I recently got back to Chamonix after my first trip to Scotland. With all that has happened this year and with bad conditions I decided it would be a good time to get away and check out a new place. My good friend, and long term skiing and climbing partner Tom Grant had been in Scotland for the winter on the guides scheme so I decided this would be a good place to go.
Our plan was to try and do a bit of skiing, but there had just been a thaw as I arrived and conditions weren’t looking great so we decided to head from Toms in Avimore, over to Ben Nevis for a day of climbing. We had a great relaxed social day on an easy ice route route called Indicator wall with Toms fellow aspirant guide Paul Swail and his very competent client Gary Bloomer. I got to go to the highest point in the UK for the first time, altitude didn’t seem to cause a problem, with it not being much higher than the apartment I live in. Although its not that big the North face of Ben Nevis is pretty impressive and has an almost alpine feel to it with some fantastic looking routes. The weather was great and I really got a taste of Scotland’s wonderful landscape.
Next on the cards was some harder mixed climbing in the Cairngorms close to where Tom was living but a couple of days of super high winds shut us down. The road up to the mountain was closed so that was that and we went to a distillery and drank some fantastic Dalwinnie whiskey. Ski conditions were not looking good and with an offer of a lift back to Chamonix Tom decided to head back early. I had seen a some cool ski objectives on the Ben so decided to head over to Fort William to see if I could make the most of the week of good weather that was coming, even the skiing reasonable, all be it not that fast and I had a fun time in the extremely aesthetic couloir.
The next day I headed further up the North face to Raeburns Easy route, after climbing it I wasn't that happy with conditions which would have required too much side slipping to be any fun. From the top I saw that ledge route had been getting a lot of sun and would probably have much nicer snow. I didn't know the route but it looked beautiful and I knew it could be used as a descent so went over planning just to walk down if it was crap.
It actually turned out to be the best skiing I did. I skied quickly down the upper arete on its sunny side making some nice turns on the softened top layer of snow. Further down I stuck close to the arete where I could, periodically waiting for climbers to pass. In places where it became too rocky I was forced to pass lower on the shaded side of the arete not visible in the photo below, axe in hand on hard snow. Soon I came to a very narrow almost flat section of the ridge where it was not possible to pass on either side and I took my skis off to walk along it for 10 meters. Stepping across it on skis would have been possible but would not have actually been skiing, and although I some times have a penchant for dry skiing the exposure on either side was big and I wasn't in the mood for scaring myself. A narrow gully, just wide enough to pass in places followed by a traverse right brought me to the ledge system that zig zags through the rock buttress. It was good softened snow here and I really enjoyed the skiing passing a few more climbing parties, relaxing and stopping to chat to them for a while.
On my final ski day I had really wanted to ski Good Friday climb, first skied by a Chamonix guide in the 80's, its never been repeated but is probably the best ski line on the Ben, going right from the summit. Because of its aspect I knew the snow would be bad but started heading towards it regardless. That was until I saw there was a complete snow line joining into a beautiful couloir I had seen, and would later find out from people climbing it was called Neptune gully.
I had to down climb the top of number 5 gully to get to it, the skiing here should be easy but a large wet slide had ripped all of the snow away and left only ice and no sun to soften it. The couloir its self is short but beautiful and steep and i was disappointed to have to make a 20m rappel past its steepest section which had a cm of water ice over the snow. Above and below in the sun was good but technical skiing with the soft snow on the ramp passed quickly and easily. I definitely want to go back and finish this one off as it would almost certainly be possible to ski the whole thing top to bottom.
The legs were heavy after three days of up and down with skis so I took a rest day before heading back up for another day of climbing with a Scottish friend from Chamonix, Ally Swinton and his dad Gav. Another great day on steady ice was had, the three of us did the fantastic Psychedelic wall and then Ally and I did another quick route called Quickstep.
Satisfied with the time I had spent on Ben Nevis I drove south to spend a night in Edinburgh, a city I had heard so many good things about, and I wasn’t disappointed. It just took me a little longer to get there than I had anticipated as I had to stop so much to take in the views! The city isn’t too big and has incredible architecture, as well as a good night life as I found out having way too much to drink.
Before heading home I managed to head just south of the boarder to visit the guys at Lyon Equipment and get a bit of a tour. Its important to use good gear in the mountains, your life can rely on it and they have been supporting me with some of the very best available from Petzl, Julbo, La Sportiva and Exped. I even managed to pick up a pair of Julbo Aerospace goggles which won an ISPO Gold award this year and I think are pretty ground breaking yet incredibly simple and I can’t wait to put them to the test. https://www.julbo-eyewear.com/en/9/news/julbo-s-aerospace-goggle-wins-an-ispo-award_448.html
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