SMC's Winter Select Guide

Scottish Winter Climbs
Last week, a surprisingly slim package arrived on my desk... the SMC's new Scottish winter select guide. Autumn 2008 has proved to be one of the most productive early seasons in a while, with teams enjoying routes across the country.  With blogs buzzing and a 'kiddie in the sweet shop' feel in the air there's no better moment to issue a revised selected winter climbs guide.

So, what do you get... The main thing (in the best possible way), is not a lot. There's been a trend of late for guides to become ever chunkier, great for fitting in loads of routes and photos, but a right pain when it comes to lugging these brick-like volumes up hills and climbs. This guide, while keeping the user friendly large format of the current SMC guidebook series is pleasingly slender and lightweight- great for stuffing in pockets for mid route consultation. You might think this 'manageability' comes at a price in terms of content, but clearly the guidebook team have taken the hint from Doctor Who, somehow managing to squeeze in nearly a thousand routes, along with colour topos and action photos for almost every crag described.

The guide starts with a brief but excellent introduction to the mysteries of the Scottish winter game, covering everything from environmental considerations, interpreting grades and conditions, to advice on reading weather patterns, emphasising throughout the keys to success of flexibility and up to date knowledge of conditions. The country is then divided into logical regions, each with a short introduction detailing the nature of the climbing and local amenities. Coverage is impressive. While I make no claims to having a definitive knowledge of Scottish winter venues, I can't find any obvious ones missing, and the crags described include some of the more remote and recently developed crags (e.g. the superb Ben Cruachan), as well as the traditional venues.

The coverage of routes is similarly comprehensive, with the overall selection accommodating more recent fashions (a few unrepeated destined to be future classics even make it in), and the rise in overall standards, while still keeping plenty for beginners to go at. Grades have been sensibly tweaked here and there taking account of lack of turf and thinner conditions, and route specific conditions advice and historical anecdotes are included where relevant. The photo topos and maps are generally superb, reflecting considerable effort by the guidebook team taking time out on the hill to get decent crag shots. The action shots represent similar effort in tracking down decent photos of routes at all the venues and encouragingly are mostly not the familiar poses on the 'mega-classics'- hopefully persuading readers to avoid queues and explore.

Ben Nevis in Winter, 111 kb
Ben Nevis in Winter
Alastair Lee, Mar 2008
© Alastair Lee -

As someone with a near complete collection of the definitive Scottish guides, I wasn't too sure how useful I'd find a select guide, but it will definitely be joining my basic 'heading north' kit as the perfect resource for last minute changes of plan. For everyone from beginners to visitors to regulars it's a fantastic overall guide, containing everything needed and nothing more - a fantastic effort from Nisbet, Anderson, Richardson and the rest of the guidebook team. Place an order with Santa and enjoy. See you on the hill.

Title: Scottish Winter Climbs
Author: Andy Nisbet, Rab Anderson, Simon Richardson
ISBN: 9780907521983
Published: Due Dec 08
Cost: £24.00

From the SMC Website:

Expected December 2008. The second edition of this indispensable guidebook to winter climbing has been fully updated and expanded to detail over 900 of the finest winter climbs in Scotland, with the emphasis on the popular lower and mid-grade classics. 90 colour action photographs, 79 photo-diagrams and 15 maps supplement accurate descriptions to make this an essential item for any winter mountaineer. 384 pages.

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