Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A last taste of winter on the Ben (posted by James)

Very snowy on the Ben on the last day of May 2011

One of the most rewarding aspects of climbing or mountaineering for me is the way that your mind is focused entirely on something apart from all the usual 'stuff' going on in the rest of your life.

For various reasons I've been feeling a bit blue for the last week, and by the end of my extremely busy bank holiday monday shift in the Clachaig I just needed to well and truly escape. So as soon as I finished work at 1am I packed my bag and headed towards the Ben, with the knowledge that I had only 11 hours before the start of my next shift, and a brief window of fair weather.

Gearing up in the North face car park at 2am

I wasn't looking to do a route I'd never done before, I was just craving simple escapism - so I headed towards my old favourite Castle Ridge. Although often ignored in favour of the other Nevis ridges, it is one of the classic Scottish ridge climbs.

Due to the last few weeks of bad weather, the rock was most certainly not in prime condition for climbing, to say the least. In fact there were small streams flowing over some of the rock steps which you need to climb over, so I was having to take extreme care.

A sinister looking Carn Dearg Buttress and the Castle

But the 'interest' really increased when I got to the cruxes. Although the ridge had looked totally free of snow from below, there were small pockets of hidden snow on some of the hand and footholds, so I had to use all my concentration. Thankfully at this altitude there wasn't much at all, because the hardest crux on Castle Ridge rivals anything to be found on most climbs a grade harder. I've climbed it in winter as well and this chimney briefly attains technical Grade IV, so I wouldn't want to be climbing it without crampons if there has been any more snow!

Maximum concentration required on a very wet and slippery Castle Ridge

The crux of Castle Ridge in drier, more friendly conditions - about a year ago

But as soon as I was past the crux, things very quickly became more wintery. Very soon there was enough snow that it looked every part a real winter day - rime ice, small drifts, even small fresh cornices forming over the large easy gullies. In particular I noticed the monstrous cornice over Number 2 Gully, now even larger than it was when Alex and I climbed it on the 15th May 2010.


Once back down it was only a short while before my next shift started. So by the end of my shift last night I'd been on my feet almost continuously for 27 hours. Knackered physically - but due to those few wonderful hours on the Ben….recharged and refreshed inside.


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