Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Ben Nevis Ridges

The weather was looking pretty nice for Ben Nevis on the 26th March, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to attempt something I have been wanting to try for a while; solo all of the major Ben Nevis ridges in a day. As always with this sort of thing I set off from Edinburgh a bit later than I had intended, rocking up at the CIC hut at just before 3am! I managed a couple of hours sleep before waking up at 5am, and finally setting off for my first ridge in dawn light at 5.30am. At this point I should explain the distinct lack of pictures in this post as I had left my camera in Edinburgh!
Castle Ridge was my first objective. This was for a number of reasons. It is a bit out of the way, compared to the other ridges, and it has some avalanche prone approach slopes, so cool conditions were preferable. The ridge itself was a bit slushy and there was lots of bare rock, so I only used one axe, however snow on the ledges made crampons necessary. Once at the top I decided to head down via the Red Burn as there was a white out, and with No.4 Gully being too dangerous, the only other descent option was Coire Leis. When I arrived back at the hut I met some friends from university; Ally Rocke, Alex McMillan, Tom Eadington and Liam Ingram. After a rather long time sitting about and chatting about what might be worth while doing we headed off from the hut together.
North East Buttress was next. I was going to solo it while the others would make two teams of two and climb it as well. The route was fun, and probably my favourite of the day, with varied climbing on short steep walls, snow fields, aretes and corners. On topping out I made my way down Coire Leiss and round into Observatory Gully.
At the top of Tower Ridge (Photo Credit: Andy Southan)
Observatory Ridge was next on the list. This is the hardest of the major ridges, and I was quite happy to be following a coupe of team up it, showing me the way. The climbing felt quite insecure, however this isn't too long lived at the top is a nice easy snow romp. On topping out I met Ally and Alex who had just finished North East Buttress, with Liam and Tom still climbing. I descended Coire Leis again to get ready for my next route.
Tower Ridge was next up. This is the only one of the Nevis ridges I had done before so I felt quite comfortable leaving it till this late on. Tower Ridge is the most classic of the Ben Nevis ridges, however its classic status does spoil it a bit as there are often cues at the notorious tower gap. The ridge went quite smoothly until I got to the gap where at team wouldn't let me pass then as the had been "waiting there for hours". A long wait later they finally let me pass on the upper snow slopes. With 4 out of 5 ridges completed I could taste success, or maybe that was the hot Ribena some kind climbers supplied me with on the top. 
Ledge Route was up next. I decided I would down climb this on my way back to the hut. Ledge route is a nice little outing and an easy end to the day. I got back to the hut just in the light, had a coffee, or two, and headed back down to the car.
Ribena Simon walking off the summit plateau (Photo Credit: Andy Southan)
I am really pleased to get this done on my first attempt, and 4 out of the 5 ridges done onsight! 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Torridon the scenic way

This weekend  I had some big plans. On Friday I was going to try and have a big day on Ben Nevis linking up as many routes as I could and then on the weekend I was going to head to Torridon to meet the rest of the EUMC and climb something a bit harder. My plans were changed quickly on thursday evening after a quick chat with Lochaber SAIS forecaster Blair Fyffe who said the descent gullies were likely to be loaded with snow and avalanchy. A quick change of plans saw me acquiring a map of Skye for a shot at the Cuillin Ridge.
The Cuillin Ridge is probably Scotlands finest mountaineering excursion and usually take parties 3 days to complete. I chose to attempt it in a single push, and to assure this of happening I wasn't going to take any bivi gear.
At 2am I rocked up underneath the Cuillin. After packing my bag I set my alarm for 4am. I woke at 4 to the sound of rain on the roof of my car. I didn't want to get wet at the start of the day so I set my alarm for another hour of sleep. 5am came and the rain was still there. Did I read MWIS wrong? Im sure it said the weather was going to be good!
In the end I decided to sack it off. If its rain down here it will be falling as fresh snow at the top of the ridge which would make the going very hard. I decided a lie in and a drive was a better bet for the day, so I spent the rest of the day having a leisurely drive around the North West of Scotland and Skye. I made my way up to Torridon, via ex-EUMC member David Geddes house, and even managed to get a bit of work done that evening.
At about 12pm everyone else arrived. I went about finding Alex who I was going to climb with. During the day, seeing that everything was looking a bit wet, I had been formulating a plan. My plan was to consist of climbing 4 mountains in 1 day. The mountain of Beinn Dreag, Beinn Alagin and Liathach all have graded ridges on them. My idea was to climb each of these mountains and then finish by climbing the classic Fuselage Gully on Beinn Eighe. In the end I managed to drum up some more psyched students to come with me so the team consisted of Tom Fitzpatrick, Alex Toomey, Alex McMillan and Max Scherer. 
An early start!
We (maybe I) decided it was best to leave straight away as there was going to be a lot of walking to do. At 1.30 am we all left the car park after no sleep and started walking. At the Beinn Eighe turn off Max and Alex M left us to climb Fuselage Gully, so Alex T, Tom and I continued on our way to Beinn Dearg.
It was still very much night time so we couldn't really see where we were going and predictably we couldn't find out route. In the end we climbed some rotten gully to the top and after a short walk along the summit ridge descended the northern side of the mountain.
At the top(ish) of Beinn Dearg
Once back down in the valley, were we were greated my some rather nice Scottish scenery,  we contoured around to find Beinn Alligin. The weather wasn't anything as nice as predicted. This combined with a extreme lack of sleep saw us decide to bail on our plans. I told Tom and Alex they could head back to the campsite from here, as we were now quite close, and that I would go back and get the car.
On my way out I passed a party walking in and suddenly realised just how early it still was!  Shortly after this I saw some climbers heading up a gully towards the Liathach ridge, then checked my watch. 9.30 am! I cant go back now. I quickly weighed up my options and finally decided that I probably should actually go and climb something and headed up the ridge via Hidden Gully (II). The ridge itself was in great condition with some friendly snow. This allowed me to climb quite fast and overtake lots of team, including a group of EUMC members, which included Alex M and Max.
Assorted Yummicks on the Pinnacles
After finishing the ridge and retrieving my car I got some well earned rest, sleeping from about 4m till 8am sunday morning.
On Sunday I decided that driving home would be a silly thing to do and instead walked in to Beinn Eighe with the idea of climbing Fuselage Gully. As always plans change and a couple of hours later I found myself topping out on West Buttress (IV).
West Buttress Selfie
All in all that was quite a fun and tiring weekend, which was just what I needed before the next couple of weeks in the library to finish my dissertation!
I suspect not many will have read this far, so Hi Mum!
I will add some more pictures later.