Sunday, 5 December 2010

A change of plans, but a stunning day on Ben Nevis (posted by James)

An Alpine ambience on Ledge Route

A month into Scotland's period of cold weather, and still it marches on. I had one of those days today on the Ben which is so stunning that you simply don't believe you'll get a day so nice again…but I've said that a lot recently, and have been wrong every time.

I was heading up to do Number 2 Gully today, the great chasm which divides Tower Ridge from The Comb. But there had been quite a lot of fresh snow overnight, and it was clear from the approach that avalanche risk has risen considerably on certain slopes. Going near any of the easier gullies would have been a mistake, so I changed direction and waded my way up Ledge Route instead.

The summit of the Ben

In the end it was actually a blessing - being in the shade of the gullies would have been a waste of what turned into a staggeringly beautiful sunny day. Ledge Route was a truly sublime place to be today. Entertaining straightforward climbing along the crest of one of the great ridges of the North Face. But it was exhausting work - I had to break trail through about 12 inches of fresh snow, all the way from the base of Number 5 Gully all the way to the plateau.

Such a contrast from the brutal cold we experienced on Raeburn's Easy Route a few days ago! It felt like a day in the Alps - a sky so blue it is almost purple, and a sun so bright that you can feel it starting to burn your face.

The ice flows near the CIC hut

It can vary so much, on Ben Nevis. Days like today seem like a million years away from the ones when it all starts to go wrong, and when the Ben can be a very, very intimidating place.

A word of caution - avalanche risk has gone up in the easier gullies, due to the new dump of snow on the old consolidated snowpack. The new snow is also hiding very extensive ice flows on easier ground on the approaches, especially into Coire na Ciste. If you are planning on ice routes, sharpen your axes! The ice is extremely brittle just now, but will take sharpened picks.

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