I have been working towards move vertical routes and higher altitude in 2014 with a lot of indoor ice climbing and doing routes like Curved Ridge and Ledge route through 2013. We head to the Alps in June for more and had 3 days winter climbing in Glencoe in early Feb, as part of the ongoing build up I was keen to get out and do a great winter route ...
Twitter has proved to be a great place for me to meet like minded folks, gleam loads of info and just generally spend my time talking about mountaineering 😄 Through this path I hooked up with some of the members of West Lothian Mountaineering Club (it was more like roped up Alan - Ed.) and they very kindly invited me to their first winter route, Ben NevisLedge Route, a simple Grade II. Needless to say I jumped at the chance!
The Route was incredible, tiring, exciting and just exhilarating as you will know if you've done it and I simply loved every minute of it (when I wasn't panting like a dog on a hot day!)
I'll let some pics do the talking and just note some key points but I encourage you all to read the last bit.. this is the highlight /lowlight of the tale, simply gob-smacked! History on cyberspace has taught me caution around topics like this so I will say "this isn't an attack on individuals (well not these two anyway) but is a great cautionary tail and I hope everyone takes it in that vein!" 😎
We stayed at the Wild Goose Chase Hostel in Fort William, got up at 5.30am, brekkie, gear sorting, gaffing about waiting on someone who was delayed due to bad road conditions, and up to the North Car park for 7.30am
Headed up the (VERY) steep path to arrive at the top car park that leads via the path to the CIC hut. Snow lying thickly, a wee bit in the air but the rain had stopped and I was feeling good!
Walked in to the North face , it was harder than I remembered and was glad to reach CIC hut to grab a bite and then gear up to start up No5 Gully, the start point for Ledge (After entering No5 you swing right to the route).
We moved up over a lot of avalanche debris (we had based our route on a lot of avalanche activity in No2 and No5 Gullies). It was like walking over big microwave sized blocks of snow ice - I WOULD NOT want to be under that 😮
It was at this point that MrsMac and another girl with us decided they had come far enough and that they wouldn’t be sure they had the energy to go on so headed back down to go shopping - right choice in our opinion .
Once up and across Gully No5 we spent a good 30 mins on the first ledge letting the team in front get away and taking our time to rope out our party into two teams of three. From that ledge was the first pitch and pretty steep to start. In winter the route is not the same obviously but follows the same " line"
Moving as a three, stopping rarely to lay protection we progressed up the ridge - weather being kind - cold but wind light and no snow at this point (oh how it changes...)
After about a three hour climb we topped out on Carn Dearg into wind , hail and snow..! 😄
Now normally that would be that! Summit pic , bite to eat and head down but the hail was so hard and conditions so wild we decided to remain roped for descent at least for now and then after realising all the metal we had was creating "north" in all directions we established a good line and were about to move of when.. and this is where the story gets interesting...
... out of the "white" I see two dark figures approaching from the Ben summit. We decided to stop and check they were ok, they looked a bit erratic and as they neared it was obvious they had NO gear and were not really sure where they were going although one did have map and compass and they were going in a general down direction so not all bad...
We met, this is what we saw.
1 - a young 19 year old American dressed in Jeans (covered in rime ice), a Scarf , sort of canvass style jacket, "hiking" shoes (allegedly) and a small backpack. No ice axe, crampons, goggles, waterproofs etc.
2 - a camo clothed guy who it turned out is an RAF reservist from Luchars (originally from down south) - he has goggles and boots on (I think).
They were glad to have met us thats for sure as they were off navigation wise and unknown to them were heading towards Carn Dearg.......in the white out they had got a bit lost.
Two hours maximum of daylight left we got them in the middle of us and led on. Slipping and sliding they slowly walked down - we then gave them axes - explained not to hold it like a weapon and again off we set,,, conditions worsened and we still had a bit to go so we decided to put them on the rope too.
Eventually we reached the lochan, got the gear off and got the full story from them.
The camo guy had decided to go up the mountain on the tourist path as far as the Lochan, based on a advice from his captain (or whatever they call them). The young American student had met him en route. While stopped at the Lochan two "experienced" guys had appeared from the CIC hut route, where it joins the tourist path. After a discussion the two guys agreed to lead the newly formed pair to the summit 😞
On arrival at the summit, the experience guys announced they were off to do CMD Arete route down but as the two "tourists" didn’t have the correct gear they couldn’t follow so they had been left to find their own way down!
Here is some pics of them
Hard to show just how bad the conditions were and how close we believe these guys came to being in really deep trouble! With no gear, lost, failing light and limited if any hill skills its not a bet i'd want to take!
The two that led them up are in my mind are dangerous , the two "tourists" could be called daft or simply uneducated, either way I am glad we were there for them. Once at the lochan we gave them a hand torch to ensure they had they had at least one between them and sent them off down the tourist path. I would love to know what the RAF guy told his captain!
We walked down and out to the north car park and got back to the cars at 6pm, totally goosed! Beer and food to follow.
Absolutely brilliant day with great guys! 😃👏👍
Copyright Note - Pictures and text by Alan Macintosh, published with full permission.