Saturday, 26 February 2011

Zero Gully (V,4), Ben Nevis

Alex picked me up from Aviemore train station at 7.30am. The initial plan had been East Coast but currently the buttresses were black and so we cut our losses and headed West to Aonach Mor. It turned out the lift was shut. Despite the lateness of the morning we changed plans to Ben Nevis. There wasn't a huge amount in condition but we knew Zero Gully had been climbed in recent days. As we approached Orion Face it began to snow. Then waves of spindrift avalanche began to blow down the face and funnel into Zero Gully's first pitch. There looked to be little else in condition on this part of the mountain and, given that it was nearly 1pm, switching to something in Observatory Gully seemed doomed.

I pressed on up the initial gully finding occasional good ice on my right side to place screws, whilst pinning myself to the ice with each successive bout of spindrift. The snow underfoot was a little soft and needed a good freeze to firm up. With heavy spindrift regularly pouring directly over the first belay stance I had no intention in stopping with around twenty metres of rope was still to spare. I continued up the bank to the right and climbed until out of rope. Ice was inadequate for screws to belay off. At full rope stretch I was able to reach a small sturdy ice pillar that I wrapped a sling around and then dropped back down a few metres to take the strain out of the rope. Alex joined me and then continued up the next pitch over a short steep step of ice. The difficulties were now over and we were able to quickly dispatch the remainder of the route and descend into Coire Leis. Despite the late start we had managed to tick a classic without an after-dark finish.

Approaching Zero Gully
Me continuing past the first belay

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Tower Ridge: Solo in Winter

My partner for the last couple of days had to head South. I had an extra day to play with and with recent good conditions was keen to climb another route. Tower Ridge seemed the obvious choice. It would be big day out without the technical difficulty requiring a rope. I took my harness and a cordelette in order to back rope myself across Tower gap if needed. I had no car so the walk-in commenced from Fort William town centre.

Ben Nevis early morning
Lots of fresh snow had fallen in the night but with negligible wind there was little slab to be concerned about. I climbed Douglas Gap West Gully to avoid the crowds and shorten the route to Douglas Gap. I waited for a team to climb the mixed step before it was my turn. The climbing proved to be the technical crux of the route with some delicate mixed moves before neve presented. I took my time with the sequence of moves as spectators in the gap looked on.

Beneath Tower Gully West
The terrain eased in difficulty considerably above the step and assumed an Alpine feel. I was able to cover ground easily and enjoy the situation. The summits were shrouded in a freezing fog but to my left I could see climbers on the opening pitches of Sickle, Point Five Gully, and Observatory Buttress.

Looking down on a climber a short distance above Douglas Gap
View from Tower Ridge to climbers on Sickle, Point Five Gully, and Observatory Buttress
The Little Tower required my full attention. With fresh snow covering the easy angled mixed terrain conditions were from perfect to be soling. I scratched around for the hooks, sometimes pulling on objects unknown. After two pitch of this I was at the Eastern Traverse beneath the Great Tower.

The snow was packed down hard along the traverse forming a path. I stabbed my axes into the adjacent wall to secure myself as i went. Some steeper climbing over a bulge then led me to the top of the Great Tower.

White-out on the Eastern Traverse
I paused at Tower Gap for a short while whilst a climber beneath me led the final pitch of Glover's Chimney. Given Tower Gap's reputation for causing climbers problems I back-roped myself off the tat on the near side. Any accident here would be fatal after all. After some composure I took a long step directly across the gap and planted my axes into the neve at full reach on the far side. Then delicately pulled myself across and pulled my cordelette through the tat. Having passed a number of teams on route I was first across the gap for the gap. I watched a climber behind me step down into the gap and then flank the far side on the left. This looked easier but less exciting to than bridging the gap directly.

