UKC

Lochaber Traverse - Big Scottish Winter Day Out for Neil Adams and Ali Rose

© UKC News

On Monday, Neil Adams and Ali Rose enjoyed a big 18-hour day out completing a climbing version of the classic hill route the Lochaber Traverse, taking in routes on as many winter crags as possible while linking seven Munros (and many other tops) in the Grey Corries, Aonachs and Ben Nevis. The total distance covered was around 33km with 3700m of elevation gain, 1800m+ of which involved graded climbing.

Summit selfie.  © UKC News
Summit selfie.

Neil came up with the 'long, silly and wildly over-optimistic plan' for the day and was inspired to attempt it after recently completing a Cairngorm winter round. He said:

'I love a good link-up and had fancied this one for a while. I did a big link round the Cairngorm 4000ers via winter routes a couple of weeks ago, which was a similar distance and elevation gain, but the Lochaber one felt way more full-on. We were in the clag for most of the day, and the route takes in some pretty serious terrain (eg East Face of Aonach Beag) so it was much more time-consuming than I had hoped. Great adventure though!'

Neil and Ali's message exchange.  © Ali Rose
Neil and Ali's message exchange.
© Ali Rose

Ali, a climbing and mountaineering instructor, also has form in link-up challenges, having made a self-supported in-a-day link-up of the Glen Coe section of Ken Wilson's 'Classic Rock' alongside Matt Rowbottom in June last year (UKC News).

On choosing Ali as a partner for this challenge, Neil told UKC:

'I don't know many folk who would be capable of doing it but also daft enough to say yes. I sounded Tim Elson out about it before, but he's out of action with a knee injury, so I'm very glad Ali was up for it.'

Ali shared more details of the challenge, which—despite being a tough day out—could be achieveable for many others.

The Munros 

Stob Choire Claurigh

Stob Coire an Laoigh

Sgurr Choinnich Mor

Aonach Beag

Aonach Mor

Carn Mor Dearg

Ben Nevis

Looking down Diamond Crossing.  © Ali Rose
Looking down Diamond Crossing.
© Ali Rose


The Routes

Tat Gully (IV 4) (70m) Coire a Mhadaidh
Diamond Crossing (III) (420m) Stob Coire Bhealaich
Anabasis (III) (240m) Aonach Beag E face
President's Buttress (III) (120m) Aonach Mor E face
Golden Oldy (II) (500m) (in descent) Aonach Mor W face
East Ridge (II) (300m II) Carn Dearg Meadhonach
Carn Mor Dearg Arete (I) (Grade I)
Something on the Brenva face (about 250m about II/III) Ben Nevis


The challenge was Neil's idea, but it sounds like you had also come up with a similar concept?

I'd had an idea for a couple of different Lochaber link-ups, but one was very conditions-dependent and the other still needs some better conceptualisation. I knew Neil had a week off, which was perfect as my psyche for winter climbing has been dwindling a bit in the last couple of weeks. Just the usual story of getting too excited by winter too early and too many wet pants days at work, but it's great to have psyched partners suggesting outrageous things. Neil messaged me on Saturday night, which gave me just enough time to get my head around what he was proposing, buy a lot of snacks and rest as much as possible while also working on the hill.

Neil breaking trail towards Stob Coire Claurigh.  © UKC News
Neil breaking trail towards Stob Coire Claurigh.

How did you feel about the 'long, silly and wildly over-optimistic plan' once you'd heard what it was?

I felt pretty daunted by it. In summer I've run the Lochaber traverse, but I wasn't too sure how it was going to feel carrying a rope and small rack and adding in some time-consuming climbing and route finding. It still felt very optimistic to me as we headed for Aonach Beag, so I had told myself that I just needed to get to Aonach Mor and could leave Neil to solo the rest and get the gondola down - hahaha.

Ali cutting through the cornice on Aonach Beag.  © UKC News
Ali cutting through the cornice on Aonach Beag.

How did you choose the routes and would you change any of them if you were ever to repeat it?

