/ Ben Nevis advice - crampons

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Taer - on 11 Oct 2016

Hiya guys,

So the wife and I are taking to the three peaks (not all in one day but Snowdon Monday, Scafell Wednesday and Ben Nevis Friday of the last week in October). My question relates to Ben Nevis (looking to climb the tourist path), I'm quite experienced at hillwalking etc but not done the proper mountains yet! I can navigate reasonably well including pacing/timing etc and have done my research on how to avoid the gullies and doing more research as we speak.

My question is this: due to the conditions at the end of October I'm looking into boots and crampons etc? we don't have a massive amount of money to spend. We both have some reasonably stiff (for hill walking boots but probably just not stiff enough for B1 boots) I realise B1 boots are meant to be the basic for crampons and wanting to decide whether the kit we have can support crampons or whether we need to replace boots as well...

If we need to replace boots as well and get crampons can someone make some recommendations for a budget but passable set of crampons that will last at least 3 peaks in a week

I realise this looks very junior for looking at Ben Nevis and it is a dangerous mountain to attempt with the level of experience, however that's why I'm trying to do the research before hand...

At worst if we can't get the equipment/ research done then we'll get to the snowline and turn around to be safe

Cheers

Alex
Post edited at 14:24
HTPumlumon - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

Unless you buy second hand, a set of winter boots and crampons will set you back 300+ each.

If it was me, and all I was doing the 3 peaks in October (and via tourist track), I would probably not spend the money. There will almost definitely be snow up there (I've been up in June and there was snow), but unless there's been some extreme weather, I would say the risk is manageable (or could be mitigated sufficiently with walking poles or an ice axe). Just watch out for icy patches along the main route, where lots of walkers have compacted the snow into ice.

I'm sure there'll be others here who may say you should definitely have crampons, but really it's about your appetite to risk, weighing in your budget, fitness and experience.

I would be more worried about making sure you're equipped for the likely filthy weather you're going to get, and being able to navigate across the plateau.

Taer - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to HTPumlumon:

Cheers for the response, that's fair advice, tbh I've just done some research and you can hire them from fort William for 40 for a couple of days , boots and crampons so probably going to take the hit and hire them instead of buying as we're not doing too much mountainwise.

Fair point on making sure prepared for navigation and weather that's why I'm doing all my research now!

Thanks again for the advice
ed woods - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

There's no snow at the moment. Just keep an eye on the weather over the next few weeks. Late Oct can be full winter conditions, or not winter at all.
PM on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

I'm sure lots of people will disagree, but on the tourist path, depending on the weather, depending on the snow conditions (or maybe even total lack of snow!), you may be fine without any crampons at all.

I've been up there in late November in blazing sunshine on nice soft snow in shorts and trail shoes, in Feb on unpleasant hard-packed snow with those rubber slip-on shoe spike things (worn on trail shoes), and in April, abandoned a walk due to bad weather, icy conditions and lack of crampons.

Most hopeful thing about what you said is your apparent willingness to assess conditions and possibly back off. For me, on snow, without crampons, that is often a 'what would happen if I slipped on that bit?' question. On the tourist path, the answer is more often than not: nothing terribly bad, or at worst a slide of a metre or so until the ground levels off.

It may also be possible to practice an often-forgotten ancient skill: walking around the icy bits.

There seems to also be an alternative school of thought which goes like: if it's cold and white*, and you're standing on it wearing anything less than B2 boots with crampons, you're about to die. (*even if it's flat, and only two metres square)

Both approaches have merits and drawbacks.
Orange - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
I bought a pair of microspikes for the same kind of thing you're talking about. I've got crampons now so I'm selling mine for circa £30 if you're interested.

I'm obviously biased so see if others on the thread think they'd be appropriate.
Post edited at 16:37
Bellie on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Orange:

My thought was microspikes. Mine have done plenty of time in Scottish hills, and should be fine for stuff like that.

CurlyStevo - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to HTPumlumon:
Snow in June is residual old snow from the winter when it typically forms around 3 metres of snow pack on the summit by the end of winter (peak build up is normally around April give or take a month). This takes sometime to completely melt and doesn't every year in places in some of the gullies.

