Ben Nevis
via. North-East Buttress in 'winter'

Wednesday 29th March 2017

Weather/Conditions: Slightly thawing conditions and a lean mountain. Mist above about 3000 feet, and general windy-chilly nastiness on the summit plateau. A lot more like a naff spring day really, but we're clutching at straws this winter!
Distance/Ascent/Time: 11.4km / 1100m / 9h 45m
Accompanying: Tom Lawfield

Tom and I were looking for winter climbing, but didn't have such a wide range of options. In fact, it almost wasn't 'winter' whatsoever, and I kind of doubt any 'winter' climbing could have taken place anywhere but on the Ben Nevis ridges. Having climbed Tower Ridge three weeks previously in much better conditions, we went for the NE Buttress - a first for both of us, but also the logical choice with it's high altitude, and status as one of the big ridges. In other words, if things are a bit out of condition here, it matters a little less than on the other faces.

We walked in on a benign morning, with cloud hanging on the hills and Nevis looking remarkably thin. Beyond the CIC, we walked onward to the base of the NE Buttress, brining out climbing gear at the bottom. The foot of the climb was exceptionally thin, thus it felt a bit stupid to be doning crampons. But they would be more use above.

The NE Buttress is similar in stature and technical interest to Tower Ridge. We moved together up the majority of it, swapping over when gear ran low, or when the terrain changed. I rediscovered (again) my joy in these long weaving routes, with moderate technical difficulty, the great skill being in making efficient choices. They offer more interest than ropeless scrambles yet call on a wider variety of techniques than short, hard pitched climbing.

Alternating leads dropped me at the foot of the Mantrap, which really was my highlight. It wasn't in winter condition, but it was nonetheless really enjoyable. Gear was good, then one thin pull and a couple of sinker axe placements had me standing on the top. For all it's reputation as a crux in winter, I actually think this bit of rock is easier to climb with axes than with hands - I tried, after all. It's a good little moment, though short-lived. I could get into hard mixed...

The joy of figuring out the Mantrap was compounded by finding a brilliant belay with a high redirect off two pegs (it makes stacking the ropes quicker too!). Beyond this, Tom dispatched the 40ft corner with ease, probably the most wintry moment of the day. Then I finished up easier snow slopes to emerge at the NE Buttress cairn. Here we threw gear into the bags then made for the shelter of the summit ruins! It was a pretty nasty, cold day up there...

Descent was down the zig zags, from where we crossed the moors back to Tom's van, parked at the top car park.

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) c. 6.45am Top car park
(2.15) 9.00am Started up NE Buttress
(7.50) 2.35pm Ben Nevis
(8.30) 3.15pm Ben Nevis (left)
(9.45) 4.30pm Top car park

Written: 2017-08-01