I am never ever doing that again! Neil came up with the list of routes based on stuff he hadn't done and while we entertained the idea of finding routes neither of us had done, it just added too much complexity to our last-minute planning. Getting to climb on Stob Coire Bhealach was a real highlight for me as I had never visited that buttress (and it's massive!) along with descending Golden Oldy, one of my favourite routes.

I had to relinquish my lead of the second pitch of Tat Gully (meant to be grade IV) as I was faffing, tired and let the fact that we'd already used half the rack on the belay and first couple of runners get in my head. Neil as ever just got on with it, but I wouldn't choose that route for a link-up that needs efficiency. We did talk about finishing up something like North East Buttress, but I think we would have spent a lot of time trying to find the start of the route and it would have added a lot to an already long day.

trying to hug the summit shelter of Ben Nevis.  © Ali Rose
trying to hug the summit shelter of Ben Nevis.
© Ali Rose

It looked like conditions made the day quite a bit harder. How did this impact your climbing?

I felt pretty rubbish setting off due to too many days on the hill recently and the weather was way worse than expected. On the Grey Coires ridge it was probably gusting 45-50 mph and we were breaking trail most of the way in a complete white-out. Dropping into the first climb on Coire Mhadaidh/Stob Coire an Laoigh was actually a relief as we got out of the wind for a bit. On a blue sky day, we might have had a chance to dry out a bit along the way, but were both pretty soggy for most of the day due to sweat and our jackets riming up and not "breathing". 

We'd set our start time (3:30 am) to arrive at the Brenva face on Ben Nevis still with some light to see, but the visibility was down to about 15-20m and the light was fading fast, so we opted for the approach of "just head up". It felt like a fittingly wild end to the experience to be soloing onsight up the Brenva face for 250m or so by headtorch in the thick mist. I was certain I could hear voices at the top and we only found out later that it was Anna Wells finishing her own Lochaber Traverse as part of her Munro round [ed: which she is finishing today, 13 March].

Ali about to tell Neil that he doesn't fancy the lead.  © UKC News
Ali about to tell Neil that he doesn't fancy the lead.

What were your timings for the challenge?

We were 18 hours and 1 minute from the upper parking at Corriechoille to the bridge at Glen Nevis YHA. It's traditional to measure a Lochaber traverse from the Wee Minister but I totally forgot and started my watch at the car. The final stats were 33km (ish), 3700m of elevation gain (1800m+ of which was graded climbing).

Compared to previous link-ups that you've done, like the Summer Glen Coe Classic Rock round, how likely is it that people will want to repeat this — and would you recommend it?

I think the beauty of a link-up like this is going out to have a big adventure with a mate and seeing what happens. If someone looks at this and conceives their own link-up across these hills, that would be amazing — though I doubt anyone would follow us exactly as it's a pretty random collection of routes.  

Anabasis on the east face of Aonach Beag.  © UKC News
Anabasis on the east face of Aonach Beag.

What are your thoughts on this Scottish winter season overall?

This season has been another rollercoaster of promising-looking conditions followed by deep thaws. Just like last season, if you're into early season mixed conditions or grade IV and under ice routes, there has been lots of good stuff still to do, but it's tough seeing the huge thaws strip out the classics right as they start to get good. There's still time for some late season ice or the new classic of early season-late season conditions!

  • For a more walking-friendly version of the Lochaber Traverse see this article:


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Ali's got that "Thousand Yard Stare" look perfected in that summit photo.

14 Mar
very impressive in those conditions. Reflects strongly on the mountain skills of Neil and Ali.
14 Mar

Wonderfully wild, silly, overoptimistic and successful.

I love the detailed planning....

14 Mar

Amazing!

14 Mar

What an absolutely quality day out. I'm pleased to hear it's not just me who found pitch 2 of Tat Gully (IV 4) a little harder than expected. I backed off while stood just above where Ali is in that photo, while trying to squeeze it in as a quick second route at the end of 2023. It felt tricksome (as had the start of pitch 1 in December's lean-but hard conditions) and the route-finding was surprisingly inobvious, for a gully! To think of having all those moves, metres and miles still lying ahead.... Impressive.

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