Winter hiking: Daunted on the Devil's Ridge

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

Chris Lomas negotiating a short technical step on the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, West Highlands of Scotland.

In 2012, I met Edinburgh-based photographer Chris Lomas through a friend when we shared a great winter's day out on the popular Scottish Munro, Buachaille Etive Mor.

Earlier this year, I bumped into Chris again and we agreed we should catch up with another day in the hills. Fast forward to April 2016 and, after one false start earlier in the month due to bad weather, we caught up on our respective careers as we drove up the A82 headed to Glen Nevis and a winter round of the Ring of Steall.

The Ring of Steall is the name given to a group of mountains in the Mamores region in the West Highlands of Scotland. The peaks, which include 4 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft/914m high) form a dramatic horseshoe ridge around Coire a'Mhail, a great 'hidden valley' that has its exit barred by the 100m+ high Steall waterfall. The only technical difficulties on the Ring of Steall are a steep-sided, narrow arete at one end of the horseshoe (the 'Devil's Ridge' - pictured above) and a scramble over angled, broken slabs at the other (on the traverse from An Garbhanach to An Gearanach).

In Summer, most folk will find the scrambling on the Ring of Steall a breeze but, in Winter, freezing conditions and snow and ice up the ante. Winter mountaineering in Scotland involves a higher level of risk management, no matter how easy the terrain, and this was something we had to consider when, after traversing most of the Devil's Ridge - on fresh, decidedly sketchy snow - we reached a point c.2m below the end of a roof with a what looked like a treacherous cornice on one side and soft, unstable snow at a 40 degree angle on the other. "We'll only make the next mistake once", said Chris. And he was right. So after a discussion about other options, none of which appeared to present less risk, we took a common sense approach and reversed our steps until we could bail out into Coire a'Mhail. After an enjoyable descent to the floor of the corrie, we completed a somewhat unusual route around the inside of the Ring of Steall to An Garbhanach, but one that was no less enjoyable.