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The Highlands

Glencoe National Nature Reserve

History of mountaineering

There are records of ascents on some of Scotland’s mountains dating back as far as the late 16th century, and adventurous travellers were attempting peaks like Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond by the end of the 18th century.

In the 19th century, the romantic prose of writers like Sir Walter Scott boosted the public’s interest in exploring the Highlands, while intrepid ordnance surveyors began mapping the mountains.

After the Second World War, mountaineering was transformed by a series of advancements in equipment, technology and training. By the 1980s, ideas of what was possible had shifted, and even new climbers were taking on ascents that experienced climbers had previously feared.

Did you know?

In 1889, Scotland’s two oldest mountaineering clubs, the Cairngorm Club and the Scottish Mountaineering Club, were formed, and held their inaugural meetings just a month apart.

Mountaineering in Glencoe

Glencoe has been the home of Scottish mountaineering for a century and a half. More than 150,000 mountaineers visit Glencoe every year to tackle the rugged terrain, make the most of the huge diversity of climbs, and get the ultimate view of the dramatic landscape below.

Glencoe is still at the forefront of the sport, with some of the hardest winter and summer routes in Britain. There are many new routes yet to be climbed, with new skills and technologies opening up the mountains even more as the years go by.

Famous Glencoe mountaineers

Sir Hugh Munro

The godfather of Scottish mountaineering. He published his ‘tables’ of Scottish mountains with a height of more than 3,000ft (914m) in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal in 1891, inspiring generations of climbers to ‘bag a Munro’.

Harold Raeburn

A remarkable climber and explorer who climbed in Norway as well as the Alps, but is best known for discovering new routes on Scotland’s crags. In 1909, Raeburn climbed the Crowberry Gully on Buachaille Etive Mòr – a feat that went unrepeated for a quarter of a century.

Neil Marquis

A local shepherd who achieved the first recorded ascent in Glencoe in 1868. He made history by climbing Ossian’s Ladder to reach the cave on the north face of Aonach Dubh (this is a very dangerous climb that we don’t recommend).

Hamish MacInnes

He made many daring first ascents in Glencoe, including winter climbs of Agag’s Groove and Raven’s Gully on Buachaille Etive Mòr in 1953. He went on to found the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team in 1961. He also invented the first all-metal ice axe and later the ‘Terrordactyl’, which revolutionised safety on steep ice climbs.

Best Glencoe climbing routes

Glencoe is a magnet for walkers and hikers of all abilities, but certain routes are strictly for experienced mountaineers and climbers.

Buachaille Etive Mòr is a well-known ridge consisting of a number of peaks. The Munro Stob Dearg is the highest summit on the ridge and offers various climbing routes like Crowberry Ridge and Curved Ridge, which is one of the more popular scrambling routes on the mountain.

Aonach Eagach, (Notched Ridge), stretches 5.5 miles from the Devil’s Staircase in the east to the Pap of Glencoe in the west and includes two Munros – Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (Peak of the Giants) and Meall Dearg (Red Hill). In winter conditions this is one of the most challenging climbs you’ll find.

Bidean nam Bian, the highest peak in Argyll and Glencoe’s remotest crag, takes in the famous Three Sisters and has lots of opportunities for rock climbing and ice climbing. Notable routes include the Church Door Buttress, the Diamond Buttress and Broad Gully.

Glencoe climbing guide

Mountaineering can be a dangerous activity – that’s part of the thrill – so anyone thinking of climbing in Glencoe needs to prepare properly:

  • Fill in a route card and leave it with someone who knows when you should be returning.
  • Be properly equipped, with good footwear, a head torch, and wet- or cold-weather gear in case the conditions change.
  • Learn how to read a map and use a compass.
  • Plan your route in advance.
  • Check the local weather forecast.
  • Start early and finish early.
  • Take sufficient food and water.
  • Carry a first aid kit.

It’s crucial to know your limits and you should never attempt a route you’re not ready for. If you do get into trouble, make sure you know how to get help. Don’t rely on your mobile phone – you might not have any signal on the mountains.

For more information on mountaineering in Glencoe, contact the Visitor Centre.