Grade I Winter: 12 Must-Do Routes

by Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com Jan/2016
This article has been read 32,522 times

What do you get if you cross winter walking with winter climbing? An all-day mountaineering journey. You don't have to be a beginner to enjoy the grade Is; whether Striding Edge in the snow is the pinnacle of your ambition or you're simpy enjoying some fast-moving fun as a break from the harder stuff, this is a grade with something for everyone.

From straightforward snow gullies through imposing rock scenery to famously airy ridges, we've cherry picked some of the best winter days to be found in the British hills. In this feature we've also asked a few well known winter mountaineering fans to sell us a favourite grade I of their own.

Health warning

With potential avalanche risk and the possiblity that large cornices will be hanging over the top of the route, easier gullies are a bad idea in questionable snow conditions. On days like these the ridges may prove safer.

Crib Goch, 118 kb
Crib Goch
© indigo, Dec 2008

Cust's Gully 310m, Great End by Stephen Reid

First ascent by Arthur Cust and 20 members of the Alpine Club, 4th April 1880 - crowds on Great End are nothing new!

Above the chockstone, 104 kb
Above the chockstone
© Mark Eddy, Feb 2012
Could be a Vintage year?, 90 kb
Could be a Vintage year?
© lishylad, Feb 2010

Great End is the hub of Lake District winter climbing in more ways than one; not only does it provide the most reliable winter conditions in the national park but it also sits centrally, with all the ridges and dales of the fells radiating out from it like spokes of a wheel. Cust's Gully lies towards the right-hand side of the crag and would be unremarkable except for the huge bridged chockstone under which the route passes. Difficulties are few and mainly consist of a short rocky step about a third of the way up and the fact that protection of any sort can be hard to find, particularly in its upper half. But in good snow the going is straightforward - and the spectacular rock scenery would hard to beat anywhere in Britain. A short walk from the final lip brings you to the summit of Great End and (on a good day) splendid views in all directions.

Lakeland climbing guru Stephen Reid runs Keswick independent outdoor retailer Needle Sports

The Snowdon Horseshoe

photo
Airy Crib Goch in perfect winter condition.
© JBradley, Mar 2013

Though it's a grand old scrambly trip at any time of year, with the addition of snow and - preferably - a clear blue sky, the Snowdon Horseshoe is transformed into something almost Alpine. In winter conditions this is quite simply the greatest all-day mountaineering ridge traverse outside Scotland (and better than many north of the border too). With its sculpted lines and airy positions the long circuit of the narrow crests linking Snowdon's four fine peaks is an airy and engaging winter walk every step of the way, but the Crib Goch - Crib y Ddysgl section is the meat of it, pushing the route well up into the grade I category. Wall-to wall neve may be the dream, but this being Wales soft wet snow is more likely, and can feel quite hazardous on the crest of Crib Goch. Here the less brave may discover that they prefer crawling to walking. A level rock crest runs out to the slightly higher West summit, narrow on top, shelving steeply away to the left and dropping off more or less vertically on the right. It is an impressive situation, like the top of a giant slate roof. Now come the famous pinnacles, offering a variety of tactics from outflanking to head-on assault. Beyond, the ridge continues in fine style all the way up Crib y Ddysgl (Garnedd Ugain). The grade I stuff may now be in the bag, but you're only at the half way point, with the bustle of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) and the crag-top drama of Y Lliwedd yet to come. No ordinary day, this.

  • For blow-by-blow detail of the Horseshoe, check out our Route Card

This video by Rob Johnson is a great advert for Crib Goch, the best bit of the Horseshoe:

Deep South Gully 250m, Beinn Alligin by James Roddie

Deep South Gully - Beinn Alligan, 173 kb
Deep South Gully - Beinn Alligan
© Garry Smith

Deep South Gully keeps in character with the rest of Torridon – imposing, grand and a little surprising at first sight. A route to disprove that all grade I gullies are the same, it is a varied outing that is often more involving than the majority of routes at the grade. The route starts as an immense chasm on the North side of the Horns of Alligin and continues like this for some distance – easy ground in a highly memorable situation. At approximately mid-height, the gully walls narrows and tilts to the right, and in normal conditions an easy ice pitch will lead to a duck underneath a chockstone. More chockstones follow, many of which bank out, but one in particular might prove interesting for those who don't like confined spaces. Above, a short snow-field takes you to a gap between the second and third Horns. From here, continuing west along the Alligin ridge traverse makes this one of the best mountaineering days in the North-West Highlands.

Approaching the summit of Sgurr Mhor from the Horns of Alligin, 163 kb
Approaching the summit of Sgurr Mhor from the Horns of Alligin
© Andy Moles, Dec 2012

James Roddie runs the popular Glencoe Mountaineer blog, and is a prolific soloer of adventurous lower grade winter routes. He also works as a photographer specialising in wildlife, caves and mountains. See his website here.

