Ten Best Mountain Ridges In The UK
A look at the gnarliest mountain ridges in the UK from the CMD Arete to the mighty Cuillin Ridge.
- By admin -
Which mountaineer or hiker doesn't love a good ridge? The words of Dan Bailey sum them up perfectly in his book 'Scotland's Mountain Ridges: Scrambling, Mountaineering and Climbing'.
'Threading a bristling gendarmed spine; inching around an extravagantly fluted cornice; balancing gracefully along a stone tightrope in the clouds - these are some of the finest things a climber can get up to,' Bailey said.
As humans we love to live on the edge and with most ridges you literally are. It's the feeling of pure exposure and opening yourself out to the elements that you can't experience anywhere else.
It's no coincidence that most of the top guidebook writers and outdoor journalists agree ridges are the pinnacle for any UK mountaineer as its a chance truly test your mountain skills.
Luckily, we live on an island with some brilliant ridges and in this article we'll take a look at a selection of some of the gnarliest out there.
List of the UK's best mountain ridges
The choice hasn't been easy, some have been shoe-ins like Crib Goch, the Aonach Eagach and the legendary Cuillin Ridge, others like the Nanttle Ridge and Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag are more esoteric, but still a brilliant day out.
To navigate through all these epic ridges, take a look at the guides below below. Warning: This may give you an uncontrollable urge to ridge walk.
In no particular order: Crib Goch (Snowdon), Nantlle Ridge (Snowdonia), Striding Edge (Helvellyn), Sharp Edge (Blencathra), Pinnacle Ridge (St Sunday Crag), Aonach Eagach Ridge (Glencoe), Carn Mor Dearg Arete (Ben Nevis), An Teallach (northern Highlands), Liathach (Torridon), Cuillin Ridge (Skye)
1. Crib Goch (Snowdon)
Snowdon's razor ridge forms half the classic horse-shoe route and is must-do for anyone who enjoys dizzying exposure, but without any serious technical difficulty. The first few metre are often a proper reality check with sheer drops on one side and a less steep but still serious run-off on the other - the best holds are on the sheer side… best bits are the pinnacles, which are best tackled direct.
Scariness rating - 4/5
Crib Goch's highest peak along the 'knife-edged arete' is 923 m (3,028 ft) above sea level.
The ridge is situated in Snowdonia National Park in Gwynedd, Wales.
In the book 'Great Mountain Days in Snowdonia' Terry Marsh wrote: 'The ascent and traverse of Crib Goch is one of the finest ridge walks in Britain, although 'walk' is hardly the right word. This is hands-on, and the ridge wants only for more length to make it a hugely different undertaking.'
Walking Crib Goch
Crib Goch is one of the classic British scrambles, but can get horrendously busy as a result. The North Ridge is a brilliant alternative approach to the pinnacled main ridge that neatly side-steps the crowds on the normal route and gives a quiet start from a deserted Cwm Glas before the potential business of the ridge proper. The alternative Grade 3 start up Jammed Boulder Gully is for expereinced scramblers who want to add a bit of spice to the route. The rock is generally good and stable, and drains well.
The North Ridge tends to dry slower after rainfall, and Jammed Boulder Gulley in particular can be wet. The other main consideration is wind, as both the North ridge and the main ridge of Crib Goch are very exposed.
This video of a group of keen hikers traversing across Crib Goch is the perfect taster if you every pluck up the courage to tackle the ridge.
2. Nantlle Ridge (Snowdonia)
Less well known than Crib Goch and on a smaller scale, the Nantlle Ridge running from Rhyd Ddu to Nebo is a brilliant mix of ridge walking interspersed with scrambling on a rocky crest that's interesting without being overly terrifying. A brilliant day out without the crowds, though its linear nature means you'll need to make transportation plans.
Scariness rating 2/5
Nantlle Ridge's highest point is (734 m or 2,408 ft) above sea level, named Craig Cwm Silyn, one of seven main peaks across the ridge.
The Nantlle Ridge is lies in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, running south-west from the village of Rhyd Ddu for around 9km and ending above Nebo in the Nantlle Valley.
In the book 'Ridges of Snowdonia' Steve Ashton wrote: 'You are walking around with the essence of a day in your head, perfectly preserved like a pickled octopus: fish the thing out, and even years after the event and you will still be able to make novel observations.'
Walking Nantlle Ridge
Nantlle Ridge is an easier grade scramble for beginners and one of THE classic ridge traverses. The ridge is mainly thought of as a long ridge walk, but with a little ingenuity you can string together sections of easy grade scrambling along the way.
