Winter hiking

Deep snow on Streap: West Highlands of Scotland

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

David Hetherington ascending snowy slopes en route to the summit ridge of Streap, a Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland.

It's not often in Scotland you need snowshoes to get around. Our initial plans been to drive alongside Loch Arkaig in the West Highlands of Scotland and walk for a couple of hours into Glen Kingie to stay at Kinbreak bothy. Snowy weather conditions however on the drive from Edinburgh, with the occasional whiteout and stranded cars on the motorway as we travelled through Fife (not one-fifth of the way into our journey) led to what we felt was the sensible decision not to drive down an untreated road and we headed for the nearby Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy instead.

I'd been to Gleann Dubh-Lighe before, when we climbed Streap in 2016. The walk-in to the bothy is excellent and we took turns breaking trail through fresh, ankle-deep snow. It's not a difficult walk-in though, even with 10kg of coal, and we were soon settled in and and trading conversation in front of a roaring fire. A few hours later, a couple from Fort William arrived, soaked in fresh snow, and, later still, a group of six turned up from Glasgow. (The latter group had also changed their mind about walking in to Kinbreak bothy). All of us commented on the amount of snow that was falling.

In the morning, we had a leisurely start before we headed again to Streap. Our goal was simply to repeat the route we'd done a few years previously and share with a friend how good it was. As it transpired, we got nowhere near the summit. The depth of snow made any walking without snowshoes incredibly difficult and it took us nearly four hours to ascend just 700m from Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy onto Streap's south-west ridge. Our late start meant we arrived on the ridge mid-afternoon and, with our expectation being the deep and difficult snow conditions would continue (I was often waist-deep in powder and I’m 6’2” tall), we made what we deemed to be the sensible decision to bail on the still faraway summit and come back again another day (possibly for a summit camp in Spring). We were disappointed but our mood soon lifted when we returned to the bothy and the group from Glasgow had very kindly left us a half-full bottle of whisky (their good company and our own whisky being one of the reasons for our late start).

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Deep snow made our progress slow going up the hillside.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Rewarded by our efforts with a view over to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak.

Weekend Wonders: Winter hiking on Streap

Words and images I've submitted to Adventure Travel magazine for publication in their 'Weekend Wonders' section (a regular 2-page spread sharing some 'cracking UK adventures to help people make the most of those precious two days').

David Hetherington traversing the ridge from the summit of Streap that leads to Streap Comlaidh in the West Highlands of Scotland

David Hetherington traversing the ridge from the summit of Streap that leads to Streap Comlaidh in the West Highlands of Scotland

My first sighting of Streap, a superb, 909m high Corbett in the West Highlands of Scotland, was on a 6-day backpacking adventure in 2010 from Glen Shiel to Glenfinnan, when a friend and I followed part of Scotland's epic Cape Wrath Trail. After I returned home, a paragraph in Ralph Storer's classic book, '100 Best Routes on Scottish Mountains', which highlighted Streap's narrow summit ridge "should be left well alone by the inexperienced" continued to intrigue me over the years.

In February 2016, I finally decided to visit Streap. The weather forecast was excellent and we spent a great two nights in Gleann Dubh-Lighe bothy, trekking on snow-covered slopes through the day beneath a clear blue sky in temperatures that remained, pleasantly, well below freezing.

Ralph Storer was right. In poor weather, you'll need top-notch navigation skills to steer yourself through Streap's complex, craggy bluffs and its steep-sided, narrow arete demands caution all the way to the summit. On a nice day, the difficulties are slight and the ridge is simply awesome, with just the right amount of awkward terrain to keep your interest and incredible views - south-east to Ben Nevis and north-west out to the islands of Eigg, Rum and the Skye Cuillin.

Streap is an outstanding hill. We paired it up with an ascent of Streap Comhlaidh and another Corbett, Braigh nan Uamhachan, completing a round trip of ‘feet in front of the bothy fire’ to 'feet in front of the bothy fire’ of 12 hours (our slowness in part due to being hampered by deep snow). In Winter or Summer, you should find it's an excellent day out.

How to get there

Take a train, bus or car from Fort William to Glenfinnan. Roughly 3km south-east of Glenfinnan, just west of the bridge over the Dubh-Lighe river, a turn-off north leads uphill to a small public car park. From here, OS Landranger map 40 (Mallaig & Glenfinnan, Loch Shiel) and OS Explorer map 398 (Loch Morar & Mallaig) both cover the approach to Streap via the quiet highland glen, Gleann Dubh-Lighe.

Where to stay

Fort William and Corpach are obvious choices. Glenfinnan has a quirky bunkhouse - check out www.glenfinnanstationmuseum.co.uk. If you’re looking for more rustic accommodation, the bothy in Gleann Dubh-Lighe is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association (www.mountainbothies.org.uk). In 2011, the building was accidentally burnt down when a leaky gas cartridge caught fire. In 2013, it was rebuilt by MBA volunteers.

 
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