The most famous, the most sought after, the most bad ass, the most scarry and allso the highest mountain in all of Great Britain. Here we come! All of the bellow happened yesterday, on Paddy’s day 2018. A tradition by now, when on this day we go out and climb some ice.
After the previous days fail, we decided to use all of the energy and enthusiasm we have for a proper alpine day out on the Ben.
I actually don’t have that much experience in tackling massive objectives like that, particularly not in the winter setting, so I was quite excited to be able to go out on an adventure with much more experience Del.
We got up just after 4am and by 5 we leftthe B&B we are staying at in Fort William.
It’s only a short drive, so by 5.15 am we were at the trail towards the CIC hut. For those lucky enough that get a bed there (people book it as far as 6months ahead), it’s a major win. The rest of us have to walk… And it’s a long a terrible walk. Especially when the conditions are not great (so almost always).
The walk itself is long. And steep. And on this particular morning it was super windy, with gusts going as fast as 100km/h. It took us over 2.5h to get to the hut (it’s only a short stop to gear up, non guests aren’t alloeed inside).
It was so windy that when I put my bag down it immediately tumbled away. 13kg….
The wind chill made the -7C feel like -15C. Taking the glowed off to tie down the crampons wasn’t an option.
It was actually difficult to decide if we should set off at all. The forecast had it wind and cold, but it was meant to calm down as the say progressed. It did not.
Either way, as all of the parties around us (there’d be total of around 15 or more teams of climbers on the Ben that day) we set off with intention of getting to the base of our climb and assessing the situation further.
It took another hour of steep snow slopes uphill battle, with winds that put both of us at our knees more than once when I had enough.
We looked up at the gullies ahead of us, and I totally lost all willingness to climb.
I’ve learned that day that perhaps I’m not cut out for this winter Scottish mountaineering thing. People warned me that it’s hard. It’s not enjoyable and mostly suffering. Now I know.
Del knew that conditions were in were poor, and was ready to retreat if I wasn’t ready to go. After all we are a team. I looked up last one time, found some weird force inside me that pushed me forward though. ‘Let’s go’ I said and we pressed on. It’s not that I’d be super dangerous to climb. Technical difficulty is well within my range. I’ve climbed much harder routes. It was the general high wind and cold, as well epic walk in that drained my tank that made me want to quit.
Anyway, we picked Green Gully ( IV, 3) route in the Scottish grading system, which was a fitting name for a route to be climbed on Irish National Holiday. It’s around 200m long.
We were already at 900m when we ropped up (so already had some 500m elevation gain that day) and Del grabbed what we considered first pitch. Just a 50m snow slope with one ice screw and one nut. Belay was constructed on two weeds of grass and a Snickers bar wrapper, which is a standard Scottish practice.
I quickly followed and led up P2. It was as blank as they get. I think I’ve put half an ice screw in the whole 45m. Despite the wind it was easy and we should have soloed.
I run it out to good patch of ice. This is where the ice climbing ad I know it started. A patch of ice that actually made you use your crampons front points.
Del grabbed the gear and moved on. The thing is that in scotland you climb until you can find something to belay on, and if you run out of rope, then your partner just moves with you. Luckily Del found a nice steep section he could put two ice screws in. And they went all the way!
The cold wouldn’t give up, the wind was as bad as it gets, but we were powering though. The most annoying part was that it was impossible to take more pictures. Neither of us wanted to take already cold hands from the gloves…
I grabbed the next pitch, which was nice and solid 15m of proper ice climbing (wi3+ if I had to guess, with another possible more direct line of wi4) , followed by another big snow slope, with massive cornice finishing the climb. I went as far as I could and constructed a belay with a dubious screw and two lollipops.
Del followed and immediately attacked the cornice. Unfortunately no photos as there is no way to grab the camera….
The finishing moves were on Del now and it wasn’t easy. There was no obvious break visible in the cornice, so he had to get under it (which is super dangerous as those things are massive and can be unstable), traverse left as far as he could to find a ‘weak’ spot to hack through to the top plateau. It was around 40m effort protected by half a screw somewhere along the way.
When he topped out and disappeared behind the lip I knew my turn was comming. I also knew there will be no proper belay. Just him sitting down and pushing with his feet – a think called bucket seat. Totally legit.
I moved up under the cornice and now had to traverse. No gear ahead of me meant that if the fragile snow under my feet went I was facing a big swing. The fact that Del didn’t see me and was pulling on the rope making me unstable didn’t help either. But that’s how it is.
Luckily I kept my cool and topped out like I should.
We quickly unropped and wanted to get off. As we were packing we noticed our fellow Irish Mountaineering Club members Niall Hed and Aidan Roe topping out adjecent Comb gully (which was our original objective, changed in last minute to the green gully). No cornice on Comb, Niall said, and they quickly descended via no1 gully to the CIC hut. Lucky them.
Winds were still strong but at least the visibility was OK, so finding the descent route wasn’t a problem. The problem was a long walk down to the carpark though. Cold and tired, these 2.5h seemed like forever.
Overall, this 12h car to car day was pretty epic outing. I got the full on Scottish experience. I’m definitely not going back here, until obviously I do. Next year. Hopefuly by then Peter will be able to join us.