(The Gear Loop) - There’s something satisfying about hiking from one end of a mountain ridge to another. Such a traverse reveals a landscape more intimately than a loop that’s patched together for the sake of convenience.
There’s more of a sense of a journey when your end point is different to your start point and the finish line comes with a feeling of completion.
This guide features four spectacular hiking traverses across entire mountain ranges: two crackers in Snowdonia, one on a Lakeland classic and another quintessential Highland adventure.
We also feature three awe-inspiring Scottish ridge scrambles: Glen Coe’s infamous Aonach Eagach, Torridon’s monster-in-chief Liathach and the fearsome An Teallach. This trio of ridge scrambles are more technical than the four range traverses, but not beyond the realms of possibility for fit and adventurous hikers.
So, read on for our best ridge walks in the UK. Seven life-affirming linear hikes that represent some of the best days imaginable in Britain’s high places.
Helvellyn range, Lake District
The Helvellyn range dominates the eastern Lake District skyline. Running for around ten miles from Threlkeld in the north to Dunmail Raise to the south, it contains England’s longest continual stretch of ground above 750 metres. Its namesake peak is also the third highest in the country.
The traverse of the range is a glorious high-level walk that begins with the Dodds, a series of gently rolling green giants, before the terrain becomes rockier and more rugged on Helvellyn and its neighbours. Peak baggers will rejoice, a total of nine Wainwrights are claimed by the time you reach beautiful Grisedale Tarn during the descent.
It’s a big day. You’ll need six to nine hours to complete the 12-mile traverse and there’s around 1,150 metres of ascent to contend with. However, it’s all worth it for the continuous views west, where the mountainous Western and Southern Fells are draped across a massive horizon.
Glyderau traverse, Snowdonia
Literally translating to 'heap of stones', the Glyderau run through the heart of Northern Snowdonia and contain many of the national park’s most charismatic peaks. The traverse from Capel Curig to Nant Peris (or vice versa) is wonderfully varied and features glorious views of the Carneddau and the Snowdon massif.
With around 12 miles of rough terrain to cover and 1,300 metres of elevation gain, this is the most strenuous traverse in this feature. The route includes four of the Welsh peaks above 3,000 feet: Glyder Fach, Glyder Fawr, Y Garn and Elidir Fawr.
There are many highlights along the route, though perhaps the cherry on the cake is Glyder Fach’s moonscape summit. Here, you’ll find the Cantilever Stone, an improbable diving board-esque rock formation. There’s also Castell y Gwynt – "the Castle of the Winds" – a fortress of jumbled, angular rock that makes for the perfect foreground fo an awesome view of the Snowdon massif and a solid Instagram selfie.
The Five Sisters of Kintail, Scottish Highlands
A grand, romantic scene above Glen Shiel, the Five Sisters of Kintail offer one of Scotland’s greatest mountain days. Steep, boulder strewn and shapely, the multi-topped ridge is hillwalking gold and boasts incredible panoramas across the Northwest Highlands.
Glen Shiel is a region renowned for its long, rollercoaster ridgelines. One Munro summit leads to the next and energetic peak baggers topple them like dominoes. The Five Sisters rise up on the western end of the glen, towards beautiful Loch Duich.
The quintet of siblings in question are the three Munro summits of Sgùrr na Ciste Duibhe, Sgùrr na Càrnach, Sgùrr Fhuaran, plus Sgùrr nan Saighead and Sgùrr na Moraich. Sgùrr Fhuaran is the highest and most impressive, fittingly occupying the centre of the ridge.
An east to west traverse starts from the Glen Shiel car park off the A87 and all the hard work comes with the initial steep ascent. Once up high, it’s just a case of enjoying the ride along this rough-hewn ridge. The finish line is back at the A87 but on the eastern shores of Loch Duich. Set aside five to eight hours for the traverse. It’s well worth leaving transport at both ends, if possible. The alternative is charming your way to a hitchhike or gambling with a taxi.
Nantlle Ridge, Snowdonia
Hiding in plain sight to the southwest of Snowdon is one of North Wales’ greatest adventures. It’s too well known among hillwalking connoisseurs to be called a secret, but the Nantlle Ridge is not on many people’s radar. So, you’re also unlikely to see too many others on what is a spectacular day. Stark contrast, then, to the big, popular mountain nearby.
Look at the Nantlle Ridge on a map and you’ll notice tightly bunched contour lines and a succession of peaks thrust up to an elegantly sculpted, thin ridge, before the land broadens out on Craig Cwm Silyn and Garnedd-goch. You’ll also notice it’s rarely higher than 700 metres, which might have something to do with its lack of popularity. From this, it’s easy to guess at the character of a hike here. A succession of prominent, if slightly diminutive, peaks linked by interestingly narrow terrain.
The undoubted highlight is Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, an angular, rocky summit that looks mightily intimidating from Y Garn. The ascent is wonderful and is actually a very straightforward, aesthetic grade one scramble. There’s another section of easy scrambling on the ascent of Craig Cwm Silyn too.
It’s usual to tackle the ridge from east to west. The start point is the village of Rhyd Ddu and the end of the full, 10-mile traverse is the village of Llanllyfni. Many take the option of turning back early and retracing their steps towards Trum y Ddysgl and descending into Beddgelert Forest, creating a loop that ends back in Rhyd Ddu.
Life affirming ridge scrambles
Here we present three legendary ridge traverses in the Scottish Highlands that all require a good level of scrambling nous. They are, quite simply, three of the finest adventurous hiking routes in the UK.
