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Two Step Corner, Ben Nevis  

Two trips to Ben Nevis in less than a week. That has to be a first for me!

We checked the weather forecast to find that it was going to be a great day but this was met with a with a mixture of pleasure and grief! A good, cold forecast meant great climbing but it also meant that all the BMC International Meet attendees would be heading for the Ben. We had heard a rumour that they had six minibuses going there and they had a key to the upper car park. We didnít have a key so we either had to leave horribly early to be ahead of the crowds or leave late to be behind them and resign ourselves to a late finish. As neither of us are particularly keen on 2am.starts, the late option was chosen.

So at a leisurely eight oíclock we prepared to leave the North Face car park for the slippy, slimy scramble through the trees and that was just to get to the upper car park where the crowds would be leaving from their comfortable mini buses There was at least forty cars at Torlundy, the North Face car park and more than twenty at the upper car park, Oh, to be one of the lucky few who have a key to that upper car park..

It was quite strange to catch up and pass folk on the path as Iím usually the person that is overtaken. Even more weird was seeing the lines of people heading up towards the CIC hut. We bypassed the hut and headed off to Coire na Ciste up rocks and boulders covered with a thin dusting of fresh snow.

We stopped just above the lochain to get out crampons and harnesses and to watch the international crowds climbing up the corrie Ė some heading for the easier mountaineering routes, others heading for routes that had never before seen a winter ascent Ė brave folk! Voices and accents were French, Japanese, Italian, English and Ron was sure he spotted one of the Guides we know from La Grave.

I set off and plodded my way up to the bottom of Two Step Corner, a grade V, 5 that we had talked about climbing and it was our first choice. Ron took his time following as he was collecting photos for future reference and possible trips back. We had alternatives but there were queues for those routes too so why not queue for what we really wanted to do?

There were people already climbing in Two Step Corner so it was easy to spot the first two belays. We thought we could have reached the second belay in one pitch with our 60m ropes but the parties in front were splitting the pitches so it made sense that we did too just so we could keep moving. The first pitch looked to me like it was a bit lacking in good ice or at least the stuff that would take ice screws. I dithered about leading and Ron said he would climb first to the intermediate belay then I could do the next pitch. Good choice as the opportunities for putting in gear to protect the moves was scarce. Ron managed to get a really good hex placed in a slot but that was it. I would have been getting in a faff trying to find gear placements.

The next pitch looked steep and again I dithered but I lead it and find it steep but nice climbing and the short steep bits were exactly that. Ice screws went in happily which made me smile so on I went. Bits of ice came down from above so I climbed on until I was directly below the guy on the next belay. There wasnít anywhere for me to set up a belay so I put in another happy ice screw and waited and waited and waited! Ron must have been wondering what was happening but there was nothing I could do until they moved off and I could get the use of the lovely spike belay and back it up with an ice screw. Compared to my ice thread belay on Indicator Wall, this felt luxurious!

 

Ron climbed up quickly with a grin on his face! Then he tackled the next steep bulge, short but tricky! I followed only to find him on a most comfortable belay at the point where the No 3 Gully Buttress Route crosses Two Step Corner. This was a chance for us to have a bite to eat and something and drink as we had hit a bit of a traffic jam. By the time I got there the leader of the party in front was just setting off. He took a while, partly because the party in front were moving slowly and partly because this was the hardest pitch!

Ron had said to me that it was my pitch but I though different. I had looked at pictures of the route and had already decided that this had to be the hard bit. Also, I got the exciting bit of Indicator Wall so it really was Ronís turn to have the scary bit! What a good excuse to chicken out! And how glad was I that I didnít lead it. Even though I had a two hour wait from the time I reached the belay till the time I moved off and Ron moved quickly once he got the chance to climb, I was still relieved that I hadnít led that pitch. The pitch started off on nice, steep ice bit then got steeper until it reached a point where the route changed direction towards the right and the angle steepened to a point where the ice was practically vertical. Ron clipped a runner into an old wire then managed to get an ice screw in ice to his right then he had to make an iffy move to get back onto the main ice fall. When I climbed up and felt the awkwardness of how he must have been placed, I could only smile at the intricacy of the protection and the move and that was despite my hands being numb but painful!

 

For me the best was still to come! Until that point I had maintained that I didnít want to climb the last pitch which would be the cornice. By this time though time was getting on, it was almost six oíclock and Ron grumped in a serious way that to change over the belay would mean another hour on the route. Humph, cornice pitch was mine again then!

So I set off, rather huffily it has to be said and climbed up towards what I hoped would be a rather benign cornice exit, after all, Ron had said that the other folk in front had moved over it very quickly. Iím beginning to believe that where cornices are concerned I shouldnít listen to any reassurances from Ron. That they moved quickly was probably because it was scary and not really the place to hang around. After lots of twitchy moments and a very dodgy ice screw I reached the plateau and kept walking and walking until I felt Ron eventually start to follow. How glad was I when he popped over the edge?

Another good route, another good day on the Ben, another long descent back to the car but well worth it and given the choice, I canít think of anywhere else I would rather have been!


Route info:

Two Step Corner, Ben Nevis

Grade V,5


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Copyright Fiona Chappell 2003-2012 (updated Wednesday, 10. October 2012)