The views alone make this route worthy of inclusion in any Snowdonia visit. Taken in its entirety the ridge is a two-car trip, or make use of the seasonal special rate taxi service when available.
Here's a good look at the Nantlle Ridge in the summer with some nice views across the Welsh valley and a thorough examination of the ridge's complexity.
3. Striding Edge (Helvellyn)
Another classic grade one scramble, Striding Edge is the most dramatic way of reaching the summit of Helvellyn. Never as narrow and scary as Crib Goch, but properly ridge-shaped and atmospheric particularly if you eschew the side path and stick to the crest of the ridge. Gets busy, but worth the effort.
Scariness rating - 3/5
Striding Edge reachest 863 m (2,831 ft) above sea level.
Striding Edge is a ridge on Helvellyn, linking the summit ridge of Birkhouse Moor to Helvellyn's summit by what becomes a sharp arête.
In the book 'Travels of an Everyday Man' David Ferguson Elliott spoke of a famous tale on Striding Edge: 'Some years ago a man climbing Striding Edge on his own fell to his death but his faitful terrier stayed by his body for serveral weeks, some reports say three months, until his body was discovered, proving canine dedication.'
Walking Striding Edge
One of the Lake District's most popular walks,a circular route taking in the ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. A true Lakeland classic the ascent of Striding Edge makes an ideal approach to Helvellyn in good weather, with panoramic views in all directions, but in rain, high wind, or snow the route takes on a more sinister nature with it's steep drops to either side.
The return from Helvellyn takes in Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge, a less fearsome ridge than its counterpart on the outward leg.
Here's a nice little video of hikers scrambling across Striding Edge en route to Helvellyn to give you a taste of what the ridge has in store.
4. Sharp Edge (Blencathra)
The 'interesting' way up northern Lakes giant Blencathra, it's quieter than Striding Edge and more of an ascent than a traverse. There's only one seriously exposed section where the route traverses some slippery slabs, which needs proper care in the wet, otherwise it's a fun route on a straightforward rocky crest.
Scariness rating - 3/5
Sharp Edge's finishes on Blencathra's summit plateau.
The arete runs between Tarn Crag and Foule Crag on one of England's most northernly mountains in the Lake District, Blencathra.
In the book 'The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland' Dan Bailey wrote: 'Tucked away around the back [of Blencathra] - only clearly seen from the east - is the hill's real start attraction, perhaps the best and certaionly the most famous easy ridge scramble in England.
'It is indeed a 'sharp edge' - knife keen, even. Despite its fearsome profile the summertime difficulties are modest, the main one being an ehilirating sense of exposure.'
Walking Sharp Edge
After all the recent high end routes, we felt it was time to go back to basics: Sharp Edge is a classic grade 1, and probably the most poular lakeland scramble after Striding Edge. Although it's only a grade 1 route, and as perfect a hill day as you could wish for in summer, it's an entirely different prospect in wind and rain.
If you really want to make the most of a day on Blencathra then think about combining this route with a descent of the easier, but still grade 1 scramble, down Hall's Fall Ridge.
Here's a quick video showing a couple of keen hikers tackling the infamous Sharp Edge scramble and assuming the camera wasn't holding itself, a great effort by the camera man also.
5. Pinnacle Ridge (St Sunday Crag)
A proper scrambler's classic, Pinnacle Ridge on St Sunday Crag is graded 2 and gets its name from the dramatic, steep pinnacled section near the top. One for experienced climbers and mountaineers and an exhilarating hidden gem of a route.
Scariness rating - 5/5
The pinnacle of Pinnacle Ridge stands at 676m above sea level.
The ridge is situated near the Lake District giants Helvellyn with Striding Edge in a mountain range near Patterdale, a town east of the national park and leads onto the summit plateau of St Sunday Crag. It can be tricky to spot from below.
In the book 'The Hillwalker's Guide to Mountaineering' Terry Adby wrote of Pinnacle Ridge: 'It involves pone rock pitch at Difficult level, but in context of the route this is manageable and, along with acouple of other challenging situations, is what makes PInnacle Ridge a perfect scrambling experience.'
Walking Pinnacle Ridge
Pinnacle Ridge is one of the Lake District's classic scrambles and while it's not obvious from below, it's a superb, defined ridge route to the top of the broad plateaued summit of St Sunday Crag near Patterdale.
The route's a longish walk in from Patterdale, but the results are well worth it with superb scrambling on solid rock in an impressive position. All sorts of continuations are possible from this route taking in most obviously Fairfield or Helvelyn. Brilliant route.
A short video of a few avid scramblers taking on Pinnacle Ridge on one of its steepest and most dangerous sections.
