Michael Barnard and John MacLeod climbed an exciting new pitch high on the North Face of Castle Ridge of Ben Nevis on February 7.
“For the most part we took a line approximating Nordwand Direct,” Michael told me. “We started up the fine icy groove just right of the initial icefall, which gave a good long pitch of IV,4/5. Although it’s not mentioned in the guidebook, this clearly sees plenty of ascents when in condition (I saw the odd pick mark). Being a more independent line, I wonder if this would be a better way to describe the Direct?
As we continued up, we noticed an impressive icy feature in the upper headwall, so we made a beeline for that. An icefall had formed down a hanging slab, while an icicle hung ominously above. Clearly the icicle wasn’t going to go, but a right-slanting ramp looked like it might allow passage through the upper wall, so the main uncertainty was the icefall below.
I climbed up to it but with the only rock protection some way below and the ice too thin for screws, discretion won! So I took some steep mixed ground to avoid the main part of the icefall (though still without gear) to where I would have to get onto its top section. Here the ice had helpfully formed over wee bulges and created a short two-stepped ramp, but these things can be awkward with the feet-off kilter with the axe placements. Still, those placements seemed good so I moved onto the first step and became committed. By now the runout had become too much of a worry and I spent a long time equalising three ice screws. As it turned out, this gear was pretty good and the next move, once attempted, was fairly straightforward but that’s hindsight for you!
I then went behind the icicle and the ramp granted safe passage up and right. A pull over on bomber turf took us to an easier icy finishing groove. We called our new 30m pitch the Superdirect Finish to Nordwand Direct and graded it VI,5.”