Ben Nevis has seen one of the best years for ice climbing conditions, many routes are so fat I think we could be climbing ice until mid April at this rate. Mid level routes have been in amazing condition for a really sustained period, climbs such as Harrisons and Boomers continue to hang in there whilst the higher routes have recently gone through the necessary freeze / thaw cycles encouraging a flurry of activity high up on the mountain. Aside from climbing Smiths Route a couple of weeks ago I haven’t done much ice up high on the Ben, so when Rich messaged to say he was keen for an adventure we chose Psychedelic Wall (VI, 5) as our primary objective. Rich made very short work of the first pitch climbing thinly iced slabs with an acceptable amount of good ice screws along the way. The second pitch was awesome, I was hot on the heels of another team infront of us so stopped to allow the second to get up the icy wall ahead. With just a few screws in 40m of climbing I took my time up the crux enjoying the mental balance of continuing to move with little in the way of good protection. Rich flew up to the belay before leading through up the steep ice fall, taken direct with great gear and first time placements all the way.
It was then a quick jaunt down Tower Gully and back across to get on Caledonia (V,5). This route lies about 30m right of Psychedelic Wall and slightly higher up the mountain. For such a short distance apart the two routes were a different proposition. It wasn’t that Caledonia was hard but it was certainly bold, the ice rotten and hollow. The top pitch that Rich led felt scary and certainly posed the most challenging pitch of the day – a stern lead!
We walked in to the CIC with Al and Tom who were heading into the Ciste for some accessible climbing. Unfortunately whilst half way up our route we heard the chopper and as it turned out they had been involved in an avalanche out of Italian Right Hand. Tom has a serious leg injury and Al walked away unscathed. Just goes to show with a ‘Moderate’ avalanche forecast there is still a reasonable chance snow will be moving around. Keep an eye on Al’s blog for an update.