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Ben Nevis winter ledge route questions

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 RatKing 13 Oct 2020

Hi everyone, I've got a few questions about the Ben Nevis route mostly regarding grade/difficulty, as I'm looking at climbing it before the year is up so I've got the three peaks done

I did my first winter climb with my climbing partner up Great End via Custs gully  earlier this year, and have had a weeks winter walking course done in february in Cairngorms. The route in the photos looks quite adventerous, but everyone seems to regard it as only a higher end grade 1 depending on conditions. We've unsurpsingly also done a decent amount of higher end grade 1 scrambles and luckily tend not to fall into hueristic traps.

Is it safe to think we're capable of doing this route in late november? We've also seen a lot of folk getting in harnesses and ropes, we've got no experience in this, is this "necessary"/highly recommended on the thin ledge?

Also whats the best guide book/online guide for this route? Theres a gazillion out there and I'm unsure which to use.

Thanks everyone! Many kudos from a newbie winter climber

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 DaveHK 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

It's not clear whether you're talking about doing this in winter conditions or not as you mention winter conditions then talk about summer scrambling grades.

Between now and the end of November, there's potential for it to be everything from 'summer' conditions through unpleasant in between conditions to proper winter requiring axe and crampons.

In either of the last 2 above it becomes a much more serious undertaking.

You're highly unlikely to encounter easy winter conditions in November (assuming that's what you meant by 'higher end grade 1 depending on conditions') as this requires a build up of snow. What's more likely is a mix of  unconsolidated snow, rime and bits of water ice. This can be disconcerting if you're not used to it and many would choose to use a rope then, particularly as the consequences of a fall are (and have been) grim in many places on the route.

Re guides, the SMC Ben Nevis one or Scottish Winter Climbs.

Post edited at 10:25
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 mcawle 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

It's also worth bearing in mind the initial slabs if you are planning to get onto the ridge from Number 5 gully, before you get onto the narrow ridge section. My girlfriend and I checked it out in the summer, and it was after rain and slippery as a fish with what felt like a risk of a good plummet if you slipped on it. We didn't like it and backed off.

There is seemingly a higher access to the ridge where you walk up left higher than the entrance to Number 5 gully, although we didn't go look.

Also need to consider avalanche risk from Number 5 gully on the approach if it has been snowing, although whether it ever snows that much in November I'm not sure.

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 DaveHK 13 Oct 2020
In reply to mcawle:

> Also need to consider avalanche risk from Number 5 gully on the approach if it has been snowing, although whether it ever snows that much in November I'm not sure.

Unusual but certainly not impossible.

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 tjdodd 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

Also think about doing the CMD arete.  This is a great way to summit Ben Nevis.

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 coldfell 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

In November, it will likely be neither good summer scrambling or winter condition for soloing - probably the worst of both worlds - unless you strike lucky with the weather of course! It will also be very limited daylight hours. However in good consolidated snow conditions, I have found it a good solo route and relatively easy to follow once you have located the start, assuming you have ice axe/crampons and experience using them.

Post edited at 11:14
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 Sean Kelly 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

Not sure why November. Wait until either February or March for decent winter conditions. I did it once in January on a brilliant day from heaven. Nobody else on the mountain as the avalanche risk was 5! We skirted the bottom of Nimber 5 gully and encountered a double cornice crossing over to Carn Dearg summit. We dispensed with the rope prior to traversing it. A day that lingers in the memory.

Post edited at 12:01
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 RatKing 13 Oct 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

Thanks for the info. Late november is just when I'm *probably* going to be able to get up there so I'll look at some more alternatives so we still have good routes to do on the day depending on the conditions around Ben Nevis. Again I've only been to Scotland one for winter stuff so I'm unfamilier with the seasons, is it safe to say good/decent winter condtions will only be reasonable to expect by the second week of december?

