Scotland's Mountain Ridges
Scrambling, Mountaineering and Climbing - the best routes for summer and winter
By Dan Bailey
A guidebook covering the best summer scrambling, rock climbing and winter mountaineering on Scotland's ridges, from the remote Cairngorms to the splendour of the Cuillin. With inspirational photographs, the guidebook is both a celebration of the landscape and a practical route guide.
SeasonsThroughout the year. Suitable in winter only for those with the required fitness and skills.
CentresFort William, Kyle of Lochalsh, Aviemore, Gairloch, Lochinver, Arrochar, Cranlarich
DifficultyExperienced mountain walkers, scramblers and climbers. Routes to suit all levels of ability. Advanced skills required in winter.
Must SeeBen Nevis, the Aonachs, Glen Coe, the Cobbler, Ben Lui, Mitre Ridge, An Teallach Traverse, Cuillin Main Ridge Traverse
Ridges are epic. Graceful carved walkways slung between summits, twisted spines of stone – these can be the most beautiful of mountain landforms. With elegant lines and giddy exposure, ridge climbs emit a powerful siren call, drawing us out onto the rocks. Life on the edge has a special quality, born of the contrast of empty space all around, and intricate detail in close-up. The crests are strangely irresistible.
Scotland’s ridges are among the finest mountaineering lines in the country, every one a unique adventure. The variety of these routes reflects the breadth of the mountain experience: a rich mix of summer scrambles, technical rock and challenging winter climbs. This book covers both the popular classics and some obscure gems, aiming to celebrate these thrilling climbs as much as to document them. Along the way it explores landscapes of magnificent diversity, ranging from the remote desolation of the Cairngorms to the seaside splendour of the Cuillin, the great trench of Glencoe to the surreal exhibitionism of the far north. The chosen selection spans the grade range, with routes to suit all levels of ability. Whether an earthbound hillwalker or an accomplished climber, Scotland’s ridges cannot fail to stir your imagination.
Route descriptions – a note on the text
Grades and difficulty
Gear and skills
Arran and the Southern Highlands
1 A’Chir traverse
2 Pagoda Ridge, A’Chir
3 South Ridge Direct, Rosa Pinnacle, Cir Mhor
4 Glen Sannox horseshoe
5 Traverse of the South and Centre Peaks, The Cobbler
6 Coire Gaothaich circuit, Ben Lui
7 Sron na Creise, Creise
8 Inglis Clarke Ridge, Creise
9 Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor
10 Crowberry Ridge via the Rannoch Wall, Buachaille Etive Mor
11 Sron na Lairig, Stob Coire Sgreamhach
12 Dorsal Arete, Stob Coire nan Lochan
13 Aonach Eagach
14 Ring of Steall
15 Castle Ridge, Ben Nevis
16 Ledge Route, Ben Nevis
17 Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis
18 Observatory Ridge, Ben Nevis
19 North East Buttress via Raeburn’s Arete, Ben Nevis
20 Carn Dearg Meadhonach East Ridge and Carn Mor Dearg Arete
21 Golden Oldie, Aonach Mor
22 North East Ridge, Aonach Beag
23 Long and Short Leachas, Ben Alder
24 Eagle Ridge, Lochnagar
25 Mitre Ridge, Beinn a’Bhuird
26 Pygmy Ridge and Afterthought Arete, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda
27 Fiacaill Ridge, Cairn Lochan
28 North East Ridge, Angel’s Peak
The North and West
29 Great Ridge, Garbh Bheinn
30 North-north East Ridge, Sgurr Ghiubhsachain
31 Forcan Ridge, The Saddle
32 South Ridge, Mullach Fraoch-choire
33 Cioch Nose, Sgurr a’Chaorachain
34 A’Chioch Ridge, Beinn Bhan
35 Beinn Alligin traverse
36 Liathach traverse
37 Northern Pinnacles of Mullach an Rathain, Liathach
38 Marathon Ridge, Beinn Lair
39 North West Ridge, A’Mhaighdean
40 An Teallach traverse
41 Stac Pollaidh
Skye and Rum
43 Traverse of the Rum Cuillin
44 Dubhs Ridge
45 The Spur, Sgurr an Fheadain
46 Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillean
47 Clach Glas – Bla Bheinn traverse
48 Cuillin Main Ridge Traverse
Route Summary Table
Appendix 1: Further adventures
Appendix 2: Further reading
Appendix 3: Useful contacts
At 1:50,000 the OS Landranger series is sufficiently detailed in almost every case, and the relevant sheet is indicated for each route. One notable exception is the Skye Cuillin, where the terrain is so complex and the contours so close-packed that the 1:25,000 scale Explorer map (sheet number 411) proves marginally easier to follow. The Harvey’s Superwalker 1:25,000 (and 1:12,500 enlargement) of the Cuillin is perhaps the clearest of all.