6. Aonach Eagach Ridge (Glencoe)
Like Crib Goch on steroids, the Aonach Eagach runs along the skyline of Glencoe and is a steep-side roller-coaster of precipitous rocky pinnacles, sheer rocky steps and knife-edge ridge walking that just keeps on giving. Often rated the best ridge on the UK mainland, it's a proper bucket-list must do for any keen walker or scrambler.
Scariness rating 5/5
The highest point of the Aonach Eagach Ridge is Sgorr nam Fiannaidh at 967 m (3,172 ft) above sea level, one of two munro peaks along the ridge.
The ridge lies to the north of Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands, stretching 10km from Am Bodach down to the Pap of Glencoe, which means just what you think it does.
Renowned outdoors journalist Chris Townsend wrote in his book 'Scotland': 'Walling Glencoe to the north is the long, serrated Aonach Eagach, whose name means 'the notched ridge' and which strikes fear into the hearts of hillwalkers, as it's both the most sensational and the most difficult ridge on the mainland.
'Only the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye and A-Chir on the Isle of Arran are as narrow, exposed and thrilling.'
Walking Aonach Eagach Ridge
The Aonach Eagach, or "Notched Ridge", is without a doubt - probably - the finest ridge traverse on the British mainland. A full traverse is an all day undertaking, and once committed to the ridge there's no turning back.
The knife edge crest between Am Bodach and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is totally exposed, with stunning views down into Glencoe and across to the Three Sisters, and there's no escape route. Watch out for the aptly named Crazy Pinnacles and be wary in winter when the route is a grade II winter climb, though difficulty varies with the level and nature of the snow cover.
A couple of Scottish adventurers attempt to mountain bike their way across Aonach Eagach Ridge using a gopro. They say it seemed like a good idea at the time...
7. Carn Mor Dearg Arete (Ben Nevis)
Stuff the tourist route on the Ben, the CMD Arete on a fine day is the best way to the summit for normal walking folk with a panoramic view across to the north face of the mountain and classic lines like Tower Ridge. It's not difficult or particularly exposed, but the views more than make up for that.
Scariness rating - 1/5
The CMD, as people like to call it, reaches a massive 1220 m (4002 ft) at its highest point, the sixth highest munro in Scotland.
Carn Mor Dearg lies on the east end of the horse-shoe ridge of the western Highlands, which includes Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis.
'The Carn Mor Dearg Arete curves gracefully round the head of Coire Leis to a broad boulder covered slope that leads up to the summit of the Ben,' Chris Townsend wrote in the book 'Scotland.'
'The views and situation are spectacular, and this is one the finest places in the Scottish mountains.'
Walking Carn Mor Dearg Arete
With the long days here it's time to really make use of them with a big mountain day, and they don't come much bigger than the classic CMD Arete route up Britain's highest mountain.
It's a long haul with almost 6000ft of ascent from Glen Nevis, but there's no better way to see the impressive north face of the Ben than from the ridges of Carn Dearg Meadhonach and Carn Mor Dearg.
Some great views across Britains highest valley from the perspective of a group of hikers tackling the Carn Mor Dearg Arete ridge in remarkably good weather conditions.
8. An Teallach (northern Highlands)
Further north than anything else here, An Teallach, 'The Forge' is more than worth the trip for a full traverse of the mountain. It has everything from graded climb ascents of rocky buttresses through to tip-toeing along foot-wide ridges with sheer drops on either side. A proper walk in the clouds day, though occasionally terrifying with it.
Scariness rating - 5/5
The An Teallach munro is comprised of two main peaks, Bidean a' Ghlas Thuill standing at 1062 m (3484 ft) and Sgùrr Fiona 1060 m (3478 ft).
The mountain and ridges lies to the southwest of Dundonnell, a remote village in the north west of Scotland, in an area commonly known as the "great wilderness'.
In his book 'Scotland' Chris Townsend wrote: 'One of the great peaks of the Highlands, An Tellach (1062m) is a magnificient and complex mountain with sandstone spires, deep cliff-girt corries, shapely peaks and huge buttresses. It's distinctive outline is identifiable from nay places near and far, but it looks grand from the A832.'
Walking An Teallach
If you're a beginner be weary as the ridge walk has a lot of exposure especially on the north-east side where the drops are around 400 metres. The direct ascent involves a steep scramble which can be avoided by going left (if heading from south to north). There are lots of wee paths made by walkers looking for a suitable bypass route but not all are any good.
If you only want to climb the Munros you can do so from Dundonnell without walking the main ridge although you will miss most of the excitement. If you want to do the ridge go with someone who has scrambling skills or hire a guide.
Another look at the classic 'Munro Show' from all those years back, which this time has an in depth look at An Teallach.
