Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A warm November and controversy on Ben Nevis (posted by James)

Warm sunshine on the Aonach Eagach

This day last year, I was wading through deep snow on the Cairngorm plateau having just dug a trench through the drifts on Fiacaill Ridge. The winter had started in earnest a week before, and it turned into one of the coldest Novembers for years.

Today however, I was climbing Quiver Rib on Aonach Dubh…14 degrees in the Glen, the rivers running surprisingly dry and not a flake of snow to be seen. Yesterday morning on the Aonach Eagach I was quite comfortable in a t-shirt and could really feel the heat of the sun on my face.

However despite my love and preference of all things winter, I am not letting out so much as a whisper of complaint. The Aonach Eagach was an even more magical place than usual yesterday morning….a patchy cloud inversion billowing around the summits and a Brocken Spectre following me in the mist for half a mile along the ridge.

It's always a place I go when I'm happy or contemplative, if something good has happened or if I just want to gaze down on Glencoe for a couple of hours. I think it might be my favourite of all places.

On a different note, on thursday evening I had a bit of a surprise on Ben Nevis. I climbed Castle Ridge at dusk and on my way across the plateau I was struck by the absence of the Number 4 Gully abseil post. After writing a blog post about my thoughts on this, I ran into a solid wall of doubt on UKC about the veracity of my claim that the post was not there.

I was quite correct in what I said. The abseil post was not there…instead it was lying some way down Number 4 Gully itself, having presumably been thrown down there by someone. Whoever it was, it was not the John Muir Trust - they have quite rightly promised a consultation on the matter and the post above Coire Leis due next year, and were not responsible for this action.

So the post had been removed. Yesterday morning, Al Halewood went up the Ben and put it back. Good on him for making such a direct move, especially as the whole issue has instantly become a very touchy subject amongst the Scottish mountaineering community. The post should remain there at least until the John Muir Trust have considered the opposing arguments concerning its existence.

Crucially though, Al has stated on his blog that the post is now not stable enough to abseil from without a considerable depth of snow supporting it. Constructing your own snow anchors, downclimbing the gully or choosing an entirely different descent route are the most sensible option this winter unless the post is reinforced.

The existence of man-made objects on the hills is a highly controversial subject. If we all accept that opinions vary considerably and respect differing points of view then hopefully the climbing community can actually assist bodies like the JMT and the National Trust for Scotland in their work, rather than being the hindrance that we are sometimes guilty of being.


1 comment:

  1. Hi James, I too read Alan's post with interest, along with yours. You can view my post at:


    As a lower grade mortal, I kind of err on the side of keeping the post, but maybe it can be made less intrusive? Fortunatly, on my occaisions to be there, I have found No4 gully without any problem. But maybe one day... :)


    Tim :)