Thanks for the help, and everyone else it's really appreciated

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 DaveHK 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

> is it safe to say good/decent winter condtions will only be reasonable to expect by the second week of december?

It's impossible to say. It could be entirely snowless or buried. It's unlikely to be in easy, consolidated nick.

Ledge Route is an easy route through very serious terrain and for that reason shouldn't be treated lightly.

The suggestion of CMD Arete is a very good one.

Post edited at 13:03
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 RatKing 13 Oct 2020
In reply to DaveHK:

Thanks I'll take it into consideration and check SAIS and conditons beforehand. Im aware of CMD Arete its been our backup plan, so depending on when exactly I go and conditions I'll do that instead (unless the stars align of course).

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 Gav_92 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

Sais doesn't start daily reporting until December usually was the 13th last year.

Zig zags on gearr aonach glencoe gives a pleasant scramble and is lower down so will be less likely to have snow on it than the upper reaches of ledge route.

North ridge of stob Ban in Glen Nevis to abit lower

Enjoy your trip  

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 Dave Hewitt 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

There could well be significant travel restrictions in terms of getting to Lochaber in November. The current Scottish Government advice is that people should not travel through the Central Belt, eg into the Highlands from central Scotland or further south. At present this appears to be widely ignored and the advice only runs until 26 October anyway, but there could be an extension of the advice or a tightening of it. Worth bearing in mind in terms of planning, anyway.

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 Michael Gordon 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Dave Hewitt:

> At present this appears to be widely ignored 

Not necessarily. It may be taken into careful consideration before the decision is made to go anyway.

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 Mark Stevenson 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

As far as mountaineering routes go, Ledge Route is not especially dangerous but unfortunately it's still complicated enough in Winter that route finding mistakes when unroped can prove fatal as unfortunately happened earlier this year - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-46735220

The best description is probably in Garry Smith's superb book - Scotland's Winter Mountains with one axe.

In fact, I'd strongly recommend anyone starting out Winter climbing and mountaineering in Scotland to buy it. It has a good selection of the best easy routes in Scotland and especially for novices it is infinitely better than trying to rely on the minimalist descriptions in normal climbing guidebooks.

There's also the advantage that it'll give you some great options to consider other than Ledge Route.

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 Michael Gordon 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

Ledge Route with CMD Arete as backup sounds like a good plan, with avalanche conditions the prime consideration (there are others) with a possible ruling out of the former. The latter is a fantastic route up the Ben if you've never done it; just don't go up the tourist path!

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In reply to Sean Kelly:

>  Nobody else on the mountain as the avalanche risk was 5! We skirted the bottom of Nimber 5 gully

Cat 5 risk is chance of spontaneous release on all aspects isn't it? It sounds like there was a good reason why the mountain was deserted. 

Obviously you came to no harm, but maybe not the best thing to be sharing on a thread started by a newbie winter climber.

Can you even "skirt" Number 5? I thought you had to cross it to start up the Ledge Route unless you do a route like the Curtain or Route II?

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 DaveHK 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Mark Stevenson:

> As far as mountaineering routes go, Ledge Route is not especially dangerous 

I'd say it has more objective danger than many other routes at the grade. A potentially avalanche prone approach and some route finding choices which can lead you onto very serious ground if you get them wrong.

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 Michael Gordon 13 Oct 2020
In reply to TobyA:

> Cat 5 risk is chance of spontaneous release on all aspects isn't it? >

That's correct. Cat 5 (Very High) is widespread large natural avalanches, something that never occurs in Scotland and hence the rating has never been given AFAIK. 

> Can you even "skirt" Number 5? I thought you had to cross it to start up the Ledge Route unless you do a route like the Curtain or Route II?

Again, pretty sure you're correct here. It's possible to avoid the lower section of the gully, but you'd still have to cross it from L-R to get on the route.

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 Dave Hewitt 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> Not necessarily.

