Saturday was the Big Bad Ben. The Torlundy car park was packed with similarly inclined folk. As always, the North Face of Ben Nevis presented the grand-daddy of walk ins. We were at the CIC for 10am, deciding on heading up Coire na Ciste to have a go at one of the gullies, which were supposed to be in excellent condition.
Coire na Ciste from near the CIC, 12.1.13
No. 4 Gully and Trident Buttress 12.1.13They were. No. 2 and No. 4 gullies were very busy. The start of Glover's Chimney looked a bit thin, and Comb Gully looked busy so we went for the Cold Climbs classic Green Gully.
The snow all the way up was perfect Alpine-style nevee. The weather was perfect; not too windy, quite clear, not too cold or warm. The best you could expect on the Big Bad Ben.
The first pitch, which is normally steep ice, was a steep mixed affair. This was great craic, and a bomber hook manifested itself at the crux to allow progress on the upper slopes. Some of the best fun I've had in Winter.
The rest of the route was steady on nevee and ice. There were one or two bits of tat but as is typical of the Ben, the belays weren't great. Pitch 3 and 4 had sections of steep ice which I suppose gives the grade of IV.
I met John Orr (ex-president of QUBMC and North Wales-based guide) at the belay at the top of P3, on his second route of the day after doing No. 3 Gully Buttress. Small world.
Brendan on P2
Steepining on P4
We topped out on a reasonably clear and busy plateau at 4pm. There's always something magical about the Ben plateau, must be the effort you have to put in to get there. It's an Alpine day out, with more than 1200m of uphill to get there.
A busy No. 2 Gully
We dropped down No. 4 gully (which is marked by a hilariously phallic cairn). I'd never gone that way before, but it quickly brings you down to Coire na Ciste and the CIC and definitely beats going down the tourist track and round the halfway lochan.
No. 4 Gully
The helicopter was out that evening for a rescue up behind Tower Ridge - I hope all was well.
Back down to Fort William for pub, pizza and bed. Today we took the soft option and the gondola up Aonach Mor. There had been plenty of snow in the night, with the snow level down to 200m or so. The Quad chairlift wasn't running due to the wind, and the other climbers on the gondola all disappeared off toward the west face while we headed for the top and Coire an Lochan with the intention of doing Left Twin (III 4). Breaking trail up under the chairlift I wondered why no-one else was heading up our way when I remembered that Coire an Lochan is east facing, which was the direction with the highest avalanche risk. This, along with knowing there was no way we would make the last gondola down at 4pm, made us turn back at the top of the chairlift.
Proper Scottish conditions, walking up Aonach Mor 13/1/13
On the way down we met Blair Fyffe who was going up to check the avalanche risk (he works for the SAIS). The coffee in the ski centre was nice.
ON the way back there was snow everywhere (and still falling) as far as Loch Lomond. Glencoe completely white. What a difference a day makes.
It's looking good and cold for the next week or so. Fingers crossed for the QUBMC trip next week...