Big, bad world of winter climbing on The Ben

After a successful first day of climbing

Over the last few days, James, Chris and I have been out on Ben Nevis for some winter climbing, following the mountaineering in the High Atlas and skills course in the Cairngorms.

This has been my first taste of Scotland winter climbing proper, and first acquaintance with Ben Nevis, and it has been full on. The sheer physicality of a winter climbing day took me by surprise: big walk-ins and -outs, huge snow slopes, towering cliffs, steep ice and cold belays.

You really have to be a fighter if you want to be a winter climber in Scotland, and it is probably wise to ease into it, as the demands on the body are so great.

Leading on Thompson's Route, IV,4 (pitch one)Well, rather than take my own advice, we went for two routes on Monday, Central Gully Right-Hand (IV, 4) and Thompson’s Route (IV, 4). I took my first Grade IV lead on the first pitch of Thompson’s, which was not quite in the best condition, requiring a slightly delicate traverse out left from the initial chimney. Both routes contained great ice and were highly atmospheric, but by the time I got home I was on my last legs.

On Tuesday we upped the ante and had a crack at Smith’s Route, an iconic Grade V. It was climbed in 1960 using the traditional step-cutting technique, which is more akin to skills courses these days than climbing, but is testimony to the courage and skill of the early pioneers. The first pitch went smoothly, but thereafter we encountered problems. James got off route and took a fall after an axe popped. Plus, we did not have enough ice screws to safely negotiate the pitch. We ended up abseiling off a screw and peg, sacrificing some kit, frustratingly.

James on Smith's Route, V,5 (pitch two)

It is all part of the game, though, and it was helpful to go through a real, live problem-solving process to get down safely. James was unhurt, but received a nasty bruise on his hip, which ruled out yesterday, leaving today for a winter walking day. The weather was awful and I got up into the North Face before calling it a day in wet, windy and mild conditions.

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One Response to Big, bad world of winter climbing on The Ben

  1. Pingback: Scotland Winter Climbing | Red Rock Adventures

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