Heading North!

Last Sunday I made the mammoth drive up to Aviemore to spend the next two months living in the highlands, making the most of the winter climbing season.
Aviemore is a prime location from which to get out into the mountains – 10 minutes drive from the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms, good access to Lochnagar and the Southern Cairngorms, and about 90 minutes drive west to Ben Nevis or northwest to Torridon. I’m really psyched to be here, even if it is a little bit daunting having just moved into a house I’d never seen in a tiny village where I don’t know anybody and don’t have any regular climbing partners.
The view from my new front door…
With the help of the UKC Forums I’ve managed to find a few people in the area who are looking for climbing partners, so, after exploring the local area with a quick 11km run on Monday, I headed out to  Coire an t’Sneachda with Scott on Tuesday. We managed Patey’s Route (IV 5), a classic gully line on Aladdin’s Buttress which I’d wanted to do for a while, and Aladdin’s Mirror Direct (IV 4), which was super steady, probably only equivalent to a very short WI3.
The lower crux on Patey’s Route – the climb was actually more in condition than this photo makes it look..!
It’s no secret at the moment that Ben Nevis is in exceptional condition. Classic ice lines all over the mountain are being climbed almost daily, and even super rare routes like Mega Route X and The Shroud have seen a number of ascents. Unable to resist, I quickly dried out the ropes, sorted the rack, chucked a few more Clif bars into my pack and jumped in the van to drive to Fort William.
I’d somehow managed to get last minute spaces for me and Caspian in the CIC hut, which usually requires booking months in advance, so, after dropping by Alan Kimber’s place to pick up the key, I pulled up in the North Face car park and made myself some food while I waited for Caspian to arrive from Aberdeen. It wasn’t long before he was there, and after a brief discussion about plans for the following day, we agreed we’d have an early start and aim to be the first party on the classic Point Five Gully (V 5) – climbing ice below another team is annoying and painful at best, and downright dangerous at worst. We hastily packed our kit and decided to get our heads down before our 4am start…
When the alarm went off, I felt as if I’d had my eyes shut for about 20 minutes. Early morning starts in the cold are usually a complete psyche killer but this time we were both buzzing. I forced down a couple of old cereal bars and poked my contact lenses in. We were on the trail by 4:45, and we hacked up towards the Ben in the dark for an hour and a half until we reached the hut, where we stopped to ditch some of our overnight stuff and have a cup of tea. Some guys in the hut mentioned a French team staying in the hut who were thinking of doing Point Five as well, so we quickened our tea-drinking and flew out the door to start the slog up towards the climb.
Hadrian’s Wall Direct (Left) and Point Five Gully (Right). Climber on Hadrian’s is me (this was taken the following day by Mike Pescod).
The route was gorgeous, interesting climbing which felt very comfortable (a productive week in Rjukan this January has definitely paid off!). The ice was chewy enough to take first time sticks, but solid enough to offer solid screws. I took the narrow chimney on the second pitch, which proved to be the technical crux, and Caspian took leads 1 and 3 (including the famous Rogue pitch which was in very amenable condition). We tackled the final 200m of calf burner ice/nevé moving together, and topped out onto a claggy Ben Nevis summit at about 1pm.
Tackling the narrowing chimney on pitch 2.
Photo by Caspian James
Caspian, going rogue.
Descent was made somewhat tricky by the fact that the visibility was probably no more than 5 metres on the top. We were aiming to climb back down No. 4 gully but in trying to avoid going too close to the edge we ended up coming down just right of the zig-zags and ended up at the halfway lochan, which was a royal pain in the arse. Now we faced a 5km boot-pack to get back to the hut and any hopes of fitting in a second route were gone.
Fun visibility on the summit…
Exhausted after the long descent. Was the 4am start worth it? 100%.
Photo by Caspian James

Back in the hut we demolished a kilo of pasta and a jar of pesto and headed to bed. From the climb earlier in the day we’d seen that another classic, Hadrian’s Wall Direct (V 5) was in fantastic nick, so that was the plan for the following day.

We were up at 6am, which was pretty brutal after the previous day, and after a slow start, we began the trudge up to Hadrian’s. Fortunately, we were rewarded with a sensational route: engaging climbing, good protection and amazing positions. The first pitch was the crux, sustained 70/80 degree ice with sections of vertical. This pitch feels far more exposed than anything on Point Five and is certainly harder, but it still felt steady and well protected.
I brought Caspian up to the first belay and he led a short pitch before I was back onto the sharp end for a great little thrutchy chimney on the third pitch. Above this, the climb leans back a bit and we pitched a couple of easy romps up big snowfields. There is a bit of a sting in the tail in the form of a small (30/40m) icefall which is probably about IV 4. At the top, belay options were limited and I ended up digging myself a bucket seat (tough work when you don’t have an adze!) and backing it up with a half buried Nomic… Sorry Caspian.
Following Caspian up the short ramp on P2.
Photo by Caspian James
Getting stuck into the chimney on P3.
Photo by Caspian James
Yomping up muchos nevé on the upper slopes.
This time we actually succeeded in finding and descending No. 4 gully, and after a quick cup of tea in the hut, we headed back down to the van to get a well-earned dinner from the chippy in Fort William!

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