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When Should You Choose A More Difficult Climbing Route?

Many mountains you can climb have multiple established routes to ascend from ground level up to the summit, each of which can vary wildly in difficulty.

One noteworthy example of this is Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. Whilst the Pony Track is popular and relatively simple to scale (although not entirely without risk), there are also several other climbing routes that are far more of a test of a climber’s winter mountaineering skills.

The most difficult of these, Observatory Ridge, requires a climber to navigate several quite tricky sections as well as a quite frantic scramble up to the summit.

For someone who simply wants to stand on top of the UK, the Pony Track is more than sufficient, but it does beg an interesting question about climbers.

When and why should they opt for a more difficult route when a simple path is available?

Training For Higher Peaks

One of the biggest practical reasons why we opt for challenging routes on familiar mountains is to test our abilities on more difficult terrain in advance of attempting a more technically demanding climb.

Whilst you can simply walk up Ben Nevis, not all mountains in the world have that luxury, and if you want to challenge a higher or more complex peak such as Everest or even K2, you need to start with the more technically demanding faces of a familiar mountain.

It is a safer way to build up to a level where you can challenge ever greater peaks.

Discover The Unknown

Whilst there are many graded ascents and a lot we know about the most famous mountains in Scotland, there are plenty of surprises as well.

Echo Wall, an ungraded and extremely difficult traditional climbing route was only scaled in 2008 after two years of preparation by one of the greatest rock climbers in the world.

Mountains are gigantic and to this day are still filled with mysteries and routes that have not been attempted.


At the risk of getting philosophical about mountain climbing, the question of why choose a difficult route when an easier one is available reveals itself to be a variation of the age-old question of why we choose to climb mountains in the first place.

George Leigh Mallory, when discussing climbing Mount Everest in 1922, said that climbing a mountain has “no use”, as reaching the summit will not reveal any hidden trove of resources, nor usable land for crops, nor anything other than adding to our collective knowledge about how the body handles high altitudes.

However, he also pointed out that looking for goals such as these miss the point of mountaineering in the first place, which is that the challenge itself provides the incentive, the reason, the motivation and the reward.

We climb Observatory Ridge, or Point 5 gully in winter, or Echo Wall or attempt the impossible routes of K2 because they are one of the finest and purest challenges we can pit ourselves against, with the joy of the challenge only surpassed by the euphoria of triumphing over it.

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