Sunday, 15 March 2015

HUMS Trip Report: Winter Climbing, Fort William, Feb 2015


Picking up enough fruit, veg, meat and cheese for 10 people for a week left Bernard the Skoda rather full on the long drive up to Fort William. Three boxes of fruit and veg and a cool box full of meat with a couple of chickens thrown in for free by Ian the butcher (went into sandwiches and curry - yum). It's amazing how much food we got through on this trip.

The stop at The Courtyard Dairy cheese shop near Settle was a revelation; this is my new favourite shop! Served by Andy, fromager and affineur extrodinaire whose opening sales gambit of "Try this unpasturised Brie, it's really good" worked very well.

Louise purchasing for a small cheeseboard

Without wanting to sound like a famous sketch, we bought Caerphilly, Cheddar, Red Leicester, Brie, Lanark Blue, cider washed goats cheese, Wensleydale - most of them made with unpasturised cheese and all of them excellent. I could still taste the cheddar sample by the time we pulled in to Tebay for the obligatory pie.

On the M6 a rapidly approaching green Skoda with badly adjusted headlights heralded the approach of Ben and Puppy and the start of an informal convoy that lasted all the way up through Scotland, dicing with death and BMWs on the M8, to the cottage.

We quickly got settled in, rattled off a very satisfactory Shepherds Pie and veg for tea and made plans for an early start and a go at Ledge Route (II) on Ben Nevis the next day.


Didn't sleep well, so the 5am alarm wasn't particularly welcome. Walking up by the Allt A' Mhuilinn to the CIC hut I felt snotty and tired like I was fighting off a virus, not a great start to the trip. Alex and Puppy bossed it to the hut with the rest of us arriving shortly after.

Views from the CIC Hut

We geared up and headed up past the Curtain (looking fat) to Number 5 gully with the large trail of footprints pointing the way to a large snow ledge and the start of Ledge Route (II) ****. Climbing as three teams of two, Jake and I moved together efficiently throughout, taking in a short ice step for added interest. The snow conditions (firm, well stepped out) made for more like Grade I than II going, but the upper ridge was a bit narrower with nice views. Under the conditions, I'd have given it I/II and ** but that's winter climbing for you, highly conditions dependent.

Draw me like one of your French Puppies...

L: Jake pre hot aches just before the exit ridge (NEB and TR in the background)
R: Puppy making hard work of descending Number 4 Gully - not enough Swiss Roll consumed

Ben on Ledge Route

The narrow exit ridge and slopes to the summit of Carn Dearg were very windy with large gusts necessitating a drop to the floor to avoid getting blown over. Jake and I sheltered to let the others catch up before we made our way up to the summit, the cold giving Jake epic hot aches. After a short discussion we decided to forgo the summit given the high winds and just drop back down number 4 gully instead. A quick ab from a snow bollard over the steeper exit slope led to a spot of front pointing down the gully before the angle slackened enough to walk down.

Bollard and down we go!

Puppy was having a bit of a bonk so I waited behind for him whilst everyone else went to the CIC for a bite and to de-gear.

Above: Looking back up the north face of Ben Nevis with (L-R) Alex, Puppy, Jake, Ben, Vix.
Below: Bonk!

A steady walk off followed, chat to an older chap who had stayed at the CIC hut for a few nights and we were back at the car before we knew it and in the daylight too (novel for me!). Back to the cottage for tea and medals and the alluring smell of stew that Lorna had made.

Meanwhile, Chelle and Louise were slogging up to the summit of Ben Nevis in high winds, making good progress whilst other less prepared teams were turning back. Impressively under the conditions, they made it to the summit before dropping back down the zig zags in what was a good day out for them.

Michelle and Louise at the summit shelter of Ben Nevis throwing in the shapes

A large batch of dumplings were made for the stew, Scrabble was played, cheese was eaten and whisky was drunk. The avalanche forecast was a bit meh for the day after so we made a plan to go for Aonach Mor west face for the next day.


A late start today, catching the 0930 gondola up the Nevis range and walking around the shoulder of the mountiain to slog up by the Allt Daim to the foot of the west face of Aonach Mor. Our targets were Golden Oldy (me/Ben) and Western Rib (Alex/Puppy).

It was 1230 by the time we were fully geared up and starting up the foot of the route. However, locating the correct route in the cloud proved tricky: we ended up on Temperance Rib instead of Golden Oldy after mistaking Downhill Gully for the smaller gully next to Golden Oldy. Alex and Puppy ended up on Daim Buttress after going wrong as well.

Our route had some fun icy steps, some so-so fun mixed steps at solid grade II, but eventually petered out into snow slope rather too quickly - certainly not four star mountaineering terrain. The opinion of two other people we met on route was that this definitely wasn't Golden Oldy and we accepted defeat when the chaps we met at the top claimed to have climbed our intended route. Checking the definitive it looks like we climbed Temperance Rib (II) instead. Still, we got out and moved together well and efficiently so we weren't too sad about that. We bagged a gondola back down and whistled up a lift from the cottage and got on with the task of worrying about the other two guys!

