Garry Smith
climbing and mountain skills
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winter climbing courses - Scotland 2021
Reaching the first belay on a mega spindrift day.
'Fluted Buttress Direct', Northern Cairngorms.
Ian making the iconic move on 'Fingers Ridge' in
glorious alpine weather. Northern Cairngorms.
Dusk on the summit plateau of the Ben Nevis
after climbing 'Indicator Wall'.

winter climbing  the Scottish Highlands in winter is one of the world's most beautiful mountain environments. It also ranks as one the most challenging and exciting places to go winter climbing. The unpredictable Highland weather and wildly variable climbing conditions all add to the allure. It always leaves a deep impression on anyone who climbs here. Daily instruction is available to suit any level of ability. Prices can be found on the bookings page.


winter climbing courses  can be arranged for just yourself or with a partner. We'd start by refreshing the basic skills of using an axe and crampons to move un-roped on winter terrain. You can then cut your teeth climbing a relatively easy gully or a mixed buttress route. In essence, the first two days will be all about learning how to look after yourself on Scottish winter climbs; which can often be a very wild and elemental experience. From then on we can move through the skills needed to become a self-reliant winter climber, at a pace you're capable of and comfortable with. The duration of these bespoke courses can be anything from 2 to 5 days, depending on how much of a kick-start you'd like to give your winter climbing.


improving your winter climbing  there's no substitute for hands-on experience when it comes to being a safe winter climber. That's why new skills and techniques are best learnt in real climbing situations. We'd aim to climb routes where you can see a variety of rock, snow and ice protection being used, and where there's also the oppurtunity to see some innovative methods of winter belaying (e.g. how to deal with unconsolidated snow or a barren top-out). It's advisable to book at least 2 days of instruction if you're really intent on improving your winter climbing skills.


guided winter climbing  can be arranged anywhere in the Highlands and is available on a daily basis. I'm happy to guide on classic grade I snow gullies through to grade V ice climbs, and up to V 6 on mixed routes (conditions permitting). However, if you have your eye on a particularly long or commiting route (e.g. Tower Ridge or a route on Beinn Eighe's Triple Buttress), it would be sensible to check out your current level of fitness and climbing ability on a more straightforward climb first, which would require an additional day.


where can winter climbing instruction take place?  the usual venue for winter climbing instruction is the Northern Corries of the Cairngorm Mountains, with an accommodation base in Aviemore or one of the surrounding villages in the Spey Valley. The Northern Corries are remarkably quick to access (less than an hour's walk in) and arguably have the most reliable winter climbing conditions in Scotland. They are also blessed with a good selection of routes in the lower to mid grades. The style of climbing is predominately 'mixed', with an abundance of quality buttress routes, interspersed by a number of easy snow gullies.

Winter climbing instruction can also be arranged elsewhere, just ask. It's easily feasible to be based in Glencoe, the Fort William area or even the North West. There ma ybe a small additional charge to cover my re-location expenses, which is always be quoted upfront before any booking.

It's worth noting that being based in the Aviemore/Northern Cairngorms area gives the option of a day's climbing in other major winter venues (Aviemore is centrally located in the Highland road network). If conditions are favourable, some of the most impressive ice falls in Scotland are only 50 minutes drive away at Creag Meagaidh and the Ben Nevis carpark can be reached in an hour and 15 minutes. And with an alpine start, Torridon is also within a day's striking distance.


previous experience needed  winter climbing instruction can be tailored to accommodate all abilities. Some previous rock climbing experience is a distinct advantage but not having climbed before is not an insurmountable problem. However, if you don't have any experience of being on a mountain in winter, a day of basic winter skills training would be a wise thing to do before we go climbing. You'll need to be hill fit.


clothing and equipment  having good quality mountain clothing is essential for Scottish winter climbing. There's clothing and equipment advice on the winter kit list, which will give you an idea of the personal stuff you'd need to bring along. All technical climbing equipment is provided free of charge, including axes and crampons if you don't have your own.