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West Highland Way in December

Dear Community,

I'm planning to walk the West Highland Way somewhere between December 10 and December 24 on my own. From walkaboutscotland.com I got an itinerary to do it in 6 days (+/- 19 miles a day). I just have a couple of questions. I hope you can help.

- What will be the conditions on the trail? Will there be snow and ice?
- Is it safe to walk there on my own considering I have to walk some portions in the dark due to limited daylight? (I will take a head lamp).
- Is the trail properly marked?
- What to do in case of emergency?

Many thanks!

Kind regards,

Luc

Comments

  • VisitScotlandJulieVisitScotlandJulie Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hello @lucvosters

    It is not recommended to walk the route in winter as you may be putting yourself at unnecessary risk. I guess it depends on how accustomed you are to walking in adverse weather conditions and whether you would want to put yourself through that.

    The days will be very short, so not much light to enjoy the landscape or to keep safe and visible should you get into trouble. It would be best to ask the experts at the official website  https://www.westhighlandway.org/contact-us/. This website should also give you an idea of what it is like to walk the route and what you need to prepare before you arrive.

    I wonder if anyone here has done this route in the dark of winter, and can offer some first-hand advice.

    Here's what the WHW website has to say about walking the route in winter:
     The West Highland Way should only be undertaken in winter by fit walkers with good winter navigation skills. From November to March, winter conditions can be expected and any walker undertaking the route during these months must be fully prepared and properly equipped. When snow falls, all the high ground in the northern half of the Way can be affected. During such times the path can completely disappear, therefore it is essential that walkers have a map and compass and be able to use them. Traversing snow covered slopes can be hazardous and ice axes and crampons are preferred to walking poles at such times. However, many weeks between November and March are fine for walking. Wet and windy days are more common than snowstorms during the milder winters. As the days stretch out in March and with spring approaching it becomes a bit more appealing to get back out walking again. But even in late winter and early spring the weather can throw up some nasty and unpleasant days so preparation and awareness must all be part of the plan. You can read essential advice for winter walking on the Walkhighlands website.

  • Hi Luc,

    You can be guaranteed that it'll be dark, cold, wet, windy, icey, snowy and hard going for at least some of it. Possibly all :) 

    However it'll be quiet, the views on a clear winter day are properly stunning and you may well have one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

    However you do need to be very fit and confident in winter weather. The track is waymarked but in a whiteout that's as good as useless. Your navigation skills will need to be on point and you should consider things like crampons and an ice axe for sections like the devil's staircase. 

    You don't say what your Hill experience is so it's difficult to make a good recommendation for you. If you're a summer walker with zero winter skills then I'd be inclined to advise against it.

    For emergencies you should take a mobile phone (999 and ask for mountain rescue) and I'd also recommend taking plenty of spare charging packs and using something like Viewranger as a backup to a paper map. Leave a detailed itinerary with someone and advise your accommodation provider (if you're not wild camping) of your ETA. 

    The biggest challenge is staying dry and warm. I'm usually ok camping out for a few days at a time in winter but that's with plenty changes of clothes and socks. Camping is an option but you'd probably be best booking at least a few nights in B&Bs. Nothing worse than being cold and wet to thoroughly sap your energy and morale. 

    You'll be lucky to get more than 6 hours of daylight in December so do keep that in mind when you're tackling the more technical sections from Rannoch Moor onwards.

    Apologies if that's a little negative! It could be an amazing trip but only if you have the confidence and skills to do it. 


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