Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April Ice (with video)

With the onset of typical mild, Westerly Scottish gales it looks like our Winter climbing season is finished. It's been a great one, with cold settled conditions the norm rather than the exception. Fingers crossed the jet stream will stay South again and we'll get another belting Alpine style season next year!

North East Buttress topo (as printed in Ken Crocket's 100 Classic Climbs)
Just before it crapped out, Dan Johnson and myself went up Ben Nevis and got on North East Buttress (IV,4). An early start was required to get this long route bagged in a day. 4am came all too soon, and after picking Dan up from Bridge of Weir we were off up the A82. I sometimes wonder if I could drive this road with my eyes shut? Every bend is ingrained into my mind from countless trips up this twisty back road masquerading as a main artery.

The new path up the Ben is superb, and we made such good time that we were climbing earlier than I expected. Slingsby's Chimney (II) was chosen as our preferred alternative to the long traversing Grade I shelf to start the voie normale. After a pitch of easy snow and low angled ice bulges the top pitch turned out to be a pretty spicy 50m of very thin ice over slabs with poor gear. It was tech 4 and pretty bold with it. I wondered if I was just being a big girl at the time, but having checked UKC logbooks it looks like most people have a similar experience on this climb- so beware!

After the slightly harrowing intro of Slingsby's it was a relief to actually get on North East Buttress. The left trending starting chimney was filled with neve and gave really nice enjoyable climbing up to the snow field high above. We made rapid progress moving together until Dan belayed at the base of the Mantrap.

This notorious obstacle looks ridiculously harmless as you walk up to it on a level bit of the ridge. It's flipping tiny! But appearances are deceiving. It might be only a couple of body lengths high but it's very steep (it feels overhanging when you're on it) and quite humbling when you do it. I forced my carcass up it using a combination of a good left hook and a crucial high right axe torque. Quite exciting. I can't believe the route used to get an old book III with this in it. Never judge a book by its cover!

Dan had the pleasure of the Forty Foot Corner to finish the difficulties. I've heard from a friend that this pitch can often be a clip- up with tons of in-situ gear but on Dan's lead it was basically a solo. A half- in stubby screw at the base was the only piece of gear Dan placed during it. A good lead from the man.

A short while later a bit of bro-mance was enjoyed on the plateau, after Dan led us to finish. Unusually for this season we'd had no view for most of the day and the snow and wind were truly Scottish. A quick man- hug, but it wasn't time to relax. With conditions like this we were forced to navigate properly across the plateau to reach No.4 Gully. An eery experience where the lack of reference points (everything is white) can make your eyes start to play tricks on you.

As we got close to No.4 we ended up getting involved in a Mountain Rescue situation. Two walkers had been lost for some time on the vast flat expanse of the summit area. They'd already called the MRT when their emergency whistles alerted us to their predicament. We found them and then then walked them to the top of No.4 where the Lochaber MRT came and met us. A happy end to their and our day. Ben Nevis is a big, serious hill and not to be messed with!

April Ice from Davie Crawford on Vimeo.

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