The Highlands’ spiciest ridgelines


by Emma Harrison |

Four of Scotland's most technical and spectacular ridges, rated for their ability to get the adrenaline pumping!

With 282 Munros to bag and a whole host of them being based in the Highlands of Scotland, it seems an inevitable challenge for the avid trail runner to want to climb them all. From multi-day trail runs, to simple ups and downs, every mountain promises its own adventure and surprise. However, although there are Munro societies out there and many fantastic mountaineering clubs to get involved in within the Highlands, sometimes a solitary day out in the hills is all we need to feel alive. What isn’t bargained for here, is just how ‘alive’ we want to feel, and understanding the fine line between feeling rejuvenated and being, quite frankly, terrified to the point of packing an extra pair of pants. It is something I've yet to work out.

Setting out early to avoid the crowds in the Highlands isn’t a new idea, but one that should absolutely be adopted if you want to avoid standing in a queue for a picture at the top of a mountain. That’s not a joke; Ben Nevis attracts far too many people in flip flops carrying large cameras... Escape them as much as you can! Instead, do something that will test your nerves, and keep you quite literally on your toes, climbing higher and higher with your heart pumping louder and louder when the sun is just beginning to rise. Welcome to the incredibly addictive world of ridge running.

Giant footsteps

Within a bonnie village in Torridon on the north west coast of Scotland lives a real life giant – it’s name is Liathach. One of three ridgelines in Torridon, Liathach rises to a height of 3461 feet and is a mountain some will never dare to climb. A write-up like that screams 'challenge', right? After a steep climb up from the road, your average sized car very quickly becomes a tiny dot, and before you know it you’ve popped out on a ridgeline either side of you with some healthy drops. Be sure to venture on to a small summit just to the right to view the ridge spine in its full splendour, reaching out in front of you with the best yet to come. After reaching the first Munro and trig point, your face may well drop here as your eyes divert to the scrambly-looking lumps ahead of you ready to be tackled! Laces tied, a gulp of water for concentration and you’re on your way to a scrambling haven, to be rewarded with views across to Skye and the Outer Hebrides and the beautiful sea that lies between – all in a day's work for the ridge runner! This exposed little number isn’t for the faint hearted. Spicy rating: 3/5

Feel the burn

In the west, nestled between lochs, hills and a fair few beaches, lies the Aonach Eagach Ridge – a surprisingly runnable assault course, but with some long exposed scrambling. The ridge can be tackled in either direction but if you want to join the masses, start where the guide books tell you. Otherwise, start from the climb of the Pap of Glencoe and enjoy a bit of peace, tranquillity and no queues. Your legs are going to be tired and your heart will get a fair workout on this one – this is a steep climb, but worth all the calf burn to reach the top. Working your way over rocky terrain, with occasional grass lumps, this ridge requires determination and a head for heights. There are no bailouts on this beauty, so enjoy the rollercoaster and pack some sugar for halfway along – and for after, too, as a post-ridge party celebration! A great traverse, but leave it for a clear blue day. Spicy rating: 4/5

Go big, go early

As you drive up the north west coast towards Ullapool, the scary silhouette of An Teallach gets closer and closer: a mighty mountain ridgeline with spikes like a dinosaur's back. It's a real classic, and an early start for this one is the key. Guidebooks suggest one way, we suggest the reverse – after a steep run up, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed and swearing under your breath at the sheer surprise at the top. Tackling this can be a little slow if you’re sticking to the ridgeline – the only way to truly summit these tops. There’s some graded scrambling here, so be sure to take a rope if you’re a regular climber, otherwise, run the tops as much as possible, but being careful with footing. This is a spicy one but, with views out to sea and over an exceptionally beautiful loch below, you wont regret lacing up that morning. Spicy rating: 4/5

Save the best for last

Think of this as the hottest pizza on the menu – The Cuillin Ridge on Skye. It's not to be underestimated. Unless your name is Finlay Wild, running these beastly Munros (all 11 of them) is a huge undertaking. The good news is that they can be tackled independently. The example here is Sgùrr na Banachdaich – nice simple running until you hit the scree, but a simple pull up to the summit. Once you've reached the top, you’ll need to steady yourself as your jaw hits the floor and you throw your hat off in amazement. The gnarly, nasty, evil rock that fills the landscape here is sensational. Peer over to the Inn Pinn if you dare! Dropping down below to Banachdaich will create chaos in your mind as the steep climbs and severe drops are in view. With narrowing ridges, we runners excel at climbing up light and fast, but great care and expertise are needed here. If you are experienced enough to carry on to reach the peak of Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh, passing by Sgùrr a Mhadaidh, be sure to make sure there’s enough grip on those shoes. Spicy rating: 5/5

Shorts on already? Enjoy the ride!

Go well equipped

These are not easy runs, so make sure you dress – and pack – accordingly

Being safe is your first priority,
and always letting somebody know which hill you are climbing and what time you are setting off is vital.
These days, you can even use watches such as Garmin Fenix 6 to set a tracking link live for those waiting
at home for you.

Recommended for the hills:

■ Fitness watch

■ Lightweight T-shirt (either long or short-sleeved)

■ Lightweight running shorts

■ Warm socks

■ Windproof jacket. I swear by the Patagonia Houdini

■ A warm layer. A light, packable down jacket would be recommended

■ Running vest. One which carries soft bottles is ideal, and you may also like to put in a dry bag for your kit

■ Waterproof trousers (I'm a big fan of Salomon's running trousers). Go for something lightweight to tuck away in your bag until the rain arrives

■ Thermal hat (essential for hilltops)

■ Mountain mitts or gloves

■ Emergency foil blanket. An absolute must-have for running in the hills

■ Maps of the area and a compass.
There are plenty navigation courses in Scotland delivered by reputable organisations such as Glenmore Lodge and Scottish Rock and Water if you need to build some confidence

■ You may also want to take a waterproof case for your phone (which should be fully charged)

■ Sunglasses. Though that might seem like a mad idea for Scotland, the sun does shine sometimes!

■ With ever-changing seasons, it is vital to take enough warm clothing for the tops of the ridges and where possible use the In Case of Emergency app on your mobile phone.

■ Always pack some warm clothing for after your run if taking your own transport, and a fresh bottle of water to hydrate post-adventure.

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