Tuesday, 30 November 2010

North Gully solo, Ben Nevis (posted by James)

The crux of North Gully, steep ice.

North Gully (Grade II), Creag Coire na Ciste.

What a start to the winter! It's almost too good to be true… November has to me felt more like January.

I was looking for Grade II solo options on Ben Nevis today. North Gully of Creag Coire na Ciste is quite short, but forms a nice curving line which is a reliable route early in the season.

North Gully

Walking into Coire na Ciste, I was astonished at the sheer amount of ice for November. Everywhere you look there are icefalls forming - the CIC Cascades, Waterfall Gully, The Curtain, Gemini…all forming fast.

I must have experienced almost every type of snow in Coire na Ciste today, from hard nevé to windslab, but overall things are looking good. Most of the instabilities look obvious and are avoidable.

The summit of Ben Nevis

The first section of North Gully is steep for a Grade II. About a third of the way up, I came across a steep pitch of ice, probably nudging Grade III. Unfortunately the ice was quite brittle, and when I was nearly at the top of the icefall, at the crucial moment my left axe broke through the ice and I was covered with a jet of water. A couple of slightly alarming moves and pull-ups on my right axe and I onto less steep snow.

Ben Nevis today - doesn't get much better than this.

The steep exit onto the plateau, pulling over the lip of the cliffs into crisp freezing sunshine….it never fails to be an amazing experience. Emerging into the bright, "real" world, after the cold and shadows of the north face.

The summit of the Ben was an unusually magical place today. The observatory ruins were coated by a thick crust of rime ice, making them look more like igloos. With bright sunshine, intense cold and utter silence, it is arguably my most memorable summiting of the Ben.

The forecast is for the cold to continue....

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