There might not be much snow and ice around but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have that fun thing.
The Forcan Ridge turned out to be a scramble.
Corie an t-Sneachda was rock.
Ben saved the day.

Forcan Ridge. The saga continues…….

Having decided that they’d done enough red pointing of a Grade I/II ridge, the intrepid climbers made there final plans to tame the mountain. Walking in under the cover of darkness they weren’t fooled by the mild air and damp ground under foot, this mountain could bite back at any moment. Having taken under two hours to walk in to the start of the ridge they spit into teams to start the assault. Pete, Julie and Layla set off first followed by Stu and Jonathan. Crampons and rope weren’t needed at this stage – it’s quite difficult to climb on ice when there isn’t any.

At the top of the first summit the mountain fought back. Jonathan decided that he didn’t like the idea of the exposure and being able to fall off in three directions all at the same time, and returned to terra firma lower down.

A man can do strange things at altitude. Having climbed with his partner and companion for many years, Pete’s haste to get to the Saddle caused him to abandon Julie and strike out with Layla. Recklessness and rash thoughts are common in the mountains and Pete was gripped by the phenomena of Saddle Rash.

But out of the mêlée, a new team was born. Team Meindl-Lime.

This team boldly went where lots of others had gone before but not quite in the same style. Ropes were needed in the middle section as conditions turned slightly wintry. Crampons also came out for a while until realisation dawned that there was more risk of causing a fire from the sparks of blunting points than falling off.

The relentless scramble from rock to rock, a littler ice here a bit of snow there. Just when all hope is lost a trig point looms out of the gloom. A check of the watch to see how much daylight is left – 1350.

Just enough time to get down before the night sets in and the terrors to emerge. (Some of this may be exaggerated to make it seem more dramatic than it was, still a good day though.)

Bad weather report meant Kinlochleven. Execpt the weather didn’t seam that bad. By this point Luke had joined us on our trip.

The best way to walk into Ben Nevis is from the North Face Car Park. That’s why we went from the Youth Hostel. But this path is special. It is perfect. It is perfectly designed to break ankles and spirit. It is perfectly designed to break knees and vibrate teeth when descending. Suffice to say I won’t be recommending this to a friend. But things do improve once you get passed the Red Burn.

The climb we decided on was part due to the conditions – the North and South Castle gullies were in – and part due to Julie not wanting to walk another step (you’d have though that she’d shattered her leg 14 months ago or something).

Pete, Julie and Luke did North Castle gully, 230m Grade II, Me and Layla did South Castle gully, 210m Grade I. Jonathan’s neck was playing up so he headed back. He does bring whisky and little pink pills on the trip so all is not lost. Even the most experienced on the mountains can get slightly nervous before a climb.

The uncertainty, the constant alertness for danger, the sharpened senses as you scan the mountain side. So it’s nice to have the distraction of a pretty lady incessantly talking at you. But out of the mêlée a new team was born. Team Yakkity-Lime. Nothing dramatic about this climb. I did place a few ice screws (as there was no other gear) and ice axe belayed. The last two pitches we just short roped as Layla was climbing well and it was a faster way to move. We topped out at two, a check of the map and GPS, off the mountain by half four. Fortunately our chauffer Jonathan picked us up so we were back at Roy Bridge for tea. I’d rang Pete, before Jonathan picked us, up to find out that they had topped out half an hour after we had and they would be a couple of hours behind us.

This was a lie. I think in hindsight Pete and Julie wanted to show Luke what mountaineering is all about and decided to have a 17 hour day. Lucky Luke. I think they’re all talking to each other again now.

As the weather and conditions (mountains and humans) took its toll the climbing parties dwindled. Layla went off to Knoydart for a party, Jonathan couldn’t paddle as there was no water in the rivers and Julie can prove that having a metal plate in your leg is not the best accessory for walking over scree and boulders. So all that’s left is two reprobates that should know better and one that doesn’t know what to expect.
But out of the mêlée a new team was born. (This one stumped me for a while, it’s a work in progress.) Team Sub-Lime.

Off to the Cairngorms then.

Coire an Lochain. The Vent. Between Number 1 and Number 2 Buttresses. 110m Grade II/IV. Grade IV in lean conditions because of the chock stone and a lack of snow. Usual grey walk in, located the climb. Two guys walked past us as we were gearing up to do The Vent as there wasn’t much else that was in. As we got nearer the climb we noticed that they were backing off. “What’s the matter lads?” Reply, “It’s a waterfall!” Ah. Your lead Pete. He didn’t fancy a white water climb.

Number 2 Buttress. The Couloir 150m Grade I. Soloed. Well it was hardly worth getting the rope out. At lest we didn’t go to Corie an t-Sneachda, that was just rock.

Oban is very nice and we had a lovely day.

By this time we had come to the conclusion that winter climbing is not the cheapest of obsessions and decided to book the ferry back earlier than planned. Because of the Northlink service being down to one boat we couldn’t get back until Sunday night.

Time for one last winter walk with Team Sub-Lime. Snow and strong winds was forecast for Friday/Saturday so we thought that there was a good chance of cornices and avalanche so a walk in to the CIC hut from the North Face car park and then perhaps CMD or Observatory gully. Once at the hut conditions were reasonable so we decided to go up Observatory gully, at the top there’s a choice of Gardyloo gully, 170m Grade II, or Tower gully 120m Grade I. As we approached the top we could see that Tower Scoop, 65m Grade III, had a perfect ice flow coming down. It’s moments like this that make the day worth while.

Pete lead the first pitch, up to 30m belayed Luke up then I climbed to the belay point then lead the second pitch. Near the top I chose to head out to the right as the ice flow to the left looked a little steep – especially when you’re standing underneath it. Belayed Pete up then Luke and then climbed out up Tower gully. Three routes for the price of one.

Luke got to see the usual view from Ben Nevis (you can simulate this at home by staring at a blank sheet of A4) at least I think it was Luke, he turns into a Yeti above 1000m. Compass set to 281 degrees for the decent (not 101, ask Pete). Pick up the path for the CIC hut then cut across the burn to pick up the path back to the car park by four.

Turned out to be the best thing on the trip, apart from the Ardbeg Ten.