Dave Macleod and Adam Hughes have recently made the first winter ascent (FWA) of Orient Express, a summer E2 5c on Ben Nevis. The route has been in Dave's sights as a possible winter route since 2006, but due to the slopey nature of the rock, and poor protection it required very special conditions to allow an ascent at a grade of IX,8.
Dave first tried the line with Michael Tweedley but got no further than the crux, finding an impasse consisting of "rounded smears leading up a steepening in the slabby ramp", the line remained in the back of Dave's head as he waited for the right conditions that could allow a winter ascent.
After getting back from Patagonia (UKC News Report), Dave had been very busy with family life and working on his forthcoming book on injuries, although he did manage to attempt the route with Patagonia partner, Calum Muskett. Once again, the conditions weren't quite right to allow an ascent. Dave commented further on his blog:
"In early Feb I returned with Calum Muskett and subjected him to a long, cold belay while I probed around back at the blank looking crux for ages. There was some cruddy snow sticking to the ramps, but it was useless for the tools. Eventually, I found the tiniest flat hooks, a few mms wide to teeter upwards and onto a good flake and some gear. But above was a long section with only a couple of very poor peckers for protection, followed by another crux to gain access to the upper ramp system.
I teetered about for ages, but finally couldn't find any hooks to get over the bulge and decided to downclimb to the last gear I was happy to weight, apologising to Calum for inflicting such a cold belay on him."
With the large amounts of poor snow he found, Dave predicted that the freeze-thaw that would have occurred at the altitude of the route could have created the elusive conditions needed to climb the route, so Dave recruited Adam Hughes to go and have a look. Dave's luck was finally in as he describes:
"I returned with Adam Hughes to see if I could get any higher. I regained my highpoint after an hour or so and could see a couple of blobs of cruddy neve well out left of the top bulge. Over the course of a good number of forays, I stretched up and tried to reach the ice blob, but it was just too far. The best I could get was a highly dubious stick just below it.
After a bit of working up to it, I committed to swapping hands on the bad stick and reached the ice blob above, which did rip through a bit as I rocked over onto the bulge. Too late, I was either going up, or off! Thankfully the peckers weren’t tested today and we continued up lovely ice on the ramps to the top."
Adam Hughes is sponsored by: Edelrid