Ben Nevis - Early Season New Routes

© Steve Ashworth
News from Ben Nevis of some impressive early season ascents, including at least one hard new route in very challenging conditions. Steve Ashworth takes up the story:

Ben Nevis put up a pretty good fight through the weekend. Climbing conditions were best high up on steep lines. Easier-angled ground was covered in damp snow which made progress slow at times and the wind was creating quite dodgy avalanche conditions though.

Steve Ashworth on pitch 1 of Apache

A highly motivated team from the Lakes headed north on Friday night. Heavy overnight snowfall and persistant snow throughout the day on Saturday, combined with a gusty winds, provided challenging climbing condtions. After a taste of winter in the Lakes last week it was good to be in the teeth of some full on winter gnarl but even so, 2 out of 4 teams climbing on Saturday bailed due to hardcore spindrift.

One team made short work of Cornucopia whilst Steve Ashworth, climbing with Paddy Cave, did a new line on the impressive-looking wall to the right of Sioux Wall. The barrell-shaped wall is split by a straight crack line which had caught Steves' attention on a previous trip. In the wild condtions, Paddy pulled of a great lead on the gently overhanging crux pitch. The new route has been namedApache and is thought to be VIII 9 with a harder and slightly more sustained crux pitch than neighbouring Sioux Wall, VIII 8. The addition of yet another great line to this wall further underlines the quality of the mixed climbing on offer around this part of the Ben

On Sunday a cold morning with crispy snow outside the CiC hut tempted teams out in search of Neve. Steve and Mike Wilson did what was possibly the first winter ascent of Militant Chimneys on the Douglas Boulder (they are waiting to find out if it has been done before) which gave a long route with a mountaineering feel about it. After arriving back in the dark, with 9 pitches of climbing up to grade VI 6 behind them, they have suggested that the Douglas Boulder be renamed Mount Douglas! Paddy Cave and Chris Stirling returned to number three gully where they climbed Cornucopia.

Paddy Cave finding a knee-bar on Cornucopia

Monday brought another cold morning and, in search of shorter day, Paddy and Chris headed for The Slab Climb, a route rapidly achieving modern classic status and a very reliable early season choice. Whilst Steve and Mike went to Pinnacle Arete. The snow conditions getting across to the Trident Buttress were a bit spooky but everyone arrived in one piece. Pinnacle Arete gave a very enjoyable mountaineering route with great positions only spoilt by Steve snapping his tool and having to finish the route with what was left of it. The weather changed late yesterday afternoon, with strong winds and wet snow high up and rain at the hut, Paddy and Chris experienced more full on Ben Nevis weather before finishing their route, requiring a bit of head torch action to get back to the hut.

Whilst descending number 4 gully, Steve triggered a big area of slab and is claiming a long jump world record after he jumped clear of the slab that had fractured behind him.

Paddy Pitch 2 Apache  © The EpiCentre
Paddy Cave on pitch 2 of Apache
Paddy Pitch 2 apache  © The EpiCentre
Paddy Cave on pitch 2 of Apache
Apache line  © The EpiCentre
The line of Apache

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16 Nov, 2010
Nice one on doing Militant Chimney! I remember noticing in the guidebook back in the 90s that it hadn't had a winter ascent, and thinking "Vdiff - how hard could that be in winter?" As ever, the Ben's answer seems to be - quite hard! Watch out for the avalanches chaps! Early season enthusiasm can only help you jump so far.
16 Nov, 2010
This is from SMC Journal 2004: Douglas Boulder: Turf War 250m V,6. G.Hughes, J.Edwards. 21st December 2003. Based on the summer line of Militant Chimney. Start at the middle of the lower tier. 1. 60m Climb up into a bay in the middle of the lower tier and head for a short V-groove in the second band. Climb the groove until a slant up right leads to overhangs. 2. 40m Move round to the right (avoiding the knobbly wall) and back left heading for the line of Militant Chimney. Go up this to a good thread on a ledge. 3. 30m Climb the Militant Chimney. 4. 50m Continue up and then teeter rightwards across slabs and go up a turfy right-facing corner to a huge block. 5. 60m Climb easier ground leftwards to a short overhanging chimney to reach a slab. Go up the corner to gain a ledge on the right. Move delicately left and climb the exposed arete (bold) until it is possible to step right and move up to gain a belay. 6. 10m Move up to reach easy ground leading to the summit of the Douglas Boulder.
16 Nov, 2010
Poor old Steve, snapping his tool must have been painfull!
16 Nov, 2010
Cheers Andy, As I was climbing the chimney I couldn't believe that such a classic feature so close to the hut would have been missed. I think I climbed a similar line to the one described, not a strong line apart from the chimney but a good mountaineering day out. How was Beinn Eighe? Steve.
16 Nov, 2010
Hi Steve The line is pretty good isn't it. We climbed it because it was the closest safe new line to the hut as deep unstable snow that fell in the night meant that we couldn't get back high on the mountain. We also climbed a new couple of pitches on another existing line the next day on the douglas boulder that had probably never had a second ascent. We thought it suprising that such good climbing had been over looked. I guess that 2003 was nearer the start of the new wave mixed than now so low hanging fruit was the first to be picked. Or in this case none avalanche prone fruit. Have a good winter James
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