It can be found on the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, and boasts a 1000m climb. It is graded IV,3 which means you can expect to climb on steep ice from short vertical steps to long sections of about 60-70 degs.
It has been on my list of climbs to attempt since first hearing it discussed amongst the Mid Tipp hillwalkers in 2010. So, my willing climbing partner and friend Winnie Flynn and I hired a guide in advance of our annual February visit to the Highlands of Scotland. We prepared for our big day by climbing Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor,1022m, situated in Glen Etive.
Two days later, February 11th, we left our hotel in Fort William at 6.45am and headed for the upper car park which leads to the North Face of Ben Nevis. Following a meet and greet with our guide Rocio (pronounced Theo) we set off at 7.30 and reached the CIC hut shortly before 9am. The previous day’s snow and the high winds we battled through produced spin-drift and made under-foot conditions very difficult. There was no time to dawdle here. Our guide was very tough, she said jump and we said how high! We put on harness, helmet and crampons quickly while we ate and drank.
We set off with ice axes to hand and almost immediately found ourselves in deep snow. We roped up keeping about 4m of rope between each of us which we kept taut at all times so that if one of us should slip we would be held tight by another climber. As I was in the middle Winnie and Rocia coiled each end of the climbing rope and looped it over their shoulders. The steep ascent was tough on the legs and seemed endless but we eventually arrived at our first pitch, the Douglas Gap.
So began our routine for the day. Rocia tied in the rope to some leader-placed protection or a simply constructed snow bollard. Then I belayed her, feeding out the rope as she climbed and tied in to the next section. Rocia tied in above and we followed in tandem with Winnie taking out the placed gear as she climbed on behind. We struggled to stay warm as we waited to move on to the next pitch, our fingers and toes suffering the most as we dug out ledges on which to stand. But we didn’t really care. We were like two kids in a sweet shop. As we swung our axes or kicked in with our crampons, the physical exertion gave us a huge adrenalin rush. My eyes lit up at the sight of the first very steep snow ramp and looking down into the valley as I traversed across I felt exhilarated.
Full story in this week’s Tipperary Star.