Will and Connor on Jacknife
looking down Fawlty Towers
Belayer on SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder
Relief having just pulled over another steep bulge
The crest of Tower RidgeI had a last minute unexpected free day today so I went up to the North Face of Ben Nevis alone. Mike's blog post from yesterday gives a good appreciation of the conditions on the North Face. Today Will and Connor were on and another team did the left hand start to the SW Ridge of the Douglas Boulder (joins the normal route at the top of the crux pitch of Jacknife). I also saw a few teams on Ledge Route (which some locals skinned up on skis yesterday!).
The snow on the walk in to the CIC is very well consolidated and it is similar up to the base of the Douglas Boulder. Above that however the chances are that anything white could be pretty rotten and uncolnsolidated. There is some good ice around adhering to steeper rock surfaces and it tempted me onto the line of Fawlty Towers.
I could see good ice on the right wall of the initial steep section but the snow in the bed of the gully was completely rotten! After some swimming and thrutching up the gully walls I got my axes in the good ice and was able to pull up past the bulge. This theme continued the whole way up. I spotted several more bulges of ice, approaching each of them left me at the bottom of a deep drift of unconsolidated snow with an overhung bulge just out of reach, delicate bridging on thinly iced walls until an axe could be sunk into the ice followed by a sigh of relief and big pull past lumps of ice more at home on a IV than a III. If you are contemplating the route (it did give good sport) be aware that the protection seemed poor (iced up or buried cracks) but the belays good... and my trench is obvious!
I topped out on the crest of Tower Ridges first arete... a perfect knife edge of snow... and climbed down the other side. Then I popped back up the East Gully of the Douglas Boulder Gap and down the West Gully as the snow slopes leading towards Observatory Gully were deep and soft (and the big crown wall at the base of the Minus face wasn't encouraging me).
It was cold and sunny all day... still enough for 1 thermal, a softshell and an insulated gillet.. the gloves I chose were too thin though and the big pulls on the tools led to the inevitable hot aches... undoubtably the worst thing about Scottish winter climbing!
The gullies and easier routes on the Ben are buried in this soft snow but the steeper, lower mixed routes are accessible and in good nick. Whoever wants to get on the classic ridges like Tower or NEB had probably best take a shovel!
Enjoy the weekend!