Friday, 27 January 2012

Winter perfection on Stob Ban's North Buttress (posted by James)

The East Ridge of North Buttress, Stob Ban

After my enjoyable yet slightly disappointing day on Ben Nevis yesterday, I was determined to make the most of the excellent weather forecast for today. So I decided to go for a route I've wanted to climb for a while…the East Ridge of the North Buttress of Stob Ban.

Dawn sunshine in Glen Nevis

Seen from Glen Nevis the North Buttress is a striking feature at any time, but at this point in the year it captures the imagination of a winter climber perfectly. Stob Ban is a fine mountain, indeed one of the most beautiful in Scotland without a doubt.

Stob Ban

After half an hour of hill-fog during my walk-in, I was endlessly pleased when the sun started to break through and reveal the splendour of Stob Ban's East face. The sky became bluer by the minute, and sunshine danced on the terraces and slabs of the Central Buttress.

Bright sunshine on the route

I looked up at the East ridge of the North Buttress. It looked amazing. A continuous ridge line, broken by high pinnacles and flanked by steep snow-slopes shining bright in the sun. Today was not a day to be in the cold shade of a North face, or the dark icy loneliness of a gully.

Starting up the first pinnacle, the snow was starting to melt slightly in the sunshine and the turf wasn't fully frozen. But there was a lot of fresh powder and the route was in perfectly acceptable condition. Some awkward moves bring you to the top of the first pinnacle, and you get to see the rest of the route ahead.

A turfy groove

"Lots of fun" are the first words that came to mind. There's a fair bit of variation possible on the route, you could avoid some of the steeper sections to make it easier but I suspect far less enjoyable. I took the ridge pretty much directly, putting it as a Grade III route overall.

After the easier ground of the second steepening the ridge becomes an enthralling place to be. You are suddenly faced by steep pinnacles ahead which look extremely difficult or impossible to by-pass, so you must tackle them directly.

A small cloud inversion under Sgurr a'Mhaim and The Devil's Ridge

An exposed left-wards traverse brings you to the crux section of the upper part of the ridge - a steep broken slab that must be climbed in order to gain the crest of one of the pinnacles. It felt like a bold place to be soloing.

One of the awkward sections

And then, like all great mountain routes, the ridge finishes in a spectacular and exciting climax. You come to an extremely narrow section of pinnacles with such a feeling of exposure that straddling it with a leg on either side and inching your way along seems like the only safe option.

As I looked down on the route from above, the sun came out from behind a cloud and the entire ridge shone bright through the shadows. Only from above can you see how narrow and exciting it looks .

Looking down on the route from above

The East ridge of the North Buttress is one of the best mountain ridges I've climbed - a striking, imposing and natural route that gains interest with height and becomes more spectacular the higher you climb. A really enjoyable solo climb on a perfect winter day.


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