"It's only November!!" - the phrase I have to keep saying to myself in my head. I'm finding myself thinking of it as mid-season already, when it wouldn't be unusual for there to be NO snow at this time of year.
Today, for the second day in a row, I did the long sweaty walk into the North face of Ben Nevis. It's been warm the last couple of days, and the freezing level has gone up to 1000m, so I wasn't too hopeful.
The stunning narrow crest of Ledge Route
But if there's one route on the Ben which is known for being reliable in early season, it is Ledge Route - to my knowledge one of only two 4* grade II winter climbs in Scotland. In my opinion it is deserving of it - a fine line which zig-zags it's way up the mighty Carn Dearg Buttress, with some hefty exposure on the crux of the route.
The Carn Mor Dearg Arete and the North East Buttress
The short passage across Number 5 Gully was distinctly dangerous. The warm temperatures were sending rocks, lumps of ice larger than my head, and broken icicles shooting down the gully with alarming frequency. The last time I'd seen the like was climbing in the Swiss Alps.
The initial ramp to gain the ridge was banked out with deep, but wet snow. Conditions very gradually improved with height, and I really enjoyed the crossing of the narrow crest of the route which is stunningly exposed. A few of the moves were made more interesting than perhaps they should have been due to the lack of solid snow or ice for crampon placements.
The No.4 Gully cornice
There was only one other pair of climbers on Ledge Route today, but plenty elsewhere. I saw teams heading towards the area of the NE Buttress, Creag Coire na Ciste, The Comb, and elsewhere.
The forecast for next week is something special! "Exceptionally cold" is the phrase used. With the large amount of snow left on The Ben, Bidean nam Bian and The Aonachs, there should hopefully be lots of ice forming by next week.
I think we can safely say by now that the winter is getting off to a brilliant start. It wasn't anything like this at this time last year. Shall we all just let ourselves dream, just for a moment, that it will turn out an even better winter than the last one?….