Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Den republikanske terroristen (n5+), Skogshorn

Our first attempt to climb Den republikanske terroristen didn't get further than the top of the second pitch. There was far too much wind together with strong gusts, which only increased with height. The wind was coming from a WSW Direction from which there was little shelter on our south face. Despite the twenty degree temperature, and adders basking on the slopes beneath Skogshorn, I still needed three layers in order to keep warm.

I led the first pitch, which weaved around initially before popping out on easy angled broken slabs. Normally I would scamper easily up this sort of slabby terrain, primarily using my feet with my hands merely an accessory, however the high winds caused me to over-grip and climb in a slower, static fashion. Often I needed to wait for the winds to drop before making the simplest of moves.

I was fully expecting Anna to suggest that we bail at the top of the first pitch and I was more resigned to agree. Smaller climbers definitely have a bigger say in windy conditions since they are the first to be blown away! To my surprise though she was happy to lead the next pitch. Clouds raced over Anna's head as she led the second pitch with the winds only increasing with height. The rock was at least warm and pressing my face against it whilst belaying was moderately pleasant.

Anna leading the second pitch
At the top of the second pitch we were both equally ready to head down. With good weather expected for the rest of the long weekend there seemed little point in forcing the route on this occasion. The bolted belays with in situ karabiners at least made retreat an easy affair, although the bleached white cord linking the hangers looked well past their sell-by date and so we cut it. I at least learnt a new trick from Anna during the retreat about how to uncoil ropes from the harness whilst abseiling in high winds, thereby avoiding the ends of the ropes from being swept away along the face.

Anna starting the descent with ropes coiled
Ironically it was two years ago to the day that I was hit in the eye with a block of ice on Skogshorn whilst soloing Kruttårnet - Lettvinten, ending up in the back of a helicopter at the base of the crag. With a second 'Did not finish' in the bag clearly 25th May isn't an auspicious day me to be attempting anything on Skogshorn.

Den republikanske terroristen had been the only dry route in the vicinity and so was the obvious route to return for in a couple of days once the winds had dropped. Skogshorndiederet was streaming with water, Oops I did it again was a similar story, only a broad network of seepage, and Lanciakaminen was essentially a waterfall that met with the strong winds head-on to dramatic effect in a couple of places.

Den republikanske terroristen follows the slabby ground to the right of Lanciakaminen
View towards the central buttress of Skogshorn
On our second attempt two days later the winds were light and temperatures ideal. To keep the first two pitches interesting we switched leads from previous, with Anna leading the first pitch and me the second. It somewhat backfired as Anna couldn't remember the whereabouts of the first belay and after a couple of unsuccessful forays too far left without runners she eventually cut her losses and settled for a belay around ten metres short of the belay bolts. Maybe if we hadn't cut the bleached white cord from the bolts two days prior the belay might have been easier to spot.

Anna leading the first pitch
After relocated the belay I climbed quickly up the second pitch in order to make some time back. Despite having climbed the pitch only two days prior I still struggled to spot the belay when in close proximity, although I had the benefit of knowing the approximate length of the pitch. Here after Anna conceded that I should lead the remainder of the pitches as she felt too far out of her comfort zone - a combination of sporadic gear, route-finding difficulties and the occasional loose rock. Maybe we should have stuck to the same pitches as previous in hindsight.

Me leading the second pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
I needed to slow the pace down for the third pitch in order to more readily find some gear placements (which were not easy to come by) and also focus a little more on route-finding, since there was no clear line to follow. For the first three pitches the line supposedly headed straight up. With the pitch likely close to sixty metres I fully expected not to find the belay bolts until nearly out of rope, at which point it would potentially be quite difficult to correct my line. From about thirty metres out I would regularly pause and peer upwards in the hope of seeing a bolt belay. In fact I removed my sunglasses to broaden my contract and help me spot them.

My line trended ever so lightly rightwards, following a faint edge, before I moved back left at the top of the pitch towards a steep corner. With my nearest gear a good distance away I needed either gear or good jugs. Fortunately I found the latter. I never did find the belay bolts but managed to make do with a sling over a half-buried spike and a hex jammed beside a large block directly above it.

Once Anna had joined me I dropped a small rock from the belay and it fell straight to the preceding one, so who knows where the bolts lay. Maybe my error had been to move leftwards at the top of the pitch, although had I maintained my current course then there looked to be a risk of encountering seepage.

