Another night sleeping in the back of the car, another 4am alarm call, and another world-class classic Scottish winter route. This time on the mountain that some might consider to be the “crucible of Scottish winter climbing”, the north face of Ben Nevis.
Yes, the conditions were still good, and despite the temptation to have a quiet weekend with the traditional friday night takeaway curry and a film, we packed the car and headed north at about 6pm. Traffic was quiet, and motorway signs were forecasting snow on Saturday (not sure how that would help me at the time I was reading them). Even the infamously slow A82 past Loch Lomond was quiet so we arrived at the North Face Car Park as about 10.30. It was packed, but we managed to squeeze in, so we sorted the sleeping bags and went straight to bed.
I watched the stars through the sun-roof for a bit but quickly drifted off. A few people came and went during the night, but it was mostly quiet. The alarm went off at four, and this time I thought we really had better get up and going as quickly as possible, rather than shut my eyes for another hour or so. Falling out of the car, it felt fairy mild, despite the clear skies and frost on the ground.
We headed up the steep, but very well made path up to the upper car park (for key holders only) and the dam. Checking my watch, as the guidebook states, it really does only save 30 minutes. Then we headed up towards the CIC hut, which took us about an hour, with early morning daylight upon us as we arrived.
Passing the CIC Hut, we continued up a reasonable trail through the snow up towards our goal for the day: “Point Five Gully …probably the most famous ice gully in the world!”. Maybe (?) but the conditions looked superb, and we weren’t surprised that two teams were ahead of us.
We had a bit of a wait at the start, but soon got on to the fat ice. The collection of friends and nuts weren’t going to be needed today, but we kept them on our harnesses just in case. The conditions were really good, and on the steep sections there was plenty of thick ice to get in ice screws.
It remained a sociable climb as the three teams progressed, but unfortunately with teams ahead that always means risk of ice fall. On one of the steepest sections Pete caught a lump on his nose and mouth. I knew something was up when I heard, “Aagh… urgh… urgh… blood… urgh… urgh… not… sure… damage… urgh.” I called up, “You alright?”, I got a long silence then a reply, “Urgh… think… so… blood…”. He looked down and I saw a face full of blood. “Cool!” I called up, “That’ll make an ace photo. It’s all bout the blog!”. Then, “Do you want me to do the pitch?”, at which point, Pete headed off and finished the pitch.
Unfortunately (for the blog), there was so much spindrift coming down, the blood gradually washed away, so by the time I could get a photo the damage looked a lot less. Still, another scar always looks good on a man.
We’d been protected in the gully from the wind, but by the time we topped out it was very windy on the summit. We decided to head straight for the shelter to have a bite to eat. It was surprisingly comfortable but I’d rather not have to spend the night up there.
We only spent about 15 minutes in the shelter, but by the time we emerged the forecasted afternoon snow had arrived and visibility had completely deteriorated to white-out conditions. We knew the way off, I’d had a look at which direction we needed to walk from the shelter before we went in, but we decided to do the compass and pacing thing just to be sure.
On the way down we passed quite a few walkers heading towards the summit, some men were dressed in skirts (over their trousers) and had make up on. Nice day for it!? “Are we nearly there?” most called out. At least all were smiling and didn’t mind the deteriorated weather. It was such a shame they missed the amazing views by about 30 minutes.
It was an excellent day, and as always I was a complete wreck by the time we arrived back at the car. My joints seemed to do reasonably well, until the final 30 minutes down the steep, but very well made path from the upper car park – oh how I wish I’d got a key to the upper car park.