Thus far the latest advice does seem to be being ignored - or perhaps considered and rejected is a more generous way of putting it - by a lot of people, eg 100 cars parked beneath Ben More on Sunday as discussed in another thread and other hill laybys in the area similarly crammed to overflowing. It's possible that all those people were from the local NHS area and were adhering to the advice, but it's pretty unlikely - and there are trip reports on other sites of Central Belt people going all over the place.

> It may be taken into careful consideration before the decision is made to go anyway.

Of course - I'm not doubting that they would do. But it should be borne in mind as a potential factor, especially given that by late November the restrictions might well be quite a lot stricter.

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 Sean Kelly 13 Oct 2020
In reply to TobyA:

> Can you even "skirt" Number 5? I thought you had to cross it to start up the Ledge Route unless you do a route like the Curtain or Route II?

Skirt the gully is exactly what we did by climbing the snowed up rocks to the right which was ok. We were originally going for the Waterfall Gully/Castle Ridge area but obviously because of the conditions suspected that Ledge Route would be a much the safer bet. It was minus 11 in the shade but seemed really warm when we summited into the bright sunlight. I've never encountered a big double cornice in the UK before. Unique conditions really, but those that you never forget.

Post edited at 19:35
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In reply to Michael Gordon:

Really never?! I guess I'm remembering the old system where I can't recall what the highest category was, but did quite regularly get forecasted?

Anyway going near the bottom of No. 5 when there is any risk doesn't seem a great choice - as the tragic deaths of those Swiss (?) chaps a couple of years ago shows.

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 Dave Hewitt 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Sean Kelly:

>I've never encountered a big double cornice in the UK before. Unique conditions really, but those that you never forget.

Sounds like a good day. I've encountered a double cornice once in Scotland: on a narrow bit of the north ridge of Stob Ban in the Mamores on Hogmanay 1985 during a spell of fantastic winter conditions, lots of snow on the hill and very cold right down to sea level. We didn't fancy risking it - we didn't have a rope - so a partial retreat was made before we worked across the corrie to pick up the main ridge to Mullach nan Coirean. As with your example, it stuck in the mind.

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In reply to Dave Hewitt:

Dave, see A Plea thread. regarding Winter Climbing forum. 

The unmentionable and discussion thereof is being strongly discouraged by me on at least this forum.

Greetings from the Desperados by the way

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 Dave Hewitt 13 Oct 2020
In reply to The Watch of Barrisdale:

> Dave, see A Plea thread. regarding Winter Climbing forum. 

> The unmentionable and discussion thereof is being strongly discouraged by me on at least this forum.

Fair enough (well, up to a point!) In this instance I was just trying to make sure that the OP gave the Great Unspeakable a bit of consideration in his planning, given that it's pretty likely to be in play in one form or another.

I seem to have ended up being perceived in some quarters as being quite hardline/conservative about this, which I'm not really - it's more just that the large-scale apparent ignoring of the advice last weekend made me worry that it'll hasten a proper lockdown pretty soon, which I suspect none of us wants. Plus I have a fair few regular hill sidekicks either not going out at all or staying very close to home, and I'd like to see them back in action asap, rather than in 2022 or something.

> Greetings from the Desperados by the way

Thanks - hope all's well with you all. Is there to be a Yule Meet despite the Unmentionable?

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In reply to RatKing:

As others have pointed out conditions in November can be enormously variable. Follow social media to see what develops.

Ledge Route can be started by heading up No.5 Gully and taking the first open terrace out right. This has a 15m rocky slab on it that varies depending on build up from summer condition: black, damp, gravelly rock with small holds through a short section of water ice after a good freeze to buried under snow (often with an easy line of footprints to follow). Then take the first gully back left (loose and rubbley without buildup)- careful, many folk moss this and continue out right onto far more serious ground. This route gets Grade II in winter. OR you can follow the Coire na Ciste path up until you first see the Ciste Lochans. At this point turn hard right and head over the top of Moonlight Gully Buttress to cross No.5 at its narrowest point. The way continues round an open bowl/ampitheatre until it joins the previous approach just above the end of the leftwards gully mentioned above. This is probably more I or I/II.