The Aonach Eagach, Scottish Highlands
The Aonach Eagach is the huge wall that towers above the northern end of Glen Coe. Its western end, between the peaks of Am Bodach and Sgòrr nam Fiannaidh, is a winding, razor-sharp ridge that features numerous pinnacles and two Munros. This section is thought by many to be the finest ridge on the British mainland.
Technically, the ridge as a whole starts from Beinn Bheag to the east of the Devil’s Staircase – one of the most iconic sections of the West Highland Way – and ends at the Pap of Glencoe, a conspicuously conical summit above the village of Glencoe. A full traverse from the foot of the Devil’s Staircase to Glencoe village is just over nine miles long, with around 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Set aside seven to ten hours to complete the whole thing.
The eastern half up to Am Bodach is very much a hike and features jaw dropping views towards Buachaille Etive Mòr’s iconic Stob Dearg peak and the vast Bidean massif. After Am Bodach, things ramp up significantly, with a tricky downclimb to begin the famous grade two scramble.
The thing about the Aonach Eagach scramble is that there are no escape routes whatsoever beyond this point, making it a very committing route. This, along with the consequences of a fall from the ridge’s crest, is what gives it a grade two rating. In reality, it’s more like a very sustained grade one in terms of technicality, so most adventurous hikers have little trouble.
The cruxes are a tricky downclimb from Am Bodach and the Crazy Pinnacles, a succession of needles that are usually bypassed to the side. The drops on either side here are serious business, so great care is needed. At the end of the ridge, do not be tempted to descend the Clachaig Gully. It may be the fastest way to get to the legendary Clachaig Inn but it’s also an accident hotspot.
Liathach traverse, Scottish Highlands
Liathach is an absolute monster that stretches for almost five miles and rises a vertical kilometre above Glen Torridon in Scotland’s magical northwest. Its terraced sandstone flanks are so steep and so huge, it looks as though the mountain ought to belong in Norway.
Between its two Munro summits – the quartzite-crowned dome of Spidean a’ Chorie Lèith and the complex mass of Mullach an Rathain – are the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles, a superb grade two scramble. Unlike the Aonach Eagach, much of the scrambling is optional, as there’s a bypass path that avoids the more technical terrain. Nevertheless, the bypass is still vertigo-inducing, as it improbably clings to the mountain’s steep sides.
The traverse of the mountain is simply sensational and boasts absolutely massive views to Torridon’s other giants and across a lochan-speckled, wild hinterland. It’s a sea level start, so brace yourself for a strenuous day out. The scramble goes fairly easy for a grade two - those with experience of a Crib Goch or an Aonach Eagach should have no trouble in good conditions. Allow five to eight hours to get the whole thing done.
Often cited as Scotland finest single mountain, An Teallach is an intimidating massif that rises on the cusp of a region known as "The Great Wilderness". It’s a complex mini range with numerous ridges, atmospheric corries and a clutch of spectacular summits. Two are Munros: Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill and Sgùrr Fiona.
An Teallach’s most famous features are the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles, a succession of towers that make for a vertigo-inducing grade three scramble. However, there is a bypass path that avoids the difficulties, giving hikers the opportunity to traverse without quite so much terror. Nevertheless, An Teallach is not for the faint hearted. As Simon Ingram wrote in his excellent book Between the Sunset and the Sea: "For those with a fear of heights, this thing is the enemy".
We spoke to adventurer Nicola Hardy about this stunning route, which she experienced during her and her partner James Forrest’s full round of the Munros (the 282 Scottish peaks over 3,000 feet) in 2019.
"This spine is a grade three scramble, if you stick to the crest. It’s an intrepid approach and not one for the faint-hearted, serving up bucket loads of exposure and technicality. Helmet and ropes are strongly advised for all but the most confident of scramblers.
"But the good news for risk-averse hill walkers, like me, is that you can still traverse the mountain without having to take on the terrifying pinnacles directly. A well-trodden bypass path to the west enables you to avoid the ridge’s apex".
Nicola Hardy, AKA Adventurer Nic, is an outdoor writer, speaker and Komoot ambassador. You can find out more about her adventures on her website.
Now get the gear
All these mountain journeys are long days so you’ll need robust kit that won’t let you down. You’ll also need to be comfortable, so breathable clothing that gives you freedom of movement is key.
Salomon Cross Hike Mid GTX
Finding the right hiking boot for a long ridge traverse isn’t easy. You want plenty of protection from rock abrasion and the elements, but you also don’t want to be overly burdened by the excessive weight of many full-on hiking boots.
Salomon’s Cross Hike Mid GTX’s are waterproof, comfortable over long distances and give you excellent traction on rocky terrain. In essence, they’re a great shout for long days on the hill.
Smartwool Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew
Woven from 100 per cent Merino wool, Smartwool’s Classic Thermal base layer will regulate your temperature beautifully.
On a ridge traverse, there are going to be long, sweaty uphill pulls, followed by potentially cold and windy conditions once you hit the ridgeline. Merino wool effectively wicks sweat away on the ascents and keeps you warm on those exposed summits.
Inov-8 Venturelite Pants
Inov-8's Venturelite hiking collection is brand spanking new for 2022. The Lake District-based brand has taken all of its trail running knowhow and applied it to hiking gear designed for fast and light adventures.
When you’re taking on a big ridge, fast and light is just what the doctor ordered. The brand's Venturelite Pants feature four-way stretch for unrestricted movement and a breathable water-resistant fabric, making them super-comfortable on the trails.