Failing to find the abseil point effectively ruled out abseiling the route, given the lack of reliable alternative abseil points on offer. At least I was confident that we were in the general vicinity of the 'line' at any rate due to the tower on our right serving as an approximate reference.

Anna near the top of the third pitch
The next pitch looked to have a line of weakness that swung right and then back left in the shape of a boomerang. Easy climbing for the most part, lacking gear low down but offering surprisingly plenty in the upper half. Again I managed to miss the belay bolts by maybe five metres but fortunately Anna spotted them on second. In hindsight locating the bolts was probably essential for learning the whereabouts of the next pitch.

Me leading the fourth pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
The fifth pitch was the clear crux of the climb and needless to say I again got the line slightly wrong. I started directly above the bolts on relatively steep ground but soon found myself to'ing and fro'ing a few metres higher as to how to continue. By chance I spotted a bolt that was hidden from view in a shallow corner further right. I tried and failed to traverse towards it, or even clip it, and so needed to down climb a little to where I could gain the corner. The corner was refreshingly steep after so much easy angled climbing in the first three pitches, although fairly brief. Higher up I again struggled with the route-finding and soon found myself beneath a broad roof. The easiest way looked to skirt to the right side but I knew this was taking me far too close to the tower that I was supposed to be staying to the left of. Slowly it dawned on me that I should have stayed left lower down and so now found myself delicately traversing through stacked boulders in order to regain my line. I gained a rib and a little higher found a bolt without a hanger. I pulled a nut down its wire, looped it over the bolt and clipped a quickdraw to the other end. At least I was on the right path. Then maybe ten metres higher, to my surprise, I found the bolt belay adorned with more ancient looking cord. Worthy of a private fist pump given the route finding difficulties leading up to it. Finding belays could not be taken for granted on this route. They were a bit like a treasure hunt.

The sixth and final pitch looked an easy affair, although made more complicated by some large channels of seepage, which needed to be avoided where possible. The best option looked to be right in front of me up an easy chimney. It was dripping wet in the middle part but the holds looked generous. The guidebook described a pyramid of rock fifty metres higher that I should aim for but no such thing was evident to me. With no obvious line I simply ploughed upwards following the line of least resistance whilst avoiding wet areas. Easy climbing but in a fine setting. The view back to Anna's belay was particularly spectacular. I finished the pitch a short way left of the belay bolts. With no anchors I simply sat down in a pile of rocks a couple of metres back from the edge, positioned my feet so that they would offer some resistance, and declared myself safe.

Me leading the start of the sixth pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
View back to Anna's belay from midway up the sixth pitch
It was 6:30pm by the time we were both at the top. Progress had been slow but that largely related to the route-finding. We didn't bother with the seventh pitch, shared with Oops I did it again, as it seemed a very contrived finish given it continued 50-60 metres along the hillside and was only grade n4. In fact there looked to be more continuous options, although many looked wet. Our broad grassy terrace seemed the natural finish line though, and given that the guidebook described the walk-off from the top of the sixth pitch it seems I'm not the only one who formed such a conclusion. In fact I didn't even stop to look at the seventh pitch as we traversed along the terrace to gain the descent slopes on the east side of the mountain.

We managed to descend on rock for the large part with just a couple of short sections of snow on route - aiming to the right of Skogshorn's silhouette.

Skogshorn's silhouette during the descent
It was around 8pm by the time we were back at the car. Den republikanske terroristen wasn't the most natural of lines, hence the route-finding difficulties. The climbing was varied though, on largely good rock, and in fantastic surroundings. I can get a little obsessed chasing grades at times but it's the big mountain days like these which stay in the memory longer compared to the harder onsights or redpoints. It's always the long routes at any rate that always make me want to write about something.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Storesvullen (WI5), Svarteberget

Storesvullen had looked too good not to return to the day after we had climbed the neighbouring Lillesvullen. It looked close to my limits but evidently in good condition and definitely worth a try. Particularly given the approach wasn't too long. If Anna and I were overly intimidated once beneath the route then we could always run away to the single pitch ice/mixed crags of Rjukandefoss or Golsjuvet and still have plenty of time for climbing. The first pitch looked as though it would be the crux so it would be immediately obvious as to how hard the climb would be.

The approach, despite not being that long, wasn't exactly a walk in the park as there was a lot of snow and many boulders to clamber over. Once at close quarters though the first pitch actually didn't look too bad. The lower quarter was an easy angle and the hard climbing looked to be over once about 70% up the pitch. In essence the difficult climbing looked to only last about 12 metres. What's more the ice looked well featured and full of cauliflowers. In summary it was clear that we were not going to be heading to Rjukandefoss.

