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A winter's day on Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis at 1343 metres is the highest mountain in the UK and the nearest thing we have to an alpine peak.
The centrepiece of this mountain, normally referred to as The Ben in climbing circles, is the magnificent North Face. A complex line of cliffs stretching for almost two kilometres, cut by a series of ridges & gullies that offer hundreds of different routes to the summit.
Most people ascend The Ben, by what is known as the Tourist Route, despite the name it is a long day out climbing the easier side of the hill. A much better route is to traverse the mountain and its satellite peak Carn Mor Dearg; this gives great views of the North Face and is commonly known as CMD.
At 05.30am, we leave the Alex Macintyre hut in Onich, it takes about half an hour to drive to the North Face car park where we start our walk up ‘The Ben’ in cold clear conditions.
The plan for today is ascend Castle Ridge, the easiest of the great Nevis ridges, then onto the main summit before traversing onto the satellite summit of CMD.
We are at the bottom of the route by first light, after overtaking several parties on the approach footpath, luckily we have Castle Ridge to ourselves at the moment.
The main difficulties of the route are in the first half, after that it eases. The climb starts with several pitches of tricky mixed climbing over snow covered slabs before reaching easier ground on the main ridge. This leads to the hardest (crux) pitch that involves an awkward traverse & chimney, but it’s soon over.
Looking down far below we see there is another team of two about to start our route, but they will not catch us now as we have reached the easier upper section of the climb and employ a technique called moving together. This is where the climbers stay connected to the rope, but both climb at the same time.
Eventually we reach the summit plateau, it’s snowing heavily and strong winds buffet us. The summit is still more than a kilometre away so we proceed carefully, keeping well away from the dangerous edges of the North face cliffs.
As we approach the summit the clouds lift giving us superb views, we get out of the wind in the lee of the shelter and have a quick food break, the first of today.
Our route now descends steeply onto a sharp arête that curls round onto the next summit of Carn Mor Dearg (1220m).
We descend to the valley in darkness after being on the go for over 11 hours.
Time Taken: 11.5 hours
Difficulty: Castle Ridge is Winter grade 3
Winter climbing is an inherently dangerous activity
The author cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article as mountain conditions change from day to day.
Anyone wishing to take part in any mountaineering activities should be aware that they will have to make critical safety decisions based on their own judgement on every mountain day.
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