This time last week I was high after returning from a long weekend in Scotland with my mate Kieran. Whilst we’ve known each other for 16 years this was the first time we’d ever been away ice-climbing together.
We drove north on Thursday and decided to attempt Minus Three Gully IV, 5 ** on Ben Nevis on Friday. As we’d never climbed ice together we didn’t want to push the boundaries.
We left the North Face lower car park at about 7:30am, the new path is a vast improvement and it seemed to takes us no time to reach the upper car park. Trundling up to the CIC hut the North Face seemed pretty quiet and the sky got darker…either the partial eclipse that was due, the rain clouds rolling in or both! We left the CIC hut after a drink and some food at about 9:30 / 9:45am and headed up to the snow line to gear up. Once we set off proper the drizzle came in – not the snow flurries we’d ironically hoped for. It seemed all a bit too warm.
Clag, black rock and drizzle on the Ben
Once we got to the base of Minus Three Gully we could see it was no longer in nick and the base of Orion Direct also looked too thin to get started. We saw at least one pair heading up to climb Point Five Gully so we decided to back track and move up around Observatory Buttress – heading higher in search of ice.
Kieran checking the guide book for options
In the end we opted for Indicator Wall V, 4 *** not the warm up grade we planned but as there was already a pair of climbers on the route we decided to join them before our options and motivation faded. The other climbers were already well on their way so didn’t hinder our efforts. Kieran led the first pitch. I’d not led on ice for well over a year so was more than happy to warm up on the tail end of the rope. A great little pitch with about 2m of steep what felt like vertical wall.
I eyed up the second pitch – a bit of a steep start with a small bulge to pull over and then slopes that looked to ease off. I went for it…contemplated whether to place an ice screw on the steep section once I was committed, but carried on instead of wasting time to the easier ground. I’d already protected the belay and knew I was out of practice. I was holding on too hard on the steep section to start faffing with ice screws. I headed right looking for the chimney..it looked banked out – not really chimney like – so headed higher climbing the bulges to reach an ice wall at the start of the snow slope above.
Kieran headed up and climbed through. At the top of the snow slope he contemplated climbing through the start of the 4th pitch but decided not enough rope. My turn to reach him and then finish the route for us by leading the 4th and last pitch. Topping out on the summit I saw two walkers at the Ben Nevis trig point and another pair of climbers topping out.
The wind was blowing on the summit and the visibility was poor. Not a blue sky day for us that Friday.
Me and the view! Classic summit shot!
We both enjoyed the route – especially as it was a route we’d not planned to climb that day. We used ice screws all the way. Only Kieran managed to find a rock placement at the first belay point. Pitches 1 and 2 were the most technical.
We retreated via the zig zags / Red Burn rather than Number 4 Gully.
Indicator Wall is 140m and was first led in February 1975 by G. Smith and T. King.
Greeted with blue skies at the end of the day. Looking back at Ben Nevis.
The next day alarms were set for 5:15am and we headed to Creag Meagaidh in the hope of tackling The Pumpkin V, 4 ****. The sun was beaming on the drive there and on the walk in under clear blue skies I ended up stripping off to a vest base layer and shades! This didn’t bode well. One of Kieran’s mates had climbed The Pumpkin earlier in the week – it seems the warm weather we’d witnessed on the drive up on the Thursday had helped to strip things.
A thin looking Pumpkin
So instead of our original plans we down-graded and ended up soling The Sash II * 240m ‘A pleasant but uninspiring route which is often in condition’. The description seemed to sum it up really – just get ready for a bit of calf burn as well!
Can you spot Kieran on The Sash?
Whilst the route wasn’t the most inspiring – it was good practice for my lazy left arm swing and the glorious view at the top made it all worth while. We decided to stay high on the decent instead of heading back down to the path we’d walked in on so we could appreciate the views and sunshine that little bit longer.
View from top of Creag Meagaidh
Heading back down from Creag Meagaidh
Filed under: Climbing | Tagged: Ben Nevis, Climbing, Creag Meagaidh, Ice climbing, Indicator Wall, Lochaber, Scotland, The Sash, Winter | Leave a comment »