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Updates June 2007
Page 93 – Castle Ridge
There are two customary approaches to the north side of Ben Nevis, both much of a muchness. One takes the Tourist Track from Glen Nevis, escaping just below the mind-numbing zigzags and contouring around the NW shoulder of Carn Dearg to join the Allt a’Mhuilinn by the CIC Hut. The alternative tends to be more popular with climbers: From the North Face car park near Torlundy head SE through trees, soon turning right. One kilometre later a left turn takes steep muddy slopes into the upper valley of the Allt a’Mhuilinn, and thence over sticky bogs to the CIC Hut. This path has recently been given a partial upgrade, firming up some of the worst boggy bits.
Updated text should read:
There are two customary approaches to the north side of Ben Nevis, both much of a muchness. One takes the Tourist Track from Glen Nevis, escaping just below the mind-numbing zigzags and contouring around the NW shoulder of Carn Dearg to join the Allt a’Mhuilinn by the CIC Hut. A nice new path connects the Tourist Track with the north tip of Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe, where it simply terminates; a decision on continuing to the Allt a’Mhuilinn is currently pending (summer 2007). The alternative approach up the Allt a’Mhuilinn from the North Face car park near Torlundy tends to be more popular with climbers. The old route ascended a series of muddy slopes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Somme. These are currently being bypassed by a new path which climbs through plantations to connect with the forestry track used as a car park by local guides; beyond the gate at the end of this track the route then continues on its old course up the Allt a’Mhuilinn. This latter path has also enjoyed a partial upgrade, firming up some of the worst boggy bits.
Page 210 – Suilven
Throughout the approach, Suilven dominates the landscape. Take the surfaced track beside beautiful Loch Druim Suardalain, and through the grounds of Glencanisp Lodge. At the time of writing the estate has just been bought by the Assynt Foundation, an alliance of local people making good use of Scotland’s community buy-out legislation to secure the area’s future on behalf of all residents rather than a dynasty of lairds, to be run with the twin aims of local economic development and regeneration of the natural landscape. This is a fantastic example for communities elsewhere to follow. Keep heading roughly E through fields and thickets of gorse, where the track becomes a path. For several kilometres this undulates gently, following the N bank of the wide boggy valley of the Abhainn na Clach Airigh.
Updated text should read:
Throughout the approach Suilven dominates the landscape. Take the surfaced track beside beautiful Loch Druim Suardalain, and through the grounds of Glencanisp Lodge. The estate was purchased in recent years by the Assynt Foundation, an alliance of local people hoping to secure the area’s future on behalf of all residents rather than a dynasty of landowners, with a view to regenerating both the local economy and the natural landscape. This was widely hailed as a flagship example of community buy-out, supported by many in the hillwalking fraternity and funded in part by landscape preservation bodies. However in the light of such support a recent proposal to build a windfarm on a prominent hillside close to Suilven seems rather ironic. Is this really in line with the Foundation’s core aim ‘to safeguard natural and cultural heritage of the land for future generations and the enjoyment of the wider public’? Keep heading roughly E through fields and thickets of gorse, where the track becomes a path. For several kilometres this undulates gently, following the N bank of the wide boggy valley of the Abhainn na Clach Airigh.
Page 239 – Cuillin Main Ridge Traverse (info section)
Time Your guess is as good as mine. The current record, set by an extraordinarily strong contender, stands at just under 3hrs 30mins between the two terminal summits. At the opposite end of the ability scale, two full days is far from unusual. In friendly weather average parties should reckon on something like 10-16hrs, plus a lengthy moorland tramp to start and finish.