End of October there is unlikely to be any old snow in the form of neve but there could be ice and fresh snow (although this is likely to be limited in quantity on the tourist path if it is there). The odds of any snow or ice at all are probably only 50 / 50 or something I would imagine probably less than that.

Post edited at 17:30
CurlyStevo - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
I agree with others that likely conditions will be that microspikes on normal hiking boots with warm socks will be fine and you may well not find any snow or ice at all.

http://www.tiso.com/tiso-kaht-1089605/kahtoola-micro-spikes-no-colour-tiso-kaht-1089605/100000133147...

However you should keep an eye on conditions nearer the time as it is just about possible boots and crampons may be required.

Crampons are generally only needed over micro spikes (or just boots!) for steep ground covered in old hard snow (neve) or ice. Soft snow normally isn't problem in walking boots. Old snow is quite unlikely to have built up by the end of October and there isn't really any steep ground on the tourist path anyway especially higher up on the mountain where you could possibly encounter snow or thicker ice at that time of year.

A thinnish covering of soft snow (up to quite a few inches) over rocky ground, is normally worse in crampons than in just boots as they catch on all the rocks and twist your ankles in every different direction.
Post edited at 17:32
Nbrain - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

You shouldn't need crampons unless there's loads of crap weather between now and then and if there is the top of the Ben is probably not where I would choose to learn how to use them. I would concentrate on being able to Nav your way off in zero vis as that's more likely this time of year.
zimpara - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to PM:

Partner went up mont blanc 4800m in microspikes, a good option.
jonnie3430 - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
I'd always take an axe in iffy conditions before packing crampons. It's good to use to cut steps on occasional icy or steep sections where you'd be tempted not to put crampons on and is a useful third point to balance on when walking up snow and, if you use walking poles for the latter, can be used for self arrest if you slip.

Always axe before crampons, in my opinion, you can get cheap walking axes off eBay, the book "winter skills," by Cunningham and Fyffe is the course book for winter mountain leaders and climbing instructors and covers all the skills required, so I'd recommend that before even buying axes, as it gives advice on what to look for.

Also, if you are buying a map for the Ben, get the BMC mountain map, a bit odd, as it's 1 to 40,000, but the back has detailed information on the summit of the Ben, including how to get to and from the summit. And it's waterproof, and it does most of the other interesting hills around there.

And I wouldn't get winter boots, but I would take a belay jacket, bothy bag and hot drinks and sweets to get you the ability to warm up if required. The decision on what to take on the day would be made on the day, but I'd have crampons (c1 will work fine on your boots, fit them in the back garden and walk about, cheap but good ones available from decathlon,) and axe in the car. If I wanted to save cash, then I wouldn't buy crampons but use an axe. If I wanted to open the doors to a lifetime of enjoyment and wonder, I'd buy crampons and the rest of the kit to enjoy winter hills!
Post edited at 10:02
Andy Nisbet - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

Don't decide anything until nearer the time. There's something like a 75 percent chance there will be no snow. Look at the webcams and summit temperatures the day before.
drunken monkey - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

I'd echo Andy's advice. Look at what the weather is doing nearer the time.

Ben Nevis is covered in the West Highland forecast here:

http://www.mwis.org.uk/

CurlyStevo - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to jonnie3430:
I would doubt there will be any neve in october and an ice axe wont stop a fall on ice and won't be needed on powder snow.

Personally I'd buy microspikes take two walking poles and if the the weather by some freakish chance looks like crampons and a walking axe are going to be necessary hire / buy crampons and an axe nearer the time.

As Andy says there is a 75% chance of snow at all. Even if there is snow its again much less likely that microspikes and two poles won't be more than enough to walk up the ben and probably better than an axe and crampons. IMO ofcourse.
Post edited at 11:53
GrahamD - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

For icy paths (which are a lot less likely in October than wet snow, for which crampons are a liability) then microspikes or similar are very effective on 'normal' walking boots. Full crampons are a liability on ground which is partially frozen especially if you aren't used to them. They are more likely to trip you up and rip your trousers than they are to save you from a slip.

