Monday, 5 February 2018

Had a great couple of days with Phil out exploring some classic winter lines in the Western Highlands last weekend. By a stroke of luck a high pressure system loitering off the north west coast brought amazingly cold and stable conditions with virtually no wind. After an early start on Friday we headed up into to Stob Coire nan Lochan arriving at the crag at the same time as the first rays of sunshine. We climbed Ordinary Route (AKA Raeburn’s Route) (IV,4) which climbs a steep icey chimney before moving to more open ground, climbing the edge of the buttress in 4 pitches. After that with the weather still great, we climbed Twisting Gully (III,4) which was also in good condition apart from the odd section of quite deep powder snow.

The following day the forecast suggested there would be a temporary deterioration in weather in the afternoon with low cloud and light snow. On that basis we opted for something a bit lower and ended up climbing the short but sweet South West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder (IV,5) on the north face of Ben Nevis. I say short but the routes is actually 180m in length, but as its positioned in front of the north face of Ben Nevis, I guess it’s a matter of perspective!

The final day saw the best weather and probably the best route. With improving snow conditions and a bit of knowledge afforded from the day before from the top of the Douglas Boulder, we settled on the classic Tower Ridge (IV,3). Even with a really early start we weren’t the only ones on the route nor even the first, however I guess solidarity isn’t something you should expect on a route as famous as Tower Ridge. The climb was in pretty good condition, with much of the powder snow better consolidated than previous days and even some stretches of water ice. We climbed the route mostly moving together with great views of the rest of the face. We saw teams on Point 5 Gully (V,5), Orion Direct (V,5), Hadrian’s Wall (V,5) and North East Buttress (IV,5) to name a few. Tower gap came and went and before we knew it we were sat on the summit bathing in the crisp winter sunshine. Not wanting to waste such a beautiful day, we decided to descend via the CMD arĂȘte (I) - also great condition - before dropping back into the shadow of the north face heading for the CIC hut. Walking out of the Coire watching the sun set was a pretty poignant moment. 

Approaching Reaburn's Route on Stob Coire nan Lochan

The steep and icey chimney on the first pitch of Raeburn's Route (IV,4)

Phil starting the second pitch of Raeburn's Route in brilliant conditions

The first pitch of Twisting Gully (III,4). Lots of snow in the lower gully but the main ice pitch was in good condition.

The Douglas Boulder looming through the gloom. Doesn't look much like any boulder I've ever seen..

A steep mixed section on the South West Ridge of the Douglas Boulder (IV,5)

Ascending Douglas Gap East Gully (I) on our way up to Tower Ridge. A week of north westerly winds meant this was a steeper but more stable approach to the start of the route.

The north face of the Ben in all its glory. Some climbers on Hadrian's Wall (V,5) are pictured on the bottom right.

A party behind us finishing up the final section of Tower Ridge (IV,3) in beautifully still conditions


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