Thu 3rd Mar - Sun 6th Mar, 2016
CIC Hut - Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis CIC 2016 Meet Report or The return of Parbatti Bob
Andy ‘The navigator’ Stratford, Jim ‘sketchbook’ Symon, Colin ‘Ice-master’ Maddison, ‘Celebrity’ Bob Milward, Stevie ‘blunt it’ Graham, Stuart ‘hungry’ Hurworth.
Bob’s drive from Little Stretton in Shropshire had been uneventful so we set off in good time to collect Jim from the other side of the valley in Mossley, arriving at The North Face car park at 6.30pm after an easy six hour drive. The customary weigh-in of sacs was conducted: Jim was down from 29.5Kg last year to 25.5kg this year. Andy managed 22kg with Bob at a featherweight 20kg – somehow he had managed to persuade Colin to carry most of the hardware in. We squeezed in to a hut packed with eight Italians, two Germans and eleven Brits at 8.30 ish after an easy (ish) sub-two hour walk in. It was Sardine time on the long bunks: with only two spots left for our three other KMC members. When Colin, Stevie arrived they grabbed the last two spots. Stuart was too busy feeding himself so was eventually found making his bed under the table in the kitchen/lounge!
see Stuart Cartoon in gallery
Although there had been excellent conditions around mid-February, there had been considerable fresh snow on icy slopes so the avalanche risk was high. We were all too aware of the tragic disappearance of Rachel and Tim, presumed lost in an avalanche, so I think we were all treating The Ben with just that little extra bit of respect. It was a fairly civilised start for most of us: up at 7am, although with Stuarts’ bed in the kitchen he’d been up since 5.30am. Still it had given him a chance to have three breakfasts. We debated routes, but eventually opted for The Curtain IV,5 – a classic icefall on the side of Carn Dearg buttress. The climb finished on the lower part of Ledge Route and offered an easy descent into No.5 Gully and the possibility of a second route. Jim and Andy were the second team for The Curtain, with Colin and Bob arriving first. Stevie liked the look of Right Hand Chimney IV,5: a fairly stiff looking mixed route – see the photo Colin took which won first place in the Mountain Action competition. Bob followed Colin with Andy’s borrowed Super-fly Axes and a pair of poorly fitting Crampons that resembled bird beaks. However Mr Milward didn’t put a spike out of place and on finishing the route promptly followed Colin for the second route: Fifties Revival (IV,6). Meanwhile Andy and Jim had also completed The Curtain with Jim leading Pitches 1 and 3. It really was a brilliant route and in absolutely first rate condition. Shortly after finishing the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. Spindrift and snow kicked up as we made our way up to Central Trident Buttress looking for Mega Route X (V, 6): a 60m ice fall with a brilliant reputation and climbed some years back by our illustrious webmaster and treasurer Al Metelko. After visibility dropped to a few feet leaving us in a white out and unable to tell which way up anything was, we decided enough was enough, even though we must have only been 100 metres from the route. Back at the hut we settled in for tea. Colin and Bob arrived having bailed off their route after two short pitches. Stuart and Stevie arrived nearer 5pm having had a difficult day on poorly consolidated snow and neve, with Stevie leading all the pitches, but were well pleased at having finished the route.
see Bob Crampon cartoon
Stevie and I headed out early to beat ‘The North Face’ early starters and made it first in line to 150m Minus Three Gully (IV, 5). I ran P1 and P2 together, pulling over the crux icicle easily which was in excellent condition. Anything steep in Scotland never feels so steep after a week in Norway! Steve followed up swiftly and ran P3 and P4 together. I did a full rope length for P5 as another team came past on the easier ground. That was very useful as they dug out a massive boulder at the top of Stevie’s P6 which all four of us then rapped off down to the NE Buttress approach ramp. This lead to a tricky Grade II traverse and down-climb which we solo’d then a final rap down to the easier slopes to the base of NE Buttress. What a day! Meanwhile the other teams had opted for the lower section of Tower Ridge.
