First Winter Experience on The Ben

It’s that time of year where everyone is starting to get properly excited for the trad season. It’s March, the hour is about to change, there are tulips, daffodils and lambs. The most common words on everyone’s lips seem to be ‘Spring’, ‘Cadbury’s creme eggs’ and ‘Pembroke’.

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I painted this. Can you guess where?

Normally I’m mad keen for real rock, however, having still not been to the Ben this year, the desire to climb ice won. Luckily Tim was equally psyched, so meeting up on the M1 on Friday afternoon we headed North. Driving through Scotland I realised my memory of the never ending winding roads and lack of food options when you realise it’s dinner time, had faded. We arrived in Fort William at 10.30pm, tired and starving. I was pretty jealous of everyone cosied up in their tents when we arrived at the North Face car park. Wishing I could just go to bed, we packed what looked like a crazy amount of kit and set off.

I woke up a bit more on the approach walk, but, after about 2 hours of carrying my heavy bag in the dark and still no sight of the CIC hut I started to become very tired and frustrated. I almost lost it a bit after stumbling across the river, ascending a steep bank, and realising the hut was down below us. Fortunately we located a small patch of flat-ish grass, erected the tent and crawled inside. 2am. Perhaps I’d burnt my entire take-away dinner off on the walk in, but I had no energy left to keep warm in my sleeping bag. I shivered awake for the next two and a half hours. 4.30am. Sitting up for breakfast and forcing porridge into my mouth with my eyes still closed, I was not a happy bunny. Not even hot tea could bring me comfort.

Wriggling out of the tent, the clear skies and sight of the snowy-white North Face were more than adequate to perk me up. Rounding the corner into Observatory Gully, there was no one ahead, Excellent. We set our sights for Point Five Gully. Interestingly, the closer we got, the smaller it looked!

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Sunrise. Photo: Tim Newton

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Approach to Point Five. Photo: Tim Newton

Tim lead off up the first three pitches which I seconded feeling quite content. No wind, gorgeous sunrise, spindrift almost non-existent. Is this really Scottish winter?! Above the Rogue Pitch I lead off but started to get worried after I’d used up most of the rope and all but one ice screw.. Tim had to set off behind me which I wasn’t too keen on (I find simul climbing pretty spooky). Thankfully, I was soon able to build a little belay with my remaining ice screw and a little icicle.

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Point Five Gully

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Somewhere on the upper snow slopes of Point Five Gully. Photo: Tim Newton

Arriving at the top we were greeted by searing sun and not a breath of wind! Happiness. This is the sweet life.

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So exhausted on top! Photo: Tim Newton

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Photo: Tim Newton

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I knew Tim would be keen to do at least 2 routes that day although neither of us had anticipated how tired we’d be. Although I had foreseen it coming, when it became solid reality that we would do another (Two Step Corner), I became a bit hysterical. I was just so exhausted, the thought of doing another route made me feel physically sick. It took half an hour and some deep breathing to regain composure. The route turned out to be quite enjoyable – despite almost falling asleep on the second belay!

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Approaching the belay before the final pitch of Two Step Corner. Photo: Tim Newton


At last. Back at the tent. Boots off. Sleeping bag? Yes. Food? If I must. Seconds after the last bite I’m asleep. Everything is better.

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End of a loooooong day.


Vaguely regaining consciousness in the morning I notice that Tim has turned off the alarm a few times. Mmmm, lovely. We doze until 6am. Despite sore muscles I feel much better than yesterday. The skies are a little stormy but the clouds are high and the wind is low. Breakfast with the mountain behind is psyche inducing. We head up Observatory Gully again. Hadrian’s has a team approaching so we head for Smith’s Route. Such an incredible, sustained, exposed couple of ice pitches. So impressive to think of Robin Smith climbing it in 1960 by way of step-cutting!

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Tim on Pitch 1 of Smith’s Route

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Finishing off Smith’s Route. Photo: Graeme Watson

Topping out for the last time this weekend, the views were contrasting to the previous day but still gorgeous. What a good weekend. I will be back.


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The Big (Beautiful) Ben. Photo: Tim Newton

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Made it. Photo: Tim Newton

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