/ Ben Nevis' Ridges in Summer for beginners

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jrclimber - on 12 Apr 2019

We're heading up to Scotland for a 5 day weekend in July and we should be stopping over in Fort William for a day or two on our trip. We're keen to take in Ben Nevis and while I'm sure we would enjoy The Pony Track, some of the easier Ridges such as Castle (M), North East (VD) or Tower (D) caught my eye. 

While we mainly sport climb I have some experience leading routes on Trad up to HS admittedly all on single pitch. Are these ridges too much of an undertaking? If not what skills should I be brushing up on ahead of time?

Thanks for any advise!

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Milesy - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

Firstly most ridge days on the ben are quite long due to the walk in and out, and require at least a reasonable level of "hill fitness".

What mainly catches single pitch rock climbers out can be the exposure, accompanied with perhaps a much less level of protection than they are used to.

The walk in in July can be torture in the heat as well, especially with a reasonably big pack.

Some hillwalking in advance will put you in good stead, and some scrambles in similar grades further south.

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jrclimber - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to Milesy:

Thanks for the input! would you say the shortest of the three (Castle) is therefore advisable?

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PaulJepson - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

On long mountain ridges, efficiency is key. You need to be happy to run it out or move together where it's easy and quick setting up anchors where it's not. 

I've only done Tower Ridge out of the ones you mentioned but most of the anchors were just blocks or spikes. 

Know how to Clove Hitch and Italian Hitch before and do loads of exposed scrambling and big mountain days. 

I'd take a single rope, set of nuts, cams 1,2,3, 8 extendable draws, loads of slings. 

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tjdodd - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

Worst case do the CMD arete.  It is infinitely more enjoyable than the tourist track.  You get glorious views of the north face that the tourists never see and will be pretty quiet.  You can then wander down the tourist track basking in your own pleasure whilst everyone else trudges up.

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Sean Kelly - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

Found the friction poor on TR when very wet, beware!

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jonnie3430 - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

What they say about efficiency is right, it's not difficulty that counts, more speed. Good adventure though! I liked the CMD arete suggestion too, but if you wanted to wander up past the CIC and under the buttresses then you can always head up past them to Coire Leis and up to the cairn, then summit from South west. 

Above all, make your plan based on weather. Have as many options as you want, but choose the right one for the weather.

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GrahamD - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

I'd agree with most of the above.  Skills are mainly getting out of bed at a sensible time, navigation (although the 'new North Face trail takes some of the sting out, you still have to find your way off the top and back to the car) and hill walking fitness.  Think in terms of a long walking day, a long scramble and the odd climbing pitch.

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Pero - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

Just my thoughts. The CMD arete is great but it's barely a scramble. That's really a big walking day.

Ledge Route is an obvious choice if you want to climb on North Face. It's a decent scramble. You could do the CMD in descent.

Tower Ridge is a big mountaineering route. Ideally you need the range of skills others have mentioned. Including when to scramble and when to pitch. 

Castle Ridge is shorter and less serious than TR, but I'd take rock shoes but go light on gear.

Observatory Ridge and NE buttress are big multipitch rock routes. You might expect to pitch the whole route. A different game again. 

Also, as others have said, weather is critical. The poorer the conditions the lower the objective.

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Gerry on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

These are big days out whichever way you go. If you've only done single pitch, say somewhere like Stanage where you just wander along to find what you want and there's loads of people to ask, then just finding the start of the route may be a bit daunting. The cliffs are, to say the least, awesome. Staying on the easy line pitch after pitch may also be a challenge. I would recommend doing some multi pitch nearer home before going, to get the feel of things. Maybe try Tryfan east face for example, and do the Snowdon horseshoe to get an idea of exposure on longish unroped scrambles. 

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AlH - on 12 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

Some good advice here. From the perspective of a local who has done all of those ridges quite a bit (for work) and seen other folks on them:

They are all long and the weather affects them quite a lot.

Castle is the most exposed to bad weather from the west and although its a Mod many people find the cruxes at least as nippy as Tower Ridge.

