Yesterday was my first day of mountaineering work this winter. I was working for Abacus Mountain Guides, and was joined by Sally, who was keen to observe a mountaineering day on Ben Nevis, and Amanda, who originally hails from South Africa, and had come up for the weekend from down south to reach the summit of Ben Nevis via a more technical route than the mountain track. Ledge Route is often a great option, weaving an intricate line through some outstanding scenery, beneath imposing crags and buttresses, and above yawning gullies and snow laden corries, so that’s what we set out to do.
The forecast promised an improving picture as the day progressed, which was reassuring, as early morning brought with it strong winds and heavy rain down to sea level. As soon as we gained the entrance to Coire na Ciste, things noticeably calmed down, and we picked our way though a lot of fresh snow to the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress, before traversing across the bowl of No. 5 Gully and reaching the start of Ledge Route itself.
Amanda did exceptionally well, particularly as conditions underfoot weren’t easy with the sheer volume of soft snow sitting directly on the rocks, typical for early season, before a good firm base of snow has established. Once on the plateau, we made our way over a mixture of scoured ground and the occasional snow drift to the summit, which was well rimed. Whilst visibility was quite poor, the winds by this stage were far more gentle than earlier in the day. We had a look at descending the Red Burn, which is starting to fill with snow, but soon changed our minds as it was slow going and ventured back onto the mountain track, which made for a far easier descent.
Very few people out and about, and climbing conditions wouldn’t have been great following a substantial thaw on Thursday, and a dumping of soft, wet snow on Friday before the ground had time to refreeze. Another variable week of freeze/thaw cycles ahead, which will all help in the long run.
Don’t forget to let us know what you’ve been up to on the hills, as we’ll include any useful information and pictures on this blog.