Obviously both routes can be threatened by avalanche in the wrong conditions.

Above these approaches the route is more of a rocky ridge than a gully line and quite different in character to the lower half. It is narrow enough in a few places that a slip would have very serious consequences, hence why parties rope up, but probably Grade I by the easiest line in the upper half.

In November its more likely that No.5 will be rubble covered in snow and the slab and upper ridge rocky with a dusting. If thats the case it will be like a rocky scramble that may or may not be better tackled with crampons on. But these days any time late/early in the year can see the onset of 'heavier' winter conditions or even a complete thaw so watch conditions closely. A lot can change in a week (or a day) in Scottish Winter (or Autumn for that matter).

Good luck.

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In reply to Mark Stevenson:

I'd still take two axes for ledge route. I only took one and was very much wanting a second axe - I was very scared! (although we were soloing). 

We were going well that year too having comfortably swung leads on point5 the day before. 

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In reply to AlH:

I can testify to conditions changing within in a day.

We recently encountered a full blizzard with snow settling while doing the CMD arete.

The day had started in full sunshine suitable for shorts....

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 Eric9Points 13 Oct 2020
In reply to RatKing:

I've been looking at photos of Ledge Route. I climbed a lot on the Ben in Summer and Winter but couldn't quite remember whether I'd done it or not.

Anyway, if you feel confident that you could climb this, when there's no one else around and no footsteps to follow, in conditions where it's a mix of snow and verglassed rock, it's blowing a gale, snowing, the visibility is about twenty feet and it's starting to get dark then fine.

https://cdn.ukc2.com/i/254887.jpg

If not I'd suggest doing some other winter mountaineering routes in Scotland first before heading for the Ben.

Edit, wrong link posted.

Post edited at 20:48
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 Michael Gordon 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Anyway, if you feel confident that you could climb this, when there's no one else around and no footsteps to follow, in conditions where it's a mix of snow and verglassed rock, it's blowing a gale, snowing, the visibility is about twenty feet and it's starting to get dark then fine.

> If not I'd suggest doing some other winter mountaineering routes in Scotland first before heading for the Ben.> 

Or alternatively, assess the weather and conditions carefully, and start in reasonable time!

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 Eric9Points 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> > Anyway, if you feel confident that you could climb this, when there's no one else around and no footsteps to follow, in conditions where it's a mix of snow and verglassed rock, it's blowing a gale, snowing, the visibility is about twenty feet and it's starting to get dark then fine.

> Or alternatively, assess the weather and conditions carefully, and start in reasonable time!

Well checking the weather is of course essential in winter and may well result in you not leaving the car park. Even so forecasts aren't perfect, you'll remember an occasion maybe ten years ago when the Northern Corries were hit by an unexpected storm which killed two climbers. Shit happens. Ledge Route is 1500ft long and I guess this guy doesn't really know how fast he climbs in winter. I also don't know what his route finding is like, what his rope work is like etc, etc. If he does get someone else on the route in front of him then they may well hold them up especially if conditions are bad.

The point I'm trying to make is that things don't always go to plan for a host of reasons and if you lack a bit of experience you can end up in trouble, especially on the Ben. It's an unforgiving place in winter and you should be confident that you can climb the route in poor conditions. Checking the forecast and getting up early isn't a guarantee of a safe day out.

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 Michael Gordon 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Eric9Points:

Fair points. To be honest I'm struggling to think of a single winter route I've done where we had a lot of snow covering verglassed rock. No doubt it does occur occasionally. Hopefully the OP will head your warning rather than just being put off entirely.

