Sun 14th Feb - Thu 18th Feb, 1999
CIC Hut, Ben Nevis
The Last One
Members present: Al Metelko, Sean Kelly.
Guest: Elaine Beaulieu.
Our arrival over the weekend promised well, especially with lots of the white stuff in evidence. The skiing on Aonach Mor prooved a magnetic draw for many on Andrew's meet. It was possible to ski from summit to the Gondola station, and the return on the chair afforded exceptional views across to the Ben resplendent in full winter plumage. The strengthening wind later in the day scoured the piste of powder causing those with poor technique or blunt edges to seek refuge in the Gondola café. Al joined me for a free lift down after having run up some ice smears on Aonach Mor's north face. Sunday afternoon however witnessed a dramatic change, high pressure rapidly giving way to a depressing low, which caused clouds to envelop the north face of the Ben. The new track from Torlundy followed part of the old railway line before rejoining the path up from the golf club. I had arrived at the CIC to be warmly greeted by the SMC who informed me that two of their members had just ascended Point 5, and both of them granddads at that!
Ski LogoAl and Elaine arrived sometime after dark, looking suitably knackered. The hut was quite full by now, with Oxford MC and another independent group. Just as well there were no more KMC. A plan on the wall, revealed details of a further proposed extension to the hut to include a toilet. Until then however, its grab your trowel and find a suitable dump. Try to avoid the call of nature around nine in the morning as the area around the hut sees more traffic than the M1.
An American in the hut had access to the weather forecast via his mobile, which proved very helpful especially as we despondently noted that a major thaw was in progress. Overcome by boredom and the urge to do something Al and Elaine trudged off in the direction of Carn Dearg Buttress. I grabbed a camera but the cloud had already enveloped them in its damp shroud. A couple of hours later, they emerged from the mists, looking as if they had fallen into the Allt a'Mhuilinn. But closer interrogation disclosed that an ascent of the Curtain was successful. Elaine climbed the route in her ski boots (kindly carried up the hill by Al), that seemed to work OK.
The forecast for the following day was even worse (mobile in use again) which decided Al and Elaine to immediately retreat back to Manchester. Tuesday duly arrived along with promised weather, a dramatic fall in temperature, heavy snow, and 100-mph winds on the summit plateau. Whatever thoughts I harboured were now abandoned and a similar retreat to Fort William. The drive over Rannoch Moor was memorable, with heavy falling snow, French hitchhiker (no English), two cars off the road in front of me, and just making it before the police closed the road. If only we had been up here the week previously, but I've heard that one before.
Where else in the British hills does one find a 2 km sequence of ridges, gullies, walks and buttresses, which are home to a collection of the most brilliant ice routes to the true mountaineer. To ascend any of these magnificent lines is to step into Scottish climbing history - Raeburn & Bell, Smith & Marshall, Clough, Patey & MacInnes, and more recently Geddes, Rouse, Muir and Anderson! On my first trip to the Ben (1958) nearly all the major routes still awaited a second ascent and zero had only been climbed three times. How times have changed. I recall teaming up to climb with Mick Geddes, who later went on to do the first repeat of the Orion Face. Of climbing the "Curtain" with Parbatti in '76 and Tower Ridge with Jim Symon in '83 both in "full conditions", of a perfect January day in '95 with Al Metelko and the whole place to ourselves (avalanche risk 5) and encountering a double cornice at the top of Ledge Route.
Tempted? Now for the hard sell - the Charles Ingles Clark hut is situated a good 2 hours walk up the Allt a' Mhuillinn (pron. Voolin), longer in deep snow. It's at GR NN168723 (BMC car-park at Tolundy). Cost for the week is £25 (twenty five pounds) non-refundable, payable to the meet leader in advance. Cheques payable to the K.M.C. please. There are only 8 places available so it's first come first served. i.e. pay up early or grouse. Which reminds me. Don't forget the Malt. It can be quite chilly on the Ben in February.
Can be combined with the previous week end meet for a full Scottish experience.
Due to Covid restrictions many meets have been cancelled and remaining meets are members only. Please check back after the restrictions are lifted.