Saturday 7 January 2012

Ben Nevis... further gnarl and a little ice!

Christina, Marnoch and I went to Ben Nevis today on an introductory winter climbing day. I was toying with various options... Ledge Route... too easy and mountaineery for pitching for them... No. 3 Gully Buttress... wild weather on the walk in but a team of 6 all heading for it ahead of us... Garadh Gully... too low, weather felt much milder than forecast. We were punching through the soft layer walking up into Coire na Ciste today and the winds were picking up as we reached the lip of the coire. I plumped for heading towards Raeburns Easy hoping it would be scoured by the NWerly winds. As we came round the base of the Comb though we were moving slowly, the wind was howling and there was still water on the move and I've experienced how awkward that route is in the mush once this year already.
We finally headed up into No. 2 Gully avoiding some isolated but deep pockets of unstable slab. After a couple of pitches we were unable to go further on firm snow but I'd foreseen this so we made use of the situation to look at a multipitch abseil to retreat from the route (1 off of a good spike and 1 off of a snow bollard). This took us to the foot of No. 2 Gully Buttress. On the way up I'd spotted that the central start of this route was quite well formed so we belayed at the base and I led up a pitch of moist and friendly Grade III ice (first screw of the season... woohoo) to another belay on a snow bollard. This became our next abseil anchor and we came down in increasingly mild conditions and rain. we were plunging through repeatedly to mid calf and knee level on the walk out below 800m and there was water running off of the ice curtain at the base of No.2 Gully Buttress all day.
As well as the teams on 3GB a party headed for Gargoyle Wall, a team went round to the Little Brenva Face (but retreated after 2 pitches), Brad backed off of No. 4 Gully not liking the build up of snow in there, James was on Ledge Route and there were others low on the west flank of Tower Ridge.
The rock is very icey and gear can be very hard to come by. I suspect something like Gargoyle Wall would give good climbing but the cracks are sooo heavily iced from the repeated freeze and thaws that gear might be quite hard to come by.
I saw a long term forecast for for more stable conditions after the 20th.... we all need a little hope....

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