Curved Ridge in Glencoe in winter is one of the most popular winter mountaineering outings in the country. As a winter route, it is considered Grade II-III with technical sections of ‘3’. It is also one of the handful of ‘4-Star’ routes in Scotland.
Its difficulty can vary enormously. Sometimes it’s a relatively straight-forward romp under good, firm snow conditions; but under deep powder or verglas (icy) rocks, it can be extremely tricky on the true line of the ridge.
The question of descent must not be underestimated either. The usual summer descent down Coire na Tulaich is the obvious way to go. However, it is not always the best, nor always safe. In fact, it’s one of Scotland’s notorious avalanche blackspots, so having a ‘Plan B’ is essential.
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We run winter skills courses, and winter mountaineering and climbing courses in other parts of Scotland and in the Lake District. We also run them in Snowdonia if conditions allow. Other popular Scottish routes include Dorsal Arete and Ledge Route.
You can also read our article on beginners’ tips for winter mountain walking.
Scrambling Curved Ridge in Summer
Glencoe’s Curved Ridge in summer is almost as good as it is in winter. The winter route is almost exactly the same as in summer, except that one must be mindful of avalanche hazards. This might mean taking some minor variations in a few places. You can read more about the summer route here.
Approaching Curved Ridge in Glencoe in Winter
Depending on where the snow level is, and the avalanche hazard, Curved Ridge becomes a lot more serious lower down than it ever is in summer.
One of the first landmarks in the summer approach is reaching the Waterslide Slab. In winter, however, the Waterslide is yet another notorious avalanche area. In the worst case, it may mean avoiding the approach altogether and leaving Curved Ridge to another day.
If you have successfully negotiated the Waterslide Slab, then the same approach as in summer takes you to the start of the ridge. As in summer, take care to avoid being drawn towards D Gully Buttress. This is even more of a jump up in grade in winter than it is in summer.
First Buttress of Curved Ridge in Winter
The first short buttress, with a deep gully immediately to its right (looking up), is divided into two halves. These are often climbed as two short pitches. The first pitch has helpful blocky, little steps which make the climbing feel quite secure and there is protection easily available. A small ledge to the right, overlooking the gully, provides a convenient belay spot.
Above this, however, the rock consists of sloping ledges which all slope the wrong way. This makes holds and tool placements much more awkward and protection is sparser too. However, before too long you find yourself on the large flat platform.
As in summer, you now follow a series of obstacles and tricky steps until you arrive at the base of an increasingly steep wall that blocks the way. It is noticeably steeper and more continuous (and looks harder) than anything encountered on the route so far. This is the main crux wall with the corner chimney above.
Second Buttress and Corner Crack
Like all winter routes, the wall and corner above can vary enormously in difficulty depending on conditions.
As in summer, the wall can often provide a line of weakness by taking a meandering line. Some times using one axe only pays off, with the other hand free to make use of rock handholds. On other occasions two ice tools provide a welcome feeling of security and confidence. After a couple of tricky moves, with amazing views below, you reach the large ledge below the steep corner and this is frequently used as a belay stance (below).
The steep corner will almost always be easier with at least one hand free to use handholds. Quite often, you may find that you place a single axe over your shoulder, or hook it high and leave it, so that you have two hands on the rock. However, if there is plenty of snow and ice in the cracks, then one or two axes will feel more appropriate.
Shortly after the corner pitch, the main part of the ridge runs out (although the true line continues much further). You now have access to the large amphitheatre with Crowberry Tower over to the right. In good conditions, the route is the same as in summer, taking a line up the steepening slopes until turning right and aiming for the gap between Crowberry Tower and the summit. However, this is yet another area to be aware of the avalanche risk and to avoid if you are in any doubt.
From behind Crowberry Tower, a zig-zagging gully leads to the final summit slopes above.
Descent from Curved Ridge and Buachaille Etive Mor in Winter
Having reached the summit of Stob Dearg (1022m), as in summer you can head down to the head of Coire na Tulaich. What you do next, however, requires careful thought based on the avalanche forecast.
One option is certainly to descend Coire na Tulaich, if it safe to do so. You may need to reverse and down-climb the steeper section at the top, or even abseil, but the angle very quickly eases to a walking gradient.
An alternative is to to avoid the Coire by descending the broad ridge that runs to the west of, and parallel with the Coire. The ridge is complex, with numerous minor crags on it, so unless there is an obvious trail route-finding can be awkward. What’s more, the north-western slopes of this ridge have avalanched in the past with tragic consequences.
It’s a fine mountain to go up in winter, but not one to treat lightly in descent.