How To Prepare For Your Winter Mountain Leader Assessment #1: Quality Mountain Days in Scotland


Logging quality mountain days (QMDs) should be a big part of your preparation for your Winter Mountain Leader assessment. After a period of warmer weather, where logging winter QMDs has been very difficult, winter has returned to the Scottish Highlands, so here are some top tips and suggestions to help you top up your logbook. Each of the suggested routes makes a great day out whether you are preparing for the assessment, or just going for a fun day out in the mountains.

On the summit plateau of Ben Nevis

On the summit plateau of Ben Nevis

Before training you should have at least twenty QMDs in your log, and by the time you do your assessment, you must have logged a minimum of forty over at least three winter seasons, with at least twenty of them gained in Scotland. In addition, your logbook must show at least ten Grade I (or above) named UK winter climbs or equivalent mountaineering routes.

According to the Mountain Training website, a winter Quality Mountain Day will involve most, if not all, of these factors:

  • It is most likely that the ascent of a significant mountain is included in the day.

  • The individual takes part in the planning and leadership.

  • Navigation skills are required.

  • Knowledge is increased and skills practised.

  • Attention is paid to safety.

  • Adverse weather and underfoot conditions may be encountered.

  • Five hours or more journey time.

  • Conditions encountered should be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in the UK in true winter conditions.

  • An ice axe and crampons are likely to be required.

 We’ll add a couple of things to that:

  • choose routes where a variety of types of navigation are needed – steeper ground vs more open moorland/rolling terrain

  • do mountains that you know well by routes that you don’t know well

Here are four suggestions for winter QMDs in Scotland which all include upper end Grade 1 routes. We have used the OS 1:50000 maps – place names on other maps are sometimes different or not noted at all. Some of the paths in the descriptions are not marked on the map but they are there on the ground. The routes are all relatively low avalanche risk, but always check the avalanche forecast before setting out.

On the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan

On the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan

1 Stob Coire nan Lochan & Bidean nam Bian, Glen Coe

  • Park at the large car park GR138567.

  • Cross the bridge and follow the path south towards Stob Coire nam Beith.

  • Before you get to the waterfalls head east across the river towards Aonach Dubh, up the scrambly ridge known as Dinnertime Buttress. If there is a lot of snow at the top of Dinnertime Buttress, be careful not to drift right into No 2 gulley.

  • Stay on the ridge and head to Aonach Dubh summit 892m.

  • Go south along the ridge to Stob Coire nan Lochan 1115m.

  • From here follow the ridge down to the col and then back up to the summit of Bidean nam Bian 1150m.

  • Go west then north to the summit of Stob Coire nam Beith 1107m.

  • Drop down to the col by An t-Sron and back down to the footpath and the car park.

2 East Ridge of Beinn a Chaorainn, Craig Meagaidh

This is a great day out, and if you get the right weather you will have fantastic views. The route is usually sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.

  • Park carefully at the forest track GR NN390818.

  • Follow the track to Coire na h-Uamha, the east ridge is now on your left.

  • Follow the ridge up to the summit cairn, either directly on the steps at Grade II or wind your way around at Grade I.

  • After reaching the summit, go west for 200m before going south to the main summit. This will keep you clear of the corniced edge which can be hazardous.

  • From the summit go south for 1km to the col just before spot height 628m, then go east back to the forest track.

3 Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms

  • Park at the Cairngorm ski car park, and take the well-marked path towards Coire an t-Sneachda.

  • At 850m head west off the path towards the Fiacaill Ridge of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda.

  • Follow the ridge south to the summit plateau – by staying on the west side of the ridge you can make sure that you are on Grade I gound. If you follow the crest of the ridge it is Grade II ground.

  • Once on the plateau you can head down to the Coire Domhain col and then along the top to the summit of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda 1176m.

  • Continue along the top to the summit of Cairn Gorm 1245m. From here you can either descend to the car park, or retrace your steps to spot height 1141m, and follow the Fiacaill a Choire Chais down.

On Ledge Route with the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête behind

On Ledge Route with the Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête behind

4 Càrn Mòr Dearg Arête, Ben Nevis

This suggestion is the opposite way round to how the route is usually done, to avoid the big pull up onto the arête, but it is a still big day out.

  • Park at the North Face car park at Torlundy.

  • Follow the well-made path up to the CIC hut, then go up No 4 gulley to the summit plateau – this is normally a straightforward if dramatic and serious Grade 1.

  • On the plateau go south and meet the mountain track to the summit of Ben Nevis 1344m, being careful to avoid the top of Gardyloo gulley.

  • From the summit go southeast and then northeast, following the beautiful Càrn Mòr Dearg arête, with great views of the north face of Ben Nevis, all the way to Càrn Mòr Dearg 1220m, then north to Càrn Dearg Meadhonach.

  • From here drop off northwest to regain the ascent path back to the car.


Any questions? Drop us a line by email and we’ll do our best to answer them. Watch out for future posts with more winter QMD recommendations in other areas of the UK, and insider info on what your assessor is looking for.