible. There was always Angels ridge if the weather was okay what a place to be in winter it was wild. Sometimes these were new guys first big winter forays, this was adventure. Then we discovered Lurchers Crag another place that few climbed on we had fun there.

Castle ridge Ben Nevis early season – always interesting early on !


These early winter days were big walk in and outs in the dark. The Ben was another favourite the ridges would all give you a hard time in late November and early December. You thought you new them but cover them in verglas or heavy snow it would be long days even the best would abseil off at times. The forecast were not as good and at times we got cocky as we climbed these cliffs a lot in summer familiarity could make you to bold. We always had the team back up and all would have to wait for you coming off the hill before they could go to the pub. But what back up to have,

Ice at Christmas – Stob Ban Mamores.


There were fewer folk about then and always Christmas Eve /Day when out with the tram would occasionally produce a route. We got involved in some epics usually big early snows would catch out the odd climbing party. There would the usual areas that would attract many. The Runnel In Coire ant Sneachda would usually catch a few early on. The descents were also to be very aware of and once after an ascent in Glencoe of Crowberry Gully not descending Coire Tullaich and coming off by Etive. We found that next day there had been a big avalanche. Fortune or knowledge?

Smoking the White Owl Christmas – a young Rusty Bale.


We eventually got more experienced and learned where we could climb and this was well before the internet. You got to read conditions and catch the routes.
I seemed to have a knack of finding the lower routes ice falls that would be in after a cold spell. Fain Falls near An Teallach was one as were some lower ice falls on An Teallach even a climb near Loch Broom. Hidden waterfalls in remote areas great fun and always an adventure.

An Teallach

Up near the Ben was “Smoking the White Owl” a route we climbed for many years when the big cliffs were out. Also on the Ben the ice falls below Castle Ridge gave great sport and a different start to the ridge. Upon the Mamores we would note routes and have great days nothing hard but such fun. Up North the Assynt hills would produce the odd gem now the Guide books entice you there. There are still so many climbs worth looking at. Skye has now opened up we climbed Cioch Gully one winter it was incredible as was Pinnacle ridge in full winter. All the summits were adventures but now when conditions are in its easy access with the Bridge and the internet.

Christmas Eve Garda Gully Ben Nevis

Nearer home Strathfarrar always gave us fun easy access up the track and some great climbing meeting the climbing nobility at times. These glens have some hidden gems. The back of Ben Wyvis always produced a route another local crag and further on the Fannichs big walk ins and out. We could get access from the estates up the tracks which helped. Torrididon was always a favourite with lots to do Coire Na Caim became a favourite and the Northern Pinnacles a winter adventure for some of our budding stars. Of course Fuar Tholl and the Achnashellach hills are full of climbs we managed a few here we would often meet another guru of climbing Martin Moran an inspiring gentleman another we have lost. He was another who would give advice freely about routes and conditions. We were not a threat. We often got call -outs after a long day out sometimes involving a big drive to the Ben or Glencoe how did we do it and then straight on the hill?

Heavy Handed Loch Broom.


Further South in my days with Leuchars we found a few fun routes.The keepers would give us advice Glen Clova was always fun with some great early winter days here.
There was so much to do. We spotted routes all over on our summer wandering on Ben Lui that gave differing ways to the mountain summit and of course the wee climb “Eas Annie” near the Gold mine at Connish was for a long time a hidden secret. Ben Ullaidh became another favourite with easy access and so much ice.

Eas Annie near the top Willie Mac!


There were so many places now so well documented. I read of the epic climbs that are now being climbed all over Scotland. Big climbs on most of the crags now getting routes of high standards of mixed climbing. Its great to read of the routes getting done and this wee country will always produce such climbs.

There is great Avalanche advice and knowledge about now. It all started with Cold climbs and so many great guide books and the latest book Chasing the Ephemral . This giving you ideas of when and where to climb. Its incredible.


I hardly climb now but get the odd route in and enjoy it. Its great to get away and do something new its never hard at my grade but to go and do a new climb with good pals is a great experience. So why not get out and explore get away from the crowds and go climb.

Up in the North West Dan Carroll photo – Dutch Holland

Enjoy every adventure read the avalanche and weather reports. Be safe and remember the climbs will always be there! Comments welcome.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Avalanche info, Books, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Views Political?, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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