Number Three Gully Buttress, Ben Nevis (1345m)
Wednesday 15th March 2017

Weather/Conditions: Ben Nevis is a lean mountain at the moment, with success on it's winter routes relying on getting high and generally staying on mixed lines. Ice routes have been getting done but generally they have been reported to be bolder than average. We took advantage of a pulse of cooler air in the morning but getting high early, and were up to the top of the route by the time a thaw set in. The top pitch was streaming water, then Tom and I had a damp walk around to the Nevis summit. Once down #4 Gully, and in the shade of the mountain was a lot drier, then just pleasant for the walk out to Torlundy.
Distance/Ascent/Time: 13km / 1100m / 8h 40m
Accompanying: Tom

A good day on Ben Nevis. Tom and I walked in from the top car park with the North Face looking lean. On a recommendation we went for Number Three Gully Buttress - a north facing route high on the mountain, and often in condition as a result. We'd also started out early - 6am, which was even starker as a music rehearsal had had me still in Glasgow at 1am!

I was happy to go for a Nevis route as any winter climbing this season was appreciated, no matter how little sleep results. It was also a new route for both of us. We reached the CIC seemingly without much effort at all, and then turned up into Coire na Ciste. The Comb and the Trident Buttresses were in and out of mist, enough to get bearings without too much hassle.

We'd got up early to beat the coming thaw, and the first couple of pitches went by in the dry and on (just) frozen terrain. Tom took the first ice pitch, I took the second. Then as Tom went for the cruxy traverse onto the high ledge on pitch three, it began to rain. Things had warmed up; the front was here. On the fourth pitch, I ended up doing the direct finish which just seemed an entirely logical way to go. I was also driven on by the notion that it was harder, but when climbed, nothing seemed especially more difficult than what had come before. In truth the hardest part was the unbelievable rope drag, but that can just be a consequence of featured terrain and long pitches. I almost couldn't move for drag as I pulled onto the plateau, then Tom came up as I sat belaying in the wind and rain.

Ropes were packed away, and then we took a walk to the summit shelter. Here we must have sat for about 20 minutes until the chill got us moving again. This shelter however is handy for these sorts of conditions. We wandered back around the plateau, now knowing the place well enough not to need a map or compass, and then dropped into Number 4 Gully. A couple steep steps and we were on easier angled snow. It was also shocking how much warmer it was once off the damp chill of the plateau. Being on the mountain when a warm front crosses in winter is always a good reminder of just how damn miserable things can get. Everything gets soaked.

Nonetheless, we were back to the CIC in the rain with just the gentle walk out back to the bottom North Face car park. I'd enjoyed the route, but I'm also increasingly feeling like I can go harder with my winter climbing. Far more than last season, the whole thing feels 'normal', and I can feel that now I'm getting comfortable in the environment I can increasingly push my technical limits. No bad thing either.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 6.25am North Face parking (top)
(2.50) 9.15am Starting #3 Gully Buttress
(5.50) c. 12.15pm Ben Nevis
(8.10) 2.35pm North Face parking (top)
(8.40) 3.05pm North Pace car park

Written: 2017-03-30