9. Liathach (Torridon)
A ride masquerading as a mountain in NW Scotland's epic Torridon region, Liathach - which no-one can pronounce - is another 'best tackled direct' traverse including cracking scrambling across the Fasarinen Pinnacle section and even a short length of a cheval grovelling. Heaven on a fine day.
Scariness rating - 4/5
The highest point on the mountain is Spidean a' Choire Leith at 1,054m or 3,456ft at the eastern end of the ridge, which you can reach without traversing the entire ridge by a steep, rocky but not particularly difficult or exposed ascent.
Liathach is one of four peaks to the north of Loch Torridon which lies on the west coast of Scotland around 100 miles beyond Fort William. Along with Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin and other local peaks, there's more than enough to keep you busy for a week or so in summer or winter conditions.
Meall Dearg one of four tops on the ridge listed in the Munro Tabkes [is] "The most difficult top in the British Isles challenged only by the Inaccessible Pinnacle of Sgùrr Dearg". Irvine Butterfield. It's reached by traversing the Northern Pinnacles, a graded rock climb.
The full ridge traverse of the mountain is a brilliant day out either as a summer scramble/walk or in winter conditions where it's graded as II.
The route follows the ridge line with the highlight being the Fasarinen Pinnacles complete with a short a chevalsection. The pinnacles are avoidable by a path on the south side, but as is the way with such things, it can be more dangerous than sticking to the crest of the ridge.
Check out this Munro Show episode featuring presenter Muriel Grey traversing the main ridge. Try not to be put off by her horrifying fleece though.
10. Cuillin Ridge (Skye)
The best British ridge by a mile of narrow, crenellated, pinnacled lunacy. Skye's Cuillin Ridge is a 12km monster of twisting ridginess with no fewer than 3,000m of ascent and 11 Munros. The ultra-grippy local gabbro rock lends a helping Velcro-like hand, but if you want to tackle the entire ridge including Britain's hardest Munro, the Inaccessible Pinnacle, you'll need to be able to climb up to V Diff standard and you can still make it harder if you want. Tackling the entire ridge in a day is one of the great British mountain challenges, but there's plenty of scope to take smaller sized bites out of the route. Bliss.
Scariness rating - 6/5
The highest point of the Cuillin, and of the Isle of Skye, is Sgùrr Alasdair of the Black Cuillin group of peaks standing at 992 m (3,255 ft).
The Cuillin ridge runs along the Black Cuillin mountain peaks on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Its called the Black Cuillin due to the colour of the igneous rocks which form the top peaks.
In the book 'Scotland' by Chris Townsend he wrote: 'The Cuillin Ridge offers climbers and scramblers a lieftime's worth of exploration. The complexity of the small slice of jagged mountain landscape is astonishing.
'Every corrie, every ridge, every crag, every gully is different. It's all just rock and water, yet the variety is immense.'
Walking Cuillin Ridge
Arguably, Britain's greatest ridge walk that many say is an extremely satisfying experience with the main route taking you from the South to the North.
The most popular route can be tackled in one day in around 12-14 hours from Glen Brittle to the Sligachan Hotel, which incorporates over seven hours spent on the ridge itself from the summit of Gars-bheinn in the south to the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean in the north.
A good introductory video of the Cuillin Ridge by a few scramblers all kitted out with the ropes, harnesses and helmets while taking on the ridges most extreme rock faces.
11. Bubbling Under - Other Great Ridges
Picking just ten ridges wasn't easy - there are plenty of other brilliant options out there. Stuff like Tryfan's North Ridge, above, is one of the best easy grade scrambles anywhere, but it's more of a buttress than a proper narrow arete and its next-door neighbour Bristly Ridge is just a little bit too short.
In the Lakes, Swirral Edge is a little overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbour and there's little else on the outstanding ridge front that we've not included.
Which brings us to Scotland again and, to be honest, it's littered with aretes that would be absolute classics were they situated a little further south. One omission from our list is the awesome Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, not because it's not amazing, but because we're trying to keep our picks within the scope of most walkers and scramblers and it's a tougher than most day out.
Not far away is the Devil's Ridge in the Mamores, which is part of the Ring of Steall and on similar lines to Tower Ridge is Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etiv Mor.
More like the Aonach Eagach or the Cuillins is the A Chir Ridge on the Isle of Arran, 1500m of rocky, technical scrambling with a climbing grade of Moderate and unavoidable difficulties. Check out also the Forcan Ridge on The Saddle and, for easy access and two Munros, the Ballachulish Horsehoe at the northern end of Glencoe.
There are others too, but we'll leave those for another day's planning and ridge dreaming.