The approach
Beneath the route

The first pitch was surprisingly steady. Even on the steepest ground it was easy to find natural hooks, which minimised effort to get good sticks. The cauliflowers also made footwork an easy affair. In fact their horizontal surfaces were so broad at times that I would have benefited from the first set of crampon points back from my front points being a bit sharper in order to fully capitalise. The hardest aspect was finding good ice screw placements but even this was a fairly simple with a keen eye. The pitch reminded me of the crux pitch of Nye Vermorkfoss at Rjukan - both in the style of climbing and because I talked a lot to my belayer during both these pitches. Not a gibbering wreck-type of talking, more of a calm manner to keep myself settled by describing my observations and actions. The lack of pump meant there was no need to hurry the pitch. As expected, the upper part of the pitch was easier, and allowed me to move my weight primarily back onto my feet. Carefully I traversed left until easier ground lay overhead for me to continue upwards.

The first pitch
Anna and I had planned to swing leads with Anna leading the easier sections between the obvious steeper ones. In reality this didn't really work out because once above the initial steep ice it was a 30 metre plod through easy angled snow to find a safe belay on the far left. From here the steep ground pretty much started immediately again. Anna led a pitch that was maybe 10 metres but it was more a way of reorganising the ropes ready for me to lead again rather than spend ten minutes faffing with ropes. 

View of the remaining ice from above the initial steep section
The next pitch looked to have its line of weakness up the left hand side with more of what had gone before. In reality the ice was past its best and much more fissured, which made adequate screw placements a rare phenomenon. Screws were either hitting air pockets, were near to fissures, or in undercut ice. Nothing to install confidence and as a result I found myself placing more screws at close proximity in an attempt to find something vaguely reliable. At least the climbing was under control for the moment, mainly because of the ample natural hooks for my axes, although the footwork was more akin to mixed climbing due to the reliance on jutting features in the absence of any compact ice. One section, which was slightly undercut and particularly fissured, meant I needed to climb through a bulge in the ice. Above this the ice became even more fissured, untrustworthy, and was completely unprotectable. Now a fair distance above my last reliable screw I changed tack, bailed from my original line and set about making a rising traverse rightwards to the centre of the fall where the ice looked more compact and blue. Initially the ice remained unprotectable but after a few metres it improved sufficiently to start placing adequate screws. Not surprisingly I made up for the lack of adequate protection which had preceded. With all the concerns over decent screws I found myself prematurely running out. I managed at least to avoid a uncomfortable hanging belay by moving my last screw progressively higher until a comfortable ledge was reached a few metres further. I was still maybe 15 metres below the ideal belay spot beneath the final steep ice pitch but that at least this meant a little more leading for Anna.

Me leading the second steep pitch
Anna seconding the second steep section
Anna finishing my pitch off
The final steep section reminded me a little bit of the start of Vøllokula. In a similar way I managed to bridge much of the steep ice, only this time I found my legs becoming progressively more outstretched in order to maintain opposition. At their widest span my calves were screaming with lactic acid -  something I haven't experienced this winter. What's more my biceps were starting to cramp - a first - after three sustained pitches. Reluctantly I pulled out of my bridged stance and and took up the weight on my arms instead. A few moves higher and I was able to break left onto easier ground. Above this there was just a short section of maybe WI3+ before the top of the route was reached. I was tired but very happy to have completed the route after leading all the hard ground. By the time we had started the abseils dusk was upon us.

Me leading the final steep section of ice
View back down to Anna from the top of the steep ice
I've seen this route quoted as WI5 on 27crags but I can't decide if the route was a genuine WI5 in easy condition or a WI4+. WI4+ seems an underused grade compared to WI4 and 5 (at least in Norway). It feel as though 4+ has a smaller bandwidth, and of course many routes can also easily change by half a grade depending on conditions. If the climb was in Rjukan in then it would certainly be WI5. I haven't felt like a WI5 climber this season and therefore maybe doubtful to say this was a WI5, although I could be simply doubting my abilities rather than the route. I started the winter season a little on the back foot, however I've got stronger, lighter and fitter as the season has progressed and my technique has certainly improved. I think I really need to climb more WI5s in order to properly comment on the grade of this route though. What wasn't in doubt though is that it was one of the highlights of my winter season. A true classic.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Lillesvullen (WI4), Svarteberget

I'm not usually one for 'copy and paste' climbing, however when I saw the photos of the ice routes beside Ål Ski Centre on Facebook they immediately moved towards the top of my 'to do' list. There hasn't been so many areas within driving distance from Oslo with good ice conditions this winter, which has lead me to repeatedly return to the same places. Gudbrandsdalen has had some excellent ice but too much of the same thing can quickly become boring. There's numerous parts of Norway that I have never visited though, for example everything west of Gol, so naturally I was keen to fill in some blanks in both respects when I learnt about the routes at Ål.

