Thursday, 2 December 2010
A trip to Ben Nevis
Yet another breathtakingly clear, blue-sky day in the Highlands. James and I teamed up with friends Isi and Lorraine for an assault on climbs in Coire na Ciste, Ben Nevis. Our original plan was to climb Garadh Gully, currently sporting two short pitches of steep ice, then continue to Raeburn's Easy Route or one of the other climbs in that area. However, by the time we arrived at Garadh's Gully, we saw five people on the route so decided to leave it for another day. We climbed up towards the No.2 Gully area.
We talked about Raeburn's Easy Route, a Grade II snow and ice climb heading out of the left wall of No.2 Gully. On the one hand, it looked loaded with snow; but on the other hand, the snow in the bottom of No.2 Gully on the approach was excellent. In the end, Isi and Lorraine decided to go up No.2, while James and I opted for Raeburn's (we have already done No.2).
All went well to begin with. The ice steps were short and amenable, although the ice was so cold and brittle that even with razor-sharp B rated picks, it was shattering and fracturing quite badly on impact.
The higher we climbed, the worse the snow became. I put in an ice screw belay below the steepest part of the route while we assessed our chances. By this point, the snow had become a thin icy crust on top of bottomless cruddy powder--most steps were collapsing under our weight. Dangerous conditions to be considering an exposed traverse on snow, which we expected to see above the steep scoop.
In the end it was an easy decision: safety won over ambition to climb the route. Down we went to the CIC hut, very cold indeed by this point. I don't recall ever having felt so cold in my life. Despite wearing a duvet jacket, balaclava, Dachstein mitts, two pairs of socks and huge mountaineering boots, I lost feeling in my fingers, toes and ears for quite a long time. As someone who usually runs warm on the mountain, even in temperatures well below freezing, I have no idea how cold it must have been! James suffered badly from the hot aches.
We met up with Isi and Lorraine at the car; they had found far better conditions in No.2 Gully, and reported it to be in fairly easy nick. Despite our failed climb, it was a good day out with beautiful views.
Photos from today