Climbs ? – Crags 9
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Here he extols the virtues of Ben Nevis in summer. The huge rock walls of this great mountain offer countless exquisite days out, from desperate extreme routes to long mountain rambles on perfect ridges.
If you want to know more about Ben Nevis in summer - read on:
Our highest mountain, our “only alpine mountain” and one with perhaps the richest history of climbing of any place in the UK; Ben Nevis is as big as it gets in the UK in many ways. But although its scale is often the first detail mentioned about the mountain, it is really the nature of the place and it's climbs that stand out most. Jimmy Marshall summed it up; “Hard to equal for hidden depths of character”.
Ben Nevis in fine summer condition with the North East Buttress (VDiff), Observatory Buttress (VDiff) and Tower Ridge (Diff) in profile. Photo Stuartf
These hidden depths, quite literally offer new discoveries every time you climb there by virtue of the array of coires, buttresses and huge ridges that form its north east face. I can't imagine the feeling of anticipation on emerging from the CIC hut door on a sunny morning and taking in the full vista of grand cliffs ever fading.
“Jimmy Marshall summed it up; “Hard to equal for hidden depths of character”"
With nearly 120 years of ground breaking routes and legendary stories of bravery on the cliffs, there is a fair bit of history related to the exploration of Ben Nevis, both in winter and the summer. Ken Crocket's superbly researched book 'Ben Nevis' is an excellent and inspiring chronicle of the highlights of these many adventures through the ages as the sport, culture, standards and approaches to climbing evolved.
The great ridges were the first lines to fall in the Victorian era to the likes of Norman Collie and Harold Raeburn. The building of the CIC mountain hut under the north face cliffs in the late 1920s was certainly a catalyst in fuelling the exploration of the mountain and the collaboration of great climbers through the ensuing decades. But one climber who stood out for me was Brian Kellet, a conscientious objector who climbed solo and alone after work during the mid 40s. An enigma even to his peers from reading their accounts of him, he survived two horrific falls on Ben Nevis before finally meeting his end while attempting another route. Modern day exploration was undertaken initially by the big names of Tom Patey, Jimmy Marshall, Robin Smith and Dougal Haston who all made their mark climbing classic lines such as The Bullroar and The Bat on Carn Dearg buttress, with the other plum lines of Sassenach and Centurion falling to Joe Brown and Don Whillans. Standards rose again towards and after the millennium with Agrippa to Pete Whillance and The Wicked (E6 6b) to Gary Latter and Rick Campbell. Personally I cannot see an end to this development with many big unclimbed pieces of rock remaining, demonstrated by my - in July 2008 - ascent of Echo Wall (E10+?) which is among the hardest trad routes in the world at present and brings the Ben's summertime rock climbing history bang up-to-date.
The rock climbing on Ben Nevis fits nicely into four categories:
1. The Great Ridges
Alpine in stature, imposing and elegant in appearance, the four great ridges of the Ben are superb experiences to climb. Castle Ridge (Moderate) is the shortest at 270m and the easiest. Observatory Ridge (VDiff) and the imposing skyline of North East Buttress (VDiff) at 400 metres long look and feel more like rock climbs than scrambles. But Tower Ridge (Diff) at 600 metres long really stands out as possibly the most scenic and interesting way to the summit of Ben Nevis. These are big undertakings for novice parties, often underestimated. But for the prepared they are pure pleasure moving over endless good rock past ever more dramatic rock features.
Close to the summit of Noth East Buttress (VDiff) with Tower Ridge dropping away in the mid distance. Photo Will Herman
2. Carn Dearg Buttress
As Gary Latter puts it in his guide, Carn Dearg is the 'showpiece cliff' of the north face, especially as it's clean square cut slabs and walls catch the morning sun as you approach up the Allt a' Mhuillin. Apart from the interesting scramble of Ledge Route going 450 metres to the plateau, most of the climbs are 6-10 pitches long on excellent clean rock.
Route II Direct (Severe 4a) - Great positions for the grade and committing.
The Bullroar (HVS 5a) - Amazing positions and immaculate rock.
Torro (E2 5c) - More difficult slab climbing but just as good as Bullroar.
Centurion (HVS 5a) - The massive imposing corner system, and most popular way up the face.
The Bat (E2 5b) - Immortalised in the classic film
Titan's Wall (E3 6a) - Massive and brilliant wall pitch, good value at E3!
Trajans Column (E6 6b) - The modern classic on the steepest ground on offer here.
3. The Orion Face
The 400 metre high face flanking North East Buttress is the first to catch your eye (see The Ridges) from the glen floor and offers long alpine multipitch routes set at a relatively easy angle. Considering the quality and scale of these routes they are amazingly quiet.
Raeburn's Arete (Severe 4a) - Lovely rock and sublime in the glow of the evening sun.
Minus One Direct (E1 5b) - Been suggested as the finest of it's grade in the country.
The Long Climb (VS 4c) - The clue is in the name, committing stuff. At 425 metres its the longest face climb in mainland UK.
Great rock and 'Alpine like' mountaineering on Minus One Direct (E1 5b) on the Massive Orion Face. Photo Mark McGinnes
4. The rest of the Mountain
The seemingly endless cliffs stretching between the great ridges offer a lifetime of climbs of all types to explore for the Ben enthusiast or even the new router. But for the visitor it's really a shame only to climb on the Orion Face or Carn Dearg Buttress. It's really worth seeking out the less known quality routes, and solitude is virtually guaranteed.
Sioux Wall (HVS 5a) - Good rock in among nice rock scenery and peaceful surroundings.
Strident Edge (VS 4c) - This striking arete looks way harder than VS!
1944 Route (Severe 4a) - A very interesting journey of Kellets. Imagine him soloing the first ascent back then!
Echo Wall (E10+)- The hardest trad route in the UK and a stunning piece of rock.
Photo Gallery: Ben Nevis in summer
Sheila Van Lieshout on a sunny Strident Edge (VS 4c) on South Trident Buttress, Ben Nevis. Photo Gary Latter
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