Deservedly scary, or just misunderstood? Eight superb ridges to send you running from the hills or searching for more...
Think ridge and you think height, exposure, adventure and risk. Like the corrugations in those expensive crisps, the inclusion of a ridge in a mountain walk adds depth and flavour to the experience.
Some ridges are simply too vast, too much of an entity in their own right to be a mere bolt-on to a day’s walking. Many are the filling in the sandwich rather than the garnish on the side. These are routes to be conquered and boasted about in “when I climbed…” conversations down the pub.
For sure, even the most traversed of UK arêtes takes on a whole new character in winter conditions and can rival anything the Alps might throw at you. But free of snow and ice, do our native ridge species really deserve the reputation they have? Time to separate the facts from the flannel...
1. Striding Edge - Lake District
Wainwright described Helvellyn’s Striding Edge as “the finest ridge there is in Lakeland, for walkers”. It’s certainly the most popular: make the traverse on a fine summer’s day and you’ll find yourself in a queue of like-minded adventure seekers, all making the same slow-paced 650m journey. That aside, Striding Edge is a good-looking beast not entirely without fangs. The downclimb of The Chimney (a 7 metre high tower of rock) at the Helvellyn end will test most walkers’ nerves, and in high winds crossing the spine of the ridge is only for the brave, foolish or limpet-booted. However, unlike many of its peers, Striding Edge does offer a get-out clause – a lower path along the side of the ridge provides a more comfortable route for those with no head for heights. Even if you make the whole east-to-west ascent across the very apex of the ridge, any pride you feel is likely to be short-lived when you spot a nine-year-old Striding Edge regular skipping past with a beaming smile on their face. Don’t worry – popular just means it’s good, see?
2. Bristly Ridge - Snowdonia
Were it a regular, horizontal-ish ridge, Bristly would be enormous fun, but not worthy of great accolade. But rotate that ridge by around 35 degrees and slap it on the side of Glyder Fach, and suddenly it’s the main topic of your postcard home. Lauded by many as the best Grade 1 scramble in Wales, Bristly Ridge is all about the ascent. The shattered rock offers a myriad of different ledges and holds for hands and feet. This makes it easy to become disorientated in the labyrinthine routes, but as long as you’re going up (and don’t climb up anything you can't climb down again) you’re heading the right way. In fact, Bristly’s biggest threat is that it’s almost too climbable. It’s so easy to scamper vertically from crag to crag that you may not realise just how far you’ve come until you pause to glance over your shoulder at the drop behind. As the mixture of awe and fear shivers its way up your back and across your skin, you’ll have discovered the true essence of Bristly Ridge.
3. Sharp Edge - Lake District
Sometimes mountain features receive their names through some explosion of creative genius. Sometimes they owe their monikers to an historic people who rampaged through the valleys centuries ago, naming landmarks for fun between pillaging. And sometimes a their title is nothing more than a description. Sharp Edge used to be called Razor Edge. Either could be said to meet the Ronseal standard, doing exactly what it says on the tin. Sharp Edge is not long, or even overly high (although it's certainly high enough to do you some serious mischief if you depart the ridge prematurely). It is, however, very sharp. You'll be needing sure feet, a robust stomach, and a good sense of balance to reach the end of it. Which, once you're on it, you'll need to. This is an end-to-end traverse - there are no half measures.
4. Carn Mor Dearg Arête - NW Highlands
Everybody knows about Ben Nevis, but anybody who knows Ben Nevis knows about the CMD Arête. It is, without a doubt, the best route for walkers up the highest mountain in Britain. It has everything: a sense of risk, a satisfying toughness and views that rival any vista on earth. Surely, then, it’s only for those with a cast-iron constitution? Not quite. It’ll test your mettle (the ascent of the grassy slopes from the Allt a’ Mhuilinn will sap your energy); but the arête itself is mostly wide enough to keep you feeling safely secure above the steep and stony slopes below. However, the thing with this particular ridge is, to quote Survivor, “there‘s no easy way out”. Once you’re on it, you’re on it to the end or going back the way you came. There is an escape
route at the far western end, but standing on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg with the arête laid out ahead of you, getting off it will be the last thing on your mind.
5. Crib Goch - Snowdonia
If “Crib Goch!” was a Klingon battle cry (and, let’s face it, it could be) it would mean something unpleasant involving sharp, pointy things and much nastiness. Take away the nastiness and you have a pretty accurate description of Crib Goch itself. Its narrow arête is as razor-like as any blade, Klingon or otherwise, and upon first seeing Crib Goch laid out ahead, you could be forgiven for thinking that the biggest danger would be slipping and slicing your fingers off on its scalpel-sharp ridge. This of course is nonsense. The biggest danger is in fact slipping and tumbling down the incredibly steep southern slope, or plummeting earthwards from the near vertical cliffs to the north. The Snowdonia National Park Authority describes Crib Goch as “not a mountain for the inexperienced” – and while it is certainly true that the potential for accident is ever present, if you’re confident with heights, sensible enough to know your own limits, and the conditions are favourable, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a go. The traverse of Crib Goch gives an adrenaline rush that no other ascent of Snowdon can match.
6. Aonach Eagach - W Highlands
If “Crib Goch!” is a Klingon battle cry, “Aonach Eagach!” is a cry of anguish, an admission of defeat. The first time you lay eyes on the ridge from the road, the sight of those stegosaurian rhyolite spines clawing skywards has made even brave men whimper for their mummy and a glass of warm milk. If nothing else, the scale of the task at hand is kneetremblingly ominous – the full ridge is an epic 10km long and the only exit points are at either end. But if you can gird you loins for the exposure (it’s rated at Grade 2 in summer conditions) and have the energy for a day-long assault on the peaks – including two Munros – you’ll be journeying along arguably the finest ridge in mainland Britain. With the exception of some tricky pinnacles along the 2km section between the Munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh, it’s actually not that technical a traverse; but just knowing you’ve done it will make your soul glow with satisfaction.
7. An Teallach - N Highlands
People often say they’re in love with the mountains; but if you were actually going to marry, move in and raise children with one, An Teallach would be it. It’s a beauty. To see it is to want to be on it with your hands and feet among its rocky crags. Like all the best things in life, An Teallach is to be won, rather than gifted. But to earn it completely means a traverse along the very crest of its spine. Once there, the very real threat of exposure and height will require courage and willpower in equal measure not to stray onto lower, less intimidating ground. Indeed, the pitch up to the pinnacles of Corrag Buidhe is pure rock-climbing, so you can be excused for joining the bypass path for this particular obstruction. That aside, though, you owe it to An Teallach and yourself not to devalue this particular prize.
8. Cuillin Ridge - Isle of Skye
Born from fire and violence millennia ago, Skye’s Cuillin mountains look as though they should still be smoking from the volcanic torment that brought them into this world. Put simply, a traverse of the Cuillin Ridge is Britain’s hardest mountain challenge bar none. Along with the physical and mental attributes required, you’ll also need essential mountaineering skills, the ability to scramble Grade 3 and above, and the equipment to tackle this particular monster. Lack these and, if you’re lucky, The Cuillin will spit you back out. If you’re unlucky, it’ll chew you up first. So why even try? Pay attention – it’s the hardest mountain challenge in Britain. If that doesn’t tempt you then you’re probably not made of the kind of stuff that the Cuillin demands anyway. But if you do take on this prehistoric leviathan and survive its claws, you will have earned the respect of us all.