Lillesvullen, aka Le Petit Svull (WI4) was the easier of the two prominent icefalls in the area and so it seemed the obvious place to start for Anna and me. The harder Storesvullen could wait until Sunday.

Lillesvullen from the main road
It was a relatively short approach from the ski centre car park, initially following a broad ski trail until beneath the route, higher up on the hillside. We cut across a field and began to bash our way up the steeper forested slopes. Here the going became harder, mainly because of the volume of snow together with numerous large boulders to scramble over.

The route is either two or three pitches, depending on whether you include the initial easy first pitch or not. It's about 50m and WI2 and quite out of character with the steeper climbing that follows. We chose to pitch it with Anna leading.

Anna leading the easy first pitch
The real climbing began thereafter, with two pitches of sustained WI4(+) climbing. From the road the route doesn't look particularly spectacular but once stood beneath it all this changes. I led the first steep pitch, which was off-vertical for most of the way. Initially I followed large steps but by the second half of the pitch the climbing had become more sustained. The brittle, dinner-plating nature of the ice made for pumpy climbing due to the amount of chopping necessary in order to get good sticks. Sometimes I would need to quit chopping in one spot and switch to another, which also led to me getting out of shape a little. On many WI4s this would have been the crux pitch, however the next pitch would only be harder.

Me near the top of the second pitch
Relieved to have managed the pump and completed the pitch I settled into belay duties. Alone on my belay ledge my mind began to wonder. 

Like a virgin, hey
Touched for the very first time
Like a virgin
With your heartbeat
Next to mine

Whoa, ah

I had watched a music documentary on NRK a couple of nights previously that had included a lot of artists from the 80s and now I was paying the price. I don't listen to Madonna. At least it wasn't 'Let It Go' from Disney's Frozen, which had been in my head for much of the time that I was climbing Bjørndalsbekken last month.

Also occupying my thoughts was the volume of snow that had been falling since midway up my pitch. Falling snow has been a fairly rare occurrence this winter and quickly it was covering the bare easier angled sections of the ice. Once Anna joined me at the belay climbing was once again at the forefront of my mind.

Anna near the top of the second pitch
The start of the next pitch looked a tough proposition but Anna was keen to try and lead it. 'It doesn't look too bad' I commented, more for encouragement rather than matter of fact. The weakest line looked to initially be straight up the right side until some fissured ice at this edge of the fall necessitated a short traverse leftwards for approximately 5 metres to a faint open chimney feature. A short way up the pitch Anna clipped to an axe and rested, which marked the start of a sieged attempt up the steep sections of ice.

Anna at the start of the third pitch
At the top of the steepest section of climbing 
Anna was out of sight once she was over the steep, meaning once again there was just the rope tension and falling snow to occupy my thoughts. And Madonna.

Feels like I'm going to lose my mind
You just keep on pushing my love
Over the borderline

Higher up the pitch Anna ran out of screws but to her credit she lowered off a short way in order to remove a couple from lower down, thus reaching the top of the route.

The foreshortened view of the start of the final pitch had partly disguised its steepness. Even seconding the it was no pushover. Particularly the faint chimney, which was vertical for maybe 6 metres but made harder by its featureless nature. I gladly hooked my axes into Anna's placements where possible, given the tendency for the ice to dinner plate.

Even with the crux passage dispatched the climbing remained relatively sustained, albeit at a slightly gentler angle. Lots of chopping still necessary. At one point an axe dramatically blew from the ice without warning, together with a large dinner-plate. Fortunately my other axe was solid at the time. Relieved and happy to be at the top of the route we promptly abseiled it needing just one abalakov on the way, besides trees. 

If this route is a WI4 then it felt right at the top of the grade. There were no easy passages once onto the two main pitches. Conditions felt fat as well, although the dinner plating no doubt offset this. It was an excellent route, albeit not the eye-catcher of its neighbour Storesvullen. It's probably better than all the WI4s that I have climbed in Hemsedal (note, I've yet to climb Teigafossen), with the exception of Hydalsfossen, although that is a WI4+. Not bad creditials for a route that is equidistant to Hemsedal and that took me three winters to learn about. 