Caveat: do check the forcast and conditions in advance but I doubt I'd even consider my mountaineering boots for the normal route in October. There will be exceptions.

Most of the danger for this route come down to being prepared for the weather (at the summit), being fit enough, carrying sufficient food/drink for the day, starting early enough to avoid being caught in the dark and (crucially) not missing the path, especially in descent. If you don't miss the path then I'd say the Ben Nevis path is actually easier and less exposed (if longer) than the other two.
CurlyStevo - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to GrahamD:
I've found for icey paths micro spikes are really good, especially if rocks are still poking out - then better than crampons!That is as long you don't end up on very steep ground (with a fairly continuous gradient). At which point you can't front point and they do run the risk of rolling off. Still people have climbed rated winter routes in them and done Mont Blanc so they are pretty good!

I'd add to your list - being able to navigate in dense fog with the possibility of not being able to see the path if its covered in snow. I'd take a GPS if the OP has / can borrow one just to be sure he doesn't end up going the wrong way on the summit plateau.
Post edited at 12:04
tony on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

> At worst if we can't get the equipment/ research done then we'll get to the snowline and turn around to be safe

Excellent attitude. Something else to bear in mind is that days will be getting quite a bit shorter by the end of October. There should still be plenty of time to get up and down in daylight, but try to avoid faffing about in the morning to make the most of the daylight, and don't forget headtorches.

Hope it's a good day for you.
ScraggyGoat on 13 Oct 2016
All good advice so far, since you're planning to walk up on the Friday, could you arrange your travel to allow contingency/flexibility to go up the Ben on either Saturday or Sunday if needed, in case the weather is foul on the Friday.

Very little to recommend slogging up the Ben with no views, wind, flying clag and rain/sleet.

Lets face it most of us based in Scotland wouldn't bother in foul autumn weather, and with good reason!

Fingers crossed you get the weather.
TheDrunkenBakers - on 13 Oct 2016
In reply to ScraggyGoat:
> Very little to recommend slogging up the Ben with no views, wind, flying clag and rain/sleet.

> Lets face it most of us based in Scotland wouldn't bother in foul autumn weather, and with good reason!

Mr SG, this is the best advice on the thread. The times I have 'braved' the hills in utter shite, got wet to my bones, crap up to my eyeballs and not seen a single view or person due to clag.

Now Im a little older and wiser my default stance is to look to the sky and then retire to a warm pub with a fire and enjoy a home made pie and pint if conditions aren't pleasant.
Post edited at 16:36
CurlyStevo - on 13 Oct 2016
In reply to TheDrunkenBakers:

two peaks a pie and pint then ;)
TheDrunkenBakers - on 13 Oct 2016
In reply to CurlyStevo:

> two peaks a pie and pint then ;)

I think you're on to something here.

Perhaps the new challenge should be the three pie challenge. Find the nicest pub in view of the tall thing then eat a pie and drink a pint. Do that for each tallest thingamebob in 24 hours*

*ensure wife is an understanding designated driver.

CurlyStevo - on 13 Oct 2016
In reply to TheDrunkenBakers:

haha
TheDrunkenBakers - on 13 Oct 2016
In reply to TheDrunkenBakers:

> Mr SG, this is the best advice on the thread. The times I have 'braved' the hills in utter shite, got wet to my bones, crap up to my eyeballs and not seen a single view or person due to clag.

> Now Im a little older and wiser my default stance is to look to the sky and then retire to a warm pub with a fire and enjoy a home made pie and pint if conditions aren't pleasant.

Aw. Come on you little cheeky disliker. Give us a clue?
Taer - on 14 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

Thanks for all the advice guys,

been offline for a few days but I've bought some spikes, there's not much flexibility but we'll be looking to hit the start of the Ben by 8 in the morning so should have plenty of day to do the climb.

