Monday, 14 September 2009

The North Buttress of Stob Ban





Yesterday afternoon, I took the bus into Glen Nevis with bivouac gear and food for two days. My objective was the North Buttress of Stob Ban, a winter ridge route first climbed in 1895, which is graded for summer conditions as a Grade 3 scramble. My plan was to traverse the Mamore ridge after this climb.

The walk into the high corrie was pleasant, and I was pleased that I could recall many features on this path from my only prior visit exactly three years before. At the back of the corrie I left the path and struck a diagonal line up the boggy hillside towards the great face of Stob Ban.

The ridge began innocuously enough with small vegetated buttresses, but things soon got steep and serious. The first crux came in the form of a vertical chimney-crack. Luckily the holds were good, but my heavy pack made things awkward and it was a thuggish fight to make progress up the crack.

The next crux was to be found on the subsequent buttress. After a short scramble up a grassy gully, with one delicate rockover onto a slab, I broke out onto an exposed ledge. The escape from this ledge came in the form of a quite improbable crack up a blank wall, leaning slightly steeper than the vertical. The guidebook makes scant mention of this pitch but it proved to be fierce! Once committed into the crack it is impossible to regain the ledge below, and the subsequent moves are hard. In winter, with turf above the head to hack into, I can see this being easier. In summer it is wildly out of character for a 'scramble', more like the crux on a Difficult rock climb, but it is short and well-protected for parties who choose to use a rope.

I finished up a knife-edged arete to the summit. From there, racing the sunset, I ran to the summit of Sgurr an Iubhair where I was treated to a spectacular temperature inversion and a blaze of fire looking back over Stob Ban. Luckily, a small grassy ledge directly beneath the summit cairn made a perfect perch for me to spend the night.

I awoke with the dawn illuminating the mountains on the other side, and yet another temperature inversion! The dawn was spectacular and I lingered for a while on the summit, waiting for the sun to warm me up before getting going.

Unfortunately a twinge in my ankle upon reaching the summit of Am Bodach made me unwilling to finish the traverse of the Mamores, and I decided it was prudent to call it a day before committing myself to several more peaks.

So: another good scramble, a nice walk, and the best mountain bivouac I've ever enjoyed.

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