My bag buried under fresh snow at the bottom of the route

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Curved Ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor

With Anna still feeling unwell we decided to make the last day an easy one. It was a choice of either returning to Aonach Mor to try something of similar difficulty to yesterday, or do something longer and easier. The conditions on Aonach Mor hadn't been that inspiring to warrant a return. With blue skies expected, Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor sounded a far more enjoyable outing. Its four star rating would no doubt offer a fine day in the mountains and would of course provide broader experiences compared to simply returning to the same crag as yesterday to climb a second route.

The foreshortened view of Curved Ridge
Being a classic route, and a Saturday, the route was not surprisingly busy. Not too busy to cause major queues however. We opted to take in alpine coils and move together for most of the route in order to improve efficiency. We set 20m between us, which would provide enough rope to place runners through harder sections whilst minimising rope drag. It didn't gain us any advantage in hindsight because we would repeatedly meet with a party in front of us and be forced to make a premature belay. As a result we weren't moving much more than a rope length between belays anyway. Taking an independent line was actually quite difficult as well. Not only because the technical difficulties increased but also because we left the main passage of packed down snow and brushed rock in exchange for deeper, more unconsolidated snow. The net result was that there was no gain to be made and it was better just to get in line. 

Anna climbing the start of Curved Ridge
The climbing was largely straightforward with the exception of a short interesting tech 3 corner halfway up the route. Without doubt though the best thing about Curved Ridge was the awesome, expansive views across Rannoch Moor to the south. Beyond the ridge the ground quickly dropped away to the broad plateau below, giving the ridge a real lofty feel. It was good to climb the route on such a clear day to fully appreciate this, although the gusty, biting wind reminded us that this was still Scottish winter and not Norway.

The crux corner
Not far from the top
Belaying close to the top
Last time I had climbed on Buachaille Etive Mor I had finished at 11pm after a somewhat dramatic day on the North Buttress, or at least somewhere in that vague vicinity. On this occasion it was just 1pm, which allowed plenty of time to linger on the summit and eat some lunch.

A short traverse across the high ground brought us to the col at the top of Coire na Tulaich, which we would use to descend to the base of the mountain. The descent was just as enjoyable as the climb in fact, involving a long bum side from the col to what felt like halfway down. My bum sliding abilities felt a little rusty at first, particularly now that I use axes without an adze, but after a cautious start I worried less about trying to stay in control and sat up as though on a water slide. The numerous bum sliders that had preceeded me meant that a well defined ass-sized halfpipe had formed, making the descent surprisingly controlled given the speed.

View back to the summit
The start of the descent
The epic bum slide down Coire na Tulaich, starting from the col in the back of the picture
View from the gully
Curved Ridge was an excellent choice of route today and fitting finale to the trip. Easy and enjoyable. I even made it to the pub for 4pm to watch the English beat the Welsh in the Six Nations rugby. All things considered, five routes is definitely a successful trip. We could have more done with better health but equally we could have got nothing done - based on the lack of conditions in the run up to our trip. Already I'm already about a return next year. So many supurb winter routes that I still need to climb in this lifetime. 

Buachaille Etive Mor

Friday, 10 February 2017

Nid Arete Direct (V,5), Aonach Mor

Two days had passed by since we had last climbed a route. On Wednesday we had driven to Applecross in the North-West Highlands in the hope of finding some winter conditions but had found little. Temperatures were set to drop towards sea level imminently but with little snow remaining from earlier in the week there was little reason to stick around. Meall Gorm was stripped. Maybe the East and West Buttresses of Beinn Eighe would have been possible but with Anna's cold becoming slightly worse rather than better the three hour approach would be too long. This was actually our first visit to the North-West Highlands so at least we got to explore a new corner of the UK in process. It's a beautiful part of the world - no doubt more beautiful had we left the roads. More beautiful than many parts of Norway in fact and with a similar sparseness. We pushed onto Fort William and civilisation that same day, which meant few more hours driving than planned. Our only souvenir being some giant free range eggs from the local store in Lochcarron.

The view North from Lochcarron
A black-looking Meall Gorm
On Thursday we had headed to Ben Nevis but only made it halfway before turning back due to Anna's cold. With the avalanche forecast in the red from 900 metres upwards we had planned the South-West Ridge on Douglas Boulder, which was more a route to get something done rather than a route high on my to-do-list. Ben Nevis is easy to come back to again on another trip though.