I have a 26000 mAh power bank 2 USB rechargeable headtorches, also going to take a 60m rope with me (more than anything to measure the plateau for navigation) bit of hyper gravity training ;) I wish I'd seen the comments about the map before though, I've bought the Harvey's 1:10000 summit map and got a second 1:25000 map of the general area.

getting quite psyched for it but will be stopping in at the information centre the day before/ on the morning if they're open for further advice RE conditions.

Thanks again for all the advice, if there's anything that I've forgotten or any more advice then keep it coming

depending on conditions will look at axes from the hire shop the day before (potentially crampons and winter boots as well)

Looking good so far, also got a down jacket from decathlon, my trusty marmot precip for waterproof and several baselayers, should be cosey
CurlyStevo - on 14 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
You shouldn't need a rope to measure distance - do a bit more research. This is normally done using double pace lengths and counting steps. Take a GPS to check you are correct every now and again (or just use the GPS if it has a map and revert to pace counting if that fails for some reason or another).

Don't be worried by fresh snow in micro spikes and poles, you'll only need crampons and an axe if there is a lot of hard snow or vast quantities of ice IMO, both of which are quite unlikely at that time of year. But best to keep an eye on conditions.

For winter climbing I often don't put on my crampons the approach to most climbs even in the midst of winter (no spikes either)! The Ben is different though as the north face climbing routes do normally have large hard snow slopes by mid season that require crampons, you won't be going this way though.

If you really want to be sure of getting it ticked you could hire a guide who has the required kit and can be sure that you get up and down safely, although that is likely to be overkill it could be prudent.

It can be very windy around that time of year so keep an eye on the forecasts. Greater than about 50mph I would consider binning the idea but the forecast is also often wrong!
Post edited at 15:27
Jamie B - on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
Are you going on a commercially-organised 3 Peaks event? If so the company should be able to give you a lot of this information, and the leader on the day will make decisions based on the safety and nature of the group.

Even if it snows between now and end-October you're very unlikely to need an axe, crampons or probably even microspikes. Any snow will almost certainly be soft and yielding. A far bigger concern would be snow-cover obscuring the path and mist creating a whiteout situation.

Post edited at 16:06
Taer - on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Jamie B:

Hiya Jamie.

Cheers for the concern

We aren't going on a commercial trip I can navigate by pacing/ timing mainly was thinking that the rope would be more accurate. I dony mind the weight. We're not going to be taking any chances though.

I don't think the mountain is going anywhere so can always try again at a later date

Cheers again!

Alex
Jamie B - on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

I don't know anyone who has ever used a rope for navigation - sounds like (heavy) overkill!
ads.ukclimbing.com
mysterion on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

Know that if you carry a rope up the tourist path you will look like a knob.
Taer - on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Jamie B:

Fair enough
J_Trottet - on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to mysterion:

Unless you're walking back down with a 10,000 yard stare.
Rob Parsons on 15 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

> ... I wish I'd seen the comments about the map before though, I've bought the Harvey's 1:10000 summit map and got a second 1:25000 map of the general area.

Those maps are fine, so don't worry about it.

> ... will be stopping in at the information centre the day before/ on the morning if they're open for further advice RE conditions.

If you do that, you could pick up or glance at a copy of the 'Navigation on Ben Nevis' leaflet (produced in association with the MCofS I think) which they should have. It probably repeats info you already have on your 'summit map' - specifically the bearings and distances to be used when escaping from the summit in poor conditions - but anyway it reinforces the point.
fire_munki on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to Rob Parsons:

If anyone is near an information centre would they be able to post me one, please? Heading up there in April so in the planning phase now.
Taer - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to fire_munki:

If you PM me your address I'll send one when I get back if you like.

I think most of the information is on here though:

http://www.mcofs.org.uk/ben-nevis-navigation.asp
Siward on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to TheDrunkenBakers:

Aye, many's the time me and my mate have sat in the car in minging rain at the bottom of a hill watching waterproof clad figures head up into the mist. There's no hurry...
Arete - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:
Sometimes I can't believe what I read - £300+ each for boots and 'pons? Nonsense.

