Is it the most impressive mountain prow in Scotland, the North East Buttress? Quite possibly - I've yet to see its equal.
I'd been contemplating a solo climb of the Ben's mightiest ridge for a couple of months or so. Alex and I had climbed it as a roped team over a year ago, so I was familiar with the terrain.
Pink clouds and morning light on the North East Buttress
Route finding is far more difficult than on Tower Ridge, there is a longer walk-in, the rock is far more loose and broken, and there are two cruxes which are considerably harder than Tower Gap. The ridge becomes increasingly difficult and committing the higher you get, and as such has quite a feeling of being inescapable once on it.
Tower Ridge, North East Buttress' more forgiving neighbour?
Faced with a totally perfect weather forecast, and wanting to get a 'grand finale' route before the autumn started, I decided to just go for it. Confidence is a massive part of being able to solo routes at the top end of your ability.
I was treated to beautiful pink and red puffy clouds drifting over the Ben as I made the long walk-in. It was notably very cold for the time of year, and by the time I reached the First Platform on the buttress I was considering putting a wooly hat underneath my helmet.
A portrait using the camera's self timer, on the level ground above the crux wall.
It was interesting to see at least 7 different snow patches as I walked in under the face, the largest being the one in Observatory Gully.
I made quick progress up the broken terrain between the first and second platforms. There are far fewer crampon scratches to help guide you to the route than on the other Nevis ridges, as it is far more seldomly climbed. I soon came across the first vertical wall on the ridge, characteristic of the entire buttress in that it is split by downwards sloping diagonal cracks, making the climbing quite stiff for the grade.
The first crux move.
Then…the "Mantrap", the infamous crux move of the buttress, an overhanging wall with little in the way of good holds for hands or feet. I was alarmed to see rime ice crystals on the rock (in August!!) and after fighting with the move for 20 minutes I managed to do a step right and move up a vertical slab. It was here that I took a rapid swing onto my left arm as my feet slipped, dislodging the scab on the wound on my elbow.
Solo climbing V.Diff with iced rocks....hmmm...
On this area of the buttress I was solo climbing at the top of my abilities. But I was massively enjoying myself, riding an adrenaline high. More rime ice had to be dealt with in the "Forty Foot Corner", but once over that I was home and dry, and on the busy summit of Ben Nevis.
The result of a swinging fall - apologies for covering the route with blood.
It was elating, topping out onto the summit plateau. It was the hardest and most committing solo climb I'd ever done, in perfect weather. It's always nice to dream up a silly idea and then see it through. And I got my last big route of the summer, a wonderful conclusion to what has actually been a fantastic season.
Autumn isn't far away....