Alex and Puppy had a much longer fight on their hands, topping out late and walking back down to the car. Alex had this to say
"Intended to climb Western Ridge but think we did this instead. Pitched the bottom section before the ridge eased off. Plenty of okay-ish ice at the bottom, tuft was good enough too, went off right at the steep grove and climbed up tuft blobs up a slab, before getting onto the ridge and much easier terrain. Walk of shame back to the car..."
Vicky and Lorna walked up a Munro.

A vast amount of delicious curry - vegetable and coconut from Vix plus some dhal and some chicken and lentil from Chelle - went down very well and a universal rest day / line in was declared for tomorrow.


Easy walk with Louise up Glen Nevis to Steall Falls.

We crossed the wibbly wobbly wire bridge to get to the hut and to stand underneath the falls.

Ben and Jake made an attempt to reach the summits of Am Bodach and Sgurr an Iubhair but were beaten back from the heavily corniced ridge by high winds and poor visibility. Alex, Puppy and Michelle went to investigate the finest tea rooms and shops that Fort William had to offer as well as taking in Neptune's Staircase on the Caledonian Canal and a playground...

Lorna managed to get groin strain after a walk with Vicky.

Sausages and roasted vegetables for tea.

Forecast was mixed for the day after, as was the pizza of death so another rest day for some.


Vicky ad I went for a long run from Kinlochleven to Fort William on the West Highland Way. Light drizzle all the way but great running conditions.

Jake took a long walk up Glen Nevis, Ben started drinking whisky by 9:23am. We were also joined by Nick after his Glencoe adventures.

Some spectacular slow cooker spag bog and garlic bread for tea.


Slightly shaky weather forecast again so we'd booked into the Ice Factor for some indoor ice climbing. Slight booking mess up was compensated for by free gear hire. Everyone but Alex was keen to have a go and enjoyed themselves.



Nice to try out a pair of DMM Apex axes as well as the usual ice tool swapping that goes on. Jake and Ben's Singing Rock Bandits were also very nice to climb with.

Off to the Clachaig for a couple of pints, some chips and few rounds of shithead.

Pasta bake for tea. Plans for the next day. Lochaber and Glencoe pizzas were bad. Opted for the long drive to the Cairngorms and Sneachda.

Early to bed means...


...early to rise, makes a man tired and not particularly keen for a big breakfast. That's how it goes right?

We set off on the long drive to Aviemore through some initial snow flurries where I was grateful for Bernard's winter tires. We were at the ski park before too long and it was nice to get out and stretch our legs on the steady walk in to Stob Coire an t-Sneachda.

Sneachda walk in

Nick and I paired up and headed straight onto the Runnel (II ***). We moved together pretty much throughout on the pleasant grade I/II snow slope with a nice rightward finish through the II icy chimney followed by a a soft scarp slope. Relief when my axes thunked into the solid neve on the top.

Above: Nick on the bottom part of the Runnel
Below: Nick's top out dance after his first proper winter route

As time was early, we decided to nip back down the Goat Track to have a look at Red Gully but a team were just starting on it so we decided on Goat Track Gully (II) instead. A mix of snow, ice and mixed steps, short but interesting and a second route of the day.

We mooched back along the top, collecting Vix and Puppy who had just finished their II route with big smiles all round.

Puppy leading an icy step

Down to the cafe for cake and tea and to meet up with Louise, Michelle and Lorna who had been doing some winter skills in the coire basin like bucket seats, snow bollards, self arrest and the like.

Alex, Ben and Jake headed out to Invernookie (III,4 ***) and it sounded like everyone had fun, even Jake after getting his foot stuck. Alex's report on the UKC logbook reads:
"Hard turf, slightly lean on snow, but mixed moves were fine. Almost forgot about the traverse section (exciting moves), top pitch felt easy in comparison."

All in all a successful day and well worth the drive over to Aviemore to get some more routes done. The flexibility of being in Fort William was most useful.

We were back at the hut for teatime and the lovely smells of slow cooker chilli were most welcome. We polished off the last of the cheese, drank more whisky and then collapsed into bed.

Mission accomplished.


A quick pack, tidy up of the cottage and we were off on the long drive back south.


  • Spirit of Jonny award goes to team Jennings/Marsh for general faffing and screwgate carrying. Second place Ben for drinking lots of drink.
  • Biggest Fail goes to Ben for breaking his slow cooker whilst making dhal
  • Nom of the week goes to Vix and Michelle's curry efforts.
  • Scrabble champion - Michelle
  • Biggest Shithead - Puppy (3)


"I can't cook tea" - Puppy, referring to the drink

"Sometimes you just wind people up!" - Alex to Ben

"Vicky gave me groin strain" - Lorna

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