Jim takes up the story:
Stuart and I waited a while, mostly to let my banging headache subside. We did a long walk round to Italian Right Hand but the snow in the Corrie was heavy and soft and didn’t feel right. We got within 50 metres of the route but the steep angle and loading of the snow approach felt all wrong. I told Stuart I wasn’t happy with the snow stability, and he was happy to roll with my judgement – he’d thought so as well but was glad to hear it from an old mountain git like me. We decided to head back and take the long way round to have a look at Vanishing Gully (V, 5) which we knew Colin and Bob had set off for. As we roped up and set off they were just finishing. Stuart led the first pitch – his first Scottish V in good style, calmly and patiently to the cave belay. I followed up, arriving at the base of the ice bulge with a mixture of fear and excitement. The ice was in brilliant condition although having one of Andy’s blunt ice screws didn’t help matters. After 3 failed attempts at getting it started on the steepest bit of ice, I shouted down to Stuart ‘’The ice screws knackered, I’m just going for it’’. I moved higher to a slightly easier stance and picked another less blunt screw (Note: Never lend your ice screws to a scouser – see meet report from Waters in February!). I led the final full rope length pitch then brought Stuart up – very happy to have climbed his first Scottish V. We made two long abseils to the left and returned to the CIC – I was pleased as punch – it was a brilliant route.
That evening as the conversation ebbed and flowed, and tales were told, it eventually came out that no one other than Bob Milward had climbed the first grade eight (VIII, 8) on The Ben – a route called Centurion on Carn Dearg Buttress graded HVS in summer with a first ascent by the great Don Whillans in 1956. It is recorded in the Guidebook thus ‘’A solo ascent by R Milward over 2 days in winter 1975 used a considerable amount of aid’’.
‘’....move up as far as possible, adopt some excruciating position with one hand screwed in a crack while the hammer in the other strips ice and snow. Stick the hammer out of harms’ way and repeat the process.....’’ (See KMC 50th anniversary journal, an article called ‘’O Solo Mio’’, page 139.
See gallery. Bob really did end up signing autographs!
The morning dawned clear. The Ben was looking magnificent in the sunshine, dressed in its’ best winter coat. Alpenglow glinted golden off the sweeping buttresses and ridges: it was a fantastic day to be alive, being part of the mountain, at one with the incredible environment. We were up and out early as we had decided on walking out around 2pm so we decided on easier routes closer to the hut. Jim, Andy, Colin and Bob all went to try the Curtain Rail (IV,4) – a companion route to The Curtain - which Stuart and Stevie decided to climb. There was much banter as we all gathered at the base of the routes. Unfortunately the linking icefall on the curtain rail wasn’t in so an easier line was taken most of the way culminating in a final steep bit of ice onto Ledge Route. We packed up the ropes, Bob decided to head back and have tea and pack whilst Andy, Colin and Jim solo’d up Ledge Route (II) a four star route and one of the best of it’s grade on the mountain. The views were sublime as we climbed topping out on Carn Dearg summit at 11am. We solo’d all the way back down Ledge Route (it makes a good descent route if you are confident on that sort of ground and know the way) passing Stuart and Stevie finishing The Curtain, arriving back at the hut before noon. We packed up, all well satisfied and headed for the cars, Colin being the last man down having had to return to the hut after ten minutes for a pair of errant crampons!
Jim has the last word.
Its weekends like this that makes you forget all the bad weekends of poor weather before. You know it’s worth the effort when you get magical days on the mountains like this weekend. You will always remember them and I always pinch myself as a reminder that I am lucky to be able to do these things and to never take the health I have to do the things I love for granted.
3 nights on the Ben. leaving Manchester thursday to walk in to CIC in late afternoon. Climbing days on Friday, Saturday, Sunday then travel home.
Six places booked.
Potentially challenging winter climbing. Priority booking given to KMC Members.
***All six places now booked as of November 4th****
If you want a place on the reserve list let me know asap.
Contact Andy direct.