Day 1 Glencoe
We arrived in Glencoe at around 1am after a long tiring drive in from the Midlands, our camping spot was less than ideal and it wasn’t until the early hours that we realised it was next to the main highway that runs through the valley. After waking up surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glugging down some strong coffee our excitement was running high and the mountains were looking in great condition. Checking the avalanche forecast and weather update we decided to head for Curved Ridge (II/III) on Buachaille Etive Mor.
The climb was amazing, stunning positions a few short tricky steps but easy to see why this route gets 4 stars in the guidebooks
At the end of the ridge is the last couloir then onto a snow slope to the summit. Reaching the top we were greeted to amazing 360 views all around Glencoe and we even got some sunshine
We got back to the car around 4pm and decided to head for Fort William, we booked two nights in the CIC hut on the North Face of the Ben and the long walk was not going to be easy after such little sleep and having such a big day out on Curved Ridge.
We reached the CIC Hut around 11pm after a long walk up from the north face car park. The hut is situated right at the top of the corrie and ensures only short walks to the start of the climbs, great if you’re planning a number of days climbing in the same area.
Day 2 - Castle Ridge at last!
We woke up at 6:30am as everybody started gearing up and preparing for their day out. After a good breakfast, strong coffee and sorting out our kit we decided to head for Castle Ridge (III). I’ve always wanted to climb Castle ridge but the weather a snowfall has always been against us. The approach slopes can get loaded after heavy snowfall and are perfect angle for avalanches, my last stay in the hut saw a group of climbers get avalanched on the same slope and it was only good fortune that nobody was seriously hurt.
Gaining the ridge was pleasant and after a few short steps the ground got steeper so we decided to put on some ropes and start placing some protection. The ridge is relatively broad and has a few short tricky sections before you get to the main crux pitch which offers loads of atmosphere and some pretty steep climbing for the grade.
After topping out we decided to head for the summit of Ben Nevis and watch the sun go down. The views were breath-taking and I think it’s one of the most amazing views I have witnessed in many years of climbing mountains.
Day 3 - Last day on the Ben
Matt and I woke up feeling wrecked and a poor night sleeping next to what sounded like a walrus had ensured I got three hours sleep at most. Today’s coffee needed to be like soup and after some breakfast and a sorting our gear we checked the forecasts for the day. The avalanche risk indicated that pockets of wind slab would be present on north west to south west aspects and other risks like cornice breaking off and snowpack instabilities were also present. Game faces on for today and we headed over to Observatory buttress to try the notorious Slingsby's Chimney (II). The chimney was described once by IFMGA Guide Mike Pescod as the “Hardest grade II in the world when lean” and he wasn’t wrong.
After some steep snow you reached a short ice pitch to a peg belay, bringing Matt up to me we decided it was his turn to climb his first bit of ice and he headed off to the top dispatching the ice pitch like a seasoned pro. The upper part of the route was very lean and the rocks had a very fine dusting of snow but no ice over them. We decided to end the climb at a good abseil point and retreated.
After a few short abseils back down the gully and a sketchy walk across a very unnerving snow slope we headed back to the hut for a coffee and to begin our walk down to the car.
This year’s trip had been a great success and its always a balancing act between risk and reward, some years you have too much snow and the avalanche risks are too high and other years its too warm and your scratching around on rock and heather. The main lesson I’ve learned is that winter will always be back and safe options are always available, if the risks are too high stay in and drink wine, the mountains are going nowhere.
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