Monday, 11 May 2009
Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis ... Alpine style
Yesterday I headed into Glen Nevis with my tent, two days' worth of food, and my winter gear. The intention was to explore, guidebook-free. After chatting with three blokes who were doing the Grey Corries ridge, I camped in the wild corrie encircled by Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, and when I awoke at 5am I saw that my boots (left outside) were frozen hard. A good sign! The sky was also crystal clear without a cloud to be seen.
I approached the North Face of Aonach Beag and searched out a potential line. The overnight frost had hardened up the snow nicely, and in fact the whole situation was reminiscent of an early morning in the Alps. As I started to climb my chosen gully, the sun hit the face and almost immediately ice chips started raining down from above. Another reminder of the Alps!
Since I had no guidebook, I had to do a fair bit of wandering to and fro to find the best route. I ended up climbing two steep pitches of perfect snow-ice at around Grade III standard, but it felt stiffer due to my heavy pack. The line I followed corresponds to the Grade III route 'Dragonfly'. After climbing the very steep final snow pitch, avoiding the drooping cornices, I followed the ridge down and back up again towards Carn Mor Dearg. The three chaps doing the ridge were ahead of me, breaking trail in the softening snow.
A tiring ascent on snow-covered slabs finally brought me to the summit of Carn Mor Dearg and its superb view of the North Face of Ben Nevis, for once cloud free and draped with ice and snow. I followed the long narrow arete from CMD to the summit of Ben Nevis, which was awash with the usual hordes of walkers ... not an ice axe to be seen! In fact, one bloke noticed my crampons and said 'He's cheating!'
I descended rapidly, 1:50 hours from the summit to the pub. As luck would have it, the three blokes I had met at various stages on the way over the ridge were already getting the drinks in and were kind enough to buy a much-appreciated pint of Blaven for me. Next time you're in the Clachaig I will return the favour!
Taken altogether, the past two days count as some of the best I have ever had amongst the Scottish mountains. What a fantastic way to end the 2008/2009 winter climbing season.