Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Ledge Route in early winter conditions (a guest post from Alex)
After months away from the mountains, how lucky for me that my return to Glencoe should coincide with a period of unseasonably wintry weather! I'm up here for a week, and on the first day I found myself once again tramping up the steep path from the north face car park towards the cliffs of Ben Nevis. My companions for the day were my brother James and fellow Clachaiger Mark; our objective, Ledge Route.
We didn't quite know what to expect in terms of conditions. Snow had settled on the mountain the previous day, but James and Mark believed crampons would not be necessary. All of us carried axes (I also took my crampons with me to be on the safe side). James also decided not to pack snow goggles, a decision he would come to regret!
Thanks to over-indulgence in whisky the night before, all of us were feeling a little rough as we slogged up through the forest. I perhaps felt it more than the others thanks to my lack of hill fitness after three months away from the mountains. Upon entering the Allt a'Mhuillin we came to appreciate that the Ben was looking much wintrier than we had expected.
At lower levels the snow tended to be soggy. The first 'ledge' on Ledge Route turned us back with a slick layer of wet snow on even wetter rock, so we took the detour around Moonlight Buttress and crossed No.5 Gully to take the higher start to the route.
At this point all of us had our axes out (although not strictly necessary) and I had my crampons on; the others chose a line of least resistance as the snow got deeper underfoot. Conditions improved the higher we climbed, and eventually we hit the freezing level and the rocks started to get icier. The others took care to avoid a slip.
In general conditions were surprisingly amenable: not too much wading but a good covering of snow, and some rime ice plating the rocks here and there. We were even treated to some spells of clear sky on the way up.
We reached the top pretty pleased with ourselves at having caught the route in such good condition. Immediately, however, the plateau decided to throw the worst of its weather in our faces! A gale blew a barrage of hail and icy snow in our direction; at one point the hail was so fierce that it felt like we were being pelted by needles. Mark and I wore snow goggles and were very glad of them. James staggered through the spindrift and near-whiteout conditions. It would be a respectable blizzard in the middle of the winter season, but for October it was quite a surprise!
On the way down the Pony Track we met a number of walkers, plus Alan Halewood who had been for a solo on Tower Ridge and found similar conditions to us.
Overall an excellent day on the hill, a good start to the 2011/2012 season, and of course it's very good to be back in Glencoe!
All photos (C) Alex and James Roddie 2011, all rights reserved