Fat Classics and a Thin First Ascent
Last week was spent on Ben Nevis enjoying fat ice, sunshine, good company, and enjoying thin ice in a slightly different way!
Day 1: Harrison's into Boomers then along the top to drop down for La Panthere Rose VI,6 a rarely formed ice pillar- followed by a bit of sun bathing with Andy on the top.
Day 2: Astral Highway and Riders on the Storm 29 years after Dad and Ewen Todd did the first ascent.
Day 3: Clefthanger another route of Dad's, now upgraded to VII,7- Dad agrees having probably just grunted and given it V back in the day! We finished up Kellett's Route. Both routes give really good quality climbing and let you climb in exposed positions.
Day 4: "Theres cloud and a little wind!" After 3 days of perfect weather and perfect conditions on Ben Nevis it took an extra cup of tea before Iain and I left the hut and walked up into the gloom of observatory gully.
Iain had pointed out the line the day before while climbing Clefthanger and Kelletts. I felt fairly confident about it until Blair mentioned that Iain had fallen of it when he tried it last time. "Hmm," I thought. I don't think I have ever seen Iain fall of anything, even in summer. Come to think of it even at Ratho I have spent entire sessions with him where he climbs the hardest routes with out falling off! God what have I let myself in for!
After 3 days of cruising up fat ice in the sunshine the next 6 hours of climbing were quite different. Iain took the first pitch, a rising traverse above some overhangs, with some particularly thin moves half way along. However this time round the ice was better and he was soon calling safe. I then seconded the traverse. Thankfully Iain had a peg a few meters past the hard section which was comforting but still not like having a rope above you.
I led the next pitch up the left edge of the slab then stopped to dig for gear. This took a long long time. I tried just about every bit of gear we had taken. Eventually with a peanut, small wire and half a peg I committed to the move through the overlap and onto the thin ice wall. From below this just looked like another slab however once on the wall with the prospect of hitting the slab below I realised it was very close to vertical and felt steep especially on thin and slightly airiated ice. The picture below flashed into my head at this moment- thanks Greg for the Facebook photo summarising the feeling of commitment in winter climbing.
No gear for the next ten meters (the ice was too thin for screws) a definite no fall zone. I eyed a small stance with a bulge of ice above good enough for a screw and aimed for that. I made the stance clipped the screw and RELAXED! Moved left and belayed. Iain arrived at the belay grinning, telling me he had always thought about climbing that wall but was never quite sure if it would be possible
Iain was soon moving well up the steep groove above, making some very technical icy mixed moves with nothing for the feet and axe placements that wouldn't be good enough to stick if your feet were to slip. He moved across to gain a massive cool spike protruding from the wall. After some choice language at the brittle ice on the final hard moves he was standing on top of the spike and soon disappeared up a really cool icy grove to take us to the top. It felt very satisfying to have climbed such a technical line and one that requires such specific conditions.
Iain decided to call the route Call Me Ishmael in reference to the Moby Dick themes on the wall. After a bit of debate we graded it VIII 9