Harold Raeburn: The Steps of a Giant

written by Peter J Biggar


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Harold Raeburn was one of Scotland’s greatest ever mountaineers, with a legacy of prized lines scattered far and wide across the Highlands.

In feats of extraordinary vitality, he made winter ascents of Tower Ridge, North-East Buttress and Crowberry Gully in four days, cycling from Fort William to Glencoe in between. His breathtaking ascent of Green Gully, cutting steps up near-vertical ice with a single axe, was doubtless the hardest ice climb anywhere at the time and was unsurpassed in difficulty in Scotland for nearly three decades. But perhaps Raeburn’s finest achievement was the first winter ascent in 1920 of Observatory Ridge, which remains one of Ben Nevis’s longest and most serious winter climbs. These routes, amongst so many others, were visionary, while beyond Scotland, he pioneered climbs in the Alps, Norway and the Caucasus, attempted Kangchenjunga and was Climbing Leader on the calamitous 1921 British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. Tragically, the latter was to be his undoing, precipitating a ‘melancholia’ that had perhaps, to some degree, dogged him all his life.

With extracts from Raeburn’s own elegant writings and accounts from his friends and climbing companions, The Steps of a Giant is an intimate portrait of a master craftsman, chronicling his outstanding mountaineering record while digging beneath the surface of his modest reserve to reveal a complex, driven character upon whose shoulders subsequent generations of climbing luminaries stand.


Hardback with 468 pages
Size: 160mm x 220 mm (portrait)
ISBN: 978-1-907233-50-0

Printed in Europe on FSC certified paper

About the author

Peter Biggar lives in Torridon in the North-West Highlands. He was educated at George Watson’s Boys College in Edinburgh and obtained an MA from St Andrews University and a PhD in happiness from Aberdeen University. Amongst other things, he has worked as an English teacher and, latterly, as a tutor for the Open and Aberdeen Universities.

A climber for over 50 years, he is a member of various mountain clubs and organisations, including the SMC, of which he was Editor from 2014–2020.

The Steps of a Giant is Peter’s first biography, but he has written three unpublished novels, one collection of short stories and a small collection of both published and unpublished poetry. He won the WH Murray Prize in 2003 for his article, ‘The Second Sight’, and has also written for mountaineering magazines and the SMC Journal.