Winter climbing on Ben Nevis in springtime!
Good Friday Climb (The Easter Egg Route!)
The weather starts to become a fickle
friend come the end of March Ė one day can be mild and warm giving a feeling
that summer is not far away, the next day can be cold, windy and back to
winter. At this time of year it can be easy to think that there will be no
more opportunities to go winter climbing, to put away the ice axes and
crampons and resign oneself to the hardships of walking into routes with a
lighter sack, to climbing with light rockboots on oneís feet and to swap
heavy gloves and balaclavas for a sun hat and chalk bag. Mind you, this is
Scotland so it pays off to watch out for the freezing level just being low
enough to allow the routes in higher places such as Ben Nevis
to be in ideal condition.
We watched the weather forecasts and
decided to take our chance on the Ben. With rucksacks packed and mattresses
and sleeping bags piled into the car, we set off on Sunday evening planning
to spend the night in the North Face Car Park at Torlundy so we could get an
early start. The weather didnít seem that great as it was raining lghtly
I was surprised when the alarm crowed at
four in the morning! Itís set to make a noise like a cockerel crowing and
sounds very realistic so it took me a moment or too to remember that I was
in a car park and not on a farm! Piling on warm clothes, getting the stove
going, having breakfast, axes onto the rucksack and we were off with
headtorches flickering on the path ahead. Thankfully now it had stopped
raining but would it cold enough?
The path up through the forest is always
boggy and the track beyond to the CIC hut is even worse. Thoughts of the
bog monsters that lurk in the mud and grab at unsuspecting feet uttering
their gloopy calls went through my mind in its semi-awake state. But we
survived their attacks and reached the hut, by now in daylight. The cliffs
ahead looked ominously black and lacking in wintry white stuff!
Some other climbers were heading towards
Tower Ridge, a couple of guys had their sights set on Point Five but they
were last seen heading towards a very out of condition Zero Gully! We were
planning on going for Indicator Wall as it is one of the highest routes so
we set off towards Observatory Gully. The snow was soft and it was only
higher up before we started the traverse over to the route, that we needed
to put on our crampons. Now at this stage, Ron decided to tell me that the
traverse was easy but horribly exposed. I remembered this comment as I was
halfway across the snowy traverse and concentrated on the axes in front me,
my feet and not stopping to admire the view down Observatory Gully! The snow
was good for pushing in the shafts of the axes and the feet kicked in well
and we soon reached the bottom of Good Friday Climb after seeing that
Indicator Wall was decidedly lacking in ice!
We belayed just to the left of Indicator
Wall and the first pitch was sixty metres of snow up to the bottom of a
steep wall. A peg and a wire gave me a good belay and Ron continued up to
the start of the second pitch and the ice. There was a little ramp to climb
to reach the icefall proper and for me, this was the trickiest step.
Thereafter, the ice was lovely, Ron found runners just where he wanted and
the pitch was over all too quickly. The route went across to a corner on the
right where it was possible to slowly work a way up over the icy bulge onto
the easier ground above.
The third pitch was the last and back onto
snow but the route winds around little rock walls coated with ice and up
small gullies. It is never too apparent where the route goes but with each
step forward, it all falls into place. There was a droopy-looking cornice
over to my right but a rib of rock provided a last runner and a good step
which helped me to move up and onto the plateau but not until after I had
cleared away what felt like a mountain of loose snow. Blue sky and views
greeted me as I moved onto the plateau.
The summit of Ben Nevis
can be covered in snow throughout the year and in winter, the stone refuge
can be entirely covered over. Not so on this trip and we sat on the rocks
enjoying the views across Lochaber. Some little snow buntings joined us,
hopping about in search of tasty crumbs. A dark, evil-looking ravencame to
share the feast of dropped food, a scavenger just like the snow buntings but
with a very different demeanour.We sat awhile before starting the long
return journey to the car.
We chose to descend Number 4 Gully using a
short abseil to get over the cornice edge. A fair bit of cornice debris
could be seen below so we guessed that bits of the cornice had collapsed the
day before when the temperature had been milder. We didnít hang around and
slid, slipped and waded our way down through the softening snow.
Now the bit about the easter eggs needs a
bit of explaining. As soon as Christmas is over, the shops start selling
cream eggs. These have been Ronís favourite hill food all winter so it was
apt that with this route being called Good Friday Climb and with it almost
being Easter, it turned out to be a three cream egg route! Will winter
routes ever be graded by stars again?
This was to be our lucky day as on the
walk out, we met some folk we knew who had a car at the upper car park. A
lift back to the North Face car park? Wonderful and very much appreciated as
it saved us at least an hourís walk back down the boggy path.
As we were climbing up Observatory Gully,
we had been watching the height on our altimeters to work out just where the
freezing level kicked in. Good Friday Climb starts 150 metres below the
summit at about 1,200 metres and it was above the freezing level Ė just. It
transpired that this year was not so good for the long, classsic routes on
Ben Nevis but we caught an excellent day just as winter was fast
disappearing. Enough to keep alive the lure of The Benís winter climbs for