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Ben Nevis, September 2002
[ Guide | Images ]View from the North Cliff

Yeah, we got out to Ben Nevis for a day trip with Adrian and Brett last Sunday. I wanted to check out the North Cliff rather than climb at Red Rocks yet again. By the time we actually found the descent gully and hacked and bashed our way down this horrendous, trackless, steep-as-all-hell jungle, and then spent ages trying to identify the route I wanted to lead (*** Big Ben 110m grade 18).... Well, it was lunch time. 

I geared up, lead off about 10m, then got freaked when the bolts ran out and no trad placements appeared during a very cruxy (for me) section. Down climbed and fell onto the rope. Adrian coaxed me into having another stab, so up I went again, scanning for gear, feeling ready to peel, each move taking me further away from the bolt over terrain I knew I couldn't down climb.... then there it was: a carrot bolt right in front of my eyes. I'd been looking too far ahead and missed it. I clipped, and proceeded up past several more bolts and lots of fiddly little nut placements, most of which required gardening. 

Avoiding the moss I climbed on while the wind rose higher and higher. Soon it was gale force. So hard I didn't have a whelk's chance in a supernova of hearing Adrian, and was being pushed sideways off moves. Finally I reached a holdless, pure smears slab section that put me in mind of a recent grade 20 at Teneriffe that I'd popped off. I wasn't in the mood for it and was getting sick of the slabbing, when the belay bolts finally arrived.... A two carrot hanging belay!!
Me leading the first pitch of Big Ben, 110m grade 18.
Me leading the first pitch of Big Ben, 110m grade 18.Me leading the first pitch of Big Ben, 110m grade 18.
Above: Me leading the first pitch of Big Ben, 110m grade 18. Note the "steps" leading off up the slab identify the route. These steps make the line look awesome from below, but they are tricky to climb, being smooth and slopping. Check out this brief mpeg video clip (1.7 meg, 27 seconds).

Knowing that we'd have a party of three, all hanging off the station, I lead off on the start of the next pitch (a wild, featureless traverse to which I was not looking forward) to clip a third bolt and incorporate it into the set up. This took two cordelettes and some longs slings to achieve without using the climbing rope. I rigged a sling foothold to stand in, so I could crouch back on the slab and take the pressure off my harness, while belaying. After I started bringing Adrian up I cursed myself for not belaying off the anchor instead. I was using the GriGri, it would have made it so much nicer. Finally he arrived, and I got him over to a little stance on the left, and safe. At this stage the wind was so high we had to shout to each other despite being only inches apart. Adrian wanted off. It didn't take much convincing for me to agree. Belaying Brett up would make the hanging station very unpleasant; there was no where to put him. The wind was making the next delicate pitch look like a nightmare, and to be honest all the fun had gone out of the climb. If I lead off again in an effort to create some space for Brett, I'd soon be out of ear shot. It was just too dam scary and impractical. Adrian had two pairs of hiking boots to carry, and Brett a day pack. We were already shagged out from the crippling access. The decision to bail was made in all of about 20 seconds and summed up with something like "F*ck it, lets get off this thing!".

Adrian sacrificed a locking crab he'd previously found, returning it to the bail gods. I surrendered a bolt plate. We stripped the system down to a single bolt backed up with another lower down. This involved a bit of dubious mucking about, with me traversing off to free up that third bolt on the start of P2, then penduluming back. Adrian had to do a similar pendulum to come off his stance. At least mine was on dynamic rope. Aido had to put up with slithering down the slab while on a long sling. Anyway we rigged both ropes for abseil and departed, with Adrian, last man down, taking the brunt of the risk, rapping off the single bolt. We pulled the ropes, fought our way back up the gully from hell, dumped the gear in the boot of the car and drove down into the forest to escape the howling gale.

A very late lunch followed. What to do? It was nearly four in the afternoon. We thought about going for a hike to the Pinnacles, but enthusiasm was low. We headed home, having climbed only a single 40m pitch of grade 18, which Brett didn't even get to set a hand upon. Not exactly the most successful of day trips. Still Adrian claimed to have had fun, and at least now we know what to expect from the North Cliff. Next Ben Nevis Trip we'll just stick with good old, easy access, Red Rocks.

Note to beginners: do not rap off a single anchor point ever (unless it's a huge healthy tree or bomb proof bollard the size of a house). It's only us cheap ass, supposedly more experienced climbers who bail off single bolts and one day the decision may prove fatal. Never, never bail off a single nut placement. A friend nearly died doing this.

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