North Gully, Ben Nevis – II

This winter has been a bit disappointing so far. Cold snaps and snow dumps have been followed by sustained high pressure and almost instant thawing of most mountain crags. So with a dump of snow during the week and the temperature to stay low over the weekend, Laura and I decided to head up to Fort William after work on Friday and try to get something done on the north face early Saturday morning.

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looking promising…

The initial steep climb away from the north face carpark always gets the heart rate accelerating. The views over an early morning Fort William and the menacing north face always make it worthwhile, if the weather is behaving of course.

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winter conditions beginning to form

We arrived at the CIC hut and decided to go for north gully. I had read that this had been climbed during the week and was in condition. So began the uphill slog in to the depths of Coire na Ciste. I generally find the coire quite an intimidating place and today was no different. The snow conditions were not as I’d expected and there was a deep layer of powder sitting on top of the old pack.

We traversed the base of number 4 gully and around to the start of north gully, growing ever more sceptical about the snow under our feet.

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North gully right of centre 

More comfortable at the foot of the route we built a questionable belay, given the rain fall the cracks were iced up making gear difficult to find.

The first pitch runs up the gully and narrows as it lengthens. The snow and ice were great quality and although I didn’t find any gear the axe placements were good enough to give confidence. The snow turned to ice at the narrowest part which gave an interesting couple of steps before exiting onto wider terrain. A spike provided a solid anchor.

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at the start of the route 

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approaching the narrowest section of the first pitch

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Laura coming up the first pitch

The second pitch is a real contrast to the first. A wide snow fan with various options. I was very uncomfortable with the snow pack on this pitch. A lot of wading was required and the cornices at the exit had been given plenty of time to form.

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windslab and cornices

I decided taking the left hand variant on the exit at grade III would be safer than battling with the cornice. Unfortunately I got half way up this and the snow became very thin and loose. I eventually conceded defeat, down climbed and took the standard exit. The cornice wasn’t particularly difficult but the snow leading up very loose and I was pleased to reach the plateaux.

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heading down the Redburn

Number 4 gully didn’t look very inviting so we decided to take the longer, safer trek down the Redburn and to the half way lochan.

All in an enjoyable route but not the correct choice in the current conditions.

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