Tower Ridge is long and if you end up off route what was quite clean rock can become a lot looser, more vegetated and slippery in a hurry- especially in the wet. Understanding of what you are happy soloing and good mountaineering rope work; the ability to change from soloing to pitching or even moving together will all help a lot. (although this only adds speed if the party is good at placing and removing gear quickly and done badly can be frighteningly hazardous).

NEB and Observatory are a step up in seriousness. more loose rock, greasier in the wet than Tower and with harder and more exposed pitches. A good test of mountaineering efficiency for most and especially in anything less than ideal conditions.

The CMD is a nice long easy scramble. Ledge Route can be done by the harder route (some loose rock and a short slabby section with mediocre holds) or an easier route (long pleasant Grade I) and would be good for a solo outing to get a feel for the mountain and the terrain.

Warming up on something a little shorter like Curved Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor might also be a good idea to 'test the waters' on mountaineering routes looking at route finding, route reading with regards to what you are happy soloing and deploying the rope efficiently if needed.

Feel free to PM if you want more advice (although I guide the routes for a living I'm not above dissing out some free beta or conditions information).

Al

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wilkesley - on 13 Apr 2019
In reply to AlH:

Curved Ridge is a good place to start. I took two of my children, who were then about 11 and12, up it a few years ago. The steep bit is technically easy but exposed and with great views of climbs like January Jigsaw.

It's also a good introduction in finding the correct route on a complicated mountain. Despite having climbed on the Buchaille several times in the past, we managed to start up the ridge below Crowberry Tower before I realized my mistake! 

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Pero - on 13 Apr 2019
In reply to wilkesley:

Yes, finding the start of Curved Ridge is not that easy. 

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keith hal - on 13 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

North Buttress on the Buachille Etive Mor is a great easy mountain route. Shorter approach than the routes on the Ben. A small rack and single rope would do...almost a scramble but with some more exposed moves (diff)thrown in. Have soloed it (first time)but also pitched it as well. Equally enjoyable both times!

Another good easy multipitch is Quiver Rib (Diff)on the E face of Aonach Dubh (also in the Coe and with a short approach.)

Scramble up the Lower Bow and then climb Quiver Rib in 2 pitches. Steep and exposed but with great rock and big holds!

Have a good trip!!

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wilkesley - on 15 Apr 2019
In reply to keith hal:

Isn't North Buttress the route where the direct variation is a high step onto a sloping hold, with no pro? However, that bit is easily avoided.

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David55 on 15 Apr 2019
In reply to jrclimber:

I have been reading these posts with interest, and have seen much good sense. Now to the original poster, I have met and been guided by AlH, and he has guided and trained my son, who is a) now a decent alpinist, and b)still alive. Ben Nevis is his back garden, and Glencoe on his doorstep.

I would suggest you would do well to track him down and hire his services. If there are 2 of you, book 2 days, and pay for one each. You will do more than if you were on your own, and learn more and be well set up for future visits.

Disclaimer: I am not a friend, relative or financial partner of AlH, and I very much doubt that he will remember me.

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Bwox - on 16 Apr 2019

With a thought to doing something similar, what are people's preferences for descending, especially with a thought towards combining a couple of the Nevis ridges in a day? I've only been up in winter, when coming down no. 3 & 4 gullies (when appropriate) is a relatively pleasant stomp - in summer they are presumably greasy/chossy horrorfests, and the ridgelines would be better?

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Rick Graham on 16 Apr 2019
In reply to Bwox:

Number four gully is a horrible scree fest , best down the " abseil posts" in summer.

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In reply to Bwox:

Up one of the other ridges, then down Ledge Route would be my preference as you then get a bonus ridge in descent. If you've time you could then climb a third before walking off via the CMD Arete for a fourth, albeit much easier, ridge tick.

Next easiest to descend would be Tower Ridge, on which the difficulties are all brief, but I think you'd want to know it well from previous ascents and be very confident at the grade 

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