You can get a set of used G10s or Monte Rosa (or literally ANY 10-point crampon) and you'll be fine for £50.
Boots-wise, this time of year you can use standard leather B1 boots with some warm socks. I used Mammut Mountain Trail GTX for many an early winter walk. All of this will set you back £200 if you are unlucky and incapable of using the internet to look for deals. I now use La Sportival Nepals & some Camp 10-points for walks and that still only cost me £250 - yes, the boots were on mega sale.

But don't buy - rent! Cotswold in Ft Bill will rent you Nepals and G12s and Axe for £12 a day. Not that an axe is any use on the tourist path, or if you don't know how to use one.

You say "I realise this looks very junior for looking at Ben Nevis and it is a dangerous mountain to attempt with the level of experience, however that's why I'm trying to do the research before hand..."

Don't overthink things, you're not going up Everest, the Tourist Path itself is a doddle (if a long, dull, soul crushing trudge of a doddle) which is routinely done by people who have never been up a mountain in their lives. There are much more technically difficult walks around. The Ben may be tall, but from the pony track side it's just a very tall lump - sorry if this sounds a bit negative, but you'll see when you get there!

What you SHOULD be concerned about is making sure you can navigate on/off the summit in poor vis. Study the map well, get the leaflet from Nevisport (think it's an MCoS one) which shows the gullies and route.

There's no snow now anyway, and almost certainly won't be at the end of Oct.

All the best, and hope you get some nice clear weather for it. I've been lucky and always been able to pick my days up the Ben at short notice.
Post edited at 17:44
CurlyStevo - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to redrook:

there is a dusting of snow on the Ben
Taer - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Arete:

Awesome that sounds amazing,

I'm a stickler for being over prepared so should be ok ;)

I saw the renting, not from cotwswolds but to be honest if I needed to use that level of kit I wouldn't bother at this point... however as is I'm in a pretty good place to navigate it, I'm used to pacing/timing my mate's lent me a GPS unit, I've got a summit map etc. I think I was just getting over prepared and got spooked by a forum telling people to always carry crampons or you're going to die on the Ben...

But yeah the advice has been truly appreciated from all here, I assumed tbh that I'd get told not to do it, as I've seen on many other forums.

So yeah feeling hopeful that the conditions are good, otherwise it'll be a traipse up until we can't be bothered anymore then a trek to the nearest pie (which I'm looking forwards to more than the peak ;) )
Phil Lyon - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

You're using a 60m rope for nav??!!

Why don't you take 100m of venetian blind cord instead; it'll weigh less and take up less space.
fire_munki on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

Thanks buddy!
Dave Kerr - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Taer:

This thread has gone on for an awfully long time when the answer is simply 'almost certainly no, but be careful and prepared to turn back'.
HTPumlumon - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Arete:

> Sometimes I can't believe what I read - £300+ each for boots and 'pons? Nonsense.

To be fair - I said this was if he didn't buy 2nd hand. And when I said 'each' I meant him and and his wife each, not boots and crampons each.

Apart from that, what you said about navigation etc is basically what I said.
Simon Caldwell - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to HTPumlumon:

A pair of Brasher boots for less than 100 plus old-style strap-on crampons is all you need for winter walking. It's only once you start getting into steeper terrain where more expensive kit is an advantage.
GrahamD - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Simon Caldwell:

> A pair of Brasher boots for less than 100 plus old-style strap-on crampons is all you need for winter walking. It's only once you start getting into steeper terrain where more expensive kit is an advantage.

In fact just about any proper walking boots that fit ...

I sometimes think this B0, C0 stuff is driven by marketeers to overcomplicate things
Jim C - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to zimpara:

> Partner went up mont blanc 4800m in microspikes, a good option.

For a bit more protection, instep crampons are fairly cheap, and the rubber strap variety I have are very quick and easy to put on if things get a bit tricky . ( and so light you could carry them all year round in your rucksack without noticing )
HTPumlumon - on 23 Nov 2016
In reply to Taer:

How did you get on?

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