Post edited at 21:40
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 JStearn 13 Oct 2020
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

Goes to show the effect of conditions on a route like this, I had one axe and would have done without, although we were roped and moving together. The initial slab was very icy. For a second winter route, I would stick to a grade I gully (might be a bit early in the season for this though) or a classic ridge walk requiring crampon work. Get some experience with the necessary ropework with a mentor and then give Ledge route a go. You would probably be fine soloing, but the consequences of a mistake are high on most of the route.

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 Webster 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> That's correct. Cat 5 (Very High) is widespread large natural avalanches, something that never occurs in Scotland and hence the rating has never been given AFAIK. 

Iv certainly seen black on the avalanch wagon wheel (cat 5) on several occasions. and indeed been out in such instances with a careful and common sense approach.

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 Webster 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

> I'd still take two axes for ledge route. I only took one and was very much wanting a second axe - I was very scared! (although we were soloing). 

> We were going well that year too having comfortably swung leads on point5 the day before. 

is this some kind of troll? i struggle to compute this statement otherwise!

it is never steeper than about 30deg! with two axes you would be on your hands and knees! with good snow build up it is just an exposed and serious (objective dangers etc) walk. without good build up of snow, it is a scramble, but what good would a second axe do you there?

to the OP, given your experience (or lack thereof) i would categorically not be recommending ledge route solo in november without some form of guide/experienced friend. the lower slab is likely to be wet or verglassed with a covering of unconsolidated snow on top. very dangerous for the inexperienced.

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In reply to Webster:

No.  When we did it it was really banked and the section near the start from the gully moving rightwards before you move back onto the ridge proper felt steep.  There wasn't any track to follow and the snow was the same angle from the ridge line to the top of the buttress below so it felt really exposed and like a slip would shoot you straight off the top of the buttress (which it would!).  We weren't particularly early (tired from walking in the day before too) and it was a bit soft so the feet didn't feel super secure when moving your axe, hence a bit scary. Maybe I was just being a massive scaredy pants but I did feel uncomfortable.

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> it is never steeper than about 30deg!

How many times have you done it?

When we did .5 the day before the ice was thick enough for plenty of screws and we were strong enough to hang around to place them.  Ledge route felt insecure in the conditions on the day, we were soloing and no amount of being strong was going to help.  Surely its not that hard to compute!

Post edited at 13:03
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 Webster 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Somerset swede basher:

up only once (in winter conditions), but have walked down it as a descent route several times... emphasis on the walk! i would question if you were off route, or just failed to find the line of least resistance...

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 Mark Bull 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Webster:

> Iv certainly seen black on the avalanch wagon wheel (cat 5) on several occasions. and indeed been out in such instances with a careful and common sense approach.

Must have a been quite a long time ago - Cat 5 / Very high has not been used since the SAIS adopted the European Avalanche Hazard Warning Scale (in the late 90s or early 2000s, I think). 

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 Webster 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Mark Bull:

nope, it would have been approximately 5-7 years ago

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 Michael Gordon 14 Oct 2020
In reply to Webster:

> Iv certainly seen black on the avalanche wagon wheel (cat 5) on several occasions. 

I haven't

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 JimbotheScot 15 Oct 2020
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In reply to JimbotheScot:

> Winter POV of ledge route

Unfortunately the video is not available to view...

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 Mark Bull 12:51 Thu
In reply to Webster:

That's a mystery then - you can trawl through the archive reports back to 2007/8 here https://www.sais.gov.uk/forecast-archive/ and verify there are no Very High forecasts. 

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 Rob Parsons 12:53 Thu
In reply to Pay Attention:

> Unfortunately the video is not available to view...


Works for me.

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 Webster 18:24 Thu
In reply to Mark Bull:

it might not have been an SIAS forecast, it might have been glencoe/nevis ski patrol forecasts

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 Mark Bull 19:54 Thu
In reply to Webster:

Ah, that might be the answer then! I didn't realise that the ski centres did their own thing. 