Updated text should read:
Time Your guess is as good as mine. The current record, set by an extraordinarily strong contender, stands at just over 3 hours 17 minutes between the two terminal summits. At the opposite end of the ability scale, two full days is far from unusual. In friendly weather average parties should reckon on something like 10-16hrs, plus a lengthy moorland tramp to start and finish.
Page 243 – Cuillin Main Ridge Traverse
This menacing shark’s fin forms the true summit of Sgurr Dearg, and is famously the only Munro that requires a rope. In truth many of the other Cuillin Munros are nearly as technical, if less exposed. The pinnacle can readily be avoided, though this would be a shame. Climb the razor-sharp E Ridge in one long roped pitch, which must rank as Britain’s airiest Moderate. Abseil the shorter vertical W side, from a reassuringly substantial hawser under the summit block.
Updated text should read:
This menacing shark’s fin forms the true summit of Sgurr Dearg, and is famously the only Munro that requires a rope. In truth many Cuillin Munros are similarly technical, if less exposed. The pinnacle can readily be avoided, though this would be a shame. Climb the razor-sharp E Ridge in one long roped pitch, which must rank as Britain’s airiest Moderate. Abseil the shorter vertical W side, from a reassuringly substantial hawser under the summit block. A recent rockfall hasn’t adversely affected the abseil, though the adjacent North West Corner (a VDiff route on the W side of the pinnacle) was damaged.
'A definitive guide to one of Scotland's most appealing graphical features, this will inspire anyone with a yearning for verticality. Steering away from being just another munro baggers handbook, this is definately not a walking guide, focusing rather on winter mountaineering and summer climbing and scrambling routes, it encompasses all the best Scotland has to offer the prospective ridge tamer. Each of the 48 routes included in the guide is graded for difficulty, and features a navigable detailed route description. The in depth information, route maps and topos are what will be useful on the ground, but it's the photography that will get you out the door with your bootlaces still undone. Why bother with Europe when you eye's are opened to these gems.'
(Adventure Travel Magazine, May/ June 2006)
One quality that any author would wish for their book is that people would want to pick it up, and that once in the potential reader's grasp, there would be a desire to turn from page one to page two and so on: Dan Bailey's book has this quality. i lost count of the number of people - climbers, walkers, strollers, couch potatoes - that felt the need to pick this book up and leaf through its pages, muttering favourable comments, interspersed with oohs and aahs!
Why? Perhaps because, like a number of Cicerone's guides, it is very well presented? It surely is! Or that it is visually stimulating? Certainly its pages are stuffed with evocative and inspirational colour pictures that force the fingers to turn to the next page. Or maybe its that there is something in the subject, in the steeply twisting Scottish ridges that compels our eyes, then our arms and legs, to want more.
This guide is for mountaineer's rather than walker's, with a distinctly 'uphill' bias! For example, the A'Chir ridge on Arran, though described traditionally first, is given an alternative start up Pagoda ridge, a Severe rock climb. This approach including rock climbs, and some ice climbs, continues throughout the book. It gives a sense of progression from walks to scrambles to climbs, with the best way up to the ridge and along to its summits dictating the route, an approach which this climber thoroughly approves of!
In short, this is a fantastic little book, which selects the best of Scotland's ridges, the best ways and days of enjoying them. Whether an enthusiastic young walker looking to move onto steeper ground, or a more experienced climber wanting to re-visit the scene of former triumphs, this book will prove stimulating to both and deserves a place in the bookshelf.
(Scottish Mountaineer, May 2006)
It was the late W.H. Murray who once suggested that to earn the freedom of mountains one must be able to climb on both rock and snow. "Those who hold Bach to be the greatest composer do not for that reason refuse to hear Beethoven," he wrote.
"Likewise, the hillwalker should not deny himself the pleasure of rock climbing, nor the cragsman of snow climbing."
There is much wisdom in Murray's comment but it's a wisdom that tends to buck the current trend of specialisation. Few of today's climbers would admit to being a mere hillwalker and many hillwalkers would never consider harnessing up with a rope to climb a rock face.