At Tower Gap
Easy snow slopes led to the top of the Ridge. It was 1pm. I had climbed the route at a casual pace in under 3 hours from Douglas Gap with little queuing necessary. It seemed the perfect way for me to climb the route. With no car I descended the goat track and walked back to Fort William.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Compression Crack (V,5), Ben Nevis

Rob and me were keen to take advantage of the good conditions and short-walk of the general Carn Dearg / Castle Ridge area. Compression Crack was clearly in condition and so we headed for this. Boomer's Requiem also looked good today.

Compression Crack provided a couple of quality ice pitches. I led the excellent first pitch. Rob continued up the easy ice on the second pitch, before I traversed right to beneath the steep ice corner. Rob had the pleasure to lead this superb pitch. It proved to deceptively steep and unrelenting. It looked from the ground as though there would be an opportunity for rest at half height but this proved not to be the case. The ice was of snowy consistency making axes placements effortless but ice screw protection marginal. Certainly top-end grade V. Only the traverse in the middle of the route stops this from being a three star route in my opinion.

Now above the difficulties we bashed up the easy slopes and then descended down the West flank of Ben Nevis. Another excellent day.

Boomer's Requiem (left) & Compression Crack (right)
Me climbing the steep first pitch
The iced corner on the final pitch
Rob climbing the superb final pitch

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Vanishing Gully (V,5) & Faulty Towers (III), Ben Nevis

With good conditions prevalent on the lower heights of Ben Bevis Rob and me went to take a look at Vanishing Gully. It looked in good condition. I led the first pitch up steep soft snow with virtually no protection on offer other than some spaced in-situ tat. The steepness was moderate but the lack of protection meant that the climbing required concentration.

Vanishing Gully
Rob seconding the first pitch of Vanishing Gully (V,5), Ben Nevis
From my belay on the left-hand side of the gully Rob had a tricky step right in order to gain the steep ice flowing down the second pitch. He was soon mounted on the ice and then quickly out of sight. The intermittent ice steps of the second pitch were probably the crux. The third pitch returned to less technically demanding but run-out climbing. The easier grade climbing to Tower Ridge didn't look worthwhile so we abseiled back down the route. It was a good route but a little too short and lacking situation compared to some of the other three star ice routes I have climbed on the Ben.

Rob's feet disappearing up the second pitch
Me leading the third pitch
With time to spare we climbed Faulty Towers (III) further left. This proved no push-over for the grade as the ice was thin in places. The route was maybe a little more mixed than typical? After four worthwhile pitches completed, I arrived on the lower portion of Tower Ridge as the light was beginning to dip. I belayed Rob up to me whilst, higher up the ridge, a helicopter rescue appeared to be in full swing. Douglas Gap looked only a short distance away so we descended via Douglas Gap West Gully. A great first day on the Ben.

Rob leading the first pitch of Faulty Towers
Rob seconding the second pitch of Faulty Towers (III), Ben Nevis
Rob leading the third pitch
Mountain Rescue a short distance above us on Tower Ridge

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Le Pylone (WI4), Le Grave

Stewart and me started our a Grave trip with Le Pylone. I followed the easier left side of the icefall, which was steady enough with no pumpy moments. Temperatures were above freezing today but at least the consequent melt prevented the ice from being hooked-out. The venue was very busy due to a number of guides using the icefall for climbing tuition. French ethics were on full display with leaders clipping my ice screw runners and crossing their ropes over/under mine. Whilst belaying Stewart up the first pitch I was forced to put slack in the rope in order to allow a local guide to wriggle free of my ropes that he had unilaterally chosen to climb beneath. Stewart joined me at the bolted belay and then led up the top pitch. We abseiled back down with plenty of time remaining in the day for another route.

Climber tangled beneath my ropes
Stewart seconding the first pitch
After time waisted trying to find a relatively short route that was unoccupied we eventually settled for the Cascade de la Meije. This proved to be great fun as a succession of pools of water needed to be avoided in order to link up the ice. The second pool in particular offered some delicate climbing in order to traverse around its base. The true crux of the climb was saved for the steep ice at the start of the final pitch with the opposing rock wall offering some good mixed moves to complement.

Stewart above the first water pool
Stewart traversing the second water pool