UPDATE July 2015: Ken and Hannah are now running Scottish walking, mountaineering and climbing courses for West Coast Mountain Guides.
Today was my final day of work this winter, and for a second year running, the season ended with a climb on Ben Nevis with Mick. The freezing levels have crept above the summits over the past 36hrs or so, which was going to affect the ice climbs, just to what extent was hard to gauge without getting up close. I had a few routes in mind, but on reaching the CIC Hut, it seemed that Orion Direct was complete and looked ok, so we ventured up to the foot of it, and found the snow quite soft underfoot. The ice on the first couple of pitches looked ok, if a bit thin, but with ice falling down and for the temps to rise through the day, we decided that ‘it might be ok’ wasn’t good enough, and so we about turned, and made our way down and onto Observatory Ridge, which was distinctly alpine (a lot of bare rock, with ledges holding snow, of which some of it was quite useful).
The first three pitches contain the meat of the climbing, with a series of rocky steps and slabs, however, even after gaining the snow covered ridge above, the odd rocky step thrown in for good measure still provided some thought provoking moves. On nearing the top, we moved across into Zero Gully, and were able to make the most of gear placements in the exposed rocks on the right (ice screws in the gully would have been useless).
It was a very quiet day on the mountain, with the only other teams we could see enjoying Tower Ridge. There is still plenty of ice on the mountain, but whether it lasts this current thaw is another matter. Point 5 and other deep, ice holding gullies, with snow fields above may make it to the next freeze, whenever that happens, but that’s it for my Scottish winter season, and despite the wild weather and conditions, it’s been a great season, with many fantastic days out across the Highlands.
We’re now off ski touring in Norway and Austria…