Archive for July, 2010

Ben Stone Cowboys

July 13, 2010

The North Face of Ben Nevis is justifiably famous for it’s winter climbing. Being Britain’s highest mountain, and being situated on the West Coast , it gets battered by the full force of the Atlantic depressions.  High precipitation and strong winds plaster the cliffs in snow, and rapid freeze-thaw cycles can transform soft unconsolidated snow into beautiful and ephemeral lines of snow ice. It is unsurprising then that these crags prove a popular climbing destination during the winter months.

In the spring however – when the snow and ice finally disappear – so do all the people. After the normal hubbub of the winter, the north face feels eerily quiet and desolate, especially higher up in Coire na Ciste. The few climbers who do venture up on the Ben in summer usually head for either one of the classic long ridges or the famous classics on Carn Dearg. and who can blame them, for both offer some of the finest mountain routes of there type in Britain.  However there’s plenty of steep clean rock beyond Carn Dearg, up in Coire na Ciste and on the flanks of the great ridges.  In recent years Dave McLeod has been exploring some of the the possibilities here – picking some of the steepest and most intimidating lines – but there is also lots of potential at a more reasonable grade to be climbed.

It was with this in mind that last week myself and Tony Stone headed up to have a wee peek at a feature I had often noticed in winter; a hanging groove on the left arête of the front face of the Comb. Arriving at the base of the crag, we saw there to be a lot of solid clean rock, with various possible good looking lines. Unfortunately the West coast drizzle had been at work, and crag was quite damp, limiting our options for the day.

We started up the most obvious dry line, which gave a good long pitch of about E2 5b, slightly bold in places, but on solid rock. This led to the ledge of Don’t Die of Ignorance just before this route gets hard. Above, the original line I had planned was mossy and wet, but another option became apparent. An exposed wall above the crack of Don’t Die gave the crux of the route, and led up to the arête. Sustained and exposed cracks and grooves in the arête eventually led to lovely little perch, another great pitch. This marked the end of the hard climbing, but it was decided that to truly claim the route, we would have to continue to the top. Another 70m to loose V Diff and some scrambling led to the top.

 Descending No 3Gully to collect the rucsacs is not an appealing option in summer, so it was deciding to abseil down the front face of the Comb. One abseil, some unpleasant down climbing and a lot of bickering later we ended up back at the belay at the end of the hard climbing. Another abseil led up the large ledge of Tower Face of the Comb, and a short scramble took us down to the bags.

 With two fine pitches on good rock, and an easy descent from an insitu abseil anchor, maybe this nice as yet un-named E3 will see a few ascents from those who fancy exploring the rock climbing opportunities beyond Carn Dearg. Equally maybe not.

Cheers, Blair