Mountain Scrambles in the Scottish Highlands
What would be a good definition of scrambling? Well, it definitely means you get to use your hands! And there certainly will be rocks involved, and perhaps a degree of exposure. Is it rock-climbing? Well, the movement skills of a climber can crossover to those of a scrambler.
However, where a climber would bring ropes and climbing gear, and intend to use them, a scrambler is looking to do an objective where technical equipment might not be needed at all!
This does not mean choosing to scramble recklessly, indeed it is always prudent to bring a rope, but it is in the choice of objective, relative to the skills of the whole party and the prevailing weather conditions that can give a day of constant movement over rocky terrain, in exhilarating situations and with fantastic views.
It all comes down to what you want from your day out.
Is it to climb a fine peak that has some scrambling sections on it? Or is it the scramble itself that is the principle objective? And, as the routes get a little more tricky it is really a combination of both.
The craggy mountains of North Wales and the Lake District both are excellent venues for a variety of great scrambling and are certainly more accessible to the majority of Brits. Here I’ve decided just to describe the best things to do further afield in the northwest Highlands of Scotland.
Skye and the Black Cuillin
The magnificent 13km long ridge of gabbro and basalt accommodates 12 Munro summits, while the rugged, precipitous nature of the Cuillin, with its knife-edge ridges and atmospheric corries offer many memorable scrambles of varying difficulty to attain these summits.
There’s no avoiding it – you will have to use your hands on these, the most rugged of British peaks. Certainly, the Munros and subsidiary peaks that make up the Cuillin Ridge are the best for combining scrambling with peak-bagging; none are straight-forward hill walks, yet all, bar the Innaccessible Pinnacle, are attainable with a little scrambling experience and courage.
The Cuillin Ridge Traverse
The traverse of the entire Cuillin Ridge is a much sought-after mountaineering experience; a tough challenge that is not too be under-estimated, yet thoroughly rewarding on completion. The ridge is popularly attempted as a 2-day expedition with one overnight bivoauc, or can be achieved over 5 days using a valley base and one bivvy.
Just Go Scrambling!
What makes for the perfect scramble is a journey through very unlikely terrain that miraculously turns out to be ok to do! There’ll be exposure and a sense of commitment, but also good holds and a sense of a route. The Skye Cullin has a fine selection of routes to do, some of which are described below:
Pinnacle Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillian This jagged ridge presents great scrambling; the views and challenges increasing in wonder with height, with the Knight’s Peak a formidable obstacle.
The Dubhs Ridge Best done by taking the boat into Loch Coruisk from Elgol, and being back in time to get the boat back! A scramble that starts with 800m of continuous slabs to summit Sgurr Dubh Beag, followed by a rather alarming abseil and then on up to Sgurr Dubh Mor.
The Circuit of Coire Lagan A big day out, what with all the terrain to cover! Perhaps the Cioch, followed by Sgurr Alisdair, then Hart’s Ledge finishing of with the In Pin. There are infinite variations to this circuit, but with good weather and strong legs the choice is yours…
Clach Glas/Bla Bhein Traverse Again, the route comes together through some unlikely-looking terrain. A couple of sections of rock-climbing, yet again the flow is still there!
The Northwest Highlands
In the NW Highlands Torridonian Red Sandstone is the predominant rock type that many of the mountains are made of. The scrambling objectives are all part of climbing a big hill and are located across the whole of this area. Torridon village is a good central base, equally Ullapool and Coigach further north and Glen Shiel to the south.
Beinn Alligan The traverse over the Horns of Alligan and on to the summit is a great first scrambling excursion in this area. Its fun to have a little scrambling interest when bagging this shapely mountain.
Liathach The traverse of the ridge connecting the two main summits of Liathach is a classic. The scrambling is never too difficult but is exposed and committing. Going east to west, the ridge transports you between two vast expanses of mountains and wilderness with a view of the sea ahead.
Further south there is the Forcan Ridge, in Glen Shiel. A perfect scramble, really. Great looking ridge on good rock and it’s not too difficult. But it’s always exposed and can often look quite unlikely sometimes, but will always work out in the end!
Further north, there is the fine collection of peaks that make up An Teallach. The scrambling here is a just a small part of climbing this mountain and can be avoided, but traversing the horns allows you to experience a little more adventure and a lot of exposure.
In a way Stac Pollaidh in Coigach to the north is the opposite of An Teallach, it is a blip of rock left behind by all the glacial erosion and weathering but as such it is a true rocky peak. Perfect because the very top can only be reached by the scrambler!
Glencoe and Lochaber
Accessible scrambling adventures, not so far to drive, not so far to walk. A little busier perhaps, but the immediate rugged scenery makes up for that. Glencoe is great for having scrambles leading up to the scrambles! and fine views
Aonach Eagach Very popular, and deservedly so, the Aonach Eagach is the ridge bounding the northern side of Glencoe. It best done east to west; the scramble is not too difficult, but it is committing. Once started there is no easy way off. Also, some of the main difficulties are in descent, which can be more nerve-wracking for some.
Curved Ridge (Buachaille Etive Mor) A fine example of what is so good about scrambling! A journey through unlikely-looking, steep, rocky terrain that turns out to be quite manageable. Committing and an unlikely-looking approach too, but the route comes together, and good holds and ledges help encourage you on.
Tower Ridge (Ben Nevis) Almost becoming climbing terrain, where a rope should be used intentionally, rather than for just in case. A splendid journey, Tower Ridge splits the rugged north side of Ben Nevis in two, with difficulties and exposure increasing with height.