Pinnacle Gully 200m, Shelterstone by Gary Hodgson

Looking back down Pinnacle Gully, 169 kb
Looking back down Pinnacle Gully
© Gary Hodgson
Pinnacle Gully - Shelter Stone, 54 kb
Pinnacle Gully - Shelter Stone
© Richard Kermode, Dec 2007

Of the many spectacular Grade I climbs in the Cairngorms, Pinnacle Gully on Shelterstone Crag has to be my absolute favourite. With stunning views in every direction, it has a real feeling of remoteness about it. There may be more accessible gullies in the Cairngorms but if, as I do, you prefer your climbing on the wild side, then this is the one for you. Even with a 630m start at the Coire Cas car park you still have a 2-3 hour 'walk-in' across the plateau and down to the beautiful Loch Avon basin where the climb begins. There are two obvious gully lines that divide the striking Shelterstone Crag. Pinnacle Gully is the one on the right hand side (north) of the crag. It's a straightforward, 40-45 degree snow slope, 200m in height. The climb gets its name from the spectacular rock pinnacle near the top. The finish runs beside this feature and onto the plateau. As with all the Cairngorm gullies, the cornice can sometimes be quite large, after all these are the windiest mountains in Britain, so this is usually the crux. An early set-off time and a thorough check of the weather forecast are essential!

Aviemore-based Gary Hodgson has lived in the Scottish Highlands for over 20 years, and runs his own mountain activity company, Tarmachan Mountaineering, which specialises in small group guided walking, winter skills and mountain bike courses.

Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge by Graham Uney

photo
Graham on Striding Edge
© Graham Uney

The combination of the two ridges that encircle Red Tarn on Helvellyn just has to be up there with the most popular, classic winter climbs on grade I ground anywhere in the UK. And for good reason. Striding Edge, if tackled directly along the crest of the ridge, is simply sublime. A narrow arête, interspersed with down climbs into notches, pinnacles to traverse, and even a short gully to negotiate make it a route of character and great variety. Swirral Edge is, I think at least, technically a little harder than Striding Edge in winter. There are a number of ways of tackling the upper section, and all lead onto very steep ground if your route-finding isn't up to the job. Swirral is shorter though, and tends to be used as the descent from the plateau after an ascent of Striding Edge, but the combination is equally good if done in either direction. On both ridges stick to the crest for the full tick though!

  • For a full description of the Striding/Swirral round see this UKH Route Card

Looking back down Striding Edge from the exit slope onto Helvellyn, 174 kb
Looking back down Striding Edge from the exit slope onto Helvellyn
© Dan Bailey

As well as running his own guiding firm Graham Uney Mountaineering, Graham works as Fell Top Assessor for the Lake District National Park - a role that sees him climbing Helvellyn every day throughout the winter to take weather readings and to assess the snowpack.

Central Gully 200m, Ben Lui

Topping out on Ben Lui, 80 kb
Topping out on Ben Lui
© The Mountain Goat, Feb 2013

Topping out on Central Gully, Ben Lui, 75 kb
Topping out on Central Gully, Ben Lui
© Paul L, May 2012

First climbed way back in 1891, Central Gully has all the hallmarks of a fine old traditional mountaineering route - a compellingly obvious line right up the back of the corrie, a high mountain setting, and a finish right by the summit of one of Scotland's grandest winter mountains. Easy snow slopes lead you in gently, and then the angle gradually increases until by the time you're clearing the cornice there's a real sense of height below. During snowy spells the cornice can be huge, and presents an obvious hazard in a thaw. Central Gully should be avoided like the plague in avalanche conditions, but save it for a day of blue sky and hard neve and you won't find a better day out at grade I.

Crib Lem (Llech Ddu Spur) 350m, Carnedd Dafydd by Dan Aspel

Approaching Ysgolion Duon with Crib Lem on the right, 109 kb
Approaching Ysgolion Duon with Crib Lem on the right
© Dan Aspel
Looking down Cwm Llafar from the ridge, 76 kb
Looking down Cwm Llafar from the ridge
© Dan Aspel

The most remote and dramatically situated of North Welsh ridge scrambles, this is a cold, dark and potent north-facing winter experience. The Llech Ddu (trans: "Black Slate") Spur is a magnificent piece of rock architecture, which rises from the far end of Cwm Pen-llafar onto the high Carneddau plateau, finishing elegantly at the summit of Carnedd Dafydd (1044m). Reaching this dark, wild and distant northern corner of Snowdonia involves a straightforward 4km hike from the town of Bethesda, but it's not just remoteness that forms the appeal of the route. Once you catch your first glimpse of the cliffs of the Ysgolion Duon (trans: Black Ladders), the shadowy northern aspect of which encompasses a feast of challenging ice routes, your heart may just skip a beat. Climb up the snowy banks at the cwm's head, break left along an exposed ramp, gain the blocky ridge and you'll be surrounded by as much air, void and beauty as any other spot in the National Park. With suitable experience you're unlikely to need any gear beyond crampons and a single axe either. But that doesn't stop it from feeling serious. Groin deep in enough fresh powder you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd wandered onto Nanga Parbat.


