The Lochaber Traverse in winter – Field Notes

12. Me climbing and inversion

In the January 2017 issue of TGO Magazine, available now, you can read my feature on the Lochaber Traverse – one of the UK’s finest long mountain ridges. I waited a decade for the right conditions. It was worth the wait! Here are a few photos that didn’t make the cut, along with some practical tips for anyone hoping to take on the ridge in winter.

First, let’s define the route. The Lochaber Traverse is the ridge of Munros between Stob Choire Claurigh in the east and Ben Nevis in the west – that’s the Grey Corries, the Aonachs, and the Nevis massif. It’s commonly done in summer as a single long day out. In winter, it’s a considerably bigger challenge. These are the highest mountains in the UK, with some of the most savage weather, and conditions can be extreme. Overall the route is 23 miles in length and involves almost 3,000m of climbing.

It isn’t just a walk, either. There are sections of scrambling in summer that translate to Grade I winter climbing under snow and ice, and the avalanche risk can be significant in some areas.

11. Inversion from ridge

Thanks to the settled weather, I was able to use some of my lightest backpacking equipment
Thanks to the settled weather, I was able to use some of my lightest backpacking equipment

36. Sgurr Choinnich Beag

The Lochaber Traverse was the route that first made me want to climb in Scotland, way back in 2005. I actually made my first (summer) attempt in 2006. In my feature I talk about the long road that led me to the slopes of Stob Choire Claurigh in March 2016, finally beginning the Lochaber Traverse in winter for real. I’m so glad I waited until conditions were 100% perfect – it’s the kind of route that rewards patience, because under snow in good weather this is one of the best mountaineering routes in Britain.

A winter crossing in twenty-four hours is possible, but for most people I’d recommend taking things a little more slowly and enjoying at least one camp on the ridge. Why? When the weather behaves itself, it’s the kind of route that rewards leisurely appreciation. You’ll hardly find better wild camping locations anywhere in Scotland. The views at dawn and dusk are tremendous. As you’ll read in the article, I was even treated to a spectacular display of aurora – the first I’d seen from the mountains.

The most dangerous part of the Lochaber Traverse is Coire a’ Bhuic, as you exit the Grey Corries. Unlocking this puzzle is the key to accessing the Aonachs and Nevis massif, but the obvious route up – a broad ridge leading almost directly to the summit of Stob Coire Bhealaich – has been described to me as ‘death on a stick’, with a steep and technical final section. I chose to climb Grade I snow slopes left of this obstacle, but this area is often heavily corniced and avalanche prone. Other routes up this face are possible further left. Experienced climbers will have the judgement they need to make the right call on the day.

The technical crux of the route. That tempting-looking ridge on the right isn't a good option
The technical crux of the route. That tempting-looking ridge on the right isn’t a good option

If you want to do the Lochaber Traverse in winter, my final piece of advice is to be patient. If you have just started winter mountaineering in Scotland, this is something to look forward to, and savour when it arrives. Get the experience you need. Learn the different sections of the ridge on individual outings. When you get everything right, and the stars align, the Lochaber Traverse has the potential to be a high point in anyone’s mountaineering career.

All photos © Alex Roddie 2016. All Rights Reserved. Please don’t reproduce the images in this article without permission.

39. Across Glen Nevis to Mamores

12. Coire Leis, Ben Nevis

22. Inversion with cairns (good)

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