Saturday 4 February 2012

Winter climbing on Ben Nevis with Kendal Mountaineering services. February 2012.

Wednesday February 1st saw Benn start the second phase of his Scottish winter climbing skills training course with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering Services.

Iain had arranged that this would take place around the Ben Nevis, Aonach Mor or Creag Meaghaidh areas as appropriate. As happened, the weather became gloriously settled - still, cold and although snow cover on The Ben was thin conditions were good enough that we didn't need to go anywhere else!

Photo one shows Benn short roping on Ledge Route - a long grade II winter scramble - the best of its grade on Ben Nevis. After a few pitches of roped climbing, Iain allowed Benn to take over and use the rest of the route to be coached on and consolidate his understanding of short roping - a technique commonly used by competent climbers and instructors on either scrambling routes or on the approach to steeper climbs.

In photo one, Benns stance is braced away from Iain. His axe is planted in the snow in his uphill hand ready for "self belay" and he has a reservoir of hand coils in his downhill hand locked off but ready to be deployed if necessary. Note how his arm is bent - ready to absorb any shock load should Iain slip - thus prevent Benn being pulled off balance.

Once at the top of Ledge Route, we ascended to the summit of Ben Nevis via the crest of the North Face where Iain was able to point out the names of all of the gullies and classic winter climbs this fantastic mountain has to offer. The weather was truly great and the first of three such good calm settled days.

This particular block of days was a fairly steep learning curve for Benn. Grade II on Wednesday and grade III on Thursday. As it is Benn's aspiration to be able to climb grade III winter routes, Iain decided to introduce him to a Ben Nevis grade III classic - Number Three Gully Buttress.

The climb takes a route up a steep and poorly protected snow couloir before trending right to cross other classic lines such as Quickstep (V'5) and Two Step Corner (V'5) ascending a ramp and finishing as an exposed traverse above Gargoyle Wall.

Photo two sees Benn belaying Iain from across part of the traverse, he climbed the route with ease and thoroughly enjoyed it. Three parties were involved climbing Two Step Corner which looked entertaining indeed whilst another pair climbed a grade VIII on Sioux Wall and another team - Gargoyle Wall. Everyone, it seemed, were out enjoying the good conditions.

Once at the top, we descended in to Number Three Gully by way of a snow bollard and walked out, tired but happy.

Checking the MWIS forecast on the Thursday night suggested that Friday might be another good day for climbing so Iain decided to "notch up" the climbing grade again and guided Benn on Green Gully IV'3 - yet another "Ben Classic".

Green Gully ascends to the right of The Comb in Coire Na Ciste and is a fantastic introduction to grade IV winter climbing - with four; or five great little ice pitches depending on which exit you decide to take at the top.

The route was "thin" ie lacking in the large quantities of ice ususally found there, but there was plenty to climb on and it was the usual "friendly ice" which accepts ice axe placements without shattering and makes ice climbing a pleasant and secure experience rather than a tenuous proposition.

In photo three, Benn can be seen approaching Iain at his stance at the top of pitch two. Benn had climbed ice before but learned on this day not to bash too hard with his axes - he already knew the effects of kicking too hard with his feet from a previous trip - bruised toes - ow! Anyway he thoroughly enjoyed Green Gully. So far this week, Iain had exceeded all of his expectations of what he thought the course would provide; and that's great news.

Sadly, this run of great, cold hard weather ended during Friday night with the approach of a frontal system bringing mild conditions and much rain today (Saturday).

Both Benn & Iain were rather pooped after three great days of winter climbing on Ben Nevis and as conditions today weren't going to be favourable, Benn was happy to look at Improvised Rescue Techniques - ie how to get out of tricky situations when climbing goes wrong.

We went to Polldubh in Glen Nevis where with the help of a few trees for belays, Iain was able to get Benn problem solving. In photo four Benn has "escaped the system" in a scenario where Iain, as the second" has fallen off, injured; and Benn needs to go and get help. We looked at a number of scenarios of increasing difficulty until rain and strengthening winds stopped play in the early afternoon.

We now each have two days off before our final phase of Benns winter climbing skills training course with Iain from Kendal Mountaineering services - watch the blog for a final report.

If you would like to book your own winter skills or winter climbing training course with Iain, contact us here.


Jamie Bassnett said...

Looks fab matey! :-)

Anonymous said...

A truly fantastic week on and around The Ben! Iain started me off easy which was great and then did an incredible job leading a very steep 'green gully IV 3'. He's got nerves of steel and was super patient and encouraging as a clambered up. Despite the huge drops and exposed ridges Iain made me feel safe the whole time - always keeping my mind from worrying by telling me one of his many great stories, fantastic week!