But perhaps the golden age of peak bagging is in decline, perhaps today's hillgoers are searching for a broader experience of our mountains. If that is the case then Dan Bailey's book on Scotland's Mountain Ridges has appeared at exactly the right time.
This isn't really a book about ridge walking in the Mamores or Fannichs sense - this is predominantly a book of climbs and scrambles.
All the favourites are here: the Dhubhs on Skye, Curved Ridge on the Buachaille, Ledge Route on the Ben, the A'Chir ridge on Arran, the traverse of Suilven, all mixed in with some fairly serious climbs: the Cioch Nose of A'Chaorachain, January Jigsaw on the great Rannoch Wall of the Buachaille Etive Mor, Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, the Great Ridge Direct of Ardgour's Garbh Bheinn and Mitre Ridge of Beinn a' Bhuird. These latter routes could never be described as scrambles, neither could some of the winter ridges that Dan recommends, like the Aonach Eagach or the Mullach an Rathain pinnacles of Liathach. In that sense this book smashes through the demarcation line that has long-existed between walking guides and climbing guides to offer a bit of both - users should take care they are not biting off more that they can cope with when choosing a route.
Lavishly illustrated, each route description is accompanied by maps and topos and a lot of good advice on accommodation and travel.
For those who are willing to take their eyes off the summits occasionally this book offers a feast of mountain delights and is a suitable testimony to the wealth o ridge wandering and climbing to be found on Scotland's hills.
(Cameron McNeish / tgo July 06)
'For newcomers to Scotland, this book will reveal a whole new world waiting to be explored. For old hands, it will serve to remind them of just how much the Highlands have to offer.
There is no doubt that this book will prove of most value to mountaineers. Highly recommended.'
(Irish Mountain Log, Summer 2006)
'When this new book from Cicerone landed on my desk my heart leapt. Its large format pages are filled with colour photographs and OS maps. It can not fail to inspire anyone with a mountain spirit.
For the ageing rock climber easing up on their grades but keen on classic climbs, this book will see you into retirement and beyond - for up and coming scramblers or adventureous walkers it will open up a vast new horizon of mountain experiences. A superb book.'
(Walking Wales magazine / Issue 2 2006)
'I have always thought that if mountains were not meant to be climbed they wouldn't have grown ridges, what can be more natural than wanting to scale them? Included, as you would expect, are classic traverses of Aonach Eagagh, An Teallach, Liathach, the Black Cullin Ridge, along with lesser-know gems - Marathon Ridge on Ben Lair and Northeast Ridge of Sgurr Ghiubhsachain.
Dan Bailey is a man who knows and loves his hills. To those who claim his book will merely encourage yet more feet on to our fragile mountains, he has this to say "If more people were inspired to visit the Highlands then perhaps their protection might move farther up the nation's agenda."
And speaking as someone who rarely reads guidebooks, Scotland's Mountain Ridges certainly inspired me.'
(The Scots magazine / March 2007)
‘I received this book with a certain amount of scepticism; oh no, not another ‘Best of’ volume, are there not enough out there already? However, I was quickly and pleasantly surprised by the quality of the content, design and layout.
I found the book extremely clear and easy to use. It has good maps, very clear diagrams and topos. To complete the information on each route, there are great photos alongside page after page of many favourite days out.
This guide is in my view, a gem of a resource. I would be more than happy to enjoy a day out on virtually all the routes in contains. My overall impression is that Dan Bailey has done an excellent job with this new guide.’
(AMI magazine / December 2008)
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A Londoner by birth – if not inclination – Dan Bailey is happier as an adopted Fifer, where he lives with his wonderful wife and two budding young mountaineers in striking distance of hills, rock and water. As well as guidebooks Dan produces words and pictures for the outdoor media, and works as the editor of UKHillwalking.com. Dan has walked and climbed in North and South America, Africa, Asia, Mainland Europe and all over the UK. Having tried the rest he insists that Scotland is the best. He is a particular fan of challenging hill walks and long adventurous traditional climbs, both summer and winter – a passion for which he has far more enthusiasm than talent.View Articles and Books by Dan Bailey