With some work on Ben Nevis this weekend I was curious to see what conditions were like on the north face. So this morning after promising Jane I would be back for a family lunch at 1 I hopped on the bike and headed for the North Face Car Park. After a warm and sweaty walk in I wasn't really surprised by the large amounts of snow visible in Coire na Ciste, No. 5 and Observatory Gully. There was a fresh dusting of snow on the CMD Arete only this morning and we have had a cool and unsettled spring. I headed up the damp rock of the lower part of the ridge and really hit snow after the Little Tower. Every large flattening has up to a foot of old snow and several inches of fresh wet stuff on top. By the Eastern Traverse I was having to take great care as to what I was standing on and kicking steps in- the new stuff is slippery on rock slabs but good for steps where deep enough on the older icey stuff. The through route would be passable to a small child but I had to go for a high step onto the top of the chockstone. The ridge out to Tower Gap was plastered in fresh wet snow and I was careful steeping down, across and up out of the gap. From here there was almost unbroken snow to the summit and I was glad to fish out my axe for the last 50m. The angle here is steeper and the fresh stuff thin in places - crampons definitely an advantage unless you are very confident on such ground. It sleeted, hailed and snowed on me but also gave me a sunny glimpse or 2. Being on the summit plateau alone at 1030 was quite bizarre- normally its very busy. As I headed to the top of the Red Burn I hit the front end of the hordes and was soon repeating a mantra of 'follow the big trail and the cairns, keep away from the cornices' in response to the many questions of 'Where is the top?' in a huge range of accents.
If you are planning to go on the Ridge in the immediate future I would take and axe and quite possibly crampons. That last slope will be very icey as the fresh snow strips off in a thaw. The pics above are (from top: the last 50m to the plateau, looking back across the Gap to the Great Tower, The Eastern Traverse, the lower part of the Ridge from the CIC hut). Oh, and I made it home for lunch :-)