VIDEO: The Lochaber Traverse in Winter

"The range of mountains from the Grey Corries to Ben Nevis must be one of the most aesthetic and impressive mountain ranges in the Highlands" says Kevin Woods.

"It's commonly referred to as the Lochaber Traverse, and begins in the east at the Grey Corries, travelling westward to culminate on Ben Nevis, which seems a fitting last summit both for being the final mountain in the chain and as the highest in the country."

Helen on Stob Coire Bhealaich, Aonach Beag, 154 kb
Helen on Stob Coire Bhealaich, Aonach Beag
© Kevin Woods

Earlier this month UKH contributor Kevin and gear reviewer Helen Rennard teamed up to make a one-day crossing of this classic route. A big day out at at any time of year, at over 33km in distance and 3100m of ascent, with full winter conditions on the ground the traverse took them around 16 hours.

"Having left one car at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, and taking another beyond Coire Choille to start at the Lairig Leacach, we started walking at 4.35am, and were out on the hills until 8.35pm! Thus we were walking for nearly sixteen hours, but with only nine hours of light to play with" says Kevin.

"We did the first easy section through the Lairig Leacach and over Stob Ban in the dark, and that meant we spent the morning on the Grey Corries. By nightfall, we were on very familiar ground on Ben Nevis..."

Kevin has made a short film of the day:

It was quite amazing to think that by the end of the day, we'd laid a continuous set of footprints from Lairig Leacach to Ben Nevis, and had broken trail for the vast majority of that

We thought their effort merited a quick Q&A:

UKH: Had you done it in summer, and how long had you been waiting to do a winter traverse?

Kevin: I'd been across this group of hills three times in summer, so the winter idea was something to be done at some point. Helen Rennard mentioned it first, and coupled with a tremendous weather forecast there was no better time to go for it.

In terms of ground conditions and weather, how did you find it on the day?

Conditions on the day couldn't have been more ideal. We didn't see much in the way of sunrise or sunset, but the day between was blue-sky spectacular with every mountain plastered in snow.

Stob Coire an Laoigh, Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis , 120 kb
Stob Coire an Laoigh, Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis
© Kevin Woods

How tough was it versus a summer traverse?

I'm not sure it felt a whole lot tougher than in summer. But we had the right weather and took our moment. If anything, the snow holds you back from pushing too hard – not to say it wasn't difficult, but I've also found it pretty draining in summer! It was quite amazing to think that by the end of the day, we'd laid a continuous set of footprints from Lairig Leacach to Ben Nevis, and had broken trail for the vast majority of that.

Can you talk us through the main mountaineering obstacles? That problematic link-up onto Aonach Beag; the east ridge of Carn mor Deag; the CMD Arete. Did they all go OK?

The day was essentially all hillwalking, with a couple of aesthetic and interesting features in between. Of particular note was the east face of Aonach Beag. The hill is known for holding snow well, and for cornicing over its east face. There's a curving ridge leading direct up to Stob Choire Bhealaich and it just looked too good not to have a look. We climbed to a point just beneath the top of the ridge, to find the snow lying soft in the sun with a chunk of cornice having detached and now resting on the scarp below! We thought it best to turn around and find another way.

The west flank of Aonach Mor was continuously steep and of varying snow consistency. You could never go too fast without risking it turning into a slide, which nearly happened once or twice! The east ridge of Carn Mor Dearg was buried in fresh snow, but the Arête itself was built up plus wind-scoured: an easy walk with the boulders buried, and easier than in summer.

Stars on the descent from Ben Nevis, 183 kb
Stars on the descent from Ben Nevis
© Kevin Woods

Meet many other people?

It always amazes me how the number of people changes how you perceive the mountains. If the isolation and thrill of self-reliance is what you search for then the Grey Corries might have been a climax of our day; breaking trail on a high ridge in the blue morning light, a long day ahead and not another soul to be seen.

The character changed between Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor, with the hills busy from the ski centre. Beyond that, we didn't see anyone else. Despite the twilight and quiet, I think our familiarity with Ben Nevis, and proximity to Fort William somewhat diminished the isolation.

You looked a bit knackered by the end – well I guess it is a 3rd of a winter Ramsay Round, so that's excusable! Would you recommend the route to others as a one-day push?

I've always gravitated to doing the lot in one go; I think I prefer moving quickly with less stuff to haul around! But I've camped mid-way as well, which was a good trip in its own right.

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