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 Gav_92 22:19 Thu
In reply to Pay Attention:

Open the link in YouTube 

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 Mark Bannan 17:07 Fri
In reply to RatKing:

> ... is it safe to say good/decent winter condtions will only be reasonable to expect by the second week of december?

As others have said, it could be highly variable in difficulty, condition and objective danger. Personally I did it at the end of December 2011 and it was in super nick, easy for the grade, but I know I was lucky! The most likely time for it to be in good condition would be January to April, but even then, one never knows!

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 Offwidth 14:09 Sat
In reply to Sean Kelly:

Are you sure your memory isn't playing tricks? There is no variation of Ledge Route from the right that avoids the start of No 5 Gully. The main line requires a pitch up No5 to reach the sloping ledge out right. The bypass (SMC recommend winter descent) also crosses No 5.

Post edited at 14:10
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 Sean Kelly 15:54 Sat
In reply to Offwidth:

We made a variation!

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In reply to Offwidth:

Doesn't the ledge route start above the Curtain? That's why I thought you had to go into no. 5 too.

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In reply to RatKing:

I've been up the Ledge Route in a variety of winter conditions and most times pretty straightforward, attached pic is the beginning of the route as I found it in Nov 2018, not much snow but a sheet of ice on the sloping ledge, a slip here would be have serious consequences, as we didn't have a rope with us we backed off, went further up No 5 and joined the route without difficulty further up.

As others have mentioned, conditions can vary a lot, at the very least be prepared to back off and have a Plan B up your sleeve 


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 RatKing 20:34 Sat
In reply to JezzaCat:

Thanks for the photo jezza, at the minute it does indeed seem to be a "if conditions are bad on forecasts and photos etc dont even bother and do CMD instead" and its only really worth going to gully 5 to just see if ledge is safe if conditions are really good.

Are there any specific routes via gully 5 back up plan you recommend or is it just a go up it and plod along the ridge till Ben Nevis type of deal?

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 mcawle 21:11 Sat
In reply to JezzaCat:

That's exactly where we backed off too this summer, it was sopping wet. 

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 Offwidth 11:57 Sun
In reply to TobyA:

Having looked in detail the only possibility at close to II  is a long traverse in from the right to climb a variation on The Curtain Rail IV 4.

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 Martin W 20:46 Mon
In reply to Dave Hewitt:

> The current Scottish Government advice is that people should not travel through the Central Belt, eg into the Highlands from central Scotland or further south.

Are you sure?

There is a specific Q&A about this very point on https://www.transport.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/transport-transition-plan/guidance-on-travelling-within-scotland/ under "Travel to, from and within the central belt of Scotland from 10 October 2020":

Q. I live outside the five health board areas, can I travel through the area with enhanced restrictions.

Yes – although you should follow the advice to travel safely.

I'm pretty sure this was also clarified in one of the government briefings by Nicola or someone else appropriately senior, along the lines of: it's OK to travel through the restricted areas so long as you're not planning to stop there while en route.

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 Dave Hewitt 11:45 Tue
In reply to Martin W:

> Are you sure?

I've been going with this, which is on the main Scottish Government website (dated 8 October):
https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-additional-measures-october-2020/

The relevant "additional measures" bit re travel says:

"we want people to be safe. We are not advising that people who have already booked holiday accommodation in October need to cancel. More generally, please think about whether you need to travel, especially if you live in or would be travelling to, or through, the central belt. The Scottish Government is asking people within the central belt areas (see end note for definition) to think carefully about whether they need to travel outside their local health board area and, where that is necessary, to plan to do so safely"

I also watched a press briefing where the FM specifically said the advice was to not travel through the five NHS areas (as well as not to leave any of them if that's where you're based).

Not that it seems to be making much difference - it feels like half the outdoorsy people I know in this bit of the "additional measures" area (NHS Forth Valley) have for the past couple of weeks been travelling to other areas without much compunction, even though NHS Forth Valley isn't exactly lacking in hills etc.

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