Classic week on the Ben

By Paul Swail

Classic week on the Ben, scaling Scotland's iconic peak with seasoned climbers.

I am just parked up in the Lidl car park in Fort William in the camper having just cooked up a nice wee chilli and even had a shower! I have a bit of charge on the battery so hopefully it will allow me enough time to write a few words and get over to McDonalds to send it!

Over the last few weeks I have based myself up in Scotland getting some winter climbing done. I headed over with my good friend from home Ronnie Smith. Ronnie has many seasons of Scottish winter experience so it has been very beneficial get out with him and get educated.

Our wee campervan road trip started at the Port of Belfast. Unfortunately due to the bad weather previous to our sailing we were delayed. The 1 hour delay Stenaline had announced soon turned into 2hrs and our plans to be in Glencoe by 9pm were rapidly changing. With more delaying (motorway closed at Glasgow) we finally arrived in the Highlands. Scottish winter is an interesting discipline in the climbing world, relying very heavily upon climbing conditions, avalanche forecasts and weather. Decision making can often be very difficult, so plans are never set in concrete, or at least shouldn't be! On our approach to the Highlands we left it literally to the last minute to decide where to go and with a climb called Gemini in condition on Ben Nevis we headed there.

5 hrs later and we were slogging up from the North Face car park towards the plastered NF of Ben Nevis. Gemini is a classic Scottish VI, 6. Sitting at a relatively low altitude (900m or there abouts) and relying on a freeze - thaw cycle to bring the ice into condition - this routes rarely forms. We had read on one climbers blog that it had been climbed, but they missed out the first pitch. The closer we got the more it looked like the whole route was on. Gearing up at the base was a quiet affair, neither of us saying too much - both of us were trying out best to contain our excitement!

I ran the first 2 pitches together into one long 60m rope length giving some amazing steep ice with some excellent first time placements and some half decent ice screws. Ronnie had wanted the smear pitch so I lead on again and arrived at the chockstone belay with the smear of ice to my left. Ronnie came up, had a quick look and focused on the task at hand. He traversed in from the same height as the belay, arranged protection and made some delicate and tenuous hooking move to reach the ice. Once established on the ice he placed some ice screws and gunned it to the top. This pitch is like the key to opening the route and that it did! The next 3 pitches offered some amazing mixed climbing with some bold climbing right until the top. Smiles and chat were abundant and the whole way down - we were psyched!

This buzz stayed with us and over the following week we climbed some more classics such as Mega Route X and The Curtain on the Ben, Smith Gully on Creag Medaigh and Stirling Bridge on Aonach Mor.

Now as I sit in Fort WIlliam Alpine like conditions and a big smile as we are just down off the Orion Face Direct!

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