The closest we got to Ben Nevis on this trip
On Friday we made the conservative plan to climb in Coire an Lochain on the East Face of Aonach Mor due to the short approach from the Ski Centre. Firstly taking the gondola to 650m, then a chairlift to 910m, followed by around forty-five minutes' walk up the side of the pistes to the top of the East face. Lots of rime was on display on the various structures on route. There wasn't enough snow to make a bollard above Easy Gully though, but the cornice was only small with a section cleared by previous parties. Descending Easy Gully was straightforward, although the snow consistency changed a couple of times, so needed a little extra care.

Rime build-up on Aonach Mor
Rimed buildings on Aonach Mor
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Coire an Lochain
Descending Easy Gully
Anna was keen to do Nid Arete, partly because it was described as a 'good and well protected mixed route' in the SMC guide, despite only getting one star. The second pitch looked to be the better one based on the description so I was happy to do the first pitch, given I had done the majority of the leading on the trip so far. The first pitch also had an alternative start directly up the arete rather than initially skirting it to the left, which seemed the more natural line. It increased the overall grade to V,5, thereby offering a more challenging lead for me without increasing the technical grade for Anna on second.

The direct first pitch proved to be a bold affair. Not much gear and even less good gear. A peg or two might have got me out trouble but I wasn't carrying any. Not many positive holds meant lots of balancy rock-over moves but nothing particularly steep, sustained or committing. Progress was slow as there were large quantities of unconsolidated snow to deal with once again along with a fair amount of rime covering everything. Also turf that was frozen to varying degrees. Towards the top of the pitch the gear improved significantly, although the route finding became more difficult. A blank wall out right blocked my way and so I was forced to backtrack a little way and climb a steep, short groove further left. It was formed between a smooth slab and a slightly overhanging wall and looked awkward and intimidating. Fortunately there were some massive hooks up the steep wall, which made for some briefly excellent climbing. Then just a little higher I found an in-situ peg on a comfortable platform that was ideally suited to a belay. 

Me climbing the direct first pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Climbing the hard corner
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna at the top of the corner
Anna wasn't feeling well enough to lead the second pitch unfortunately so I pressed on. The natural line looked to be straight up the groove above the belay but trying to gain entry to the groove from a couple of points proved far too hard for me. Instead I traversed further right to a vague slabby corner directly over the neighbouring gully. Gear out right was sparse, the moves lacked positivity and it all felt a bit sketchy - evident by the amount that I was chattering to myself. The thought crossed my mind to back off the pitch all together as falling off would have resulted in a nasty pendulum. With enough composure I managed to mount slabby corner though and wedge a large hex behind a prominent crack above. Then the realisation came that the crack formed the back of a large suspect perched block meaning gear-wise my situation was no better. Tentatively I mounted the block and trended back leftwards to gain gentler snowy ground. The climbing now became much quicker and easier and soon I was over the top. Needless to say I'm not sure I would describe the pitch as well protected as described in the guidebook. Maybe I was off route, or just struggling to find anything beneath the snow, although my line fitted the guidebook description. The second pitch seemed a bit of a naff line at any rate as it avoided the main features by taking what felt like an escape route.

There was nothing with which to make a belay on the wind stripped ground above so I simply walked twenty metres from the edge and took up a stance. No great seriousness given my partner was close to 30kg lighter. Anna actually needed to untie one of the half ropes on second to add to the drama. On lead I had just clipped one rope whilst making my looping line out rightwards, ensuring the other rope ran directly up from the belay to minimise drag. This directly running rope now refused to flick rightwards, partly because I wasn't feeding enough slack to allow so. Communication is always difficult when stood 20m back the top of a route though. 

At least we found a way to the top without the need to bail as it's always good to overcome the challenges regardless of the quality of the route. I'm very glad I did the direct variant on the first pitch as it was definitely the better pitch, albeit sometimes without much of an obvious line.

The weather on top was perfect with clear skies and no wind. A rare day during Scottish winter. By now it was 4:10pm with the last gondola due in five minutes. We were inevitably going to miss it but at least this meant we could take in the views a little longer without rushing. The descent on foot from the gondola station was actually pretty easy, following a winding downhill bike track for much of the way. Sometimes it was easier to cut corners straight down the hillside as it was not particularly steep or brutal on the knees. 

Despite Anna not feeling on best form for most of this week it's definitely felt a successful trip and we've been very lucky with the weather. With one day left hopefully we can finish with one more climb.

Ben Nevis from the top of the route
Perfect weather at the top of the route
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Perfect weather for a descent on foot