Dan Aspel is a journalist and ML. You can find him in the mountains of Snowdonia, or failing that at… www.danaspel.com

Carn Mor Dearg Arete and Number Four Gully, Ben Nevis

Sonya on CMD, 190 kb
Sonya on CMD
© streapadair, Feb 2010

You've not got the most from your season, it could be said, without a full-on day on The Ben - and there are more than a few to be had on Scotland's greatest winter mountain. At the very gentlest end of the scale this combo takes some beating, a very big adventure on technically straightforward ground, and as spectacular as they come. For the price of one walk-in you get a gully and a ridge - both classics; but look lively, there's a lot of ground to cover. Cutting up through the crags of Coire na Ciste, the snow plod of Number Four Gully is the easiest on the mountain, and though used as a standard descent by teams on sterner fare it makes a worthwhile ascent route in its own right too. It would be weird to go back down the same way (skiers might beg to differ), so if you've time in hand then complete a massive traverse of the mountain by descending via the magnificent CMD Arete. It's more a walk than a climb, perhaps, but still top among the Scottish ridges for scenery and big mountain atmosphere.

Heading up Number 4 Gully , 166 kb
Heading up Number 4 Gully
© Lawrie Brand, Apr 2012

Blencathra via the Sharp Edge / Halls Fell Traverse - Winter

Blencathra, 142 kb
Blencathra
© stevethex, Dec 2009

One of Lakeland's most imposing fells, Blencathra really shines in winter when snow highlights its fascinating layout of ridges and gills. Hidden away around the back is the real star attraction, probably the best bit of ridge in England. Sharp Edge is well named, a curving sickle of slate with an excitingly airy feel. The crux step may be brief but it can also prove thought provoking if its icy, a little pinnacle that can either be clambered over direct or skirted via a skittery ledge. Where the ridge joins its parent mountain a slabby groove offers a pleasant finish. And then, suddenly, you're up. If one criticism can be made of Sharp Edge, it's that there's not quite enough of it. Don't despair though, there's more fun to come. Dropping almost directly from the summit cairn is the steep arête of Hallsfell Ridge, a lovely little grade I descent route that rounds off the classic mountaineering traverse of the fell beautifully.

Alan Hinkes explains the crux step on Sharp Edge:

  • For a full description of the round see this UKH Route Card

Central Gully 180m, Bidean nam Bian by Alex Roddie

Approaching Bidean's Central Gully, 129 kb
Approaching Bidean's Central Gully
© Alex Roddie
The cathedral-like ambience of Central Gully, 151 kb
The cathedral-like ambience of Central Gully
© Alex Roddie

Bidean nam Bian (1148m) is the highest peak in Glen Coe, but it's tucked away from sight, visible from only a couple of places in the glen. One of its best easy winter lines is similarly reclusive. Central Gully (Right-Hand Start) (I**) splits the two summit crags, Diamond Buttress and Church Door Buttress, with a devious but easy route in spectacular surroundings. There's a choice of start: the right-hand entrance is usually easier, but in good conditions the left start, up the deep slot between Collie's Pinnacle and the main buttress, makes a good pitch (II). The route above is easy gully climbing at its finest. It feels rather like climbing up through the interior of a cathedral before breaking out near the summit of Bidean nam Bian.

Alex Roddie is a freelance editor, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. He divides his time between editing the work of others and writing about mountains. His passion is the history of mountaineering and he has published two novels on the subject, The Only Genuine Jones and The Atholl Expedition. For more on what Alex is up to see his website

Traverse of Beinn Eighe

Beinn Eighe, 152 kb
Beinn Eighe
© BelleVedere, Mar 2008

It may be technically more amenable than Torridon's other great ridges, particularly neighbouring Liathach, but a winter traverse of the Beinn Eighe range lacks for nothing in physical challenge and pure scenic impact. With its multiple summits linked by a series of airy crests - generally narrow, occasionally scrambly - this is a beast of a trip for short winter days, and best treated as a linear excursion with some slightly fiddly transport logistics. Most of the route is winter walking ground - albeit non-trival - while grade I interest is concentrated on the exposed ledges of Coinneach Mhor at the western end of the range, and the gnarled little pinnalces of the Black Carls on the eastern top of Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe.

The Black Carls, next morning, 96 kb
The Black Carls, photo John Fleetwood

The Lancet Edge, Sgor Iutharn by Alex Roddie

The Lancet Edge catches the sun on the left, 88 kb
The Lancet Edge catches the sun on the left
© Alex Roddie

Sgor Iutharn's Lancet Edge is one of the best unsung ridges in the Highlands. A satellite of the remote Geal-charn (1132m), it's usually approached from Dalwhinnie and has a striking appearance from Culra Bothy. Most people trekking into the Alder Forest will probably have Ben Alder on their minds, but the Lancet Edge is just as worthwhile an objective.

It's a real mountaineer's route. No guidebook or route description is necessary; you just start at the bottom and follow the increasingly narrow and impressive snow arête to the top, relishing the expansive views on both sides and the occasional rocky step. After such a dramatic ascent the summit of Sgor Iutharn (1028m) is something of an anticlimax, but walking on to Geal-Charn makes a natural continuation.

Looking back down the Lancet Edge, 149 kb
Looking back down the Lancet Edge
© Alex Roddie

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